Last Thursday, professors, students and other community members gathered at the Lobero Room of the University Center to discuss various issues surrounding Proposition 32.
Proposition 32 would ban unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes and would also prohibit any collective contributions made by unions and corporations to political candidates and elected officials. If passed, the implementation and enforcement of Proposition 32 would increase costs to state and local government by an estimated $1 million or more.
Thursday’s debate was moderated by the California Center for Public Policy and CALPIRG, and featured a dialogue between economics professor Lanny Ebenstein and Campus Democrats President Erik Anciaux on the potential impacts of what has been nicknamed the “paycheck protection” initiative.
Ebenstein voiced his support for the bill and linked the plight of post-collegiate debt with the high costs that unions can impose on state government.
“A number of people in this room will graduate with $50,000 to $100,000 of debt. That seems to be norm for college students in our society,” Ebenstein said. “A big part of the reason individuals are deep in debt is because government is expensive and government is expensive because members of public employee unions receive too much funding. It is fair to cut back on union contributions to political process, because what they have a tendency to do is to result in large and excessive salaries and pensions.”
Ebenstein said the pension for a single city employee can be up to $100,000, adding that it is unfair to fund such high wages with taxes and other government money.
“We are subsidizing — through government taxes and other fees — their excessively high salaries,” Ebenstein said. “Some say [the bill is] dishonest or a sham because of the way it’s worded and that it affects businesses and unions, but it only really affects unions.”
However, Anciaux contended that Proposition 32 is actually a carefully crafted appeal to liberal voters looking to get special interest money out of politics. According to Anciaux, Proposition 32 is actually a trick to rid politics of union-backed funds.
“Some will argue that unions are special interests, but unions are not special interests. Unions are people like you and me — they’re teachers, highway workers, janitors, truck drivers,” Anciaux said. “There’s a difference between union money and corporate money. Union money comes from individuals pooling money together in a fund to donate to political candidates and political causes.”
Anciaux, a member of the United Auto Workers Union at UCSB, said union members have a choice regarding political donations and can check a box to give their consent for payroll deductions.
He added that this pooling of union resources helps members bargain for better wages, which is important since many of these workers cannot afford to individually donate large sums of money.
“We have that right to organize and band together and use our First Amendment rights to bargain for fair wages and to try to elect legislators that understand [the] importance of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” Anciaux said. “Proposition 32 is a sham. We need to keep the ability for unions to participate politically. We can fight back against the corporate onslaught coming from the Walmarts of the world and the Koch brothers and so on [who are] trying to drown out voices of working people.”
Nonetheless, Ebenstein said such a characterization of Proposition 32 is misleading, adding that union contributions often lead to political advocacy for larger and more excessive salaries and pensions.
“Consider particularly some of the pensions that exist in the state of California. If you work in public safety [and] if you’re police officer or a firefighter, you can retire as young as age 50 — that’s a young retirement,” Ebenstein said. “Age 50 with up to 90 percent of final salary index for inflation for life — that is literally a multimillion dollar retirement benefit given to people in public safety.”