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Minor Thoughts from me to you
Archives for Unions (page 1 / 2)
Steven Greenhut, as seen on Reason.com. I endorse this view.
When it comes to problems in the public schools, my conservative friends are right on target with their critique. These schools often do a poor or mediocre job performing an important function. That's because they lack competition and are funded by political priorities rather than customers. Teachers' unions have undue sway over the entire process. They make it nearly impossible to fire even grossly incompetent teachers and that small percentage harms many students. Those same unions drive up unsustainable benefit costs.
Like everyone else, conservatives appreciate teachers—but they realize that the current taxpayer-funded system needs many reforms and more competition. There's nothing wrong with pointing this out, which is a reality in any government-funded, union-controlled monopoly anywhere in the world.
Yet when it comes to another type of taxpayer-funded, union-controlled monopoly, conservatives lose their sense of perspective. I'm referring, of course, to local and state police agencies. The same dynamic described above works there, too. Police agencies are bureaucratic. Unions protect the bad apples and make it nearly impossible to fire anyone—even officers caught on video misbehaving or being abusive to the public. The agencies hand out unsustainable benefits and have some bizarre spending priorities (tank-like vehicles, etc.). They are secretive and insular. They use asset forfeiture to grab the property of people never convicted or even accused of a crime.
This morning, a friend linked to an article on Salon.com, "The conservative plot to destroy the middle class: Scott Walker, 'right-to-work' and America’s new Gilded Age". I read it and I had some issues with how it portrayed the labor history of the last 100 years. In order to agree with Thom Hartmann's polemic, you have to agree with his assumptions about what happened and his implications about what caused various changes.
Allow me to summarize. Pre-unions, Americans were split into the super poor and the super rich. Then FDR passed the Wagner Act, giving unions the strength to fight for workers. From that time forward, the US middle class sprang into being and grew into a strong backbone of society. The forces of evil fought back and worked to weaken unions. The American middle class began to stagnate and to fall behind. If we don't fight to keep unions strong, the American middle class may disappear forever.
I disagree with Hartmann's history of labor and the middle class. I think unions helped some, but also caught the pre-existing wave of economic growth. The growth before WWII was caused by technological innovation, aided by the Harding and Coolidge efforts to cut government spending and debt.
The tremendous economic growth after WWII came out because the European economies had been literally bombed into oblivion. American factories grew explosively, producing all of the goods that European citizens were demanding. American workers were the beneficiaries of this flood of wealth.
Over time, the European economies recovered and the Europeans rebuilt their manufacturing base. The Japanese began to emerge and fight for their own slice of the global market. As worldwide competition increased, American businesses had to economize and cut costs, including labor costs. This eroded the wage premiums that unions had previously demanded for their members.
As American businesses were facing competition from abroad, American workers faced increased competition at home. During the 70's and 80's, more and more American women entered the workforce. This increase in the labor supply had its own impact, helping to hold down wages and benefits.
The American family also began to change, with more single parent households and more single (working) women. This increased the number of households in the country and decreased the average number of wage earners per household. This, in turn, caused the measured statistics of "income per household" to decline. The net change was that, even as the economy continued to grow, the statistical picture looked as though the middle class was stagnating.
That's my story and, given enough time, I can conjure up links to various charts and graphs that explain why I believe this story.
Right now, I'd rather point out why I don't like Hartmann's story. I'll list out the points of disagreement and give a thumbnail capsule of why I disagree with each point.
From the Gilded Age to the Great Depression to today, the economic agenda of conservatives has been easily summarized in two words: “cheap labor.”
That's an opinion and it's Hartmann's opinion. As a libertarian who supports right-to-work, I'd summarize my agenda as "freedom". I believe it leads to cheaper labor for some, more expensive labor for others.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Republican efforts to make as many states as possible “right-to-work” states—more accurately described as right-to-work-for-less states.
Sure. Let's go ahead and redefine terms to create an emotional preconception against the thing that you're arguing against. It's a fine demagogic technique, but let's not pretend that it's entirely honest. This also ignores the fact that working for less can be a good thing. If a business is struggling, would you rather work for less or be laid off because your union refused to agree to a wage cut? If you're an inexperienced worker, would you rather work for less while you gain experience or be frozen out of a job entirely, because you're not worth the high starting wage that the union negotiated?
Only two entities have the power necessary to stand up for working people against the massive control of oligarch employers: government and unions.
There are three assertions in this sentence. I don't agree with any of them.
- Employers are oligarchs who exert massive control over working conditions and compensation.
- Governments are capable of protecting all employees.
- Unions are capable of protecting all employees.
I'd say the first is only true if you can easily list off all of the employers in your area. If you can and the list is small, those employers may have oligarchic control. If you can't, if there are too many employers to count, it's likely that none of them have oligarchic control over employment in your area.
Governments are often captured by special interests and used by those special interests to give themselves special privileges. An especially egregious example was when white southerners, of all economic statuses, used Jim Crow laws to mandate discrimination against minorities. In that time and place, the government most emphatically did not have the power to stand up for working people of color.
Unions are the very definition of a special interest. They exist to protect the employees in specific businesses and industries. They do this by fighting for special conditions; whether in wages, working conditions, or benefits; that are not available to all employees everywhere. They make life better for employees in the union at the expense of employees outside of the union. (If they weren't able to do this, there wouldn't be a reason to freely join the union.)
Instituting right-to-work-for-less laws is a not-so-subtle plot to starve and destroy one of the only two institutions that can stand up and demand a decent living wage for American workers.
Biased assertion of motive. As a backer of right to work laws, that's absolutely not my motive, nor is it the motive of the other backers that I know.
Right-to-work-for-less laws ensure the cheap labor conservatives have sought for generations.
This is an assertion of debatable fact, without evidence.
Unions have been a bulwark of the middle class ever since the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Prior to Roosevelt’s 1935 Wagner Act, which guaranteed workers’ rights to unionize, America had been mostly either very rich or very poor.
... Following the Wagner Act’s implementation, and Roosevelt’s raising of the top marginal income tax rate on multi-millionaires to 90 percent, the first true American middle-class came into being.
This is an assertion of debatable fact, without evidence. Additionally, Hartmann commits the post-hoc fallacy, in asserting that the Wagner Act gave rise to the middle class.
[The Taft-Hartley bill] was an early domestic version of the “free trade” disaster we’re seeing now with NAFTA, GATT/WTO, CAFTA and coming soon, the TPP—a race to the cheap labor bottom that started to take root in the American south right after passage of Taft-Hartley.
As I discussed above, the downward pressure on wages is a result of the fact that America lost its manufacturing monopoly as the rest of the world's economies grew out of the post WWII era. The increased competition in producing goods and services strongly limits the prices that any one manufacturer can demand, in turn limiting the salaries that they can pay. It's not a matter of employer greed but a result of consumer demand for more affordable goods and services.
From then until the end of the Jimmy Carter presidency, unionization, and thus, average worker wages in the United States, only gradually declined.
This is a repeat of the assertion that unions were responsible for keeping average worker wages high. If I wanted to engage in my own post-hoc fallacies, I could say that this proves that Taft-Hartley didn't actually have that much of an impact on the middle class.
When Ronald Reagan came into office, a quarter of the American workforce was unionized, meaning half of Americans could raise a middle-class family on a single salary.
There's an important unstated fact here: roughly one-half of the potential American workforce was sitting on the sidelines, as unemployed (mostly married) women. I would argue that this limited supply of labor had something to do with the level of wages and that changes in the workforce had something to do with average household income falling.
But then Reagan declared war on the middle class, starting with the air traffic controller’s union (PATCO) during his first year in office.
Uhhhm... PATCO was illegally striking. It's hard to argue that opposing an illegal strike was an assault on the middle class. Hartmann gives no evidence of Reagan's war on the middle class except for this one supposed example.
While gutting the American middle-class, conservatives also launched a well-funded propaganda campaign, using right-wing “think tanks” and talk radio to convince workers that their growing economic woes were the fault of minorities (“affirmative action”) and the poor (“welfare queens”).
These talking points coming to you courtesy of left-wing "think tanks" and Hollywood personalities. No, I don't actually think that left wing think tanks are made up of morons. But it would be offensive if I did. And it's equally offensive for Hartmann to imply that think tanks he doesn't agree with are nothing but fakes staffed by enemies of the middle class.
At the same time, they began stacking federal benches with conservative judges, and passing thousands of federal, state, and local laws, ordinances, and regulations that further weakened the powers of organized labor and their ability to unionize.
Such as? I'm not impressed by assertions without any evidence whatsoever.
The result has been an explosion in CEO and executive pay, a rush of wealth to the conservative elite (the top 10 percent of Americans now own 75 percent of the nation’s wealth), and preferential capital gains taxes continue to consolidate wealth for those who “earn their living” by sitting around the pool waiting for their dividend checks to arrive.
I have three complaints in one sentence. First, post-hoc fallacy of nebulous "federal, state, and local laws, ordinances, and regulations" that were responsible for changes in CEO and executive pay. Second, an unsubstantiated assertion that most of America's wealthy are conservative (without Googling can you name wealthy conservatives other than the Koch brothers?). Third, an implicit assumption that capital gains taxes are a good thing and that low capital gains taxes contribute to income inequality.
“fair share” union fees—money paid by workers who decline membership in their union, but receive massive benefits (in increased pay, benefits and job security) from their union that is required by law to represent them, even though they are not members and don’t pay full dues.
“Fair share” fees help curtail the problem of these “free riders.” And the Supreme Court upheld them in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Ed.
Again, this is an assertion of opinion, not a fact. I would define "fair share" union fees (if Hartmann gives me the scare quotes, I'll use 'em) as the reward that the union gets for forcing you into a job contract that you may not agree with, negotiated by people that you may neither agree with nor like. It may be my share, but I don't agree that it's fair in all circumstances.
There are other points I could quibble with. But those are the things that bothered me the most.
This closes the loop on a story that I first noted back in July 2012.
According to police reports, Officers Gregory Martin and Jeremy Brindle entered Howard’s room in the locked-down Alzheimer’s unit and told him to enter the ambulance.
When Howard did not respond to commands, Martin unholstered his Taser and told him he would be Tased if he didn’t comply.
Brindle attempted to gain control of Howard’s arms to restrain him, and a struggle ensued. When Howard turned towards Brindle, Martin then Tased him, which caused Howard to drop to the floor.
Howard was then Tased by Martin two more times while on the ground after ordering him multiple times to roll onto his stomach. Police said Howard resisted constraint and attempted to fight them while on the floor.
Brindle then handcuffed Howard, which left a large, bloody gash on his wrist and escorted him to Duke’s Memorial Hospital. Officers said he was combative in the ambulance until his wife arrived at the hospital and calmed him down.
Howard’s wife, Virginia, ... said her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 13 years ago and doesn’t understand the simplest directions or commands like “sit down or pick up a book.”
In August 2012, the Peru, IN police department fired Gregory Martin. Martin immediately appealed his firing and the case went to court. On September 5 2013---more than a year later---the appeals court denied Martin's appeal. It's now official that Martin won't be going back to the Peru, IN police force.
I'm glad this case is finally over and that justice ultimately was served. But this case illustrates why I believe that police unions are a bad idea. In a normal business, you could fire an employee for this kind of overreaction and walk away, confident that the firing would stick. The city of Peru fired Martin and then had to fight multiple battles to ensure that the firing would stick.
This kind of long drawn process gives too much power to the police department, to our civil "servants". It mights it too costly to get rid of bad actors and makes it more likely that the bad actors stick around, causing more problems down the road.
Union defenders claim that the government unions are necessary, to protect employees against abusive employers and managers. But the city of Peru is ultimately responsible to its citizens. Police who think they are wrongly treated can make their case at the ballot box. They shouldn't be able to use the coercive power of unionization to dictate terms to the citizens who ultimately pay their salaries and employ them.
Hey, look! It's yet another area where public sector unions are making the world a worse place. I'm 100% in favor of getting rid of police unions.
All of these Rhode Island cops, and many more like them across the county, were able to keep their jobs and benefits—sometimes only temporarily, but always longer than they should have—thanks to model legislation written and lobbied for by well-funded police unions. That piece of legislation is called the "law enforcement bill of rights," and its sole purpose is to shield cops from the laws they're paid to enforce.
The inspiration for this legislation and its similarly named cousins across the country is the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights, introduced in 1971 by New York Rep. Mario Biaggi (D), at the behest of the Police Benevolent Association. Having once been the most decorated police officer in the country, Biaggi didn't need much convincing to put forward the union-friendly bill.
Biaggi pushed for the POBOR until March 1987, when he received two indictments back-to-back. The first was for accepting a paid vacation from Brooklyn Democratic Leader Meade H. Esposito in exchange for using federal funds to bail out a company in Esposito's neighborhood. A second indictment handed down three months later charged Biaggi with extorting $3.6 million in cash and stock options from a small Bronx machine shop called Wedtech. Both charges resulted in convictions and Biaggi's resignation from Congress.
While Biaggi's bill never made it through Congress, police unions didn't wait for city managers or police department higher-ups to write their own. Benevolent associations in Maryland successfully pushed for the passage of a police bill of rights in 1972; Florida, Rhode Island, Virginia, New Mexico, and California followed suit before the 70s were over. The 1980s, 90s, and 2000s saw still more states adopt police bill of rights at the behest of police unions.
GM did go bankrupt – filing for Chapter 11 protection against its creditors on June 1, 2009. It’s what happened next that the president can take credit for – a handout of $49.5 billion in taxpayer money to GM, some $27 billion of which remains outstanding, and another $17 billion to its financial arm Ally Financial, which still owes $14.7 billion.
Where did that money go? Mainly, it went to paying off debts owed by GM and Chrysler, and – in an historic distortion of our bankruptcy proceedings – to securing the pensions and livelihoods of UAW workers. It turns out the real debt was that of Mr. Obama to organized labor, which had ponied up some $400 million to help him defeat John McCain.
The Obama administration strong-armed the auto companies’ creditors into accepting undeniably unfair terms – terms that saw pensions obliterated for non-union workers but saved for those carrying a UAW card. Terms that saw non-UAW shops close but UAW factories stay open. Terms that doled out ownership in GM with political favoritism as a guiding principle.
These charges are not at issue. In the government-managed reorganization of GM, bond holders (secured bond holders, who normally are at the top of the pay-out chart) were given equity in the carmaker at a price of $2.7 billion per one percent ownership. The government ended up paying $834 million for every one percent it claimed; the UAW paid only $629 million.
It was not only the ownership share that was skewed towards the UAW. As jobs began to come back, it was the UAW plants that kicked into high gear. Workers at GM’s plant in Moraine, Ohio, who had been laid off in 2007, were not included in the re-hiring. Why? Because they did not belong to the UAW. The Moraine plant was reportedly one of GM’s most productive, but under the terms of GM’s reorganization, its workers were “banned from transferring to other plants,” according to Sharon Terlep at The Wall Street Journal.
Moraine was not the only non-UAW facility to fall under the knife; a truck plant in Ontario organized by the Canadian Auto Workers also went down.
Here's another indication that unions are hurting education.
The awkward fact is that teaching in America has become a quasi blue-collar profession mostly shunned by top college graduates. The countries with the best education systems recruit from top graduates. What about our top graduates? A good barometer is Teach for America (TFA), which in 2011 drew nearly 48,000 applicants for 5,200 teaching positions. Those applicants included 12% of the seniors at Ivy League schools.
Here's the question that never gets asked: What happens to the 43,000 top graduates who wanted to teach but didn't get an offer from TFA? Nearly all seek other careers.
For the best and brightest college graduates in this country, jobs offered by regular school districts lack prestige. Their accountability-free practices give the best teachers no way to stand out. These young TFA applicants rose to the top of their high schools classes and won admittance to the top tier colleges. They want a shot at shining on the job as well.
Wisconsin's own Christian Schneider talks about the forces that drove GM to close the plant in Janesville, WI.
While plant closings are always complex issues, two main issues (both somewhat embarrassing to the Left) played a large role: the heavy burden of organized labor and misplaced government intervention in the automotive marketplace.
As George Will wrote at the time, by 2005, GM had essentially become a health-care company that also happened to make automobiles.
Megan McArdle, on my American Airlines is entering bankruptcy.
But airlines do have another problem that's special to them: their unions, which are both powerful, and plentiful.
Whatever you think about the United Autoworkers, at least there's only one of them. The union doesn't want to kill the company any more than management does. In theory, at least, you should be able to work something out.
But when there are three or four unions--pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and baggage handlers--things get complicated. All of those groups are completely necessary to make sure that the plane gets in the air. If one of them doesn't show up, you lose all the money on every seat.
... But when times aren't so flush, this dynamic becomes a problem. The company's past labor agreements don't leave much margin for error--particularly when there were sizeable pensions, as there have been at most of these legacy airlines.
It's not clear what will happen to American's $8 billion worth of pension obligations, which are underfunded by billions, but I'd expect that the company will push hard to shed them. It will also want the judge to rewrite its labor contracts.
Interesting. Companies that have the freedom to set their own pay and benefit scales are able to create more new jobs than they would otherwise be able to. That's certainly unexpected.
They are a cornerstone of Chrysler’s unlikely comeback: 900 employees turning out a Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle every 48 seconds of the working day at an assembly plant here. Working for Less
Nothing distinguishes them from other workers at the Jefferson North plant, except their paychecks. The newest workers earn about $14 an hour; longtime employees earn double that.
With the economy slumping and job creation once again a pressing issue in the White House and Congress, the advent of a two-tier wage system in Detroit is spiking employment for one of the country’s most important manufacturing industries.
As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.
“These impacts will allow the district to hire additional teachers (and) reduce projected class sizes,” School Board President Todd Arnoldussen wrote in a statement Monday. “In addition, time will be available for staff to identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences.”
The district anticipates that elementary class size projections for next year will shrink from 26 students to 23 students. Class sizes for River View Middle School are expected to fall from 28 students to 26 students.
Kaukauna High School classes could be reduced from 31 students to 25 students.
Huh. That’s certainly … unexpected.
At the time, I thought that their case was exceedingly weak and more in the vein of a stupid Hail Mary attempt than a serious effort at practicing law. Today, I saw that the United States Court for the Western District of Wisconsin appears to agree with me. They denied the unions' request for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injuction in quite plain terms. Check out the ruling [PDF].
If you don't read the ruling, the breakdown of their argument shows you pretty clearly what they think. It’s not a final ruling yet but, if this is representative of what the court is thinking, the final ruling could be even more fun.
- “There Is A Rational Basis For The Differing Treatment Of General Employees And Public Safety Employees”
- “Plaintiffs’ Attempt To Reduce Act 10 To Crass Political Payback Fail”
- “Plaintiffs Have No Probability Of Success On The Merits Of Their First Amendment Claim, As That Claim Is Without Merit”
- “Plaintiffs Misstate The Nature Of Their Alleged Irreparable Harm”
- “The State And The Public Interest Will Suffer Great Irreparable Harm By The Issuance Of A Preliminary Injunction”
- “Plaintiffs Seek To Alter The Status Quo, Not Maintain It, By Asking For A Remedy That Will Result In A Completely New Set Of Collective Bargaining Statute”
The ruling is all kinds of good fun.
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) says that Tennessee attracted thousands of auto industry jobs because of its right-to-work laws. This
This reminds me of a White House state dinner in February 1979, when I was governor of Tennessee. President Jimmy Carter said, "Governors, go to Japan. Persuade them to make here what they sell here."
"Make here what they sell here" was then the union battle cry, part of an effort to slow the tide of Japanese cars and trucks entering the U.S. market.
Off I flew to Tokyo to meet with Nissan executives who were deciding where to put their first U.S. manufacturing plant.
... In 1980 Nissan chose Tennessee, a state with almost no auto jobs. Today auto assembly plants and suppliers provide one-third of our state's manufacturing jobs. Tennessee is the home for production of the Leaf, Nissan's all-electric vehicle, and the batteries that power it. Recently Nissan announced that 85% of the cars and trucks it sells in the U.S. will be made in the U.S.— making it one of the largest "American" auto companies and nearly fulfilling Mr. Carter's request of 30 years ago.
This is directly applicable to today's battle between the NLRB and Boeing, over whether or not Boeing can open a production line in a right-to-work state.
Minority Leader Miller made it quite clear, in a letter to Majority Leader Fitzgerald, that the Democrats had no intention of returning until and unless the collective bargaining provisions were stripped from the bill.
Senator Taylor requested an absentee ballot for the April 5 spring election.
Republican senators were convinced that the Democrat 14 weren't interested in true negotiations, only in posturing and obstruction. So they voted to pass the bill anyway, after making sure that the slightly altered bill was legal.
Iowahawk returns to the subject of whether or not Wisconsin's unionized school system trumps the non-unionized nightmare that is the Texas public school system.
Spoiler: it doesn't.
Further spoiler: Wisconsin is not doing well, at all, in educating minority students.
Wisconsin public unions have been saying for weeks now that they had agreed to Governor Walker's benefit cuts and that the Governor should leave their collective bargaining "rights" alone.
Well, they've been busy signing new 2-year contracts that either don't include the cuts or (in some cases) actually have pay and benefit increases. Guess they haven't been quite honest with people of Wisconsin after all.
Iowahawk steps out of character for a moment to set Paul Krugman straight. Krugman has been claiming that Texas, without collective bargaining, has an education system that ranks far, far below the education system of Wisconsin, which does have collective bargaining.
It turns out that, once you control for the ethnicity of the overall population, Texas students out perform Wisconsin students, ethnicity by ethnicity.
A look at the top 10 political donors.
That's five unions to two businesses and three other groups. Five out of ten is half, by my always-suspect English-major math. And who are those other groups? ActBlue is a Democratic clearinghouse, the trial lawyers are super-lopsidedly Democratic, and four out of five of the Realtors' top campaign-cash recipients are Democrats.
PPP's recent poll of Wisconsin voters appears to overcount union voters by 6% and undercount Walker voters by 6%. It may not be trustworthy.
In judging teachers' claims, we might compare their lives with the lives of, say, farmers or welders or interstate truckers.
Victor Davis Hanson compares his experiences as a farmer and as a teacher.