The State Worker

The State Worker: Non-binding measure sparks a fight among labor, locals and business

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

Technically, House Resolution 29 is nothing more than an opinion that Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez wants to put to a vote.

But business interests with a stake in lucrative government contracts and local agencies struggling to control costs say it’s more: A de facto anti-outsourcing pledge.

Resolutions are rarely so contentious, since they don’t carry the force of law. They name highways. Some apologize for wrongs, such as the World War II expulsion of Japanese Americans from state service. A 2011 resolution declared a “West Nile Virus and Mosquito and Vector Control Awareness Week.”

Gomez’s resolution, however, sparked a fight. It asserts that jobbing out government work tears at “the underpinnings of democracy itself” and diminishes taxpayers’ control over public spending. Its opponents say contracting can be cheaper and gives them flexibility that’s lacking with unionized civil-service employees.

Here’s the key passage of the Los Angeles Democrat’s resolution: “... the Assembly opposes outsourcing of public services and assets, which harms transparency, accountability, shared prosperity, and competition, and supports processes that give public service workers the opportunity to develop their own plan on how to deliver cost-effective, high-quality services.”

The resolution also urges local officials to learn the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda, a set of guidelines for government contracts. Among them: requiring contractors to pay their employees a living wage and banning contract language that guarantees profits. A union-affiliated coalition of community groups wrote the agenda.

At a Wednesday Assembly committee hearing, unions lined up in a fourth floor Capitol chamber in support. Government workers do quality work at less cost, they said. (Unsaid: More government workers equals more dues-paying members.)

“We think civil service is the way to go,” said Willie Pelote, an assistant director at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

So does Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. His 2014-15 budget converts about 100 contract jobs to civil service with a promise to convert more. And anti-outsourcing measures come through the Democratic-controlled Legislature all the time.

Bill De Witt, a South Gate city councilman, predicted the resolution foreshadows outsourcing legislation that will force cash-strapped local agencies to limit outsourcing. Lawmakers who vote for the non-binding resolution would be in a political bind when contract legislation came before them, he said.

“Pass this resolution and all the members, if they don’t (follow) it, it will be kind of like George Bush: ‘Read my lips: No new taxes,’” De Witt said, recalling the 41st president’s failed 1992 re-election bid. “And he got in trouble with that.”

The resolution passed 5-1. It now goes to the full Assembly for a vote.