Monday, February 28, 2011

DailyFinance, February 28, 2011, Monday


February 28, 2011, Monday


People@Work: Wisconsin Picks the Wrong Scapegoat for Its Budget Woes

Protesters in Wisconsin kept the heat on Republican lawmakers in that Midwestern state over the weekend, demanding that the legislature drop a provision in Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair" bill that would restrict public sector workers' right to collectively bargain for benefits and work rules.

Walker has shown no willingness to compromise, saying that repealing these rights is necessary to balance the state's budget. In the process of demonizing those who are essentially his own workforce, Walker has inflamed passions -- and reinvigorated the nation's flagging union movement.

It remains unclear why Walker is making the demands he is. Reducing state workers' ability to collectively bargain won't do anything to aid the state's budget woes, which are pretty mild compared to the red ink some other states are bleeding.

An Opportunity to "Crush the Unions"

So why are middle-class workers who happen to work for the state the target of such bullying from Wisconsin's chief executive? Walker and his Republican colleagues in the legislature view the fiscal crisis as an "an opportunity to do something that they wanted to do all along, which is to crush the unions," says Rebecca Givan, assistant professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University's ILR School.

Some Republicans are simply angry about labor's involvement in elections. Unions donate a lot of time and "decent amount of money" to help get candidates elected, Givan says in an interview. The candidates not on the receiving end of that largess would like to see unions eliminated.

But scapegoating public workers is backfiring for another reason. The notion that somehow public workers' pay packages are breaking the budget just don't hold up. These workers' entire compensation package -- salary, health care, pensions, etc. -- make up a tiny fraction of the state budget, Givan says.

They also didn't create the state's current budget woes. So, why should public workers have to suffer for a lack of stewardship in Madison?

A Race to the Bottom

"The reason union members are being asked to pay the price is that people who don't get good pensions and health care -- instead of taking the attitude that we should all have better pensions and health care -- are taking the attitude that 'I don't want my taxes to pay for people to get something that I don't get,'" Givan says.

Sponsored Links Essentially, what critics of public workers' compensation are promoting is a race to the bottom -- he who has least, wins.

It's no coincidence that average workers' wages have stagnated in the last few decades as union rolls have declined in the U.S. Only about 7% of today's private sector workforce is unionized, leaving the vast majority of workers to negotiate their own compensation. The ability of union workers to negotiate fair, livable wages as a group -- via collective bargaining -- is the tide that raises all boats, while the lone worker gets swallowed up by the storm.

And while it's true that public sector workers do have generally better health care and pension packages than their private sector counterparts, that's a fact regardless of whether that state's workers are represented by a union or not, Givan says. So, to argue that unions force better benefits packages for public sectors workers is a falsehood.

Moreover, public sector jobs have traditionally offered lower pay than comparable private sector positions. In return, public employees get higher levels of benefits and more job security.

A Long, Uphill Climb

The protests in Wisconsin and the solidarity shown by union workers and their supporters in other states prove that unions have a positive side, Givan says. "It's channeling a lot of the anger that people have aimed at corporate greed and to a lesser extent the campaign finance system."

Still, the momentum isn't likely to boost numbers of union workers in the private sector, she says, "just because the union-busting industry is so big and profitable and virulent that it's still a huge challenge."

See full article from DailyFinance:

The Post Standard, February 28, 2011, Monday

The Post Standard

February 28, 2011, Monday

The Post Standard

Pay freezes or not?
A tough question for Central New York school districts like Syracuse and Auburn

To people who have lost their jobs or endured pay cuts, a pay freeze doesn’t sound so bad.

But imagine, if you will, you have a job and next year will receive a raise you’ve been counting on. Your job is important to society, you believe you do it well and your employer signed a contract promising to give you the raise. It’s a done deal.

And then your employer says: “We don’t have enough money to give you raises and balance our budget. We have to lay people off. Will you accept a pay freeze? If you do, you will save jobs.”

What would you do? The public, whose tax dollars support your paycheck and some of whom have lost their jobs or endured pay cuts, is watching your decision.

Teachers, administrators and other unionized employees in some local school district and around the state have faced, or are facing that question, posed by school district administrations that must close budget shortfalls for the 2011-12 school year.

West Genesee teachers and administrators, among other employees at the district, said yes to a freeze. Their counterparts in Liverpool said no.

In the Syracuse and Auburn, school district unions are pondering requests to take a one-year pay freeze. Syracuse teachers have a contract with a 4.5 percent raise next school year; Auburn’s contract calls for a 3 percent raise.

A number of factors come into play when teacher unions decide whether to open their contracts and give something back, said Sally Klingel, director of labor-management programs in the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution at Cornell University’s ILR School.

Unions consider, among other things, when their current contracts expires and what tax rate the community will bear. The relationships between the unions and the administration play a major role, according to Klingel.

“When there’s a low level of trust and a school board that may be perceived as sort of hostile to the interest, the longer term interest, of teachers, it’s a lot harder to convince the membership to give something up because they have little faith that it will be reciprocated when times are better,” she said.

West Genesee and Liverpool could be a case in point. Union leaders from those districts describe their relationships with their administrations in very different terms.

Trust made the freeze possible in West Genesee, the teacher union president says. A “lack of a really positive relationship” was one reason why the Liverpool union dismissed a freeze even before taking it to members for a vote, its union president said.

Without the freeze, Liverpool teachers will receive a 2.2 percent raise; administrators a 4 percent increase.

In West Genesee, teachers, administrators and the superintendent, among others, took a freeze. Teachers in the district would have received a 2 percent pay hike.

“It was a very difficult decision to make, but it would have been an impossible decision to make if we didn’t have complete open lines of communication with the district,” said John Christian, president of the West Genesee Teachers Association Local 3106.

“And I think that’s what a lot of my colleagues are running into right now is they just don’t have that kind of trust and that kind of relationship,” he said. “And I know how they feel. We’ve been at West Genesee under superintendents that it would have been nearly impossible for this to happen,”

West Genesee Superintendent Christopher R. Brown shared all the financial information with the union, hide nothing and stood in front of its members to tell them exactly what the plan would be with and without a freeze, Christian said.

The West Genesee pay freeze got national attention. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement praising the parties for the “type of tough but smart decisions school districts across New York should be making.” Christian and Brown were interviewed on CNN and mentioned in a New York Times blog after reaching the accord.

Cuomo wants almost all state employees whose contracts are up for negotiation April 1 to take a one-year freeze. Local school districts say Cuomo’s proposed cuts in school funding are a big reason why they face layoffs and cuts.

“We will not entertain a wage free in 2012-13. And the reason for that is our sole motivation for this wage freeze was to retain as many people as possible in the hopes that the governor realizes that he may have gone just a little too far,” Christian said.

Leaders of the United Liverpool Faculty Association said no to a freeze for a number of reasons, union President Pattie Miller said. One was that the administration went to employees, including Miller, directly about freeze rather than bringing it to the union, she said.

To the public that might sound minor, she said.

“But it really suggested to us a lack of a real positive relationship between the association and the district, and so that became a part of the issue in our response,” Miller said.

There is a “troubling trend” nationally of districts and superintendents bypassing the union and going straight to members, which undermines collective bargaining, she said.

The union was against the freeze, too, because some of its members make less than $25,000 a year, she said.

And there was no guarantee that taking the freeze would result in fewer layoffs, especially in light of the district’s dwindling enrollment in recent years, she said.

In Syracuse, the region’s largest district, Syracuse Superintendent Daniel Lowengard asked all employees to take a one-year freeze to mitigate job cuts for 2011-12. Lowengard proposes to cut 539 jobs to balance the budget but he has said a pay freeze would cut the number by more than 100.

Contracts for some of the district’s bargaining units expire in June, others run another year and include raises.

If the administration’s proposal makes sense, union leaders will bring the freeze request to its members, Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern said.

The association needs to look at budget numbers, including payroll, and see exactly which positions the board decides to cut, among other factors, he said.

“The discussion revolves around several things, one of which is, you know, the fact that we negotiated a contract in good faith, and what is the district’s obligation in terms of that?” Ahern said. “But there’s also the discussion about the financial realities that we’re facing.”

“And what are the implications of taking a wage freeze in terms of saving positions versus not taking a wage freeze?” he said. “I mean, that’s the nature of the conversation.”

The Syracuse teachers’ union will make no decision until after the school board approves a tentative budget, which is supposed to happen March 9, Ahern said

Brian Nolan, who heads the Syracuse district administrators’ union, said it is negotiating with the district and the wage freeze is on the table. Its contract with the district expires June 30, so there is no raise already in place.

“I am hopeful that all units will help in some way to avoid huge layoffs,” Lowengard said.

Contact Maureen Nolan at 470-2185 or

Wisconsin State Journal, February 27, 2011, Sunday

Wisconsin State Journal

February 27, 2011, Sunday

Wisconsin State Journal

Could a general strike happen here? Experts say maybe

The confrontation between labor and politics at the Wisconsin Capitol was just starting as workers in Egypt who left their jobs and took to the streets toppled a government, and it wasn't long before activists in Madison began invoking the spirit of that uprising. "Fight like an Egyptian" emerged one cry as picket signs cheering the people's revolt half a world away were raised in protests on the Capitol Square.

Thousands have thronged the Capitol daily since large scale demonstrations began Feb. 14. Madison school teachers called in sick for several days to protest and on Feb. 21, the Madison-based South Central Federation of Labor took the unprecedented step of endorsing a general strike among its 45,000 members if Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill is made law.

Could such a radical action get off the ground here?

Local labor leaders are careful to point out that no strikes have been called; the federation does not have the authority to call a strike and several union leaders stressed that job actions would be individual workers' decisions. But students of labor point to a confluence of circumstances in Madison with dramatic potential.

It is just possible, they say, that it could happen here.

General strikes have been very rare in the United States. Strikes widespread enough to interrupt general commerce date back to the Great Depression of the 1930s when longshoremen in San Francisco, autoworkers in Toledo, Ohio, and teamsters in Minneapolis touched off protests that helped establish industrial unions.

And while the labor struggle in Madison is unfolding in the context of budget deficits exacerbated by the severest economic downturn since the Depression, labor activists say the real conflict is over union power and partisan political influence.

It is dissatisfaction with the political system, not economic desperation, that sets the stage for a general strike, says Reza Rezazadeh, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville who has studied revolutionary strikes against repressive regimes in his native Iran and elsewhere. In the United States, he says, activists are challenging a political system that, despite freedom of the press and freedom of speech, is shaped by the influence of the economic elite and corporations.

Walker's challenge to union power is part of an established movement by the Republican Party to cripple unions, the most influential funding source for Democratic candidates and causes, say analysts of the showdown in Wisconsin. Aside from increasing contributions by employees for pension and health care costs, Walker's budget repair bill would also sharply restrict the power of most public unions to bargain with their employers. "It is viewed nationally and correctly as a decisive turning point for the future of labor nationally and for the Democratic Party more broadly," says Harley Shaiken, a labor expert and professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

Whether a general strike would be an effective tool for labor, local leaders will have to decide, Shaiken says. But the likely public reaction to any widespread job action would be an important consideration, and polls show a majority are opposed to stripping public workers of collective bargaining rights, he points out. A nationwide Gallup poll released last week found 61 percent of respondents opposed to an erosion of collective bargaining rights among public unions, and even a Wisconsin poll funded by the conservative-leaning Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity found 56 percent in favor of public unions' collective bargaining powers.

To mount a general strike, labor unions would have to take a more unified stance than is usual, with truck drivers and food service workers finding common cause with public sector workers, says Gene Carroll, director of the Union Leadership Institute at the New York City campus of Cornell University. To gain public support to allow it to be effective, an even more embracing class perspective would need to take shape, he says. "In Wisconsin, to the extent that people who are not in the public sector begin to understand that the designs of the government to break collective unions' bargaining rights are in fact an attack on the economic and political rights of anyone working for a living - the possibility of a general strike is conceivable."

On the other hand, a strike that does not win public support can be a public relations disaster, says Don Taylor, an assistant professor at the School for Workers at University of Wisconsin-Extension. But in Madison, where the battle over collective bargaining is centered, circumstances favor support for widespread job actions, he says.

Not only does the area have many public workers whose families have a direct interest in the issue, but it also has many other residents who are sticking up for their rights. "A lot of people not connected to the labor movement have a strong progressive outlook on issues of people's rights and social justice," Taylor says.

"Do I anticipate every worker in and out of a union would walk off the job? No. Could a strike be large enough to have significant leverage? Yes," he says.

Even the prospect of such an action might unnerve business leaders and other citizens, prompting them to call the governor's office and say "fix this thing," says Taylor.

The political standoff over workers' rights continues into a third week, but some of the urgency for labor unions locally has been relieved by the actions of their public employers. The Madison School District delayed until May the issuance of pink slips for teachers despite looming state funding cuts; the Madison City Council met in special session on Feb. 17 to approve outstanding labor contracts.

Nonetheless, David Poklinkoski, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2304, says area labor is more united than it ever has been. Meetings of the Labor Federation -- which covers 97 labor organizations in six counties -- can be tense over competing interests, he says, but the vote to endorse a general strike was unanimous. "The breadth and depth of solidarity in the labor movement right now is unbelievable," says Poklinkoski, whose union represents employees of Madison Gas & Electric.

"We know the private sector is next," he says of efforts to strip workers' rights. "Local unions are trying to figure out what to do if the governor doesn't change his mind and work out a reasonable solution to this." That includes studying general strike actions of the past, as well as the budget repair bill's impacts beyond collective bargaining.

"The local union will not call a general strike - it would be each person's individual decision," he says.

Leaders of Local 60 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes many city of Madison and some non-teacher Madison Metropolitan School District employees, are asking their members to think about a general strike.

"We've been asking people to think about what they would do," says President Donald Coyier, so that if the union calls for a job action, they are ready.

Idling transportation is a key element of general strike efforts, Rezazadeh says, but there's no sense yet if that could happen in Madison. Teamsters Local 695, the union that represents Madison bus drivers, is not a member of the Labor Federation. Recording secretary Gene Gowey says union members are protesting and transporting other protesters to the Capitol Square, but as to a strike, he says his members are "attempting to address issues in a peaceful, law-abiding way."

The stakes can be high for strikers. Under Wisconsin law, state employees are prohibited from striking, and school district, city and county workers are prohibited from striking for the purpose of enforcing a demand on their employer, says Peter Davis, general counsel for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

The right to strike by private sector employees is protected under federal law, but labor unions may give up the right to strike by contract in return for arbitration requirements or other provisions, says Irv Gottschalk, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Milwaukee. Depending on what type of job actions are prohibited under a labor contract, private sector workers joining a general strike in sympathy with public workers might be subject to discipline or discharge.

Meanwhile, some Madison residents are beginning to meet and talk about how the community might respond to a general strike. One of them, union supporter Judith Zukerman-Kaufman, recalls how during a 1960s parent protest that kept Chicago schoolchildren out of classrooms, alternative schools were established. Creating similar set-ups to teach children about civil rights or labor history is one thing people are starting to talk about here, she says. "There are seeds of some ideas."

Madison teacher Susan Stern says that the focus of her union continues to be legal protest. "But people are starting to ask: ‘What if?'"

Editor's note: This story has been modified to more clearly explain legal restrictions on strikes.

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NPR, February 26, 2011, Saturday


February 26, 2011, Saturday


Labor Strife Is A Different Game In Pro Sports

For NFL players, the roar of the crowd is just a day at the office. But it's an unusual soundtrack for the Wisconsin statehouse, where government workers have been protesting potential cuts.

The NFL Players Association recognized the Wisconsin unions with an official declaration: "The NFLPA stands in solidarity with its organized labor brothers and sisters in Wisconsin."

Brothers? Sisters? Or are they more like distant cousins?

Placekicker Jay Feely, the union rep for the Arizona Cardinals, points to one profound difference.

"An apt analogy would be if the state of Wisconsin had massive budget surpluses and they were still asking the teachers to take these drastic cuts," he says. "The NFL right now has record revenue, they have record TV ratings, they've never been worth more, and yet they're still asking the players for a billion dollars back on the salary cap because they've deemed it that they're not making enough money."

So NFL teams are veritable spigots, and the worst-off states are sinkholes hemorrhaging money. Other differences include the salaries earned. The median NFL salary is about a million dollars; the minimum is more than $300,000. And of course, one group is composed of public employees and the other of private workers.

The differences don't end there. Larry Kahn, a professor of labor at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says professional athletes aren't simply well-paid laborers because they negotiate their salaries individually — unlike most union workers.

"You have just such incredible variation in the productivity of the players," Kahn says. "And also in the interests of players compared to the labor force at large."

So you might get the impression that it's an entirely apples-to-oranges — or pork-barrel-to-pigskin — comparison. But there is at least one area of significant overlap, according to Feely. Coming from Feely, a self-described fiscal conservative who appears on the Sean Hannity Show to discuss what he sees as America's burgeoning economic and educational crisis, it's somewhat surprising.

He says that the thing that the Wisconsin unions are fighting hardest for is at the core of what makes his union essential.

"I don't think you can take away collective bargaining to any union and not destroy the union, because collective bargaining is essential to what unions do," Feely says. "I support the Wisconsin unions in that respect. I think you can deal with the budget issues without trying to break the union — without trying to take away collective bargaining, which will strip them of any power at all."

The Wisconsin governor's plan to strip government workers of much of their collective bargaining power has passed the state's assembly, but it has been effectively blocked by Senate Democrats, who fled the state to forestall a vote.

That's another point of comparison. Some say the Senate Democrats don't like the game, so they've just taken their ball and left.

WHCU News Talk, February 25, 2011, Friday

WHCU News Talk

February 25, 2011, Friday

WHCU News Talk

Unions vs. Wisconsin's Gov.

Cornell ILR School professor Ilene Devault discusses the history of public employee unions, collective bargaining, and how the Wisconsin stand-off might play out.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bloomberg, February 24, 2011, Thursday


February 24, 2011, Thursday


Why We Should Debate Public-Sector Bargaining

When five different statehouses take up similar pieces of contentious legislation at the same time, it suggests either a conspiracy or a crisis. Bills pending in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Idaho would limit the right of public-sector unions -- teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, firefighters -- to bargain collectively.

Wisconsin’s has come to a vote first. In protest, the state’s Democratic senators moved to Illinois and the state’s union members moved into the capitol. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor and the bill’s chief proponent, went on television to warn against outside agitators.

“We’re not going to be intimidated by people coming in from outside of Wisconsin trying to tell us what to do to balance our budget,” he said.

One of those outsiders was President Barack Obama, who called Walker’s bill “an assault on unions.” Another was Gerald W. McEntee, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who wrote in the Huffington Post on Feb. 16 that “newly elected politicians are working tirelessly to pay back their debt to the corporate CEOs who funded their campaigns.”

It has always been good sport for Republican politicians to lay into public unions, and for union leaders to lay into Republicans. And that’s the shame about the circus in Wisconsin, where all the posturing threatens to obscure a serious issue. America’s taxpayers really do need to reconsider the way they negotiate with their employees. The question is whether restricting collective bargaining is the proper remedy.

Nakedly Political
Wisconsin’s bill doesn’t present the best argument in favor of curbing worker rights; it stuffs a clause on collective bargaining into a larger “budget repair bill” that cuts public-worker benefits and restructures the state’s debt. This presents the end of collective bargaining as a fiscal necessity.

If the state can make up its shortfall, Walker loses his reason to restrict unions. Sure enough, both the unions and the state’s Democrats have agreed to swallow the benefit cuts if Walker drops the collective-bargaining limits. He won’t budge.

Details of the bill look nakedly political. State employers would be prevented from deducting union dues from paychecks. Unions couldn’t require dues and would have to hold annual votes to maintain certification. These are all longstanding demands of anti-union groups, and, as The New York Times and Bloomberg have reported, oil billionaires and conservative activists Charles and David Koch were major supporters of Walker’s campaign. Their organization, Americans for Prosperity, is running television commercials promoting the bill in Wisconsin.

First Responders

The legislation spares local police, state troopers and firefighters, groups that lean Republican. In the past, unions that represent first responders have held fewer negotiating rights, according to Alex Colvin, who teaches collective bargaining and conflict resolution at Cornell University. Colvin can’t think of an industrial-relations rationale to give collective bargaining to police, but not teachers.

If all five state bills were so flawed, it would be easy to reject this idea. Ohio’s legislation, now in committee in Columbus, is a more serious piece of work.

It abolishes collective bargaining without suggesting specific cuts or clawbacks, removing from the discussion the urgency to narrow any immediate deficit. (Ohio’s is projected to be about $8 billion in the next two years.) It avoids some of the provisions on dues and votes that the anti-union crowd favors. It includes police and firefighters. And it doesn’t limit pay measures the way Wisconsin does with its proposal to peg wages to the consumer price index. Shannon Jones, the Republican state senator who wrote the Ohio bill, describes it as a “reset.”

Fettering Chains
Local governments, the second-term senator explains, are fettered with two chains. The terms of collective bargaining -- in particular binding arbitration -- have prevented local politicians from renegotiating contracts in line with revenue. At the same time, antitax movements at the local level have prevented local governments from raising revenue to meet contracts. Cincinnati, part of which lies in Jones’s district, needs to hold a referendum to raise taxes. Its pension fund is more than $1 billion in the hole.

Collective bargaining works as a ratchet: It takes the last contract as a starting point. It can obscure raises through impenetrable tiers and terms, and binding arbitration can tell a local government to raise more revenue even if voters won’t approve a new tax levy. Although real money is at stake -- 85 percent of Ohio’s state budget goes to local governments -- Jones’s bill wouldn’t directly fix any budgets. It proposes to solve a problem of governance.

Opposing Pay Cuts

A USA Today/Gallup poll on Feb. 22 showed that 53 percent of Americans oppose reducing pay or benefits for government workers; 61 percent oppose ending collective-bargaining rights. And 71 percent oppose increasing taxes.

Whether collective-bargaining reform is conspiracy or crisis, American taxpayers have surely conspired to create a different and far more elementary crisis. We love teachers, but we hate taxes; we want to spend more than we are willing to pay. Jones’s bill asks voters to own up to what she calls their “cognitive dissonance.”

America has never resolved how it feels about public-sector unions. Boston’s police department struck in 1919 over 17-hour days and vermin-infested stations. Robbery and destruction followed, as Joseph E. Slater describes in his book, “Public Workers.” Calvin Coolidge, then governor of Massachusetts, called out the state guard and fired the strikers. Coolidge’s response helped make him president, and the chaos tilted the next half-century of negotiations against public unions.

1940s Union Bans
Democrats and Republicans passed laws in the 1940s that banned public-union strikes and even membership in any organization that asserted the right to strike. The success of a public-sector strike depends not on whether it’s legal but on whether it’s tolerable to voters. In the decades that followed, public-sector workers struck, and politicians granted them amnesty. They negotiated, and in many states won a legal right to bargain collectively, in part because it was seen as a safety valve to prevent strikes.

At the same time, unions entered politics, and their ability to elect Democratic mayors and governors created a built-in conflict: Lawmakers were often negotiating with labor leaders who put them in office. By the late 1970s, according to Cornell’s Colvin, they had no clear counterweight. That arrived with Ronald Reagan, not because he fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981 but simply because he won his election. “The alternative to having union support,” says Colvin, “is to run against taxes.”

Globalization, Competition

In the past three decades, globalization has made wages a factor of competition, forcing private unions into a series of concessions and eroding their power. (Union members today make up about 7 percent of the private-sector work force, down from 20 percent in 1980, and about 36 percent of public-sector workers.) In 2011, as a recession and structural shifts expose every one of America’s inefficiencies, it may be time to rethink public unions as well. America’s companies aren’t the only ones competing in a larger market; its governments are, too.

Ohio Senator Joe Schiavoni is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee considering Jones’s bill. “If there’s something we can fix,” he says, “let’s fix it … but this is destruction.”

Last year, Ohio’s public unions gave back $250 million in concessions. Schiavoni says most local government officials he’s seen testify about the bill have shown frustration with collective bargaining yet don’t want to end it altogether. Schiavoni concedes it creates problems for some communities while saying Jones’s approach is too blunt. He would rather have the Senate focus on creating jobs. Local-government shortfalls, he points out, get worse when the economy gets bad.

So these are the terms of the debate, which is likely to reach Madison-size proportions -- with pizza ordered for protesters by well-wishers in Cairo -- by the time it comes to a final vote in Columbus. Schiavoni’s America says to fix the problem, you fix the economy. Jones’s America says you can’t fix the economy without fixing the problem. Whatever their differences, neither dismisses this as a mere conspiracy.

(Brendan Greeley is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek. A version of this column appears in the Feb. 28 issue of the magazine. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brendan Greeley in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Eric Pooley in New York at

MSNBC, February 24, 2011, Thursday


February 24, 2011, Thursday


Public unions arrive at a critical moment
Under assault from many sides, unions feel the pressure of history

It has turned into open season on unionized public employees.

A weak economy, stagnant job market and busted state budgets have placed public sector employees in the crosshairs of legislators and taxpayers across the nation, who are targeting the fair wages, good benefits and rights teachers, firefighters, police and others have fought to gain over decades.

At the center of the debate is Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker claims the only way to help the state’s ailing budget is to get concessions from certain public employees and essentially gut the unions that represent them. His radical approach, which has sparked mass protests, is not restricted to “The Cheese State” and has already begun to spill over into a host of other states, including Indiana, Tennessee, and Ohio.

Unions aren't that popular, but neither are businesses
The move by Wisconsin’s governor to take away collective bargain rights from some of its state workers would mark one of the most sweeping reductions in unionized government workers rights to date, experts say.

“Up until now the big arc has been to expand labor law and collective bargaining rights for public employees, and the majority of states now give collective bargaining rights to state workers,” said Joseph Slater, the Eugene N. Balk Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo College of Law, and author of “Public Workers: Government Employee Unions, the Law and the State.”

Unfortunately, public sector workers “stand out, giving politicians the pretence they need to do something dramatic,” added Thomas Kochan, professor of management at MIT's Sloan School of Management and co-director of the MIT Workplace Center and the Institute for Work and Employment Research.

In 2009, public employees made up the biggest chunk of unionized workers in the United States for the first time ever.

While private sector unions, including those mainly in manufacturing, have seen their ranks dwindle for decades, public sector unions have been holding their own, hitting 7.6 million members last year, compared to 7.1 million union workers in the private sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And percentage-wise, union membership among public employees is more ubiquitous, at 36.2 percent, compared to 6.9 percent in private sector industries.

“This attack on public sector collective bargaining rights is better understood as a partisan attack on unions in a sector that unions still have some strength than it has to do with public sector budgets,” said Slater.

What Gov. Walker wants to do is curtail those rights in a state that in 1959 was one of the first in the country to grant workers collective bargaining privileges. He made no secret of his intentions when he was governor-elect late last year. “Public employee unions are a creature of state law and there might be consideration of changing that state law to empower the taxpayers of the Wisconsin,” he said in a speech to the Milwaukee Press Club.

Advertise | AdChoicesWalker has proposed making changes to the collective bargaining rights of all state workers except law enforcement and firefighters. He would leave some bargaining on base wages, but would cap any increases, and would allow no bargaining on working conditions, vacations or benefits. The plan would also force unions into a perpetual state of organizing by having elections to certify the union held yearly.

“This budget repair bill will meet the immediate needs of our state and give government the tools to deal with this and future budget crises,” according to a statement by Walker, who has also called for state government employees to pay more towards their pensions and health insurance benefits.

Some of the state’s biggest government unions, the Wisconsin State Employees Union and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, have said they are willing to give in to the governor’s demands when it comes to paying in more, but they don’t want the state to eviscerate their right to negotiate at the bargaining table. "Public employees have agreed to Governor Walker’s pension and health care concessions, which he says will solve the budget challenge. But Governor Walker’s bill goes too far and he has chosen polarizing rhetoric," said Mary Bell, president of the council, in a statement.

Some conservative groups say the move to diminish the power of unions in the public sector isn’t about taking the voice away from employees. Instead, it's about leveling the playing field for all workers and helping taxpayers.

Public sector unions have massive leverage, said John Tillman, CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, which describes itself as "a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives."

And “that’s why they extract all these growing benefits and wages, and why collective bargaining is detrimental to society as a whole,” said Tillman. Private sector workers, he added, have seen their wages cut during tough economic times but public service workers haven’t suffered as much.

“I’m not surprised that people are desperate and looking for answers,” said Ellen Danin, a law professor at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law

Indeed, the growth of unions has helped boost the pay of public employees, particularly less skilled jobs such as custodial workers, who have better overall compensation than their counterparts in the private sector. Government workers with college degrees are typically paid less than workers with equivalent degrees at companies, said Richard Hurd, professor of labor studies at Cornell University’s ILR School.

But the public's ire may be misdirected, said Kochan, because government workers don’t have the bloated paychecks many think they do. “Yes, pensions and benefits are higher, but wages are lower” for many government employees, he noted, especially those with college degrees.

“This really isn’t about shared sacrifice; it's basically an assault on workers rights,” maintained Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work. “We need to remind people that an attack on unions is an attack on all workers. Unions are worker-led institutions where people come together to bargain for fair wages and benefits and good working conditions.”

It’s no coincidence, she added, that the decline in union density mirrors the rise in low-paying jobs with very little security and benefits.

Advertise | AdChoicesIf Walker and other governors succeed in taking a way collective bargaining rights, the short-term affect will be to cripple public sector unions, said MIT’s Kochan. “In the long term it will kill any effort for education reform because you’ll have unions that are even more militant and feeling backed into a corner.”

It will also create civil unrest, he continued, as it already has on the streets of Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Indiana and Ohio.

Public unions and legislators eventually will sit down and work it out, Kochan asserts. The collective bargaining laws in states today were in many ways a product of the turbulent 1960s when cities were on fire and the civil rights movements reached an apex. At that time, he noted, “a sensible leadership in Wisconsin said ‘let's put together a collective bargaining process.'”

Indeed, one of the first things former governor of Missouri Bob Holden did when he got into office in 2001 during a tough economic time was to sign an executive order allowing broad collective-bargaining rights to state workers.

“I understand the difficult financial situation he’s in,” Holden said about Walker, and other governors today, “but I think it’s very important for all parties to feel like they’re able to sit at the same table and discuss the issues in good faith. You need balance in any society.”

The Economist, February 24, 2011, Thursday

The Economist

February 24, 2011, Thursday

The Economist

Meanwhile, in New York...
The governor’s showdown is more subtle

IN 1975, when New York City teetered toward bankruptcy, Hugh Carey, then the governor of the state of New York, convinced the teachers’ union to invest a significant amount of its pension funds in bail-out bonds. He also persuaded District Council 37 to shelve pay increases for its municipal workers. The unions played a crucial role in saving the city and probably the state with it. Thirty-five years later, during his gubernatorial campaign, Andrew Cuomo gave copies of “The Man Who Saved New York”, an account of Mr Carey’s role in the crisis, to labour leaders. Seymour Lachman, the book’s co-author, reckons that, like Mr Carey, Mr Cuomo wants and needs the unions’ help in surviving the current crisis.

Facing a $10 billion deficit, Mr Cuomo campaigned on pension reform, making it clear he was going to target public-sector unions and sounding more like his Republican neighbour across the Hudson, Chris Christie, than a Democrat. Mr Christie stirred up a lot of headlines when he took on the unions, most recently calling them greedy, selfish and self-interested. Mr Cuomo is less vitriolic, but no less adamant that he wants the unions to do their part. During his budget address on February 1st, in which he declared the state to be “functionally bankrupt”, he called on the state’s public-sector unions to make $450m in concessions. He threatened, as a “last resort”, to lay off up to 9,800 state workers to get the savings needed.

Mr Cuomo vowed to use the $4m left in his campaign chest to fight the well-financed unions, who aired commercials lambasting previous governors during earlier negotiations. So far only the teachers’ union has lashed out, with a $1.1m campaign advocating higher taxes. The teachers are angry over a proposed property-tax cap, which will cut education spending at the local level. But Mr Cuomo has the backing of the Committee to Save New York, a group of business and civic leaders that includes Felix Rohatyn, who restructured the city’s debt in the 1970s. The committee has raised $10m to battle the unions over salaries, pensions and benefits.

Robert Ward, of Albany’s Rockefeller Institute, thinks Mr Cuomo is picking his fights cleverly. Negotiations have yet to begin, though talks are taking place behind the scenes. The governor keeps in regular contact with labour leaders. Lee Adler, who teaches collective bargaining at Cornell University, points out that despite the financial pressure the state is under Mr Cuomo does not appear to be in any great hurry (he has yet to hire a chief negotiator) perhaps because he wants to get his budget in shape before he moves on to bargaining. Union contracts run out on April 1st, though workers will be able to continue to operate under the expired contracts’ terms until a new one is agreed.

The unions are watching what is happening in Wisconsin. Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City speculates that events there could make it harder for the unions to strike a deal with Mr Cuomo. “The rank and file are deeply offended by the actions of Scott Walker,” she says. New York is generally pro-labour, with 24% of the state’s workforce unionised. But unlike Mr Walker, pragmatic Mr Cuomo is sticking purely to finance, not ideology. And over in New Jersey, Mr Christie said in his own budget address this week that pension reform is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue, but an issue of moral responsibility. “The day will come, mark my words,” he said, “when the pensioner will retire and there will be no pension…I am worried for the police officer. I am worried for the firefighter. I am worried for the schoolteacher.”

The Lisa Wexler Show, February 23, 2011, Wednesday

The Lisa Wexler Show

February 23, 2011, Wednesday

The Lisa Wexler Show

Lisa talks with Lowell Turner, Professor of International & Comparative Labor and
Collective Bargaining at The Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Decades of wage stagnation built to Wisconsin drama, Turner says; course to 2040 being set now.

NPR, February 22, 2011, Tuesday


February 22, 2011, Tuesday


Across U.S., Unions Fight To Keep Bargaining Rights

In Wisconsin, Ohio and a growing number of other states, unions are fighting attempts to scale back the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers. Host Michele Norris talks to Richard Hurd, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University, about how these rights vary by state — and their impact on wages and benefits.

Copyright © 2011 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


At stake in Wisconsin and Ohio are the collective bargaining rights of public workers. For most private workers, those rights are ensured by federal law, but states primarily make those laws when it comes to their public employees. And that means there is a complicated patchwork of laws all around the country. What goes in Wisconsin, for example, may not be permissible in Texas.

Joining me to help explain this patchwork is Richard Hurd. He's professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

Professor, welcome to the program.

Professor RICHARD HURD (Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University): Good afternoon, Michele.

NORRIS: Now, imagine that we're looking at a map and give us the lay of the land here. It sounds like states fall into one of three categories.

Prof. HURD: Yes. About half of the states have comprehensive laws that cover all public employees. Another quarter of the states have laws for a portion of the public sector. For instance, it could be state employees only or local employees only or education employees only.

And then, about eight or nine states either have no bargaining at all or limit the bargaining to a very small group. For instance, in Texas, it's firefighters who have the right to bargain. Whereas you have a state like Wisconsin or New York or New Jersey, those states have comprehensive coverage.

NORRIS: So Wisconsin it sounds like falls into that category, of course, where collective bargaining, for now, is allowed.

Prof. HURD: Right. Wisconsin was the first state to pass a collective bargaining law - that was in the late 1950s - and they have offered their public employees collective bargaining rights for now 50 years.

NORRIS: Before we move on, I'm curious. There are a small number of states, as you say, where collective bargaining is not allowed. How did that come to be?

Prof. HURD: Well, that's where it starts. There's no collective bargaining unless the state takes affirmative action and puts a law in place that facilitates collective bargaining.

Most states that have collective bargaining, which is a clear majority, passed their laws in the 1960s or '70s. There were a few more in the '80s and a couple here and there since then.

NORRIS: In Wisconsin, Governor Walker is arguing that collective bargaining allows these unions to win things that are quite expensive for the state, things like health care and pension funds and things like this. Help us understand what exactly collective bargaining does cover outside of wages.

Prof. HURD: Well, collective bargaining is a process where labor and management sit down together and work out all of the rules of the relationship. So collective bargaining contracts typically cover things like how are vacations assigned, how is bidding for new jobs handled, so if jobs open who has preference in getting those jobs.

It may include certain seniority protections. It includes procedures in place. So if a worker feels that they have been treated unfairly, they can file for a formal hearing. And then there's also all kinds of details about the relationship between labor and management.

NORRIS: Governor Walker of Wisconsin is claiming that unionized public sector employees have it better than private sector employees. Is that actually true when it comes to wages and benefits?

Prof. HURD: If you look at raw information, just bare, looking at wages and how much people are paid, public sector workers indeed are paid more than private sector workers. That's in any state, whether it has unions or not.

However, public sector workers tend to have much higher education levels. So if you compare by education level, private sector workers earn about 10 percent more than public sector workers for any given level of education.

And then if you narrow it further and look at the more professional occupations, then public sector workers' deficit compared to private sector workers on wages is about 25 percent.

To be complete about this, you do need to look at benefits. And it is true that in general in the public sector, workers are more likely to have comprehensive health coverage and more likely to have a defined benefit pension plan than in the private sector. But this is true in states with unions and states without unions alike.

So it isn't whether you're unionized that determines whether you have good health care and benefits, it's whether you're public sector or not.

NORRIS: With these debates flaring up all around the country now - first Wisconsin, then Ohio and now being discussed in a quite animated way in several other states - how would you characterize the moment that we're in right now?

Prof. HURD: Clearly it's not unprecedented for employers in either the public or private sector, during a period of economic stress, to go to their workers and ask for changes, either reducing the number the employees, using furloughs. That's pretty standard in a tough economic time, whether you're in the public or private sector. So in a sense, that's just what's happening everywhere.

But certainly it seems to be the case in some of these states that you're talking about now that are having proposals come forward to reduce bargaining rights and try to greatly weaken public sector unions, less so in a lot of other states.

We're really talking about a handful of states for these really aggressive proposals. In most states it's being handled through the bargaining process.

NORRIS: Richard Hurd, thank you very much.

Prof. HURD: You're welcome.

NORRIS: Richard Hurd is a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

Copyright © 2011 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

The Huffington Post, February 17, 2011, Thursday

The Huffington Post

February 17, 2011, Thursday

The Huffington Post

Wisconsin Protests: State Police Pursue Democratic Lawmakers Boycotting Vote

Wisconsin Democrats on Thursday fled the statehouse in an effort to prevent legislators from reaching a quorum and passing a bill put forth by Gov. Scott Walker (R), which would cripple the collective bargaining rights of public unions.

(Scroll down for the latest updates from Wisconsin)

The move produced a frantic political drama, as state troopers were reportedly sent out to find the fleeing lawmakers and Walker hinted that the National Guard would be called in to fill the void left by protesting union workers.

One Democratic senator told the Associated Press that he and his fleeing colleagues are currently in Illinois.

Their flight further heightened the drama that has surrounded the Wisconsin statehouse this week. On Wednesday there were an estimated 30,000 peacefully rallying in front of the state capitol building, and on Thursday an estimated 25,000 turned out.

Madison public schools are closed for the second day running, as teachers call in sick and students walk out.

Wisconsin is a stronghold of the labor movement -- the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of the nation's largest labor unions -- with a long history of successful battles for workers' rights. This is part of the reason the pushback to Walker's bill has been so strong. It's also why, if the bill does pass, the precedent it sets for other conservative governors looking to go after collective bargaining rights is so powerful.

"The attacks on public-sector public bargaining rights are extremely ferocious, and the outcome depends on the magnitude of the fight back," Cornell Professor of Labor Relations Rebecca Givan said. "Other governors are closely watching."

If the bill is passed, Givan said, wages will be frozen and benefits will be slashed. The one flexibility Walker's bill offers for collective bargaining, the ability to bargain over wages, is, in Givan's view, practically meaningless.

"They can bargain over wages but only up to the Consumer Price Index -- that's barely bargaining," she said. "That's just 'we're going to go for scraps.'"

The bill cannot be passed if there is not a single Democrat in the chamber. But even if one is rounded up, and the bill passes the senate, protesters won't stop fighting.

When asked what would happen if the bill goes through, Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, couldn't say. "All I can do is say what the emotion is, what the feelings are," he said. "There are thousands of good and committed people who are not going to let go of this thing. As far as what's going to happen on Monday, I'm not sure. But I can tell you one thing: there's going to be people reacting to this until it turns around."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ABC News, February 17, 2011, Thursday

ABC News

February 17, 2011, Thursday

ABC News

In Wisconsin, Pension Cut Vote Stalls on Dem Walkout
States Move to Curb Employee Pensions; Are Public Workers Haves, Taxpayers Have-Nots?

A planned state Senate vote on slashing Wisconsin public worker pensions and curbing unions stalled Thursday after Democrats failed to show up.

"The majority party has recessed today's proceedings," said Mike Browne, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Miller, the minority leader. "They convened the session 11 a.m. -- there were 17 members present -- no Democrats."

The contentious vote was postponed because the 33-member Senate must have 20 present for a qourum, he explained. Police have been sent out to look for the wayward lawmakers, the Associated press reported. A source said it appeared that the Democrats had exited the state on a bus headed for Iowa.

"This is all about balancing the budget," tweeted Gov. Scott Walker this afternoon. "WI needs leadership."

Yesterday, thousands of public workers marched in Wisconsin's capital before the planned vote today that public worker unions worry may be played out in more states struggling with budget deficits.

"There are thousands of people here—20,000 at least!" said Scott Favour, a Madison, Wisc., police officer, describing the crowd that surged around Gov. Scott Walker's office Wednesday.

"It's all ages, all kinds of public employees--firefighters in full turn-out gear," Favour said. "There's a lot of solidarity here."

Officer Favour, himself a protester, was taking the day off to express his opposition to the governor's so-called budget repair bill, which would close a state shortfall of some $3.6 billion in part by asking public employees to pay a greater share of their pension and health insurance costs. The bill would also curb collective bargaining rights and make it tougher for public employee unions to operate.

Alexandra Nieves, 35, another police officer, says the bill "is upsetting." The governor's take-back on pensions and health insurance was something she never anticipated when she joined the force three years ago. Still, it's his proposal to curb collective bargaining that disturbs her most. "What have we fought for all these years?" she asks angrily. "It's like telling a woman you can't vote—that you should take off your shoes and go back to the kitchen."

The governor, asked by ABC News if he was surprised by the size of the turnout, said, "No, not at all. When you do something bold, you'll get a reaction."

And how.

The governor had telegraphed his intentions even before he assumed office. In a speech last December he had declared, "We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots."

His bill now asks state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to pension costs (that percentage, he says, is below the national average) and 12.6 percent of health insurance costs (about half the national average, he says). Those changes together would help produce $30 million in savings in the last quarter of the current fiscal year.

Protesters who spoke with ABC News professed to have little or no problem with those changes.

"Public employees are willing to make sacrifices," says Favour. "I made $70,000 in salary alone last year, with benefits on top of that. Madison's police are among the highest paid in the state. I certainly don't want to make less money, but my wife—who's also an officer—and I have discussed it, and we understand it's a time for shared sacrifice. We expect our incomes will stay level or retreat. We're prepared for that."

What he and other protesters said they weren't prepared for were sweeping changes in the governor's proposal that would reduce state workers' right to engage in collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining by most public employees would be limited to wages. Other changes would require collective bargaining units to take an annual vote to maintain certification as a union. Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues, and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. Local law enforcement and fire fighters would be exempt from these changes.

Richard Hurd, professor of labor studies at Cornell University, says Walker is acting well within his authority as governor.

No federal law requires states to offer collective bargaining to public employees. Each state can determine what, if any, those rights will be. Hurd nonetheless calls the situation in Wisconsin "dramatic" and "unusual," in light of the fact that Wisconsin has such a long history of collective bargaining: In 1963 it was one of the first states to offer it to public employees.

Other cash-strapped states, Hurd notes, are attempting similar restrictions. Legislation limiting the power of public unions is under discussion in Maine, Alabama, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri and several other states. John Kasich, the new Republican governor of Ohio, is proposing to deny 14,000 state child care and home care workers the right to unionize. Democratic governors including Jerry Brown of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York are attempting their own public union reforms.

Though Walker's bill explicitly gives police and fire unions the right to continue to engage in collective bargaining, members of both see it as a ploy to buy their acquiescence. Favour doesn't put much stock in the bill's exemption. "There's nothing to say the legislature can't pass that law and then un-exempt us," he says. "We certainly believe we're next. This exemption is just a bribe to get us to go along. Cops can't be bribed."

"He's trying to make our state a right-to-work state," says Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. "Even though it's ten below outside, we're beginning to feel like we're down south." He refers to the fact that most right-to-work states are in the south and west. "All thrown away with one swoop of the pen," he says of labor's bargaining rights.

In Wisconsin and other states, benefits changes are creating another kind of have and have-not dichotomy: Older union members, who negotiated their packages in happier economic times, are today well off. Younger members and new hires, by contrast, have to settle for packages more pinched, less generous.

Madison's police union marchers, says Favour, were for the most part younger people who've been on the force only a few years. Their reduced benefits, he says, are "a fundamental change to what they'd anticipated in terms of compensation."

Ordinarily, says Cornell's Hurd, that disparity would lead to dissention in the ranks between young and old--a fracturing of solidarity. Not so now, however. "Nothing so unifies labor as this kind of challenge to what they see as a fundamental right," Hurd explains.

Internal resentments between veterans and new hires trend to disappear, and the two sides draw together for mutual defense. "This kind of challenge to their right to exist will force them to become even more aggressive politically. It will be a long term political fight."

Reversals are to be expected: A number of states, including Kentucky and New Mexico, have enacted changes to collective bargaining only to see them undone two years later. "It's not unusual to see reversals, one administration to the next."

Gov. Walker, asked by ABC News if he thinks he has enough votes to assure passage of his bill, says, "absolutely. We're waiting for some amendments, which we expect to receive within the hour. It will pass out of committee today. By the end of the week, it will have passed both houses."

As for the protesters, he questions whether there really were as many as 30,000. But if there were, "it's a small percentage of the 300,000 state and government workers," not to mention of 5.5 million state taxpayers. "I said today, earlier, that the people in the street have the right to be heard, but not to drown out the voices of 5.5 million."

Passions, for now, seem to be under control. Wisconsin, notes officer Favour, has a long tradition not just of progressive politics but of "being polite to one another in an adult manner, without thousands having to take to the streets in protest."

Even now, with thousands in the streets, people are remaining well behaved. He himself pretty much has to: "My wife is the lieutenant in charge of crowd control."

BeyondChron, Feburary 17, 2011, Thursday


Feburary 17, 2011, Thursday


Twitter and Jobs

Enough, already. The current Twitter payroll tax dispute is an important issue in job creation. However, it cannot be discussed sensibly outside of the context of previous job creation efforts by San Francisco government.

A very quick overview, starting with the last large-scale public sector job creation in San Francisco under the federally-funded Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). In the latter 1970s, CETA funded local governments throughout the country to create public service jobs within the government structure. The approach has not been tried since for several reasons, including in San Francisco the high cost of each job created, the disputes with unions, and fairness issues related to who among the unemployed received jobs and who did not.

When the Obama Administration developed the federal Stimulus, the $789 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in late 2008 and early 2009, it rejected direct public sector job creation. Instead it turned to increased government spending in transportation, education, alternative energy, and other infrastructure to spur hiring in the private sector. The Stimulus did succeed in San Francisco and elsewhere in undertaking and completing infrastructure investment and in hiring. However, job costs associated with infrastructure often came to over $80,000-$100,000 per job year, and many of the jobs ended when the infrastructure projects were completed.

Both within the Obama Administration and outside of the Administration, a hiring tax credit and/or payroll tax reduction became a favored approach in 2010. Economist Tim Bartik of the Upjohn Institute and Cornell economist John H. Bishop , were among the national leaders in advocating a job creation tax credit for the private sector. The economists suggested a 15% federal tax credit that they estimated could create 2-3 million jobs, at a cost of $5,400 per job; and this became a part of Democratic job proposals.

The proposed payroll tax reduction for Twitter represents a fraction of the money spent per job under CETA, the Federal Stimulus, or current job subsidies under the Workforce Investment Act, and a fraction of the cost associated with other tax credit approaches. Further, Twitter offers a range of job creation benefits not present in other job creation approaches, chief of which is the promise of spin-off business growth. There is a good chance that other entrepreneurs with internet-based or social networking business ideas will want to locate near Twitter, for contacts and the interchange of ideas.

There are legitimate issues raised by critics of the Twitter proposal, related to fairness to other existing and new employers in the area, and in other economically stagnant areas of the City. However, a payroll tax deal can be structured to address these issues.

Finally, I might note that I lived in the mid-Market/Tenderloin area for 5 years in the early 1980s (at 378 Golden Gate), and have followed the many economic development proposals for the area in the years since. The City funded several studies and designs over the years to revitalize mid-Market, none of which had much impact. The corner of 9th and Market has been a particularly bad dead space: joyless, with no street life or economic activity.

Frankly, the City should be thrilled that Twitter might now locate at 9th and Market. Most of the rest is mainly hollow ideology.

Michael Bernick was the director of the state labor department, the Employment Development Department, from 1999-2004. He continues to be involved in community job training in the Bay Area, including as an advisory board member of Positive Resource Center, located in the mid-Market area.

DailyFinance, February 14, 2011, Monday


February 14, 2011, Monday


The Tough Job of Getting Disabled Veterans Back to Work

Though the nation's unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly last month to 9%, the jobless rate remains by historic standards stubbornly high. That's especially true among certain populations, including adults without high school diplomas, teenagers and military veterans.

Among veterans, the overall unemployment rate of working-age vets, ages 21 to 64, was nearly 30%, according to data compiled last year by the Census Bureau. However, as with the general population, veterans with disabilities have a much higher unemployment rate -- 41% -- than their counterparts who've returned from conflict without one -- 27%.

More alarming is that the 41% jobless rate may be a conservative estimate. That's especially true for veterans who return with two signature disabilities of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), which frequently go undiagnosed.

According to statistics compiled in a recent study by Cornell University researchers, nearly 20% of recently returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan screened positive for depression or PTSD, while some 19% of troops received a probable TBI during deployment. Moreover, about 30% have more than one disability, further complicating veterans' diagnoses and treatment.

Few Employers Are Ready

Such disabilities pose a challenge for employers when it comes to recruiting, hiring and accommodating returning vets, says study author Hannah Rudstam of the ILR School at Cornell University. Working in concert with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an advocacy organization, Rudstam and her team polled more than 1,000 human-resource professionals nationwide to assess their readiness to hire and accommodate disabled vets.

The study found few were fully prepared to meet the needs of disabled vets in the workplace. "Though employers indicated having good will in this area and did see some benefits in employing veterans with disabilities, they were struggling to translate this good will into solid recruiting, hiring and accommodation practices," Rudstam said in a statement releasing the findings.

Preliminary findings from employer responses showed that 85% were unfamiliar with TBI, often an unseen disability. In an interview, Rudstam says many respondents were familiar with TBI but were largely unfamiliar with how it manifests itself in the workplace or how to accommodate someone with the injury. Further, some employers weren't sure if people with such a disability are even able to work.

Accommodating Disabled Workers Needn't Be Costly

Employers are hamstrung in their efforts to accommodate disabled veterans by a prohibition imposed on them that prevents them from asking whether employees are indeed disabled. "So an employer might not know that they hired a vet with a disability," Rudstam says.

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Another factor that may be contributing to employers' lack of willingness to recruit disabled vets is the belief many have that accommodating disabled workers can be expensive. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses are required to make "reasonable accommodations" to aid disabled workers in performing their jobs should an employee make a disability known.

Cornell's survey showed that employers typically believe such accommodations will run into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. But in actuality, Rudstam says, most cost $500 or less. Further, the law stipulates that employers needn't make accommodations if they impose an "undue hardship" on business operations.

The definition of "reasonable accommodation" is wide-ranging. It includes practical items, such as making facilities accessible to disabled workers, but it also includes other, more job-related actions, such as reassigning employees to positions for which they're qualified but better suited because of their disabilities.

On a Road to Termination?

Most important, for veterans with these kinds of disabilities, employers need to establish a culture of trust and openness, so that veterans can feel comfortable about coming forward with an accommodation request, Rudstam says.

"The best thing that employers can do to welcome back veterans is to look very carefully at what happens when somebody in their organization comes forward with a disability," she says. Employers should examine whether they're doing what's needed to assess and support disabled workers, or are they tacitly putting them on a road to termination?

"Veterans issues are to a large degree disability issues," Rudstam says. If a business doesn't exhibit trust and openness when it comes to being inclusive of disabled workers, they're ability to attract or retain veterans is likely lagging, too.

See full article from DailyFinance:

The Post Standard, February 11, 2011, Friday

Copyright 2011 Telegraph Media Group Limited
All Rights Reserved

The Daily Telegraph (London)

February 17, 2011, Thursday

Bonuses are crucial to performance; Restricting the incentive payout could undermine the UK's competitiveness

BYLINE: Louisa Peacock

BUMPER bonuses revealed at Barclays this week show just how effective the payouts are to incentivise staff, leading employment experts say.

Within hours of Barclays announcing on Tuesday it had awarded £2.6bn in bonuses last year - amid full-year profits of £6.07bn - unions dismissed the payouts as "shameful". They claimed huge bonus pots undermined any claim by the Government that there was fair pay in banking.

But if the UK is to fully recover post-recession and remain a competitive place to do business, bonuses must remain a vital part of total remuneration, according to the finance specialists.

Kevin Abbott, a director at the Performance and Reward Centre (PARC), a membership body, said despite all the negativity, bonuses have a crucial role to play in rewarding the best performers.

He said: "Bonuses can undoubtedly encourage discretionary effort and improve performance. For others, the bonus targets serve to emphasise what is most important amongst multiple objectives as management is prepared to pay for it.

"Restricting bonuses would firstly, undermine UK competitiveness and secondly, undermine the role of company management and shareholders to determine how best to allocate resources."

Mr Abbott warned that while public anger was directed towards bankers' pay, top companies in any sector would feel increasing pressure to restrict bonuses to avoid the limelight.

Last week, almost half of Thomas Cook's shareholders rebuked the company over bonus awards by refusing to back the company's remuneration report at its annual meeting. But, Mr Abbott warned, cutting bonuses would make no real difference in the long run because "companies will likely feel that they have to pay the going rate to retain and motivate staff, and if not through bonuses, perhaps by other means".

At Barclays, salary costs increased 13pc to £8.8bn in 2010, despite overall performance payments falling 7pc to £3.4bn.

Kevin Hallock, a labour economics professor at Cornell University, said: "I don't think bashing bonuses is a good idea in general. Bonuses can be good for organizations and employees when used in the right way in the right situations. Taking bonuses away, without replacing them with some other type of compensation, could have unintended negative consequences."

The latest research by PARC reveals three-quarters of companies have changed their incentive plans over the past two years to make sure pay and perks stay relevant, achievable and fair in the current economic climate.

In many cases, additional nonprofits based targets have been introduced around customer service or safety, the analysis of 20 organisations showed. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a number of sectors have adjusted bonus payments in direct response to the recession. They include property, hospitality and leisure, which have had to balance falling profits with the requirement to motivate executives to manage through a difficult period.

Tom Gosling, a PwC partner, said: "It is difficult to see the bonus culture going heavily into reverse.

"In [all] sectors, bonuses will persist as an important way of aligning pay outcomes with performance and of main-taining international competitiveness for a mobile workforce."
Mr Abbott agreed. It was "hard to see reward packages getting smaller" in coming years, he said.

GRAPHIC: Barclays' bumper bonuses have renewed public anger on bankers' pay

LOAD-DATE: February 17, 2011

San Diego Union Tribune, February 10, 2011, Thursday

San Diego Union Tribune

February 10, 2011, Thursday

San Diego Union Tribune

Collective bargaining requires patience for the plays to develop
By Tim Sullivan

Like quilting, scrimshaw and ice dancing, collective bargaining has severe limitations as a spectator sport.

It is too tedious for television and, on most days, more nuanced than newsworthy. It is a complex competition conducted primarily behind closed doors and, often, over a period of many months. Even when the opposing factions are professional football owners and players, labor negotiations are a mating dance as staged by snails.

“If you worry about the day-to-day part of it as a casual observer, you’ll go crazy,” said David Carter, executive director of USC’s sports business institute. “You don’t know what is real and what is sent up as a trial balloon. You really have to take a step back and wait.”

Much as we might wish to find meaning in the maneuvers of the NFL’s management and its muscular union members, this is a bad time for transparency. Both sides are too busy striking poses, probing for weaknesses and disseminating propaganda to expect either candor or substantial progress before the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires March 3. Those who would attach any significance to the abrupt cancellation of Thursday’s scheduled negotiating session are likely mistaking a calculated ploy for a more serious problem.

Like a patient passer confident in his blocking, fans should take a seven-step drop and allow the play to develop a little longer. They ought to be able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the two bargaining positions without becoming unduly influenced by their rhetorical blather.

Because NFL owners had the foresight to negotiate television contracts that will keep cash flowing even in the event of a lockout, it would appear they are better provisioned for a long siege. Because both history and Twitter tell us NFL players lack the solidarity of their baseball brethren — witness the internecine barbs between Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie — experience says the union will eventually cave.

But both sides are made up of people with varying levels of leverage and different thresholds of desperation. While the cash-flow concerns of the prolific Cromartie are exacerbated by the many mouths he must feed, his employer also labors beneath massive obligations. According to Forbes’ 2010 franchise evaluations, the Jets carry the NFL’s largest debt load at approximately $750 million.

“You should keep an eye on whether there are differences emerging between the star players and the average players and between the well-off owners and the ones who are struggling financially,” said Harry Katz, dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “The interests of stars are different than average players. Average players are worried about health insurance and minimum (salaries). Stars are interested in how quickly they can get to free agency.”

Owners, too, operate with different agendas. Though the Chargers are comparatively unburdened by debt, and might withstand a lockout better than some of the league’s more leveraged teams, the franchise’s future in San Diego could hinge on ownership’s ability to replenish the NFL’s “G-3” stadium loan program as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.

Ultimately, though, the deal is about dollars. Owners are seeking a second billion off the top of annual revenues now estimated between $8-9 billion. The union prefers a 50-50 split. Whether 18-game schedules, rookie wage scales and expanded drug testing are ownership priorities or just bargaining chips may be many months from resolution.

“The fundamental thing to keep in mind is both sides lose income if there’s an impasse,” Katz said. “If they don’t settle, it’s generally because one side miscalculates the strength (of the other).

“My gut is they’re going to settle, that they’re not that far apart. Neither one is desperate. They’ve bargained before, so they know each other. With the amount of money that’s at stake here … they’ve just got too much to lose.”

San Diego State’s sports business MBA candidates reached that same conclusion in a classroom exercise last November. With an assist from former NFL executive Jim Steeg, Gangaram Singh divided his class into teams and spent two days simulating the NFL’s collective bargaining experience. Students staged strategic storm-outs, conducted news conferences and regularly raised their voices, but four of the six groups succeeded in reaching a compromise. Two groups required arbitration.

“One of the things I do in my simulation is to reflect what happens in reality,” Singh said Thursday afternoon. “A lot of times what is played out in the media is a show. They’ll even plant things to throw off the other side …

“It’s a very complicated process. Seasoned negotiators would use all sorts of strategies and, to a layman, some of them would seem pretty bizarre.”

Like sausage-making, collective bargaining is best viewed from a distance. Ideally, as a finished product.

CNBC, February 8, 2011, Tuesday


February 8, 2011, Tuesday


Labor market improving or lagging?

ICS Managing Director Linda Barrington weighs in on latest JOLTS report on CNBC.

Forbes, February 6, 2011, Sunday


February 6, 2011, Sunday


Too Creative to be a Leader? Really?

In his insightful post entitled “Are the People in Your Organization Too Smart to be Creative?” Forbes contributor, Chunka Mui, co-author of Billion-Dollar Lessons previews a study to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (summary here) by Jennifer Mueller, Jack Goncalo, and Dishan Kamdar to the effect that in traditional organizations open expression of creative ideas is negatively correlated with perceptions of leadership potential.

Mui concludes that the bias against creative persons for leadership positions in traditional management is deep-seated.

First, many current leaders are the product of past biases against creativity, and hence making them less likely to value creativity.

Second, the smartest people have learned over time that being openly creative is not rewarded.

Given that the future of most organizations depends on creativity, this finding offers further compelling evidence why traditional management must be reinvented and imperial management structures replaced.

workspan, February 2011


February 2011


Research for the Real World

Each month, for busy practitioners, ICS Director Professor Kevin Hallock applies scholarly research to the "real world."

This month, Hallock shares research that shows that, regardless of industry or whether for-profit, non-profit or labor union, bigger enterprises pay CEOs more.

February 2011 Column

Thursday, February 03, 2011

workspan, February 2011


February 2011


ICS Director Kevin Hallock's workspan column, "Research for the Real World," describes how individual employees value various forms of compensation differently.

January 2011 Column

The Times-Tribune, January 23, 2011, Sunday

Copyright 2011 The Times-Tribune
The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania)

January 23, 2011, Sunday

Teacher contract negotiations will likely hinge on health benefits, experts say

BYLINE: Erin L. Nissley, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.

Jan. 23--Negotiations over teacher contracts have already begun at three Lackawanna County school districts and, though officials are tight-lipped about how it is going, experts expect the main issue to be health care contributions.

Both Scranton and Abington Heights' teacher contracts expire at the end of the school year, and Old Forge has been working without a contract since June.

Although union and school district officials have given little information about what has happened at the bargaining table, national collective bargaining expert Alex Colvin, Ph.D., said the biggest issue for unions across the country is benefits, particularly health care.

"We're in a low-inflation era with no downward or upward wage changes," said Dr. Colvin, an associate professor and chairman at Cornell's Department of Labor Relations, Law and History. "But health care costs are rising --and health care benefits are changing."

Further muddying the waters is what will happen with state funding this year. Paul Shemansky, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said school districts and union members are waiting to see if Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Legislature will cut education funding this year, which could have a severe effect on district budgets.

"No one knows what they're going to get from the state next year," Mr. Shemansky said.
History rocky

Acrimonious negotiations have been a hallmark for all three districts in the past, and it seems one district could be headed for a strike later in the year.

At a school board meeting in November, about 20 Old Forge School District teachers held signs urging a swift end to ongoing negotiations. In October, the Old Forge Education Association filed an unfair labor practices complaint al-leging that the school board refused to meet with designated negotiators.

Negotiations over Old Forge's last teacher contract lasted four years and included four strikes, one of which lasted 19 days.

Abington Heights, too, has its share of drama over teachers contracts through the years. The school board's approval of the most recent contract in 2007 was the first time since 1985 that the union did not strike while in the midst of contract negotiations.

Scranton narrowly averted a planned strike in 2008 when an agreement was reached hours before the first day of school. Before the two sides agreed, there had been numerous pickets and protests.

Scranton's most recent negotiations centered on salary and health insurance contributions. Teachers had lamented health insurance costs that were significantly higher than surrounding districts, and starting salaries that were much lower than other districts.

The 2008 contract brought teachers closer to the pay and insurance benefits teachers at surrounding districts receive.

Rosemary Boland, president of the Scranton Federation of Teachers, said negotiations will be starting soon.

In Old Forge, union leaders said the school district has proposed a small raise for the upcoming contract but seeks to increase the teachers' health premiums, which the union said would lead to a net loss of about $800 per teacher per year.

Abington Heights School District Superintendent Michael Mahon, Ph.D., declined to comment on any proposals from the district or the union. Abington Heights Education Association President Marcelle Genovese did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Under the last contract, teachers at Abington Heights did not have to contribute to health insurance premiums. But the school district limited some benefits and saw savings through changes in the type of insurance and prescription plans offered.

Options available
Once common in union contracts across the country, contributing little or nothing to health insurance premiums has become more and more rare as health care costs soar, Dr. Colvin said.

"It's logical that unions try and defend what they have," he said.

Mr. Shemansky said teachers contracts across the state vary greatly when it comes to health benefits. Some unions have agreed to higher deductible and co-pays in lieu of contributing to health insurance premiums, while others have negotiated cheaper, more restrictive health insurance plans instead of agreeing to premium contributions.

"Co-pays and deductibles are coming out of pocket," Mr. Shemansky said. "It's not that teachers don't want to pay health care costs. They've worked with districts."

Another wild card for negotiations this year is what the state will do to education funding. Under former Gov. Ed Rendell, education funding increased by $3 billion. But Mr. Corbett has said he will not raise taxes to address the state's fiscal difficulties and many experts, Mr. She¬mansky among them, fear deep cuts are coming that would create a void in many school districts' budgets.

The uncertainty about state funding and the overall economy might make it difficult for unions to get any big bumps in pay or benefits this year, and union leaders are aware of that, Mr. Shemansky and Dr. Colvin said. But whether that will affect a union's willingness to strike remains to be seen.

Mr. Shemansky said Pennsylvania gives teachers unions few options to resolve a negotiation impasse because the state has not yet passed binding arbitration law.

Even so, the vast majority of teachers contracts in the state are resolved without strikes, he said. Many unions are opting for short-term contract extensions and others are bringing in a neutral party through the state Department of Labor to look at proposals from both sides and make suggestions.

Some information compiled from staff reports.
Contact the writer:
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LOAD-DATE: January 23, 2011

The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2011, Saturday

The Wall Street Journal

January 22, 2011, Saturday

The Wall Street Journal

New Faces Appear at Bargaining Table

In Cash-Strapped States, Government Managers Form Unions; Organized Labor's Share of Overall Work Force Falls Again

Even as organized labor's share of America's public and private work force continued to slide last year, unions appeared to be growing in one place, among government managers and high-paid workers.

In Seattle, prosecutors and supervisors at the city's electric utility both have formed collective bargaining units in the past year, while in central Minnesota, managers at a regional library system have created its first union of any kind. In Sacramento County, Calif., a group that includes management engineers and lawyers nine months ago voted to become a collective bargaining unit for the first time.

Washington state's Public Employment Relations Commission saw 43 petitions filed by unions seeking to represent supervisory workers between 2008 and 2010, as governments' fiscal positions weakened amid the nation's economic woes. That was up from 23 such petitions over the previous three years, when times were flusher.

John Brosnan, executive director of the Illinois Labor Relations Board, said his agency, which administers the state's law governing public-worker unions, has also seen a jump in petitions from workers with "higher-rated titles" seeking to organize. Those higher-paid workers appear to be seeking protection at a time of widespread belt-tightening, he said.

The moves come as union membership as a whole continues to slide in the U.S., both in the public and private sectors. Union members accounted for only 11.9% of the work force in 2010, the Labor Department reported Friday, down from 12.3% in 2009 and far below the peak of 28.3% hit in 1954.

View Full Image
.The 7.6 million government workers in unions made up more than half of the 14.7 million workers in the U.S. who belonged to a union last year, with the state and local government sectors among the most heavily unionized in the economy. Friday's Labor Department report showed union membership in the public sector slipped to 36.2% in 2010, down from 37.4% the year before, in part reflecting government work-force layoffs.

Forming unions is no guarantee of better wages or benefits. But in practice, simply filing a petition to form a union can prevent pay cuts. That's because governments that allow their employees to unionize are typically barred from making such changes during union organizing, because it could be construed as an illegal attempt to keep the workers from joining.

"Filing a petition makes it a little bit more difficult for a public employer to make a unilateral change to a pension without getting hit with a possible unfair labor-practice charge," said Peter Kirsanow, a Cleveland attorney and former member of the National Labor Relations Board.

Efforts to unionize managers could make it harder for cities to trim their budgets, according to Michael Kolb, executive director of the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, a trade group for high-level government managers, who often negotiate with unions. "It's a roadblock to balance the budget, because it's another process you have to go through," he said.

While nonunion supervisory workers represent just a small slice of government employees, in many cases they are "on the chopping block first" because governments can reduce pay and benefits unilaterally, according to Mr. Kolb.

That's what happened in Emeryville, Calif., a small city just across the bay from San Francisco. Last summer, Emeryville managers lost the ability to get cash in lieu of certain days off.

Hoping to ward off more anticipated cuts, some two dozen managers formed the Confidential, Administrative, Managerial and Professional Employees union late last year. Margaret O'Brien, the new union's president, cited a July city council meeting, when a council member said the city was cutting managers' benefits because, unlike with unions, they could do so without negotiating. "The question becomes at what point do they stop imposing because they can?" Ms. O'Brien said.

Ms. O'Brien has never been in a union and said it felt "a little unusual" being a union president now. Her small group was decidedly against affiliating with a national group, such as the Service Employees International Union that represents many of the city's lower-level workers. "The overwhelming concern was when you associate with a national group, their politics can be your politics," she said.

Public-sector unions at the state and local levels have no federal protection and are governed by state law. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia give collective bargaining rights to most types of public workers, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Managers at the state and local level can typically join unions, in contrast to private-sector managers, who are generally barred from joining unions under federal labor law. Public-sector managers often form their own bargaining units, but in some cases they can join the same unions as their staff, creating potential bargaining conflicts over pensions and other issues.

State and local tax revenues, though once again growing, are still below peak levels in 2008, and money from the 2009 federal stimulus act, which helped prop up budgets, has been largely spent. Concerns about cities' ability to get their fiscal houses in order have roiled the municipal bond market, raising borrowing costs for many cities.

In general, unions have had more success organizing new members in the public sector, compared with the private sector, which is one reason a majority of union members now work for the government. Unions win more than 90% of organizing elections in the public sector, compared with roughly 65% in the private sector, according to Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University. She attributes the higher success rate partly to less opposition by government agencies to union organizing.

Write to Conor Dougherty at and Kris Maher at