March 4 2011 12:00 AM

Sen. Juan Vargas wants to bust union busters hired by government agencies


Sen. Juan Vargas, a Democrat representing a chunk of San Diego, has introduced a new bill that would bar government entities from hiring outside firms to challenge public employees' rights to collectively bargain.

The official legislative counsel summary of SB 931 says the bill would "prohibit public agencies from using public funds to pay outside consultants or legal advisors for the purpose of counseling the public employer about ways to minimize or deter the exercise of rights guaranteed" under public-employee labor laws.

"That astonishing,"  Richard Rider, chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters and outspoken opponent of labor unions, said after CityBeat emailed him the bill.

"The goal is basically is to hamstring politicians and administrators from challenging and establishing the limits on union power," Rider says. "It leaves them without the ability to seek expert advice...It makes it a very unbalanced match up."

Supporters of SB 931 openly call the measure the "Bust a Union Bill," since it is designed to prevent government agencies from hiring union busters, or, in more polite terms, law firms that specialize in representing employers in labor disputes.

"The bottom line is public money should not be spent to basically destroy the public workforce," says Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME Local 3299, which represents University of California workers. "That money can be used for getting funds for the university and building coalitions or to take down student fees."

The union came to Vargas with the bill after discovering the  UC system paid $3.5 million to Littler Mendelson, a law firm that describes itself as a team of big guns that are uniquely prepared to take on "the world's most powerful labor organizations." The firm's labor-related services include: "union avoidance strategies," "union decertification," and "preparing strike responses." 

Harrison argues that internal legal counsel should be sufficient and that high-powered and high-priced union busters should be removed from the equation. Rider counters that if unions are allowed to hire pro-labor consultants, it only makes sense for government agencies to also seek expert counsel.

"The idea is apparently you're not allowed to even look into what are the legal limits of collective bargaining rights," Rider says. "I guess collective-bargaining rights will, by default, be whatever union people say they are and you're not allowed to seek advice to challenge those assertions."

According to FollowtheMoney.org, public-sector unions were Vargas' second greatest source of campaign funds, accounting for $76,650 in contributions to his 2010 state senate run. Working Families for Vargas Senate 2010, an independent-expenditure committee backed by public-employee unions, spent $485,000 supporting Vargas. 

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28