If you think government employee unions already have too much power in California, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Last week, the state Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown that would essentially place public employee unions in charge of the commissions that oversee public employees.
Assembly Bill 455, sponsored by San Jose Democrat Nora Campos, requires half the commissioners on a city or county personnel commission to be “nominated” (essentially appointed) by the largest public employee union in the city or county. With control of at least half the commission, the union-backed commissioners would need only one more vote to elect an additional pro-union commissioner to serve as the chair and provide a majority.
The San Francisco Civil Service Commission, which currently consists of five members appointed by the mayor, would become controlled by the Service Employees International Union. The commission has the power to determine the salaries of The City’s elected officials, including supervisors and the mayor. Those officials then determine employee salaries and benefits — you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
The Civil Service Commission also has the power to establish employee rules and policy; rule on appeals on examinations, eligible lists, minimum qualifications, classification, discrimination complaints, future employment with The City and other merit system matters; interpret rules and policies; review and audit merit-system operations; approve contracting out based on the scope of services; and conduct training and outreach on the merit system.
Talk about the fox guarding the hen house. And who are the hens getting plucked? That’s right, the taxpayers who have to pay for it all.
AB 455 sailed through the Legislature on party-line votes, backed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. It’s also opposed by California’s cities and counties.
The League of California Cities has urged Brown to veto the bill, arguing that there are already many safeguards in place to protect government employees, including state and federal laws, rules, regulations, city codes and human resources departments. To avoid the union takeover, local agencies might instead look to an outside hearing officer or to binding arbitration to settle employee disputes, which would be more costly to the agencies, employees and taxpayers.
The league calls the state mandate “an unnecessary intrusion into what is fundamentally a local municipal affair.” That argument should resonate with Brown, who has advocated transferring responsibilities and tax dollars from the state to cities and counties where they can be better managed.
“We want to align responsibility with funding,” Brown said in a Jan. 10 speech regarding public safety. “So we’ll give them the money, but then they make the tough decisions on how they want to manage it. Same is true with mental health services, foster care, child welfare, substance abuse. Related activities are handled by the county, and if they have the total bundle of services, we feel they can make better decisions.”
If city and county officials can make better decisions on serious social problems, surely they are better equipped to decide how they handle their own employees. And that’s a much better situation than the employees handling the officials.