The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Says Yes on 75

Or at least this one member does!

You may not know it, but I'm a member of the IBEW. I've served as a steward and attend all the union meetings. And my Chief Steward appreciates my assistance. I support the union's efforts to create good working conditions and salary for it's members.

But I'm voting Yes on 75.

Many of my co-workers take The Irish Lass voting guide with them to the polls, but a few have asked my why, as a union member, I'm supporting 75.

In private sector labor negotiations, there are both active and silent participants at the table. Management and labor are active negotiators, but shareholders and customers have a stake and no one can afford to ignore them. Senior management will quickly lose their jobs if the shareholders are dissatisfied with results. Labor cannot overreach because the customers will abandon them. Both sides know that there is a limit to how much they gain.

In public sector negotiations, labor tries to hold both active seats at the table. By using their coerced dues money to contribute to political candidates, they can assure that their opposites in the negotiation are really their allies. Few legislators, councilpersons, or school board members can be elected in California's cities unless they are pro-labor. With the active negotiators united, the silent participants (taxpayers, parents, citizens) can easily be ignored.

If my company management gave me a contract that allowed me to retire early with full pay and benefits, they would be fired. The company couldn't afford it, even though it would be personally fabulous for me. But when Gray Davis and his legislature reclassified hundreds of employees as public safety workers, granting them the most generous retirement in the country, Union leaders contributed millions of dollars to his campaign coffers to make sure his management remained in power. Labor was essentially negotiating with itself.

The most recent Wisconsin survey the Comparative Study of Major Public Employee Retirement Systems was published in December 2003, with data through 2002. It looked at everything from the basic benefits themselves to employee and employer contributions, retirement age, how an employee's final salary is computed and cost-of-living adjustments.

The report doesn't examine special benefits for public safety employees, where California policy is indisputably at the extreme end of generosity, granting pensions that give Highway Patrol officers and most local police and firefighters 90 percent or more of their final salary for life and allow them to retire with full benefits as early as age 50.

But even the state's less generous benefits for the general work force are at the high end of the national spectrum. California's standard retirement formula is known as "2 percent at 55," which means that a retiree gets a pension equal to 2 percent for each year worked and can retire with that benefit as young as age 55. Employees who work 30 years for the state and quit at 55, then, get pensions of 60 percent of their final salary.

Workers who stay longer see their final pay multiplied by a progressively larger factor, up to 2.5 percent per year worked at age 63. So an employee who retires with 30 years service at age 63 would get a pension equal to 75 percent of his or her final salary.

-Daniel Weintraub, San Diego Union Tribune, October 26, 2005

I understand why the union members want better and better salaries and retirement. Don't we all?

But as shareholders in the state of California, we have to reclaim our right to set the priorities for our government spending. As long as the union dominates, our priorities cannot be given fair hearing.

Proposition 75 does not prohibit union members from representing their members politically, but it creates a hurdle that will require them to focus on the issues that are most important to their members and diminish their dominance a little.