Category Archives: public employees

Public unions and budget deficits

Although facts and evidence don’t much matter to the controlling factions on most Capitol Hills these days, it’s never a bad idea to marshall them anyway.

David Moberg’s “The Wrong Target” (In These Times, 10/14/2011) summarizes and highlights the results of a recent study out of the University of California at Berkeley, making clear that public unions are not at all responsible for state budget deficits; neither are public unions responsible for skyrocketing numbers of state jobs (although I don’t see why that’s a bad thing–but that’s just me).

Some highlights from the article (but you should look at the whole thing, which isn’t very long, and at the study on which it’s based):

   •    Public workers have been a steady share of the workforce from 1979 to 2011—averaging 14.2 percent of the entire workforce and ranging from 13.6 to 15.2 percent (slightly increasing typically following a recession simply because private workers disproportionately lost jobs).

•    State and local government employment for every thousand residents rose very slightly from 1990 to 2001 (from 60.8 to 64.2 workers for a thousand residents, virtually all in local government), then remained flat through 2009.

•    Comparing states with the highest and lowest rates of unionization, the researchers found that from 1990-2009 there were more public employees for every thousand residents in weak- or non-union states than in states densely unionized. Also, there was faster growth in weakly unionized states, especially from 2001 onwards when the ratio of public workers to the population declined in the most unionized states.

•    Ultimately, the data seem to show no correlation between union density and public sector employment. (Jacobs suggests some rural, lightly populated and big states that also have few public unions may have a higher ratio to serve a dispersed population.)

•    Public worker total compensation has not been growing as a share of state expenditures. Indeed, worker wages and benefit declined as a share of state spending from 1992 to 2002, then remained stable (according to a study from the Center for American Progress).

•    As many studies have demonstrated, state and local government workers earn less in wages and benefits than similar private sector workers. Moreover, in recent years private sector labor costs have risen faster than costs in the public sector—a remarkable record considering the widespread wage stagnation and cuts in both pay and benefits in the private sector.

 

So the next time somebody tells you that public sector unions are bad for the economy, here’s a solid block of evidence to the contrary. We can only hope that evidence starts to matter sooner rather than later.

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Filed under Advocacy, AFSCME, APSCUF, Benefits/Benefit Cuts, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Collective Bargaining, Communities, PASSHE, Privatization, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, research, Shock Doctrine, taxes, Teacher unions, Unions

APSCUF’s own Chuck Bauerlein on Occupy Wall Street

I should have reposted this sooner–been a little behind recently. This is Chuck’s post on his own blog. I’m reproducing it in full. If you want to comment on the original, just click the link. Otherwise, read on.

 

The movement that won’t go away


Eight days ago I went up to Washington Square Park in New York city, carrying the sign pictured here, to see for myself what all the Occupy Wall Street protests were about. It was beginning to garner some media attention with predictable results from the print pundits and AM radio shouters.

To the Fox News propagandists, the protesters were castigated as “unwashed hippies and anarchists.” On the left-wing blogs and websites they were lauded as “radical revolutionaries.” As usual, both takes on the protesters were naive, silly and too frequently based on the biases of the reporter. No one was able to articulate a clear understanding of who was leading the protests or what they wanted.

I have my own biases, of course, but I am growing confident the Occupy Wall Street protest is not going to go away any time soon. It’s gaining traction by the day. A particularly harsh winter may slow it down (conservatives like New York’s Mayor Bloomberg are crossing their fingers) but my gut tells me by the end of November it will be too big to ignore and it may help shape the public agenda for the 2012 Presidential elections.

And this will likely be bad news for the Republicans. (It was with no small amusement yesterday I read Eric Cantor’s weekend remarks that endorsed one of the main sentiments of the OWS protesters: that too much of the nation’s wealth was held by the top 1 percent of Americans. For a sycophant of the very wealthy like Cantor — R. Va. — to admit such a claim is ground-breaking news….and it suggests the GOP is watching Occupy Wall Street with a growing sense of alarm.)

The signs I saw last Saturday in Washington Square poked fun at both the left and the right. There were plenty of signs attacking Wall Street and lambasting the GOP as the “Party of Greed.” But there were also plenty of signs reprimanding the Obama administration for wasting the nation’s treasury on foreign wars, for bailing out the banks and for not prosecuting those most responsible for the economic meltdown and the mortgage fiasco.

The protesters I spoke to were upset with the whole political system, with politics as usual. In that sense, they ARE kin to the uber-conservative libertarians who comprise the Tea Party. And like the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street protesters want transparency in government and an overhaul of the political structure of the nation. They want tangible changes….but not the changes the Tea Party wants: less taxes and smaller government.

What the Occupy Wall Street protesters want is a strengthening of the American middle class. They want the very wealthy to carry the burden of restoring America’s economic strength. Most of all, they want jobs. The overwhelming majority of them are Americans who are educated but can’t pay off their college loans because there is no work for them.

They blame the two wars that George Bush started and the Bush tax cuts on the very wealthy for the broken American economy. But they blame Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement on the erosion of thousands of American jobs over the last 15 years. They see the nation’s politicians catering to the interests of the monied elite, the same multi-millionaires who subsidize political campaigns and who help keep politicians in office.

They see both parties as corrupt, the entire system in need of a shakedown. And their message is resonating with other disaffected, disgruntled Americans and it is resonating far across the oceans. It is a people’s movement and, so far, it has been following the blueprint Mahatma Gandhi used to gain independence for India: non-violent political resistance. Police antagonism only strengthens the will of the people; police brutality will only bring more people to the cause.

Because there are ordinances against the use of bullhorns in New York City, the organizers of Occupy Wall Street have developed a unique way of communicating with the masses at their protests. It’s called “the people’s mic.” When someone wants to say something, he or she will stand on a park bench and shout out half a sentence or a phrase. Then the people in his immediate circle will shout the line back to the speaker. People who cannot hear the speaker can hear the chorus, so the message gets amplified. It is an encouraging template for Democracy in action.

There were all kinds of people in Washington Square last Saturday. The first people I spoke to were a married couple in their late 60s who had flown from the Netherlands to bear witness to the growing movement. The husband had gravitated to me because of my pro-union sign and he suggested the unions needed to throw their weight behind the movement to help give it some direction.

I didn’t disagree with him. Mine was about the only pro-union sign in the square. But I am not sure the movement needs the help of organized labor. Labor should support it, but it seems to have a life of its own now that is impervious to parties and platforms. It is a movement about justice.

The people I saw at Washington Square were mostly young and well-educated. They are asking for a chance to make a difference in the world. That would start with jobs. But right now, they have a more important calling: they are seeking economic justice. Their message will not go away until justice happens.

They are not revolutionaries. They are our sons and daughters. They want the same things we all want. They want a chance to live the American dream; a dream that speaks to all humankind.

They are tomorrow’s leaders. We should consider ourselves blessed they are finally starting to assert themselves.

To hear more about the people who form the rank and file of Occupy Wall Street, please cut and paste this link into your browser and listen to an ABC interview with Fordham University professor of history Mark Naison.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrRj83BunNE&feature=related

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Filed under Advocacy, Communities, Occupy, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, Rally, Unions

Our ‘friend’ Michele Rhee is at it in Pennsylvania

Another day, another effort by education ‘reformer’ Michele Rhee to destroy public education in the name of reforming it.

This time it hits closer to home, as according to Laura Clawson at Daily Kos Labor, Rhee is working with former Lynn Swann campaign manager Ray Zaborney on a bill to lobby for passage of school privatization (masked as “vouchers”) legislation.

In case you’re wondering why efforts to privatize K-12 education get so much air (screen?) time on a blog representing a university faculty union, I have at least these two answers for you: (1) what happens to K-12 is often a harbinger of what policy makers want to do to us; and (2) in the not-very-deep subtext of Rhee’s (and Gates’ and Duncan’s and others) push to privatize public education is an anti-labor, anti-union impulse that we as a union should be utterly committed to stomping out in any way, at any time we cross paths with it.

Simple as that.

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Arne Duncan, charter schools, Education reform, K-12 Education, lobbying, Michelle Rhee, PA Senate Bill 1, PASSHE, Privatization, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, StudentsFirst, Teacher unions, Vouchers/School Choice

Mike Rose responds at length to Education Reform

For those of you not familiar with Mike Rose, he’s a Professor of Education at UCLA who has written several influential books about literacy education and the politics of school over the last 25-30 years. He’s one of those rare thinkers and writers who’s able to say very incisive and critical things while maintaining a tone that’s respectful and at times even affectionate, even when he’s talking about people he strongly disagrees with.

This link goes to a series of essays Prof. Rose posted at the indie-news-blog-service Truthdig; I don’t know how I missed it until now because I read Truthdig pretty faithfully and it’s been up for months.

There are several, and the series is a long read to do in one sitting, but each of them has at least one gem of an argument in it, if not more, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you spend some time with it. If you’re an angry rabble-rouser like me, you’ll find moments of calm hope. If you’re cynical and feeling burned, you’ll find moments of inspiration. If you’re starry-eyed optimistic (or believe that all’s well and those of us who struggle are just paranoid–although if you’re that person you probably don’t read this blog!), you’ll find reasons to be more concerned.

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, charter schools, Communities, Education reform, K-12 Education, liberal arts, Mike Rose, Privatization, Public education, public employees, Teacher unions

Why we love our union, part 933844050433276

This newspaper article came across the Philly Activist listserv this morning. Unfortunately, there’s no publication info so I can’t link to it. It’s credited as an AP wire story with some author/contributor info at the bottom, so I believe it’s real.

Collective Bargaining in US South

Union bargaining just a dream for many gov workers

(AP)  JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Whenever Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has asked lawmakers to weaken benefits for state employees, his proposals have met little resistance from workers.

Mississippi is among those states — many in the South — where most government employees do not have the right to collective bargaining, the benefit that has caused a political upheaval in Wisconsin and has become a national flashpoint for those who argue that public employee benefits are too generous.

Those states provide a snapshot of what life is like for government employees who do not have the same union clout that workers in Wisconsin and some other states are desperately trying to retain.

“We’ve been holding on by a hair through the political process,” said Brenda Scott, head of the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees, which has no bargaining power but provides a voice for state government workers to air their concerns before the governor and Legislature.

Across the South, governors like Barbour and state legislatures dominated by conservative lawmakers find it relatively easy to chip away at public employees’ benefits or eliminate government jobs because most state employees in the region — even when represented by a union — lack collective bargaining rights.

Nine of the 10 states with the lowest percentage of public employees eligible for collective bargaining are in the South, according to data compiled by Barry Hirsch of Georgia State University and David Macpherson of Trinity University in San Antonio. Their research shows only about two in five public employees nationwide have the type of collective bargaining rights that have drawn fire in Wisconsin and other states.

To be sure, government jobs are still seen as more secure and desirable than most private-sector jobs even in states where public employees do not have the right to collective bargaining. In Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation, state workers get 10 paid holidays a year, their sick days and vacation days can be rolled over from year to year, and they can retire after 25 years of service under a defined benefit plan. They also have a certain level of civil-service job protection.

But those workers have fewer protections and generally less generous compensation and benefits than public employees represented by collective bargaining. While pay and perks vary greatly among states, the primary benefit is that governors and lawmakers cannot unilaterally impose changes, such as pension reforms, without going to the bargaining table, nor can they impose lay-offs without following union tenure rules.

In California, where most state employees are covered by collective bargaining, negotiated labor contracts allow state workers to retire, collect their pensions and then return to work, allowing them to make more money than before. They also can purchase more lucrative pension benefits before they retire.

Two independent government auditing agencies in California have recommended reforming the state’s pension system, even for current employees, but unions there have vowed to sue if the governor and Legislature try to enact reforms outside the bargaining process.

Governors and lawmakers in states without collective bargaining can make such changes without consulting workers. Pensions for new public employees in Virginia, for example, were shifted last year from the traditional defined benefit — the type of pension that many governments say they no longer can afford without major changes — to a 401(k)-style system similar to that used in the private sector. The change was made with little fanfare and no organized opposition.

In North Carolina, some state workers are represented by a local of the Service Employees International Union, but the group has no bargaining power. That leaves employees with no real say over how many jobs would be shed this year due to budget cuts — Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue has recommended eliminating 10,000 state government jobs, 3,000 of them currently filled.

In 2009, Perdue signed legislation that made sweeping changes to the state worker health insurance plans, creating higher premiums, deductibles and copays without having to get consent from an employee union. Barbour, a Republican with possible presidential ambitions, came into office on a promise to shrink Mississippi’s state government and reduce employee benefits. Unencumbered by union contracts, he has scored a number of successes.

He persuaded the Legislature in 2004 to temporarily erase civil-service protections for corrections employees, which allowed the prison system to fire workers and trim the payroll. Mississippi lawmakers also voted last year to make public employees put 9 percent of their own pay into the state retirement system, up from 7.25 percent, and they’ve made government workers hired since 2006 pay more for their health insurance than their longer-serving colleagues.

Barbour defends his actions as tilting the balance of power away from unions and toward the side of state taxpayers. He said he supports Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for government workers.

“When they have collective bargaining in Wisconsin, on one side of the table there’s state employee unions or the local employee unions. On the other side of the table are politicians that they paid for the election of those politicians,” Barbour said. “Now, who represents the taxpayers in that negotiation? Well, actually, nobody.”

In states without collective bargaining, public employees are “completely subject to the power of the governor” because lawmakers often don’t want to get involved labor disputes, said Ed Ott, who has been active in the New York labor movement for 42 years and is a former executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO.

“It’s really about a balance of power between employer and employee,” said Ott, a lecturer on contemporary labor issues at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute. “Without any collective bargaining rights, you have no ability to say, ‘Whoa, why don’t we try something else?'”

Maryland and Tennessee have hybrid systems. Some Maryland employees are represented by unions and have the right to bargain with the governor, but there is no binding arbitration and no right to strike.

“We call it collective bargaining-lite L-I-T-E because they’re not as strong as what you see in a number of the northern states,” said Sue Esty, assistant director of the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Teachers in Tennessee have the right to collective bargaining, but other public employees do not. That is still too much for Republicans in that state’s Legislature, who have wide majorities in both chambers and are looking to quash teachers’ bargaining powers.

The Tennessee Education Association, which represents 52,000 teachers, has said the proposal is political payback by Republicans because the group has given more financial support to Democratic candidates over the years.

Gov. Bill Haslam has not signed on officially to the movement by his fellow Republicans, preferring to focus on teacher tenure, expanding charter schools and other issues he says are necessary to improve academic performance. But he also sympathizes with their intent to give the Legislature as much leeway as possible to control costs without having to submit to union negotiations.

“My job in the state of Tennessee is just like when I was running a company,” said Haslam, a former president of Pilot Corp., a family owned national truck-stop chain. “It’s to bring in the very best people to work, to provide the very best product we can, at the lowest price.”

Like its neighboring states, Alabama does not allow public employees to bargain collectively, even though associations representing teachers and state workers have had some success working with the Legislature

Lawmakers have approved cost-of-living raises and maintained health and retirement benefits that are better than those offered by most private-sector employers in the state.

The two organizations, which traditionally have supported far more Democratic candidates than Republican ones, have come under attack since Republicans gained control of the Legislature in November. Since then, a new law has stopped the organizations from using payroll deductions to raise money for their political action committees and any other political activity, greatly reducing their influence.

When the Legislature convenes Tuesday, one of the House Republican leaders will push a bill to provide state-paid liability insurance for education employees. Currently, the Alabama Education Association supplies this insurance as an incentive for teachers to join.

“Obviously what they are trying to do is discourage members,” said Paul Hubbert, the association’s executive secretary.

___

Schelzig reported from Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press writers Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., Gary Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., and Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.

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Filed under AFSCME, APSCUF, Benefits/Benefit Cuts, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Collective Bargaining, Contract Negotiations, Public employee unions, public employees, Vouchers/School Choice

How public employees in UK respond to bad pension deals

From this morning’s Guardian, reports of thousands of public workers striking over pension cuts.

Not that I’m advocating any such thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Budget, Budget Cuts, Collective Bargaining, Public employee unions, public employees, United Kingdom

An exceptional response to the attack on public unions

From this morning’s (Sat 6/25) New York Times:

An op-ed called “Public or Private, It’s Work” by Garrett Keizer contends that the (primarily but not exclusively) conservative attack on public employees is misguided at best, insidious at worst. You should read the whole thing, but I want to highlight two points.

In responding to the claim that public labor and private labor are qualitatively different, Keizer says:

The two-labors fallacy rests on an even shakier proposition: that profits exist only where there is an accountant to tally them. This is economics reduced to the code of a shoplifter — whatever the security guard doesn’t see the store won’t miss. If my wife and I have young children but are still able to enjoy the double-income advantages of a childless couple, isn’t that partly because our children are being watched at school? If I needn’t invest some of my household’s savings in elaborate surveillance systems, isn’t that partly because I have a patrol car circling the block? The so-called “public sector” is a profit-making entity; it profits me.

I don’t imagine that many of you who read this blog or its sisters haven’t made this argument before. The value of our work isn’t necessarily in the capital it generates, but in its good as a public service. Nothing new here, but the way Keizer puts it is powerful.

Another of those arguments that many of us have made repeatedly is that up against the extremely high pay that wealthy owners and managers give themselves in the private sector, who, exactly, in the public sector is being paid a lot? Or as Keizer says:

Right now C.E.O.’s of multinational corporations earn salaries as much as a thousand times those of their lowest-paid employees. In such a context complaining about “lavish” public sector salaries is like shushing the foul language of children playing near the set of a snuff film. Whom are we kidding? More to the point, who’s getting snuffed?

A healthy dose of perspective to kick off your (well, at least my) Saturday morning…

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Filed under AFSCME, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Collective Bargaining, Communities, Public employee unions, public employees