Los Angeles Times
'Paycheck protection' or partisan ploy
The initiative is necessary -- public employee unions should have to ask
before using a member's dues for political purposes.
By Robert Krol and Shirley Svorny
ROBERT KROL and SHIRLEY SVORNY are professors of economics at Cal State
October 12, 2005
IN THE Nov. 8 special election, voters must decide whether public employee
unions will be allowed to continue to back candidates and causes their members
do not support. Proposition 75 would require union leadership to ask before
using a member's dues for political purposes.
Currently, state employees who do not agree with their union's political
objectives may pay a so-called agency fee rather than union dues. Agency fees
cannot be directly used for political purposes. However, employees who select
this route forfeit the right to vote on union issues.
Under Proposition 75, workers would continue to pay dues and would get to
vote, but they wouldn't have to see their dues go to political causes that
they don't agree with.
Even opponents of the initiative acknowledge that it would reduce the unions'
In 2003-2004, the California Teachers Assn. reported political contributions
that totaled $15.9 million, according to the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a
Washington state think tank. Of the CTA funds spent on partisan elections, 89%
went to Democratic candidates. In California, nearly 45% of voters chose
President Bush in 2004, and only 43% of voters are registered Democrats. Even
if union members are considered to be disproportionately liberal, 89% shows
extremely lopsided support of Democratic causes.
The CTA has accused Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of trying to stifle the voices
of union members, and one of its mailings shows five union members with duct
tape covering their mouths. Just the opposite is true. The union's leaders are
spending members' money to oppose a proposition that would give members more
say over the group's political agenda.
The union's strong opposition to Proposition 75 indicates that its leaders
fear a significant drop in funding if the initiative passes. Evidence from
other states corroborates the expectation that, when given the choice, members
will not support the type of political contributions we have seen in
In Washington state, a similar initiative was passed in 1992. The Evergreen
Foundation reports that since then, in most years, only 15% of union members
contributed to the Washington Education Assn. Political Action Committee. Utah
passed a similar law in 2001 and had similar results. Given such figures, it
is clear that union leadership is often off-base in representing the political
views of union members.
Opponents of Proposition 75 argue that giving union members a voice in
political spending would be akin to giving stockholders a voice in corporate
campaign spending. But a stockholder who disapproves of campaign contributions
can easily invest elsewhere. A public employee union member, unhappy with the
way dues are spent, can't so easily quit his job.
Also, a corporation's actions can be measured by external market checks, such
as fluctuating stock prices, and the board of directors can be held
immediately accountable. Whether a union's political actions would be
beneficial or harmful to the membership cannot be measured in a similar way.
Union leadership has adopted a standard strategy of diversion, suggesting that
the passage of Proposition 75 will hurt education, health and safety. In fact,
Proposition 75 will more closely align the political activities of a union
with the positions of its members.