The Commonwealth Foundation, a think tank based in Pennsylvania, has recently released a study entitled “Transforming Labor – A Comprehensive, Nationwide Comparison and Grading of Public Sector Labor Laws.” It ranked every state in terms of the relative power of public sector unions. California, along with tiny Maryland, were the only states that got an F.

If you view the map presented in the Commonwealth study, there is a strong correlation between states controlled by the GOP vs those controlled by Democrats. Nearly all the Democrat controlled states with large urban populations get D grades, with the notable exceptions of Florida (C), and Texas (A). We can perhaps learn something from the outliers – why did Texas get an A and why does Montana get a D? But California is in a class by itself.

20161108-uw-ring

When performing this analysis, the studies author, Priya M. Abraham, created a checklist called “State Labor Comparison” that provides criteria for grading each state. California failed in every category:

(1) Is collective bargaining legal for government workers?  –  Yes.

(2) What items may be negotiated in collective bargaining?  –  Salaries, Hours, Pensions, Fringe benefits, Other terms.

(3) How are unions certified?  –  Mandatory card check, Optional card check.

(4)  Do unions have a right to exclusive representation of workers?  –  Yes.

(5)  Are there provisions for union release time?  –  Yes, by law.

(6)  Are there union membership opt-out windows?  –  Written in union contracts.

(7)  Are union contract negotiations open to the public?  –  May be closed.

(8)  Is binding arbitration required during collective bargaining impasses?  –  Yes, for some.

(9)  Is there paycheck protection?  –  No.

(10)  Right to Work?  –  No.

(11)  Legality of public worker strikes?  –  Legal for some.

Most everyone understands the obvious consequences of California’s status as the most enabling state in the U.S. for government unions. By the time most people read this, there is a good chance that Democrats will have captured a super-majority in the state legislature, allowing them to raise taxes at will. Also obvious, decades of increasing political control by government unions has lead to a state judiciary that consistently favors government unions. This happens not only in nearly all cases involving pension reform, but also in those cases addressing education reform. For example, the recent ruling against the Vergara plaintiffs who, gasp, wanted to reform the union work rules that have nearly destroyed public education in California.

There’s a deeper corruption, however, that is less obvious but even more consequential, and that is the effect union controlled government has on California’s business and financial communities. Corporations that want to do business in California understand that all legislation goes through the unions for approval. All of it. So they make deals, and implicit in any deal is that the union agenda – more government pay and benefits, more government employees, and more taxes and borrowing – is never challenged by the business community.

The financial sector also must adapt, and they’ve outdone themselves. In lieu of pension reform or proper bond oversight, financial firms make billions investing money for the union-controlled government pension funds and underwriting government bonds. For any partner at a financial firm in California to advocate pension reform would be financial suicide. They do what they’re told, or they go out of business.

The high-tech community in the Silicon Valley is probably the most tragic example of how government union power has corrupted an industry. A nefarious convergence of interests has evolved between government unions, utility companies, and high-tech entrepreneurs, to create artificial scarcity of land, energy and water. Hiding behind overstated environmentalist concerns, they have imposed de-facto rationing on Californians. This enables tax revenue that might have been used for infrastructure to instead go to paying government worker salaries and feeding the pension funds. At the same time, it takes the utility rate hikes that might have financed additional infrastructure and feeds it to Silicon Valley “entrepreneurs,” who develop expensive “green” energy solutions, along with systems that eventually will mandate every major household appliance be internet enabled, connected to smart meters, and capable of charging punitive rates if a consumer, for example, runs their clothes dryer at the “wrong” time.

If one refers again to the map showing public union power by state, another correlation becomes clear – union power, generally, is concentrated in states with the highest costs of living. California is again champion in this respect. Artificial scarcity has rendered prices in California for land, energy and water among the highest in the nation. State and local taxes are also among the highest in the nation. California is Exhibit A for how public unions and elite oligarchs have combined forces to create challenges for ordinary people that amount to outright oppression.

If the 2016 election will be remembered for anything, it will be remembered as a time of populist awakening. Americans in unprecedented numbers have registered their discontent with a system they consider rigged. But not once in what was one of the most visible national elections in American history did anyone, anywhere, identify the root cause of government overreach and capitalist corruption:  Government unions.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the vice president of policy research for the California Policy Center.

40 Responses to California’s Government Unions are the Most Powerful in the U.S.

  1. SeeSaw says:

    CA should get an A! So what that this group gives CA an F! What do a bunch of haters know anyway!

    • S and P 500 says:

      We know that most pension funds only have some of the money they need for current retirees–and NOTHING for future retirees.

  2. Ed Ring says:

    SeeSaw – please identify where, ever, you believe this organization has published anything that might be characterized as hateful.

    It is unhelpful when people with strong and differing opinions merely resort to accusing those they disagree with as being “hateful.”

    We believe our criticism of public sector unions is well founded. We find them to be one of the root causes of divisive politics, because they have put the interests of government workers above the interests of the citizens they supposedly serve. Pointing this out may offend defenders of unionized government, but it is certainly not hateful.

    • Tough Love says:

      Quoting Mr. Ring ……….

      “It is unhelpful when people with strong and differing opinions merely resort to accusing those they disagree with as being “hateful.””

      Indeed ! Like the often-heard PUBLIC Sector Union/Worker comment that pension reformers are “hater”.

      Why are they “haters”?. Are not Private Sector Taxpayers justified in being PISSED-OFF being told that THEY are responsible for 80% to 90% of the total cost of Public Sector pensions that are ROUTINELY 3 to 4 times (4 to 6 times for Safety workers) greater in value upon retirement than those typically granted Private Sector workers who retire at the SAME age, with the SAME wages, and the SAME years of service ?

    • Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

      SeeSaw – please identify where, ever, you believe this organization has published anything that might be characterized as hateful.
      Please Ed, that is “Exhibit #1” in the public employee “playbook”. And seesaw has a first edition copy she reads it every night before she goes to bed.

      • SeeSaw says:

        I never had a playbook because I was never a player. I don’t go around on the different sites using multiple handles either, RWD, aka Surf Puppy; aka Wild Girl; aka Georgia from Beaumont.

        • SeeSaw says:

          Correction: aka Wild Gurl–LA Times

        • Tough Love says:

          Quoting SeeSaw ……….

          “I don’t go around on the different sites using multiple handles either”

          You don’t ?

          Then who is Sawz who said in a comment titled “Marin unions appeal pension ruling to state Supreme Court ” the following:

          “My spouse was a carpenter whose DB pension was frozen in 1986 because the builders decided to break federal law and hire illegals at a fraction of the cost of the union workers. ”

          That comment sounds an awful lot like what you (now “SeeSaw”) stated just below (time-stamped November 12, 2016 at 8:56 AM):

          ” If any class of workers gets a raw deal it is my private-sector spouse who was a carpenter for over 50 years–his DB pension was frozen in 1986 when the illegals were all illegally hired by the private-sector builders and developers and the union contracts were ended.”

          • SeeSaw AKA Sawz Trough Feeder! says:

            “Sawz”… “seesaw”… The same trough feeder who has a pension TWICE the max of social security with the same old same old spin!

          • SeeSaw says:

            Yes that is true–it was not a choice. I am SAWZ on Disqus because SeeSaw was not available. That is not the reason that Rex uses multiple handles, however.

          • SeeSaw says:

            I am not a trough feeder. When you say things like that you are really a lowlife. You don’t know me and you don’t know what I did for a living.

  3. S and P 500 says:

    I’m disappointed that Prop 55 passed in Calif., which is an extension of the Prop 30 taxes that really went to pensions. Another “school bond” proposition passed as well. It’s ironic (or perhaps poetic justice) that K-12 teachers all over the nation are in a state of shock over Trump’s huge victory. They have to calm their kids who may be worried about being deported or are wondering if we have a new President who hates immigrants and women. Read thenotebook dot org for a report from Philly, a sanctuary city. It is public unions, including teachers’ unions, who helped elect Trump. As you have mentioned, the disappearance of jobs can be largely blamed on union influence in governemnt, and the large swath of middle class workers who feel like they’ve been left behind (and who the polls missed) are the voters who rejected Hillary.

    • SeeSaw says:

      The voters who rejected Hillary were putting party before country–it had nothing to do with whether or not they were union members.

      • Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

        Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are not “red states” yet they ALL went to Trump, destroying your claim that“voters who rejected Hillary were putting party before country” .

        • SeeSaw says:

          Blue states have millions of union members who are Republicans. I repeat–they went for party over country.

          • SeeSaw AKA Sawz Trough Feeder! says:

            Once again, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania are ALL BLUE states. Ohio is 50/50. Stop whining like a lil baby and grow up

        • SeeSaw says:

          RWD just added another handle to his “harrasser resume”. I guess that is all he knows how to do.

          Millions of union members are Republicans. They went for party over country.

  4. john moore says:

    It is incredible that there is not a single govt union/pension reform agenda in the entire state.

    • SeeSaw says:

      What do you call PEPRA 2013, with the cap on pensionable income; abolishment of air time; abolishment of retroactive pension upgrades, abolishment of 3% formulas, and more? Of course the contracts in force prior to 2013 must be honored–because that is what is right. People who don’t like progressive values should move to one of those states that are rated “A”.

      • Tough Love says:

        Quoting SaaSaw …….

        “What do you call … abolishment of air time; abolishment of retroactive pension upgrades, abolishment of 3% formulas….. ?”

        Gee, we have also ABOLISHED above ground nuclear testing. Does that mean that it was EVER a good idea ?

        • SeeSaw says:

          Well we are talking about any agenda for change–I am pointing out that there was a reform agenda that was passed. As to your issue of whether or not DB pensions were ever a good idea–I believe there would be so many people on social services without those pensions and I am certainly fortunate that I have one. I am committed to support and protect those pensions for my fellow retirees and for those following me until my dying day. I don’t care whether you think it was ever a good idea or not.

          • Ed Ring says:

            SeeSaw – the average full career retirement package for a recently retired state or local government employee in California is about $70,000 per year. The age of retirement for state and local government employees in California is, on average, ten years earlier than it is for private sector employees. The amount of money paid out each year in pensions to retired government employees in California (about 30% of all retirees which is misleadingly skewed upwards because they retire ten years earlier) is comparable to the amount of money paid via Social Security to ALL private sector retirees in California.

            For you to suggest that government retirees need the level of benefits they have in order to avoid being on “social services” is absurd on many levels. As noted, their benefits are many times what their private sector counterparts are getting. Moreover, everything a government retiree receives is a “social service.” They’re government retirees, funded by taxes.

            The worst injustice amidst this host of injustices is the notion that private sector workers can ever hope to save enough to have a reasonable retirement income. While government worker pension funds claim they can earn 7% per year, in reality they hit up taxpayers whenever their projections fall short. Meanwhile, private sector taxpayers must hope their own investments may perform with no guarantees if they don’t. Show me a “risk free” investment that pays 7% per year, SeeSaw, and I’ll invest everything I’ve got in that account, and you’ll never hear from me again.

            As it is, when public employees stop being a privileged class, exempt from the challenges facing the citizens they supposedly serve, maybe then we can start working together to find solutions to the very real challenge of offering adequate retirement security to every Californian.

          • S Moderation Douglas says:

            “Average retirement age for public workers: 60”

            Orange County Register, May 11, 2011 
            ——————————————————-
            “Americans report actually retiring has always been lower than nonretirees’ expected age of retirement, and is 60 in this year’s survey, matching the average generally found since 2004. Prior to that, the average reported age of retirement was always below age 60.”

            Gallup, April 29, 2015

          • S and P 500 says:

            How are you going to support and protect those pensions? This is a bad year for pension planet. A lady in Loyalton may see her pension reduced to $19K because the city didn’t pay its CalPERS bill. One typical fund, PSERS (for Philly teachers) has assets of $55 billion for 600,000 participants. That’s around $85,000 per person. If you have kids or grandkids getting into massive student loan debt, I assume you’re fine with that. UC has a very big unfunded pension liability, too. (Your kids are really the people who will be paying for your huge pension.) And as I said, thank you so much for helping to elect Trump. I’m sure Hillary would have continued to let the USA slide into bankruptcy. I don’t know if Trump can reduce our unfunded liabilities and national debt of $800K per family but at least he is aware of the problem.

          • Tough Love says:

            Quoting S and P 500 …..

            “I don’t know if Trump can reduce our unfunded liabilities and national debt of $800K per family but at least he is aware of the problem.”

            Sure he can. As he always says … we’ll re-negotiate”.

            I suggest we reset ALL Public Sector Pension Plans to the payout level that can CONSERVATIVELY be met with EXISTING assets … and no more.

            YUP, it’s called taking BACK our future from the insatiably greedy Public Sector Unions/Workers/Retirees.

          • Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

            For you to suggest that government retirees need the level of benefits they have in order to avoid being on “social services” is absurd on many levels.
            Ed, seesaw has early onset Alzheimer’s, so we must give her a break her Hubby deals with her 24/7/365, that guy needs a gold medal! 🙂

          • SeeSaw says:

            Rex. the commenter with the multiple handles has never met me or my spouse. He is a male blogger who has been following me and certain other commenters on sites, using multiple handles for years, just for the purpose of harassment. I am a female, older retiree–that kind of signifies who has the EOA, doesn’t it.

  5. SeeSaw says:

    Mr. Ring, the states are rated A to F according to quality of life they afford public sector workers–A being no quality at all and F being the highest. This group decries that–how else to describe such as anything but “hate”? I was a government worker for 40 years, both in a union sometimes and not in a union sometimes. The bottom line is–we were public servants who did our jobs and we are in the same group–residents of the state in which we reside–not public workers robbing the treasuries blind. In the state of CA where I live, there are close to 40 million residents. My spouse and I are taxpayers in that state, equal to every other CA citizen with the same income and lifestyle. The total state income tax liability in 2016 and for years prior, for my spouse and me, was $1800–considering the services we receive as residents, I call that a bargain.

    @ S and P500–Your statement is what I would call whining about nothing. With the tax as enacted in 2014, the cost of my Chili at Wendy’s increased by a couple cents–what a sacrifice considering the good that the aggregate amount provided for the quality of life in CA. Don’t feel so bad for those who will be affected by the extension of Prop. 30–who wouldn’t like to make $250,000/yr.

  6. SeeSaw says:

    More BS as usual Mr. Ring. You don’t have to spout statistics to me–I am a government retiree and I get my statistics from CalPERS. The average CalPERS retirement for about 1.6 million annuitants is less than $36,000 yr. and the average age of all miscellaneous workers at the time of retirement is 60–the average years of service-credit is 20. I had 36 years service-credit and my pension is in the $50,000 range. If any class of workers gets a raw deal it is my private-sector spouse who was a carpenter for over 50 years–his DB pension was frozen in 1986 when the illegals were all illegally hired by the private-sector builders and developers and the union contracts were ended. His pension does not even pay for the medical insurance premium. Where were you detractors then–why don’t you take up the cause of the private sector that got shafted when it came to pensions?

    LIVE BETTER–WORK UNION!

    • Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

      I am a government retiree and I get my statistics from CalPERS. The average CalPERS retirement for about 1.6 million annuitants is less than $36,000 yr….</b?
      And therein lies your "entitlement mentality"….and again, for FULL-TIME FULL Career employees the average is $70K, 10 years earlier.

      • SeeSaw says:

        You are cherry picking. That is not an average. The average CalPERS retirement amount is less than $36,000 yr. The full amount that CalPERS pays out every year is what counts–not the fact that some lucky people are getting $70,000+. I am not one of them–so you cannot accuse me of having an entitlement mentality. You are grasping at straws Rex.

    • Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

      I am a government retiree and I get my statistics from CalPERS. The average CalPERS retirement for about 1.6 million annuitants is less than $36,000 yr….
      And therein lies your “entitlement mentality”….and again, for FULL-TIME FULL Career employees the average is $70K, 10 years earlier.

  7. S Moderation Douglas says:

    Ed Ring…

    “For you to suggest that government retirees need the level of benefits they have in order to avoid being on “social services” is absurd on many levels.”

    SeeSaw…

    “I believe there would be so many people on social services without those pensions and I am certainly fortunate that I have one.”

    Ed Ring…

    “…the average full career retirement package for a recently retired state or local government employee in California is about $70,000 per year.”

    You are correct, Mr. Ring. The average full career retiree will not be in need of social services. But most state and local workers are not “full career”, and even most of the full career retirees do not receive the “average” $70,000 per year.
    ……………
    Mark Ruloff, Society of Actuaries, Jan. 2005

    Defined Contribution…
    Bad for participants
    Bad for plan sponsor in the long run
    Bad for society

    Defined Benefit…
    Good for shareholder value
    Good for participant
    Good for society… “As the pension plan fulfills its promises, the retiree
    population is more financially secure. Therefore, there
    is likely to be little or no need for social benefits to
    replace the loss of employee pensions.
    ……………………..

    No, the “average full career retiree” should be fine. But there are thousands of clerks, laborers, etc., whose pensions (and retiree healthcare) will keep them off social services.

    Incidentally, we have often seen the average public employee salary, and the average pension. What are the median values for these? Mr. Fellner has told me several times that the median is the more relevant number, but I don’t see it cited often. For sure, well over half of full career retirees receive less than $70,000.

  8. S Moderation Douglas says:

    And last, but not least…

    EdRing…

    “Moreover, everything a government retiree receives is a “social service.” They’re government retirees, funded by taxes.”

    S Moderation Douglas

    Kiss my rosy red “elite oligarch” derrière.

    (Excusez mon français.)

  9. Tough Love says:

    Quoting SMD ……….

    “No, the “average full career retiree” should be fine. But there are thousands of clerks, laborers, etc., whose pensions (and retiree healthcare) will keep them off social services. ”

    And WHY are these PUBLIC Sector retirees deserving of FAR FAR FAR greater TAXPAYER-FUNDED pensions (ADN benefits) than those typically granted comparable Private Sector workers ?

    And don’t respond with your BS that lower wages justifies greater pensions. HERE you are talking about those with the smaller pensions (surely not associated with Public Sector Professionals and PHDs some of whom make less in wages).

    The rank-and-file Public Sector workers make no less in wages than their Private Sector counterparts and there is THEREFORE zero (yes (ZERO) justification for ANY greater pensions …………… or for retiree healthcare subsidies now rarely given in the Private Sector.

  10. S Moderation Douglas says:

    TL…

    “And don’t respond with your BS…”

    Now that hurts. No, I was going to go with the Juvenal451 quote…

    ” Two: that you are just wrong about the comparison of public sector and private sector total compensation (except at the level which requires no education–sorry for giving them benefits other than Medi-Cal).”

    The WalMartization of America. In one of his earlier columns, Ed Ring suggested progressivity in public pensions. That higher paid public workers should get a lower percent of FAS… similar to the Social Security progressivity. I say that progressivity is already there. It is built into the salary/benefit scheme. The more highly educated public workers are essentially subsidizing the lower echelons. Compensation in the public sector is much more egalitarian than in the private sector.

    AND LEAVE MY  (ADN benefits) ALONE!!!

    LOL!!! Spellchecker, free. Common sense checker, priceless.

    • Rex the Wonder Dog! says:

      I say that progressivity is already there. It is built into the salary/benefit scheme. The more highly educated public workers are essentially subsidizing the lower echelons.
      GED cops receiving $100K-$250K pensions, PLUS DROP, at age 50 is “progressivity”?? And NO ONE is “essentially subsidizing the lower echelon” GED cops and firewhiners except taxpayers.
      Please Douglas….

  11. S Moderation Douglas says:

    It’s a blessing and a curse. We shall use our power for the good.

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