Dissident public union members left the Capitol unhappy on Wednesday after lawmakers rejected legislation to crack open their unions’ books.
Both that bill and one allowing periodic votes on union representation died in committee, thwarting the effort to illuminate organized labor’s finances and illustrating the steep odds for an effort that has openly defied union leaders. Labor officials say the information is already available and dismiss the campaign as a politically motivated attempt to vilify organized labor.
“The whole issue is not so much about these bills, but it’s about right-wing billionaires fighting for their interest and fighting to stymie the rights of the union,” Theresa Rutherford of SEIU local 1021 testified during a hearing on the bills, saying they would “take away the voice of the employees.”
For years, a DMV employee and SEIU Local 1000 member named Mariam Noujaim has waged a legal battle to see how her union spends the more than $60 million drawn from member dues and representation fees. Noujaim and other disaffected SEIU 1000 members joined a press conference backing Assembly Bill 2753, which would require public employee unions to post itemized budgets online and to respond to members’ written requests for more information.
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“I give you my money,” Noujaim said. “Show me how you spend my money, I will know how much you care for me, how much solidarity, and how much you work for us.”
Another bill by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, Assembly Bill 2754, would compel public unions to hold elections every two years to determine whether they continue to represent workers. Grove and allies called it a way to ensure workers have a say and are satisfied with their representation.
Neither bill stood much of a chance given labor-aligned Democrats’ dominance in the Capitol. Union members lined up against the bills, castigating them as thinly disguised attacks on organized labor. They said unions are already legally required to conduct audits and disclose financial information to their members.
In response to Wednesday’s press conference, SEIU California president Laphonza Butler released a statement calling the bills an extension of attempts by “extremist groups – backed by the Koch brothers – to undermine working people’s voice in their workplace.”