Has it really come to this? Union officials hiring a private investigator to track down high school students at their homes and interrogate them about missing "Cancel the Layoffs" signs?

As U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch famously told Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the anti-Communist hearings in 1954, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

In case you missed the news last week, union bosses representing city of Costa Mesa employees said they had heard a rumor that Estancia High School football players were stealing those signs that are littering our community. They had no evidence of the alleged thefts, just an unsubstantiated rumor.

A reasonable course of action for the union bosses would have been to contact the students' coach and say, "Coach, we heard a rumor that your players might be tearing down our signs. We don't know if it's true, but can you have a word with them about it? Thanks."

Instead, a union-paid private investigator (a former police officer) somehow got his hands on the home addresses of the minors and started knocking on their doors. And guess what? No evidence has been uncovered to implicate the boys, who have strenuously denied any wrongdoing. I tend to believe these kids over the union and their thug-like tactics.

When the story broke, I naively thought union officials would say something like, "We're sorry, we made a mistake." Sending a private investigator to interrogate high school students at their homes was way out of line. We didn't think it through. It doesn't make it right, but we're sending a donation to the Estancia football program."

But our community received no apology, only a continued attack. Faced with a losing hand, the union decided to double-down.

The union's tone-deafness to the lives and wishes of Costa Mesa residents continues to amaze me. Struggling through the nation's worst economic time since the Great Depression, the union's idea is that Costa Mesa residents should serve city employees, and not the other way around.

The union's latest advertising pitch is that Costa Mesa should raid the $26 million it has saved and earmarked for such basics as self-insurance and capital replacement and dump it into the general fund to pay for salaries and pensions. It's like raiding your 401(k) to pay for ongoing household expenses.

When the facts — and public opinion — aren't on your side, you begin to sound like McCarthy, making increasingly wild accusations and stooping so low that even interrogating our children has become part of their campaign of misinformation and intimidation.

Fortunately, Costa Mesa residents have an inherent sense of decency, and we don't appreciate union tactics that may have worked for Jimmy Hoffa, but are unacceptable in today's world.

The union should do the decent thing and apologize for turning a private investigator loose to harass and intimidate high school kids. I'm not holding my breath.

COLIN MCCARTHY is the president of the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn.