Wages across much of the Bay Area have rocketed far above the national average, a federal Bureau of Labor Statistics report reveals. Santa Clara County’s wages are 59 percent above the national average, while the San Francisco-San Mateo metro area is 53 percent higher, and East Bay workers command wages that are 26 percent over the U.S. average, the report shows. The wage gap compared with the country as a whole reflects the Bay Area’s concentration of so many highly skilled workers in one region.
In a big victory for labor, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a contract giving six raises in five years to members of the Department of Water and Power’s biggest union. The vote came despite objections from some council members over what they considered a rushed process that didn’t give them time to scrutinize the deal. It also is expected to open the door for other labor groups at City Hall to demand generous salary packages at a time when the city is struggling with tight budgets and financial woes
A recent action by one of nation’s largest public-employee unions illustrates the importance of an Illinois case that might make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court sometime next year. The technical dispute involves the complex process by which public-sector unions assess dues to those who don’t want to be members. But the real issue is more fundamental to a free society: Should people be forced to fund groups they find offensive? The Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents 95,000 California state employees, earlier this month increased the dues assessed on those employees who are known as “non-germane objectors,” or NGOs. These are people who have opted out of paying for the union’s political activities. Because of a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision, they are still required to pay for expenses related to collective bargaining. Last year, the SEIU local spent $13.7 million as part of a bargaining process to hike members’ wages. “The union members who voted on the contract favored it by a 90 percent margin,” according to a Sacramento Bee report, “but aspects of the deal were unpopular among some workers.” To pay those costs, the union hiked dues on these NGOs by 6 percent, thus pushing dues payments for nonmembers to 73 percent of the full amount paid by full-fledged members of the union.
Union dues take a large bite out of the paychecks of California teachers. We estimate that newly hired, full-time teachers will pay $37,000 in dues over a 30-year career. Further, if new teachers could fully opt out of the union and instead save their dues in an Individual Retirement Account, they would each have $228,000 extra in after-tax retirement savings.
In Santa Barbara County, the 2017-2018 budget calls for laying off nearly 70 employees while dipping into reserve funds. The biggest cuts are to the Department of Social Services, which works to aid low-income families and senior citizens. Meanwhile, $546 million of needed infrastructure improvements go unfunded as Santa Barbara County struggles to pay off $700 million in unfunded pension liabilities. County officials estimate that increasing pension costs may cause hundreds of future layoffs. Unfortunately, Santa Barbara County is far from alone. Tuolumne County is issuing layoffs in the face of rising labor and pension costs from previous agreements. In Kern County, a budget shortfall spurred by increased pension costs has led to public safety layoffs, teacher shortages, budget cuts, and the elimination of the Parks and Recreation department, even as Kern County’s unfunded pension liability surpasses $2 billion. In the Santa Ana Unified School District, nearly 300 teachers have been laid off after years of receiving pay raises that made them unaffordable, including a 10% raise in 2015.