Photo: Teamsters are among many union workers rallying against California's Prop. 32.
LOS ANGELES – When then California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to repeal the safe hospital nursing-staff ratios in 2005, it was the California Nurses Association (CNA) and other nurse unions that quickly mobilized to Sacramento rallying in support of the Safe Staffing law enacted in 1999.
“Part of the reason why we were able to do that is because of our members paying their union dues,” said Zenei Cortez, co-president of CNA. “It’s those political action activities from our union dues that enable us to fight for that kind of legislation.”
That type of union mobilization and advocacy for their employees may be in jeopardy if Californians pass Proposition 32, the “paycheck protection initiative,” on the November ballot.
Backed by wealthy individuals and corporations, Prop. 32 would prohibit unions from gathering funds from their employees for political purposes. The measure would also ban corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates, and it prohibits business interests from contributing to politicians who award them contracts.
Measure Would Ban Mandatory Payroll Deductions
But it is the prohibition of using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes that have many unions in a tizzy.
Since most labor unions use funds from their employees to fight for legislation on their behalf, the passage of Prop. 32 would severely weaken their political clout in Sacramento.
Prop. 32 also would inversely strengthen the political capital of big business in the state, said Philip Ung, policy advocate for the non-partisan Common Cause, which opposes the proposition.
Although Prop. 32 is pitched as campaign reform that will, claim its proponents, put a “stop to the special interest money in California,” Ung called the ballot measure’s wording misleading.
“It’s their attempt to cover poop with sugar. They are just sprinkling as much sugar and candy to this thing that no one wants to eat. It sends us the opposite direction of campaign reform,’” he said during a New America Media election briefing in Sacramento.
“What happens when you introduce this paycheck deduction provision into the campaign finance world is that you essentially gut labor unions’ voice, but you empower corporate voice because corporations do not use paycheck deduction to influence politics,” he asserted. “They are not using their employees. They are using giant checks in their basic treasury that is decided on by their CEO.”
He noted that although Prop. 32’s backers say the initiative will protect workers paycheck, “when it’s approved you’ll see there’ll be a spike in spending by corporations and the other side will be silenced.”
Ung said it more bluntly: “If this passes, the unions are dead in the state.”
Prop. 32 Hurts Filipinos
Prop. 32 is the third measure prohibiting unions from collecting dues for political purposes placed on the California ballot in recent years. The earlier measures, in 1998 and 2005, were easily defeated.
However, Prop. 32’s stronger showing in state polls this time has many union officials worried.
Since August, Daz Lampares, a union representative for the Service Employees Union International (SEIU) 1021, has spent at least four hours a night everyday phone banking to get word out about Prop. 32.
Lampares, president of SEIU’s Asian Pacific American Alliance, said there’s a sense of urgency amongst top union officials to speak to as many people and ask them to vote “No” on this controversial ballot measure.
“I don’t know the actual survey right now, but I know it’s really close,” said Lampares. “I’ve called thousands of union members to inform them about Prop. 32.”
A Reason-Rupe poll released on Oct. 19, labeled Prop 32 “too close to call,” with 45 percent of likely voters supporting the measure, and 48 percent opposing it.
Lampares said the passage of Prop. 32 would hurt Filipino and Asian union workers.
“We already don’t have a voice in politics. What do you think this will do to our community if it passes? We’ll be neglected. We won’t have a voice,” he said.
That lack of influential political voice is a sentiment shared by CNA and many other unions representing their employees.
“We don’t just fight for the safety of our members but also our patients,” said Melita Dionisio-Temple, a registered nurse at University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and member of the CNA.
Dionisio-Temple said if a similar ballot measure like Prop. 32 had passed years ago, nurses in the state would not be able to provide personalized care for their patients.
“Before nurses here would take care of 10 to 12 patients. We weren’t able to take care of them properly. Now, it’s a 1 [nurse)] to 5 patient ratio,” Dionisio-Temple said.
She added, “We’ve fought for whistleblower protection, nurse meal breaks and safe-staffing ratio. This is for protection for not only our profession but also our patients.”
“When you’re a nurse and you want the best for your patients a “No” vote is the way to go,” Dionisio-Temple said.
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