California’s labor bosses vehemently oppose a woman’s right to choose. To their credit, these unions do not discriminate in this area. They are struggling to deny men the right to control their union dues, too.
In a decision that will reverberate nationally, Californians will vote November 8 on Proposition 75. According to the Official Voter Information Guide, it would “require public employee unions to obtain annual written consent from members before their dues are taken for political purposes.” Workers who like seeing their dues spent on political contributions and campaigning could keep paying these funds. Those who would rather underwrite only collective bargaining could receive refunds on any portion of their dues dedicated to politics. Proposition 75 thus maximizes workers’ choice.
Reputedly “pro-choice” liberals want none of this and are laboring mightily to crush Proposition 75. This crusade involves gargantuan spending–vacuumed from workers’ pockets–bullying tactics, and the usual subtleties organized labor displays these days.
Last September, the California Teachers Association added to their $533 in regular dues an additional $60 annually for three years. This 11.25-percent, $180 hike is supposed to generate $50 million for CTA to oppose Proposition 75 and other initiatives promoted by Governor Schwarzenegger.
“CTA has already spent on the initiative campaign the equivalent of what the temporary dues increase would bring in over three years,” said CTA controller Carlos Moreno in an October 5 federal court deposition. This “has necessitated CTA obtaining a $14 million loan” plus “a necessary $40 million line of credit,” the absence of which would “cause great financial harm to CTA and affect CTA’s ability to continue to deliver its current level of services to members over the long term.”
Teachers complain that CTA, like other unions, obsesses over politics rather than members’ basic workplace needs. CTA “spent more than $2 million this year on ballot measures dealing with prescription drugs, state energy policy, and an abandoned effort to regulate the way people buy cars?!” teachers Lillian Perry of Fontana and Larry Sand of Los Angeles e-mailed colleagues around the state on October 20. “WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH TEACHING????!!!”
One week earlier, CTA reacted to another e-mail by trying to sic prosecutors on Perry and Sand. As the Sacramento Bee reported on October 15: “CTA Chief Counsel Beverly Tucker sent letters Friday asking the district attorneys of Sacramento, Alameda, and Los Angeles counties to investigate the e-mails and ‘take appropriate action including filing criminal charges.’ ” Seeing no lawlessness, prosecutors rejected CTA’s request to jail their political opponents. Such thuggery is as common in this campaign as bumper stickers.
“This is a freedom-of-choice issue,” Sandra Crandall, a Kindergarten teacher in her 36th year of service in Fountain Valley, said in the September 18 Los Angeles Times. “The issue is so simple, my Kindergarten children understand it. Ask permission. Ask permission on how to use my hard-earned money.”
That innocuous comment triggered a rabid response to Crandall, who was selected last year as both Moiola Elementary School’s and the Fountain Valley School District’s Teacher of the Year. “You are a scab and a traitor and don’t deserve to be a teacher,” read an anonymous letter she received September 21 in her school mailbox from “Four Pro-union teachers who think you and the governor and the Republican party stink.” The writers continued: “You not only deserve to be shunned by your colleagues, you deserve to be bitch slapped in public by all the teachers you work with for demonstrating such a high level of right wing drivel and stupidity.” They added: “Do us all a favor, shut your mouth and stop providing ammunition to the enemy.”
“This is what happens when someone speaks out,” Crandall tells me. “That’s why so few teachers speak out even though there are so many who think like me . . . There is an intimidation factor that causes teachers to stay quiet.”
About 100 union heavies hollered, “Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!” over and over and over again as plaintiffs in a National Right to Work Foundation suit against the union tried to speak at a September 22 press conference in Sacramento.
“I see a placard here from our union that says, ‘Don’t silence our voices,’ ” Judith Liegmann, a fifth-grade teacher from Sunnyvale observed. “It would be wonderful if they would practice what they preach.”
Liegmann also received an anonymous communiqué in her school mailbox. “I completely support you and your efforts to reform our union’s political policies,” read the October 19 note from “A FELLOW STAFF MEMBER AT Bishop Elem.” It continued: “I am a member of your staff but I am so intimidated by administration and our union that I do not have the guts to do what you are doing for fear of future repercussions. Please do not be discouraged and keep up the good fight. I wish I had the courage and conviction to do what you are doing. Other teachers on our staff feel the same way I do.”
Last Friday, Schwarzenegger supporter Genevieve Peters attended a downtown Los Angeles union rally. She did not shout down speakers with chants of “Shame on you! Shame on you!” Instead, Peters waved her “Go for It, Arnold” placards. Union protesters hit Peters with picket signs while one labor militant tried to block KCAL-TV’s camera from videotaping the scene. An enraged woman in an orange security vest grabbed Peters’s placards and ripped them to shreds right in her face.
While Proposition 75 could help dispel this climate of fear, it is no panacea. As education writer Mike Antonucci <a href="http://www.nrtw.org/a/MAp226.htm"reported in Investors Business Daily in 1998, CTA prepared two annual budgets–one if voters approved a similar workers’ choice initiative that year, and one if it failed, which it did. Oddly enough, these budgets were equal. According to its Proposition “226 Wins” contingency, CTA planned to shift funds from its PAC to a new Public Policy Center “to engage in organizational outreach to other interested groups with common goals and objectives to obtain visibility and coordinated advocacy on educational issues.” If those groups, in turn, donated money to candidates, well, who was the CTA to stop them?
Could Proposition 75’s effects similarly be blunted? Perhaps. Nonetheless, its passage would telegraph across America the voters’ desire to let workers decide how to handle their own money. It also would put the force of law behind Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
A Proposition 75 victory could speed the day when union membership would be optional, rather than a hiring requirement. That moment cannot come soon enough, and adopting Proposition 75 would help secure the ultimate triumph of this right for women (and men) to choose.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.