Thursday, February 24, 2011

Umm, Hey, can we discuss this...

...before we go making the SEIU the UUA's seventh source? I just got an email from Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director, asking me to "Please join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and sign on to IWJ's Open Letter from Faith Leaders: Stop Attacks on Public Sector Workers and Unions." Coming as it did after such UU blog posts as One possible litmus test for UU Culture, Collective bargaining is a human right, An open letter to religious leaders in support of collective bargaining, Drops of water turn a mill, singly none..., and a number of others I've lost my notes on, I'm afraid it's already become one of those creeds we deny having, but I'm going to speak anyway.

Public employee unions are a different kettle of fish than ordinary unions. This is a truth that not a single one of the writers mentioned above seems to grasp. I'm going to quote a letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees: "...Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable."
(full text available from The American Presidency Project)
 
To put it into my own words, there are two very big differences between private industry unions and public employee unions. The first is that the private union is trying to get a piece of the profits for the workers who had a big part in creating them. That's only fair- go for it. But governments do not generate profits! Public employee unions are not negotiating for a piece of the profits, they are negotiating for a tax increase.

Another difference is that while the ordinary union is speaking for people who have no other way of making their corporate bosses listen to them, public employees do have a voice: it's called democracy. The public employees' boss isn't C. Montgomery Burns, it's we the people. But it's just too much work to go to town hall meetings, write letters to Congressmen and the editors, or actually vote I guess.

Let's not forget that we're not talking about minimum wage flunkies here, either. Much has been said about the middle class in these posts, but from where I sit a lot of those public employees look like millionaires. How can I say such a silly thing? Benefits- particularly healthcare and most particularly retirement. Read The Millionaire Cop Next Door from Forbes. The short version is this: "City officials have said that in Carlsbad, the average firefighter or police officer typically retires at age 55 and has 28 years of service. Using the 3 percent salary calculation, that person would receive an annual city pension of $76,440.
That does not include health benefits, which might push real retirement compensation close to $100,000 a year."
Let's ignore the health benefits for the moment, and just take the pension- round it to $80K. How much would you have to have in a private retirement fund to get $80K a year? "Investment pros like my friend Barry Glassman say 4% is a reasonable return today. That’s a pitiful yield, isn’t it? It is sure to disappoint the scores of millions of baby boomers who will soon enter retirement with nothing more than their desiccated 401(k)s, down 30% on average from 30 months ago, and a bit of Social Security.
Based on this small but unfortunately realistic 4% return, an $80,000 annual pension payout implies a rather large pot of money behind it–$2 million, to be precise.
That’s a lot. One might guess that a $2 million stash would be in the 95th percentile for the 77 million baby boomers who will soon face retirement."


Do you have two million dollars in your retirement account? Knowing many of my readers, I'm guessing not. Now ask yourself how much you'd have to earn to save, over and above living expenses, two million dollars in only 28 years? And this completely ignores the security factor in government jobs- four of the last five jobs I lost were because the company went out of business; relatively few American government bodies go out of business. Now tell me again about how the public employee unions are representing the downtrodden middle class...

One last beef I have with Susan's email: she repeats an untruth: "This is not about balanced budgets; it is about power... If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them." It was understandable a week ago when Rachel Maddow said this; she was fulminating off her own misreading of the budget numbers. But since then several nonpartisan organizations have refuted this; PolitiFact's refutation has been repeated and referenced widely. To be repeating that canard now is highly irresponsible, and makes it look like our UUA spokespeople get their facts from the Daily KOS.


UPDATE: Knowing that not everyone reads comments, I wanted to add this from comments:
But my primary point, the raison d'etre for this post, is that there is plenty of room for disagreement and need for debate on this issue- I don't want it declared a basic tenent of our religion until such debate has taken place. I don't want Boston taking a position on my behalf without such a debate. I don't want clergy out there declaring that support for the unions in Wisconsin is an extension of our faith, an inseperable part of our principles, until we have had that debate. That would be irony indeed- basing a political position upon our democratic principle without a democratic debate and vote!

14 comments:

Bill Baar said...

The odd thing about IWJ is when they showed up to protest RightNation2010 and Glenn Beck in Chicago they brought demonstrators they paid to come. It was obvious because they were kids without any sense of what the protest was about and had a nasty habit of calling people gay for which the IWJ leaders had to apoligize for. It was a real circus. Anyways, I doubt they were paying scale or benefits.

Tim Bartik said...

Your points are mainly:

1. There are some problems with some of the consequences of unions;

2. Public sector unions differ somewhat from private unions.

None of this is at the root of the issue: should public sector workers have the right to collectively bargain their wages, benefits, and working conditions? What is your answer to that question?

I agree with those who say that this is a basic human right. As with all rights, it can conflict with other rights, and we need to figure out some reasonable rules to govern the exercise of these rights. But the proposals made by Governor Walker go well beyond any reasonable governance of such rights to essentially eliminate any collective bargaining rights for most public sector unions (with some curious omissions).

Joel Monka said...

Tim- My answer to your question was given in the quote by FDR: "All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service." No human rights, from free speech to collective bargaining, are absolutes; all have restrictions. Military and government service often restrict rights for the public good. For example, my protections from involuntary servitude do not permit me, were I a soldier, to quit in the middle of a battle.

A civil servant, as employee, has some restrictions as opposed to someone in the general public. They also have some protections the public does not. For example, in private employ, I cannot take my case to the public and have my bosses voted out of office. Nor does someone in private employ have the same level of job security a civil servant has- for example, we're in the middle of the worst recession in 75 years, and the private sector has lost 7.5 million jobs; there are fewer people working today than in 1999, and another 20 million of those working are dramatically underemployed. The public sector, on the other hand, has actually added jobs.

24 states have either never permitted collective bargaining at all, or allow it only with restrictions, and those states that do permit it have done so only recently, since the late 50s for Wisconsin, and the 60s or 70s for the rest- we're not talking about universal, ancient and venerable traditions here. It has been an experiment that many labor leaders, such as George Meany, President of the AFL, advised against, and in some places it has proven a failure. It's a dead certainty that several municipalities will have to be rescued or declare bankruptcy in the next couple of years, and bad labor agreements are the primary cause.

But my primary point, the raison d'etre for this post, is that there is plenty of room for disagreement and need for debate on this issue- I don't want it declared a basic tenent of our religion until such debate has taken place. I don't want Boston taking a position on my behalf without such a debate. I don't want clergy out there declaring that support for the unions in Wisconsin is an extension of our faith, an inseperable part of our principles, until we have had that debate. That would be irony indeed- basing a political position upon our democratic principle without a democratic debate and vote!

Bill Baar said...

None of this is at the root of the issue: should public sector workers have the right to collectively bargain their wages, benefits, and working conditions? What is your answer to that question?

No per FDR,

"The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, "I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place" in the public sector. "A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government."

No, per my old comrade and Socialist Mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960 (who lost in part because of racist trade unions against him on open housing),

Frank Zeidler, Milwaukee's mayor in the 1950s and the last card-carrying Socialist to head a major U.S. city, supported labor. But in 1969, the progressive icon wrote that rise of unions in government work put a competing power in charge of public business next to elected officials. Government unions "can mean considerable loss of control over the budget, and hence over tax rates," he warned.

Above quotes per Patrick McIlheran in the Milwaukee Journal.

Tim Bartik said...

1. I'm not particularly interested in getting into a big debate about whether the UUA President has a right to take a position on this issue without getting explicit approval from the UUA as a whole. I think it could be argued that the right to collective bargaining is a natural extension of "Principle 5", that we promote the democratic process in society at large.

2. It certainly seems that many religious leaders, such as the Catholic Archbishop of Milwaukee, think that the right to collective bargaining is a universal human right, and that this includes public sector unions.

3. I think FDR and Milwaukee's socialist mayor could be interpreted as saying that the rules for public sector bargaining should be different from the private sector. I agree with this proposition.

4. I regard the right to "voice" in the workplace to be a fundamental human right, which is what collective bargaining is intended to promote. What I would urge you to consider is that there are many ways to modify the rules of collective bargaining to restrict some of the problems with public sector unionism without throwing out that right to collective bargaining. There are MANY options between "public sector unions have identical rules as private sector unions" and Governor Walker's scorched earth approach.

5. For example, the right to strike can be prohibited in the public sector, as it is for many public sector workers in many states. The collective bargaining process can have provisions for what to do in response to contract disputes that are unresolved through negotiations, and how we move forward in a manner that is reasonably fair to both sides.

6. I should add that in addition to being a labor economist, I served from 2000 to 2008 on the Kalamazoo School Board. When I ran for re-election in 2004, the teachers' union ran a candidate against me on the grounds that I had voted to impose a contract on the union when we were unable to reach a contract agreement. While I thought then and still think today that the union was wrong on the substantive issues, I continue to think that the teachers' union has a right to exist and advocate for what it perceives to be in the interests of its members. Moreover, I believe that teachers' unions, and other public sector unions, play a needed role in helping give voice to their members' concerns and interests, and to help make sure that their employer pays heed to those concerns and interests. Public sector employers can be just as unfair and arbitrary as private sector employers. Collective voice can help.

7. As always, the devil is in the details. I don't think that religious organizations should in general take political positions on the details of public policy, such as what millage to support, or exactly what the detailed rules should be on bargaining. But it is appropriate for religious organizations to take a stand when there is a clear issue of principle involved.In my opinion, the Wisconsin situation has stepped over into that category.

Bill Baar said...

To my knowledge, UUA staff are not organized, and considering the handling of the termination of the DE in the Pacific district, I'm not sure UUA in a position to point on this issue.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel wrote:
-snip-
"It was understandable a week ago when Rachel Maddow said this; she was fulminating off her own misreading of the budget numbers. But since then several nonpartisan organizations have refuted this; PolitiFact's refutation has been repeated and referenced widely. To be repeating that canard now is highly irresponsible, and makes it look like our UUA spokespeople get their facts from the Daily KOS."


Joel,

You might want to look this video clip from Rachel Maddow's show last:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#41771317

At the 6:30 mark, she talks about Politifact's coverage and provides additional criticism where they may have done sloppy reporting in the past.

We rate Politifact's take false.

:^)

Joel Monka said...

And you might want to look at Politifact's response They include all all emails between Maddow's producers and themselves, as well as printouts of what was said, and the footage. They stand by their "false" verdict, as would any objective reader of the exchange.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel,

First, the opening segment on the Maddow show has Rachel citing the "2010-2011 General Fund Condition Statement" prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (the non-partisan state version of the Congressional Budget Office).

This report can be found online here:

http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lfb/Misc/2011_01_31Vos&Darling.pdf

Here's what the report says about Wisconsin's general fund for 2010-2011:

2010-11 General Fund Condition Statement

Based upon the November/December reports, the administration's general fund condition
statement for 2010-11 reflects a gross ending balance (June 30, 2011) of $67.4 million and a net balance (after consideration of the $65.0 million required statutory balance) of $2.4 million.

Our analysis indicates a general fund gross balance of $121.4 million and a net balance of
$56.4 million. This is $54.0 million above that of the administration's reports.


Now it's possible that the report was inaccurate when first published on 31 January 2011.

It's also possible that the report was accurate at one time but was overcome by other events -- real or manufactured -- that have changed the budget forecasts.

I do find it a bit strange that the Wisconsin government went from $56.4 million surplus with a $65 million rainy day fund to "oh shit we're in trouble ... let's get rid of the public employee unions" in just a few weeks.

So ... to say what's a "fact" and what isn't a "fact" is going to be a challenge to anyone who is an objective observer of facts.

Rachel Maddow obviously has a point of view about this situation and so does Gov. Walker and his party.

Rachel did accurately report what was in the Wisconsin budget forecast report. Maybe the problem isn't with her reporting of the contents of this report but somewhere else?

Joel Monka said...

If you read the original Politifact article, they explain exactly what you're asking: "Maddow and others making the claim all cite the same source for their information -- a Jan. 31, 2011 memo prepared by Robert Lang, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

It includes this line: "Our analysis indicates a general fund gross balance of $121.4 million and a net balance of $56.4 million."

We were curious about claims of a surplus based on the fiscal bureau memo.

In writing it when it was released, reporters from the Journal Sentinel and Associated Press had put the shortfall at between $78 million and $340 million. That’s the projection for the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2011.

Walker himself has settled on $137 million as the deficit figure, a number reporters have adopted as shorthand.

We re-read the fiscal bureau memo, talked to Lang, consulted reporter Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison Bureau, read various news accounts and examined the issue in detail.

Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong.

There is, indeed, a projected deficit that required attention, and Walker and GOP lawmakers did not create it.

More on that second point in a bit.

The confusion, it appears, stems from a section in Lang’s memo that -- read on its own -- does project a $121 million surplus in the state’s general fund as of June 30, 2011.

But the remainder of the routine memo -- consider it the fine print -- outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender’s office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.

The result, by our math and Lang’s, is the $137 million shortfall.

It would be closer to the $340 million figure if the figure included the $200 million owed to the state’s patient compensation fund, a debt courts have declared resulted from an illegal raid on the fund under former Gov. Jim Doyle."


Nothing has changed since January, and Wisconsin did not go from a surplus to "oh shit" in a few weeks- the memo does in fact give the deficit situation at the time, they just told the entire fiscal story in sequence, without an outline for casual grazing. In other words, Rachel Maddow did not read the entire memo; she read only as far as the word "surplus" and ditched the rest as boring wonky stuff, and rushed to the air with the "surplus" story. She did not, as PolitiFact did, talk to the authors to make sure she understood it. She did not, as PolitiFact did, go to the local newspaper and search the archives for more information. Which explains why PolitiFact has a Pulitzer and she does not.

Cooper Zale said...

Joel... Appreciate your thoughts and I think FDR's words make a key argument that has to be addressed. My problem with FDR's thinking here is that it is way too hierarchical, that the governmental officials representing the majority will of the electorate have the right to have complete power over the people that work for them.

Just because we elect someone doesn't mean we elect them to the post of tyrant! Democracy does not end after the votes are counted. We have an educated and aware citizenry and work force that will be most effective if engaged every day through democratic process in the business of running the institutions that make up our society.

Though I think some unions may have focused on just power and control for themselves (like many businesses have done as well) the idea of organized labor that participates with and acts as a "check and balance" to organized government makes sense to me. I just think the rules of engagement could be less adversarial and more collaborative. Destroying one group's infrastructure to benefit the other does not seem to move the needle forward on effective governance.

And if Walker's succeeds in ending collective bargaining for government workers in Wisconsin after all this strum and drang, what kind of poisoned environment and bad moral will their be among all those government workers with their managers. Will that be any way to move forward with trying to facilitate life in the state?

Joel Monka said...

"And if Walker's succeeds in ending collective bargaining for government workers in Wisconsin after all this strum and drang, what kind of poisoned environment and bad moral will their be among all those government workers with their managers. Will that be any way to move forward with trying to facilitate life in the state?"

Funny you should ask. Seven years ago here in Indiana, the state was awash in red ink. A fiscal conservative was elected governor. Six years ago, the new governor revoked collective bargaining for public employees. He started cutting state jobs and expenses. His popularity ratings fell to the low 30s, and the Republican party lost control of the state legislature. But within a year things turned around. By 2008, he won reelection with the same large margin that Obama won with here. Today the state has a surplus rather than a deficit, and despite having their collective bargaining revoked, the state workers aren't being driven like Israelites building the pyramids- the governor has positive numbers even in union households. How's that for trying to facilitate life in the state?

politywonk said...

Since I'm blogging about forced redistribution over at politywonk, this week's "American Experience," on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, gave me pause. Nightmares, in fact. But I WAS one of those unionized government workers, and a unionized retail worker as well.

We need to lose these uber-categories (owners, laborers, management) that date back to Karl Marx. Today, it's all about the types of jobs being done. If people love their work so much that they want to do it as long as they can, they are not working in the same kind of job that the Triangle Shirtwaist workers. And if they find their job so rewarding that they can easily "work through their pain" for a big project, they are not working retail on Black Friday.

You make a good point about retirement. One of the first new alliances I would propose is "non-management shareholders and working stiffs." The other team consists of "directors, management, and the stockholders they know and advise."

Anonymous said...

Unions, when originally formed, fought against "greedy, evil" corporations. Public employee unions now fight against "greedy, evil" taxpayers! Something is definitely wrong here, and the fact that my church doesn't get it gives me pause.
On another point, the only human rights we all have are God-given, not legislated (whatever the government gives you or promises can be taken away). The Founders of our great nation had it right, and the UUA today has it wrong, sadly.
Thank you for your blog! Glad I found it.