Rogue California union exposes need for initiative reform

Glenn Hamer

August 23, 2016

Should a California labor union determine how much Arizonans can earn?

That was the question SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West wanted to place on Arizona’s November ballot. Specifically, the rogue union’s proposed initiative sought to cap healthcare executives’ compensation at a level not to exceed that of the president of the United States.

Thankfully, there won’t be a campaign at all. The union threw in the towel in the midst of a challenge by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to the validity of the petition signatures the proponents turned in to the secretary of state. (Despite the stipulation they signed onto, the backers claim continuing to defend their initiative in court would have wasted resources that could better be used to help support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.) We won this round, but Arizona is still at risk for invasions of bad policy in future election cycles.

What if the defendants had continued to pursue the ballot via the courts and somehow eventually ended up on the ballot? Going forward with a full-blown campaign would have been a losing proposition for the proponents.

The SEIU proposal was far outside the mainstream. Not even Bernie Sanders proposed something so radical in his campaign. Arizona would have been the only state in the country to adopt such a policy, and Arizona voters weren’t about to make themselves guinea pigs for a dangerous economic experiment that would have put our world-class healthcare assets at risk.

Healthcare comprises 20 percent of Arizona’s economy, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenue to the state. Capping compensation in one of the state’s most important and vibrant sectors would harm our ability to attract top medical talent and would send our state’s healthcare companies looking for a better environment in which to do business. The measure wouldn’t reduce health care costs; it would raise them, as sought after service providers would become more scarce.

Voters know that healthcare is something Arizona does well. Think of our healthcare assets: Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute, Phoenix Heart Hospital, and many, many more. This was about a union with an axe to grind, not serious public policy.

But more fundamentally, the idea of a government-mandated compensation cap is antithetical to the idea of free enterprise, something Arizona voters inherently understand, even if a California union doesn’t.

All Arizona voters should be concerned about this flagrant abuse of Arizona’s initiative process. This out-of-state union had no interest in doing what’s best for our state.

The initiative process was designed by our founders to provide Arizona voters a safety valve when they wanted something done but our elected officials weren’t listening. It was never intended for a California union to draft ballot language that was clearly unconstitutional, single out one class of people, recruit paid petition gatherers to qualify for the ballot, and only then start to engage Arizonans in the process. Out-of-state interlopers attempted to undermine our initiative process and pull a fast one on Arizona.

The union backers saw the writing on the wall: The Chamber’s role in leading the opposition to such a risky proposal made it clear that the entire business community was lining up to take them on. Why did industries of all stripes care? Because today it might be healthcare, but tomorrow it’s another industry, and then another – maybe yours. The hits would keep on coming. We were prepared to fight hard. May’s special election passage of Proposition 123 is indicative of the political success that results from a unified business community.

But we need to ensure that Arizona isn’t at risk for becoming a laboratory to test bad ideas from out of state. Serious reforms are needed to ensure this special interest abuse can never happen again.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry