Posted on Thu, Nov. 03, 2005

Proposition 75 is an attack on labor

Last year in Washington, the health care industry spent $325 million on federal lobbying, more than any other sector. Next were communication and technology companies, finance and insurance firms, retail and service businesses, and energy corporations. Unions ranked 15th, spending about the same amount as foreign countries allocated trying to influence public policy in the United States, according to the watchdog group Political Money Line.

Are nurses, teachers, and firefighters really the ones corrupting our democracy? In Sacramento, corporations outspend unions by about 13-to-1. With Proposition 75, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes that equation will be 13 to none.

Supporters of Proposition 75 are hoping to persuade voters with three dubious arguments.

First, that current law assuring all public employees the right to opt out of political contributions is not sufficient. What Proposition 75 does is add yet another layer of administrative costs that are likely to far surpass what unions will be able to spend.

The probable result will be a sharp drop in the ability of working people to collectively participate in politics. That's the real goal for Schwarzenegger, the extreme-right authors of Proposition 75 and the corporate donors paying the fare. They hope to be able to roll back patient, consumer, environmental and workplace protection without opposition, which is one reason polls show that nearly two-thirds of union members oppose Proposition 75.

If Schwarzenegger really stands for protecting workers, why has he twice vetoed bills to raise California's minimum wage, along with bills to crack down on employers who pay women employees less, curb job outsourcing, require employers to ensure that their workers have safe access to exits in the event of fire or other dangers, and reduce back injuries for nurses?

Second, proponents insist that public employees should not be able to contribute to elected officials whom they negotiate with. But unions don't elect politicians, voters do.

Proposition 75 creates a double standard with no restrictions on businesses that receive direct financial gain from the decisions of those who receive their contributions. Developers and real estate interests who are among the largest donors to Schwarzenegger, for example, have benefited from vetoes and the governor's support for loosening environmental quality protections. Why no limits on their cash for favors?

Third, there is the argument made by Schwarzenegger and the Mercury News editorial board that Democrats are too ``dependent'' on union contributions. The logic here is that Democrats, like Schwarzenegger, should become exclusively dependent on corporate donors who would become the sole influence in determining public policy.

Californians need the voices of nurses, firefighters, teachers and others who provide vital public service to fight for quality health care and increased health coverage, adequate funding of our schools and protecting public safety.

Nurses understand all too well what would happen if Proposition 75 were to pass.

When we campaigned for critical patient protections, including laws requiring hospitals to assure minimum safe levels of nursing care, curb HMO restrictions on care, mandate more safety inspections of hospitals and force health plans to provide medically appropriate care, the Capitol halls were stacked several layers deep with health care industry lobbyists fighting our efforts. Without the strong voice of nurses in Sacramento -- the real goal of Schwarzenegger and Proposition 75's authors -- not one of those bills would have survived.

Californians are rightly angry about the corruption of our political process by big money, one reason so many are embarrassed by Schwarzenegger's daily auction of public policy to a long list of big business donors.

If Gov. Schwarzenegger were truly interested in cleaning up our political system, he would join us in sponsoring legislation or an initiative to take all money out of politics, with no loopholes for his ample array of corporate friends.

That approach would be genuine reform, not the dishonest promises of Proposition 75 which would only exacerbate the corporate stranglehold on policy, deepen public disillusion with our political system and undermine our democracy.

Please join California nurses and vote No on Proposition 75.

DEBORAH BURGER is the president of the 65,000-member California Nurses Association. She wrote this article for the Mercury News.

© 2005 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.