After all the rumors and build-up and speculation about how much the Service Employees International Union might campaign against Prop 1A, the SEIU state council came out strongly against the rainy day fund proposal last week because… well, let’s look at the press release from SEIU and its coalition of anti-1A unions.
1A is disturbingly long…. (“close to 3000 words”)… and full of “confusing information”… and “complex formulas.” Who, the unions ask, would responsibly vote on such a document?
Of course, such a description – long, confusing, full of complex financial formulas — could apply to other documents. For example, union contracts. Except those union contracts would be closer to 30,000 words than 3,000. But I appreciate SEIU’s newfound devotion to simplicity. In the name of consistency, I’m sure the union will renounce its support for collective bargaining and ask the legislature and governor not to approve Local 1000’s new contract. After all, who would vote responsibly on such a long and confusing document?
What are the folks at SEIU thinking?
I have no idea. No one at its various locals is offering an explanation for the record. So I’m left to marvel at a union, the country’s largest, that seems bent on self-sabotage. Put simply, SEIU would be better off staying neutral in the special election and minding its own business.
There’s plenty of business to mind. Top officials, past and present, at California locals are under investigation for corruption. Locals all over the state are struggling to adjust to mergers and restructuring that were supposed to focus the union on organizing (but have actually focused the union on mergers and restructuring). A nasty civil war has broken out between top officials of one major California SEIU affiliate and the international. That war includes several decertification fights because one side in the war let several contracts expire as the economy was heading into recession. (That’s a betrayal of members, who would have gotten more money if the contracts had been negotiated in a timely fashion). And of course, there’s the federal fight over the Employee Free Choice Act (a campaign that has been hurt by the internal problems of SEIU and its Change to Win coalition). With all those issues on the table, you might think that the board of the SEIU state council would spend all its time and energy on getting its own house in order.
But no. Instead, SEIU has joined a small coalition of unions against 1A – and in the process has divided the house of labor. Prop 1A supporters include the giant and powerful California Teachers Assn. as well as other unions whose leaders have reluctantly gotten behind a terrible if necessary package of ballot measures that were part of a terrible if necessary legislative compromise.
Yes, 1A has problems, but the problems are rather obvious. No one needs SEIU to weigh in. (After all, the people in favor of 1A routinely point to shortcomings.) If SEIU wanted to be a principled opponent, the union could offer a responsible, politically viable alternative to 1A. Instead, the union is offering a disingenuous campaign against this “confusing” and “complicated” measure.
Well, guess what. Governance is hard. And compromises are complicated.
SEIU is playing the left hand to the know-nothing, anti-tax conservatives’ right hand, shouting “no” and indulging in the fantasy that they’ll eventually get their way. To the extent there is a strategy, SEIU folks seem to think that they can ride out the current difficulties and next year elect a Democratic governor who will adopt their agenda.
Of course, the Democrat most likely to be elected governor – Jerry Brown – just came out strongly for 1A this week. Last week, another Democratic gubernatorial contender – Antonio Villaraigosa – did the same. Even worse: since 1A is linked to 1B, which would restore more than $9 billion in education funding, the union is effectively taking a stand against providing the funding our schools deserve under the state constitution. (Yes, I know: those cold-blooded folks at CTA cut a sweet deal, Arnold can’t be trusted, and the deal favors education programs at the expense of health care. Yadda yadda yadda. Snap out of it – you’re campaigning against more money for schools – how exactly is that good for working people?).
The union is also undermining the Democratic legislative leaders – all of them strong, committed friends of labor – who negotiated this deal. Yes, SEIU could “win” and see 1A go down, as is likely. But, in that event, it seems unlikely that Democrats who stuck their necks out for this compromise will jump to do what SEIU wants.
In fact, SEIU’s opposition to 1A could cost its members. If 1A goes down, so do the other measures, and the budget hole becomes bigger. That means more cuts. SEIU members already have taken hits because of the budget crisis and cash crunch. It’s a safe bet that the additional cuts will hit SEIU members even harder.
I’m sure SEIU must have an explanation for why it’s joined a campaign against the interests of Democrats, other unions and perhaps its own members. But I fear that the explanation would be too long and confusing and complex for people to understand.