AFSCME mixed on May ballot propositions

A rift has developed in one of California’s most influential labor organizations over the budget-linked propositions on the May 19 ballot that are intended to erase billions of dollars worth of red ink.

Statewide, the 179,000-member America Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, opposes the six ballot propositions, measures 1A through 1F, is calling the budget flawed and fiscally irresponsible.   

But the executive board of the 5,000-member AFSCME Local 2620 – its membership composed primarily of state employees – voted in Burbank to endorse the propositions, calling the initiative package “a crucial component of the state’s overall budget plan.”

The division reflects membership differences between Local 2620 and the larger organization more than it does any deep philosophical divide between the two, representatives of both groups said.  

But it also epitomizes the differences among labor groups –and others — about the May 19 special election. And a fundamental question at AFSCME is whether the unions will spend money and commit resources to finance campaigns over the propositions.

Nancy Swindell, president of Local 2620, said her group is committed to mounting a campaign in favor of the propositions, but has yet to decide on details.

“How can we best use our resources? The best way to do that is through education and advertising. It (the campaign) likely would be a combination of the two.” She added that her membership had a serious stake in the outcome of the election. “Right now, we’re struggling to get a contract, and then if these propositions fail, we would be sitting duck. The alternative (to passage) is chaos.”

Willie Pelote, political and legislative director for AFSCME California, said he understood Local 2620’s support because of the looming cuts in state employees. He noted that the local was only one of dozens of AFSCME-linked groups across the state, and that opposition to the ballot proposals is widespread.

But Pelote also said the bulk of AFSCME’s membership would be hurt by the ballot propositions, if passed, because of the cuts to social-service and other programs, as well as new taxes on low-and middle income workers. He said he hoped to know by the end of the week whether his group would campaign against the initiatives.

“We’re just getting into that discussion. Money is very problematic in this economy, even for working families, so how do you put together the dollars to get into these campaigns? We’re seeing whether we can put together a campaign. We should know this week,” Pelote said.

Doug Moore, executive director of the United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME’s largest affiliate, said in a written statement that the budget deal “was bad enough, but this special election makes matters worse.” He said that “in states where things like this (spending cap) have already been tried, like Colorado, movements are under way to do away with the spending cap.”

Thus far, about 40 days before the election, no major television, radio or mail campaign has been mounted for or against the measures. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, accompanied by business leaders and others, has traversed the state speaking in favor of the propositions.

The measures were approved in February following months of budget negotiating.

As a package, five of the six measures – would raise state taxes, cut spending, protect school funding, capture future proceeds of the state lottery, and shift funds from accounts approved earlier for the mentally ill and early childhood programs. The sixth proposition, 1F, would freeze lawmakers’ pay if the state ends the fiscal year with a deficit. Although 1F is the least significant of the ballot measures, it is the only one with overwhelming public support, according to polls. The others have marginal backing at best.

The immediate impact in dollars and relief to the budget is about $6 billion but the long-term impact, still uncertain, would be greater because of the tax hike and spending limitations in Proposition 1A.

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