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Good Fortune Shines on Teachers Unions

California’s teachers unions have been described as the most powerful force affecting state government. Recently, however, threats to the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have arisen on a number of fronts, yet over the last couple of weeks those threats seemed to be minimized by political pressure, apparent sympathetic judges, and even an act of God.

First came the death of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Before Scalia’s demise, he sat at the hearing of the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which challenged the union’s right to collect agency fees from all teachers to represent them in collective bargaining. Friedrichs and her teacher colleagues argued that all activities of CTA are political and therefore offering dues to the organization was backing a political agenda with which some teachers did not agree.

Most observers who watched the oral arguments believed that the Supreme Court would rule 5 to 4 in favor of Friedrichs, with Scalia a member of the majority. In other states in which public union members were given the freedom to withhold dues to their union there was a considerable drop-off in fees paid thus weakening the political influence of the unions. Many expected a similar result in California if the court supported the Friedrichs side.

However, with Scalia’s passing it is anticipated that the remaining justices will split on the Friedrichs case resulting in a 4 to 4 tie. If that occurs, the Appellate Court ruling that favored the teachers union will stand.

In another case, a challenge to teacher tenure rules was argued before a Los Angles state appellate court. In the Superior Court, Vergara v. California was decided in favor of nine public school students who argued that the current tenure laws and seniority rules harm school children particularly in poor communities. Lawyers for the students argued that bad teachers are difficult to fire and are often shifted to teaching positions in those poor communities. The teachers unions vociferously argued that eliminating the teacher tenure laws will weaken the profession.

Reports from the hearing last week before the appellate court indicated that two of the three judges expressed skepticism with the decision of Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu. If the questioning were a reflection of the court’s thinking, the Vergara decision likely would be overturned.

It wasn’t just the courtroom where good fortune seemed to follow the teachers unions.

Last week, proponents for the anti-poverty property tax increase measure decided to pull the measure from petition circulation despite having over a million dollars to help qualify the initiative and a stack of petition signatures in hand. Had this property tax measure remained on the ballot, it could weigh down the campaign to pass the Proposition 30 income tax extension backed by the teachers unions.

The unions wanted the property tax gone for a couple of reasons.

One too many taxes on the ballot might convince voters that all taxes deserve a no vote. Property taxes are a local tax with a share of the property tax going to schools. Creating a state controlled property tax designated for purposes that exclude the traditional school funding was anathema to the unions. The teachers unions and their allies inside and outside the government put immense pressure on the initiative proponents to pull their measure.

Whether due to political pressure, sympathetic judges, or an act of God, good fortune shined on the teachers unions as they moved to preserve their powerful position in state politics.

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Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. This article originally appeared in Fox & Hounds and appears here with permission.

Why the Democratic Party Cannot Embrace Public Sector Union Reform

“Public employees have a private interest in taking more and more of the taxpayer-generated revenue for themselves. In other words, public employees have a private interest in diverting public funds from public services to their wages and pensions. In this sense, the increasing numbers of public employees and their increasing wages and benefits threaten to hollow out public services in our country.”
–  Roger Berkowitz, Executive Director, Hannah Arendt Center

The above quote explains quite well the intrinsic conflict of interests that accrues to public sector unions. This conflict of interest is the primary distinction between public sector unions and private sector unions. It is the reason that private sector unions can muster strong arguments for their continued relevance in society, whereas the very legitimacy of public sector unions is questionable. And lest anyone suggest that calls for reform – if not abolition – of public sector unions emanates solely from the “extreme right wing,” consider the provenance of the above quote, and go away. The highly regarded, intellectually elite Hannah Arendt Center boasts perhaps the most impeccable nonpartisan, anti-ideological credentials of any comparable institution in the world.

The reason Democrats don’t support public sector union reform is quite obvious. There is no special interest in America that donates more money to the Democratic party than public sector unions. The data in the table below makes this quite clear. If you go to the source of this data OpenSecrets.org, you will see that the vast majority of the $535 million contributed to Democrats between 2000 and 2010 came from public sector unions, whose membership in absolute numbers now exceeds that of private sector unions. Needless to say, in California, where public sector union spending on state and local campaigns and lobbying exceeds $500 million per two-year cycle, the same percentages apply.

Democrats are reluctant to recognize the conflict of interests that makes the very existence of public sector unions a threat to our democracy, our economy, and our civil rights, because the Democratic party is financially dependent on public sector unions. It is significant that on the above table, which covers federal elections and lobbying efforts, corporate contributions are nearly balanced between Democrats and Republicans. If union spending provided a counterweight to corporate spending, as they claim, then one could make a case against reform. But “union spending” is predominantly “public sector union spending,” and their primary agenda has nothing to do with protecting the rights of private sector workers. Their agenda has to to with exempting public sector workers from the economic challenges facing ordinary American workers who have to compete – along with corporations – in the global economy. And corporations, facing a monolithic, self-interested, unionized government, play ball. Crony capitalists and the trading departments of Wall Street brokerages – i.e., the most parasitic sectors of the free market economy – profit from unionized government.

Breaking the power of public sector unions, if not eliminating them altogether, is a prerequisite, ironically, to reforming the financial sector and restoring a competitive corporate environment. It is also a prerequisite to reforming taxpayer-funded, government administered benefits and entitlements so that all American workers earn them according to the same set of formulas and incentives – regardless of whether or not they work for the government or in the private sector.

Most of the public sector union reform strategies that have been attempted – successfully or not – have been oriented towards facilitating “opt-out” behavior for government workers. Right-to-work laws allow employees of unionized government agencies to refuse to pay union dues. Most states, even California, permit employees of unionized government agencies to opt-out of paying the political portion of their dues. But these reforms do nothing to stop the overwhelming portion of government union money flowing to Democrats, a partisan strategy on the part of public sector union leadership that is entirely unrepresentative of their membership.

Taking this concept to its logical extreme makes the point clear:  Using very rough numbers, the party identification among America’s government workers nearly mirrors that of the private sector workers, splitting about one-third each between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents (ref. Gallup 2011). A spectacularly successful paycheck protection law would, arguably, result in government political contributions diminishing by one-third – possibly more depending on the sentiments of independents. That is, instead of diverting, for example, $100 million dollars from the taxpayer funded government payroll into the coffers of the Democratic party, only $66 million would go there. The Republicans would still get nothing, and the corrupt essence of a forcibly politicized government workforce would remain intact.

Other than abolition, speculating over what alternative public sector union reform strategy might be more effective than “paycheck protection” is dangerous. It might be possible to force, through litigation, allocation of government union political contributions to parties according to the party registration of the union memberships. Once per year, unionized government workers would fill out a form where they would disclose, anonymously, their party registration. A 3rd party agency, perhaps a major public accounting firm, would collect these ballots, collect the political contributions, and allocate the money to the respective parties based on the voting of the members. This is dangerous territory, however, because it implies public sector unions should exist. And in a healthy democracy, they should not, because their interests are innately opposed to the public interest.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center.

How Big Labor Intimidates Politicians and Businesses

For years the spokespersons for labor unions have used the tactic of “shame” in an effort to pressure, bully and demonize employers who might stand against their efforts. They have used “shame” in their efforts to misinform the public – to create a misperception that their target is guilty of an unconscionable act and should bear the scarlet letter of these acts. These attacks have been not just against the targeted employer, but against anyone who might oppose them, including the employer’s customers and advertisers, non-union employees, even their own membership if it suits their purposes. Recently, Big Labor has taken the weapon of “shame” to the political arena, both in Wisconsin and now in Indiana.

“Shame” was the word of the day when the SEIU ran one of its Corporate Campaigns against EMS across the Midwest in 2005-2007. The Big Labor bosses never shirked from using the phrase to intimidate loyal EMS employees and customers as they attempted to cross SEIU picket lines. With banners in hand they would publicly attack EMS with incorrect statements and half-truths.

“Shame” was on display constantly last year when Big Labor bosses poured millions of dollars and thousands of foot soldiers into Madison, Wisconsin in an attempt to intimidate Governor Walker and the General Assembly into withdrawing the needed measures to restore fiscal responsibility to a state deeply in debt (see America at a Crossroads. As Wisconsin Goes, So Goes America.). Now, as we approach The Most Important Non-Presidential Election of the Decade, Big Labor bosses are at it again, attempting to “shame” the electorate into replacing Governor Walker via a recall election and then reversing the bills that have arguably put Wisconsin on a path to solvency.

Now “shame” has entered the RTW political arena. In January, 2012, Democratic House leader Patrick Bauer demonstrated his Big Labor allegiances when he incorporated  their very own intimidation tactics, as demonstrated in the last line of his rebuttal to the fact the Indiana Right-to-Work Bill Advances (see Bauer to Right-to-Work Supporters: “Shame on You”).

The true colors of “shame,” however, were displayed recently during an obnoxious Big Labor boss and his small crowd’s attempt to intimidate Indiana Associated Builders and Contractors President J.R. Gaylor and his assistant at the Indiana Statehouse. Click HERE to watch the video coverage. J.R. did a great job keeping his cool as the Big Labor boss displayed his arrogance and lack of civility. The fact is, this type behavior and the use of “shame” and other slogans is no more than a blatant attempt to not only intimidate, but to induce the target to react negatively or irrationally so they can escalate the situation and make the target look like the bad guy.

The ruthless attacks by Big Labor are not confined to the statehouse, the courtroom, public gathering spaces, or even private businesses.  Big Labor has shown that they, in fact, have NO SHAME, when they order their membership to the personal residences of state lawmakers for the purpose of intimidating them from voting for what they believe to be right and harassing them into giving up the fight. This is what recently happened at the homes of Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senator Jim Banks.  Attacks like this were also seen throughout the SEIU’s Corporate Campaign against EMS, and included “house visits” to owners and employees alike.

Imagine your employees, friends, family, children or even yourself enduring this type attack from Big Labor bosses and their cronies.  As an employee, how would you not break down and sign a union card during a Card Check drive? This is what EMS employees, customers and family endured for 2 years during one of the SEIU’s most vicious Corporate Campaigns, in an attempt to force EMS to sign a Neutrality Agreement and put Card Checkinto effect. No human being should be subjected to this type treatment and this is why I believe Right to Work Is A Basic American Freedom, and why I wrote my new book The Devil At Our Doorstep.

“Shame” might better be applied to Big Labor for misconstruing the facts and taking advantage of the small percentage of Americans buying into their misinformation and propaganda, leading them to believe that employers are the intimidators and destroyer of jobs and wages. The truth is quite the opposite.

In the graphic video noted above (Video), which is typical of Big Labor coercion, the target did not react to the intimidation, and all that was accomplished by the big labor boss and his group was to make themselves look like radicals. The majority of the population understands who these people are.  This is the 1% minority trying to control the 99%.  In Wisconsin it was reported that approximately 30,000 protesters (many bused in from out of state) jammed downtown Madison during the height of the protest. AFL-CIO sources claim 10,000 protestors (again many brought in from out of state) filled the Indiana State Capital in Indianapolis to protest RTW. In both cases these were relatively low numbers, less than .5% in terms of percentages, when compared to the respective populations (5,654,744 in Wisconsin and 6,423,113 in Indiana). In either case 99.5% of the population did not buy into the lack of civility.

Interestingly enough neither did the majority of rank and file union members.  In the article UAW Member: Union Workers ‘Need to Embrace’ Right to Work Laws,Terry Bowman, a 14-year UAW member who supports the RTW initiative in Michigan, does an outstanding job during an interview exposing the coercion tactics of Big Labor’s Gasping Dinosaurs and their attempt to survive through inflicting forced unionism on employers and employees. Unfortunately, union membership feels as though they have little power to rein in the out-of-control Big Labor bosses (see When Will the Main Stream Media Wake Up?) When will Americans realize the abuse caused by Big Labor and pass Right-to-Work nationally?

Additionally, we need to Free Workers from Union Bosses by passing the Employees Rights Act. If Big Labor can’t compete openly and fairly, without pressure, intimidation and political cronyism to remain relevant, then maybe it is time for it to follow the lead of other businesses that have lost relevance and become obsolete.

About the author: David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.

Unions and America’s Ills

Yesterday the Detroit News, as part of its “Labor Voices” series, published a guest editorial by the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, James Hoffa, entitled “American ills not caused by unions.” In this editorial Hoffa made many statements that require a rebuttal, starting with this: “Across the country, new governors and new legislatures are demanding cuts to jobs, pensions and concessions from public employee unions. Their demands are nothing more than payback for the billions of dollars that the ultra-rich have poured into political campaigns.”

What Hoffa ignores is the political fundraising reality in America, which is that corporations are split relatively evenly between those who will back union reformers – usually Republicans, and union protectors – usually Democrats. Corporations hedge their bets. Very few large corporations openly challenge the union agenda, or even have reason to, since unionization drives off emerging competitors.

Similarly, wealthy individuals are split relatively evenly in their political affiliations in America. For every billionaire who backs Republicans, there is a billionaire who backs Democrats – for every Koch, there is a Soros.

At the grassroots, however, something very different occurs. Because labor unions, which still command over 16 million members in the United States (ref. U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics), nearly always give money to union-friendly Democratic candidates and issues. If you estimate the average annual dues of a union member at $500 per year, this means unions in America have over $8.0 billion per year that they can spend any way they please. There is simply no source of grassroots political fundraising that comes anywhere close to the financial power of unions, and unlike every other grassroots political fundraising entity in America, union compel their members to pay union fees, which in effect means they compel their members to support their political activity. Our own analysis, Public Sector Unions and Political Spending, estimates that public sector unions in California spend over $250 million per year on political activity. The idea that any competing interest comes even close to that is absurd.

Hoffa goes on to suggest that “government employees did not blow a hole in any state budget…” He points out as an example that “the typical public employee’s pension is only $19,000 per year.” This is all simply inaccurate. Using California as an example, here is the true figure for pensions as reported by Daniel Borenstein in his February 5th column in the Contra Costa Times entitled “Public employee pensions much higher than advertised:”

“In fact, CalPERS data shows the average career public employee, who put in at least 30 years of service and retired in the 2008-09 fiscal year, collected a starting pension of $67,000 a year, or 2.5 times the advertised figure. The higher number is buried deep in the retirement system’s financial statement and never makes it to the promotional material CalPERS hands out.”

As for compensation, as noted in our post of February 9th, entitled “What Percent of California’s State Budget is Employee Compensation?” the average total compensation for a worker employed by the state of California is $106,000 per year, before increasing their pension contribution to reflect the higher contributions necessary to keep those funds solvent under the current benefit formulas. At least two-thirds of California’s state budget is to cover personnel costs.

In his editorial, Hoffa apparently believes the real culprit in America’s current ills is Wall Street. Well there certainly is blame to go around, and Wall Street shouldn’t be spared. As Hoffa puts it:

“Public employees didn’t create a huge housing bubble. Wall Street did that. And public employees didn’t cause the Great Recession through reckless speculation. Wall Street did that, too. State governments didn’t get $3 trillion dollars in loans from the Federal Reserve and profit from those loans by relending them. Again, that was Wall Street.”

Taking Hoffa’s three points about Wall Street one at a time: (1) Failure to regulate mortgage lending was indeed the primary reason for the housing bubble – but public agencies, thirsting for the income tax and property tax revenue, had no incentive to pull the plug, and they didn’t. They did, however, use the unsustainable increase in tax revenues as their pretext for unprecedented, ridiculous increases in their public employee compensation packages. (2) As for “reckless speculation,” who does Mr. Hoffa think provides the backbone of funding to Wall Street for their gambling escapades? There is no source of new money pouring into Wall Street that begins to match the monies coming from public employee pension funds. These funds, which in aggregate manage trillions in assets, are under severe and unrelenting pressure to deliver higher returns than are possible over the long-term. “Reckless speculation” is largely driven by Wall Street’s incestuous, unhealthy partnership with public sector unions. (3) And as for those “trillions in loans from the federal reserve,” most of that borrowed money went to preserve public sector jobs at their inflated rates of compensation.

Here’s what’s really happening, Mr. Hoffa:  For over 20 years, with increasing influence and with worsening effect, public employee unions have used taxpayer’s money, confiscated from public worker paychecks, to buy our politicians and control our elections. They have used this power to “negotiate” grossly over-market rates of compensation and benefits to unionized government workers, especially at the entry and mid-level jobs, and because employee compensation is by far the largest category of government expenditures, it is breaking budgets, leading to tax increases and service cuts. Meanwhile, public employee unions, in their insatiable demand both for more revenues to pay their over-paid members, as well as to expand their memberships, are prevailing upon politicians to expand government and expand regulations – increasing the cost of living for everyone. This translates into cost-of-living increases for the unionized government workers, and a lower standard of living for the rest of us whose taxes support the entire corrupt mess. At the same time, Mr. Hoffa, your public sector union pension funds are the collection agent for the overbuilt Wall Street machine you claim to abhor.

American ills today may not be entirely attributable to unions, but to suggest that the drive to reform unions, public sector unions in particular, is nothing but “payback” to special interests who oppose unions is to ignore where the money is spent in politics, where the money is spent in the public sector, and how union control of public policy is distorting our financial markets and bankrupting our government.

California Teacher’s Union Political Spending

An interesting post from the website “Intercepts: A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions,” entitled “NEA/CTA Outspends Everyone on California Ballot Measures” has added up the political spending by California’s teacher’s union in last week’s election.

For the nine initiative measures, the spending by California’s teacher’s unions was as follows:

California Teachers Association: $11.5 million
National Education Association: $2.2 million
California Federation of Teachers: $3.3 million
American Federation of Teachers: $2.1 million
Alliance for a Better California (a coalition of public employee unions, including teachers): $1.1 million.

As the article states, “all told, public employee unions spent $25.5 million on ballot initiatives alone.”

This hardly scratches the surface of how much money the public employee unions are spending on political activity. The teacher’s unions, for example, make it an absolute priority to control local school board elections. It is virtually impossible for an interested party who isn’t backed by the teacher’s union to get elected. Education reformers are targeted. It isn’t unusual for the teacher’s union to spend $100K or more on a local school board election campaign.

This article also neglects to consider the power of politicized teachers spreading their campaign message via the classroom, or the Parent/Teacher Associations. The cost to our electorate of a generation of children receiving union indoctrination in our public school classrooms is incalculable. During election season, students are given biased campaign-related material to take home with them – what’s that worth? Students are relentlessly trained to absorb the left-wing agenda of activist unionized public school teachers – what’s that worth?

A top-down estimate of public sector union political spending in California puts the figure at $250 million per year (ref. Public Sector Unions and Political Spending) – and this doesn’t include the in-kind value of controlling the message in our classrooms, or the brand equity and credibility of appearing on political campaign ads wearing nurses uniforms, or firefighter’s badges.

The Ugly Consequences of Forced Unionism

A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has become the biggest political spender in the 2010 election campaign – thus far having spent $87.5 million. Two other public employee unions have chipped in another $84 million (Service Employees International Union – $44 million and National Education Association – $40 million). Therefore, in what has become a predictable pattern, public employee unions are the biggest outside contributors in the 2010 election cycle.

Perhaps the most egregious part of this massive political spending is that the bulk of it comes from the 28 “forced union” or Non-Right to Work states, as well as Washington D.C., where belonging to the union is a condition of employment.

While corporate political spending goes to both major parties, the unions’ money goes pretty much in one direction – to Democrats – about 93% of the time. Yet, according to Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, about 40-45% of workers in those unions vote Republican. Thus if you are a Republican, your dues very well may be going to someone you will be voting against.)

And it gets worse. Who pays these public employees? The American taxpayer. So very quickly, throughout much of the country, the money goes from the taxpayers pocket to the public employees, whose pocket is then picked by the union and spent on mostly Democrats who will make sure that money keeps flowing in the unions’ direction.

As writer Warner Todd Huston says,” That’s right, unions give politicians money to make favorable laws for unions. Politicians then make favorable laws for unions so that unions will give them even more campaign cash and unions oblige so that politicians can then give them even more favorable laws and regulations. It’s a vicious circle from which the voters are wholly cut out. It is an incestuous relationship that enriches the unions and the politicians at the expense of the taxpayers who don’t have any influence at all on the sweetheart deals going on.”

Bottom line – not only doesn’t the public employee get to choose where his/her money goes, neither does the taxpayer. But the chickens have finally come home to roost. The lavish pension deals that the unions have made with their bought-and-paid-for legislators are now wreaking havoc with state and municipal budgets all over the country — to the point where states going into default and cities declaring bankruptcy are not out of the question.

Legislators all over the country must start to deal with the bleak reality that they and their submissive predecessors have been hoodwinked by a cunning and bullying adversary. As such, either states must make joining a public employee union voluntary – thus minimizing their money flow — or as Houston says, “This country needs to again make public employee unions illegal like they were previous to 1958.”

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Public Sector Unions & Political Spending

Working from the bottom up, it is virtually impossible to extract accurate figures to quantify just how much money public sector unions spend on political activity. For example, money spent at the state level on politics, as tracked by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, or, in California, as tracked by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, only track one subset of political spending. These figures, staggering though they may be, don’t show data for local races (every city council, county board of supervisors, water board, school board, police commission, fire commission, etc.) – and, equally significant, these databases are unable to clearly identify the source of donations that have been run through foundations or independent expenditure campaigns, or political parties – often several times – before appearing on a candidate or issue campaign’s disclosure report.

For these reasons, in order to get a good idea of what public sector unions are really spending on political activity, you have to work from the top down. Using California as an example, you can estimate how much public sector unions spend on state and local politics each year if you can accurately identify three variables: (1) How many public sector workers are members of unions, (2) what the average annual union dues payment is per worker per year, and (3) what percentage of union dues are used by the unions for political activity.

Answering the first question is probably the easiest. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in California in 2008 there were approximately 400,000 state government workers (ref. 2008 Public Employment Data, State) and approximately 1,450,000 local government workers (ref. 2008 Public Employment Data, Local). This means there are about 1.85 million state and local government workers in California.

To determine how many of these workers are unionized, there are at least two sources available, one is an authoritative study from around 2002 entitled “California Union Membership, A Turn of the Century Portrait,” which references data from the California Dept. of Industrial Relations, as well as data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and corroborates this data with a series of surveys administered to union locals throughout California. This study determined that, at that time, 53.8% of California’s public sector workers were unionized.

Another more recent source of information comes from UnionStats.com, an online database, updated annually, that tracks union membership and coverage, constructed by Barry Hirsch (Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University) and David Macpherson (Department of Economics, Trinity University). Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they have compiled a variety of interesting data, including “Union Membership, Coverage, Density, and Employment by State and Sector, 1983-2009.” By clicking on the 2009 link provided under this section on the left column of their home page, a spreadsheet comes up with a number consistent with the earlier 2003 findings, that is, 55.8% of California’s state and local government workers are now unionized. This means there are just over 1.0 million unionized state and local government workers in California. How much do they pay each year in dues?

According to a July 7th, 2010 guest editorial published in the San Jose Mercury entitled “Teachers’ unions political funding inappropriate,” authored by reform activist Larry Sand, “Teachers’ dues in California average about $1,000 per teacher per year, with about 30 percent of it going for political spending.”

What about police, firefighters, corrections officers, and other public safety personnel – virtually all of whom are now unionized in California – who comprise about 13% of the state and local government workforces – about 240,000 employees? How much do they pay annually in union dues? According to information provided by Vallejo, California’s post-bankruptcy City Manager, Joseph Tanner, and as reported by George Will in a Sept. 11th, 2008 Washington Post column entitled “Pension Time Bomb,” “using fiscal 2007 figures, each of the 100 firefighters paid $230 a month in union dues and each of the 140 police officers paid $254 a month, giving their unions enormous sums to purchase a compliant city council.” If this is typical, it would equate to at least $2,750 per year in union dues for police and firefighters in California. Even if the Vallejo situation is far from typical, it’s probably accurate to estimate California’s public safety workers pay their unions at least $1,000 per year in union dues.

Between teachers and public safety employees you have accounted for about 55% of California’s unionized public employees. Getting information on each of the unions may yield more startling total union revenues, but if you simply assume that public employees who are bureaucrats, nurses, administrators, maintenance employees, etc., are paying on average $500 each year in dues to their unions, then you can calculate the average payment for the entire 1.0 million unionized California state and local public employees is $750 per year. This is probably a conservative estimate, but using this number yields a total dues revenue to California’s public sector unions of $750 million per year. How much of this is used for political activity?

Returning to Larry Sand’s commentary, 30% of CTA funds are allegedly used for political activity. Most inside observers I’ve talked with suggest the percentage is higher than this, for a variety of reasons. If you review the California Fair Political Practices Commission website, don’t just look for data on election financing. Review the public disclosures by lobbying firms, and click on the pages that list their clients. Despite the unceasing uproar over the pernicious influence of “corporate lobbyists,” estimates of how much of the overall revenue to lobbying firms come from the public sector nearly always exceed 50%, and the source of this money is not just public sector unions, and their many political action committees and other organizations, but also from public agencies themselves! If one considers the level of power exercised by union operatives over public agencies – where the political appointees who supposedly manage these agencies come and go, but union power is a continuous reality – you can begin to imagine how the political agenda of taxpayer-funded public agencies and the public sector unions who influence these agencies are usually one and the same.

Another argument supporting the estimate that at least a third of union dues go to support political activity – if not much more – is the ability of the unions to reallocate money to political activity from their general fund when they choose. A recent example, reported on July 7th, 2010 in the Education Intelligence Agency blog post entitled “California Teachers Association Shifts $2 Million of Dues Money to PAC,” states the following:  “CTA very much wants Jerry Brown elected governor and Tom Torlakson as state superintendent of public instruction. So, for a single year, they increased the PAC allocation to $26.30 [per month, up from $18.30 per month], without raising total dues any additional amount. This maneuver will generate an additional $2 million or more for the PAC.” How this loophole works in California is also explained, “This sleight-of-hand would not be permitted at the federal level. But because state law allows the union to collect dues and PAC money in the same lump sum, CTA can claim that the general fund money is not the exact same money being added to the PAC coffers.”

There’s more. When assessing public sector union influence on politics, there are in-kind contributions that, while reportable, cannot be objectively quantified. What would it cost a private sector interest to send busloads of activists to events to demonstrate for the TV cameras, or use other assets such as existing office resources, in order to wage a political campaign? Whenever a public entity does this, they are required to register this as an “in-kind” donation, and assign a monetary value to this. But these in-kind values can be understated in the mandatory disclosures, and more significantly, these are contributions that are in addition to the hard costs that are funded through collection of union dues.

Finally, what about the indirect influence of public sector unions, the way they trade on the credibility of public servants – firefighters and police officers in particular – to advance their agenda in political campaigning? What about the influence of activist teachers in our public schools and universities, who advocate ideologies consistent with their union leadership when teaching impressionable young students, even when these ideologies may be counter to mainstream political sentiment?

Taking all this into account, the calculations that come out of this exercise are probably conservative – California’s 1.0 million unionized public sector employees times dues of $750 per year times one-third equals $255 million per year, over $20 million per month. This is what public sector unions are probably spending on politics, and for the many reasons detailed here, this number is probably quite low compared to reality.

The implications of this are clear: In California, public sector unions enjoy an overwhelming financial advantage in virtually every political cause or candidate they support. They have used this advantage to take over California’s State Senate and State Assembly, as well as many of California’s City Councils, County Boards of Supervisors, and various local administrative districts, especially in the major urban areas. In turn, this has resulted in years of relentless and unwarranted increases to public sector employee pay and benefits, to the point where public sector employees in California now easily enjoy pay and benefits that are, on average, at least twice what people earn on average in the private sector. Union control of California’s state and local governments has also resulted in a big-government agenda being successfully advanced for decades, meaning the number of government jobs and programs is swollen well beyond what might be optimal for California’s economy and private taxpayers.

If none of this seems compelling given the alleged power of California’s corporate interests, one may consider the following: (1) Corporations are reluctant to fight the unions – whenever corporate interests begin to support public sector union reform, the unions threaten retaliatory legislation and initiatives. To-date, corporations have consistently backed down in the face of these threats. (2) Many corporations don’t care if the state government is inefficient via unionization. In some respects, they actually welcome the tax burden and the increased regulations, because large corporations are better able to withstand the higher overhead, and better able to employ lobbyists to garner a share of the spoils in the form of subsidies or special exemptions. Their smaller emerging competitors, however, cannot withstand these impacts, and hence are undermined as competitors. To think California’s public sector unions provide “balance” to corporate interests is naive.

Anyone who thinks it will be easy to rescue California from the grip of public sector unions is encouraged to go out and raise campaign donations from people and organizations who don’t have to give you a dime if they don’t want to. Then compare this to the $20 million per month that perpetually flows into the political coffers of California’s public sector unions through automatic withholding of union member dues. And never forget, as a taxpayer, this is your money they have used to take control and bankrupt our state.