California’s Proposition 32 is the country’s most high-profile election in November 2012 directly related to labor unions and labor policy issues. There are also several California local elections – particularly Measure V to enact a charter in the City of Costa Mesa – that will potentially strengthen or weaken union control of government. Here’s a summary of the elections to watch in California.

Proposition 32 - “Stop Special Interest Money” – Requires Union Leaders to Get Permission Before Taking Workers’ Money for Political Purposes

The statewide ballot measure Proposition 32 includes a requirement for union officials to get annual permission from a union member (or represented non-member) before extracting money from that worker’s paycheck for political purposes. Under current law, unions can simply take money from employee paychecks when desired in order to influence legislation or elections. For more information on how this coercive power is implemented in practice, see My Outline of the June 21, 2012 U.S. Supreme Court Decision on a California Union’s Mandatory Fee Assessment on Non-Members to Fight Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2005 Ballot Measures.

A common description of Proposition 32 is “game changer” and the $70 million spent against it by union leaders proves this moniker is not political exaggeration. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, asserts that Proposition 32 is “the most important political reform measure to be placed before California voters in decades. If passed, it would surpass Governor Scott Walker’s successful ballot measure in Wisconsin last year. Moreover, it would be the ‘shot heard ‘round the political world’ as it would fundamentally change the way special interests are required to operate in the realm of California politics.”

Proposed Charters Would Allow Three California Cities to Set Their Own Policies for Municipal Affairs and Circumvent Costly Union-Backed State Mandates

Union leaders are clearly concerned that many of the state’s medium-sized suburban cities and smaller towns are exercising their right under the California Constitution to use charters to escape the tight grip of the state legislature, where union lobbyists basically set the agenda.

A 4-1 majority of the city council of Costa Mesa (in Orange County) is asking city voters to approve Measure V, which would enact a charter so the city can control its own municipal affairs, such as contracting-out of government services and government-mandated construction wage rates. Measure V would give the city authority to free itself from costly and inflexible union-backed mandates from the state legislature.

A professor of public administration at Chapman University (in Orange County) describes Costa Mesa as the ideological “ground zero for virtually everything taking place in the country” and the proposed Measure V charter as “a political manifesto of how government should be organized in the 21st century.” The $500,000 spent against Measure V by union leaders proves this assessment is not political hyperbole.

For more information, see my www.UnionWatch.org article Mysterious Union Slush Fund Spends $100,000 Against Costa Mesa Charter and Gee , Do You Think a Charter Is a Meaningful Way for California Cities to Pursue Fiscal Responsibility? $500,000 of Union Opposition Confirms It.

A second city proposing a charter to voters is Escondido (in San Diego County), with Proposition P. This charter essentially provides the City of Escondido with the same power and authority as the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, but union opposition has been minimal. Perhaps San Diego County union leaders concluded it was a waste of limited campaign resources to try to undermine Proposition P: since 2007, voters in the San Diego County cities of Vista, Santee, Carlsbad, Oceanside, and El Cajon have all approved robust, aggressive charters.

Meanwhile, in the San Luis Obispo County coastal town of Grover Beach, construction trade unions spent a few thousand dollars to send slick, professional mailers from Sacramento to residents urging them to vote against Measure I-12, a proposed charter with similar powers to the ones proposed in Costa Mesa and Escondido. See my articles Campaign Mailer Opposing the Proposed Grover Beach Charter: Definitely NOT Photocopied at Dave’s Copies & Fax and Who Paid the Bills for the Mailers Opposing the Proposed Charter (Measure I-12) in Grover Beach? No One.

The union strategy in Grover Beach emulates successful union-funded mail campaigns to defeat proposed charters in Rancho Palos Verdes in March 2011 and Auburn in June 2012. Unions have learned they can successfully overrun local grassroots activism for charters in smaller towns by stuffing voters’ mailboxes with deceptive, paranoid propaganda. (For more information about how unions defeated the Rancho Palos Verdes and Auburn charters, see my article Who Defeated the City of Auburn’s Proposed Charter, and How Was It Done? (Answer: Three Union Entities, by Spending $56.40 Per NO Vote).

I expect more than a dozen California cities will ask voters to enact charters in the June 2014 election. Currently there are 121 California cities with charters. Many of these cities take advantage of their charters to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”). See Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

Unions Help K-12 School and Community College Districts to Borrow Money for Union-Only Construction by Selling Bonds

Voters throughout California are being asked to approve 106 ballot measures to authorize school districts and community college districts to borrow money for construction by selling bonds. But for the first time since California voters narrowly approved Proposition 39 in 2000 (lowering the voter approval threshold from 66.67% to 55% for educational bond measures), there is a semi-coordinated statewide effort (“Operation Close the Spigot”) to oppose some of the most egregious bond measures by moving beyond the message “it’s for the kids” and providing some real accountability for performance. There is even an aggressive, well-funded locally-based opposition campaign (led by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association) to defeat an exceptionally foolish bond measure in San Diego.

Sacramento City Unified School District wants voter approval through Measures Q and R to sell another $414 million in bonds to add to its existing $522 million bond debt. West Contra Costa Unified School District (based in Richmond) wants voter approval through Measure E to sell another $360 million in bonds to add to its existing $1.77 billion bond debt. Solano Community College District wants voter approval through Measure Q to sell another $348 million in bonds to add to its existing $180 million bond debt. And San Diego Unified School District wants voter approval through Proposition Z to sell another $2.8 billion in bonds to add to its existing $4.7 billion bond debt.

Why are construction unions and their unionized contractor allies providing significant funding to the campaigns in support of these four ballot measures? It’s not because they love the kids; it’s because the elected boards of these fiscally irresponsible, mismanaged educational districts require their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of working on projects funded by bond sales previously authorized by district voters.

In July 2011, the National University System’s Institute for Policy Research in San Diego published a comprehensive study showing that California school construction projects cost 13% to 15% higher when the district requires contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. (The study is titled Measuring the Cost of Project Labor Agreements on School Construction in California.)

I’ve written extensively about these four union-backed bond measures – here are the most recent articles about each one:

  • Who’s Paying to Convince Sacramento Voters to Take On $414 Million of Additional Debt – Plus Interest – with Measures Q and R?
  • $652,650 Contributed to Measure E Campaign: West Contra Costa Unified School District Seeks to Borrow Another $360 Million “For the Children of West County”
  • Updated Chart! Who’s Paying to Convince Solano County Voters to Take On $348 Million of Additional Debt – Plus Interest – with Measure Q?
  • ONE San Francisco Investment Banker Is Funding About 20% of the Yes on Proposition Z Campaign for San Diego Unified School District to Borrow $2.8 Billion Through Bond Sales

As I reported in my www.UnionWatch.org article Construction Unions Could Grab Billions Through Education Bonds, Oakland Unified School District and East Side Union High School District will surely require their contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions for projects funded by bond measures on the November 2012 ballot. Other districts such as the Rancho Santiago Community College District may also attempt to cut bid competition and increase costs for the benefit of union special interests.

Keep in mind that every California taxpayer pays for the union-controlled construction in these educational districts. The State Allocation Board regularly provides matching grants for construction projects with proceeds from bond sales authorized by three past statewide propositions (Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Acts) totaling $35.8 billion. Union officials believe in “trickle-down economics” when your taxes “trickle down” to their operational and political funds.

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com.

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