Shameless in California

Labor Unions Own California's Politicians

A year ago October the California legislature and Governor Gray Davis enacted SB645, which empowers unions with monopoly bargaining privileges at California State University and the University of California to extract monthly fees from the paychecks of faculty and staff who want to remain union-free. Every Democrat and two Republicans in the legislature voted in favor of this legalized theft.

The unions and the politicians in their thrall rationalized their actions with the same spurious argument they have always used—the mythical free rider. First, rather than limiting unions to representing only workers who want such representation, the politicians force workers who want to represent themselves, or who want nonunion representation, to accept union representation. Unions, of course, are happy to receive this monopoly bargaining privilege. Next, the unions argue that since they represent workers who want to be union-free those workers must be forced to pay for the representation they do not want. Otherwise those workers would receive the “benefit” of the representation they do not want without paying for it. They would be free riders. Of course, with members-only rather than monopoly bargaining there could be no free riders.

Notice that the free-rider argument rests on the presumption that unions and politicians are anointed with superior wisdom. Workers who wish to be union-free may think that union representation confers harms rather than benefits, but they are benighted. The anointed know the truth. The unions are like charlatans who thrust snake oil into the hands of people and demand payment for it because of its alleged healing powers. But not quite. Politicians usually don’t force people to pay charlatans for snake oil they don’t want.

This is shameless pandering by politicians to the unions in exchange for a share of the loot in campaign contributions. It happens in other states too, but California politicians have reached new depths of shamelessness. SB645 is unlike all other laws empowering monopoly unions in California public education. For example, the 1975 Rodda Act allows unions to steal money from dissident K-12 public school teachers and community college instructors only if the unions can win the privilege through collective bargaining with individual school boards and boards of trustees. Under SB645 covered faculty and staff at the state’s two public universities are commanded to pay tribute to the unions as a condition of continued employment without any bargaining. Apparently California’s union-owned politicians don’t think their masters are skilled enough to bargain for theft rights.

The politicians didn’t stop there. All so-called agency-shop statutes include an escape hatch for the unions’ victims. Those theft rights can be rescinded if 30 percent of covered workers request an election and if a majority of covered workers votes for rescission. In all cases in California except those arising out of SB645, the Public Employment Relations Board, a bureaucracy set up to carry out the terms of the statutes, uses taxpayer money to pay for such elections. Under SB645 those who request the election must pay for it out of their own pockets.

Last February I and two others, represented by lawyers from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, challenged the law in federal district court in San Francisco. We argued that SB645 unconstitutionally denies us equal protection for the two reasons stated above.

Guess what? In March the same politicians who enacted SB645 set out to enact a new statute, SB1960, under which all California public education employees become subject to the two uniquely oppressive provisions of SB645. They decided to meet the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection restriction by taking away as many rights from other public education employees as they took from us. Union-owned California politicians have no shame whatsoever. They will do anything they can to empower unions to steal money from public employees in exchange for getting to share in the loot.

Religious Exemption

It gets even worse. Another of the provisions of SB645 empowers unions unilaterally to decide whether covered employees have any sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from supporting unions. To qualify for a religious exemption from the legalized theft we must belong to a religion or sect that has opposition to supporting unions as part of its official doctrine, and the unions get to decide which religions and sects qualify. We argue in our suit that this violates our First Amendment right to freedom of association. The unions are empowered to tell us that we must belong to a union-approved religious organization in order to claim the exemption. We argue, and various courts have agreed in other cases, that our choice of religion is our own and that we can have religious beliefs that preclude supporting unions based on our own understanding of religious obligation.

For example, I am a Catholic. While the Church has no official doctrine against voluntary support of unions, the Eighth Commandment proscribes theft. Moreover, I believe that one of my obligations as a Christian is to refrain from supporting any organizations that promote conflict among people, especially when those organizations have a record of using violence and other forms of coercion to get their way. All laws that empower American unions promote adversarial labor relations, and the historical record is clear—unions and violence go together like left and right shoes.

I, along with hundreds of other faculty members, requested a religious exemption from the legalized theft. Most of us received a form letter from the union, the California Faculty Association, which in part says, “In reviewing your request, we considered whether any statements contained therein about how CFA conducts itself are accurate. We also considered whether the proffered belief is in fact religious, or instead merely personal and philosophical. Finally, we considered whether the proffered belief is sincerely held. Based upon your letter, and in light of the above-enumerated principles, your request for religious accommodation is denied.” Under SB645 there is no appeal.

What arrogance! Since I don’t belong to a religion or sect whose doctrines it will acknowledge, the CFA tells me my beliefs are neither religious nor sincere. With the blessing of the shameless California legislature and governor, the CFA discriminates against me because I am a Catholic rather than associated with a group on the list the union has approved for this purpose.

Finally, just to show to what depths politicians will sink in exchange for their share of stolen money, consider that under SB645 we are forced to pay for “preparation for strikes, slowdowns, and work stoppages regardless of their legality under state law.” In other words SB645 encourages unions to “prepare” for illegal activities. If I collude with others to commit illegal acts I am subject to prosecution even if those acts are never carried out. SB645 exempts unions from the rule of law.

We shall see what the courts have to say about all of this.

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