Bread, butter, unions and politics
When Citizens for California, the initiative committee formed to carry out the stated agenda of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week announced the lineup of measures it would be funding, political strategist Rick Claussen tried his best to downplay the significance of union opposition to the proposed initiatives. In the Los Angeles mayoral election this month, he noted, the union establishment backed incumbent James Hahn, but exit polls should that most voters from union households supported City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.
Claussen and others on the Schwarzenegger political team continue to insist that their opposition comes from union bosses, and not necessarily the rank and file. While clearly there are times when there is a political disconnect between union leaders and their membership, it is hard to imagine that will be the case when the initiatives involve such bread-and-butter union issues as pensions and job security.
Treasuer Phil Angelides, the only announced candidate for governor in 2006 and a member of the State Teachers Retirement System board, told me last week he had done the calculations on what the Citizens to Save California-backed pension initiative would mean to a 30-year teacher in California. Under their traditional pension today, he said, such retired California teachers receive an average monthly pension check of $3,400. Under the proposed 401(k) style plan, assuming a 7 percent return on their investments, those teachers could expect to withdraw $1,800 a month from their accounts after they retire, he said.
Do rank-and-file teachers have reason to oppose Schwarzenegger on this? You bet. Chances are, there won't be a whole lot of grumbling now that the California Teachers Association is set to ask for a $60 a month increase in union dues to build up its warchest to take on the Schwarzenegger plan.
And the teachers aren't the only union with a bread-and-butter agenda with the potential to motivate the troops. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards' union, has always had a reputation for playing politics for keeps. There's no ambiguity about where they stand in the name of the Web site the union plans to launch in the near future: www.screwarnold.com.