[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 4, 1998]
[Pages 676-679]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a California Labor Initiative Breakfast in Los Angeles, 
May 4, 1998

    Thank you very much. I want to thank John Sweeney for those kind words and for his brilliant leadership in 
giving new life and energy and direction to the American labor movement. 
Thank you, Doug Dority and all the other 
labor leaders who are here. I thank Ron and 
Jan for opening their home to us and letting us 
relive the movie fantasies of the last 60 years here in this great old 
    I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation to my longtime 
friend John Garamendi for his 
distinguished leadership as Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and he's 
now gone to work with Ron. And I wish him well in private life. He also 
got a daughter married off last weekend; he assures me it is survivable, 
but I'm not so certain. [Laughter] I thank the Members of Congress who 
are here, and Lieutenant Governor Davis, thank 
you for coming.
    I would like to just say a few words to all of you who have come 
here to this fundraiser. First of all, you wouldn't be here if you 
didn't believe what I think is an elemental truth of the modern economy, 
which is that we can only have a good economy and a good society if we 
find ways to widen the circle of opportunity and to reward people for 
their labors. And insofar as we reward people for doing the right 
things, then those who are especially well-positioned will do even 
    John mentioned the Therma plant up in Silicon Valley I visited. Most 
people think that most of the places that are doing well up there are 
computer companies or biotech companies, but someone has to build all 
those buildings that they work in, and someone has to supply them with 
what they need. And that plant, as John said, is a family-owned business 
with 1,600 workers, most of whom are sheet metal workers,

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a few of whom are in the plumbers union, but they're all unionized, and 
yet they have all the things that the enemies of organized labor always 
say you never see. They have a flexible workplace; they have incredible 
partnerships with their owners, and the people who run that plant are 
very, very proud with their relationship with the union and with the 
people on the floor. And they have a modern workplace in which no one 
wants to leave, because they think they're getting their fair share of 
the labor, and because they believe their labor is respected.
    We have tried to do that. I was very disturbed when I became 
President that our country had had 20 years of increasing inequality 
among working people. And there were many reasons for it, some of them 
unavoidable because we were changing the nature of the American economy, 
and whenever you change the nature of an economy--it happens about once 
every 50 or 60 years--the people that are really in the best positions 
do best. It happened when we went from being agricultural to an 
industrial economy. But a lot of it was because our people weren't well-
equipped and weren't being treated fairly, and that people didn't 
understand that we had to make extra effort.
    So I want to thank the labor movement and John Sweeney and all the other labor leaders for the things they've 
supported that their own members were not the primary beneficiaries of. 
Most of the people that got the benefit of the Family and Medical Leave 
Act were working people who did not have the benefit of union 
representation. Most of the people who got the benefit of the increase 
in the minimum wage, directly or indirectly, most, if not all, were 
union people--were not union workers. Most of the people who get the 
benefit of the earned-income tax credit, which is now worth $1,000 a 
year to a family of 4 with an income of under $30,000, and it's lifted 
2.2 million children out of poverty--were working families that did not 
belong to unions. And so I thank you for being the voice, all of you, 
not only for your members but for those who are not members of organized 
    Now, when you look ahead to the future, it seems to me one of the 
great challenges still facing us is how every single person in our 
country, and ultimately in other parts of the world, can feel that there 
is some way they can live out their dreams, raise a family, live a life 
that makes sense in this new world we're living in.
    And it's funny, because one of the things that has clearly happened, 
with more and more people on the Internet, more and more kids on the 
Internet at school, more and more people being able to individually 
access information, is that there really is a new upsurge in the world 
today in people's desire to have more individual control over their 
    We're in the process now of reviewing the Social Security system, 
for example, and there's this huge age differential. Young people all 
say, well, we should have--not all but a lot of young people say, ``We 
should have individual accounts, and we'll decide how to invest it.'' 
Older people remember that the stock market has not always gone from 
3,000 to 9,000 in any 5-year period--and so they say, ``Well, you better 
have a little bit of protection here for what happens on the days when 
it's not so good.''
    This initiative on the California ballot can be seen against that 
background. The people of California have been very good to me and my 
family and my administration. And I have watched with interest as the 
State has emerged from its economic recession, starting in 1993 and 
coming forward--Californians, in the most popular State in the country 
and a State where it's fairly easy to get an initiative on the ballot, 
have been asked to come to grips with issues that are being debated.
    Now, I think sometimes these ballot initiatives have dealt with real 
problems, but at least from my point of view, with the wrong solution. 
For example, if you look at this ballot initiative on bilingual 
education, I think there is a significant problem in the--I think the 
way we are handling immigrant children, integrating them into our 
education system, integrating them into the mainstream of American life, 
is inadequate. I don't think it's working as well as it should. But I 
think the proposal on the ballot will make it worse, not better. That my 
only--but at least they're debating a real issue. And I'm hopeful on 
that issue that the voters of California will be able to think it 
through. And I applaud the speaker of the house here who tried to get an alternative measure through to 
deal with it in what I believe is a much more positive way.
    This issue dealing with labor unions and the relationship with labor 
unions to their members, I think it's an entirely different one. This is 
an issue, in my view, which seeks to take a legitimate principle, which 
is that people should not have their money spent against their will,

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and turn it into a ballot initiative that will simply put organizations 
that represent working people at a significant competitive disadvantage 
to other organizations in the political marketplace.
    So this is something that sounds good, but isn't--not something 
that's dealing with a real problem. There is no real problem here. And 
that's what you have to get out to the people of California.
    John and I--on the way in, he pointed out that, again, that it is 
labor union members who do not wish their dues money, others who do not 
wish their voluntary check-off money to be spent on political purposes, 
can inform their unions of that and get back a portion of their money. I 
think you said--Gerry McEntee said 33,000 
AFSCME members got back a portion of their money last year. This is not 
a problem. This is being put forth as a problem. This is not a problem 
that exists. No one is making labor union members contribute to 
political campaigns.
    Now, what this amendment seeks to do is to basically muffle the 
ability of the collective voices of working people to be heard by 
putting on them a far, far greater administrative burden than 
corporations face when they spend their own money--they don't have to 
get their shareholders' permission every year--or other organizations 
like the Chamber of Commerce, the NFIB, any other membership 
organization that spends money either to support candidates or to affect 
ballot initiatives or other political issues.
    Why should labor unions be singled out when they already give their 
members a better voice at opting out of the system than a lot of other 
organizations do? Why should we have a system where we say--let me tell 
you, I've been in Washington now for 5 years--we haven't always agreed 
on everything. John Sweeney and I don't 
agree on every issue. But I'll tell you something: If it were up to 
them, every American would have health care tonight, every child would 
go to bed tonight not worrying whether or not there would be a doctor 
there if the baby woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning.
    We have family and medical leave. We have this very different tax 
system for low-income working families. We have all these things in our 
balanced budget agreement; we've got the biggest increase in child 
health care in 35 years--going to provide 5 million children with health 
insurance. We have virtually opened the doors of college to every 
American, in no small measure because American labor was working up 
there in the Congress to try to pass this. This is a better country 
because of them.
    I don't know what the 30-second message is because I'm not part of 
the ad team out here, but I can tell you this: I believe if the people 
of California understood clearly that every member of every union in 
America has a right at any time to say, ``I do not want my money spent, 
my dues money, spent to lobby on ballot initiatives or spent for 
political purposes''--that that is a far more expensive thing that 
applies to other organizations as a practical matter, and that this is 
just an attempt to put unions at a disadvantage to other organized 
groups in the political marketplace and thereby to diminish the voice of 
working men and women--and keep in mind--and for people who are not 
members of unions for whom they speak, who would otherwise have no 
voice--who would otherwise have no voice.
    That family and medical leave thing, we had 170 other countries that 
had family and medical leave, for goodness' sakes, and we still have 
people in the United States Congress saying, ``Oh, if you do this, it 
will cost America jobs.''
    And that's what this is about. And I honestly believe if you can 
just tell the people of California the facts, that no man or woman in 
any labor union anywhere in California or in the country is being ripped 
off, that they can reallocate their money when they want to--they can 
say, ``I do not want this to happen''--and then they understood that 
this ballot initiative does not apply to business organizations, it does 
not apply to other organizations, it does not apply to corporations--I 
think the innate sense of fairness of the people out here will prevail. 
And all of you who are contributing here at this breakfast today are 
giving the people who are running this campaign a chance to do that.
    But I really believe that it's important that the message get out 
there that is not like--a lot of these other ballot initiatives are 
dealing with real, legitimate problems, and then you're just arguing 
over whether this is the right solution to a real problem. This is not a 
real problem. This is an attempt to create the impression that 
individual members of unions are being put upon, when they aren't. And 
it's being done to alter the balance of power in the political debate.
    And so I hope very much you will prevail, and I hope my being here 
helps you a little

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bit. And I hope between now and the time it's voted on, enough people 
will understand the facts. This is why we're--if they really know the 
facts, I think you'll win.
    Good luck, and thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:22 a.m. at a private residence. In his 
remarks, he referred to John J. Sweeney, president, AFL-CIO; Douglas H. 
Dority, international president, United Food and Commercial Workers 
International Union; breakfast hosts Ron and Janet Burkle; Lt. Gov. Gray 
Davis of California; State Assembly Speaker Antonio R. Villaraigosa; and 
Gerald W. McEntee, president, American Federation of State, County and 
Municipal Employees.