California is having a November 8 special election with nationwide consequences. Of particular importance, because of the implications if it wins and its momentum spreads similar initiatives throughout the country, is Proposition 75, which would require public employee unions to obtain members’ permission before using their dues for political activities. The large stakes are reflected in campaign spending of over $100 million, with substantial amounts from outside the state.
Proponents call it “paycheck protection,” since it protects employees from union spending for political purposes they oppose. Unions say it is about weakening the political voice of working people. But even beyond the facts that all workers would remain free to contribute to whatever causes they support and more than a third of union members routinely oppose positions union leaders fund (and members have been reported as roughly evenly split on the measure), that claim is noteworthy only for its brazen misrepresentation.Public employee unions’ benefit themselves by increasing their wages, either directly or indirectly, by increasing government demand for their services (which also increases the power of politicians and bureaucrats, which explains the warm response they get from governments). They claim that it is for those they serve (always promoted as poor and deserving), but no policy that might reduce demand for union workers ever manages to get their support, even when it would help those same groups. And they show little interest in evaluating existing policies and programs they have promoted (to the point of resisting every attempt to evaluate anything they benefit from) or seriously reforming them as adverse evidence piles up-instead, the solution is always increased government spending on their members.
The primary effect of public employee union lobbying is therefore to increase government spending, with no reason to assume taxpayers will get more for the extra money. Taxpayers–that is, workers–pay the price.
For those public employee unions have been unable to confuse out of this straightforward understanding of their negative effect on workers, they add the claim that Proposition 75 would give too much power to “big business.” But their equation of business lobbying as opposite but equivalent to union lobbying is false.
Unions contrast their lobbying for more money “for others” with “selfish” business lobbying to get government favors. However, this
misrepresents the kind of business lobbying unions object to. They don’t invest resources opposing businesses lobbying to impose restrictions on other businesses (except as “proof” of how evil businesses are when they oppose union proposals), which are the proposals which harm workers in their role as consumers. They just oppose “pro-business” bills that would reduce unions’ ability to restrict labor market competition for their workers (e.g., project labor agreements, prevailing wage mandates, restrictions on non-union apprentice programs, etc.). But pro-business positions in such cases are also pro-consumer, and therefore pro-worker, as they would result in lower costs and lower prices. In contrast, union positions sacrifice the well-being of the far larger number of non-union workers for higher incomes for their members.
Further, the union bogeyman of “big business” domination of
California politics is ridiculous. After all, California is known for “milker” proposals designed only to extract business contributions to make them go away and union threats of costly “revenge initiatives” to blackmail businesses out of opposing the union agenda, which are hardly indicators of overwhelming political power. As Thomas Sowell once put it, “there is no question that business as a whole is increasingly hemmed in by government regulations, mandates and pressure. In short, business as a whole has been losing its ability to mind its own business and has become increasingly a plaything for bureaucrats and politicians. Is this what you would expect if corporate campaign contributions were just buying favors?”
If those misrepresentations were not enough, the union opposition to Proposition 75 has piled on with the further claim, repeated endlessly, that it would silence the political voices of those in public employee unions. However, there are so many channels through which their voices are heard that Proposition 75 would still leave them with more influence, even beyond the government coercion of others that created and maintains their power, than virtually anyone else.
Proposition 75 would only reduce unions’ political voices by making their political spending subject to prior approval by individual public employees. To the extent that members truly support their leaders’ political positions, it will make little difference. However, unions’ massive campaign against it (while also maintaining the mutually inconsistent position that members can already easily opt out) reveals that their leaders do not believe their agenda has the worker support they assert.
However, Proposition 75 does nothing to decrease the political voices of public employees as individuals. Further, it increases the political voice of workers who disagree with the union agenda (reflecting Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical”). And it does not restrict their voices as part of any other groups or campaigns they choose to join or contribute to, including ones promoted by unions.
In addition to the fact that unions would keep the funding for their political voices when they reflect those of their members, they would retain many other avenues of getting their political voices heard, including many that other citizens lack.
Unions will still have a structure to organize and coordinate its members as volunteers for telephone banks, door to door campaigns, getting union members to the polls, (less in evidence than usual this campaign only because so many union members oppose Proposition 75), etc. Others do not.
The jobs of public employees also give them a direct political voice, as they involve the creation and implementation of public policy, and constant interaction with political leaders with oversight authority. Many state boards and regulatory bodies, who directly determine public policy with limited public awareness, are also liberally populated with, if not dominated by, union and union-connected members.
Further, those with strong union connections have also been powerful members of the legislature (such as current Los Angeles mayor and former assembly speaker Antonio Villaragosa, who was a union organizer).
After Proposition 75, public employees would still maintain more access to editorial and opinion pages than others, given the slant of most newspaper editorial boards. Further, millions in state funds have gone toward organizations that are just fronts to feed the union agenda to the public disguised as impartial research.
With all these political advantages, claiming that Proposition 75 would take away public employees’ voices is just as preposterous as the claim that unions benefit all workers (which is inconsistent with its negative effects on wages in the more than 90 percent of the private workforce that is not unionized). There is only the risk that they will lose some of their dominance, by reducing their ability to drown out the voices of almost everyone else in the state, including not only taxpayers and non-union workers, but many of their own members.
In addition, even if the bogus arguments employed to defend union political power were true, it would still not address the most essential underlying issue-government, and therefore political power, does not solve problems. Its only comparative advantage is in the use of coercion, not in the promotion of voluntary arrangements which do not require it. The consequence is that the calling card of government activity is taking from some (violating their rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness”) to give to others.
Since government consists in the self-interested use of force, political activity to control that force is seldom a real solution to its abuses. But activity that reduces the ability of unions, which have been created and sustained by government force, to leverage that power into even greater harm to the public, is worth support and imitation in other states. After all, it follows the model of all useful political reforms-reducing government involvement.