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The former majority leader of the California State Senate, who describes herself as a “longtime liberal Democrat” who “still pay(s) union due,” is complaining about the influence of unions in her state.

A Democrat?

Yes. It appears organized labor is getting some negative attention these days even from longtime supporters.

The growth of union influence has been all over the news during Barack Obama’s tenure, since he’s worked with labor groups on a number of issues, such as the bailout of the auto industry, when they received preferential treatment to other creditors.

In California, right now the dispute is over a plan to discontinue an audit service that makes sure taxpayers and workers are getting a fair deal when public construction projects are developed, sometimes costing tens of millions of dollars.

Union interests want the audits dropped.

It got the attention of a former state lawmaker, a Democrat.

“There is no aspect of state government operations or public policy that is untouched by the power of the public-sector unions and their allies in Sacramento,” wrote Gloria Romero in a recent commentary.

She blames labor unions and Democrat politicians for most of California’s woes, saying she “more so felt the influence of public-sector unions on my party.”

“I hope to illustrate how powerful special-interest public-sector unions took control of government and what it will take for Californians to wrestle back control,” she said.

Romero details how a threat of retribution by the Service Employee International Union publicly was met with silence. She also details how highly compensated teacher unions and prison guards wield power and prevent reform.

The piece was welcome confirmation to some who are fighting the newest battle over union power.

“I am out here trying to realign battle lines and unite honest contractors, union and non-union, versus cheating contractors, but too many in Sacramento seem frozen in this old paradigm of union versus non-union. Some union leaders seem to think that non-union contractors and their programs should not have the right to exist,” said John Loudon, executive director of the California Construction Compliance Group.

Loudon’s organization audits construction projects to be sure that contractors are properly compensating their workers, and giving a reasonable result.

California prevailing wage law requires all contractors, union and non-union, to allocate funds on a per hour basis for benefit of workers. Union contractors send the funds to something called Labor Management Cooperation Committees. Non-union contractors in California currently have options, including to just raise compensation to their non-union workers.

According to Loudon, “Honest contractors all across California face an existential threat by cheating contractors who underbid them. When you bid a project at cost and still lose, you know what is going on. The unscrupulous competitor has figured out how to cheat his workers and get away with it. The state does not do these audits but rel[ies] on ‘lead generators’ like us. It is up to workers and private organizations to root out the cheaters, make sure workers get paid, and keep the marketplace healthy. If we are not doing audits, the cheaters will be emboldened.”

Underbidding can be profitable if a disreputable contractor can find a way to cheat workers of their legitimate earnings, analysts said.

Loudon is referring to Senate Bill 776, authored by Romero’s successor, Sen. Ellen Corbett, the current Senate majority leader.

Under California law, the outside “sponsor” of any bill must be named, publicly. The sponsor of the bill to limit Loudon’s non-profit organization from rooting out fraud and protecting worker wages is the California construction union umbrella organization the State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Loudon says his organization is in “the wrong tribe,” even though his work protects employees.

“Maybe they do not know this bill will mean that fewer audits will be done, and fewer workers will recover lost wages, but they have not bothered to ask that question. They do not want us dining at their table or even having a conversation with them. Apparently, we remain the enemy to them.”

SB 776 has passed the assembly and is now on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown awaiting his signature or veto.

There, according to Romero, it faces an uphill battle.

“Money flows to those who control the levers of power, and in California that means Democrats who have long been allied with, and funded by, public-sector unions. One does not make the decision to ‘cross’ powerful interests lightly, for recrimination is swift,” she wrote.

She continued, “Some unions have helped advance agendas that defend quality of life and rights for all Californians. But too many have played a shameful, oversized role in abandoning the needs, hopes and aspirations of a demographically changing California. The answer is not to ban unions but to empower members to gain freedom in choosing how their own political dues are spent.”

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