Californians, struggling with an $18 billion budget deficit, stuck with a Sacramento political class owned by Democrats who in turn are owned by labor unions, are facing a massive tax increase in November that will give California the unenviable distinction of having the highest per capita tax burden in the Country. Even modest efforts to reign in spending or do serious pension reform are easily thwarted by big labor lobbyists. For average Californians however, statistics like over 5000 former government workers receiving taxpayer funded pension payouts over six figures annually are really striking nerves. The notoriously generous left of center California voters appear to be in full revolt and they are taking it out on big labor.
Less than a month ago, June primary voters in San Diego and even San Jose, voted to reform public employee pensions, ending budget busting defined benefit plans in favor of the traditional defined contribution plans that most Americans have. The efforts were fought by big labor vigorously but even the Democrat mayor of San Jose successfully urged voters to draw a line with unions and give him flexibility to balance the city budget. In San Diego, the nations fifth biggest city and a city Obama carried in 2008, pension reform passed almost 2:1. Nevertheless, unions are defiant, like spoiled children who will not hear the word “no” and are once again suing, asking courts to overturn the will of the voters.
At the same June election, voters in San Diego and even El Cajon joined in handing construction unions their 6th and 7th straight rebukes in California, effectively banning the use of union-only Project Labor Agreements on taxpayer funded construction projects. What did big labor do? They sued again. The unions may be re-thinking their sue the taxpayer strategy because voters have had enough of the bullying and are standing up all over the state.
While the unions treat lawmakers in Sacramento, and most of the large cities like LA, San Francisco and Oakland like their concubines, having their way with them anytime they want, voters in the hinterlands, led by San Diego are not so compliant. In fact, voters in little El Cajon (pop. barely 100,000) showed big time el cajones by also becoming a charter city. A charter city differs from a general law city in that many of the day to day law making gets pulled from Sacramento to the local city council. Those laws include labor union laws. To date, voters in fully 122 California cities have voted to give Sacramento the bird.
The City of Vista passed their charter in 2007 on the prediction that taxpayers could save million of dollars on planned construction of two fire houses and other projects as charter cities could avoid being forced to pay Sacramento government-mandated wages or so-called “prevailing wages” on these projects. The measure passed by an overwhelming margin, but what did the unions do? Right. They sued. Today they lost.
In the matter of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (“Big Labor”) v. The City of Vista (“Little Taxpayers”), the California Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the taxpayers. Taxpayers in every charter city in California now have the ability to squeeze out from under the oppressive Sacramento mandated “prevailing wages” under which a plumber in San Francisco makes over $100 per hour in total compensation. The taxpayers in Vista will be able to have their fire houses and have millions left over to build more parks or other amenities. The alternative would have been millions of dollars to prop up insolvent union pensions. That is the real issue here.
With their losing streak running from Wisconsin to San Jose to San Diego, big labor should realize that the peasants are revolting. The animals on Orwell’s Animal Farm have seen that the pigs are their now masters, and they have met the new boss, who looks the same as the old boss. Their fate runs through Vista. So as the ink dries on the Vista decision, and more cities undoubtedly are contemplating enacting charters of their own, Sacramento lawmakers would be well-advised to make themselves scarce when big labor comes demanding more favors. Before Sacramento lawmakers try to do the unions’ bidding and pass special laws to harm charter cities, they may take a vista at the cajones of the voters that are in full rebellion.