Anthony Kennedy

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, seated next to McClatchy High School teacher Ellen Wong in 2013, appears to be the swing vote in a case involving public employee unions forcing nonmembers to pay dues. (Renée C. Byer – Sacramento Bee file)



Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
January 11, 2016 3:57 PM

  • Lawsuit being argued challenges mandatory union dues
  • Justices’ comments indicate unions will lose
  • A loss could affect the clout unions have enjoyed

Four decades ago, Jerry Brown signed legislation granting collective bargaining rights to teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees.

The rationale was parity – that government workers should, like those in private employment, be able to join unions and have them negotiate labor contracts with state and local governments.

However, the public employee unions, unlike their private-sector counterparts, could influence those negotiations by getting union-friendly politicians elected to the governorship and other statewide offices, to the Legislature and to thousands of city councils, school boards, county boards of supervisors and governing boards of special districts.

The unions quickly became, collectively, the most powerful players in California politics, spending tens of millions of dollars each year on campaign contributions, lobbying and other forms of political action, largely favoring Democrats.

It’s paid off, particularly in improving pensions and other fringe benefits and fending off occasional efforts to curb those benefits.

Even as the big public employee unions such as the California Teachers Association pursue their agendas this year in the Legislature and in ballot measures – on taxes, particularly – a pending U.S. Supreme Court case threatens to reduce their political power.

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