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April 5, 2014

18 Unions Each Spent More on Politics than Koch Brothers



(p. A13) Harry Reid is under a lot of job-retention stress these days, so Americans might forgive him the occasional word fumble. When he recently took to the Senate floor to berate the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch for spending "unlimited money" to "rig the system" and "buy elections," the majority leader clearly meant to be condemning unions.

It's an extraordinary thing, in a political age obsessed with campaign money, that nobody scrutinizes the biggest, baddest, "darkest" spenders of all: organized labor. The IRS is muzzling nonprofits; Democrats are "outing" corporate donors; Jane Mayer is probably working on part 89 of her New Yorker series on the "covert" Kochs. Yet the unions glide blissfully, unmolestedly along. This lack of oversight has led to a union world that today acts with a level of campaign-finance impunity that no other political giver--conservative outfits, corporate donors, individuals, trade groups--could even fathom.


. . .


The Center for Responsive Politics' list of top all-time donors from 1989 to 2014 ranks Koch Industries No. 59. Above Koch were 18 unions, which collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries ($18 million).



For the full commentary, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "POTOMAC WATCH; The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs; Harry Reid surely must have meant the unions when he complained about buying elections." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 6, 2014.)






November 9, 2013

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values "Voyaging into the Unknown"



PhelpsEdmundWinner2006NobelPrize2013-10-24.jpg











"Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. C7) Edmund Phelps's "Mass Flourishing" could easily be retitled "Contra-Corporatism," for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America's current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which "voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society," or in Republicans in the thrall of "traditional values," who see "the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance." He instead yearns for legislative solons who "could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?"


. . .


The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with "a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback."


. . .


In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a "panoply of new roles," from regulations "aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition" to lawsuits that "add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification." It is as if "every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract" in which "no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation." But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change--and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.


. . .


But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are "aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy," and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a "national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms"--not my favorite idea.



For the full review, see:

EDWARD GLAESER. "How to Unleash the Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Mass Flourishing' by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.")



The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.




Mass-FlourishingBK2013-10-24.jpg















Source of book image: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/files/2013/08/Mass-Flourishing-cover.jpg









November 5, 2013

Entrepreneur Arik Achmon Stood Down Powerful Union to Keep His Company Alive



LikeDreamersBK2013-10-24.jpg














Source of book image: http://www.seraphicpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/like-dreamers.jpg





(p. C2) Mr. Halevi, an American immigrant who has worked as a journalist and analyst in Jerusalem for 30 years, has created a textured, beautifully written narrative by focusing on seven men -- and they are all men -- . . . , who served in the paratroop brigade that conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 war.


. . .


. . . , the men Mr. Halevi has chosen are compelling. One is Arik Achmon, a secular liberal from a kibbutz who helped transform Israel's failing statist economy into a thriving capitalist one. Mr. Achmon helped found the first private domestic airline in Israel. The story of how he stood down the once-powerful Histadrut trade union federation to keep his company alive illustrates the enormous changes that Israeli society has undergone in the past three decades.



For the full review, see:

ETHAN BRONNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 7 Paratroopers and Paths They Took Through an Israel at a Crossroads." The New York Times (Thurs., September 26, 2013): C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 25, 2013.)



The book under review is:

Halevi, Yossi Klein. Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.



HaleviYossiKlein2013-10-24.jpg













"Yossi Klein Halevi." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.







June 6, 2013

Faculty Unions Oppose MOOCs that Might Cost Them Their Jobs in Five to Seven Years



ThrunSabastianUdacityCEO2013-05-14.jpg "Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford, is Udacity's chief executive officer." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Dazzled by the potential of free online college classes, educators are now turning to the gritty task of harnessing online materials to meet the toughest challenges in American higher education: giving more students access to college, and helping them graduate on time.


. . .


Here at San Jose State, . . . , two pilot programs weave material from the online classes into the instructional mix and allow students to earn credit for them.

"We're in Silicon Valley, we (p. A3) breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this," said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university's president. "In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure. And if it doesn't work the first time, we'll figure out what went wrong and do better."


. . .


Dr. Qayoumi favors the blended model for upper-level courses, but fully online courses like Udacity's for lower-level classes, which could be expanded to serve many more students at low cost. Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction.

"There may still be face-to-face classes, but they would not be in lecture halls," he said. "And they will have not only course material developed by the instructor, but MOOC materials and labs, and content from public broadcasting or corporate sources. But just as faculty currently decide what textbook to use, they will still have the autonomy to choose what materials to include."


. . .


Any wholesale online expansion raises the specter of professors being laid off, turned into glorified teaching assistants or relegated to second-tier status, with only academic stars giving the lectures. Indeed, the faculty unions at all three California higher education systems oppose the legislation requiring credit for MOOCs for students shut out of on-campus classes.


. . .


"Our ego always runs ahead of us, making us think we can do it better than anyone else in the world," Dr. Ghadiri said. "But why should we invent the wheel 10,000 times? This is M.I.T., No. 1 school in the nation -- why would we not want to use their material?"

There are, he said, two ways of thinking about what the MOOC revolution portends: "One is me, me, me -- me comes first. The other is, we are not in this business for ourselves, we are here to educate students."



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Colleges Adapt Online Courses to Ease Burden." The New York Times (Tues., April 30, 2013): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 29, 2013.)



KormanikKatieUdacityStudent2013-05-14.jpg "Katie Kormanik preparing to record a statistics course at Udacity, an online classroom instruction provider in Mountain View, Calif." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






April 20, 2013

"The French Work Force Gets Paid High Wages But Works Only Three Hours"



(p. B1) PARIS -- "How stupid do you think we are?"

With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.

"I have visited the factory a couple of times," Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country's industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.

"The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three."

"I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, 'That's the French way!' "



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Quel Brouhaha! A Diatribe on Unions Irks the French." The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)



For a similar account, see:

GABRIELE PARUSSINI. "U.S. CEO to France: "How Stupid Do You Think We Are?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013, and has the title "U.S. CEO Blasts French Work Habits.")






February 19, 2013

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education



(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. "You're headed for a one-term presidency," Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.

Jobs also attacked America's education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.



Source:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






June 4, 2012

In Wisconsin a Choice Between the Party of the Takers and the Party of the Payers



(p. A3) Craig Dedo, a computer consultant and Walker supporter, said the race boiled down to one question: Who runs Wisconsin? "The Democrats and the unions, who are the takers?" he asked, "or the Republicans, the party of the private sector and the people who pay the bills?"


For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "Recall Election Could Foretell November Vote." The New York Times (Fri., June 1, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 31, 2012.)





June 22, 2011

Some New York Public School Teachers Still Well Paid to Do Busy Work



(p. A1) For her first assignment of the school year, Verona Gill, a $100,000-a-year special education teacher whom the city is trying to fire, sat around education offices in Lower Manhattan for two weeks, waiting to be told what to do.

For her second assignment, she was sent to a district office in the Bronx and told to hand out language exams to anyone who came to pick them up. Few did.

Now, Ms. Gill reports to a cubicle in Downtown Brooklyn with a broken computer and waits for it to be fixed. Periodically, her supervisor comes by to tell her she is still working on the problem. It has been this way since Oct. 8.

"I have no projects to do, so I sit there until 2:50 p.m. -- that's six hours and 50 minutes," the official length of the teacher workday, she said. "And then I swipe out."

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg closed the notorious reassignment centers known as rubber rooms this year, he and the city's teachers' union announced triumphantly that one of the most obvious sources of (p. A3) waste in the school system -- $30 million a year in salaries being paid to educators caught up in the glacial legal process required to fire them -- was no more.

No longer would hundreds of teachers accused of wrongdoing or incompetence, like Ms. Gill, clock in and out of trailers or windowless rooms for years, doing nothing more than snoozing or reading newspapers, griping or teaching one another tai chi. Instead, their cases would be sped up, and in the meantime they would be put to work.

While hundreds of teachers have had their cases resolved, for many of those still waiting, the definition of "work" has turned out to be a loose one. Some are now doing basic tasks, like light filing, paper-clipping, tracking down student information on a computer or using 25-foot tape measures to determine the dimensions of entire school buildings. Others sit without work in unadorned cubicles or at out-of-the-way conference tables.



For the full story, see:

SHARON OTTERMAN. "For New York, Teachers Still in Idle Limbo." The New York Times (Weds., December 8, 2010): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated December 7, 2010 and has the title "New York Teachers Still in Idle Limbo.")





February 16, 2011

UFT "Trying to Deny Poor Parents Choice for Their Children"



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Madeleine Sackler. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





(p. A13) 'What's funny," says Madeleine Sackler, "is that I'm not really a political person." Yet the petite 27-year-old is the force behind "The Lottery"--an explosive new documentary about the battle over the future of public education opening nationwide this Tuesday.

In the spring of 2008, Ms. Sackler, then a freelance film editor, caught a segment on the local news about New York's biggest lottery. It wasn't the Powerball. It was a chance for 475 lucky kids to get into one of the city's best charter schools (publicly funded schools that aren't subject to union rules).

"I was blown away by the number of parents that were there," Ms. Sackler tells me over coffee on Manhattan's Upper West Side, recalling the thousands of people packed into the Harlem Armory that day for the drawing. "I wanted to know why so many parents were entering their kids into the lottery and what it would mean for them." And so Ms. Sackler did what any aspiring filmmaker would do: She grabbed her camera.


. . .


But on the way to making the film she imagined, she "stumbled on this political mayhem--really like a turf war about the future of public education." Or more accurately, she happened upon a raucous protest outside of a failing public school in which Harlem Success, already filled to capacity, had requested space.

"We drove by that protest," Ms. Sackler recalls. "We were on our way to another interview and we jumped out of the van and started filming." There she discovered that the majority of those protesting the proliferation of charter schools were not even from the neighborhood. They'd come from the Bronx and Queens.

"They all said 'We're not allowed to talk to you. We're just here to support the parents.'" But there were only two parents there, says Ms. Sackler, and both were members of Acorn. And so, "after not a lot of digging," she discovered that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) had paid Acorn, the controversial community organizing group, "half a million dollars for the year." (It cost less to make the film.)

Finding out that the teachers union had hired a rent-a-mob to protest on its behalf was "the turn for us in the process." That story--of self-interested adults trying to deny poor parents choice for their children--provided an answer to Ms. Sackler's fundamental question: "If there are these high-performing schools that are closing the achievement gap, why aren't there more of them?"



For the full interview, see:

BARI WEISS. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Storming the School Barricades; A new documentary by a 27-year-old filmmaker could change the national debate about public education." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 5, 2010): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the first paragraph quoted above has slightly different wording in the online version than the print version; the second paragraph quoted is the same in both.)





November 17, 2010

Public Employees' Union Was Biggest Spender in 2010 Election



(p. A1) The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is now the biggest outside spender of the 2010 elections, thanks to an 11th-hour effort to boost Democrats that has vaulted the public-sector union ahead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and a flock of new Republican groups in campaign spending.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats' hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

"We're the big dog," said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME's political operations. "But we don't like to brag."



For the full story, see:

BRODY MULLINS And JOHN D. MCKINNON. "Campaign's Big Spender; Public-Employees Union Now Leads All Groups in Independent Election Outlays." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 22, 2010): A1 & A4.





October 23, 2010

Arne Duncan on "Waiting for Superman" and Teachers' Unions



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Arne Duncan. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 26) Have you seen the new film "Waiting for Superman," a documentary opening this week that makes public education in this country seem totally dysfunctional?
I did. I think it's going to help the country to understand the tremendous sense of urgency that I feel. We have parents who know their child is getting a subpar education. That is devastating to them and ultimately it's devastating to our country.

The film blames teachers' unions for the failure of public schools because the unions have made it almost impossible to fire lazy teachers. Are you against teachers' unions?
Of course not. I'm a big fan of Randi's.



Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers? The film depicts her as a villain.
I think Randi is providing some courageous leadership and is actually taking some heat internally in the union because she said publicly that the union shouldn't be protecting bad teachers.


For the full interview, see:

DEBORAH SOLOMON. "Questions for Arne Duncan; The School of Hard Drives." The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., September 17, 2010): 26.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 16, 2010.)





September 15, 2010

Brit Papers Survived Due to "the Gratifying Defeat of the Luddite Unions by Rupert Murdoch"



EvansHarold2010-09-01.jpg















"Evans says: "Ultimately, Mrs Thatcher was the reason I was fired, because I attacked her so much." Source of caption and photo: online version of The Independent on Sunday article quoted and cited below.



(p. 12) As a condition of acquiring both The Times and The Sunday Times in early 1981, Murdoch promised that the independence of each would be protected by a board of directors, and made other solemn guarantees.

"On this basis," Evans wrote in Good Times, Bad Times, "I accepted Rupert Murdoch's invitation to edit The Times on February 17 1981. My ambition," he admitted, "got the better of my judgement." Every assurance regarding editorial independence, he added, was blithely disregarded.

On 9 March 1982, the day after he'd come back from burying his father at Bluebell Wood cemetery in Prestatyn, Harold Evans was sacked.

"Ultimately," he says, "Mrs Thatcher was the reason I was fired. Because I was attacking her so much. When she started to dismantle the British economy, the most cogent critic of that policy which led, OK, to... a lot of things... was The Sunday Times. I wrote 70 per cent of that criticism myself. When I became editor of The Times, I continued to criticise monetarism. But I could still see some of the good things about her."

"Just remind us?"

"I'm thinking - and you probably won't agree with this because I sense that you're a firm supporter of the NUJ [National Union of Journalists] - mainly of her dealings with the unions."

"How do you feel about her now?"

"I think she is a very brave woman."

"Hitler was brave."

"Yes, but... she was right about terrorism. She was right about the IRA."

"Do you think Britain would be a better place if she'd never existed?"

"No. I think Britain benefited from her having been there. Britain was becoming so arthritic with labour restrictions."

"Good Times, Bad Times is an unforgiving portrait of Rupert Murdoch."


. . .


(p. 13) [Evans] has called Rupert Murdoch elitist, anti-democratic, and asserted that the Australian cares nothing about the opinion of others, so long as his business expands. This is the same man who refers to "the gratifying defeat of the Luddite unions by Rupert Murdoch".


. . .


"So how do you feel about the Murdoch empire now?"

Evans pauses. "I'm not that familiar with the British... OK. Let's take an alternative scenario. Murdoch never arrives. I manage to take control of The Sunday Times with the management buyout. Then I get defeated by the unions. The Independent wouldn't be here. Rival papers survived because they got the technology. Thanks to Murdoch."




For the full interview, see:

Robert Chalmers, Interviewer. "Harold Evans: 'All I tried to do was shed a little light'." The Independent on Sunday (Sun., June 13, 2010): 8 & 10-13.

(Note: free-standing ellipsis, between paragraphs, added; internal ellipses in original; italics in original; bracketed name added in place of "he.")





June 24, 2010

U.S. Jobs Lost Due to Law Restricting Mexican Truck Drivers



CarbonlessPaperMachine2010-05-20.jpg"Carbonless paper comes off a coating machine at Appleton Papers in March. Mexican tariffs have hit sales." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) APPLETON, Wis.--Congress's vote last year to keep Mexican truck drivers south of the border was good news for DuWayne Marshall.

Mr. Marshall, 49 years old, owns a truck and hauls loads all over the U.S. from his home in Wisconsin. "Why should I have to compete against Third World drivers within my own borders?" Mr. Marshall asked during a break on a run to San Diego. "By closing down the borders, we are saving American jobs."

Elizabeth Villagomez, 38, isn't so sure. A single mother of two teens, she has worked at a paper plant in this community near Green Bay for 15 years. After the Mexican government retaliated against the trucking ban by slapping $2 billion in tariffs on U.S. paper, produce and other goods, orders plunged and managers began slashing shifts and overtime for the unionized work force.

"The company has done all it can to cut costs," Ms. Villagomez said. "I'm at the bottom of the list if they have layoffs. It's kind of scary, not knowing if you're going to have a job."


. . .


At Appleton Papers Inc., the fight over who can drive a truck across a border 1,600 miles away has translated into falling wages and rising anxiety.

Rick Bahr, head of the United Steelworkers union local that represents more than 500 employees at the Appleton plant, said six shifts have already been cut, cutting down on overtime.

"The battle ends up union versus union, truckers versus the paper workers," Mr. Bahr said. The national steelworkers' union has been supporting the Teamsters on the issue of Mexican trucks in the U.S.

Nearly half the company's revenue, about $420 million last year, comes from carbonless paper sales. Its largest foreign customer is Mexico. After Mexico put a 10% tariff on carbonless paper, revenue from Mexico fell to $37 million in 2009 from $46 million in 2008.

Now, more Mexican customers say they will look for alternative suppliers to avoid having to bear part of the tariff costs. Just last month a major customer told Appleton it was going to get its carbonless paper from a European producer.

Even before the tariffs were imposed, the company had seen business hit by the economic slowdown and had cut its work force in 2008 and stopped other benefits, such as reimbursing tuition and matching workers' contributions to their 401K retirement plans. Company officials said it was hard to quantify what part of the business downturn could be blamed directly on the tariffs, but they noted that Appleton sold 18% fewer tons of carbonless paper in the U.S. last year, compared with 2008. The number of tons sold to Mexican customers was down 24%.

Inside the plant, the machine that coats 4,000-pound rolls of paper to make it carbonless was idle one recent afternoon. Once run 24 hours a day, it is now used only half that time.

Kevin Bunnow, 50, a 33-year veteran of the plant, said the reduction in shifts had meant a wage cut of several thousand dollars last year.

"When elephants fight, the grass loses," he said. "It didn't take me long to realize, we're the grass."




For the full story, see:

GARY FIELDS. "Trade Dispute Divides Workers; It's 'Union vs. Union' as Ban on Mexican Trucks Cheers Drivers, Triggers Cut in Hours at Paper Plant." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





February 25, 2010

Largest Decline in Private Sector Union Members in 25 Years



(p. A3) Organized labor lost 10% of its members in the private sector last year, the largest decline in more than 25 years. The drop is on par with the fall in total employment but threatens to significantly limit labor's ability to influence elections and legislation.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported private-sector unions lost 834,000 members, bringing membership down to 7.2% of the private-sector work force, from 7.6% the year before. The broader drop in U.S. employment and a small gain by public-sector unions helped keep the total share of union membership flat at 12.3% in 2009. In the early 1980s, unions represented 20% of workers.



For the full story, see:

KRIS MAHER. "Union Membership Declines by 10%." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 23, 2010): A3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title "Union Membership Drops 10%.")





January 25, 2010

Like Cesar Chavez, Union Intimidates Its Own Members



FrankVitaleAmeliaUnionOrganizer2010-01-16.jpg "Amelia Frank-Vitale, a former union organizer, said the practice of pink sheeting sent her into therapy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) After six years working in the laundry of a Miami hotel, Julia Rivera was thrilled when her union tapped her to become a full-time union organizer.

But her excitement soon turned to outrage.

Ms. Rivera said her supervisors at Unite Here, the hotel and restaurant workers' union, repeatedly pressed her to reveal highly personal information, getting her to divulge that her father had sexually abused her.

Later, she said, her supervisors ordered her to recount her tale of abuse again and again to workers they were trying to unionize at Tampa International Airport, convinced that Ms. Rivera's story would move them, making them more likely to join the union.

"I was scared not to do what they said," said Ms. Rivera, adding that she resented being pressured to disclose intimate information and then speak about it in public. "To me, it was sick. It was horrible."

Ms. Rivera and other current and former Unite Here organizers are speaking out against what they say is a longstanding practice in which Unite Here officials pressured subordinates to disclose sensitive personal information -- for example, that their mother was an alcoholic or that they were fighting with their spouse.

More than a dozen organizers said in interviews that they had often been pressured to detail such personal anguish -- sometimes under the threat of dismissal from their union positions -- and that their supervisors later used the information to press them to comply with their orders.

"It's extremely cultlike and extremely manipulative," said Amelia Frank-Vitale, a Yale graduate and former hotel union organizer who said these practices drove her to see a therapist.

Several organizers grew incensed when they discovered that details of their history had been put into the union's database so that supervisors could use that information to manipulate them.

"This information is extremely personal," said Matthew Edwards, an organizer who had disclosed that he was from a broken home and was overweight when young. "It is catalogued and shared throughout the whole organizing department."


. . .


(p. B5) Several organizers likened pink sheeting to a practice that Cesar Chavez, former president of the United Farm Workers, used when he embraced a mind-control practice developed by Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center founded in Santa Monica, Calif. Union staff members were systematically subjected to intense, prolonged verbal abuse in an effort to break them down and assure loyalty.


. . .


Ms. Frank-Vitale, now a graduate student at American University, says she is still haunted by memories of pink sheeting.

"One night my supervisor pushed me and pushed me, and I started talking about being an overweight woman in America, what that was like in high school, that it was very difficult for me," she said. "I felt kind of violated."




For the full story, see:

STEVEN GREENHOUSE. "Some Organizers Protest Their Union's Tactics." The New York Times (Thurs., November 19, 2009): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 18, 2009.)

(Note: ellipses added.)





December 4, 2009

Calderón's Decision Is Bigger than Reagan's Firing of Air Traffic Controllers



ElectriciansProtestMexico2009-10-29.jpg"The Mexican Union of Electricians protests the government's decision to liquidate the state-owned electricity company in Mexico City." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A19) Eight days ago, just after midnight on a Sunday morning, Mexican President Felipe Calderón instructed federal police to take over the operations of the state-owned electricity monopoly, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), which serves Mexico City and parts of surrounding states. The company's assets will stay in the hands of the government but will now be run by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), a national state-owned utility and the major supplier of LyFC's energy.

The net effect of the move is to dethrone 42,000 members of the Mexican Union of Electricians, which had won benefits over the decades to make Big Three auto workers in Detroit blush. When the liquidation is complete, it is expected that the company will employ about 8,000. To appreciate the magnitude of Mr. Calderón's decision, think of Ronald Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers--only bigger. As one internationally renowned Mexican economist remarked on Sunday, it is "the most important act of government in 20 years."



For the full commentary, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY. "Mexico's Calderón Takes on Big Labor; Its state-owned electricity company was bleeding the national treasury dry." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 19, 2009): A19.





June 11, 2009

Powerful Rail Unions Defend Specious Disability Claims



RailroadDisabilityReport.jpg"LAX REGULATIONS; One examination in 1997 found that 97 percent of workers who applied for disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board were approved. Despite decades of efforts to re-evaluate the standards, the rate is as high or higher today." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) After learning that most of her career employees were retiring early and getting disability payments, the Long Island Rail Road's president, Helena E. Williams, set out in October to learn more about the obscure federal agency in Chicago that was dispensing the money, a quarter of a billion dollars since 2000.

But when Ms. Williams asked to attend the next meeting of the agency -- the federal Railroad Retirement Board, rail workers' version of Social Security -- she got a surprise.

The board, with about $34 billion in assets, had not met formally in nearly two years, and no new meeting was scheduled. The three board members, all full-time presidential appointees, rarely met even in private, employees of the agency say.

Operating out of public view, with little scrutiny from Congress and even from its former inspector general, the retirement board has become the agency that cannot say no, last year approving virtually every single disability application it received -- almost 98 percent. It did not matter where rail employees lived or where they worked.

An examination of the board by The New York Times, including dozens of interviews and a review of government records, found a disability program plagued by labor-management infighting, weak standards and a failure to use tests that could better weed out specious disability claims.


. . .


(p. A25) More than a half-dozen state and federal agencies are now investigating the retirement board's disability payments to former L.I.R.R. employees. In September, two days after The Times published the results of an eight-month investigation that documented those disability payments, federal agents raided the board's Long Island office.

The L.I.R.R.'s disability rate, which since 2000 has ranged between 93 percent and 97 percent for retired career employees, is three to four times that of the average railroad. Workers at other railroads get disabilities just as easily, but they file for them less often because, unlike L.I.R.R. employees, they cannot retire early with a private pension plan to supplement their disability pay.


. . .


The rail unions, which have remained powerful even as the nation's labor movement has ebbed, have aggressively defended their interests at the retirement board. Management has largely avoided a showdown, choosing to spend its political capital in other areas, including contract issues, according to current and former board officials.

"The unions have been successful not only in getting a separate system, but keeping it," said Robert S. Kaufman, a former director of retirement claims for the board.



For the full story, see:

WALT BOGDANICH and NICHOLAS PHILLIPS. "The Railroad Disability Board That Couldn't Say No." The New York Times (Mon., December 15, 2008): A1 & A25.

(Note: ellipses added; the online version of the title leaves out the word "Railroad.")


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Source of time-line graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






April 13, 2009

French Labor Holds Management Hostage---Literally



PolutnikNicolasFrenchHostage2009-04-10.jpg "French Caterpillar executive Nicolas Polutnik, center, with workers after his release Wednesday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) PARIS -- Of the 22,000 workers Caterpillar Inc. plans to lay off this year, the French ones have perhaps the most radical tactic for negotiating their severance deals.

In an aggressive, and peculiarly French, negotiating strategy, they held their managers hostage. The workers detained the director of their plant and four other managers for about 24 hours this week. Workers released them only after the company agreed to resume talks with unions and a government mediator on how to improve compensation for workers who are being laid off.

. . .


Jérôme Pélisse, a sociologist, surveyed 3,000 companies in 2004 and found that 18 of them had experienced an executive detention in the prior three years.




For the full story, see:

DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS and LEILA ABBOUD. "In France, the Bosses Can Become Hostages." Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 3, 2009): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 12, 2009

Union Dynamited "True Industrial Freedom"


AmericanLightningBK.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. A23) The turn-of-the-20th-century war of capital and labor is not even half-remembered now. But the glum slab of the Los Angeles Times building will remind anyone who cares to look. The antiunion rallying cry of "True Industrial Freedom" is carved deeply into its façade. Completed in 1935, the building is a cenotaph for the 21 nonunion pressmen and linotype operators who were blown up on an early October morning in 1910 and died in a storm of fire and collapsing masonry.

The dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times was, for Howard Blum in "American Lightning," the war's decisive engagement. After it, a national campaign of union-led terrorism was exposed; labor sympathizers who defended the bombers were proved to be gullible (if not dishonest); and the political force of American socialism was wrecked. Reputations were wrecked, too, principally that of Clarence Darrow, who was then a renowned labor lawyer.

. . .


In 1910, Los Angeles was a young boomtown aching for water and respectability. To the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harrison Gray Otis, respectability included making sure that the city was uninfested by union labor. It was an era of deep enmity and suspicion between business and labor, when it was not uncommon for strikes to end in riots and death. Otis and the Times preached the open shop with such vehemence that it was almost inevitable that they would become targets of prounion wrath.

The dynamite conspiracy unraveled when a second, unexploded bomb in Los Angeles was found to match another bomb discovered a month earlier by a Burns operative in a rail yard in Peoria, Ill. Burns tied the evidence to a campaign of terror against the National Erectors Association, a union-busting alliance of builders. The target of the association's animus was the union shop in general and the Structural Iron Workers Union in particular. John McNamara was the union's secretary-treasurer. His brother James was a union agent. Their weapons against the association and its allies were nitroglycerine and dynamite.



For the full review, see:

D.J. WALDIE. "Bookshelf; Dynamite and Deadlines." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 16, 2008): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The reference to the book under review, is:

Blum, Howard. American Lightning. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.





October 21, 2007

Labor Unions Endorse Hillary and Edwards

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article excerpted and cited below.

 

Union endorsements could provide a big boost with next year's early, front-loaded primary calendar. Half of all 15.4 million union members live in six states -- California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- and all but Pennsylvania will have voted by Feb. 5.

Major unions have already split their endorsements between three Democratic candidates: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Christopher Dodd, and former Sen. John Edwards. Union leaders are loath to repeat the division of support that marred the 2004 election, where major unions endorsed Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean, wasting resources on losing candidates. Only one Republican candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has picked up a major union endorsement.

 

For the full story, see: 

NICK TIMIRAOS.  "HOT TOPIC; U.S. Unions: Still a Political Power?"  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 29, 2007):  A7.

 




February 17, 2007

Union Decline Continues in United States

UnionDeclineGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Union membership dropped sharply last year in the United States, as the percentage of manufacturing workers in unions fell below the percentage of American workers in unions for the first time in modern history.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday that union membership fell by 326,000 in 2006, to 15.4 million workers, bringing the percentage of employees in unions to 12 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2005. Those figures are down from 20 percent in 1983 and from 35 percent in the 1950s.

Work force experts said the decline in union membership was caused by large-scale layoffs and buyouts in the auto industry and other manufacturing industries, together with the labor movement’s difficulties in organizing nonunion workers fast enough to offset those losses.

 

For the full story, see: 

STEVEN GREENHOUSE.  "Sharp Decline in Union Members in ’06."  The New York Times (Fri., January 26, 2007):  A11.

 




February 8, 2007

Plastic Pipes Need Less Labor, So Unions Oppose

PipeResidentialPlastic.jpg Residential plastic pipe. Source of photo: http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=46

 

(p. D1)  The City of Omaha is considering allowing an alternative to copper pipes in residential plumbing, a move the local builders association says could keep new home prices from rising so fast.

. . .

(p.  D2)  "Omaha is kind of unique in not allowing plastic. It's kind of an isolated pocket," said Blas Hernandez, Papillion's chief building official, who also has worked in the Kansas City, Denver, upstate New York and central Nebraska areas.

Mike Lipke, western regional manager for FlowGuard Gold CPVC pipes, agreed. He said Omaha and Chicago stand out among Midwestern cities for not allowing plastic water pipes.

Several people with long tenure in the building industry said they believe Omaha has lagged in adoption of plastics because the material is less labor-intensive to install and organized labor has fought to protect work for its members.

Stephen Andersen, business manager for the 470-member Omaha Plumbers Local 16, said he doesn't think it's necessarily faster to install plastic pipes, and he personally favors copper "because it's such a good product, a proven product."

. . .

With the housing market slowed and copper prices still high, now may be the time to make affordability the most important consideration, said Paul Frazier, president of the Frazier Co. and a member of the Metro Omaha Builders Association's board.

"MOBA is fully behind" the proposed change, President Rocky Goodwin said. Frazier represented MOBA in discussions with the Omaha Plumbing Board.

"We're long overdue for this," Frazier said. "Anything that holds costs down while doing as good or better job is a good thing.

. . .

Lipke, who sells CPVC, said all the model codes and all 50 states approve the use of plastic and plastic has captured two-thirds of the market.

. . .

"People might try it because it's less money, but they won't keep using it if it doesn't work," Lipke said. "It's a good product, and it certainly shouldn't be banned the way it is in Omaha."

 

For the full story, see: 

DEBORAH SHANAHAN.  "Omaha may lift ban on residential plastic pipe."  Omaha World-Herald (Wednesday, January 24, 2007):  D1 & D2. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

[Joseph Schumpeter was born on February 8, 1883.]

 




January 19, 2007

At Screen Actors Guild, Communists Threatened to Disfigure His Face

ReaganAnAmericanStoryBK.jpg   Source of book image: http://www.shopaim.org/assets/images/large/458i.jpg

 

There are better books on Reagan.  But Bosch's book has a few illuminating anecdotes.  Here is one:

(p. 63)  Reagan first learned about Communists and their intentions as a member of a Hollywood union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  He had been introduced to the Screen actors Guild by his wife Jane Wyman and had quickly risen to become a member of the Guild's board.  As a SAG Board member, and later as its president, he mediated a dispute between two rival unions.  One of the unions, the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), was led by a suspected Communist, Herb Sorrell.

. . .  

(p. 64)  Sorrell and Reagan went head to head.  When Reagan crossed a picket line outside Warner Brothers, Sorrell called for a boycott of his movies.  Reagan was called a fascist.  An anonymous phone caller threatened to disfigure his face so he could never act again.  He began to carry a gun and accepted police protection.  He became an informant for the FBI 

"These were eye-opening years for me," he later wrote.  "Now I knew form first-hand experience how Communists used lies, deceit, violence, or any other tactic that suited them to advance the cause of Soviet expansionism."

 

Source: 

Bosch, Adriana.  Reagan: An American Story.  TV Books Inc., 1998.

 




April 21, 2006

Teachers' Unions Fight Innovation, Customization, and Variety



(p. A27) Washington - A Wisconsin court rejected a high-profile lawsuit by the state's largest teachers' union last month seeking to close a public charter school that offers all its courses online on the ground that it violated state law by depending on parents rather than on certified teachers to educate children. The case is part of a national trend that goes well beyond virtual schooling: teachers' unions are turning to the courts to fight virtually any deviation from uniformity in public schools.

. . .

There is a universal American desire for customization and variety in goods and services, and education must respond to that demand, whether the unions like it or not.

. . .

This debate, like the ones over many other education issues, is fundamentally about who gets to have power. Yet the power the teachers' unions now wield will be fleeting if public schools do not become more responsive to parents.

An industry cannot survive by rushing to court every time a new idea threatens even a small slice of its market share. Instead, maintaining, and even broadening, support for public schools means embracing more diversity in how we provide public education and who provides it.




For the full commentary, see:

Andrew J. Rotherham. "Virtual Schools, Real Innovation." The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): A27.

(Note: ellipses added.)





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