Press Release

GFC Statement On AB 1

Statement by David Crane, President of Govern For California

In 1968, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act establishing collective bargaining for California’s municipal, county, and local special district employees. Services for municipal, county and special district residents and taxpayers have been in decline ever since. In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Educational Employment Relations Act establishing collective bargaining in California’s public schools and community colleges, and in 1978 Brown signed the State Employer-Employee Relations Act establishing collective bargaining for state government employees. Services for students and state residents and costs for taxpayers have suffered ever since. Now it’s 2023, and sitting on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk is Assembly Bill 1, the Legislature Employer-Employee Relations Act that would establish collective bargaining for employees of the Legislature. Any guesses on how students, residents and taxpayers would fare if AB 1 is enacted into law?

Because of the laws signed by Reagan and Brown allowing government employees to form politically-active unions, lawmakers in California today are more afraid of government employee unions than of any other special interest. That’s why they kept California kids out of schools for far too long during the pandemic, drain money from universities to overcompensate prison staff, and shy away from requiring retired government employees to make use of Obamacare healthcare subsidies even though that could save schools, cities, colleges, universities and the state up to $10 billion a year. By injecting a government employee union directly into the Legislature, AB 1 would have legislators afraid of their own staff, who they rely upon for unbiased writing, editing and analyses of thousands of bills every year, and turn legislative staff into a political force that could donate to and endorse candidates for the Legislature, including opponents of their own bosses.

As evidenced by the unwillingness of AB 1’s sponsor to consider amendments, the real objective of AB 1 is to enhance political power for a special interest who seeks to advance the bills it sponsors and to defeat measures in the general interest. The bill wouldn’t help legislative staff to gain greater compensation (a reform of Proposition 140 would be required for that) and isn’t needed to protect them from a hostile work environment (legislators already have all the authority they need in that regard), and anyone who thinks that it would be healthy for legislators to eat their own cooking by conferring powers on their employees as they do in the private sector should understand that the people who would suffer food poisoning in that case would be the 40 million students, residents and taxpayers of California. If AB 1 becomes law, schools will be run even more for the benefit of employees than for students, public services will decline even more despite even higher taxes, and businesses will be subject to even more laws favoring other special interests. 
California’s experience with collective bargaining for government employees proves the wisdom of Franklin Roosevelt, who advocated for unionization of private sector workers but not for public sector employees. Just two years after signing the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 that permitted collective bargaining for private sector workers, FDR wrote the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees that “meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public” and that the employer of federal employees “is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.” Likewise, the people of California speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in the California Legislature who must be free from fear of their own staff to properly represent their constituents.  

No doubt Governor Newsom would veto a bill that allowed legislative staff to receive benefits and support from private equity firms or large companies and would rightly consider such a bill a butchery of democracy that would hopelessly conflict legislative staffers. The same should hold for staffers who join unions. Governor Newsom must veto AB 1.