Sober up

Dateline: Mon 07 Mar 2011

A prediction: we will all be reading more editorials like the one that follows, since many states are going belly-up.

New York is an example of a state that never saw a check or an entitlement it didn't like. Now it's reality time.

Here is what the New York Times said yesterday in its lead editorial:

"At a time when public school students are being forced into ever more crowded classrooms, and poor families will lose state medical benefits, New York State is paying 10 times more for state employees’ pensions than it did just a decade ago.

"That huge increase is largely because of Albany’s outsized generosity to the state’s powerful employees’ unions in the early years of the last decade, made worse when the recession pushed down pension fund earnings, forcing the state to make up the difference.

"Although taxpayers are on the hook for the recession’s costs, most state employees pay only 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions, half the level of most state employees elsewhere. Their health insurance payments are about half those in the private sector.

"In all, the salaries and benefits of state employees add up to $18.5 billion, or a fifth of New York’s operating budget. Unless those costs are reined in, New York will find itself unable to provide even essential services"

While the Times goes on to bash perceived union-quashing efforts in Wisconsin, and to praise New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not taking such a heavy approach, the editorial also notes that cuts are coming: "If they (public unions) don’t budge, Mr. Cuomo says he will have to lay off up to 9,800 workers. That would damage the state’s struggling economy. Some compromise must be found"

Maureen Groppe, political reporter for the Star, took up this cudgel yesterday, also following on the heels of the New York Times by a week or so -- the paper had done an extensive analysis of the salaries/benefits/etc. of public vs. private workers. "Do public employees earn more? It depends," is the headline, but the answer is yes: "Government workers earned an average of $49,157 in Indiana, or $1,183 more  than in the private sector," reports Groppe. Still, Indiana is not in as deep a doo-doo as New York, California, and other broke states; we rank 37th among states for compensation for government employees.

For all the noise about unions, it's time to face the facts: sometimes, the price is simply too high.

Incidentally, I am not speaking against efforts to unionize workers who are marginalized by greedy and indifferent employers -- the hotel and maintenance workers come to mind. The Guild at the newspaper, while weak, was also the only defense many employees had in a dispute with management. Unions have their place.

But when unions and their members are fat and feeding at the trough, time to say, enough already. No more passing the bottle. Sober up.



hendy [Member] said:

Your passive-aggressive attitude towards unions is a symptom of a deeper problem we have right now: introspection, and revulsion at what we find.

Constitutionally, we gaze at our financial navels annually, bi-annually, every four years, and for the truly fearful, offsetting years for mayoral races.

We take the whip out, beat our selves, our neighbors, our political opponents, and try to do something. It's masochism incarnate. Will roads get fixed? Will the schools get funded? Will the pensions get funded? Will those on public money income get more, less, increased benefits/decreased benefits, or perhaps none at all?

Are unions valid, are they too greedy, are their pensions valid or unfunded, will there be layoffs, will we have a Right To Work, will we have gay marriage amendments, will teach evolution in the schools or will we teach "Intelligent Design"?

If one or more initiatives will be passed, will it be undone by the running dog lackeys of (your opposition party here) and will we revile and castigate them once again, or is this issue so important that it can be put into the constitution, where it can be effectively ignored, except through expensive and protracted litigation?

Will we be distracted by something huge and onerous and galvanizing with such high gravity that it makes us pull together, or will we be forever grappling, growling, trolling, snarling, nincompoops?

Underneath the questions of public unions is the trust of the state, which is an oxymoron. I want to trust Indiana as a governmental body, but I do not. More time is spent in prevention than production. The very thought that one entity might somehow get a femtometer ahead of another rankles people so thoroughly, that they must split hairs with laser, yet nuclear precision.

We are so f*cked.

2011-03-07 09:05:26

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Well, Hendy, at least we don't have to take the Bob Knight-advice: enjoy it while you're getting rammed.

I stand firmly with unions. No embarrassment whatsoever. Because over time, they've rescused the middle class in multiple modes. And without a middle class, who consumes the goods, increasdingly made overseas? Only the wealthy.

Now, the unions are doing the toughest navel-gazing, and I'm impressed with what they're willing to give up to survive.

All the meaningful bargaining-table movement is toward management for the last 4-7 years. In the private sector, that comes amid: record profits for some companies, massive tax cuts we never oculd afford, and bailouts for certain industries that were, although Bush-proposed, socialist in nature.

Oxymoronic behavior abounds. Gordon Gekko was right, for this crowd:

Greed is good. And how did we only realize we were on the edge of the cliff, a week before?

Public-sector unions have a different obligation. They should be able to bargain wages, related fringes, and work conditions. There ought to be checkbook reality. I hope they 'get it," and I'm pretty sure they do.

I would add: no gun was held to the heads of Govs. Orr, Bayh, O'Bannon, Kernan, or Daniels, to agree to those contracts. Daniels's solution was surgery with a chain saw.

We may be F***ed. Hope not. Demonizing opponnts won't solve it.

Solidarity forever.

2011-03-07 10:17:29

JL Kato [unverified] said:

I will stand with the unions. For all of their perceived faults and actual abuses, I know of no other group that will represent my and the workers' interests. Those trade organizations, chambers of commerce, and fat-cat lobbyists are de facto unions for the moneyed interest--at my expense. So unless you want to dismantle those organizations, then leave the labor unions alone.

2011-03-07 11:13:45

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Or, maybe, JL: make the unions justify some of their recent largesse.

On the whole though, you're right.

2011-03-07 11:20:56

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

I'm with JL Kato on this, too.

My father was a lifelong union member, and it stepped in to help when he was disabled. No other organization has done as much for my family as his union did.

2011-03-07 12:50:05

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Which reminds me: there are (at least) two sides to every bargaining session.

If the public employees unions got "too much", who "gave" it to them? Yup. The same politicians who are now ranting and railing about unions!

2011-03-07 12:54:17

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Couldn't agree more with TTT's observations (and those of others in this thread).

"Solidarity forever." Amen and hallelujah.

I once was just a few rows from the front when the great populist icon Pete Seeger finished a song with the "solidarity forever" chant. A tremendous memory.

Both of my parents came from the Appalachian mountains - where, as a kid, my grandpa took me to see some of my relatives whose houses still had dirt floors. They worked like dogs in the nearby dishware (a corporation) factory and didn't get paid enough to afford indoor plumbing in the late 1950s.

I see things simply. American workers want just a small piece of the "pie"; America's millionaires and billionaires want it ALL.

2011-03-07 13:39:30

hendy [Member] said:

I'm watching the decimating of public obligation.

Schools. Public media. Infrastructure.

Tax deals for business relocations, giving away stacks of $100 bills in abatements. I watch the HQ of Simon et al being sold for a buck.

I watch the CIB wrestle with Conseco Fieldhouse, Lucas Stadium.

This is no Kumbaya moment.

My newest heros live in a Comfort Inn in Urbana. Their leader is wicked strange, and he's of an old school in politics that also makes me nauseous. I look to the NW and see Rahm take over the dictatorship of Cook County. I watch Chicagoans pay 10.25% sales tax, and park their cars for unbelievably usurious amounts of money.

I remember an older time that's now gone forever. We're not going to get back to those roaring 1990's because we've exported our labor and allowed corporations to keep their profits overseas with no penalty. Huge piles of cash are sitting offshore because *it can*, rather than be taxed even at our corporate welfare rates. We exempt NGOs, 501c3/6 corps from lots of taxation, even though they use the same services that everyone else does.

And we allow campaign contributions that indenture legislators to contributor fealty to this day. We have lots of work-around regulations to permit "free speech" on a corporate level by abrogation of all of the rules of common sense.

I continue to maintain that we are so f*cked.

2011-03-07 15:05:22

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"If the public employees unions got "too much", who "gave" it to them? Yup. The same politicians who are now ranting and railing about unions!"

Since it was play money-- yours and mine and none of theirs-- there was little oversight or hardassing about "too much."

And hendy if you think your heroes at the Comfort Inn are AWOL because out of genuine concern for the public weal, I have some tickets to the Super Bowl I'd like to sell you.
This is their way of saying "majority, schmority."

2011-03-07 15:59:39

hendy [Member] said:

Their predecessors did it, too.

Same way of saying the same thing.

Except this time, they're inadvertently following MY agenda.

2011-03-07 20:45:14

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

You know, I can't escape the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, that if ANYONE other than Pat Bauer were the Dem leader, they'd have even more public support.

The truth is, this messenger has been there 36 or more years.

And when he voted for the Marriage Amendment, after taking tons of arrows for his prior stance on the issue, I'm convinced he's been there too long. He told many GLBT friends he did so because he was afraid his district would be drastically altered. So he whines about holding onto his power base. Incredible.

That is the sound a dying donkey makes.

2011-03-08 05:08:55

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Their predecessors did it, too."

People who don't show up for work get fired. This should apply to any member of the Indiana GA.

Is there a mechanism for recalling absent legislators? If we have to wait until the next election, nothing will happen because voters have shorter memories than a newt.

2011-03-08 06:24:33

Seneca [Member] said:

No one mentions the two most powerful unions of all: the doctors' union and the lawyers' union. They may call themselves "associations"; nonetheless, they are unions for their respective constituents). And the lawyers' union gets to advise on Supreme Court nominees. How powerful is that?

2011-03-08 07:26:21

Seneca [Member] said:

oops. no right paren.

2011-03-08 07:34:32

Tell The Truth [Member] said:


2011-03-08 08:41:16

sjudge [unverified] said:

Unions provide a really useful balance between the workers and the owners. But, when the balance get lopsided, either side has options. The owners, as we've seen over pst decades, are able to move operations to cheaper labor markets. (Eventually, that will result in some sort of world-wide labor equilibrium, but that's a long, long, way off) Workers can shift to other job markets. (That often involves retraining, and relocating, neither of which is easy).
Public employees are in a different situation, at least somewhat. Employers can, to an extent, shift to different workforces (we call it outsourcing, privatizing, etc. - charter schools are simply privatizing public education) Still, it's more difficult for government to make the shift - more stuff has to be done locally.
Unions initially focused (other than the obvious issue of pay) on salaries) on workplce safety, but once that (in most industries) was either federalized or resolved, they moved deeper into workplace conditions - what can my job entail, what can you have folks outside my union doing for you, etc.) "In Search of Superman," makes the compelling argument that teachers unions have elevated this process to the point where the 'business' can't compete, yet can't be shut down. Unions respond that it's still management's problem.
There are too many 'have nots' in our country, and a few 'have way too much's" The trick, however, can't simply be to take away more and more from the one, and give it to the other.

2011-03-08 08:56:14

hendy [Member] said:

My argument regarding teachers unions is simple: children aren't cute little profit centers, to be shuffled around until they reap profit. Year after year, funding changes for public schools. It grouses the hell out of some people that they have to pay for public schools in the first place. Any money is too much money. Shrink shrink shrink is the word.

Yet our funding was unconstitutional for a decade or more, and still is patently unfair. School boards are the 'localest' of politics, and the capital asset outlays that mime the local strata are common, viz the McMansion football stadium in Carmel while Shortridge plays in a cinder-surrounded field. It's a classic disconnect that continues year after year after year.

Public employee unions got there because of rampant abuse and the threat of awarding contracts to outside bidders. No freaking wonder that there's a bit of abuse on both sides: they hate each other. Paradoxically, I find a lot of city employees genuinely wanting to do good, and the real bureaucrats are tough to find.

2011-03-08 11:20:12

Jason [unverified] said:

I will say this for public unions: in a perfect world they would be a great check on government run amok.

Unfortunately the relationship has proven far too cozy in these times. In many situations public unions have mastered the art of keeping people who should be fired and getting people fired who should have been kept. Realistically the checks and balances end with some kind of government entity that has ties to either the griever or the grievee. It's not going to change and it never will.

Charter schools aren't going to solve all of our school problems, because many of our 'school problems' have nothing to do with the schools at all. Look no further than the attendance rates. The numbers I'd like to see are the graduation rates reflected ONLY among the kids who had good attendance records. I'm continually amazed when I talk to teachers who get blamed for not showing kids how to tie their shoes, making sure kids get on the bus in the morning, etc.

However, if charter schools can weaken the stranglehold on public unions then I say go for it. A general contractor who's son attends a southside school volunteered to do some construction work and the school board had to turn down his FREE services because all work done has to go through the union contracted to do work at the school (to protect jobs.)

Enter private schools, where parental involvement is somewhere between highly encouraged and mandatory, and it's no wonder many public schools have turned into nothing more than high-cost, low-return diploma mills. The faith-based argument is irrelevant because we're talking about choice, which is what it comes down to. After all, Monopolies are un-American, aren't they?

2011-03-08 11:37:38

hendy [Member] said:

A single anecdotal citation of a guy volunteering services doesn't make a case. Did he go out for bid? Public schools aren't bound by any rule saying that contractors have to be unionized. The problem with free labor is the problem with volunteers: insurance, litigation, capacity to meet expectations, and so on.

Unions aren't monopolies. But to do their work, the position of contractual obligation comes forth to guarantee the bargaining position of the union. This argument has been going on since the 1890s, and each and every time it rears its ugly head, it gets the reasoning needed to explain why it's this way. Not a single piece of this is new in any way. What you're seeing is a surge of anti-union sentiments funded by the business lobby. It's bought and paid for. Drinking their koolaid doesn't make you smarter, instead you succumb to the unending arguments that ostensibly mean a better economic situation, but in reality feed the titans and bribery artists at the very top.

2011-03-08 13:23:07

Jason [unverified] said:

Perhaps you misunderstood. He was going to be doing it for FREE because his son was involved in an after school program which would benefit from the work. As a general contractor I'm sure the work would have been up to code. It was perceived as depriving union labor of paid work.

Most of the anti-union sentiment is directed towards public unions so I find any argument that it is fueled by the business lobby to be a little curious. What I find odd is that we have a special interest group (i.e. lobbyists, arrgh!) in the form of unions essentially paying our duly elected representatives to NOT do their job. If this is a precedent it's a horrible one. If it's been done before, even if it was the opposition doing it, it was just as wrong then as it is now. There is a much, much stronger correlation between what's going on and public unions than there is outside business influence. Let's not forget business lobbyists pay Democrats too.

2011-03-08 17:18:57

hendy [Member] said:

Let's talk about free.

I'll presume the contractor is qualified to do the work, legally and ethically. Who pays the insurance, and the performance bond? What happens in the event that the contractor doesn't do work according to the school's liaison? Can you get money back from 'free'? What does 'free' do for those people that need to eat?

It looks very generous on the surface, and perhaps it genuinely is. I won't argue that point. But one anecdote doesn't describe the situation, nor the values behind the problem. Democrats and Republicans get money alike. Which side pays whom is a perennial question. The school corporations are obliged to follow strict purchasing guidelines by the State Board of Auditors and Indiana Law, and in some cases if Federal funding comes into play, Federal law and contracts. Some of those require paying prevailing wages, so as to protect both workers and contractors and those in the tenders.

It's fantastic that someone might want to do some work for free. But it mucks up the system to do so. The system isn't at fault for having had the problem that you describe. Process control and quality assurance mandate that the bids be let to qualified contractors based on metrics prevailing under the terms of the contract, as well as applicable law. He's a nice guy. But procedurally, he should have just low-balled the contract and used that methodology to do the work. That way, all of the aforementioned insurance, bonding, and liability aren't in question.

2011-03-08 18:12:22

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Back to my original comment: who negotiated those union contracts that are now seen as reprehensible?

Whatever the teachers "won" was by collective bargaining, and guess who "gave" them those "victories"?

The same folks who figured they'd just pass their problems on to the next set of administrators.

Nothing much changes, eh?

2011-03-08 23:11:18

Jason [unverified] said:

Hendy, I can appreciate your attempt to muck up the scenario as much as possible, but this cigar is truly just a cigar. A parent, trying to be actively involved in his child's education, volunteering his services to improve an existing structure. It would be just like the school board hiring somebody else to do it, except he would have been doing the work through his company for no price, which is licensed, bonded, and insured like any other company doing construction work. Seeing as how the school board denied him the privilege of helping out, I'm guessing he at least tried to work within the system.

If you actually look at this as a problem, in that people wouldn't be receiving our tax dollars as compensation for make-work which would only 'inflate the budget a little bit more,' than I think we just have philosophical differences. I don't really look at these opportunities to 'make work' as being any more competent than making it illegal in Oregon to pump your own gas. No biggie.

I'm not going to spend the time, but I'm sure I could put 15 minutes into Google and come up with many similar scenarios around the country. I found it germaine to the thread because I believe it to be an excellent example of what unions all too often have become. True, a singular example, but indicative of the systemic acceptance of the status quo (which is best), which best serves you know who. Think social security, it's a hell of a lot easier to give somebody something than it is to have to take it back.

Your comment that this is simply how the system works hits close to home. I can understand how people can be browbeaten to submission by the avalanche of procedures/protocols/etc., but that doesn't make it right. And people continue to wonder why public schools fail.

2011-03-09 02:38:08

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I could be wrong, but I think I detected a disconnect with you, dear friend Hendy, regarding teacher union contracts:

Every public school district in Indiana is required to have them, via PL 217, passed in (I believe) 1975. Which bargaining agent teachers choose: that's open.

It was passed because at the time, some Superintendents bullied their way around classrooms, or their principals did, with zero accountability.

It was intended to be (mostly) a teacher improvement law.

2011-03-09 05:27:33

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"It was passed because at the time, some Superintendents bullied their way around classrooms, or their principals did, with zero accountability."

And still do, enabled by compliant boards. When there's construction funds involved-- architects, contractors, suppliers-- boards are often co-opted. If every school district in Indiana underwent a forensic audit, there'd be a shortage of orange suits.

2011-03-09 05:51:31

Terry [unverified] said:

The highest-paying job and the best benefits of my journalism career came thanks to The Newspaper Guild at the Chicago Sun-Times. The non-union Tribune was forced to compete with our salaries, and you can bet the Trib staff was grateful. I personally benefited from Guild intervention when management tried to deny me contract maternity leave -- which had already been approved for my colleague at the next desk, due two weeks earlier. A short meeting at HR with the Guild's tall Nico (Charles Nicodemus, CST/Daily News) and very pregnant me was all it took. Good thing, as that baby decided to arrive early!

A different category than the union jobs we are talking about today, perhaps, but I was grateful on both the large and small aspects.

My father was an International Harvester middle executive in Chicago for decades. There were periodic IH labor struggles and he never said one negative word about the unions. Maybe that stemmed from his growing up in Richmond, son of a tool-and-die maker. I remember wondering whether I should join the Guild when I first started at the AP, which was an open shop, but the bureau chief was oppressive and joining was viewed negatively. My father, the long-time manager, said I should join.

Union yes.

2011-03-12 03:51:09

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Great contribution, Terry.

My Dad came out of the Appalachian mountains to fight in WWII and then was able to go to school thanks to the GI bill.

He made it up to middle-level management at a factory (GE). Over time, he began to detest management treatment of hourly factory workers.

By the time he retired, he was a hero to the union members at that factory. He's been dead for 15 years, but people still come up to me who worked at that factory and tell me how much they appreciated his support for hourly workers and their union.

2011-03-14 15:05:30

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