Unions Defeated in Santa Ana Council Recall Attempt

Unions Defeated in Santa Ana Council Recall Attempt

Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Jessie Lopez speaks about a recall campaign against her at city hall in Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Seiler

John Seiler


Updated: 12/21/2023


Yes, the public employee unions can be defeated. Their lock-grip on power in California is weakening.
Kudos to Santa Ana Councilwoman Jessie Lopez for proving that this week. She turned back a recall attempt by the powerful Santa Ana Police Officers Association (POA), 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent, according to preliminary results by the Orange County Registrar of Voters. It was the latest apparent vendetta against a councilmember by a POA president, who in August severed ties to City Hall in the midst of pension and other controversies.
The POA and other supporters successfully recalled Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias in 2020. But she is a conservative Republican who opposed a massive pay increase given to officers in 2019.
Ms. Lopez, by contrast, is a liberal Democrat, who sides with the union on most issues. This time she allegedly drew the wrath of the POA for working to open the books on police spending. As she described it in an op-ed for the Orange County Register: “This is not a recall, it’s a coup: Santa Ana Police Officers Association President Gerry Serrano is using taxpayer dollars to increase his power, spike his pension and corrupt Santa Ana politics.
“Over the past 12 years, Serrano has wielded his political connections to sweep a DUI charge under the rug, run political opponents out of office and recall City Council members who stand up to him. He also uses the might of his POA to influence elected officials at every turn, spending nearly $1 million in campaign donations to impact local races. This is all paying off quite well for Serrano, as he’s amassed a small fortune—making more than $2 million between 2017 and 2021—at the expense of Santa Ana taxpayers.”

Declining Union Power?

Last week The 74, an education reform website, reported, “California Teachers Association Continues to Lose Members and Raise Dues: Analysis: 18,000 eligible public education employees chose not to join CTA in 2019. This year, the number of non-members ballooned to almost 36,000.”
While police unions like the POA are powerful locally, the CTA is the most powerful force statewide. Its massive campaign war chest influences everything from California races for governor, U.S. senator and other posts; regional races for the U.S. House of representatives; and local school board races. Here’s The 74’s graph:
(The 74/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

(The 74/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

The key year is 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision came down. It ruled government employees cannot be forced to pay dues to a union. That led to tens of thousands of CTA members not joining the union.
Nationally, according to a Freedom Foundation report from last June, “Federal reports show that, in the years since Janus, membership in the four largest labor unions representing public employees has declined by a whopping 733,745.” Those four are the National Education Association, the CTA’s parent union; the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of the California Federation of Teachers; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and the Service Employees International Union.
Further, “The NEA reported 2,463,076 working members as of August 30, 2022, a decline of 203,263 (7.6 percent). This is the fewest working members the union has reported since at least 2005, before the NEA’s membership swelled for several years due to a series of mergers with existing AFT affiliates.”

Union Power Waning But Still Strong

The unions’ power is waning, but they still can lash out against policy common sense. Just this year, the SEIU in particular pushed into law two hefty minimum-wage increases. Senate Bill 525 boosted the minimum wage for most health care workers to $25 by July 1, 2026. And Assembly Bill 1228 boosted it for fast-food workers in firms with 60-plus restaurants nationally to $20 next April 1. The statewide minimum wage will be $16 on Jan. 1.
“The big issue is whether or not voters will start to understand and appreciate who’s really running the show, who’s really running school boards, who’s really running cities, and who’s dictating to whom,” former state Sen. John Moorlach told me. I served as his press secretary from 2017–20. And I witnessed how massive union spending in the many millions smeared and defeated him in his re-election bid in 2020; in a run to return to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2021; and for mayor of Costa Mesa in 2022.
“You’ll know the unions are losing their grip when the when the voters finally say, ‘Wait, wait a second,’” he added. “‘We’re supposed to elect people that represent us, not the employees.’ Then things will start to improve.”
There’s more good news specifically involving Mr. Moorlach, who also is a columnist at The Epoch Times. He is joining the Tustin-based California Policy Center (CPC) as senior fellow and director of its Center for Public Accountability.
“I’ve known John as a friend, a finance whiz and principled leader since Ronald Reagan’s second term,” said CPC president Will Swaim. “His consistent approach to fiscal conservatism in state and local government has earned him wide respect—except among government union leaders who have found in John a straight-shooting and implacable opponent of unrestrained government spending.
“Reporters, government officials, and taxpayers appreciate John’s financial expertise. He’s a rare talent, and he brings recognized authority to CPC’s work to help Californians measure the health of their state and local governments.”

Conclusion: Defeating the Unions Is Job No. 1

As I noted in a Sept. 5 Epoch Times article, “Santa Ana Recall Is About Union Power—Only.” The article was about how friends of mine who live in Santa Ana objected to Ms. Lopez’s left-wing views, such as backing rent control.
They just wrote me lamenting how the recall failed. I get it. And I’m sorry they feel that way. We agree on 100 percent of other issues.
But basics are basics. In this state, defeating union power remains Job No. 1. If Ms. Lopez had been recalled, she just would have been replaced with Ms. Lopez 2.0, with the new person holding the same views on other issues, but also bowing to union power.
Voters also will have a chance to jettison Ms. Lopez, if they so choose, starting with the primary next March 5, just a few months away.
Indeed, now that she has survived a near-recall experience, Ms. Lopez 1.0 might reconsider some of her left-wing views. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’m engaging in wishful thinking.
But the unions are so powerful in this state, boasting they control both sides of the bargaining table—employer and employee—we ought to relish any reduction of their dictatorial powers and the triumph of real democracy.
As 1950s “Honeymooners” comic Jackie Gleason liked to enthuse: How sweet it is!
John Seiler

John Seiler


John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at and his email is

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