California’s dominant Democratic Party joins state unions, so it’s no surprise that lawmakers often take action aimed at helping their allies recruit and keep due-paying members.
Just last month, for example, the language slipped into a file Too long budget trailer bill Announcing the state’s intent to provide union members who do not itemize income tax deductions with a refundable tax deduction corresponding to their entitlement. In fact, under the Workers' Tax Justice Credit, as it is called, the taxpayers would guarantee some or all of the dues paid by the members to their unions.
It is one of several measures in recent years clearly aimed at facilitating the maintenance of membership unions in the face of 2018 US Supreme Court ruling State laws prohibit requiring public officials to pay dues even if they are not union members. It should be noted that some of the financial dues paid by taxpayers will eventually end up in the campaign accounts of lawmakers who voted for the bill and the governor, Gavin Newsom, who signed it.
However, the Capitol’s mutually beneficial partnership with union regulators has one distinct exception: its workers.
The legislature has derailed several attempts to allow its employees to form a union, propelled mostly by a former member of the House of Representatives. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who recently became the top official in the California Labor Union. But the issue appears to be gaining ground this year.
Assemblyman Mark Stone, a Democrat from Santa Cruz, maneuvered a "courage and amendment" on a bill that had already passed in the Assembly and was pending in the Senate. He introduced language allowing legislative employees to unionize and then the revised bill received approval from the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment, and Retirement.
If the full Senate is passed Assembly Bill 1577could go to the assembly hall for approval without running the challenge of assembly committees where the Fletcher Guild bills died.
"I believe giving people a voice in their workplace is fundamental to the values of many in this legislature," Stone told committee members. "And that’s really what this bill is."
Unionization of legislative staff is aided by the legislature’s ill-advised responses to sexual harassment complaints and other workplace issues—and the new impetus comes as congressional staffers strive to do the same.
In May, the House passed HR1096, which gave House employees the legal protection they needed to join unions. When the decision went into effect this month, workers in eight progressive lawmakers' offices petitioned Congress’s Office of Workplace Rights, the first step toward forming a union.
"Congress has very little standing to preach to others about the right to unionize and collective bargaining if we are unwilling to recognize that right in our corridors," Representative Ro Khanna, D-Fremont, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Every worker deserves the right to form unions.”
This is absolutely true in both legislatures. It is simply hypocrisy for legislators in either place to defend unions and pass laws that help unions gain and retain members while banning such an organization for their employees.
Bill Stone still has a long way to go. Unspoken resistance to a union presence in the state capitol, even among lawmakers with union backgrounds, remains strong. Many want to be hired, fired at will, and create their own working conditions without outside supervision.
However, fairness is fair and if politicians are to speak up, they must be prepared to walk.
About the author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his career in 1960, at the age of 16, in the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to quietatters.org/commentary.