The State Worker

Union leader and lawmaker mix it up over dead legislation

Read the letters recently exchanged between Bakersfield’s Republican assemblywoman and the head of California’s largest state employee union and you’ll sense the antipathy that two failed bills stirred up. Again.

Shannon Grove, in her final Assembly term, wrote a letter a few weeks ago to Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, challenging her to open the union’s books for inspection. Democrats in the Legislature had earlier squashed Assembly bills 2753 and 2754. The first required public employee unions to publicly post itemized financial records. The second mandated that public unions hold biannual elections so that members could reaffirm or replace their unions.

Unions blasted both bills as Koched-up ideas floated in other states to kneecap labor. One would tie up resources with an endless parade of selection elections, they said. They argued the other, spurred by SEIU Local 1000 gadfly Mariam Noujaim’s fight to look at union expense reports, was unnecessary.

(The law requires unions report some of their finances in detail, such as executive salaries. Noujaim has sued for more information. The local says she can have access, but only under certain conditions that Noujaim has rejected.)

“We already comply with the law; we do what the law asks,” lobbyist Randy Cheek said during the bills’ lone committee hearing last month. “We are totally open and transparent.”

“Because of this great news” about the union’s transparency, Grove wrote in a May 12 letter obtained by The State Worker, “I would like to facilitate a meeting with Ms. Noujaim at your headquarters” to review all of Local 1000’s financial records.

“Once she has reviewed the itemized and updated information ...” Grove wrote in a letter fertile with sarcasm, “... we can put this misunderstanding behind us.”

The State Worker also obtained Walker’s not-so-subtle May 31 response. The opening line: “Thank you for your interest in our organization.”

The union finance bill was “contrived,” Walker wrote, since Local 1000 complies with laws that require disclosure.

“It would appear,” she told Grove, “your effort to add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy was motivated by something other than a commitment to transparency.”

The other measure also was “unabashedly anti-union,” and mirrored other bills introduced in Michigan that Walker said were “accurately characterized as blatant attempts to attack hard-working middle-class people across the country.”

Noujaim has brought “frivolous lawsuits” against the local, Walker wrote, and Grove should steer clear to preserve the constitutional separation of powers and “the dignity of the courts.”

Walker’s thanks-but-no-thanks conclusion: “The union finds your letter and request on behalf of Ms. Noujaim to be misplaced and improper.”

It’s also latest installment of a never-ending fight between government unions and conservatives like Grove who oppose them.