‘The Most Important Election of the Year’

By October 6, 2005Labor Unions

Some thoughts on what the Wall Street Journal calls in Wednesday’s lead editorial the most important election of the year:

You political junkies out there will remember California’s Proposition 226 in 1998, an effort to require public sector unions to gain their members’ consent before lighting a match to their money on generally unpopular political causes. An issue that began polling almost 3-to-1 favorable among union households was ultimately defeated narrowly after a torrent of union money — members’ dues, used without their permission — was spent in its defeat. (We’ll pause a moment for the irony to linger.) The public number was put at $30 million but sources close to that effort say far more than $30 million of members’ hard-earned dues was squandered on the effort.

Now comes “Son of 226”, better known as Proposition 75…

Once again, it will require public sector unions to gain their members’ consent before using their dues for political purposes. Think of it: there are few if any parallels for the unions’ hold on the market. In the majority of states — in the non-right-to-work states — all bargaining unit employees are required to pay dues in a union shop as a condition of their employment. Yet a chunk of that money is spent — wasted, you could say — on causes which the members don’t support. What’s a dissenting member to do? Under the Supreme Court’s Beck decision, they can ask for a partial refund of their dues, but this is ill-publicized by the unions, ill-enforced by the government, and in most unions is a horrifically (and intentionally) cumbersome process to endure. (If you don’t believe us, go to any union website and see if you can figure out how to get your money back.)

More irony: The California Teachers’ Association has boosted dues by $60 to fight Prop 75. The prison guards’ union, (The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn, big contributors to former Gov. Gray Davis) went one better, adding a whopping $33 per month surcharge to its dues. The CTA will raise $50 million, the CCPOA will raise about $18 million, all from their members, who have no way to fight back. Might as well get while the gettin’ is good, goes the reasoning, what if this thing passes?

Nonetheless, as Laura Kurzman reports in the San Jose Mercury News, “unions are finding one of their toughest jobs” as they go about the business of protecting their own self-interest, ” is persuading their own members to oppose it.” She quotes a recent poll of over 700 AFL-CIO members that showed an even split of opinion on this issue. This does not bode well for the folks in organized labor in the Golden State.

And so the Wall Street Journal calls this the most important election of the year. Forget about the money for a moment, if you can. For merely establishing the principle that an organization cannot take money you are required to pay and use it to support political causes in which you don’t believe, we think the Journal has it about right.