While you may find debatable much of Mark Brenner’s editorial at Labor Notes, you will also find some important insights regarding the decision by the California Federation of Teachers to drop its “millionaire’s tax” initiative and hammer out a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Teachers Association.
It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here a few excerpts:
The deal is even more striking given that the CFT was actively opposed, or left twisting in the wind, by labor’s much larger players in California state politics. The Service Employees state council and the California Teachers Association carried Brown’s water to battle the CFT and its allies.
In November appointees from SEIU International pushed through a statewide binding endorsement of Brown’s original ballot initiative, tying the hands of public sector locals that wanted to back the millionaires tax. And in February they stepped up their attacks. SEIU state director Dave Kieffer called Brown the “adult in the room” when it came to finding revenue solutions, dismissing out of hand any attempt to address tax questions outside of the narrow confines of acceptable Sacramento politics.
Millionaires tax supporters hoped to at least get an endorsement from the California Teachers Association (the National Education Association state body), especially after CTA’s largest local affiliate, United Teachers Los Angeles, backed the tax. But in the weeks leading up to the compromise, the CTA began telling its members the millionaires tax was fatally flawed, taking a similarly hard line in the press.
The CFT was also getting pressure from above, with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten reportedly pushing for a compromise in order to avoid a showdown with the state’s Democratic establishment. At the same time, Democratic legislators were threatening to punish the CFT when budgets are crafted later this year, targeting the CFT’s base in schools and universities for even more excruciating cuts.
Brenner notes that despite polling better than the Brown initiative, the lack of union financial backing left open the real possibility that the CFT measure would never make it to the ballot. Brunner suggests CFT may have “made the most out of a bad hand.”
I’d like to highlight one other Brenner remark, this one about transparency:
Compare this scenario to the common practice in today’s labor movement, where only a handful of officers and insiders know how big decisions are made and most rank-and-file members are in the dark. This breeds confusion and cynicism, but more importantly, it reinforces the idea that members are just pieces on a chessboard. Who is willing to take risks in this kind of environment? If you’re going to ask members to make sacrifices, you can’t be surprised when those who’ve stepped up want a say over what to do when faced with hard choices.