Transparency: California Dems Halt Effort to Make Unions Disclose How Money Is Spent

Posted: May 08, 2016 12:45 PM

California union workers will continue to be in the dark about how their dues are spent after a bill that would’ve forced unions to post this information online was killed along a party-line vote.

California’s public employee unions used their muscle this week to fight back a legislative bid to open their books, killing in committee a bill that would force them to post online how dues are spent -- and a second bill requiring a union vote every two years.

"These members want to belong to a union. They want to be represented by a union. They just want to know where their money's at,” said Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, the bill's sponsor. 

Theresa Rutherford of SEIU local 1021 said the issue is not about the bills, but rather about “right-wing billionaires fighting for their interest and fighting to stymie the rights of the union.”

But the real battle began five years ago after a union member filed a complaint over transparency. 

At the time, Mariam Noujaim, a long-time state employee, noticed a crossing guard at the State Capitol on an empty street that already had a tunnel built under it for pedestrians. A self-described cheapskate, Noujaim sensed a waste of money.

She later learned it was a make-work job provided to her union, the Service Employees International Union or SEIU. She demanded to see their books. They refused. She sued – and later got involved with the legislation.

"This is my case," said Noujaim, an Egyptian immigrant. "Show me the money."

She and others are vowing to keep fighting for transparency and accountability, despite this week’s legislative loss.

SEIU is the state's second-largest public employee union with some 700,000 members statewide. In her lawsuit, Noujaim won but was only given access to the union's $60 million budget for a few hours and was not allowed to make copies or bring an accountant.

“Numbers are like a bikini. What they reveal is interesting. What they hide is vital," said attorney Mark Goudy, reports

SEIU lobbyist Randy Cheek pushed back in testimony, saying “we already comply with the law” and that “we are totally open and transparent.”

Despite the defeat, Noujaim and her colleague Lisa Garcia will continue fighting.

"Every single employee, I believe, in the state of California would rather take more of their money home as opposed to giving it to the unions," said Garcia, reports