Willie Brown calls out California’s unions


These days, Brown, 78, writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Last Sunday, he wrote that he’ll be missing the Democratic National Convention for the first time since 1960. Brown claimed that he’s staying home because of the lousy shopping in Charlotte and lack of suspense as to the convention’s outcome, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it. 

After a career atop Democratic politics in financially dysfunctional California, Brown no longer subscribes to the party’s strategic alliance with public sector unions. In fact, he’s come to recognize California’s unions for the selfish power brokers that they are.

Repenting of much of his record, Brown wrote Sunday with a combination of regret and scorn about public employee unions in his state. Referring to the very modest tweaks to public-sector pensions adopted by Jerry Brown and the Democratic legislature, Brown noted: 

As reforms go, the pension deal that Sacramento lawmakers reached last week is just a start to correct the mistakes that former lawmakers, including me, have made over the years.

But for all the talk about how the changes were needed to make the governor's tax plan more palatable to voters this fall, the fact is that lawmakers bucked the unions for one reason and one reason only: They want to keep their jobs.

The unions are really bent out of shape because they weren't allowed in the room during the negotiations, as they usually are. But why should they be in the room?

The world is changing. Years ago it was the likes of Southern Pacific and other big businesses calling the shots in Sacramento, and we were all highly critical of them.

These days it's labor. That's not the portrayal union leaders like to see in the media, but it's the truth.

The unions are no better than the railroad barons of yore! If Brown had showed up in Charlotte spouting that kind of heresy, they probably would have escorted him to the exits. Better to stay home by the bay.

Charles Lane is a Post editorial writer, specializing in economic policy, federal fiscal issues and business, and a contributor to the PostPartisan blog.
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