We have already covered the recent statewide attack on initiatives in California by labor unions, but their offensive has just begun. In an earlier editorial posted on June 13th, entitled “California’s Legislature Continues to Propose Laws to Preserve Government Union Power,” we document no fewer than four bills submitted so far in 2011 by union-friendly politicians in the California legislature, all designed to curb the ability of grassroots organizations to put citizen initiatives on the ballot by making them far more expensive. But meanwhile there are local and statewide initiative campaigns already gathering signatures for measures that the unions consider a threat. Their counterattack is in process.

As documented in our editorial of July 28th entitled “SEIU Propaganda – Lies of Just Carelessness,” that organization has now organized their membership to send “Truth Squads” to wherever petition workers are set up to gather signatures from voters. In response to a particular statewide initiative, their “Think Before You Ink” flyer makes some claims that are quite misleading, if not completely false; that “out of state billionaires” are financing the initiative – not true, that “business interests already dominate political spending by a margin of 15 to 1 over organized labor” – not even close, and that “the initiative would take away our right to gather voluntary contributions to the Local 1000 political action fun” – also not true, in fact the opposite is the case.

A guest contributor to UnionWatch, Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association, added this post on August 1st “Latest Intimidation Tactic is a Public Relations Disaster for Unions,” referring to a current, union financed, statewide ad campaign making the preposterous claim that signing a petition puts the signer at risk of identity theft.

Apparently the will of the people is a threat to unions in California, because evidence of these efforts continues to surface. Here is a link to a new LA County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO website page “URGENT: We Need Your Help to Prevent a Deceptive Ballot Measure.” Apparently, more “truth squads” are being mobilized, as this excerpt indicates:

“If you’re out shopping this weekend and encounter a signature gatherer who is talking about “special interests” or “payroll deduction,” don’t sign the petition. Then help us ensure the public is getting the real story, call toll-free at 877-440-9585.

It’s critical that you call if you see a signature gatherer. We are counting on people like you to report the locations of signature gatherers so we can make sure people know the facts about this deceptive measure.”

In their internal emails, the unions are more blunt about their objectives and tactics. Here is an excerpt from an email sent by the SEIU Local 1000 to members – forwarded anonymously to our editorial staff – in reference to a petition drive in Sacramento county that would increase the competitiveness of the bidding process for government funded construction – lowering costs to taxpayers:

“FOC Signature Suppression “Spotter” Checklist—what you can do:

  1. Don’t sign the petition.
  2. Tell your colleagues, family, friends and neighbors not to sign the petition.
  3. Call 916.812.4023 – Bud McKinney or 916.812.4024 – Kevin Ferreira of the Sacramento Central Labor Council and give them the following information:
  • Store name and location with cross streets
  • Date and time
  • Number of signature gatherers
  • Gender of all signature gatherers
  • Signature gathering tactics (i.e. aggressive or false claims to reduce gas prices, child healthcare, etc.)
  • If the call is not answered, please leave a voicemail or send a text message.”

These tactics, apparently, are just beginning. It is interesting to note that the initiative process has always been something the unions themselves have turned to whenever the public sentiment could be aligned with their political agenda. But now that public sentiment is tipping in favor of reform, they are attacking the process and the participants.

Most union reformers are not entirely opposed to unions. If union membership were completely voluntary, if union members could easily and at any time refrain from having any portion of their dues used to engage in politics, and if unions, especially in the public sector, were more strictly regulated, there is a legitimate role for unions. In emerging economies, the need for labor unions is perhaps still quite urgent. In the United States, the role of unions has become more problematic.

Perhaps the biggest economic misunderstanding committed by most union supporters is their overemphasis on raising wages and benefits, and their underemphasis on exploring how instead to lower the cost of living for everyone. The rise of government unions, where there is no competitive check whatsoever on their demand for more government worker compensation and benefits, and their consistent agenda that calls for additional government programs and regulations requiring more government workers, imposes staggering costs on the rest of us. The public is beginning to realize this basic fact of political economy.

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