Labor unions’ officer elections are typically predictable affairs. But every now and then an underdog scores an upset. That’s what happened last week in an election for president of Service Employees International Union Local 1000, California’s largest state employees’ union, when challenger
toppled 13-year incumbent
Even more notable was the novel platform Mr. Brown campaigned on. For starters, he refused to back
Gov. Gavin Newsom
in the coming recall, vowing to run him “out of office one way or another.” Mr. Brown also wants to remove the union from political campaigning entirely, explaining that SEIU’s consistent support for Democratic politicians has divided the union’s membership.
He’s not wrong. Since Janus v. Afscme (2018), in which the Supreme Court struck down state laws forcing public employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, SEIU Local 1000 has been bleeding members, costing the union millions in lost dues annually. Through outreach and litigation efforts, my organization has assisted thousands of state workers in understanding and exercising their rights under Janus. While the union represents nearly 100,000 of California’s state workers, nearly half of them are no longer dues-paying members.
Mr. Brown hopes his radical new approach will energize the union and reverse its membership free-fall. He vows to cut dues in half, in part by severing ties with the SEIU’s Washington headquarters, which demands a hefty share of dues. As an added olive branch to nonmembers, he would like to permit nonmembers to vote in union elections, which involve the selection of officers, the ratification of collective-bargaining agreements negotiated and whether or not to call a strike.
Not that Mr. Brown’s approach is conciliatory. In place of the traditional tools of campaign contributions and lobbying, he seeks to adopt a more militant, confrontational approach toward the state in negotiations. He’s pledged to try and remove the no-strike clause from SEIU 1000’s contract with the state and to create a strike fund to support work stoppages designed to force concessions.
For 13 years Ms. Walker led a government union in decline. She barely survived re-election in 2018. The new boss’s agenda is a clear indication his union feels pressure to make big changes. Mr. Brown knows his union needs to grow to survive, like any business. But he has his work cut out for him. Although his election was atypical in many respects, it was marked by characteristic low turnout. With five candidates on the ballot, he won by securing only 33% of 7,880 votes cast.
Implementing his goals will require convincing the union’s board to support his radical agenda, winning fights with state labor negotiators at the bargaining table, navigating SEIU rules specifically designed to prevent defections by affiliate locals and convincing the 97,000 employees his union represents who didn’t vote for him that these fights are worth the cost.
If he succeeds, however, Mr. Brown may pioneer an innovative way to stem the tide of falling union membership in government as more employees exercise their newfound rights. Unfortunately, his focus on wage and workplace concessions through direct, militant action means that his success would come at the expense of California’s taxpayers and those who depend on government services. Tactics aside, Mr. Brown’s fundamental goals are the same as those of Ms. Walker or any government union president: bigger, more expensive and less accountable government staffed by more state workers paying more union dues.
Mr. Withe is CEO of the Freedom Foundation.
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