Friday, March 18, 2011

WHCU, March 17, 2011, Thursday


March 17, 2011, Thursday


The automotive impact of Japan's natural disaster could mean higher prices and limited supplies of some cars and parts, Senior Extension Associate Art Wheaton told WHCU., March 17, 2011, Thursday

Copyright 2011, a project of the Pew Research Center
All Rights Reserved

March 17, 2011, Thursday

State worker strikes: rare but momentous
Public employee unions in Wisconsin are not talking about going on strike right now, but growing labor unrest increases the chances of a work stoppage. If state workers resort to picket lines, the consequences for both sides may be great.

BYLINE: By Daniel C. Vock, Stateline Staff Writer

Worker resentment against the new Wisconsin labor law is intense enough that some observers consider a strike to be possible.

The first time his union went on strike, Peter Benner was surprised. But the three-week work stoppage by Minne-sota state employees in 1981 taught him a lot about the relationship between public workers and their employers. So two decades later, Benner could tell early on that another strike was likely. "It was only a question of when it was going to happen," he says.

In 2001, Governor Jesse Ventura's administration wanted employees who had endured 10 years of tight-budget contracts to pay more for their health insurance, even as Ventura and lawmakers were giving away tax rebates. The workers objected, and more than half of Minnesota's state workforce walked off the job in October. The two-week strike of some 30,000 employees was the biggest work stoppage by state employees that Minnesota has ever experienced.

The strike raised the ante for both sides at the bargaining table. As chief negotiator for the unions, Benner worried whether his members would remain committed enough to stay off the job if it meant missing a paycheck. On the other side, state management negotiators wondered how long they could keep vital services going with a depleted workforce. After the initial excitement, the two sides sat down and struck a deal.
Related Stateline stories

. Behind collective bargaining debate, mixed experiences in the states
. Governors, unions brace for battle
. Wisconsin pension plan among most secure
State employee labor strikes are rare. The 2001 Minnesota walkout was the biggest in recent memory. But labor tensions are running so high right now in Wisconsin that the idea is not far from anyone's mind. The state has seen calls for a general strike, although they have died down in recent days. Labor is focusing its efforts on recalling state senators who voted for a new law to significantly weaken the power of public employee unions. Still, the situation remains vola-tile. More than 100,000 people attended a Capitol protest Saturday, including farmers who ringed the square with do-zens of tractors.

STATE STRIKES State employee strikes have been unusual in recent times. The specialty publisher BNA counted 24 strikes by public employees in the last five years, but none of them were by state workers.

"Public employee strikes are rarer today than they were a generation ago," says Joseph McCartin of Georgetown University. Several factors are at work, he says. Some of those include a reluctance by government employees to strike after President Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981; a growing fear that public employees would be blamed for work stoppages; and a general decline in strikes overall, in both the public and private sectors.

Notable strikes by state workers include:

. A two-week strike by 30,000 workers in Minnesota in 2001
. A two-day walk-out by 5,000 workers in Montana in 1991
. A nine-day "rolling strike" in Oregon in 1987
. A 22-day strike by 14,000 Minnesota workers in 1981
. A "wildcat" strike of up to 3,000 New Jersey employees in 1979
. A two-week strike of 18,000 Wisconsin workers in 1977
. A strike by 46,000 Pennsylvanians in 1975
. A two-week strike by 4,000 Ohio employees in 1974
Source: Historical news accounts

Alex Colvin, a professor at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says a general strike-one involving people other than the workers affected directly-would be a marked departure for public sector unions. "It's not like a New York or Philadelphia transit strike where it's about money," he says. "This is really about collective bargaining rights. It's about political power. And if there's a strike, it's going to be a different kind of strike."

"What is happening in Wisconsin and other states right now is fraught with huge implications," adds Joseph McCartin, the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. "Re-publicans are undertaking a general assault on public sector union power. Given the fact that public sector workers now comprise more than one-half of the membership of the union movement, the stakes are large."

Benner, who has since retired from his position with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Em-ployees (AFSCME), sees the same build-up of worker anger in Wisconsin now that he did a decade ago in Minnesota. Even if the unions avoid going on strike, he says, the pent-up labor frustration could hurt Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker down the road as he seeks to carry out his program. "Workers are your resource," he warns. "That's whether you're a multibillion dollar CEO or a governor or a mayor or a school board member."

The right to strike

The law signed-and championed-by Walker includes many new rules making life more difficult for public em-ployee unions. Every year, a majority of workers who belong to a union will have to vote to keep it in operaton. State workers will now be able to opt out of paying union dues. Unions will be allowed to bargain only on wages, not benefits or working conditions, and wage increases must be at or below the rate of inflation, unless voters direct otherwise in a referendum.

Another provision allows managers to fire workers who strike for three days. The measure addresses a frequent criticism that public employees have undue influence when they go on strike.

"The government generally has no competition,"

LOAD-DATE: March 17, 2011

The Jewish Daily Forward, March 16, 2011, Wednesday

The Jewish Daily Forward

March 16, 2011, Wednesday

The Jewish Daily Forward

For Bangladeshi Garment Workers, It Is Still 1911

The details sound eerily familiar. A fire on the ninth floor of a garment factory. Workers trapped behind exits locked by their employers. Cornered by flames that began raging after a pile of clothes caught on fire. And the horrific choice: jump to their death or be burned alive.

The only big difference was the number of dead. At the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, 146 lost their lives. At this fire, 29 died and almost 200 were injured.

Also, this second fire was last December, in Bangladesh.

We look at the events that took place 100 years ago and they feel so distant from our reality. We assume that the conditions that led to such catastrophe couldn’t possibly exist today. But in many other parts of the world, the garment industry is still an incredibly dangerous, abysmally paying world in which workers are often abused.

“There are a lot of parallels with the garment industry in Bangladesh,” said Kevin Kolben, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, who specializes in international labor law. “You have bosses treating their workers in pretty oppressive ways that are similar to back then. In many factories, people are working in the top floors of tenements with gated windows, no air conditioning, no ventilation, for most of the day and for very little pay.”

Bangladesh offers the most telling example of just how little has changed. The garment industry there accounts for more than 80% of the country’s exports. The industry functions mostly out of unregulated and unsafe factories that employ more than 3 million Bangladeshis in the slums of Dhaka, the capital. This is where the shirts that end up on our backs are produced. Few Americans realize that 97% of our clothes are manufactured abroad and that Bangladesh is increasingly the source. In 2010, imports from Bangladesh to the United States grew by 16%.

The fire in December took place in a factory owned by the Ha-Meem Group of Bangladesh, which employs 5,000 workers, mostly women, who make pants for customers in the West. The GAP was one of its biggest suppliers of business. In fact, 400,000 pairs of children’s dungarees destined for their stores were destroyed in the fire. The incident followed an earlier fire in February 2010 at another Bangladeshi factory that produced clothes for the popular H&M clothing chain.

The basic problems that led to the 1911 fire are still present today and, in some ways, are getting worse. We just don’t see them anymore.

“We’ve actually gone backwards,” said Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee. “The Triangle fire led to an incredible burst of union activity and a change of laws. You could say those people did not die in vain. What happened in Bangladesh? No outrage, nothing.”

Kernaghan also pointed out that when you adjust for inflation, the workers killed at the Triangle factory were making the equivalent of $3.18 an hour. Most Bangladeshi workers are making no more than their country’s allotted minimum wage for garment workers: 21 cents an hour.

In 2005, the World Trade Organization ended a 30-year-old quota system that had guaranteed Bangladesh a certain percentage of the global garment trade. In the years since, Bangladeshi factories have had to compete against giants like India and China, and they have done so by trying to offer even cheaper prices for production. The result has been a sharp increase in Western retailers and clothing brands buying from Bangladesh in recent years. From 2004 to 2009, the nation’s exports of clothes nearly doubled. But the workers have suffered as a result.

Attempts to improve conditions have been halting. This past summer, largely as a response to pressure from Western advocacy groups and protests at factories, a government oversight board announced a doubling in the minimum wage for garment workers. The pay is now 3,000 taka a month, or about $43, up from 1,662.50 taka, yet still far less than what workers’ associations were demanding.

Observers can see the manic growth in the industry just by looking at the buildings themselves. Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said that a tour through Dhaka makes the problem very clear. Buildings that may have been constructed under regulation now have haphazardly added floors to meet the increased demands, placing workers in unsafe conditions. Gearhart said that the roofs of many of these factories have exposed metal rods, in readiness for addition of another floor when needed.

The poor, slapdash construction is a fitting metaphor for the industry, she added.

“The garment sector grew up without really good government enforcement structures in place,” Gearhart said. “On top of that, there was no mechanism for the worker’s voice, no way to establish fair and decent terms, because there was no opportunity to sit down at a bargaining table as equals.”

If one of the legacies of the Triangle fire has been the need for stronger unions, it’s a lesson that has not reached Bangladesh, according to Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee. Unions there were illegal until recently, and there is still no chance for collective bargaining. Currently, 60 unions operate in Bangladesh, representing no more than 100,000 workers out of the 3 million employed by the industry. The only concession the government has made is to allow the formation of “participation committees.” But these don’t have the power to negotiate with factory owners.

When improvements are made to working conditions, they are often the result of pressures on the Bangladeshi government and manufacturers by Western buyers, activists and governments. According to Kolben of Rutgers, the scrutiny of the garment industry has led to some changes in health and safety standards over the last 15 years. But without effective unions, these moves will happen only slowly and without input from workers.

“There are a lot of different pressures working on Bangladesh, demanding they make improvements,” Kolben said. “But those forces need to also prioritize freedom of association; otherwise, there is an important piece missing.”

The Triangle fire also made clear that the more disconnected retailers become from how their clothes are manufactured, the less accountable they will feel. If in 1911 the production was one step removed from the retailers, it now exists — literally — on the other side of the world.

Most major retailers deal only with design and marketing, according to Gearhart. The actual making of clothes is contracted out and now even subcontracted to such an extent that a company like Wal-Mart can claim it is impossible to keep track of the conditions under which the workers who make their clothes are toiling.

Trying to police all the various elements of the supply chain can prove impossible. When a small Bangladeshi factory employing women working in severe conditions is subcontracted to do a little embroidery on shirts destined for the West, the women’s work can often remain unknown to the retailer who ends up displaying those shirts on their racks.

This is another way that not only the labor, but also its ethical implications have been swept out of sight.

“There is a very strong moral and political argument that says we are responsible for exporting these working conditions, because we more or less unconditionally accept the realities they lead to,” said Lee Adler, who teaches public-sector collective bargaining and employment law at Cornell University. “By drawing on this unregulated market as a cash cow, we are responsible.”

Contact Gal Beckerman at or o n Twitter @galbeckerman

The Post Standard, March 16, 2011, Wednesday

Copyright 2011 Post-Standard
All Rights Reserved
The Post Standard (Syracuse, NY)

March 16, 2011, Wednesday

Superintendents resist pay cap
Some school officials say Cuomo's proposal to limit salaries is just a diversion from deep cuts in aid to education

About one-third of school superintendents in Central New York could face pay cuts if Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pro-posal to put a cap on their salaries becomes law.

Some local school officials believe superintendents are being unfairly targeted. Some working to fill vacant super-intendent positions in CNY also said they fear a cap could hinder their ability to attract good candidates.

Cuomo introduced a bill last month that would, based on a district's student enrollment, put a cap on the sixfigure salaries. For instance, superintendents in school districts with fewer than 250 students could make up to $125,000, while the cap would be set at $175,000 for superintendents in the largest districts, with more than 6,501 students.

"It certainly looks like a political ploy to me," said Liverpool Central School District Superintendent Richard N. Johns. "Superintendents are an easy target. It's basically a distraction from the reality of the governor's proposed $1.5 billion cut in school aid."

Johns' salary would be reduced to $175,000 from $180,000 when his contract expires, if the cap is approved.

The average superintendent salary in the state is $166,000 a year. A year ago, the state average was $163,000, just above the national average of $160,000. The average salary for school superintendents is $143,404 in Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga, Madison and Oswego counties.

In the region, 12 superintendents make more than the state average. Under the cap proposal, 37 percent of the su-perintendents would take a pay cut when their contracts come up for renewal, based on their current salaries.

The proposal is under review in the Assembly, said Sisa Moyo, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat. Some political experts expect the proposal will have a hard time passing in the Assembly.

The bill already has support from a number of Senate Republicans, said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republican majority.

"We are interested in finding ways to help school districts control their own spending," Reif said. "And with school aid cuts this year, we need to find ways to reduce spending and keep more resources in the classrooms."

Cuomo's proposal would bring salaries of school superintendents back in line with other senior public officials, ac-cording to the bill. The governor, for example, makes $179,000 a year, although Cuomo has agreed to a 5 percent pay cut to bring his salary to about $170,000.

Cuomo's staff said the superintendents' salary cap would save taxpayers about $15 million.

Syracuse common councilors considered a proposed limit of $190,000 on the salary of the Syracuse City School District's next superintendent. Councilor Ryan McMahon, a Republican, said a cap would be appropriate at a time when the district is eliminating 450 positions.
Monday, however, the council voted 6-3 against a local cap. The governor's proposal would cap the Syracuse su-perintendent's pay at $175,000.

John Bishop, an associate professor in human resource studies at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the $15 million in savings won't make a big difference in the governor's proposed $133 billion budget. The savings from the cap is about .01 percent of the governor's total budget proposal.

"Superintendent's work is very difficult work and the cap won't fix the financial problem the state is facing," said Bishop, an expert in education research. "Lowering superintendent salaries won't improve education; it's merely a distraction."

Robert Lowry, of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, also said the proposal is a distraction from Cuomo's $1.5 billion cut to school aid.

"This is an attempt to create an argument over $15 million, rather than have $1.5 billion school aid cut that he has proposed," he said. "My interpretation of the cap is (Cuomo) would rather have the focus be on superintendent salaries than on what school districts will have to do with the deep cuts they are facing."

Skaneateles Superintendent Philip D'Angelo, who makes $179,417 a year, would lose almost $24,000, the second largest drop in CNY, if the cap became a law. (The largest cut in salary would be to Jamesville-DeWitt's Alice Kendrick, who would see her salary drop by $27,000.)
"I'm frustrated," D'Angelo said. "I have two master's degrees and I'm working on my doctorate. I started teaching earning $17,000 a year. I've paid my dues."

D'Angelo, who said being a superintendent is an around-the-clock job, argues it should be left to the boards of edu-cation to decide the pay for each superintendent.

Bill Speck, superintendent of Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, agrees that decisions on the superintendents' pay should be left to school boards. And he fears the cap could make filling vacancies more difficult.

Speck is leading a search for a superintendent in the Jordan-Elbridge school district. The school board has agreed on a salary range of $120,000 to $140,000, which is less than the governor's cap of $145,000 for the district, which has 1,481 students.

"This is a specific salary range the community group and the board of education thought was appropriate for this time, place and location," Speck said. "My belief is it should be the local board's decision and authority to set salaries."

Jessica Cohen, district superintendent and chief executive officer of the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, is also leading searches in CNY and fears a salary cap could hurt her ability to find qualified candidates.

Cohen said there has been a cap on BOCES superintendent salaries since 1993. The cap, originally set at $128,000, has been adjusted five times in the past eight years. The cap is now at $166,572.

"I believe the salary cap will have and has had a tremendous effect on superintendent searches," Cohen said. She said candidates have withdrawn from open BOCES superintendent seats because of the salary cap.

Cohen also said the bill would take away local control from boards of education.
"In New York state, school boards, by law, make the decisions of who gets hired and what salaries and benefits are given to superintendents," Cohen said. "What this legislation does is take away that local control."

According to Cuomo's bill, though, the bill would allow voters to override the cap if "the community believes it is in the best interest of the school district."
Contact Sarah Moses at or 470-2298.

The salaries of school superintendents would be capped under a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, based on their districts' enrollments. This chart shows the current salaries of Central New York superintendents and how much, if any, their pay would be cut to meet the proposed caps.
District Superintendent Current salary Enrollment 2009-10 Proposed salary cap Salary decrease
Cayuga County Auburn Joseph "J.D." Pabis $174,354 4,378 $165,000 $9,354 Cato-Meridian W. Noel Patterson $116,200 1,052 $145,000 n/a Moravia Michelle Brantner $114,000 980 $145,000 n/a Port Byron Neil O'Brien $142,350 1,027 $145,000 n/a Southern Cayuga Mary K. Worth $111,968 771 $145,000 n/a Union Springs Linda M. Rice $144,612 891 $145,000 n/a Weedsport Shaun A. O'Connor $133,833 877 $145,000 n/a
Cortland County Cincinnatus Steven Hubbard $125,603 618 $135,000 n/a Cortland Larry Spring $152,036 2,709 $155,000 n/a Homer Nancy Ruscio $145,000 2,139 $155,000 n/a Marathon Timothy Turecek $118,368 788 $145,000 n/a McGraw Mary Curcio $110,000 577 $135,000 n/a
Onondaga County Baldwinsville Jeanne Dangle $182,020 5,815 $165,000 $17,020 East Syracuse Minoa Donna DeSiato $185,704 3,354 $165,000 $20,704 Fabius-Pompey Timothy Ryan $135,392 838 $145,000 n/a Fayette-ville-Manlius Corliss Kaiser $188,100 4,588 $165,000 $23,100 Jamesville-DeWitt Alice Kendrick $182,000 2,868 $155,000 $27,000 Jordan-Elbridge Lawrence J. Zacher $600 a day 1,508 $155,000 n/a LaFayette Peter Tigh $147,016 849 $145,000 $2,016 Liverpool Richard N. Johns $180,000 7,508 $175,000 $5,000 Lyncourt Michael Schiedo $114,103 304 $135,000 n/a Marcellus Craig J. Tice $169,502 1,988 $155,000 $14,502 North Syracuse Jerome F. Mel-vin $179,475 9,481 $175,000 $4,475 Onondaga Joseph A. Rotella $147,729 957 $145,000 $2,729 Skaneateles Philip D'Angelo $179,417 1,664 $155,000 $24,417 Solvay J. Francis Manning (also director of personnel) $151,591 1,571 $155,000 n/a Syracuse Daniel G. Lowengard $199,000 20,076 $175,000 $24,000 Tully Kraig Pritts $130,599 1,109 $145,000 n/a West Genesee Christopher R. Brown $174,591 5,017 $165,000 $9,591 Westhill Stephen A. Bocciolatt $176,163 1,884 $155,000 $21,163
Madison County Brookfield Steve Szatko (part time) $45,000 237 $125,000 n/a Canastota Frederick J. Bragan $147,482 1,542 $155,000 n/a Cazenovia Robert S. Dubik $148,503 1,670 $155,000 n/a Chittenango Thomas E. Mar-zeski $165,053 2,228 $155,000 $10,053 DeRuyter Charles W. Walters $121,431 420 $135,000 n/a Hamilton Diana Bowers $150,548 585 $135,000 $15,548 Madison Cynthia D. DeDominick $132,597 484 $135,000 n/a Morris-ville-Eaton Michael Drahos $128,410 759 $145,000 n/a Oneida Ronald Spadafora $154,413 2,376 $155,000 n/a Stockbridge Valley Chuck Chafee $116,978 480 $135,000 n/a
Oswego County Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Gerry Hudson $133,900 1,405 $145,000 n/a Central Square Carolyn F. Costello $158,486 4,526 $165,000 n/a Fulton William R. Lynch $153,000 3,683 $165,000 n/a Hannibal Michael J. DiFabio $138,000 1,554 $155,000 n/a Mexico Robert R. Pritchard $140,000 2,281 $155,000 n/a Oswego William W. Crist $142,000 4,164 $165,000 n/a Phoenix Judy Belfield $140,000 2,199 $155,000 n/a Pulaski Marshall Marshall $135,200 1,117 $145,000 n/a Sandy Creek Stewart Amell $150,396 894 $145,000 $5,396
Bordering districts Georgetown-Otselic Valley (Chenango County) Richard J. Hughes $108,747 388 $135,000 n/a Sherburne-Earlville (Chenango County) Gayle H. Hellert $147,760 1,461 $145,000 $2,760 Vernon-Verona-Sherrill (Oneida County) Norman J. Reed $184,570 2,100 $155,000 $29,570 Red Creek (Wayne Creek) David G. Sholes $147,227 945 $145,000 $2,227
Compiled by The Post-Standard based on data from school districts and the New York State Education Department

GRAPHIC: GRAPHIC: SUPERINTENDENTS RESIST PAY CAP The Post-Standard. Note: for text see microfilm or page archive. The dark blue portion of the salary bars shows the amount each superintendent would lose under a plan proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The three proposed salary levels would be based on district enrollments.

LOAD-DATE: March 17, 2011

Ithaca Journal, March 16, 2011, Wednesday

Ithaca Journal

March 16, 2011, Wednesday

Ithaca Journal

Don't blame immigrants for taking most jobs, Berkeley economist tells Cornell audience
Immigrants mostly at top and bottom of skill levels, Cal's David Card tells ILR

World-renowned economist David Card, visiting from the University of California, Berkeley, brought a message to Cornell University this week that immigrants seldom compete with the middle class of American workers.

Card gave a talk on immigration Tuesday at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. An expert on immigration, Card has found that immigration in the United States has no impact on wages, and that negative attitudes toward immigration are driven by social rather than economic concerns.

The United States tends to attract immigrants from the very top and the very bottom skill levels, as these two groups have the most to gain from immigrating and fill the holes in supply left by native-born Americans, he said.

"If you're kind of a middle, average American worker, the actual degree of immigrant competition you face is much lower than for anyone else," Card said.

Economists do not view immigrants in terms of competition anyway, but rather as increased labor supply, and in theory, the supply of jobs adjusts accordingly with the supply of workers, since an enlarged labor force raises the productivity of capital, leads firms to invest more and in turn creates more jobs, Card explained.

Research has shown over and over again that immigration does not alter wages, he said. For example, Card's study on the Mariel Boatlift, which in 1980 added 75,000 very low-skill Cuban workers to Miami almost overnight, showed that nothing happened to the wages and employment rates of low-skilled native workers.

Card said ambivalence toward immigration may instead come from concerns about social composition.

"Immigration doesn't just change the labor market. It also changes the neighborhood and the workplace and people that your daughter's going to marry," Card said.

A survey Card conducted as a part of the European Social Survey supported his theory that views about immigration policy are mainly driven by social-compositional concerns.

Maria Cook, Cornell professor of international and comparative labor, who attended the talk, said that she would like to see the survey applied to the U.S. context. "I wonder whether you would get the same kind of responses or whether ... the perception of economic impact has had a greater effect in the U.S.," Cook said.

Francine Blau, Cornell professor of industrial and labor relations and labor economics, said that Card's work has heavily impacted mainstream economic thought on immigration, "but like all things in economics, there is probably some debate."

Buffalo News, March 15, 2011, Tuesday

Copyright 2011 The Buffalo News
All Rights Reserved
Buffalo News

March 15, 2011, Tuesday

N.Y. State workers facing benefit envy; Private-sector employees' anger over perks for government jobs may hit pay, pension

OK, it's not Wisconsin, Ohio or New Jersey.

But even here, in union-friendly New York, government workers are feeling the brunt of public scrutiny.

And with the spotlight comes a fair amount of anger and resentment over benefits that many private-sector workers will never see.

"It's a bad time to be a public employee," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "There's been nothing but bad news."

Of course, it could be a lot worse for New York's government workers. They could be in Wisconsin, where law-makers voted to strip public employees of much of their collective-bargaining rights.

Or in New Jersey, where the governor is proposing workers pay a much higher share of their health insurance premium.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo avoided the urge to gut bargaining rights and focused instead on adopting a wage freeze and a series of pension reforms.

"People in New York are reasonably sympathetic," said Carroll, who has tracked public opinion about government employees in the state. "They don't want to throw them out into the street.

But a wage freeze? Yes, absolutely."

To make his case, Cuomo has gone on the road, and, whether it's Buffalo, Rochester or Binghamton, he is quick to remind the public that New York can no longer afford the wages and benefits its workers were promised.

Ultimately, his goal is to rally public support for givebacks and create what one expert calls benefit envy.

"How can these people get all these gold-plated benefits? -- that's the rhetoric," said Joseph E. Slater, a professor of labor law and history at the University of Toledo.

At its core, the debate is: Why should public-sector workers get a sweet deal -- all of it at taxpayers' expense -- when private-sector workers often go without?

Fueling the debate is an economy that has left most private-sector workers struggling to make ends meet and politicians eager to exploit the lack of comparable benefits for those workers.

"They look at the benefits of public employees and their own benefits, and they're jealous," said Arthur C. Wheaton, director of labor studies at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Buffalo.

Wheaton and Slater are quick to note that, while government workers enjoy better than average pension and health care benefits, they tend to earn less than private-sector workers doing the same job.

Nevertheless, government workers are viewed as among the best-compensated employees in the nation, much like unionized auto and steel workers 50 years ago. "They're the new elite," David Gregory, who teaches labor and employ-ment law at St. John's University, said of public employees.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms what Slater, Wheaton and Gregory suggest -- public-sector workers enjoy better benefits but earn lower wages.

Government, when compared with private business, spends about 1.7 times as much on health care per em-ployee-hour worked and nearly twice as much on retirement.

The opposite is true of wages. Private-sector managers and professionals made an average of $34.91 an hour as of last September, compared with $33.17 an hour for public-sector professionals and managers.

"No one is going to get rich working for the government," Gregory said. "The fact is, government workers have historically traded income for better benefits."

Even among experts who think changes are needed in government benefits, there is a sense that unions bear an un-fair share of the criticism for what public employees now receive from their employers.

"It's easy to demonize the unions, but elected officials deserve just as much of the blame," said David M. Primo, associate professor of political science at the University of Rochester.
"Politicians need to look in the mirror because they're just as complicit in the problem."

Primo's point is that management, in this case governors and legislators, are as much to blame for the huge budget deficits in New York and elsewhere as organized labor.

They, after all, are the ones who negotiate labor contracts, approve pension increases and refuse to change laws that stand in the way of employee givebacks.

"These rules were not created by unions," Primo said. "They were created by politicians."

In New York, state labor law includes an aspect known as the Triborough Amendment. It ensures that public-sector benefits and pay remain intact unless the two sides agree on a new contract.

Historically, unions have been criticized for Triborough's existance, but the State Legislature and the governor keep it on the books. And the reason is the influence of public-employee unions in Albany, much of it rooted in their cam-paign contributions to lawmakers.

Slater thinks pensions are the best example of how the public's perception of government-worker unions is based on rhetoric, not fact.

"The most common misconception," he said, "is that unions are responsible for the underfunded pension crisis."

His point is that, yes, there is evidence that government retirement plans are underfunded to the tune of about $3 trillion, but the reasons are not excessive benefits.

The same studies that document the underfunding usually blame it on governments skipping or low-balling their annual payments to the pension fund. Others cite the 2008 stock market crash.

Wheaton is quick to note that New York's public-employee unions have a history of negotiating pension conces-sions, most recently last year with the creation of a less-generous Tier 5 plan. Some experts expect Cuomo to propose a Tier 6 for new employees.

"I think they need to share in the burden," Wheaton said of the unions, "and I think they're willing to do that."

The question is whether that will be enough to stop the public's growing envy over what many see as excessively rich benefits for government workers.

In short, will the "benefit envy" end?

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

GRAPHIC: Working for the state [GRAPHIC - see microfilm]

LOAD-DATE: March 15, 2011

Human Resource Executive Online, March 14, 2011, Monday

Human Resource Executive Online

March 14, 2011, Monday

Human Resource Executive Online

In Search of an HR Analytics Culture

The second annual Human Resource Executive Forum® got a provocative kick-start Monday night at the Grand Hyatt New York in a pre-conference bonus session designed to do just that: provoke change in the way HR analytics are treated and supported in corporate America.

Let’s face it, said John Hausknecht, assistant professor of HR studies at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, “HR analytics is still a relatively youthful member of this overall [scientific approach to business metrics].”

Leading off the session, “Breaking Barriers: Creating a Culture for HR Analytics,” Hausknecht cited a study by the ILR School’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, the “State of HR Analytics,” that uncovered some pretty crucial barriers to the usefulness and effectiveness of HR analytics for businesses today.

Only 27 percent of the more than 50 study participants from close to 30 CAHRS partner companies felt they had strong teams of analytical talent who could execute HR analytics projects. Only 33 percent agreed with the statement, “Front-line HR generalists understand the value of HR analytics.” Just 13 percent felt they had the necessary technology/systems to facilitate HR analytics, and only one in five respondents strongly agreed that they trusted the reliability and accuracy of their organizational data.

“Clearly, most organizational cultures do not support [the compilation, understanding and predictive applications of] HR analytics,” Hausknecht said.

What Hausknecht and fellow panelists Jonathan A. Ferrar and Craig Hurty offered as takeaways was probably what resonated most with the mostly senior HR practitioners in attendance.

“Be generous with your information [and forget your privacy rules and cultures of suspicion around information sharing],” said Ferrar, vice president of human resources and analytics for IBM. “Also, focus on the data you’ve got. In HR, we have millions and millions of data points. Try not to be tempted to do the next survey. People will be more impressed if you can find new information with old data points.”

Both Ferrar and Hurty, HR head of business operations for Aetna, encouraged listeners to look more closely at the causal relationships of risk, be predictive with the findings instead of reactive, and learn how to show it and trust it.

“I’d like to put my HR people in closer touch with sales,” said Hurty, “because our sales staff have this talent to trust the data and come out with a figure.

“Be provocative, too,” he said, suggesting HR leaders can and should be finding ways to share the type of information that will force challenges, competitiveness between departments and teams, and growth.

“Don’t be afraid to stir the pot,” said Hurty. “Think about ways you might want to break those cultural barriers … and start stirring the pot.”

The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2011, Saturday

The Wall Street Journal

March 12, 2011, Saturday

The Wall Street Journal

Q&A: The Labor Legacy of the Triangle Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which claimed the lives of 146 mostly female immigrant garment workers in 1911, is credited with galvanizing support for labor unions, as well as spurring reforms in workplace safety and city building codes.

As we prepare to mark the 100th anniversary of the tragic fire, Metropolis spoke to Cornell University’s Lee Adler about the labor legacy of the fire and the widespread outrage it caused among New Yorkers and the nation. Adler teaches public sector collective bargaining at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The interview has been edited.

There was an uneasy labor backstory at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. Where did things stand before the fire?

Adler: The fire happened in a factory that did not sign on to the loose collective-bargaining agreement terms. It was something called the Protocols of Peace that was established after a very long strike in 1909 and 1910. So this factory was a bit of an outlier at the time, and that acted as a spur to labor activists after the fire.

Certainly the organization and determination of the needle trade unions was fortified by the aftermath.

Who are the major political or labor figures that emerged from the Triangle fire?

Adler: In the New York state Legislature there were two very young politicians — one was Al Smith, the other was Robert Wagner. They were interested at the time in picking up the mantle of the fire and passing legislation. Some dealt with fire-safety standards and ingres and egress standards.

Frances Perkins by accident saw the fire, and that had an influence on her for the rest of her life. She was, first of all, a health and safety person connected to the labor movement in the teens. Ultimately, Franklin Roosevelt appointed her to be labor secretary.

Walk me through the direct aftermath. The Triangle fire is often credited with spurring labor reforms, but how did that play out?

Adler: There was a rapid increase throughout America in the passage of workers’ compensation laws. Up until this fire, workers’ compensation bills were not terribly prolific in America. Oddly enough, given what’s going on now in Wisconsin, they passed the first successful workers’ comp legislation in 1911 -– more or less flowing out of this sutation. Within part because of the Triangle fire, in five years we see every state in America pass workers’ comp legislation.

In 1913, for the first time in the U.S. government, the Department of Labor was established. There had been previous things like it but there had never been a government agency. One of the first efforts was to compile statistics on workplace injuries. They looked at lead smelters, match factories, coal mines and steel making.

Did Triangle lead directly to a rise in labor unions?

Adler: I would describe the period immediately after the fire as one that was difficult for labor organizing. There was no mandatory legislation anywhere in the U.S. that permitted collective bargaining. There was no right to collectively bargain anywhere in America before 1935.

History, Labor, NYNews, Q&A, Triangle Fire, unions

CNN Money, March 11, 2011, Friday

CNN Money

March 11, 2011, Friday

CNN Money

Wisconsin's Walker: Union Man of the Year

Labor unions around the nation can thank Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for re-energizing the workers movement.

The Republican governor was savoring his success Thursday in limiting collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin after a contentious and drawn-out battle.

The measure will give state and local governments the flexibility they need to raise workers' health care and pension premiums to help balance their budgets, Walker says.

But unions were also celebrating the outpouring of strength and support for their cause. Tens of thousands of union workers have descended upon state capitols around the nation to protest looming threats to their members, including in Ohio, where lawmakers are also on track to eliminate collective bargaining for state workers.

"We should have invited him here today to receive the Mobilizer of the Year award!," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a speech Thursday.

Of course, Walker's bill will not sit well with many public employees in Wisconsin. They will have to pay thousands of dollars more for their health care and pension benefits. They also will no longer have a say in workplace conditions.

Teachers under attack
But the hard-charging governor also has managed to make collective bargaining synonymous with fairness and worker rights in the public's mind, said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Many Americans see him as running roughshod over the democratic process.

"He has sparked the most energized labor movement in decades," Shaiken said. "He's recruited many people who are angry at what they view as a power grab."

While several other states are looking to curtail collective bargaining, the surprisingly strong blowback in Wisconsin and Ohio may lead some politicians to soften their stance, said Rebecca Givan, assistant professor at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. They may wait to see what happens with the push to recall Republican state senators and at the ballot box in 2012.

"Republican governors in other states will have to balance their agendas in cutting public sector collective bargaining with public opinion since they want to get re-elected," Givan said.

While Walker may have shifted public sentiment to the unions' favor, he may also push people away from working in the public sector. Fewer people will likely opt for government work if the benefits and pay become less attractive, said Craig Olson, a labor professor at the University of Illinois.

For instance, Wisconsin's teachers will have to shell out about $5,000, or 10% of their wages, on average, to pay for increased medical and pension benefits, he said. And their raises will be limited to cost-of-living increases.

"It's going to be more difficult to attract high-quality people into public service," Olson said.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 11, 2011, Friday

Copyright 2011 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)

March 11, 2011, Friday

Wisconsin measure advances Bill to limit union power goes to governor over boos, chants.

MADISON, Wis.- Stoking Republican efforts to check union power across the country, Wisconsin's state Assembly sent Gov. Scott Walker a bill he has sought to limit the collective bargaining rights of government workers.

The vote is expected to intensify bitter fights in capitols from Idaho to Indiana, emboldening other budget-cutting Republican governors to press ahead with anti-union legislation.
But it also is likely to galvanize unions and their Democratic allies. Since Republican senators in Wisconsin ap-proved the bill Wednesday night, the state's Democratic Party has taken in more than $300,000.

Opponents of the bill packed the balconies in the Assembly during another emotional day at the Capitol and began jeering as soon as representatives started voting, making it almost impossible to hear the result. Boos and chants of "Shame!" broke out as the bill passed, 53-43, culminating weeks of heated debate that has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol and sent Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state to try to prevent the bill's passage.

"This was our only option to move forward and avoid layoffs," said Rep. Scott Suden, the Assembly majority leader. "While some don't like the outcome and are going to continue to protest, this is the right thing to do to make sure that Wisconsin's fiscal house is in order."

As the bill advanced in Wisconsin, a crowd of more than 7,000 gathered outside the statehouse in Indiana to protest legislation to curb union influence there. Union-opposed bills have advanced in Ohio and Idaho and are under consideration in Kansas, Tennessee and other states, though national polls show a solid majority of Americans oppose efforts to limit bargaining rights.

"We're now up to 22 states," said Robert Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at University of Illi-nois. "It's almost an epidemic."

Legislation introduced in Texas this week takes aim at a tactic used by Indiana and Wisconsin Democrats to stall anti-union legislation: The lawmakers fled to Illinois to deny Republicans a quorum. The Texas proposal would keep lawmakers who flee the state from being counted toward a quorum.

Opponents of the Wisconsin legislation are taking their fight to the courts, contending that Republicans violated the state's open meetings act in the vote, a charge that the Republican dispute. Opponents have launched recall campaigns against the bill's supporters.

Richard Hurd, a Cornell University professor of labor and industrial relations, said Republicans in other states contemplating similar measures will likely watch the recall campaigns closely.

"It may energize the right, and it may give them the confidence to be more aggressive, but those in the Republican Party who are a little more cautious may want to wait and see how it plays out," he said.

In the Wisconsin battle, both parties resorted to legislative maneuvers to get under each other's skin. Republicans passed rules that would take away parking spots from the missing senators and restrict access to copy machines by their staff. Assembly Democrats held 130 hours of round-the-clock "listening sessions" to keep the Capitol open to protesters.
In Washington, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the Wisconsin legislation was mobilizing public and pri-vate sector unions.

Others predicted the opposite effect. Chris Edwards, a Cato Institute economist, predicted that Wisconsin will "kick-start a movement toward public sector union reform."

The Wisconsin measure had been stalled since Feb. 17, when all 14 Democrat senators fled the state. But on Wednesday, Republicans removed financial provisions from the bill, which meant it did not require as many senators present for a vote.

The bill that would eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public unions does not apply to police and fire-fighter unions.

The measure now goes to Walker, who has said he will sign it. Democrats are expected to fight the plan in the courts and have started recall campaigns against some Republicans.

The Wisconsin Capitol was eerily quiet Thursday night following three weeks of protests against the proposed leg-islation that drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to Madison. While people had been sleeping in the building for weeks, all eventually left after the Assembly vote.

GRAPHIC: Photo by John Hart o Wisconsin State Journal/Associated Press - Law enforcement personnel escort Elizabeth Wrigley-Field of Madison, Wis., out of the Wisconsin State Capitol Assembly Room lobby on Thursday in Madison. Photo by Morry Gash o Associated Press - Demonstrators protest Thursday outside the Assembly Cham-ber at the Capitol in Madison, Wis.

LOAD-DATE: March 12, 2011

The New York Times, March 10, 2011, Thursday

Copyright 2011 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

March 10, 2011, Thursday

Scrutinizing a Governor's Statements


Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has built a national reputation as a straight talker who will answer tough ques-tions. But a close look at his public statements over the past year shows that some do not stand up to scrutiny. Here are a selection of statements, and an examination of their truthfulness. RICHARD PEREZ-PENA


STATEMENT ''They go around the collective bargaining when they don't get what they want, everything that they want, and they go to the Legislature to do it, and use their political power and their money to be able to buy the Legis-lature to get what they want -- and governors, too, in the past.''

February interview with The New York Times

EXPLANATION Mr. Christie's aides said he was referring to more than a dozen laws that the unions had requested: all were pension changes, the most recent in 2003. Under New Jersey law, pension changes can be made only by the Legislature, and in the years his aides said the governor had been referring to, pensions were not addressed at the bar-gaining table (this provision was changed in 2007). ''I don't know of any instance where the unions circumvented col-lective bargaining and just got what they wanted legislatively,'' said Jeffrey H. Keefe, associate professor in Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations. In recent years, he said, ''it's been the reverse, where they forced things on the unions legislatively,'' like raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for new workers.

STATEMENT ''There are dozens of states in this country that don't have collective bargaining for public workers at all.'' Such states are ''all over the country.''

News conference last week

EXPLANATION Rebecca Givan, assistant professor at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said there were eight states that did not have any collective bargaining for government employees; all of them except Arizona are in the South. Four or five other states permit collective bargaining for the police, firefighters, or both, but not for other public workers. Still other states have collective bargaining for local government workers, but not for state employees.

STATEMENT The governor often says the last round of contract talks, under his Democratic predecessor, Jon S. Corzine, was not adversarial, and says Mr. Corzine promised state workers a good deal.

EXPLANATION The talks, in 2006 and 2007, were heated. There were protests against Governor Corzine at the State House, and the unions made several concessions, which included a higher retirement age, an increase in employee pension contributions, and workers' contributions toward health insurance.


STATEMENT ''Now health benefits for public-sector workers in New Jersey, for a long time, up until this past spring, were free, and I mean free.''
Town hall forum last week in Hillsborough

EXPLANATION State workers have contributed 1.5 percent of their salaries toward insurance premiums since 2007. Some local government employees contributed before last year, as well, though most did not.

STATEMENT ''The overwhelming number of teachers pay nothing'' for health benefits.
September town hall meeting in Raritan

STATEMENT ''The majority of teachers in New Jersey pay nothing for health care.''
February interview with The Times

EXPLANATION It was certainly true a year ago that most teachers did not pay part of their insurance premiums -- though virtually all had co-payments and deductibles -- but it is not clear whether it remains true.

Last year, Mr. Christie signed a law requiring that all new labor contracts with local governments deduct 1.5 per-cent of salaries for health insurance. The New Jersey School Boards Association said that in this school year, 238 of the state's 591 districts -- including five of the six largest -- require employees to contribute to coverage. Those districts employ about 44 percent of the state's public school teachers. And some other districts require certain employees, like teachers who do not have tenure, to help pay for their coverage.


STATEMENT Last year, on several occasions, Mr. Christie called for school employees to accept a one-year wage freeze and a voluntary health care deduction, saying such concessions would save the state $750 million to $800 million, eliminating the need for layoffs or cuts in academic programs.

EXPLANATION The State Office of Legislative Services and school administrators around New Jersey said the concessions would not make up the entire budget gap, and in the few dozen districts where employees agreed to concessions, there were still cuts.


LOAD-DATE: March 10, 2011

The Huffington Post, March 8, 2011, Tuesday

The Huffington Post

March 8, 2011, Tuesday

The Huffington Post

The Triangle Factory Fire Centennial and Why It Matters Today

One hundred years ago, 146 young immigrant workers -- three-quarters of them female -- died on March 25, 1911 in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. It was the deadliest industrial accident in the history of New York City and one of the worst work disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The value of the past is learning to avoid mistakes of the future. For that reason, we need to listen; we need to remember.

What Happened That Day

The Triangle Waist Company factory was located on floors 7-9 of what was known as the Asch Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in New York City. (The building is now the Brown Building of Science, part of NYU.)

Immigrant women, most only 16-23 years of age, worked six days a week making shirtwaists, a type of blouse that was popular in that day. Workers' pay was based on a per piece basis, so they worked quickly and with concentration, scraps of fabric mounting up under the machines as no one could afford to take the time to clean up.

It was almost 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 25, when the fire broke out, probably from a carelessly tossed cigarette.

Notification of the fire primarily came to the workers via smell or flame. A bookkeeper on the eighth floor phoned management on the tenth floor to warn them to evacuate, but the floor workers had no such warning.

Exits from the work floors were limited. There were two sets of stairs, a fire escape (that did not go all the way to the ground) and two freight elevators. The women ran first to the stairways and discovered one already was engulfed in flames; the door to the other staircase was locked. (Factory workers were often locked in during work hours to keep them on the job and to prevent pilfering.)

The freight elevator operators attempted to make several runs up and down to rescue the women, but after a couple of runs, the women were so desperate they pried open the floor gates to the elevator and jumped into the shaft, hoping to ride on the top of the elevator to safety. The elevators could not bear the extra weight and could no longer go up for other victims.

The fire escape may have already been in poor repair, but even if it had been sound, it soon twisted under the heat of the fire.

That left the windows. Women crowded at the windows, first for air, and then hoping that they could be rescued. Fire engines, some of them horse-drawn, were powering to the area around the building, but as they raised the ladders, everyone in the building and on the street saw the problem: The ladders could extend only as high as the sixth floor. The hoses shot water at the fire, but the streams could barely reach the seventh floor.

In a scene of desperation that would be replicated at the World Trade Center 90 years later, the victims felt they had no other option -- they held hands and jumped. The firemen's nets proved inadequate to catch the jumpers, and most fell through to the sidewalk, dying quickly of their injuries.

Voices Ignored

Garment factory workers in New York City had struck only two years before (1909) for better working conditions and better pay. They made some inroads at the smaller shops but a big factory like the Triangle Company could afford to hold out longer than the workers. As a result, the workers' concerns were never addressed until the fire.

Out of the ashes came modernization of the state's labor laws, better oversight of workplaces by the fire department, and a stronger and more unified International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The American Society of Safety Engineers also was founded the following October.

And what happened to the factory owners? Because they had been notified of the fire, they went from their tenth floor offices to the roof and escaped to another building where they were able to descend to the street. Later, they were acquitted in the criminal trial against them because prosecutors were unable to prove beyond a doubt that they knew the exit doors were locked; they lost a subsequent civil suit and had to pay about $75 per deceased victim.

We Must Remember

That's what Ruth Sergel, a New York filmmaker and activist, decided seven years ago (2004), when she created "Chalk," an annual commemoration of the Triangle tragedy. Sergel worked from the list of names of those who died and located their addresses; she then gathers volunteers each year on the anniversary to write the victims' names outside the buildings where they once lived.

From this beginning in 2004, Sergel has formed a group to commemorate the centennial, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. The coalition includes about 120 organizations and they represent people across the nation. One cannot help but think of Margaret Mead: "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

And the point of remembering?

We need to remember that throughout our society there are those whose voices are being ignored. Those who think our sweatshop days are behind us should know that a recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 67 percent of Los Angeles garment factories and 63 percent of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. In Los Angeles, 98 percent of garment factories have serious health and safety issues.

But there are still other voices being ignored -- from the union workers in Wisconsin to regular citizens who had the bad luck to live in the vicinity of the BP oil spill that occurred less than a year ago -- to the illegal immigrant college students who had hoped the DREAM Act would give them a legitimate path to citizenship in the country they consider home.

We must remember that each of us has a responsibility to help provide voices for those whose concerns are not being heard.

We must remember that our country promises "freedom for all" but sometimes the voices of those in power -- or those with money -- are heard the most loudly.

Change should not have to come via the modern day equivalent of a Triangle Factory Fire. Pick your cause (there are many), and help those whose needs are not being heard. There is power in numbers.

For a complete list of activities throughout NYC and the nation, visit Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition to learn about talks, lectures, performances, and art exhibits.

And if you are in New York City this evening (Tuesday, March 8), come to a panel discussion of "The Fire that Ignited a Movement of Women Workers," which is being co-sponsored by Women's eNews, partnering with the Women and Gender Studies Program and the Department of Romance Languages at Hunter College as well as the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, to hear leading scholars and activists discuss the implications of the tragedy and worker rights then and now. The event begins at 5:30 at Hunter College (lobby, Hunter West Building, 68th and Lexington), and there is no charge for the event. I will be representing Women's eNews for this event and serving as moderator.

For more details about the fire, see the online exhibit put up by the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell University. The full story and many photographs can be viewed online.

On my website, I'm celebrating Women's History Month by profiling each day a woman who accomplished great things. Visit my website for more information or to sign up to receive the profiles via

MSNBC, March 7, 2011, Monday


March 7, 2011, Monday


NFL's millionaires vs. billionaires: Why care?

Boiled down, it's still about benefits, work hours and salary

In Wisconsin’s state capital, the union conflict is between teachers and legislators. In Detroit, it’s between auto executives and manufacturing workers.

And in the nation’s capital, a fierce and long-simmering labor fight is raging between a very different group: some of the country’s best athletes and some of its wealthiest business executives.

The circumstances may be different, but the issues pro athletes face when negotiating with their owners are surprisingly similar to those of longshoremen, or iron workers, or bus drivers: Salaries, employee work hours and benefits.

A collective bargaining agreement between the National Football League and the NFL Players Association will expire Friday. The deadline was extended after intense bargaining sessions failed to bring the two sides close enough together to make a deal.

The players and owners are so far apart on key issues that Americans may not see a pro football season next fall.

For Americans more accustomed to the recent and public union fights involving middle-class workers, the idea of such a conflict arising among millionaire athletes may seem unusual — and it is.

“Unions representing professional athletes in the United States represent the highest paid unionized workers in the world,” said Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law. “‘We’re not talking about $30 an hour. We’re talking about millions and millions of dollars. We’re talking about people whose perspective is not the same as blue-collar workers.”

These high-paid athletes may not have the blue-collar perspective, but they still have a need for collective bargaining.

“All unions basically have the same objectives and perform many of the same functions,” said James Gross, a professor in Cornell University’s department of labor relations, law and history.

It’s just that instead of arguing about whether raises should keep up with inflation, the NFL owners and players are discussing how lavish rookie salaries should be and whether team owners deserve an additional $1 billion each year to cover costs such as stadium construction. That's out of a $9 billion pie.

Instead of hashing out the details of lunch breaks and work weeks, there’s the question of whether players should play 18 regular-season games instead of 16.

To a regular worker, it may seem like a great luxury to have those problems. But experts say these negotiations could have a serious impact the long-term wealth, and health, of football players.

“They do make a lot of money, (but) they still need an organization for one, protection, and two, participation,” Gross said. “Everybody needs that.”

For example, being asked to play an extra two regular-season games, in exchange for eliminating two preseason games, in which many star players see little action, could increase the players’ chances of workplace injury and decrease their already extremely short careers.

Some also argue that extending the season amounts to asking workers to do more for the same pay. That’s something many workers can relate to these days.

“It’s almost like getting overtime without paying overtime,” said Michael LeRoy, a labor law professor at the University of Illinois.

The stakes of these negotiations are high because many pro football players will only play for a few seasons. According to the NFLPA, the average length of an NFL career is about 3 1/2 years. That means that missing one season because of labor strife could mean losing a huge chunk of their potential pro career earnings.

..“Members of sports unions have very short careers, whereas (more traditional) union members have a lifetime career, and that changes the way they look at collective bargaining,” Roberts said.

As the two sides jockey for advantage, the tactics both sides are employing are also a far cry from the burn barrels, hand-made signs and budgetary doomsday warnings that are more typical of labor-vs.-employer fights.

NFL owners may lock the players out if they won’t agree to the league's terms. In more typical labor negotiations, it’s the unions that threaten to shut down the business with a strike.

You don’t often see lockouts, but LeRoy said in this case it’s relatively low-risk for the NFL owners since this is the offseason.

“Their TV contracts are in place (and) there’s not lost revenue from ticketholders, so they have maximum bargaining power,” LeRoy said.

Meanwhile, the players have essentially threatened to get rid of the union in order to prevent a lockout.

That complicated maneuver, called decertification, is a bargaining chip for players because it could potentially open the owners up to lengthy antitrust battles. That’s because of how the individual NFL teams work together to negotiate for players.

“(Decertification) is virtually unprecedented in all other labor contracts,” LeRoy said. In fact, he noted, when you do see decertification come up, it is usually the employer that is trying to get rid of the union. In 1987, the NFLPA deployed this unorthodox strategy, which ultimately benefited the players.

Another big difference between this and more typical labor fights is whether they will get the same level of public support — especially if Americans start to worry they won’t get to watch pro football next fall.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that the majority of Americans think it’s unacceptable for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to strip unionized state workers of collective bargaining agreements. That’s at the heart of the union fight raging in the state.

“It’s harder for the public to relate to multimillion-dollar athletes who are all about the bling and are in the news weekly with their misadventures about spending and sort of an undisciplined lifestyle,” LeRoy said. “Who does the public support? It’s more likely to support a teacher who’s lost their collective bargaining.”

Earlier this week, President Obama signaled that he won't likely be among those who has much sympathy for either side. Speaking at a press conference, he told reporters he had bigger problems to worry about and that the two sides should be able to work it out.

"You've got owners, most of whom are worth close to a billion dollars. You've got players who are making millions of dollars," Obama said at a press conference with the visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon, according to Reuters.

"My working assumption, at a time when people are having to cut back, compromise and worry about making the mortgage and paying for their kids' college educations, is that the two parties should be able to work it out without the president of the United States intervening," Obama said, according to the Reuters report.

© 2011 Reprints

Inside Higher Ed, March 7, 2011, Monday

Inside Higher Ed

March 7, 2011, Monday

Inside Higher Ed

More Than Money

The rhetorical volleys exchanged in the battles over collective bargaining in such states as Ohio and Wisconsin have aimed straight for the gut. When governors and legislators have proposed bills to strip the collective bargaining rights of public employees -- a group that in those and other states includes faculty members -- supporters of these bills have framed the situation in two dire words: "We're broke."

In response, the rebuttals have heaped scorn on the authors of such measures, or more precisely, "shame," as the refrain went Thursday in Ohio after the state Senate passed its bill.

While tensions around this dispute have increased and been felt viscerally, the arguments have remained theoretical -- and the assumptions underlying them largely unexamined. To critics of unions, the salary and benefits offered to unionized workers in the public sector are so disproportionate to what's available to those in the private sector that they have become economically unsustainable. To supporters, public sector unions represent the last bastion of a labor movement that has long been under siege, but that played a major role in creating and sustaining the now-vanishing middle class.

Observers have been left to wonder what impact unions -- especially, for the purposes of this article, those in higher education -- have on state budgets, and what the benefits and drawbacks of these unions are. For those with expertise in studying academic labor, the experience of watching the debate has been as maddening as it has been bewildering, as some assertions flatly contradict the evidence.

“We’re not even in the realm of any empirical touchstones in the arguments," said Richard Boris, director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, at Hunter College, City University of New York. "We're in Alice in Wonderland where data doesn’t matter.”

How Much Do Unions Cost the State?

In December, Scott Walker, who was then still the governor-elect of Wisconsin, summed up his view of public unions during a speech at the Milwaukee Press Club. "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," he said. The statement, and the state's $3.6 billion projected deficit over the next two years, formed the avowed rationale for his proposal to demand higher contributions from K-12 teachers and college faculty for their health care and pensions, and to remove their right to collectively bargain. While university faculty generally comprise a small percentage of the rolls of public workers overall, their salaries, levels of education and visibility compared to other public employees have made them targets of late.

The assertion that public employees are overpaid has been rebutted elsewhere. Jeffrey Keefe, associate professor at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations, has argued that the opposite is true, once you compare people of similar levels of education and experience, and the size of the companies at which they work.

And, if one shrinks the size of the sample even further -- to full-time university faculty -- research offers little support for the argument that unionized faculty laborers are more costly than non-unionized ones. In 2002, Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, along with three of his undergraduate students at the time, Daniel B. Klaff, Adam T. Kezsbom and Matthew P. Nagowski, analyzed several existing studies on how collective bargaining affects faculty salaries relative to faculty who are not covered by such agreements.

How big was the difference between the two groups? Not very. "These studies suggest that, at best, faculty unions increase their members’ average salaries by a very small percentage and some find that faculty unions have had no effect," they wrote.

Such findings should not be surprising, continued Ehrenberg and his co-authors. They noted that most faculty members covered by union contracts lack the legal right to strike. They also describe the two major sources of revenue that pay for faculty salaries -- tuition and state appropriations -- as controlled, most often, by the legislature and governor, not by the trustees of the institution. "With little bargaining power and very few monopoly rents to extract," they wrote, "one should expect very small union impacts on faculty salaries."

Since then, other studies have produced similar results. A paper to be published in the upcoming issue of Industrial and Labor Relations Review looked at the effect of collective bargaining on faculty salaries. The authors -- John Krieg, associate professor and Steven E. Henson, professor of economics at Western Washington University, along with David W. Hedrick, professor and Charles S. Wassell, Jr., associate professor of economics at Central Washington University -- examined the pay of faculty at four-year institutions around the country and controlled for regional differences in cost of living as well as whether a campus was engaged in collective bargaining. They also corrected for measurement error and other factors.

"Making all of these adjustments simultaneously reduces the union wage premium to statistical insignificance," they wrote. Krieg said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that the goals of eliminating collective bargaining and trying to lessen labor costs were "mutually exclusive" because their research indicated that the connection between the two was so flimsy.

The research does not account for the largest share of the academic labor force in public higher education: adjunct faculty. (And, to many who are familiar with the current state of higher education, using the image of an aging, tenured and well-compensated professor as the face of the entire professoriate makes little sense.) Many adjuncts cobble together part-time jobs on multiple campuses in order to earn a living, and their rights to unionize vary in wide and complex ways between campuses and states. In some cases, adjuncts can join their own unions, while in others they belong to the same bargaining units as full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty members, which has been a source of friction. "The problem," Ehrenberg told Inside Higher Ed, "is that data on adjunct compensation is so limited and sketchy that it would be very difficult to see what the impact of collective bargaining is on them."

Within higher education, a significant difference does exist in the wages of unionized and non-unionized faculty -- at two-year institutions, where teaching loads tend to be heavier. Stephen G. Katsinas, professor, and David E. Hardy, associate professor of higher education at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, worked with Jose Frank Maldonado of Tarrant County College to study salaries at more than 1,000 community colleges. When comparing faculty salaries of unionized faculty to those of non-unionized ones, the differences could be stark. At small, rural community colleges where faculty members were allowed to collectively bargain, salaries were 11 percent higher than at similar types of colleges where the faculty could not. The difference increased to 48 percent at suburban campuses. Across regions, Katsinas, Hardy and Maldonado found that unionized faculty at community colleges earned, on average, over $13,000 each year, or 32 percent, more than those who worked on campuses that did not collectively bargain.

The research has comparatively little to say about the differences in pensions and health care between the public and private sectors. But some observers acknowledge that both have become valuable commodities for the average private sector worker as employer-provided pensions have grown scarce and health care premiums have skyrocketed. Nick DiGiovanni, a lawyer with Morgan, Brown & Joy in Boston, who has been part of many union negotiations on the management side of the table, said that health care is where the most pitched battles tend to occur. Unions push hard on what share of health care premiums their members will pay, or whether they will be responsible for, say, a $10 or a $15 copay for a medical visit. "That’s a constant battle," said DiGiovanni. "Unions will fight very hard for that issue." It is here, perhaps, where Walker's critique of the haves and have-nots resonates most strongly.

A similar disparity is evident in pensions. While many private sector workers have seen their employer-paid pensions scaled back or disappear, or had the risk placed entirely on their shoulders via defined contribution plans, the majority of those who work for state governments, including college faculty members, still participate in defined-benefit plans with guaranteed payouts. DiGiovanni said that, in his experience, pensions for faculty are often invested in 403(b) plans and do not frequently figure into negotiations. In other cases, faculty pensions are part of the broader, state-managed plans, whose solvency -- some estimates project their shortfalls at $1 trillion or more -- has attracted considerable worry.

The dire fiscal straits of such plans have been attributed by some, such as Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, chiefly to the drop in the stock market between 2007-9. Ehrenberg said that states also underfunded their obligations during the stock market boom. "Often, they didn’t put the money into reserve accounts," he said, referring to state governors and legislators. "This isn’t unique to faculty unions. I think, in general, the unions are being blamed now for what is the responsibility of government officials."

After all, Ehrenberg added, decisions about pensions are essentially long-term commitments that are made by politicians with short-term interests. "It’s easy to give in on benefits because the costs of the benefits don’t show up until down the road," he said.

Politics and Power

If, as a whole, faculty salaries don't increase markedly as a result of unionization, it raises a different set of questions. For starters, why have faculty unions in the first place?

Faculty advocates say that unions' real role lies elsewhere: in shaping the working conditions of the faculty they represent and in giving input into the workings of the university. "All things considered, it’d be nice to have better wages, but it's not our primary purpose. It’s to secure the prime conditions for the integrity of the faculty," said Tom Auxter, a professor of philosophy at the University of Florida and president of United Faculty of Florida, which is affiliated with the Florida Education Association, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the AFL-CIO. Florida has also seen its share of recent labor strife, as when the UFF fought successfully in November for the reinstatement of 21 tenured faculty members at Florida State University; a bill has also been proposed in the state house, which would force collective bargaining units to seek recertification if they represent fewer than half of eligible employees in an organization.

Auxter said such "prime conditions" for faculty include due process, grievance procedures that end in binding arbitration, transparent and fair evaluations and clear, objective tenure guidelines. Full-time faculty members in Ohio recently pointed to similar conditions, and to unions' roles in such comparatively low-cost and small-scale victories as domestic partner benefits.

More generally, the existence of unions sets up a more predictable relationship between management and labor, both sides say. Collective bargaining, grievance procedures and binding arbitration offer systematized ways to resolve disputes, said Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, which, while best known as a professional association, is also a union on some campuses. "You don’t have all-out confusion and war. It can actually reduce conflict," he said. "It’s counterintuitive, but it’s ideally what collective bargaining is doing."

He predicted that states moving to kill collective bargaining will come to see that the alternative is unappetizing. "I think what they’re going to find in Ohio is they’re going to be in the midst of expensive litigation that will end up costing Ohio taxpayers a lot more money."

More important, what unions do is give faculty some leverage over the workings of the university, and the kinds of labor conditions that have an impact on learning -- such as class size or the availability of campus office space for adjuncts, said Rhoades.

Recent research confirms this point. Stephen R. Porter, associate professor in educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University, and Clinton M. Stephens, a graduate research assistant there, looked at a national survey of presidents and faculty senate leaders. They measured the level of shared governance at 341 public universities. "We find," they wrote in November, "that unionization greatly increases faculty influence over decision-making in areas such as setting faculty salary scales, individual faculty salaries, appointing department chairs, and appointments to institution-wide committees."

Implicit in such research and in the complaints of many professors is that faculty senates have little impact on their own. Too often, they provide advice that is ignored, many professors say. Some of these bodies have been suspended outright, as has happened on campuses from Idaho to New York. In contrast, a union gives the senate more legal force, said Rhoades. "This is about power," he said. "Senates would not negotiate workload; they’d be meeting and conferring -- or more accurately, meeting and deferring -- over a range of issues."

But critics of unions in higher education see the combination of collective bargaining and tenure as providing an undue level of protection to the professoriate (including the worst among them). "With that sort of belt-and-suspenders security you can expect that even the laziest, most incompetent or radical professor won't get fired," Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of the upcoming book, The Faculty Lounges ... And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the Higher Education You Paid For, wrote in an op-ed Thursday in USA Today. Riley and others also see union members' desire to weigh in on curriculum, class schedules and grading as a case of overreach. "They want to influence how the whole system works," she wrote.

Rhoades, on the other hand, sees overreach in the efforts of some Republican lawmakers to target unions. He also predicted political blowback, and pointed to recent polling showing a nearly 2-to-1 ratio of support for public workers. "I believe they will pay for that," he said. "One way of thinking of it is that our country has not grown by taking away people’s rights."

Many have argued that, ultimately, the recent efforts to scuttle collective bargaining are really a bid to weaken the power base of the Democratic party. "This is not an economic issue. This is a political issue," said Rhoades. "This is a battle over power, not state budgets."

Such efforts may yet prove to be a shrewd political calculation, said Jefferson Cowie, associate professor of labor history at Cornell. "The problem is that the divide-and-conquer strategy works very well," he said. While he was surprised that Wisconsin, with its history of progressive politics and friendliness to labor, became the staging ground for a battle over public sector unions, he said the targeting of public unions was the inevitable result of a campaign against organized labor whose last signal moment was President Reagan's firing of unionized air traffic controllers.

For years, middle-class wages have stagnated and income inequality has risen, he noted. In the end, struggling private sector workers have come to resent the pension or the less onerous health care costs of, say, their neighbor, the parole officer. "It’s a complex story with a simple political answer," said Cowie. "Bash the unions."

— Dan Berrett

Bloomberg, March 7, 2011, Monday


March 7, 2011, Monday


Teacher Security Blanket May Shred as Governors Hit 'Ignorance Factories'

U.S. public-school teachers are facing the biggest challenge to their job security in more than half a century as politicians target seniority rules that make the last hired the first fired when jobs are cut.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, are among officials pushing for changes in laws in coming months to let them fire underperforming teachers. As budget cuts threaten the jobs of thousands of school employees, officials are demanding the right to keep the most talented, even if they’re the least experienced.

The proposed changes may undercut the power of teachers’ unions. They intensify the debate on how to judge instructor’s effectiveness as U.S. students lag behind international peers. As officials cut education budgets, they should focus on what is best for children, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

“Layoffs based only on seniority don’t help kids,” Duncan said in a conference call with reporters March 3. “We have to minimize the negative impact on students.”

In 14 states, including New York, California and New Jersey, districts can consider only seniority when dismissing teachers, and they are home to 40 percent of public-school instructors, according to a report published last month by The New Teacher Project, a New York organization founded in 1997 by Michelle Rhee, Washington’s former schools chancellor.

Cutting the Future
Even as states cut billions from their budgets, federal officials and executives from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke are lamenting the damage caused by education reductions.

“No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalization and technical change,” Bernanke said in a speech March 2. “Cost-effective K-12 and postsecondary schooling are crucial.”

In New York, Bloomberg is pushing the Legislature to pass a law eliminating the “last-in, first-out” policy, saying as many as 4,666, or 6 percent, of the city’s teachers may be fired. In New Jersey, Christie proposed eliminating seniority rules for teachers at a town hall meeting Sept. 28. And in California, a Senate bill was introduced Feb. 15 that would replace seniority with a system based on several factors including student performance.

Superintendents argue seniority rules force them to retain incompetent teachers instead of young talent.

‘Ignorance Factories’
Changing the system would be a “pretty substantial boost” to student performance, said Chester Finn Jr., who was assistant secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988. He is president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research group focused on improving K-12 education.

“Just as some schools are dropout factories, there are teachers that are ignorance factories,” Finn said in a telephone interview. “You’re going to have to let some people go, so why not get rid of the people who aren’t getting the job done?”

While seniority isn’t the “end-all and be-all,” mayors and superintendents don’t want any system at all, said Randi Weingarten, president of the Washington-based American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.5 million members.

“They just want individual principals to make decisions based on who their favorites are,” Weingarten said in a telephone interview March 4. “Instead of trying to figure out who to work with and how to deal with a terrible budget, they’re trying to attack teachers and attack people who made an investment and commitment to this profession before it was cool.”

Recession’s Effects
The recession that began in 2008 and the resulting budget crises devastated teacher employment. About 172,000 U.S. public- education jobs, including those of teachers and clerical workers, have been eliminated since September 2008, according to John See, an American Federation of Teachers spokesman. In the past 12 months, 99,800 have disappeared, he said, citing federal labor statistics.

Preserving seniority prevents cronyism, said Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, which represents 200,000 current and retired teachers.

“Administrators who are pressed to save money may become tempted to target their veteran teachers” who earn more, he said.

Abolishing seniority is a “major threat” to teachers unions, said Grover Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Since they acquired the rights to bargain, surely this is the biggest challenge they’ve faced.”

Married Teachers
While teachers’ professional organizations have existed since the National Education Association’s founding in 1857, seniority rules were adopted gradually, following their development in industrial unions, said Marjorie Murphy, a history professor at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. In 1909, New Jersey adopted the first statewide employment protections, in part to keep women from being dismissed after marrying, said Rebecca Givan, an assistant professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.

The last time teachers unions were under a similar threat was in the late 1940s, when “red scare” laws banned strikes from public service workers, Murphy said.

No Silver Bullet
Eliminating last-in, first-out rules won’t mean dramatic improvements, said David Abbott, executive director of the Cleveland-based George Gund Foundation, which supports education initiatives. Education needs innovation, he said.

“There’s too much emphasis placed on that issue as a silver bullet,” Abbott said. “We say, ‘If we can just get rid of this work rule, of this industrial workforce mentality, that will solve our problem.’ No, it won’t.”

In New Jersey, which had 112,933 teachers in the 2009-10 school year, Christie is seeking to make it easier to fire the ineffective and to overhaul tenure laws. Under his plan, student performance would become the prime factor in tenure, promotions and firing in the event of budget cuts.

Districts trimmed payrolls for the current school year after Christie cut state aid by $820 million. New Jersey relies on the nation’s highest property taxes, an average $7,281, to fund education. Christie enacted a 2 percent cap on growth of the tax as of Jan. 1, leaving the teachers union and some educators to warn a second round of staff cuts may be coming.

Bloomberg’s Efforts
In New York, Bloomberg said he needed to cut teaching jobs to close a $2.4 billion deficit in a $65.6 billion budget he proposed Feb. 17. Bloomberg called upon the Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to empower him to determine whom to fire.

A bill Bloomberg supports passed the Republican-dominated Senate March 1. Cuomo intends to push his own that doesn’t eliminate seniority.

“The bottom line is, we need an alternative,” said Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman. Once New York has an objective evaluation system, last-in, first-out can be replaced, he said.

Bloomberg’s threat to fire 4,666 teachers is a “political ploy,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the New York United Federation of Teachers, in an interview. “Even the governor says they’re unnecessary,” he said.

“Experience matters,” said Mulgrew, who taught high school English and film studies for 13 years. “Mike Bloomberg ran for a third term saying ‘experience counts.’ Well, we have class sizes exploding, and we need all the experience we can keep.”

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

In Los Angeles, Villariagosa, a former union organizer, favors performance-based criteria, according to Sarah Hamilton, his spokeswoman.

No Luxury
California state Senator Bob Huff, a Republican from the Los Angeles suburb of Diamond Bar, introduced a bill Feb. 15 that would replace seniority with a system that weighs factors including student performance. Huff’s bill is not scheduled for a vote, nor has it been assigned to a committee.

“You won’t find the luxury of seniority protection in the private sector and we shouldn’t apply such an ineffective policy to an important profession like teaching,” Huff, 57, said in a written statement.

Eliminating seniority will hurt teachers and children, said Jennifer Schenk, 38, a sixth-grade counselor in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where collective bargaining by public employees is under attack by Governor Scott Walker.

“Without seniority protections we’d all be on an even playing field, allowing schools to fire higher-paid teachers with more experience,” said Schenk as she stood in Madison on March 4 to protest the proposed changes. “That would cause the quality of instruction to go down.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Oliver Staley in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at