Thursday, May 29, 2008

Great Reporter, May 27, 2008, Tuesday

Great Reporter

May 27, 2008, Tuesday

Great Reporter

How a 20-foot inflatable rodent became a union label

Written by Amy Crawford

From Hollywood picket lines in Los Angeles to nonunion construction sites in Chicago and New York, a 20-foot inflatable rat has become one of the most recognized symbols of the labor movement.

At 20 feet tall, the rat was hard to miss.

Looming over Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y., the inflatable rodent’s red eyes and toothy grimace were directed at the construction site where a 37-story condominium building was quickly rising.

Beneath the rat’s claws stood Anthony Williams, an organizer with Local 79 of the Construction and General Building Laborers Union.

“The rat is a symbol,” explained Williams.

“What we’re saying is the contractor is being unfair.

The boss is being a rat.

You don’t provide benefits and fair wages, that implies a rat.”

Williams said the union had learned the contractor was hiring nonunion workers and paying them below the market rate, with no benefits.

Attempts to negotiate fell through, he said, so the union brought out the rat to support a handful of picketers.

“We’re trying to bring them back to the table using any means necessary,” said Williams, as a passing truck driver honked in support.

The “union rat” has become a popular labor tactic in recent years, appearing everywhere from Brooklyn construction sites to a California auto dealership.

Recently, it showed up among the celebrities who turned out to support the striking television and movie writers, a message from the Writers Guild of America that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was a bunch of rats.

Union organizers swear by the rat.

“It’s our strongest tool,” said Local 79 member Stanley Brunson.

Employers, on the other hand, dread the rat’s presence, and they have developed tactics of their own to combat it.

“Unions have been using street theater for centuries,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

She cited the 1912 “Bread and Roses Strike” at a textile mill in Massachusetts, when female workers wrapped themselves in the American flag to show that they were not un-American.

The workers won the public relations battle, along with higher wages.

“It’s a way to get people’s attention,” Bronfenbrenner said.

“Then they’ll come and read your leaflets.”

The union rat is the creation of Mike O’Connor, co-owner, with his wife Peggy, of Big Sky Balloons, an outdoor advertising company in Plainfield, Ill.

Around 1990, Don Newton, an organizer for a Chicago bricklayers union, said he went to O’Connor because he needed something big to get the attention of nonunion employers.

“We wanted a higher profile,” explained Newton, who now works for the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers in Washington, D.C.

“You’d be standing on a sidewalk with a picket sign and everybody would be walking around you.”

O’Connor showed Newton a sketch of a rat.

“But he said, ‘Can you make it meaner?’’’ O'Connor said.

So O'Connor added festering nipples, bloodshot eyes, fangs and claws.

"We called it Scabby the Rat," O'Connor said.

"He loved it.

So we built that one, and then it multiplied, like rats do.”

“It was just marvelous,” said Newton.

“Here’s a nice big rat with a 10-foot tail!”

Within a few years, Big Sky Balloons began getting requests for rats from unions in New York City, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

O’Connor estimates that the company has made about 400 rats since the original Scabby.

The rats, which are usually between 6 and 30 feet tall, cost between $3,900 and $8,000 and come with motorized blowers so they can inflate in minutes.

Big Sky Balloons has added an entire cast of characters, including a skunk, a cockroach, a “greedy pig,” and even a “corporate fat cat” with a diamond ring on its pinky finger.

Inflatable cockroaches have already been spotted in New York City.

Local 79, which prefers to stick with the classic gray rat, has six to eight set up around the city at any given time, according to organizer Chaz Rynkiewicz.

With its ubiquity the rat has lost some its power, said Bronfenbrenner, the Cornell professor.

“People get numb to it,” she said.

“It becomes the scenery of New York.” Still, when a rat appears in front of a construction site or an office, “everybody knows that’s an employer to watch out for.

Other unions won’t cross the picket line.”

Employers and anti-union lobbyists insist that the rat is ineffective, but sometimes they join in with their own inflatable animals.

In 2005, New York’s Radio City Music Hall inflated a large cat above its marquee, overlooking the rat set up by its musicians union.

When it first opened in 2006, the anti-union Center for Union Facts inflated a 12-foot-tall triceratops in front of the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“We think a dinosaur is pretty fair,” said J.

Justin Wilson, a senior analyst at the Center for Union Facts.

“Unions are outdated and outmoded.

They’re going to be extinct in 10 years.” The dinosaur, which prominently displayed the organization’s Web address, had its desired effect, Wilson said.

“As we were inflating it, everyone was looking out their windows.

After we got back to the office, we could see all these hits on our Web site from the AFL-CIO’s servers.”

Stewart Acuff, the AFL-CIO’s National Organizing Director, called the center’s attacks “a feeble attempt to undermine the country's most powerful counterweight to runaway corporate greed and power.” As for the dinosaur, Acuff said, “I don’t remember any creature in front of our building.”

In Brooklyn, the rat stayed up for two days before the contractor’s parent-company, BFC Partners, launched a counteroffensive.

A few days after the Chinese New Year, a big blue banner appeared on a light post next to the construction site.

It read “BFC Partners Celebrates the Chinese Lunar New Year: 2008–The Year of the Rat.”

It was not enough to deter Local 79, however.

Anthony Williams kept the rat up for more than a week until a deal was negotiated with the contractor.

Officials at BFC Partners did not want to comment, but Williams sees the outcome as a triumph.

“We were able to put union laborers to work,” Williams said.

That’s why the rat was named “Victoria,” explained Local 79 organizer Stanley Kosiec.

“Because if it stays here, we win!”

The Washington Post, May 27, 2008, Tuesday

Copyright 2008 The Washington Post

All Rights Reserved

The Washington Post

Suburban Edition


HEADLINE: A Leader, His Critics And a Union Divided

BYLINE: Anita Huslin; Washington Post Staff Writer


Three years ago, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern fomented an uprising against the AFL-CIO. Decrying the decline of membership and lack of focus on organizing, Stern marched a dissident coalition out of the 50th anniversary of the largest labor group in the United States.

This week, a faction of Stern's union plans its own uprising, not to secede, but to take a stand against Stern at the group's 24th quadrennial convention, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its charges: In Stern's quest to build the ranks of a movement that has dwindled to less than 8 percent of U.S. private-sector workers, he has crossed the line from leader to autocrat and consolidated power in Washington away from the local chapters.

According to his critics, Stern has made deals behind closed doors with corporations, keeping members in the dark about the trade-offs he has agreed to.

He has quashed dissenting locals by merging them or effectively taking control of them by placing them into trusteeship, they say. He has also made it difficult for locals to file grievances, critics say, effectively stifling the most powerful tool union members have: their voices.

Stern does not deny making the confidential agreements with employers, and he referred questions to his spokesman.

"A million workers have been united in our union since 1996, which may be the biggest organizing success in the American labor union in decades," said SEIU spokesman Andrew MacDonald. "It is these kind of agreements that help a large number of workers win a voice on the job . . . especially low-paid people in the service areas of the economy. We don't think those people should be left out of having the opportunity to have a union just because it's hard to make it happen."

But Stern's antagonists want to draw the line on his methods, which they say highlight a fundamental philosophical difference over how unions should work and how they should serve workers who already belong and those they are trying to attract.

"Corporate unionism is the term we use to describe what [Stern] is doing," said Sal Rosselli, who heads SEIU's third-largest local -- the 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers West in California -- and who is leading a push at the meeting to change the way SEIU leaders are chosen by members and how they represent their interests. "It's like a corporation where a few make decisions for an entire company. We believe in social unionism, which is a bottom-up movement."

The opposition to Stern heated up this month after the Wall Street Journal reported on meetings that Stern's leadership held with Sodexo, the Compass Group USA and Aramark during which they mapped out terms allowing food, laundry and housekeeping workers to unionize. The SEIU has since had a falling out with Aramark.

The agreements spelled out the number of workers who would be eligible and at which locations they would be permitted to organize. Although union experts said it was unusual for companies to have a say in such organizing details, Stern has said that the confidential terms of the agreement, which were leaked to the media, were justified because they would create local unions where none exist now and would boost overall membership.

But the animosity between Stern and Rosselli, whom Stern once appointed to the SEIU's executive committee, has grown since Stern spoiled the AFL-CIO's party three years ago. This year, Stern sent a letter to Rosselli, alleging various kinds of misconduct, such as interfering with members' collective bargaining rights, unethical conduct and fiduciary irresponsibility. Rosselli said the accusations are a move to take over his UHW and appoint Stern's own leaders to the local.

Rosselli resigned from the SEIU executive committee and set up, a Web site with largely anti-Stern content. Stern launched his own:

This week, Rosselli brings one of the largest contingents of SEIU members to Puerto Rico, where they will propose a series of reforms designed to return control of the union to its members. Among them: eliminating the delegate system of electing SEIU leadership and instead allowing members to vote directly for president. The group also wants to give locals a greater say when national leaders try to merge them.

Rosselli has modest expectations for the challenge he will mount at the convention but greater optimism beyond.

"We don't expect to win any votes on our proposed changes to the [SEIU] constitution," Rosselli said. "Our definition of victory is to come out of Puerto Rico with more support from more unions across the country than we have going into it. We're looking at San Juan being day one of the new phase of reform within the union movement."

Richard Hurd, a labor studies professor at Cornell University, said Stern's push to strengthen union leadership while boosting membership reflected a national trend among unions to restructure locals along industry lines. The theory is, with employers becoming increasingly globalized, combining workers under larger industry umbrellas gives them greater leverage.

"It's fair to ask, 'Are these agreements good enough?' " Hurd said. "But it's not as simple as it seems. It's a struggle between two powerful leaders over who's going to get their way. Both of their reasons make sense to someone on the outside."

LOAD-DATE: May 27, 2008

The Ithaca Journal, May 26, 2008, Monday

The Ithaca Journal

May 26, 2008, Monday

The Ithaca Journal

Cornell gives 6,000 sunny sendoff;
Skorton reminds students of social responsibility

By Tim Ashmore

ITHACA — Cornell University President David Skorton's message to some 6,000 graduates — undergrad and graduate students — was social responsibility at the 140th commencement ceremony Sunday.

Schoellkopf Field was filled with approximately 40,000 family members and friends there to see the culmination of years of work and the mark of a new path for former students.

Skorton asked graduates to remember the importance of their education and urged them to promote learning and remember the “very small” difference between the powerful and powerless.

Pointing out Nicholas Kristof, who spoke last month at Cornell thoughts on social entrepreneurship, Skorton said, “... today's most remarkable young people (Kristof) noted, ‘are the social entrepreneurs — those who see a problem in society and roll up their sleeves to address it in new ways.'”

Skorton used Jessica Houle, a graduate from Freeville who grew up in Conger's mobile home park, as an example of a social entrepreneur. Houle created a program to provide mentoring and recreation and leadership opportunities in mobile home parks. Houle has been recognized for her work to bring equality to the social strata as the recipient of the Maribel Garcia Community Spirit Award.

“The tangible results of social entrepreneurship can be breathtaking and inspirational,” Skorton said. Later in his speech he added, “Cornell and its alumni have taken their responsibility for public service very seriously for 150 years. We seek to apply knowledge and creativity for the public good and to lighten the burdens of the world.”

Graduates' achievements, while great, stand in “sharp contrast to the state of our world,” Skorton said, pointing war in Iraq and violence throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa and Latin America and disaster in China and Myanmar.

Skorton linked the need for social responsibility to worldwide unrest, and noted 15 graduates of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar who were the first American medical students to get degrees abroad.

He also mentioned the work of the Institute for Women and Work in the Industrial and Labor Relations school that documented that while women make up half of New York state's workforce, they make up less than 15 percent of boards of directors or executive officer positions in the 100 largest public companies headquartered in the state.

Roughly 20 percent of Cornell's Board of Trustees are women.

Those graduating from Cornell are taking their lives in a new direction, but that doesn't mean a new setting for everyone. Sarah Snider, an engineering graduate, and Elena Abarinov, an arts and sciences graduate, will both spend another year in Ithaca — Snider, to continue school, and Abarinov to continue her research.

Both women said the struggle will be creating a life in Ithaca without the friendships they made during school.

Abarinov called graduation a “bittersweet” moment because of the lost relationships.

Following Skorton's speech, deans of Cornell's schools took the podium and declared their students graduates before the crowd tossed caps in the air and released balloons.

Buffalo News (New York), May 25, 2008, Sunday

Copyright 2008 The Buffalo News

All Rights Reserved

Buffalo News (New York)

May 25, 2008, Sunday



HEADLINE: Auto plants' lower wages will impact all of WNY



Buffalo Niagara's auto manufacturing sector has long been a wellspring of high-paying jobs.

But the economics are changing at local plants run by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Delphi Corp. and American Axle & Manufacturing, based on the most recent labor contracts approved by autoworkers those companies.

Most of the deals call for paying new hires for certain jobs much less than existing workers, while protecting current workers' wages and benefits. Some new hires at Ford and GM, for instance, will make about $14 an hour, compared to $28 per hour for existing workers in those positions.

The labor deals at suppliers Delphi Corp. and American Axle imposed wage cuts on current workers, and those employers are paying new hires even less.

The impact of the labor cost restructuring will unfold as more of the higher-paid workers take buyouts or retire, and new workers come aboard at lower wages to fill some vacancies. At American Axle, workers facing wage reductions will receive buydowns paid over three years to help them make the transition.

The new hires who earn less, as well as some existing workers who are subject to pay cuts, will have less money to spend on everything from houses to cars to restaurants. It is a message that Kevin Donovan said he tries to spread when talking about the labor contracts' broader impact on the community.

"People don't realize how much money from these wages go into the economy that helps everybody else," said Donovan, assistant director of United Auto Workers Region 9.

Auto manufacturers and their suppliers poured about $774 million in wages into the region's economy in 2006, according to the state Department of Labor. The combined total from 2000 through 2006 was $6.3 billion.

American Axle exemplifies the restructuring under way. The company will shut its Town of Tonawanda forge, which had 530 union and nonunion employees before the strike, as well as a gear and axle plant in Buffalo, which had been idled since late last year.

Beyond the jobs that will be lost through the closings, American Axle will cut workers' wages by $6 to $8 per hour at its Cheektowaga plant, which will stay open and expand. The UAW represents 116 workers there.

The American Axle workers will receive maximum "buydowns" of $105,000, paid over three years, to ease their transition to the lower wage scale. The amounts they receive will vary depending on how much they will lose over the four-year contract.

American Axle said it expects to hire new workers after current workers accept buyout or retirement packages and leave. New hires for some jobs will start at $14.35 or $16.50 per hour, while skilled trades workers will start at $26 per hour.

The local economy will feel the ripple effect of the revamped wage scales at American Axle, Ford, GM and Delphi, observers and economists say. Those four companies' area plants together employ more than 6,000 union and nonunion people. (The total includes American Axle's prestrike job figures.)

William Ganley, professor of economics and finance at Buffalo State College, said the impact of a deal like the one at American Axle is twofold: The company will keep at least some of its local jobs, maintaining an important regional link to manufacturing, he said. But at lower pay, the jobs won't pack the financial punch they once did.

"We have a diminished economic impact from these lower-wage jobs," he said.

>Pay perspectives differ

Ganley said a worker's perspective on how good those new wages are depends on where they are in their careers. For workers in their early 20s, the starting pay looks pretty good, he said. "Your expectations are not based on $28 an hour," he said.

But for older workers, he said, absorbing a drastic pay cut from a level like $28 an hour is a tough adjustment, if they have based their car and mortgage payments on that income.

Richard Deitz, regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Buffalo branch, said the pressures the region's automotive sector is feeling in jobs and wages stem from a combination of overseas competition and greater efficiency within the industry.

"This is just part of a much broader trend that been happening nationwide for some time," Deitz said. Buffalo Niagara seems to be affected disproportionately because of its large base of manufacturing jobs, he added.

Employers such as American Axle say they need to reduce wages to be competitive with rivals who are paying their workers less. And automakers such as Ford and GM are trying to lower their labor costs in the face of reduced market share and slumping U.S. sales.

Economists talk about the "multiplier effect," how spending by an employer and its employees stimulates the local economy. With manufacturing, the effect is typically high, both through a company's business transactions with local vendors and the paychecks that employees spread around the local economy.

That impact can be felt personally. Donovan recalled that when labor talks were under way at Delphi Corp., with its Lockport plant a focus of concern, a worker in a restaurant in that town told him: "I hope you take care of this thing and keep this plant alive, or I'm going to lose my job."

Delphi ultimately decided to keep the Lockport plant open, one of the few in the United States it will retain. That preserved a key large-scale employer, but the latest contract included wage cuts.

>Impact hard to quantify

Sizing up the economic impact of the labor cost changes at the auto manufacturers and the suppliers on Buffalo Niagara is hard to pinpoint. GM and Ford, for instance, are still completing their buyout and retirement offer programs.

New hiring at the lower rates will depend on how many older workers exit, as well as how many new workers the companies need in light of lower production volumes and the drive for greater efficiency.

George Palumbo, a Canisius College economist, notes that even if a worker decides to take a buyout package worth, say, $140,000, it is not immediately clear how that will affect things locally. That amount is pretax, and it is not known whether the worker will stay in the area or move away, he said.

Art Wheaton, director of Buffalo labor studies at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the economic effect of the pay cuts and job losses will also show up in areas like workers' contributions to charitable organizations like the United Way and Catholic Charities.

"These are the folks making these decent wages that are very much contributors to the local economy," he said.

Ganley said deals like the one at American Axle could have a spinoff effect in still another way: putting pressure on unions that negotiate contracts at companies with smaller numbers of workers in the future.

Making up for the impact that manufacturing jobs have on the regional economy in other fields can be a challenge, Palumbo said.

Federal statistics showed that from 2001 to 2006, finance and insurance jobs in the region increased 15 percent, while manufacturing jobs fell 19 percent, he noted. But the average earnings per worker in the finance category was $53,461, compared to $82,454 in manufacturing. At those earnings, it would take about 1.5 finance jobs to match one manufacturing job.

Ganley said some other job sectors are showing growth potential, such as health and medical research, as well as a 500-job silicon manufacturing plant planned for Niagara Falls. "There are some plus signs," he said.


LOAD-DATE: May 27, 2008

The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 23, 2008, Friday

Copyright 2008 Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC

All Rights Reserved

The Philadelphia Inquirer

May 23, 2008, Friday

CITY-D Edition


HEADLINE: Drexel to start graduate program in Sacramento

BYLINE: By Susan Snyder; Inquirer Staff Writer


Drexel University yesterday announced plans to open a graduate studies program in Sacramento, Calif., the first of up to five new locations that the school's president hopes to start in growing cities around the United States over the next six years or so.

The program, which will open in January with about 100 students, was approved by the university's board of trustees on Wednesday and is separate from the university's interest in opening a four-year university in Placer County, just north of Sacramento, as announced in August.

The effort to create a Drexel network of graduate education campuses comes as the university tries to find new ways to expand its reach for students, tap into markets with growing populations, and build fund-raising among alumni.

Other cities that Drexel president Constantine Papadakis wants to target, if the Sacramento effort is successful, are Phoenix, Miami, Los Angeles, and Dallas or Houston.

A separate plan for the undergraduate campus on nearly two square miles of donated land in Placer County will proceed, but is expected to take from five to seven years, Papadakis said. Even if Placer County officials give a swift nod, there are likely to be legal challenges from environmental groups, he added.

Drexel's board of trustees, he said, had been discussing the Drexel network concept for at least a year before the prospect of the Placer County land emerged, he said.

"We wanted to establish a new model to deliver higher education," Papadakis said.

As colleges look to expand to new markets, the question is whether they can deliver the same quality program as at their home base, said Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

"To what extent will this be done by a new set of faculty located there, or will this be done heavily using distance learning technology that will make use of the existing faculty?" he asked. "Ultimately, the success of the program will hinge on ... those issues."

Carl Oxholm III, executive vice president and chief of staff at Drexel, said that on average, 60 percent of the education will be delivered in class and 40 percent online. Drexel's Philadelphia faculty will travel to Sacramento to teach, and new faculty also will be hired, he said.

The graduate campus will be run out of a 20,000-square-foot space in downtown Sacramento and will offer five programs at first: business administration, engineering management, higher education, information systems, and library and information science. Programs in human resources development, the science of instruction, contemporary nursing, and nursing leadership are to be added in September 2009.

The programs were selected based on Drexel's areas of strength and market studies over the last nine months of the region's needs, Papadakis said. Drexel also studied similar ventures by other schools, including a San Francisco campus opened by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 2001 and a campus of Carnegie Mellon in the Silicon Valley since 2002.

The new site, 17 miles from the proposed Placer County plot, will allow the university to build up its name in Sacramento in preparation for an undergraduate campus, the president said. That project has not yet been presented to the Drexel board for approval.

Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, whose family would donate the Placer County site to Drexel, said the project is likely to come before the planning commission in 60 to 90 days.

"We have great confidence that working with the board of trustees, we will do things the right way and get things done in a time frame that is appropriate," he said in an interview from Sacramento.

Jim Holmes, chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, said the project had generated support.

"We hear a lot of people excited about it," he said.

For the graduate program in Sacramento, Papadakis declined to reveal its budget or cost: "The bottom line will be good for us."

"We'll export our brand to many areas where we're not well-known, and therefore, we'll be able to recruit more students from those locations to Philadelphia," he said.

Papadakis credited news of the new campus with attracting 10 students from Sacramento to enroll at Drexel in Philadelphia for the fall.

Papadakis said Drexel would aim to grow the Sacramento program to 800 or 900 students within five years.

Other universities say expansions have worked well.

Penn's Wharton West campus, which offers an M.B.A. program for executives serving about 200 students, has been successful in giving faculty a look at how business is done elsewhere while making its education available to new clientele, officials said. Wharton professors travel to San Francisco to teach the courses, offered every other weekend.

A Wharton committee is studying whether to open other programs elsewhere, said Leonard Lodish, vice dean for Wharton West.

"We won't do anything anywhere unless we can provide the full-strength, unadulterated program that we now provide in Philadelphia and San Francisco," he said.

Carnegie Mellon's programs in software engineering, technology innovation and other areas serve 92 part-time students, up from 56 when they opened. The school plans to start a full-time program in the fall.

"It's a growing area for us, and that's why we're moving forward," said spokesman Ken Walters.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or

LOAD-DATE: May 23, 2008

The New York Times, May 20, 2008, Tuesday

The New York Times

May 20, 2008, Tuesday

The New York Times

Arbitration Panel Gives Raise to City Police Officers


Ending a protracted labor dispute, an arbitration panel on Monday awarded New York City’s roughly 23,000 police officers a retroactive 9.7 percent raise over two years and significantly increased the low starting pay for recruits by $10,781.

The panel’s decision was unusual in that it broke with tradition by giving the police officers a larger percentage raise than the one the city’s firefighters received over the same two-year period.

In exchange, the panel exacted significant concessions from the officers’ union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, reducing annual vacation to 10 days a year from 20 during officers’ first five years on the job.

The panel voted 2 to 1 in favor of the decision, with the police union’s representative on the panel the lone dissenter; the independent arbitrator and the city’s representative both approved the deal, officials said.

Even though the union representative refused to sign the deal, its president, Patrick J. Lynch, hailed it as a victory because it broke a tradition under which the city’s police officers and firefighters have received the same percentage raise in a given round of negotiations.

Mr. Lynch, in a statement, said the decision sent a strong message “that pay should be based upon the responsibilities employees have, the hazards and dangers they face, the skills and education required for the job and not antiquated pay relationships of a bygone era.”

City officials acknowledged the higher raise for the police officers but said it was largely offset by concessions worth 2.8 percent a year.

James F. Hanley, the city’s labor commissioner, said he expected the firefighters’ union, as well as other uniformed unions, to exercise their option to reopen their contract to try to attain the same raise granted the police. Mr. Hanley said that if the other unions agreed to similar concessions, they were likely to receive the same raises.

The panel’s decision in effect awards the police officers a new contract running from Aug. 1, 2004, to July 31, 2006, with a 4.5 percent raise the first year and 5 percent raise the second year. Over the comparable period, the firefighters’ now-expired contract for that period gave them raises of less than 3 percent the first year and of 3.15 percent the second year.

“You’re always happier if you can settle these things by negotiation,” Mr. Hanley said Monday evening, “but we’re really happy we could take care of the salary issue.”

He said the union was “very unhappy” about the concessions. A spokesman for Mr. Lynch said the union representative on the panel did not sign the decision because it did not go far enough in making police salaries competitive in the metropolitan area.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly sounded a similar note. “While we wished the starting pay was higher, this is a step in the right direction,” Mr. Kelly said through a spokesman.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the increases won by the union would be financed, in part, by increased productivity, which he says is a hallmark of his administration.

In particular, he pointed to the panel’s decision to reduce new officers’ vacation days. He also said the panel’s decision provided for more flexibility in deploying officers, thereby saving on overtime costs. Overtime is a prime way officers increase their pay.

The decision increases the maximum basic pay to $65,382 from $59,588. It is a financial boon for those veterans who have not seen a raise since 2004. Because the arbitration award gives police officers retroactive raises going back to 2004, many police officers will receive one-time checks of about $15,000, before taxes.

Those now being trained in the academy will get an immediate raise of more than $10,000, city officials said. The last arbitrator’s award set the pay for that six-month training period at an annual rate of $25,100, and this decision raises that figure to $35,881.

City officials said the increase in starting pay could help ease the recruiting difficulty the department has had recently.

The department is set to hire 1,250 recruits in July to meet the new authorized headcount of 36,838 officers. A higher starting salary might attract more recruits, though the proposed budget from the Bloomberg administration would hold the headcount unchanged through the 2010 fiscal year, officials said.

Currently, there are 35,700 officers in the department, down from a high of 40,800 in 2001, when a federal program allowed the department to hire as many as 1,900 officers in a year.

The award issued on Monday covers the two years from Aug. 1, 2004, through July 31, 2006. The city and the police union now must begin negotiations on a new retroactive contract, dating from Aug. 1, 2006.

Negotiations for the award settled Monday began in 2006, but reached an impasse after several rounds. The city and the union took months to agree on a three-member panel, which held 12 hearings from November 2007 through January 2008, and submissions of briefs and closing arguments after that.

The panel’s chairwoman, approved by both sides, was Susan T. Mackenzie, who has arbitrated between the Communications Workers of America and Verizon, and between the Association of Flight Attendants and United Airlines. The police union’s appointee to the panel was Jay W. Waks, a lawyer and partner in Kaye Scholer LLP, an international law firm in New York, while the city’s appointee was Carol O’Blenes, a partner in the labor department of Proskauer Rose LLP.

Mr. Hanley, the city’s labor commissioner, said the police union had recently boasted that it would get an arbitration award with raises of 5 percent a year without concessions. Mr. Hanley said the award announced on Monday was significantly less generous than that because it contained raises of 4.5 percent the first year and 5 percent the second, and concessions that he said totaled 2.81 percent of the officers’ yearly compensation.

Christine Hauser contributed reporting.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The New York Times, May 21, 2008, Wednesday

The New York Times

May 21, 2008, Wednesday

The New York Times

A Diploma’s Worth? Ask Her

Kanye West’s debut album, “The College Dropout,” which came out in 2004, was a concept album. The title referred to Mr. West, then 26 years old and already a successful hip-hop producer. The lyrics pointed out that many of his peers who had finished college weren’t doing nearly so well.

In one monologue, he gives his take on the career ladder for college graduates at the Gap: entry-level position, followed by kissing up to the boss, followed by a promotion to secretary’s secretary. “And boy is that great,” he says. “You get to take messages for the secretary who never went to college.”

I’ll confess that I’m not one of the 2.5 million people who have bought the album. I was introduced to it when I was giving a talk to some college students a couple of years ago, and one of them asked whether Mr. West was right that a college degree had become overrated.

After all, even computer programmers fear outsourcing these days, and recent raises for college graduates have been meager. Yet because economists still insist education is the key to prosperity, the discussion often feels like a muddle.

Fortunately, though, there has been an enormous natural experiment on precisely this subject over the last few decades. In the experiment, one big group of Americans has become vastly more educated, while another group has not. The two have created an excellent case study.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to the first group as “women” and the second as “men.”

From the founding of the country’s first (all-male) colleges in the 17th century until just a few decades ago, men received far more education than women. But the two sexes have now switched places in a remarkably short time.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, about one out of every three young men got a bachelor’s degree. In the years that followed, the share fell somewhat, both because Vietnam War draft deferrals were no longer an issue and because college became more expensive. In the 1980s and 1990s, the share rose again.

But the shifts have been fairly small. For the last four decades, somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of men have graduated from a four-year college by the time they turned 35 years old.

The story is quite different for women. In the 1960s, only 25 percent received a college degree. Among today’s young women almost 40 percent will end up with one. At one commencement ceremony after another this month — be it at Boston College, San Francisco State University or Colby College — women in caps and gowns outnumber men.

The relevant question is how much of a return women have gotten on their education. And the answer isn’t especially subtle. The return has been enormous.

Armed with college degrees, large numbers of women have entered fields once dominated by men. Nearly half of new doctors today are women, up from just 1 of every 10 in the early 1970s. In all, the average inflation-adjusted weekly pay of women has jumped 26 percent since 1980.

And men? Their pay has increased about as much as their college graduation rate — it’s up just 1 percent since 1980.

Education obviously isn’t the only reason. Gender discrimination has become less prevalent in recent decades, and today’s female college graduates are less likely than their mothers and grandmothers to choose modest-paying jobs, like teaching. The decline of manufacturing jobs, meanwhile, has disproportionately hurt men. But research by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell suggests that, over the past two decades, education played the biggest role in narrowing the pay gap.

There are two statistics that I think do a particularly good job of capturing this point. The first shows that the gap between the pay of men and women with college degrees hasn’t budged over the last 15 years. Full-time female workers with a bachelor’s degree made 75 percent as much as their male counterparts in 1992 — and 75 percent as much in 2007.

Women still face discrimination, after all, and they’re still more likely than men to become teachers. More women also choose jobs that trade some pay for flexibility and reasonable hours. (Whether this is a good thing, a bad thing or neither needs to be a subject for another day.)

Yet even though the pay gap among college graduates hasn’t changed, the overall pay gap between men and women has continued to close in the last 15 years. That’s because so many more women have become college graduates and earned the pay premium that a degree really does bring. Across the whole work force, full-time women made 79 percent as much as full-time men last year, up from 75 percent in 1992.

To put it another way, women would have made almost no progress in narrowing the gender pay gap over this period if they hadn’t been so thoroughly trouncing men in the classroom.

And it’s not as if women’s gains have come at the expense of men. By becoming more educated — and able to do more productive, higher-wage jobs — women have increased the size of the economic pie. The economic growth in a country like South Korea, which has made much more educational progress than the United States, clearly demonstrates this. “If you look across countries,” says Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, “education is the strongest predictor for how quickly the pie grows.”

That said, education can’t solve the middle-class squeeze all by itself. Health care costs — which have been holding down the pay gains of everyone, including college graduates — need to be brought under control, and the tax code can stand to be more progressive.

But education is vital. It directly helps those who get it, and it makes it easier for the country to afford programs that help everyone else. Yet for something that just about everyone in Washington claims to favor, education also suffers from a disturbing lack of strategic seriousness. Republicans haven’t been willing to spend enough money on preschool, college financial aid and numerous other areas, while Democrats haven’t been willing to hold schools and universities accountable for mediocrity.

It’s almost — almost — unfair to pick on Kanye West. He’s dead wrong about education, and his enormous teenage audience makes his words matter. But he isn’t the main problem.


Staten Island Advance (New York), May 20, 2008, Tuesday

Copyright 2008 Advance Publications, Inc.

All Rights Reserved

Staten Island Advance (New York)

May 20, 2008, Tuesday




Date of Death: 05/18/2008 First woman in NYC licensed to operate a crane Alice M. Ronne, 54, of Toms River, a longtime West Brighton resident and retired director of the Operating Engineers Union school and one of the first women in the city to hold a license to operate a crane, died Sunday at home.

A native Staten Islander, she was born Alice O'Connor and grew up in West Brighton. She spent much of her life there before relocating to Toms River two years ago.

A graduate of Wagner High School, she worked as a model as a young woman for Wanamaker's catalog.

She later went into the family business - construction - by joining Local 15 of the International Union of the Operating Engineers. She started out as a journeyman in the union and was one of the first women in the city to obtain a license to operate a crane, her family said.

Mrs. Ronne was later certified in labor studies and relations at the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She served as director of the training school for Operating Engineers Union in Queens before her retirement a little more than a year ago. She worked in the union for two decades.

She also served as a board member on Non-traditional Employment for Women (NEW) and on a labor relations task force formed by Gov. George Pataki.

Mrs. Ronne was a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament R.C. Church in West Brighton.

Her family said she loved to entertain and host parties at her home.

"She was an incredibly generous and hard-working woman," recalled her daughter, Jac'lynn Travis.

Surviving Mrs. Ronne in addition to her daughter, Jac'lynn Travis, are her husband of 32 years, Kerry Ronne; a son, Eric Ronne; a sister, Loretta Cannon; three brothers, James, John and Matthew O'Connor, and four grandchildren.

The funeral will be Thursday from the Harmon Home for Funerals, West Brighton, with a mass at 10 a.m. in Blessed Sacrament R.C. Church, West Brighton. Burial will be in the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Arneytown, N.J.

LOAD-DATE: May 21, 2008

WBEN 930 AM, May 20, 2008, Tuesday


May 20, 2008, Tuesday


Arthur Wheaton was interviewed by Dave Debo discussing the American Axle UAW strike and tentative agreement.

Chicago Tribune (Illinois), May 18, 2008, Sunday

Copyright 2008 Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune (Illinois)

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News

May 18, 2008, Sunday


HEADLINE: Members question backdoor union deals: Secret pacts pit growth against workers' rights

BYLINE: Stephen Franklin, Chicago Tribune


May 18--Sal Rosselli was bargaining with a company that provides food service workers to a small California hospital several years ago when he threatened to picket on their behalf.

To his surprise, officials from Compass USA told Rosselli that his union, the Service Employees International Union, had a secret deal that barred him from picketing.

More than ever unions are making secret deals as a way to get their foot in the door at companies because without such deals they would not make much organizing headway. Boosting their membership numbers, they add, is a matter of survival.

But such backdoor deals are causing an uproar within the unions themselves. Some unionists believe that the pacts take away workers' rights to strike, picket or even exercise their freedom of speech and doubt that unions can grow when their hands are tied."The fundamental dispute is about some leaders making top-down, secret deals that affect workers' future," said Rosselli, head of a 150,000-member SEIU local, which is embroiled in a bitter squabble with the leadership of the 1.7 million-member national union.

That this dispute is taking place within the SEIU has some special irony. The union has acted as organized labor's maverick, criticizing others for falling behind the times while boasting about its ability to sign up members. It led the drive that broke the AFL-CIO into two federations.

Labor experts and veteran union organizers say secret contracts are becoming more common as unions have seen little, if any, gain from strikes or long-term legal battles. The biggest question unions have to ask themselves, they suggest, is what price they are willing to pay for such accommodations.

"You never want to eliminate the chance that the workers could self-organize," said a veteran union organizer, who asked not to be named. A union drive can quickly evaporate if workers do not feel committed, he added.

Yet some unions seem to have benefited from such pacts. Thanks to a neutrality agreement reached with AT&T Inc. a decade ago, the Communications Workers of America have added over 40,000 workers, CWA officials said.

Winning a neutrality agreement is a major victory for a union since it mutes any opposition from the company to its organizing.

So, too, Unite Here's hotel workers division has reached neutrality agreements at certain hotels within the Hilton and Starwood chains that have added union members, said Rick Hurd, a labor expert at Cornell University.

While the CWA is public about its neutrality agreement, officials at the hotel workers union declined to comment.

Avoiding lawsuits

The SEIU in recent years has signed confidential agreements with janitorial firms in Houston and with the California Nursing Home Alliance, said union spokesman Andrew McDonald. Usually companies want the deals kept secret, he explained, out of fear that it will "put them in a competitive disadvantage with anti-union firms."

Hurd added that unions also like to keep a lid on such agreements to avoid embarrassment if they don't succeed. Plus, they are concerned that other unions might want to join the bandwagon if they learn that the company has signed on to a neutrality agreement. And they want to avoid lawsuits from right-to-work groups challenging the agreements, he added.

"These agreements are the proven model for how workers gain a voice," McDonald declared. "There is no other model."

In 2005 the SEIU and the 465,000-member Unite Here reached confidential deals with Sodexho Inc., Compass Group USA and Aramark Corp., allowing the unions to organize a limited number of food service, housekeeping and laundry workers. The agreement with Aramark collapsed late last year, union officials said.

In the Sodexho and Compass deals both the unions and companies made sacrifices, according to a union outline of the agreement obtained by the Tribune. The unions agreed to drop any "comprehensive" campaigns or organizing efforts outside their deal and to block any strikes or public actions until the unions and companies dealt with the issues.

The companies won the right to say where the unions could organize, and the unions also agreed to bargain from one job site to another. That meant wages could vary for similar jobs across the same company.

In Chicago, for example, the starting wage for a food service worker at a Sodexho facility at DePaul University is $8.50 an hour. The same worker at a Sodexho facility at Northwestern University earns $7.40 an hour, according to a copy of the contracts obtained by the Tribune. (The median wage for Chicago-area food service workers, from the lowest to the highest paying job, is $8.37 an hour, government figures show.)

As their part of the deal the firms agreed to allow a certain number of workers to join the new union through so-called card checks, a process where workers can join a union if a majority signs the cards. The other option is to take part in a secret election.

The agreement called for up to 11,000 workers at Sodexho and more than 12,500 at Compass to become union members. The unions now have about 15,000 members divided evenly among the three companies, though they no longer have a deal with Aramark, union officials said.

Andrew Kramer, a management attorney in Washington, D.C., said such agreements "raise questions about employees' rights." The union is almost assured an election victory if the company vows not to oppose the union and accepts a card check, he said.

What's important about such deals, said Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, is that "thousands of low-wage workers are getting unions and they are winning substantially reduced health-care costs. ... They are winning defined-benefit plans in almost 100 percent of the contracts."

'Second class' workers

But officials at United Healthcare West--the local headed by Rosselli--disagree.

A starting food service worker in California under the special agreement with Sodexho gets $8.30 an hour, compared with union members who earn between $12 and $13.50 in contracts with hospital chains, according to the local's officials.

Such deals lock workers "into a second class" and become an incentive for a business to outsource work to one of the large service companies that signed the deal with the unions, said John Borsos, a vice president with the local. But the SEIU's McDonald said that were it not for their deal with Sodexho those workers would not have a union.

"The real secret deal that needs to be exposed is the deal that union leaders have made not to organize, and to allow non-union workers for the same employer just to protect a business relationship," he said.

Zeev Kvitky, president of SEIU Local 2007, is one of those with complaints about how Service Workers United, the new organization created for workers at the three companies by the two unions, has helped workers.

About 100 food service workers at Santa Clara and Stanford Universities were moved two years ago from an SEIU local to the new Service Workers United, Kvitky said. They were not given the chance to vote on the move, and later didn't know whom to go to for help, he said.

They were told to call an 800 number that would connect them to an official at the new organization's offices back east, he said. "But they didn't get any calls returned," he said, adding that he decided to begin helping them. SEIU officials said the workers should have been able to rely on one of the locals.

Kvitky disagrees: "I don't like saying it, but they weren't represented."

That's not a problem for Sodexho's food service workers at Northwestern University's Evanston campus, said Rafael Marquez, a shop steward with the Service Workers United local and a cook. The union's telephone number is an option if the workers can't reach him or another union official, he said.

As for his own livelihood, the union contract with Sodexho brought seniority to the job and has allowed him to move from an $8.50-an-hour job to an $11.40-an-hour position, the highest-paying job for the workers.

"Before the union came, it never seemed possible to sit down with the bigwigs," Marquez said. "And if we talked to managers they pretty much told us, 'We'll see.' "

To see more of the Chicago Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2008, Chicago Tribune Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

LOAD-DATE: May 18, 2008

The New York Times, May 17, 2008, Saturday

The New York Times

May 17, 2008, Saturday

The New York Times

Tending to a Flock in Hard Hats


The Rev. Brian Jordan had just loped to the end of a long run on a Saturday afternoon, savoring one of those rare times a priest could be considered off duty, when he checked the message on his cellphone. The voice belonged to an old contact in Local 14 of the operating engineers’ union. His words were succinct and specific: “There’s been an accident at 51st and Second. Can you help us?”

Within minutes, Father Jordan covered his running gear with the brown habit and capuche he wore as a Franciscan and drove from the Rockaway beachfront back to Midtown Manhattan. The scene he found there on March 15 was a chaos of rubble, crushed cars, rescue crews, ambulances, gawkers and, at the center, a collapsed building and a buckled construction crane.

Father Jordan looked past all of it, searching for the men in hard hats — his parish, his flock. Some were crying, some were hugging, some were kicking at the ground. A couple recognized the priest from the months they had spent at ground zero in Lower Manhattan.

On this day, as on those days, Father Jordan picked his way into the ruins. Four construction workers were known to be dead, and the bodies of two more workers would be found days later (along with the body of a woman who had been visiting from South Florida). Their surviving comrades lifted off their hard hats as the priest sprinkled holy water amid the wreckage and prayed that God would grant the souls of the departed eternal rest.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, Father Jordan has ministered to the building trades, which has meant both celebrating acts of material creation and mourning those killed in this dangerous work. The six workers’ deaths on March 15 were the most he had dealt with on a single day since Sept. 11, and came amid an especially tragic 12 months, with 26 fatalities on New York work sites.

On April 28, Father Jordan officiated at a Mass for Workers’ Memorial Day in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In most years, safer years, the annual event had been easily accommodated in the priest’s home church, St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street. Regardless of the setting, Father Jordan has preached a consistent message.

“Union construction workers have sacred instruments,” he said in his homily at St. Patrick’s. “No, not just their tools, machinery and computerized systems that they are trained and responsible for. These sacred instruments are their hands.”

“As a surgeon has sacred hands while performing a medical operation, as a priest has sacred hands while celebrating the Eucharist, so are union construction workers with their sacred and skillful hands” doing godly work by building hospitals, schools, family homes. “I am not stretching the imagery of sacredness,” he continued. “I am simply stating a fact.”

Father Jordan, 52, grew up in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn, the son of a bakery-truck driver who was the shop steward in his Teamsters’ local. “My father used the term ‘solidarity’ when I was a kid,” Father Jordan recalled in an interview. “He’d say, ‘When we go to church, we pray together. When we do a job, we work together. When we stand up for something, we stand together.’ So I had that concept from a young age.”

Still, Father Jordan entered Siena College near Albany with the goal of becoming a lawyer. It was the Rev. Mychal F. Judge, then an assistant to the college president, who recruited the undergraduate with this sales pitch: “Don’t be an unhappy lawyer. Be a happy priest.”

During seminary, through ordination in 1983 and in his initial parishes in the Bronx, Boston and suburban Washington, Father Jordan counted Father Judge as his mentor. In particular, he learned from the example Father Judge set in his role as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department.

So it was almost eerily appropriate that on the day Father Judge died at ground zero while tending to the fallen, Father Jordan arrived there with his holy water, beginning 10 months of praying for the dead and the living alike.

“Caring for people, making time for people, not worrying about your own needs,” Father Jordan said of his mentor’s example. “He always said, ‘Time is a gift from God. What you receive as a gift, give as a gift.’ He said that to me 30 years ago. Still makes sense.”

In acting on Father Judge’s advice, Father Jordan has worked extensively among immigrants as well as construction workers. Increasingly, he has seen the lines blur between his two specialties as immigrants have moved into the building trades. Father Jordan’s role requires a series of balancing acts: being on good terms with labor unions as well as contractors, visiting union workers as well as nonunion worksites, empathizing with illegal immigrants while hearing out rank-and-file members convinced that those same immigrants are driving down wages. On one point, though, Father Jordan has been repeatedly, publicly assertive: he believes that nonunion contractors do not provide the high level of training that construction unions do and that, as a result, nonunion workers face a greater risk of injury or death.

Day to day, though, Father Jordan builds his ties with an unforced blue-collar touch and an unreconstructed Brooklyn accent. The other morning, he went to the Lower Manhattan headquarters of Local 608 of the carpenters’ union to celebrate Mass for the instructors in its apprenticeship program.

“Hey, pal,” he said to one familiar face after another, literally and liberally back-slapping. “All the good guys are here.”

For anyone needing confession, he said, he could recommend “a church where the priests don’t speak English and have hearing problems.”

The next stop for Father Jordan was opposite the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center, where Local 147, better known as the sandhogs’ union, was blasting away on the extension of the Number 7 subway. Charlie Cannon, the local’s recording secretary, had known the priest since ground zero.

“If he could walk through that battle zone and help us there, that’s where you get the respect,” Mr. Cannon said. “If somebody cares about you that much, they’re part of the family.”


The Independent (United Kingdom), May 15, 2008, Thursday

The Independent (United Kingdom)

May 15, 2008, Thursday

The Independent (United Kingdom)

Andrew Oswald: We need to measure the quality of teachers

Teachers are the most important members of a society. We could manage without economists, accountants, lawyers, dentists and even doctors. Most problems in life eventually fix themselves. Having fewer advertising executives, financial-market pundits and television employees would result in considerable improvement in human welfare. At a pinch, even police and fire-fighters are not indispensable, and ditto for soldiers. But without teachers, we would revert to the dark ages: the foundations of human knowledge would disintegrate and our society would go back to reliance on superstition.

So the quality of teaching matters more than almost anything else. Remarkably little is known by social scientists about how to improve it, although there is evidence that teacher quality has positive effects on student test-scores. Even the standard view that smaller class sizes are better is only mildly supported by evidence. What is required, is quantitative research by statistically-trained educational researchers, doing experiments, with properly designed treatment and control groups, slowly but surely working out for us that policy Y is likely to be a failure and policy Z a success. Painstaking. Disinterested.

For reasons I do not understand, little of this careful scientific work goes on in education schools in the world's universities, and it is necessary to look elsewhere for it. Counter-intuitively, much is being done by economists and statisticians.

One of the most interesting education studies I have seen was released this week by two young economists, Kirabo Jackson at Cornell University and Elias Bruegmann at Harvard. They show the importance of peer effects. No, not the effects upon my child of having clever and hard-working children in the desks around him or her. Instead, intriguingly and importantly, they document the beneficial spill-over consequences that one brilliant teacher has on other teachers in a school. I probably would not have believed it before I saw their evidence, but in retrospect, like a lot of powerful ideas, it looks clear and natural when in one's rear view mirror.

Bruegmann and Jackson go to North Carolina. They collect information on about 1.5 million students and thousands of teachers. An advantage of the authors' setting is that in that state of the US the elementary school teachers are assigned to one group of students for the whole school term. Each teacher's class performance can be measured. Moreover, the two researchers are able to collect information, year after year, as each teacher has a variety of different teaching colleagues through the years. The researchers are careful not to mix up their results with effects from factors like differently rich schools. They study how changes in the performance of a teacher's students are correlated with alterations in the composition of that teacher's peers.

If that sounds complicated, actually it is not. It boils down to the idea that to figure out how good a teacher is, what you should do is move them around, into different places of work with different colleagues, and then measure how they prosper in each place after averaging out the other influences. In such a way, a person's ability can be assessed objectively, because you see them in different circumstances. This is just saying that the way to discover whether Alex Ferguson is a great football manager is to send him to Greenock Morton and Doncaster Duffers; then we can work out whether his winning streak at Manchester United is luck or due to the brilliance of the players.

The two researchers examine how teachers' peers influence student achievement on mathematics and reading test scores. Great teachers turn out to produce great "externalities". Shorn of technicalities, what Bruegmann and Jackson prove is that brilliance rubs off on other teachers within a school. Although their article will be hard work for those with no statistical training, it carries a message of lasting significance. If a greater share of a teacher's colleagues have little teaching experience and are of low quality, his or her own students perform worse (and not because of school resources). The direct effect, from one teacher alone, is estimated to be small. But the multiplied consequences – think of a corridor of classrooms and the quality improvement rippling down that line of doors – really matter. Interestingly, the authors show that younger, less experienced teachers are more responsive to changes in peers' quality than are the older ones.

It is not possible to know how this new research on teacher spillovers will be used or how it will change schools in modern society. But the findings tell us that small numbers of outstanding teachers matter disproportionately. Such people do not merely inspire their pupils. They inspire their colleagues.

The writer is Professor of economics at the University of Warwick and Visiting Fellow at Cornell University

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Human Resource Executive Online, May 15, 2008, Thursday

Human Resource Executive Online

May 15, 2008, Thursday

Human Resource Executive Online

Positioning HR on Executive Comp

A new HR group, created by members of the HR Policy Association, will lobby on executive-comp-reform issues. It has positioned itself as a centrist organization, with officials saying it is seeking a "reasoned perspective."

By Stephen Barlas

A new business lobbying group composed of top HR executives is positioning itself as a voice of reason on executive pay in advance of Congress's expected attempts in 2009 to seriously consider "say on pay" bills and the likelihood of a new White House occupant sympathetic to those and other similar efforts.

The Center on Executive Compensation, formed by members of the HR Policy Association, which represents Fortune 500 human resource directors, appears to be trying to take a more nuanced approach to executive compensation issues than the Business Roundtable which has successfully prevented the Senate from considering a bill sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank., D-Mass., that passed the House in 2007.

But President George W. Bush's threat to veto that bill probably has a lot to do with Connecticut Democrat and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd's decision to ignore the Frank bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

However, in 2009, either Obama or Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will be president, barring some unforeseen circumstance. McCain also supports a "say on pay" bill and would be likely, as Obama would, to push for other anti-executive comp measures, such as more detailed, and perhaps draconian, Securities and Exchange Commission rules on reporting of executive compensation.

The newly created Center, like the Roundtable, opposes the Frank/Obama Shareholder Vote on Executive Compensation Act.

Timothy Bartl, vice president and general counsel of the HR Policy Association, who helps manage the Center, says, "If there is a president who is more amenable to some of these changes, there is a greater likelihood we will see attempts legislatively on these issues, and I think there is widespread anticipation of that."

Tom Lehner, director of public policy for the Business Roundtable, says the Center is "a welcome addition" and adds that its executive compensation "reform" agenda doesn't differ markedly from the Roundtable's.

The Center has developed a number of position papers, which it displays on its Web site: . But one Washington observer who is very active on executive-comp issues and perused the Center's Web site says, "What they have is extremely limited and [is] missing nearly all of the real issues."

While the new Center echoes the Roundtable's opposition to the Shareholder Vote bill, it appears to depart from some of the BRT's other positions -- maybe in style, maybe even in substance.

"On some things," Bartl says, "we will be more nuanced than the Roundtable. We want to offer a reasoned perspective on executive compensation that is a counter perspective to some of the approaches to compensation advocated by critics, and also to lend our voices to where reform is necessary."

Nell Minow, a leading shareholder's voice and editor and co-founder of The Corporate Library, says, "It sounds like the Center is trying to be more centrist. The BRT talks a good game but its members are among the worst offenders. "

Since its creation, the Center seems to be taking a more critical position on severance pay.

Charles Tharp, executive vice president for policy at the Center, explains, "While new executives should receive a supplemental severance, as they do now, once they have participated in performance-based awards for a period, the supplemental severance should phase out."

The Center will also support SEC efforts to improve the commission's summary compensation table, revised in December 2006, and which came into play for the first time for 2007 proxies.

But John White, the director of corporation finance for the SEC, has made it clear in speeches that, although companies have made good-faith efforts to comply with the SEC rules, they need to do better on the manner of presentation and analysis.

Tharp says the summary compensation table "results in an apples-to-oranges comparison, in which potential pay is compared with past company performance. We seek to develop an approach in which actual and realizable pay is compared to company results that would provide an apples-to-apples comparison and would be more meaningful for shareholders."

As the Center attempts to present a friendlier face on executive comp issues, it remains to be seen whether the group will be able to assert itself.

Tharp, the "public face" of the Center, according to Bartl, is a part-time employee and an academic who is an instructor at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He is the Center's only employee at the moment. Bartl says no outside lobbyists will be hired.

May 15, 2008

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