Monday, January 25, 2010

California's Union Wars

As California sinks with an ocean of debt, two stories over the weekend describe the state of union affairs in the Golden State.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal's Steven Greenhut wrote about how public employee unions are sinking California.

The state is in a precarious position, with a 12.3% unemployment rate (more than two points higher than the national average) and a budget $20 billion in the red (only months after the last budget fix closed a large deficit). Productive Californians are leaving for states with less-punishing regulatory and tax regimes. Yet so far there isn't a broad consensus to do much about those who have prodded the state into its current position: public employee unions that drive costs up and fight to block spending cuts.

California's bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is responding to his adopted state's crisis with proposals that promise to turn California into a battleground with public union bosses and their members on one side and the 'governator' and taxpayers on the other.  According to the Los Angeles Times:

Among the plans in the governor's budget: privatize prisons, which would strip members from the influential guards union; curtail seniority protections for teachers, a key union-won protection; and reduce the number of sick, disabled and elderly Californians cared for through the state's In-Home Supportive Services program -- almost all union jobs -- while cutting what their caregivers are paid.

Schwarzenegger also wants to permanently lower state workforce salaries by 5% without returning to the bargaining table with public-sector unions. And he would require state workers to chip 5% more into their retirement plans.

"The public sector also has to take a haircut," Schwarzenegger said, arguing his policies would save California billions of dollars, now and in the future.

Matt David, Schwarzenegger's communications director, says the governor's proposed budget makes hard but necessary choices, given a $20-billion deficit.
"This budget wasn't about attacking any specific group," he said. "It was about trying to fix what's broken in this state and prioritize the funding we have so we can protect education."

Union bosses are not pleased.

Labor and the unions' Democratic allies are already girding for battle.

"It's a continuing jihad against organized labor," said Steve Maviglio, a Sacramento-based Democratic strategist. "The governor thinks public employee unions are Enemy No. 1."

Unfortunately, if Schwarzenegger fails at reining in the costs, it may be that all Americans will be footing the bill of California's give-aways to the public employee unions.

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"I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes." Thomas Paine December 23, 1776

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