Potomac News Online | Paying to pick our own pockets

Just occasionally, the real job – the one that pays the mortgage – provides some factoid or quotation useful to this little endeavor.

One of our favorite quotations at the office comes from that great Virginian Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, who once wrote that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”

He was responding to another great Virginian, James Madison, father of the Constitution, who wrote in defense of religious liberty: “Who does not see … [t]hat the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?”

These are two particularly apt principles in my practice of law, which consists primarily of vindicating the rights of workers whose public or private employers are, in league with labor unions, compelling them to support the activities of those unions, mostly in states which do not protect their workers with a Right to Work law.

It is of particular relevance as Californians prepare to go to the polls to terminate the political career of the aptly-named Gray Davis, apparently the soon-to-be former governor.

The reasons are detailed by National Review’s indispensable Rich Lowry, in a recent column that might as well take its title from the Bard: “First, let’s kill all the lawyers … and the public employee unions, too.”

California is a case-study in what happens to a state where the governor’s office becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of the AFL-CIO and/ or the National Education Association.

Davis entered office after 16 years of GOP control of the governor’s mansion, after “Governor Moonbeam” – Jerry Brown, now Mayor of the City of Oakland – was succeeded by Republicans George Dukmeijian, and then, by former San Diego Mayor and Senator Pete Wilson.

After nearly two decades of gubernatorial control, it is unsurprising that the California GOP became both ossified and decrepit. As a result, Davis crushed Attorney General Dan Lungren in 1998, after Bill Clinton had moved the state – providing one-fifth of the electoral votes necessary to win the White House – firmly into the Democrat column, after three GOP election victories in 1980, 1984, and 1988.

As superstar actor and now gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger -with a surname that will cause spellchecker’s nationwide to implode over the next months or years – has rightly noted, the Davis years have been an orgy of special interest influence and influence-peddling. Perhaps the most notable area is in providing succor to public employee unions.

From virtually his first days in office, Davis has provided aid and comfort to these special interest groups, whose primary interest lies in the growth and expansion of government. Within months of his swearing-in, Davis’ administration negotiated contracts with state government unions which required state employees to pay union dues.

Well, I use the word “pay” advisedly, since California state law permits state and local governments to seize union dues without the consent of the employee, a practice barred in the private sector under federal law. And in many cases, only half or fewer of the employees in many bargaining units who were “represented” by those unions thought enough of that “representation” to join them voluntarily.? In one case in which I represent a class of 37,000 nonunion public employees forced to pay dues, one union realized an uptick in its revenues of more than $1 million per month! And that was just for nine bargaining units in one subcategory of state employees.

Likewise, Davis and his Democrat legislative majority have turned over to public employee unions the money from tens of thousands of other state employees, state and community college faculty members and staff, local government employees and public school teachers. As a result, the coffers of public employees unions have been swelled by tens of millions of dollars. And where have those millions of dollars gone? Most, it seems, into the political efforts of Davis and his allies, who equate the public interest and the interests of those groups.

Not that their financial support has anything to do with that, or the lucrative pension benefits contributing to California’s $38 billion deficit.

Is it any wonder that the staunchest opponents of the recall effort have been public employee unions?

That is one reason why the Commonwealth bars public employee monopoly bargaining. Such statutes give public employee unions and their bosses a preferred seat at the table in the political battles over scarce public resources. For while the First Amendment gives all of us the right to free speech, and the right to petition government for a redress of grievances, it does not obligate government and its officials to listen to any particular group.

Public employee monopoly bargaining requires government to listen, but only to these special interest groups. And to add insult to injury, California – which does not have a Right to Work law – permits the state or local governments and union bosses to require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Unfortunately, even in Virginia, where all is right with the world in terms of forced-unionism in employment, the taxpayers are not so protected.

It seems that the Virginia Association of Counties, as well as the Virginia School Boards Association, have joined forces to fund advertisements designed to persuade Virginians to pay more taxes, and to lobby state legislators for more state tax money for localities. And it seems that the Prince William County School Board and its members, as well as the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and its members are all members of these organization, and pay dues to them with public money.

Public officials are certainly entitled to exercise their right of free association to belong to most any organization, so long as it’s disclosed (and hence, they can be held accountable for it). But they should only do so when their dues are paid from their own pockets. But it seems that our local officials are paying their dues and validating the Big Government agendas of these groups with public monies.

It seems little better than picking our pockets to lobby to persuade us to pony up even more of our hard-earned tax dollars. Jefferson must be spinning in his grave.

An attorney, Young lives with his wife and their two sons in Montclair.

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