UNIONS SWAY VOTERS WITH $2.5 MILLION
While the Legislature agonizes over what is becoming a sinkhole of a financial crisis, one group is emerging as a power broker ready and willing to make sure that no union employees are hurt in any downsizing of state government. Enter several employee union groups who primarily are made up of government workers. These are names that you may or may not be familiar with:
Oregon Education Association, 44,000 teachers and support staff
Service Employees International, 22,000 state government workers
Oregon School Employees Association, 20,000 workers in schools
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 20,000 workers in local and state government
American Federation of Teachers, 9,000 workers in community college/government
Oregon Nurses Association, 2,400 public employees
Amalgamated Transit Union, 3,200 public transit operators
Oregon Council of Police Associations, 3,000 local police officers
Oregon State Fire Fighters Council 2,600 firefighters
These are the individuals who through their unions have been lobbying state legislators and the governor for decades and in recent years using their large financial resources to sway the voting public's decision-making process. During the last statewide election, these unions spent $2.5 million on campaigns and ballot measures, seeking to get their candidates elected. How successful were they? Since unions spend all 100 percent of their money to support Democratic candidates, they did remarkably well. Once again Oregon has a Democratic governor, superintendent of public instruction and labor commissioner. Enough Democratic candidates won in the Senate that the Senate is evenly split (previously controlled by Republicans) and won passage of Measures 25 and 26.
We don't have a problem with people joining unions or lobbying their legislators. We all have the right to assemble in groups and to lobby. We do become concerned about any group that has the ability to control the direction of state and local government. Oregon is facing some difficult times, times that may mean downsizing government, from local school districts to every government agency at any level of government. It means taking tough looks at how we spend government dollars and how we might have to reduce the benefits that these employees and unions have worked to create and hold on to. The Public Employee Retirement System is one example of where costs must be drastically reduced or we will face even greater downsizing at all levels of government.
Voters have been swayed by the message that $2.5 million can buy. We hope the Legislature will not be unduly swayed by those dollars or their donors. Perhaps we would feel better if unions were doling out their money to both political parties in Oregon. Or maybe not!