By Mike Myslinski
At a time when it’s critical that CTA members’ voices be heard in Sacramento, wealthy developers and venture capitalists are bankrolling a devious new “paycheck deception” initiative that would silence the voices of all California union workers and strengthen the clout of big corporations.
By early September, the campaign behind this new attack on middle-class workers was on the verge of collecting enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot next year. The measure singles out public- and privatesector unions for unfair restraints on political spending while providing loopholes for big businesses, warns CTA President Dean E. Vogel.
“California voters already rejected two of these ‘paycheck deception’ attacks in the past 13 years because they know a scam when they see one,” says Vogel. “Wall Street already outspends unions by huge margins, and this initiative would make the imbalance worse in our state. We can’t create a better future for our students and our state by silencing the voices of California’s working class — especially teachers, firefighters, police and nurses.”
Corporations nationwide have outspent unions on politics about 15-to-1 over the past 11 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It is ironic that the new ballot measure is called the “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act.”
The initiative is clearly not what it seems, says Vogel. “It singles out middle-class workers for unfair treatment and does nothing to stop corporate CEOs from contributing to political campaigns. It creates more problems than it solves.”
The dangers of this kind of initiative are real, agrees Bay Area high school teacher Tim Sbranti. He chairs CTA State Council’s Political Involvement Committee, which has been tracking this ballot measure.
“It would be devastating for public education in California,” says Sbranti, a past president of the Dublin Teachers Association in Alameda County. “It would devastate our ability to fight for our students and our schools.”
Working with coalitions, CTA helped defeat similar measures in 1998 and 2005, but it takes solidarity and community outreach, says Sbranti. “We have to mobilize. We have to be ready to fight. When we fight together, we win.”
The initiative backers call it “paycheck protection” because it would ban corporations and both public and private labor unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political fund-raising. It would also ban corporate and union contributions to candidates.
But this is specifically designed to unfairly impact labor unions, not corporations. Corporations can tap vast profits, rather than their employees, for political funding.
This measure is unnecessary because union members already have the right under California law to request that their dues not be used for political purposes. CTA members can opt out of paying dues to the ABC Committee, CTA’s political action committee, which funds CTA’s campaigns.
CTA has a democratic process in place to decide whether to engage in political activities. The final decisions on campaign spending represent the will of the majority.
This process involves the nearly 800 democratically elected teacher delegates to the CTA State Council voting to make final decisions on all political expenditures. Educators like Lysa Sassman, vice president of the Auburn Union Teachers Association, validate this system and what it’s accomplished over the years.
“I trust the spending process that we have in place at CTA because I have a say in it and I trust the leadership of CTA. The leaders can be trusted to make the decisions based on what’s best for our students and our members,” says Sassman. “The people behind this initiative have no right to interfere with my union. Members decide what CTA’s political priorities are. We are the bosses of our union. Educators run CTA.”
The AFL-CIO warns that paycheck deception initiatives are partly in retaliation for unions’ exposing the right-wing, antiunion corporate agenda in the U.S. Polls show union members overwhelmingly want their unions involved in politics to counter the influence of Wall Street.
What kinds of political gains has CTA made for education over the decades?
CTA has a proud record of using political clout to protect students, improve schools and colleges, and enhance the teaching profession.
Educators’ ability to lead labor’s fight to defeat conservative billionaire Meg Whitman and elect Jerry Brown governor last year could have been curtailed if this paycheck measure were the law at the time. So would the campaign to elect Tom Torlakson as state superintendent of public instruction.
CTA led the fight to pass the landmark Proposition 98 in 1988, which guarantees minimum funding levels for schools. The union also sponsored the 1996 legislation that created the state’s class size reduction program, and the 2006 Quality Education Investment Act, which brings an extra $3 billion in resources to 500 at-risk schools over an eight-year period.
From 2000 to 2009, CTA beat back a school voucher initiative and won passage of three statewide school bonds totaling $35.7 billion. State Council approved a $60 million CTA war chest to successfully oppose then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s three well-funded initiatives in 2005, including his paycheck deception effort. These measures would have cut school funding, destroyed teachers’ due process rights, and silenced the political voices of all public employees in the state.
“We are proud of the way we use our voice in Sacramento to help our students and schools, and we will not let wealthy interests silence our voices with this initiative,” says Vogel.
“This measure is misleading and full of unintended consequences that would hurt us all. It clearly singles out union members for unfair treatment while giving big corporations a free pass to reap even more profits and pay even less in taxes. We know a dangerous scheme when we see one. So do the voters.”