The Coastal Post - May, 1998

Prop. 226 Would Bust Union Vote

By Karen Nakamura

Proposition 226 is shaping up to be among the most controversial issues in the upcoming June election. This measure, if adopted, would require labor unions to get written authorization every year form every member before they could make any expenditure for political purposes. That would make it nearly impossible for unions to lobby to improve worker benefits and protection.

Proponents say this will insure democratic rule in the unions and stop the hierarchy from spending monies some members don't approve.

The CP went back to our old friend Bernie Chiravelli, president of Communications Workers of America, Local 9404, associated with the AFL-CIO.

He insists unions are probably the most democratically run organizations in the country. The Department of Labor, in fact, insures that there's democracy in each union and that each member is given the right to vote to elect their leadership in secret ballots and to vote eon operations of the unions.

"Now, what that basically means is there are two levels of structure, some have three; the local and the national levels. It's similar to the way the U.S. government is run."

On the local level, the membership nominates and elect local officers. this is done by attending membership meeting. At those meetings, they discuss issues brought up by any member and in an orderly manner akin to Robert's Rules of Order (rules of conduct used by the Congress and most official organizations).

"Members have the opportunity to make motions, debate and then vote on the issues. Remember, and this seems to have been forgotten, the majority rules. Just like any democratic organization."

On the local level, any issue political in nature or that may include political expenditures is decided strictly on a majority vote of the members provided that expenditure is within the limits of the law. This includes local issues. In this way, members are already voting which way they want their dues spent.

"The next thing that happens is local officers, elected by local members, then become the authorized spokespersons at the state and national conventions made up of all the recent membership."

"Now, what I just told you war, starting with the individual, members have the opportunity to participate in their local activities. The membership then democratically elects their local officers who represent them at state and national levels. This utilizes what's known as a republican form of government. The same as the United States of America.

"And, as in every democracy, the majority rules. Very seldom have I seen a vote taken on any issue where it was 100%. What I'm getting at is it's no secret certain political segment sin the U.S. would like to eliminate the employer-based health care system which provides most of the health care to the U.S. In order to do that, they have to have the support of Congress of state legislators.

"Can you imagine what chance workers would have if no labor organization was permitted to spend any of its money from dues on lobbying or to support legislators against losing those health benefits?

"What Prop. 226 would suggest is that before a union could petition their government, they would need to make contact every year with every individual member and get their okay to spend a proportional share of their dues money before they could go to Congress to try to preserve working people's current health and pension plans.

"The point is this: workers only have one voice and that's Labor. And that costs money for things like lawyers. Business or any other segment of society doesn't have these rules except Unions. You can't just take on group and give them a different set of rules. rules have to be across the board. You can't just let employers and the wealthy get all the benefits, especially when their goals have been proven to be anti-worker.

"Labor already has to find ways over and above dues to finance political activity. We raised a lot of money that is totally voluntary and not associates with dues. It's referred to as 'free money' that we can use to make contributions to candidates and causes we endorse and that affect our lives. Prop 226 is nothing more than an attempt by the right-wing and wealth corporations to silence the voice of working families. What would happen is that all the news we'd get would be right-wing opinions.

"For instance, Pacific Bell first petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission and Congress to get in the long-distance business. Then letters were sent out at Pacific Bell asking every employee and retiree to write letters urging officials to permit Pacific Bell to enter the market.

"Unions want to look at the details. How is the expansion going to affect members? Are offices going to be moved to low-wage areas to save money and lay off workers?

"If we can't go to legislators to insurance protections, what are we to do? Since '84, with mergers and down-sizing, thousands of people faced loss of their pensions. So, the Unions went to Congress and got pension portability.

"Prop. 226 would stop us from doing all that by placing unfair obstacles in our path not required by anyone else and which would negate our already firm democratic process. If election reform is going to put this type of restriction on unions then the same restrictions should be on business. They should have to go to every stockholder before they engage in political activities."

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