Proposition 32: OPPOSE

Restricts Union Political Fundraising By Prohibiting Use of Paycheck Deductions For Political Purposes 

Bend the Arc strongly opposes Proposition 32 because it would effectively end organized labor’s ability to participate in the political process and cripple progressive campaigns in general. The measure makes a gesture toward even-handedness by also targeting corporate paycheck deductions (though perhaps not paychecks issued by limited liability entities), but it clearly leaves untouched the major streams of corporate cash into politics—money donated from corporate treasuries or by company executives. Already rejected twice by California voters (in 1998 and 2005), this proposition’s sponsors now seek to cloak Proposition 32 in the pretense of campaign finance reform. Yet, the impact will be to undermine the voices of working people by diminishing the clout of unions and the progressive agendas they champion.

Jewish tradition from its earliest stages has been concerned with the relationship between employees and employers. The Torah says, "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger." (Deuteronomy 24:14-25.) This passage has historically served as one of the foundations of a rich body of Jewish traditions supporting worker’s rights and dignity. The Mishnah, Talmud and later rabbinic authorities deepened and expanded these legal and ethical obligations, adding, among others, the requirement of paying a worker a living wage. Talmudic authorities also empowered town councils to set wages, and obligated the community to see that workers made enough to support themselves. In contemporary times, rabbinic authorities have used these discussions to ground the right to organize for better wages and benefits. Unions represent the collective will of workers and are recognized by Halakhic authorities as such; just like the "town council" was in Talmudic times, the union is empowered to set policy for workers, to prevent strikebreakers from taking jobs from union workers, and to make demands on employers. (Responsa Iggerot Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.)

Many of our more recent ancestors in Europe and America were the targets of exploitative and unsafe labor conditions. Indeed, the insistence on fair labor practices was an essential part of their identity as Jews. They played a prominent role in the labor movement in this country in the 20th Century and, as such, helped to push forward the New Deal and Great Society programs that created the American social safety net. Today, in the face of threats to necessary social services and attacks on collective bargaining rights, unions are once again critical actors and allies in the struggle for a more fair and prosperous America. The ability to have a unified voice and the opportunity to affect the political landscape are crucial for protecting the well-being of workers and ensuring the dignity for all workers that has long been a Jewish value.

The system of union paycheck deductions is already limited by federal law. Individual employees today enjoy a federally protected right to opt out of funding union political activity. Current California law is similar. Union members are also able to influence how their contributions are spent through the union’s elected representatives; they can challenge the union’s leadership, electing new leaders if their fellow union members agree with them. Proposition 32’s requirement that union members opt in to political contributions year after year is thus a disproportionate response to a claim of political coercion.

By contrast, corporations do not need the consent of their shareholders, employees or customers to make political contributions. Large corporate donors will continue contributing to political campaigns with no further restrictions. Proposition 32 would exacerbate the uneven playing field that benefits corporate interests and further tip the political advantage in politics to well-financed conservative interest groups. Whereas good government organizations like the California League of Women Voters, California Common Cause and Public Citizen all oppose Proposition 32, no mainstream campaign finance reform group supports this initiative.

Our support for an even playing field for unionized workers both honors our past and is essential for shaping the kind of society we want to live in today. Bend the Arc proudly joins the state’s teachers, union members and good government groups in vigorously opposing this initiative and strongly urges all Californians to vote NO on Proposition 32.

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