Under duress from California labor unions and union-backed politicians, the University of California system is funding a labor institute at the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses that trains union organizers and produces biased studies to support the union political agenda. The story of why UC is funding this program at the expense of academic programs emerges in 140 pages of university documents obtained through a Public Records Act request.
The UC Institute for Labor and Employment was established as a gift to the California Labor Federation from the state Legislature and Gov. Gray Davis in 2000, when the state was flush with tax revenue.
Over the next eight years, as the state increasingly struggled to balance its budget, California taxpayers gave the program $37.4 million.
With dozens of union officials on its advisory committee, the labor institute churned out biased studies and released them to the public shortly before votes on union issues at the state Legislature and at local governments. It also trained union leaders on how to be more effective in union organizing and political activism.
As the state’s budget crisis became acute in 2008, the Legislature gave the labor institute another $5.4 million. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the funding.
This prompted Attorney General Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and then Senate President Pro Tem-elect Darrell Steinberg to pressure the UC Office of the President
to find an alternative funding source. The demand challenged the UC leadership financially and ethically.
“I think if we give them more than $1 million or so in cash, we’d be doing a disservice to the rest of the University,” said an e-mail from Debora Obley, associate vice president in the UC Budget Office. In a later e-mail, she remained dismayed about diverting limited funds from other programs to the labor institute.
“We have $150 million worth of cuts to deal with. That is huge and we don’t have money just lying around. Can you imagine the firestorm inside the University if we cut everyone more in order to fund this one?”
Pressure from top legislative Democrats remained fierce. Greg Campbell, a top labor consultant for the Assembly speaker, declared in an e-mail that “any solution that includes ‘well, the unions should just pay for some portion of the overall mission’ is a tired old argument we have heard before and will not go over well.”
Finally, UC President Mark Yudof included $4 million for the labor institute in his proposed budget approved by the UC Board of Regents. This amount could have protected more than 6,000 resident undergraduate students from the fall 2009 semester fee increase of $662.
Union bosses and their political allies were pacified with the budget decision, but UC Vice President for Budget Patrick Lenz saw irony.
“This is an institute created by the Legislature for the purposes of labor advocacy and training programs,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“The unions benefit by these programs and use them against the UC in their collective bargaining negotiations and advocacy efforts with the Legislature. I’d find it ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ if we get stuck funding these Institutes in the future out of the UC budget at a time when the state is cutting our funding but pressuring us to give more at the collective bargaining table.”
The University of California has inflicted “cruel and unusual punishment” by choosing to raise student fees and slash enrollment while surrendering to political pressure to fund political advocacy disguised as scholarship.
Meanwhile, California unions are able to collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in mandatory dues.
It’s time for unions to bankroll their labor institute.
KEVIN DAYTON is a senior fellow in labor union studies with the Pacific Research Institute and the state government affairs director of Associated Builders and Contractors of California, a construction trade association. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.