Can Public Sector Union Power Ever Be Stopped?

Imagine you’re hoping to support a candidate for local office who will enact reforms that will improve your city, maybe even save it. Someone who will fight tirelessly to eliminate work rules that force agencies to hire more people than are actually necessary. Someone who will insist that incompetent public employees are fired. Someone who will finally do something about compensation and benefit packages that are threatening to bankrupt the city.

What do you say to them, when their response to your suggested reforms is this: “That’s all great, and I’d like to do it all, but who’s going to give me the million dollars for my campaign that I’m not going to get from the public employee unions if I actually try to do any of it?”

That is the sort of conversation that takes place, or would take place if anyone bothered to ask, multiplied by thousands, every election cycle in California.

Public employee unions run California. They exercise nearly absolute power in the state legislature, and in nearly every city, county, school district and special district. Can public sector union power ever be stopped?

Earlier this year, a California Public Policy Center analysis estimated that for 2016, total membership in California’s public sector unions was 1.15 million, and total revenue was $812 million. This equates to a stupefying $1.6 billion that these unions collect and spend every election cycle.


California’s Public Sector Unions (including local affiliates) Estimated Total Membership and Revenues

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Imminent Janus Court Ruling May Severely Impact Government Unions

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to rule on Janus vs AFSCME, a case that challenges the ability of public sector unions to force government workers to pay union dues. Depending on the scope of the ruling, this case could dramatically affect the political power of big labor in the United States.

The case hinges on the assertion by plaintiff Mark Janus, a public employee in Illinois, that everything a public sector does is inherently political. As a result, Janus argues, even the so-called “agency fees” the union charges – ostensibly to fund nonpolitical activities such as contract negotiations – are a violation of his right to free speech. He’s got a strong case, because nearly everything public sector unions negotiate have a direct impact on public policy.

When a public sector union negotiates for increased pension benefits, for example, every other budget item is affected. In states like California and Illinois, costs for public employee pensions are exceeding 10% of total tax revenuess in some cities and counties, crowding out other public services with no end in sight. And everywhere public sector unions are active, their impact on budgets, along with their negotiated work rules, significantly alter how our elected officials set policy priorities and how they manage our government agencies.


The stakes in the Janus case are epic. Nearly half of all unionized workers in the United States are government workers. Public sector unions collect and spend nearly $6.0 billion per […] Read More

U.S. Senate to Force Unionization of Police?

Within the next few days the U.S. Senate may consider Senate Bill 3194, the “Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act,” that will require states to grant collective bargaining rights for all public safety workers, including police, firefighters and emergency medical workers.

Residents of California have had a front row seat to witness the consequences of allowing unrestricted collective bargaining by public employees. It is increasingly arguable that the root cause of many of California’s most serious problems – the insolvency of the State and most local governments, and the mediocre public school system, to name two big ones – are because of the influence of public sector unions. And public sector union control over California’s State government, which most insiders will acknowledge is “absolute,” is matched by union control over California’s county and city governments. Now we’re going to export California’s problems with public sector unions to the rest of the United States?

A report written by Kris Maher for the June 17th, 2010 Wall Street Journal entitled “Bill Gives Public Workers Clout,” quotes the Executive Director of the 325,000 member National Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, who said “unions wouldn’t be able to negotiate wages and benefits that governments couldn’t afford.” It’s interesting to wonder how Pasco can justify this statement, because if history is any indication, the opposite is going to happen.

As documented in “The Price of Public Safety,” […] Read More

No Profits, No Pensions

California Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown knows he’s in a fight. His presumptive Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, not only is doing a good job presenting herself as a socially moderate, fiscally conservative candidate, but she has abundant personal wealth she can tap in order to finance her campaign. So Jerry Brown has to turn to the only reliable source of campaign cash out there, the public employee unions.

In Joel Fox’s report of March 22nd entitled “Brown Embraces the Public Unions,” Fox quotes Brown as saying “California’s fiscal problems are not the unions’ fault but that of Wall Street and corporations.” Get ready for a campaign season filled with more bashing of corporations. And here are some reasons why this rhetoric is absurd, nihilistic, corrosive, deceptive, utterly bankrupt, and at least to-date, tragically effective:

Public sector unions are by far the most powerful source of campaign cash in California. They can pretty much spend as much as they want to make sure their candidates get elected, and their opponents are defeated. Without these unions, Jerry Brown wouldn’t have a chance against Meg Whitman. But is Brown only singing the union song in order to get their financial support? After all, in late February 2010, in a closed meeting with a group of California business leaders, Brown admitted the single greatest mistake he made as Governor back in the 1970’s was his decision to sign legislation allowing public sector workers to unionize.

Public sector unions have […] Read More

Stopping Taxpayer Funded Unions

When fiscal conservatives run for office, or fiscally conservative initiatives are put onto the ballot, the candidates and proponents have to go out and ask for money to finance their campaigns. But in the case of public sector unions, who overwhelmingly support fiscally liberal, big government programs, and consistently oppose attempts to shrink the size of government, this is not the case. In California, for example, every year these unions automatically collect literally hundreds of millions in dues from unionized state and city workers, which they can use to engage in partisan political activity. In California, ever since 1977, when legislation was enacted to permit collective bargaining by public sector employees, unions have become increasingly involved in influencing public issues and policy. It has now reached the point where public sector unions exercise nearly absolute control over California’s state government, and most of California’s local government entities.

One would think workers in the public sector would object to unions who purport to represent them using their money to pursue a big government agenda that has now put public entities into such a financial crisis that they face furloughs and layoffs. One would think government workers would question why their taxes and fees are automatically and involuntarily siphoned into the coffers of union leaders who use the money to control elections and set the agenda for government. And this is particularly true when these unions financially support – using their money – a liberal agenda that not all public employees necessarily […] Read More

Public vs. Private Sector Unions

Any ideology with scores of millions of willing adherents cannot be completely without merit. For any movement numbering millions of people to flourish, at some level, their underlying ideology must resonate with mostly good people as well as with the inevitable corrupt contingent. Unions, and their ideologies, are examples of good ideas – as well as whatever bad one might ascribe to the influence of unions. And any discussion of unions in America today must assess the ideological schisms between public sector and private sector unions.

Unions for private sector companies grow when the company itself grows. If the company is not healthy, they are not healthy. When companies declare bankruptcy in the private sector, the unions and the jobs go away along with the company. Unions in the private sector envision jobs that build wealth – freeways, levees, aquaducts, new underground telecom/utility conduit upgrades in urban areas, the list is endless and inspiring. They envision jobs in capital intensive, heavy industries, construction, manufacturing, they want Americans to buy American made goods and enjoy a better and better standard of living. Private sector unions are somewhat more likely to recognize that their imperative – more union jobs – is better furthered through building infrastructure and durable manufactured goods, better furthered through competition between private companies in the free market, better furthered with less government. But the conditions that favor more jobs in the private sector conflict with the incentives that create more jobs in the public sector.

Unions represent many […] Read More

Exposing Public Sector Unions

Several years ago a consummate Sacramento insider told me “unions run this town,” and subsequent research and observations have confirmed the truth of this statement. Slowly, very slowly, this reality, and the disastrous fiscal consequences of this reality, are being recognized. Criticizing unions is still something responsible people do with some reservations, after all, in the 19th and through much of the 20th century, unions played a vital role in securing basic worker’s rights. These contributions should not be dismissed. But unions today, especially in the public sector, are a different beast entirely. In our current anti-capitalist political climate, unions are getting far less criticism than they deserve, particularly because in the case of state, city and county governments, the unchecked power of public sector unions are almost the sole reason we have a fiscal crisis. Here are some points to consider:

(1) Compensation to public sector employees is not limited to their wages, but must take into account the value of their increased number of paid days off (AND the “9/80” program which equals another 26 paid holidays per year), as well as the current year funding requirement (less whatever they contribute out of their paychecks which is usually only a fraction of the cost) for their retirement health and pension benefits. This “overhead” can easily double the annual cost for public sector employees, whereas in the private sector, overhead costs of this sort rarely exceed 25%. This overhead must be included when assessing how much public sector employees […] Read More