At last count (taken in 2012) union members made up for 17.2 percent of California's wage and salary workers, far above the national rate of 11.3 percent of the workforce. The state has always ranked among the top 10 states in percentage of unionization (New York, at 23.3 percent, is easily the highest), but union membership here falls far short of the power unions exert on California politics and policy.
That's especially true since the 2012 elections, when Democrats in both the state Senate and Assembly achieved supermajority status -- that is, veto-proof power and complete dominance of California's political landscape.
That explains why, since 2012, the Democrats -- essentially pawns of the unions, particularly the prison guards, the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association -- have grown ever more arrogant regarding the leftward direction the state takes in not only politics, but the environment and education.
Latest example is the labor unions' attempt to redesign California's initiative process -- a process that was instituted a century ago to give state residents a stronger voice in the state's political affairs -- so that paid signature collectors for proposed petitions be limited to no more than 80 percent of all petition signers. The unions are supporting AB857, which would require at least 20 percent of signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the state ballot to be collected by unpaid individuals. Professional petition firms, under the new law, would be required to register with the secretary of state and comply with all sorts of new regulations, while their petitions must be of a different color and carry a disclaimer.
The putative reason for the change, according to Assemblyman Paul Fong, the bill's author, is that the state's initiative process (which became law in 1911 when Californians amended the state's constitution to allow voters to directly pass laws) has become a tool of special interest groups.
So who are California's biggest, and most heavily funded, special interest groups? Public employee unions, which, when petitions come up, order their members to gather petition signers "voluntarily." Sure. Having an army of "unpaid" volunteers out gathering signatures on petitions proposing legislation the unions favor obviates the need for the unions to pay signature-gatherers, thus giving unions yet another lever with which to coerce the Legislature, and California residents.
Because of the new Democrat supermajorities, the initiative process is the single weapon left with which the public at large can influence California laws. So of course the unions want get rid of it by diluting private citizens' ability to get petitions on the ballot in the first place.
There are those calling for a veto from Jerry Brown if the bill passes. But Brown is a union pawn, so what chance is there for that to happen? Mighty small.