Brown makes little time for unions
SACRAMENTO — Perhaps never in California history has the political symbolism of a hot-dog feed been so closely analyzed.
Two hours after Gov. Jerry Brown was inaugurated Monday, hot dogs became another chapter in his relationship with public employee unions whose support was instrumental to his return to the governor’s office — and whose cooperation will be critical to his success dealing with California’s $28 billion budget deficit.
The 18,000-member Orange County Employees Association, the county’s largest union, threw a free hot-dog party on the Capitol grounds after Brown’s swearing-in. Organizers expected Brown to speak briefly at what they dubbed the “People’s Inauguration Party.”
But Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, bypassed the microphone set up inside the massive tent and instead grabbed dogs and greeted a few of the dozens of people waiting in line for a free sandwich.
Within minutes, the Browns left. There was no speech.
While event organizers tried to put a positive spin on it, some of the people waiting for Brown to speak booed, thinking he blew off the speech to make a point.
“I think it’s bull-,” said Steve Trombetta, a high school teacher from Grass Valley who waited two hours to hear Brown speak. “He doesn’t have to kow-tow to the unions, but at least come here and tell us what you’re going to do.”
Brown’s handlers said throughout the morning that they didn’t know which postinaugural events he would attend, or when. Brown spoke for about a minute later in the afternoon, at a private, no-press reception sponsored by the 1.3 million-member California Labor Federation at a nearby hotel.
Throughout his campaign, Brown’s critics claimed he was bought and paid for by unions — given that public and privatesector unions were instrumental in raising millions of campaign dollars for him and getting voters to the polls.
But Brown’s inaugural speech Monday at Memorial Auditorium was full of flourishes — both philosophical and literal — in which he said unions shouldn’t expect any favors.
The governor referred to a “philosophy of loyalty” that calls for a “devotion to California above and beyond our narrow perspectives.”
More pointedly, he said: “We will have to look at our system of pensions and how to ensure that they are transparent and actuarially sound and fair — fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers.”
There was no applause from the audience after that line Monday, and one union leader at the hot-dog event said he wasn’t sure how much more workers can give.
“I don’t think he was talking about our pensions,” said California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman, who added that the average teacher’s pension is about $35,000. “I don’t know what else we can give up.”
Still, many union members and leaders say they’re ready to give.
“People realize it — they know what kind of state we’re in,” said Aaron Read, a Sacramento lobbyist whose firm represents California Highway Patrol officers, who endorsed Brown.
Brown’s challenge will be coaxing givebacks from unions while not making them feel put-out. The governor will need labor’s support if he is going to ask voters for a tax increase, along with major cuts, to help balance the budget.