Labor unions trying to derail initiative system 

This October will mark the 100th anniversary of the initiative process in California. It was launched in response to a perception that state government was under the control of the Southern Pacific Railroad in which “bribery was the accepted method of doing business in the state Capitol,” according to Ballotpedia.

Now, 100 years later, there is a perception that state government is under the control of labor unions in which “bribery” in the form of campaign contributions is the accepted method of doing business in the state Capitol. This may be why two prominent labor unions, instead of celebrating the centennial of the initiative process, are trying to derail it.

The California Building and Construction Trades Council formed a front organization called Californians Against Identity Theft. It has been running radio spots warning registered voters that they could become victims of identity theft if they sign initiative petitions. The ads make it sound like convicted felons and forgers posing as signature gatherers are sending your name and address to India and elsewhere for nefarious purposes.

The campaign is a blatant effort to thwart the democratic process by misleading people. After 100 years of collecting tens of millions of Californians’ signatures on petitions, the cases of documented identity theft from that process are zero. If all that identity thieves needed are names and addresses to do their dirty work, they could just pick up a few phone books and save themselves a lot of trouble.

“The threat claimed in these ads is totally false,” said Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “Social Security numbers are the keys to identity theft. And obviously those are not collected by petition gatherers.”

As if that’s not bad enough, the California Service Employees International Union has launched a campaign to intimidate petition gatherers and the people who would like to sign their petitions. The union’s “Think before you ink” campaign urges people to report signature gatherers so that the union can “send out a truth squad to educate voters.”

We can only imagine the makeup of these squads and the methods that their re-education process might take.

Somehow we don’t think the unions would be so concerned about identity theft and sending out truth squads if the initiative petitions were seeking to strengthen the unions’ formidable power in the state or increasing union wages and benefits.

Instead the unions may be concerned about the reforms contained in an initiative that would require unions to get members’ permission to spend their dues on political campaigns, or the initiative that would guarantee secret elections before joining a union, or the one that would raise the retirement age and limit pensions for state employees.

The way to fight these is through honest, open debate and advocacy in election campaigns — not through scaremongering and intimidation.

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