California’s public sector unions, money, and politics

The California Political Review calculates the money taken in every year by public sector unions in that state, and shows how it gives those unions a powerful say in the running of the state.

In the wake of the Janus ruling, it is useful to estimate just how much money California’s government unions collect and spend each year. Because government unions publicly disclose less than what the law requires of public corporations or private sector unions, only estimates are possible.

. . .

In summary, subject to the limitations in the available data and what appear to be reasonable assumptions, California’s public education employee unions, the CTA, the CFT, and the CSEA, altogether are probably collecting around $589 million per year … California’s public safety unions, the CPOA, the CPF, and the CCPOA, along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year … [and] California’s other major public sector unions, AFSCME, the CSEA including SEIU Local 1000, and the CNA (est. public sector portion at 25%), along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year.

Based primarily on publicly disclosed 2016 form 990s along with information obtained from their individual websites, in aggregate, California’s major public sector unions are estimated to be collecting over $900 million per year.

. . .

It would go beyond the scope of this analysis to speculate as to what impact the recent Janus ruling will have on government union membership and revenues, or to ponder the degree and kind of political influence of the three major blocks of unions; teachers, public safety, and public service.

It is relevant, however, to emphasize that the reach of these unions, because almost all of them are highly decentralized, extends to the finest details of public administration, into the smallest local jurisdictions. When recognizing the profound statewide impact of public sector union political agenda, it is easy to forget that fact, and the implications it carries for virtually every city, county, special district, or school district in California.

There’s more at the link.

California’s public sector unions have used their financial and political muscle to feather their members’ nests.  As the Los Angeles Times pointed out in 2015:

California is among the few states where public employees make as much as 20% more in total compensation than comparable private sector employees.

To a substantial extent, these compensation premiums are driven by the rising costs of public employee pensions and healthcare. In Los Angeles, pension costs have risen to nearly 20% of the city’s budget from 3% in 2000. Statewide pension liabilities are increasing at a rate of $17 billion a year, which make the state’s current cash surplus a mirage.

As the city and state pay more for public services they’ve already consumed, there are fewer resources left for other public priorities. Government ends up spending more but doing less, which is a governing formula that pleases neither liberals nor conservatives.

Again, more at the link.

City Journal called California the “beholden state“.

The camera focuses on an official of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California’s largest public-employee union, sitting in a legislative chamber and speaking into a microphone. “We helped to get you into office, and we got a good memory,” she says matter-of-factly to the elected officials outside the shot. “Come November, if you don’t back our program, we’ll get you out of office.’

More at the link.

Public sector unions in many other states wield as much financial – and hence political – clout as they do in California, showing how they’ve achieved regulatory capture to an alarming extent.  This also illustrates why and how public sector unions in Illinois have succeeded in getting such a sweetheart pension deal for themselves, at taxpayer expense – so much so that it’s bankrupting the state as a whole.

I hope the Janus decision will help to rein in the public sector unions’ ability to fund their self-serving, antithetical-to-democracy activities . . . but I’m sure it won’t go far enough.  Further reform is probably needed.



  1. CA is headed to the exact same destination as IL, just not quite as fast.
    First, the pensions eat the surplus, then the budget, then everything goes bust, and then the pensions go away forever.

    Municipalities, from cities to counties go broke paying 90-120% of their annual revenue just to service existing pensions, which leaves $0 for current services, like police, fire, etc., then the same thing happens to the state, and then the entire Ponzi scheme welfare state and the state budget explodes, and goes up in flames.

    And unlike Uncle, CA can't print its way out of this mess by pulling fiatbux out of thin air.
    It's the same thing that happened to the Soviet Union, brought to you by people who admire the Soviet Union: spend money you can't replace to get less and less of what you need, until you spend everything on nothing.

    I can't wait for the day. Current projections are 10 years or less before most counties are spending 100% of all revenues just to make their pension commitments.

    Oh, and those CA retirees who moved to your tax haven state to retire?
    When CA goes broke, they're gonna be your problem too.

    And everybody's toothless, banjo-playing kinfolk who moved here will be coming right back home at warp speed, once the state goes into meltdown.

    I really can't wait to see it:
    The other 49 states getting paid back for all the problems caused overwhelmingly by their carpetbagging liberal idiots, and the 15M illegal aliens your congressmen and senators didn't notice, suddenly all coming to live with y'all.

    I love it when a plan comes together!

    Ask me how I'll feel about a CalExit then.

    And don't try calling what wastrels return home to your locales "Californians"; they aren't now, and won't be then either. They almost all came from y'all, and you're going to get them all back again real soon, with kinfolk interest when they pack along their brats, unless someone discovers another mother lode of gold here in the next decade.

    As Wilford Brimley told the sheriff at the end of The Electric Horseman, "I wouldn't get my hopes up."

    1. Ehh. The Californians I know clogging up Montana were all born and bred there, some 3rd and 4th generation Californicators. California has as much home-grown nuttery as anywhere else. It just made itself a gigantic magnet for nuts and looks, and Montana is getting far more CA expats than ever went the other way, even if they had been breeding like rabbits while in the land of nuts, fruits, and flakes. Keep Montana nice, buy a Californian a bus ticket.

  2. Yeah, we fought a war to prevent States from leaving the Union; but what would happen if we expelled a State, or at least passed a national referendum asking the State to secede?

  3. Hey Peter;

    I was a shop steward with the UAW and the founder of the UAW didn't like Public sector unions, he believed that the unions were there to put a check on the unbridled avarice of corporations…but the Public sector unions, had no check on them, they directly impacted the middle class with politicians making promises to the public sector unions that the tax payers would be on the hook for. He considered that wrong. Funny how prescient he was.

  4. Calling "Barbara Streisand" on that, Larry.
    The population of CA in 1900 was 1.4M, and in 1960 it was over 15M. Now it's approaching 40M.
    IOW, the population of the entire state of Montana in 1960 was nearly greater than the total number of actual "3rd and 4th" generation Californians extant.

    Or, you're extrapolating from 3 people. Which sounds a lot less impressive if you share that number up front.

    Math is kinda funny like that.

    Also, your state's population has only gone from 674K 969K in the last 50 years, and there were more people in CA by 1890 than the total number who have ever lived in all of Montana, since statehood was first granted there. Even if we counted horses as people.

    Spread over 147K mi² there (4th only to CA's 163K mi²), you could probably put every 3rd and 4th gen. native California who ever moved to MT into one apartment building, or two large cabins, most days.

    If all of Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga (about 600K people in those four small 'burbs) moved from CA to MT tomorrow, it wouldn't even double your state's entire population.

    If all of Montana moved to California, it would barely replace Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga, and leave us only 39M other folks here to contend with. If you all moved here and lived in one town, you couldn't even vote one congressman of your very own into office, most years.

    According to that bastion of accuracy, Wikipedia, MT gets 13M tourists every year, yet the rate of population increase from 2000 to 2010 was only 87K, IOW almost solely by birthrate alone. Nearly 0% of those who visit there, stay there.

    By contrast, CA experienced a growth of approximately four entire MT state populations during the exact same 2000-2010 time period, (and probably another four entire MT state populations in the last ten years; we'll find out when the 2020 census comes out. And don't worry about all those "everyone is leaving CA" stories in the lamestream media; I can assure you the slack has been more than taken up by Pedro and Wang and their families in the interim.)

    So you're hardly being overrun.
    Methinks you doth protest too much.
    And people with larger state populations (which would be everyone but Delaware, Vermont, NH, WY, and the Dakotas) have even less to complain about. They've all been net senders rather than receivers to this state only going back to 1850, and they're not getting anything like what they sent back, yet. Give it a decade or so, though.

    And I'm pretty sure the number of "3rd and 4th generation Californians" who woke up to sunshine and 65 degrees most of the year their entire lives, and woke up one day and said "Let's move to a state with an annual snowfall of 25' and an average December high temperature of 32°, could be counted on my thumbs, since pretty much ever.

    MT is a beautiful state, no doubt. But more people drive past my house every week than the whole number of those who've ever lived there, since it before Columbus landed in the New World, and Montana belonged only to Indians and buffalo.

    But if being able to see your neighbor's porchlight through a telescope pointed at the far horizon feels crowding to a guy, I can understand your distress and consternation.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *