Unionizing Grandma in California

The venerable Dan Walters, who covers California state politics for the Sacramento Bee, has discovered the obvious in a column entitled “Unions again using politics to bolster membership.”

Walters notes:

It’s no secret that organized labor has seen a steep erosion of its involvement in the private economy and that it has shifted its emphasis to public employees in California and other states to maintain union membership.

There is, however, another wrinkle to labor’s struggle to survive as the economy continues to undergo vast structural change – exerting political influence to coalesce independent service workers into public or private employment, thus making unionization more likely.

When then California Gov. Grey Davis signed union legislation to convert workers who care for the aged and infirmed from private contractors to employees of county-level agencies, he created a road of unionization that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) continues to follow. Now, two similar drives are being mounted in California in new tests of unions’ ability to use political clout to expand membership.

One battle centers on the forced unionization of truckers at the seaports of Long Beach and Los Angeles:

The city governments of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which own the ports, have agreed to impose fees on containers and provide grants to the truckers to buy newer and cleaner rigs.

There is, however, a big hitch. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has close ties to unions, is insisting that the independent truckers become employees of large trucking firms, contending it’s needed to create financial stability for the truck replacement program. Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a former utility executive, declares that proviso to be “unacceptable” political interference in private economic matters.

The thinly veiled conflict has to do with the unionization of the truckers. As independents, they cannot be organized as a union, but as employees, the Teamsters Union would quickly sign them up as members and gain a long-sought foothold into the region’s rapidly expanding port trade.

The other battle is with the SEIU, who are trying to nudge “. . . home child caregivers who receive public funds under the state welfare program into becoming employees of ‘provider organizations,’ which then could be unionized.”

Schwarzenegger has vetoed similar legislation in the past, citing its impact on a deficit-ridden state budget. Another SEIU-sponsored bill was placed on his desk this week by the state Senate. This time, he may be induced to sign it by his political debt to SEIU’s aggressive leader, Andy Stern, who provided the governor with some much-needed union support for his unsuccessful health care plan.

Given the fragmented nature of child care, it’s entirely possible under the legislation, Senate Bill 867, that a grandmother taking care of her daughter’s children would become a union worker, or at least be required to pay some kind of fee to the union as a condition of employment.

The cost of unionizing baby sitters has been tagged by legislative analyst at around $60 million a year, but given the state’s precarious financial situation, that would mean either taking funds from other services or reducing the overall availability of child care.

It’s often said “as goes California, so goes the nation.” Hopefully they can hold the line against these coercive unionization efforts in a state without a Right to Work law.