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Edward Ring

The Public Sector Union Campaign to Own the Mayor of Los Angeles

One week from today in what is predicted to be a low-turnout election, voters will elect a new mayor to lead California’s largest city. Because the mayor manages the 47,000 employees of the City of Los Angeles, at least 47,000 voters employed by that city have a strong interest in who wins. But these workers will wield clout beyond their numbers, because no source of mayoral campaign contributions is anywhere close to those coming from unions representing Los Angeles city employees.

Here is a link to a graphic from the Los Angeles Times “Campaign contributions by special interest,” showing reported direct and independent expenditures on behalf of the two major candidates, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Gruel. Over $6.0 million has been spent by labor unions, more than twice as much as the next four largest categories of contributors. And that’s only partly why these unions are buying this election.

Using data from the LA Times graphic, we’ve come up with our own table, one that shows what percent of each contribution – by category – went to each candidate. This data illustrates an important fact: Union spending tends to be monolithic, favoring a particular candidate or party, whereas political spending from most other identifiable categories – usually lumped together as “business” – is split evenly. On the table below, it is evident that Wendy Gruel’s mayoral campaign has garnered 86% of the union campaign contributions. But nearly every other interest group has split their campaign spending almost equally between the candidates.

This data offers additional support to the theory that political contributions from individuals and businesses tend to be diverse, usually focused on narrow issues of particular importance to each contributor, and balanced between candidates and parties. But public sector unions have a unified agenda that never deviates: More pay and benefits for public sector workers, and more public sector workers. And the rhetoric is always compelling, even if the agenda is pure self-interest. For public safety. For the children.

Take a look at this partial list of  labor endorsements for Wendy Gruel:

Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL)
United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC) Local 112
Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs
Los Angeles Fire Chief Officers’ Association
Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA)
Law Enforcement Association of Asian Pacifics (LEAAP)
Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014
Los Angeles School Police Officers Association (LASPOA)
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1277
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) District Council 36
AFSCME United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP)
AFSCME Local 1902
Los Angeles County Federation of Labor
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721
SEIU 121RN, Southern California Nurses
SEIU 721
SEIU United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW) 

The common thread that runs through these union endorsements, in most cases, is the fact that taxpayers are footing the bill for the pay and benefits for the government workers they represent (and, of course, the dues they pay to their unions). And the common fallacy that informs the agenda of these unions is that somehow it is economically feasible to pay over-market wages and benefits to public sector workers, and, by extension, to all workers. Witness Gruel’s latest campaign pledge, calculated to boost her support among Latino voters.

As reported in the Los Angeles Daily News, on May 13 “Eric Garcetti criticizes union mailers promising wage hike if Wendy Greuel is elected L.A. mayor:”

“Campaign mailers sent to Latino voters promising a hike in the $8 minimum wage if Wendy Greuel is elected are sparking controversy in the Los Angeles mayor’s race. Two mailers, sent by an outside committee supported by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor that represents 600,000 union workers and supports Greuel, were sent in Spanish and English last week. The mailers suggest the minimum wage, currently $8 an hour, will be hiked under a Greuel administration. Voters go to the polls in one week. ‘On May 21, our votes will elect la Wendy and raise the minimum wage for housekeepers and cooks and dishwashers to $15 per hour,’ reads one mailer.”

Gruel is invited to explain exactly how she expects the small businesses in Los Angeles will adapt to a nearly doubling of the minimum wage. But other promises she’s made will be harder to break. When special interests split their money between candidates, as our chart above proves is the case in the 2013 Los Angeles mayoral race, it is relatively easy for a victorious candidate to do the right thing. After all, whoever’s toes are being stepped on was giving just as much money to the candidate that lost. But the public sector unions gave 86% of their money to Gruel, and if she wins, it will be because of them. They will own her.

Wendy Gruel may or may not win next Tuesday. The race is a dead heat, perhaps because voters are finally realizing that public sector union endorsements and money are not given in the public interest, but in the public sector worker’s interest. Either way, however, this campaign is a replay of a political dynamic that has, over the past 20 years, turned California into a state where most local governments and agencies are run by the government employee unions, who own the politicians who are supposedly authorized to manage them.

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Ed Ring is the Executive Director of the California Public Policy Center, and the editor of

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