Exclusive Extortion

Written by: 
Aubrey Freedman

Did you read about AB 119, signed into law by Governor Brown on June 27? Probably not, even though California voters clearly voiced their preference for transparency when they overwhelmingly approved Prop 54 last year, which was supposed to give the public a 72-hour notice before a bill became law. AB 119 was one of those goodies that legislators throw in at the 11th hour of final budget approval that the public hears little about.

AB 119 bears examination for it shows the blatant collusion between California legislators and government unions. Dubbed California’s New Employee Orientation Law, it applies to public agencies including cities, counties, special districts, trial courts, state civil service agencies, the Los Angeles County of Metropolitan Transportation Authority, K-12 government schools, community colleges, California State Universities, Universities of California, and school districts. In other words, a ton of government employees. AB 119 mandates that all these government agencies must provide to the unions 10 days advance notice of any new employee orientation; the name, job title, department, work location, work, home and personal cell number, personal email address, and home address of any new employee within 30 days of hire or by the first pay period of the month following hire; and all this same information every 120 days for all employees. And here’s the topper: the unions become “the exclusive representative” to receive all this private information. The justification for this abuse of privacy is “The ability of an exclusive representative to communicate with the public employees it represents is necessary to insure the effectiveness of state labor relations statutes, and the exclusive representative cannot properly discharge its legal obligations unless it is able to meaningfully communicate through cost-effective and efficient means with the public employees on whose behalf it acts.” Indeed, indoctrination is so much more “effective” and “efficient” when unions get a captive audience by law and the new employees are not presented the chance to opt-out or are intimidated to join the union or else risk ostracism (or worse). While the particular details of how AB 119 plays out depend on how each public agency negotiates with the unions on such things as how much time “the exclusive representative” is given to meet with the new employee and also the content of what “the exclusive representative” will discuss with the new employee, the basic tenets of the mandate are to maintain the stacked deck of union power in government jobs and a total disregard for personal privacy.

While government workers might not be the most esteemed workers to Libertarians, they’re definitely not disappearing any time soon, and is there any compelling reason they shouldn’t have the same freedom not to be extorted by the unions as workers in the voluntary sector? Unions may be “pro-choice” on some issues, but clearly they want all choices but one to be eliminated when it comes to new employees joining a union or not. Afraid that new employees might want to opt out of union membership, as has been the overwhelming choice in the voluntary sector, AB 119 pulls all the stops in a last-ditch, desperate attempt by the unions to maintain their diminishing power.

What has brought on this blatant law to create a non-level playing field? It’s a case in Illinois called Janus v. AFSCME, which is likely to be heard by the Supreme Court within the next few months, and it has union leaders in an absolute frenzy. Mark Janus is an employee for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services who heroically filed a class action suit with several other Illinois state employees who don’t want to be forced to pay union dues. As Janus explained his motivation, “To keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public employee union that claims to ‘represent’ me. I’m filing this case on behalf of all government employees who want to serve their community or their state without having to pay a union first.” Currently government workers in 20 states are required to pay agency fees to the government unions, even if they choose not to join the union. If the Supreme Court should rule in favor of Janus and the right to choose, the teachers’ unions estimate they could lose 20-40% of their membership in those 20 states.

AB 119 is a cynical effort by California legislators beholding to the unions to resuscitate union membership, which is clearly on its way out in a modern industrial society. Despite union efforts to glamorize their plight by claiming that a Supreme Court ruling for Janus would “make it harder for public service workers to speak up together for better public services, stronger communities, and wages and protections that benefit all Americans,” nothing can disguise the fact that unions exist solely for the benefit of their members, not “stronger communities.” Should Janus prevail and put up a major roadblock to the current extortion of government employees, even the overreach of AB 119 may not be able to slow down the decline of union membership in California. In the end, we hope the “pro-choice” option is granted to all workers.