Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SomewherE In yoUr alternative lifetime... 

You run an auto repair shop. I come to your garage and ask you to fix my car. Meanwhile, you cut the pay of your mechanics by 10% and have them work in a garage that has poor lighting and tools in disrepair. Rather than quitting and looking for work elsewhere, they come to my home and shove me up against my car, demanding that I tell you to pay them more or I should take my business to a different garage. I call the police to have the mechanics arrested for assault.

The mechanics call a local TV station, stand before a camera and say "We're drawing attention to this to tell these car owners like this gentleman that they need to intercede with the auto repair shops and tell them to settle this before it gets to a strike."

Do they appear on TV?

Why yes, yes they do.

No arrests were reported.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Redistributing revenues 

Many friends tell me of setting up for conventions, where they experience the requirement that workers do the set-up of their displays for them. This is not a free service; union rules in convention facilities can in some cases govern minimum hours and number of workers hired, who can be hired, etc.

All this is in the way of redistributing income between those who provide content for an event and those who provide a service to the content-providers.

A story in Bloomberg yesterday
illustrates this very well.
After you practice for years and get to Carnegie Hall, it�s almost better to move music stands than actually play the piano.

Depending on wattage, a star pianist can receive $20,000 a night at the 118-year-old hall, meaning he or she would have to perform at least 27 times to match the income of Dennis O�Connell, who oversees props at the New York concert hall.

O�Connell made $530,044 in salary and benefits during the fiscal year that ended in June 2008. The four other members of the full-time stage crew -- two carpenters and two electricians -- had an average income of $430,543 during the same period, according to Carnegie Hall�s tax return.

They can make a "credible threat" of withdrawing their labor, but so what? The pianist can get friends to roll a piano on stage for much less than this. Performances at our university rely on students to provide this labor for free -- surely there's some midpoint between free and a half-mil?

So how is it that the union acquires this power? They will tell you that it comes from "collective bargaining negotiated fairly with management, signed by management and ratified by the membership of the union.� Why does management sign such agreements? As seen at the bottom of this article, and like most other concert venues, Carnegie makes a loss based solely on concert revenues. They earn a profit when you include "funds from donors, investment income and government grants." But driving up that price has the consequence of making it harder for someone other than the high-wattage star pianist from getting to perform. They are pushed to smaller, out-of-the-way venues and earn a lower income. So a question: Does the union help someone running a Carnegie Hall get grants and donations, to "cover costs" that are actually monopoly revenues for union workers?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

CARS destroyed wealth 

With per vehicle environmental benefits at $596 and the costs at $2,600 per vehicle, the clunker program is a net drain on society of roughly $2,000 per vehicle. Given the approximately 700,000 vehicles in the program, we estimate the total welfare loss to be about $1.4 billion. The welfare loss would be even greater if we fine tuned our estimate of the social cost per gallon to account for the spatial mix of clunkers. Clunkers, especially the trucks that comprise a large percentage of the traded-in vehicles, may have been retired disproportionately from rural locations where the social costs of pollutants are significantly lower. Also, if the average value of clunkers exceeds our conservative figure of $1000, then cost of the program would be higher. Even if the environmental gains were double our estimate, the net drain would still be close to $1 billion. While a more rigorous analysis would no doubt adjust these figures, we doubt that the basic conclusion would change.
Burton Abrams and George Parsons of the University of Delaware, in the newest edition of The Economists' Voice. This includes some gain to those who cashed in clunkers, who receive a transfer from taxpayers. It's hard to imagine how this program did not end up throwing taxpayer money down the rathole, but if you throw $1 down the hole for every $1 you give to the UAW, and you're an elected official with lots of money from that union, that might be a deal you'd make.

Meanwhile, the showrooms seem to have a hangover from the Clunkerparty. Still want to bank on that big third quarter surge? (h/t: John Lott)

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A union isn't uniform 

I was reading a twitter stream from a local blogger saying that the SEIU is janitors, clerical workers, etc., basically, they're common normal people and that people who complain about the purple shirts are somehow besmirching all those good people. What to make of this?

I work in a state university; all but our top administrators are unionized by the IFO (faculty union), AFSCME, MAPE and I'm sure I'm forgetting someone (sorry). All of them have memberships that are around 70-80% of the possible members. The rest get covered as "fair share" employees, meaning they still have to pay for someone to represent them in contract negotiations even though they would rather not be. (Long-time Scholars readers will know these arguments.) So it's fair to say that when you blame my union, of which I'm a full member, for giving a large chunk of money to the party that wants to take my health care freedom away, you are smearing some 20% or more of our faculty who don't give money to the union for that purpose. (We hope.)

But it's more than this. The SEIU and other unions might not be representing their rank and file very well.
Union members give Obama wide berth on handling health care reform - they trust him over Republicans in Congress 63 percent versus 11 percent according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in late June - but there remains room for Republicans to gain among card-carrying union members. A sizable 17 percent said they trust neither to make the right decisions on health care and Obama's approval rating on the issue lags well behind his overall rating (54 percent compared with 67 percent).

The same poll found many union members wary that health care reform could bring unwelcome change. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) said reform would require change even of those who don't want it. And majorities are deeply concerned that health care reform will reduce their coverage and sharply increase the federal deficit (59 percent), increase their health care costs (53 percent), increase government bureaucracy in the health care system (52 percent), reduce the quality of health care they receive and limit their choices of doctors or treatments (51 percent).

That poll is late June, before the details of this power grab have been made known. It's plausible to me that support has since fallen even among union workers. If it's true that not every SEIU supports the thuggery of some of its members -- and I am certain that is true -- then it must also be true that the SEIU is not representing many of its members when it shills for Obamacare. I hope some of them start wearing shirts that read "I am Ken Gladney."

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This afternoon we attended a luncheon sponsored by the Center for the American Experiment (CAE) in Minneapolis. The key speakers were John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, authors of Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education.

As far too many of us are aware, American students perform poorly on international tests. Today's speakers attributed much of our students' poor achievement on the stranglehold the teachers' unions have on politicians. Since 1989 Teacher unions have been the #1 contributor to federal campaigns. Their protectionist mindset has have blocked reform for over 25 years.

The authors' solution to the problem is based on the pervasiveness of technology. When students and school systems find ways around the union defined classroom and learn via the Internet, the number of teachers required will decrease resulting in a decrease in union dues, and a release of the stronghold these unions have on education reform.

While I agree that there need to be changes, the following questions were left unanswered:
1 - What country that outperforms the USA attributes its success to the use of computers?
2 - The average number of instruction hours/day and length of school year are higher in countries that outperform US students (see here)
3 - During the past 40+ years we have raised children to believe they are perfect. In the process we have lowered standards and expectations. As a result, we have students who will not, do not and cannot compete in a competitive world.
What is needed is a commitment to:
1 - Content loaded instruction,
2 - Respect for learning,
3 - Respect for teachers,
4 - behavioral standards.
I taught in various levels of schools before the "whole child," "self-esteem" concept took hold. Children develop self-esteem when they learn. Filling them and their parents with false evaluations and using gimmicks to teach avoid the real issue - students and their parents in other countries respect education, they work at it, and they learn. To accept anything else, regardless of mechanics, is cheating our children.

One of today's questions was about teaching the "whole child." What this inane concept creates is a classroom lacking content with the phony idea of creating self-esteem in children. It's a lazy way to approach education.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can competitors make you unionize? 

Yes, if they have an Alinskyite with power as a friend. �Business Week reports:
FedEx hopes to harness taxpayer ire sparked by the word "bailout" to kill legislation in Congress that would help nearly 100,000 of its workers to unionize more easily. FedEx argues the bill would hobble it with higher costs and less reliability across its network and represents unfair government aid for its chief rival, UPS.

The dispute involves the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009, which contains a provision that would change the labor law covering FedEx workers. Language introduced in the bill by U.S. Representative James Oberstar (D-Minn.) would subject FedEx workers to the same rules as those performing similar work for Atlanta-based UPS. The measure affects employees of FedEx Express, which along with FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, and FedEx Office comprises FedEx, but not the status of FedEx Express workers who are air-based, such as pilots and airplane mechanics. The bill passed the House on May 21 and is now in the Senate, where a similar House measure failed in 2007.
Of course the push for FedEx to "union up" doesn't come from Big Brown itself but from the Teamsters, who have a long and rather cozy relationship with the Community Organizer in Chief as well as with Mr. Oberstar, who has gotten over $85,000 from the union and almost as much from UPS.
Here's the�Brown Bailout website that has a satirical take on the famous UPS ad of the guy drawing on an easel. �My brother (who in the interest of full disclosure is a FedEx salesman) forwarded the clip to me this AM. All FedEx wants to do is to compete in the marketplace for shipping; Morgan Reynolds writes about unions and their anti-competitive nature:
According to Harvard economists Richard Freeman and James Medoff, who look favorably on unions, �Most, if not all, unions have monopoly power, which they can use to raise wages above competitive levels� (1984, p. 6). Unions� power to fix high prices for their members� labor rests on legal privileges and immunities that they get from government, both by statute and by nonenforcement of other laws. The purpose of these legal privileges is to restrict others from working for lower wages. As antiunion economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in 1922, �The long and short of trade union rights is in fact the right to proceed against the strikebreaker with primitive violence.�

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Employee Free Dinner Act 

Americans have boring strikes. The only reason gay pride parades draw so much attention is because American labor unions are still striking in the 19th century.One of the best pieces of journalism I've read was the P.J. O'Rourke account of strikes in South Korea; you had a real sense from his writing that you were in the middle of something dangerous with him. Via my colleague Ming Lo, here's another odd little strike going on right now in France (bien s�r!).
Striking French workers for U.S. manufacturer 3M held their boss hostage amid labor talks Wednesday at a plant south of Paris, as anger over layoffs and cutbacks mounted around the country.

While the situation at the 3M plant outside Pithiviers was calm, worker rage elsewhere boiled over into an angry march on the presidential palace in Paris and a bonfire of tires set alight by Continental AG employees whose auto parts factory was being shut down.

...A few dozen workers at Pithiviers took turns standing guard Wednesday outside factory offices where the director of 3M's French operations, Luc Rousselet, has been holed up since Tuesday. The workers did not threaten any violence and the atmosphere was calm.

A few police officers stood outside, while workers inside exchanged jokes and worries about their future amid heaps of empty plastic coffee cups and boxes of cookies.

...In France, it is not unheard-of for striking workers to hold company executives as a way of winning concessions from management. The hostages are almost never injured. A similar situation ended peacefully earlier this month at Sony's French facilities.

"We don't have any other ammunition" other than hostage-taking, said Laurent Joly, who has worked at the Pithiviers plant for 11 years and is angry that he is being transferred to another French site.

...When Rousselet came out of the guarded office to go to the bathroom Wednesday, workers booed him while reporters asked how he was holding up.

"Everything's fine," he said.

Workers planned to bring Rousselet mussels and french fries for dinner if he was still there Wednesday night.

Ming wonders if the workers are Belgian. Seems unlikely. Seems also unlikely that this tactic would work in the US; can you imagine Andy Stern serving mussels?


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Union Worker Freedom or Thug Control? 

At noon today, Congressman John Kline held a blogger conference call to discuss the Democrat Party sponsored Orwellian-named bill, the "Employee Free Choice Act." To read the label, one would think that employees would be able to choose their place of work, their union, no union, etc. but in reality, this bill would remove the American right of a secret ballot for union elections.

How? Simply put, if 50% + 1 employees in a company sign a union card recognizing a union, that's it. What company would consider opening if union 'representatives' could go to employees' homes, and 'interest' them into signing something what would throw away their right to a secret ballot?No company. Secret union vote? No, over, fait accompli, etc. The employer is forced to recognize the union and can no longer allow workers to vote on a secret ballot as to whether or not they really want a union.

Congressman Kline, along with more than 107 co-sponsors, have introduced the "Secret Ballot Protection Act," a bill that would mandate secret ballot elections for employees.

It's simple folks: The American workers' right to a secret ballot will be gone, period. If the Orwellian named "Employee Free Choice Act" passes, Obama has promised to sign it - another payback, this time to his union backers. It becomes law. We will pay and pay while jobs will go away. This action by the whining Democrats will force so many jobs overseas, we may never get them back.

No Democrats have signed on with this bill but a few phone calls might change some minds. Call the Congressional switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask for offices of the following Representatives: Colin Peterson and Tim Walz of MN; Dan Boren of OK; Bobby Bright of AL.

Additoinal information here and here and latest summary, here.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

From your local public employee union 

I want faculty to testify---I�m afraid that the administration may try to dominate this, which would be tragic, since they will never bring up the need to raise taxes (which legislators need to hear), ... . I am also worried that anti-government/anti-tax groups may try to swamp these meetings. Start recruiting faculty and student turnout.
From an email from my union a few minutes ago, turning out the tax consumers for the Beggars' Banquet Budget Townhall Meetings. Emphasis added.

Smells like extra credit for students!

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Card check and the bailout 

Paul Mirengoff and Ed Morrissey write about Sen. Jim DeMint and the fight over card check. Arlen Specter, Demint expects, will break rank with the Republicans and vote for the bill. If Norm Coleman succeeds in hanging on to his seat -- more on that in a bit -- Specter's defection means no one else can be split off.

DeMint emphasizes that EFCA contains not only card check but a noxious provision that has a government agency write labor contracts when the new union and the company cannot agree. Mirengoff calls this "well down the road to Socialism."
Indeed, DeMint tied the Employee Free Choice Act to various bailout programs, especially the one for the auto industry, which will also enhance the government's control over the economy while protecting the UAW. Through legislation like the auto industry package and the Employee Free Choice Act, the Democrats see, simultaneously to bail out unions, a key political ally, and increase government control over the economy.
One place it would potentially give control is for unions negotiating with foreign firms. In this morning's Political Diary from the Wall Street Journal (subscriber's link), Holman Jenkins makes this case as well.
[UAW head Ron] Gettelfinger didn�t quite say so, but card check is also part of Big Labor�s increasingly hopeless strategy to preserve its Big Three pay levels. The idea is to drive up wage and benefit costs at Toyota, Nissan and other transplants. Card check is key. The UAW has racked up a goose egg in 20 years of trying to organize the foreign-owned plants, and Detroit's recent troubles are not exactly a big advertisement to workers in Tennessee or Alabama to welcome the UAW. Whether even card check would help is doubtful in any case. But certainly a process that continues to rely on a secret ballot free from intimidation is unlikely to advance the UAW�s cause.
Specter was one of ten GOP senators to vote yes on the auto bailout bill. Three others were lame ducks (Dole, Domenici and Warner.) If the bailout bill was a test vote for the card check debate, the future isn't too bright. If used this way, foreign investment into the US would fall.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Binding arbitration in EFCA 

In an op-ed this morning, a former official of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who identifies herself as a Democrat speaks out against the Employee Free Choice Act. Potentially to be wedded to a stimulus bill (that would make it very difficult to veto), the bill has provisions beyond card-check that Ariella Bernstein finds troubling. The bill requires binding arbitration after the card-check authorization of a union has taken place if terms are not agreed to, which could have grave consequences for labor and management in a recession:
When contract terms are imposed, it absolves the parties of their responsibility to compromise, a critical component of labor-management relations. Conflict resolution professionals rightfully claim that parties to a contract must have "buy in"; they must be part of a joint conciliatory process when reaching terms of a contract that governs their relationship.

And what about the cost of EFCA to Main Street employers, already under pressure in this economy? With companies struggling to survive and the credit markets tightening, passing this bill does not guarantee widespread unionized employment or wage increases.

Case in point: In Canada, after an arbitrator imposed the terms of a contract last month, Wal-Mart was forced to close one of its facilities because of higher costs. Arbitration does not always help employees.

Yet one more reason EFCA is a bad idea. And, of course, there's hypocrisy noted by John Fund in today's Political Diary:
Last year, Democratic Senators voted for so-called "card check" legislation that would have deprived millions of employees of the right to vote secretly on whether they want to be represented by a labor union. Tomorrow many of those same Democratic Senators will insist on using a secret ballot process to determine whether Joe Lieberman will be stripped of his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

That same day, Republican Senators are likely to use a secret ballot to decide whether to expel convicted colleague Ted Stevens from their caucus. Later in January, the House Democratic Caucus will use a secret ballot to determine whether Michigan Rep. John Dingell keeps his chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee against a challenge from California Rep. Henry Waxman.
Most Republican senators, it should be noted, opposed EFCA; no hypocrisy should be ascribed there.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wrong, but thanks for playing 

Good for the StarTribune continuing to hold candidates accountable for their positions on card-check. Their reasons for not endorsing CD3 DFLer Ashwin Madia included this:
At the last debate, Madia was less polished on policy than his two rivals and repeated an error made in his endorsement interview � that the Employee Free Choice Act would not allow a unionization drive to bypass a secret ballot.
Again, it's pretty unusual for the StarTribune to not endorse Democrats, but given the question was initially asked of Madia two months ago, you have to conclude he's either not terribly interested in a key issue or obfuscating.

Now if we could get the STrib to watch this, they might change their mind on their other endorsement today:

This video from last June was accompanied by these comments:
Like Al Franken, Elwyn Tinklenberg is also willing to smear thousands of honest, hard working 6th district business owners with his accusations of intimidation. His wild, unsubstantiated charges are hardly representative of a thoughtful, moderate legislator.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Always has the support of Paul 

A local electrician's union is suggesting that it will only support a school levy in St. Cloud if the school district promises prevailing wages on its construction sites:

At a meeting of labor leaders Thursday, St. Cloud school levy campaign volunteer Pat Welter was told St. Cloud schools might get more support for a proposed property tax increase if the school district committed to paying prevailing wages for school building projects.

The labor leaders said electricians are having trouble finding work.

It wasn�t a deal Welter was in a position to make, but it exemplifies the difficult climate supporters of a proposed $10.25 million property tax increase are confronting.

The higher wages that the electricians demand price out the younger workers, those who are gaining experience. The proposal says, we will support you if you will help take dollars from taxpayers and give them to our membership. Who wouldn't like that deal? That which robs Peter to pay Paul...

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I hope it happens tonight 

In tonight's debate look for John McCain to tie Barack Obama to liberal positions that are essential to elements of the Democratic nominee's coalition.

Chief among them is so-called "card check" legislation that passed the House in 2007 only to be bogged down in the Senate. The bill is the No. 1 priority of Mr. Obama's union supporters and would provide a way to bypass the requirement for secret-ballot elections to unionize a company. Instead, employees would be deemed to have selected a union when a majority of workers sign a card stating support for such a move -- often in the presence of union organizers.

Mr. McCain briefly raised card check in a previous debate with Mr. Obama, but he now has an iconic liberal he can cite as a prominent opponent of the idea. Former Sen. George McGovern calls secret ballots in union elections a "basic right." He has even agreed to appear in an ad sponsored by a pro-business group that is running in seven states holding Senate elections.

From today's Political Diary, by John Fund at the WSJ. McCain can tie this to Prop 49 in Colorado, a measure that would stop government from withholding money from a public employee's paycheck for a union to use to influence government via elections.

David Weigel points out this bill has been bought and paid for by the unions, and it is the expectation of Obama in return for $360 million or more spent by the unions on helping him and the Democrats. You want issues and not associations, Sen. McCain? Hector Sen. Obama on this issue.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

What if we threw a debate and nobody came? 

We keep hearing that people want to discuss the issues and get away from personal attacks. Fine, I thought, let's have a discussion of the Employee Free Choice Act (discussed early last summer here and here). So we invited the DFL, its chairman Brian Melendez, or any representative of Senate candidate Al Franken, to debate us. They filed a complaint instead; when it was marked incomplete, they filed another. It was returned as without merit. I had thought at that point, well, maybe they would debate us. Finally we decided we'd schedule a debate and hope someone showed up.

Drove down to St. Paul in crappy weather, and nobody showed up. (At least we have a gorgeous late afternoon back here in the Cloud!) I'd like to thank Congressional candidate Ed Matthews and a cameraman from WCCO for showing up. My comments focused on this as a free speech issue: the decision to unionize is too important to be left to a conversation that doesn't include both sides. This is recognized in the most recent Supreme Court case (Chamber of Commerce v Brown,) that "Congress struck a balance of protection, prohibition, and laissez-faire in respect to union organization, collective bargaining, and labor disputes.� (quoting Cox (1972)). Congress could of course choose to change that balance: that's what EFCA does. But unions currently win 57% of organizing elections when they choose to go to them. Doesn't that sound fair enough to you? Do you think they should win 75%? 90%? Why? That's the debate.

The issue matters. In his new stump speech featured today, Senator McCain reminds us the consequences of electing Senator Obama to the presidency:
We have 22 days to go. We're six points down. The national media has written us off. Senator Obama is measuring the drapes and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending � take away your right to vote by secret ballot and labor elections, and concede defeat in Iraq � and concede defeat in Iraq.
Emphasis mine. Donald Lambro has already pointed out Senator Obama's support for what was referred to as the Employee Forced Choice Act. I wonder if Senator McCain is planning on using this line of attack in Wednesday's debate? I'm pretty sure it did not come up in the first two.

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A media reminder 

I will be with Minnesotans for Employee Freedom at 1pm at the State Capitol. �We hope that Mssrs. Franken and Melendez will join us. �It will not be nearly so much fun without you fellows!

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Indoctrinate U HS 

The Virginia Education Association sponsored 'Obama Blue Day' on Tuesday. In an e-mail sent last week, it urged teachers to participate by dressing in blue.

'There are people out there not yet registered. You teach some of them,' the Sept. 25 e-mail reads. 'Others, including our members, remain on the fence! Its time for us to come together, voice our unity, because we make a difference!'

'Let's make Obama Blue Day a day of Action!' the e-mail continues. 'Barack the vote!'
The union is defending this as not encouraging their teachers "to use their classrooms for partisan political purposes." Must be teaching Orwell this week.

h/t: KU

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

StarTribune: EFCA "doesn't make sense" 

The editorial page of the Minneapolis StarTribune weighs in on the debate over "card check":
That pitched national battle is why the issue is at the forefront of Minnesota�s Senate race. The Senate holds the key to EFCA�s future. Democratic contender Al Franken supports EFCA; Republican Norm Coleman does not. Both labor and business have pledged millions for their cause, with some of that well-funded battle resulting in the local ads. ...

But the EFCA has the potential to do more harm than good. Its provision allowing unions to bypass a secret ballot with something called a card check is a serious problem. Under the proposed law, unions could bypass a secret ballot if 50 percent of eligible employees signed an authorization form to form a union. It doesn�t make sense: Would you pass a school levy or elect a mayor this way? The proposed card-check system also would invite peer-pressure from union sympathizers and, by making a supporter�s name public, it has the potential to heighten the risk of employer retaliation.

The bill�s stiffer penalties for employers who retaliate illegally are welcome. But backers need to rethink the proposed card check. Even if you agree there�s an imbalance of power, doing away with the secret ballot isn�t the solution. Unions exert a great deal of influence over members. They have the ability to tax through dues. They negotiate workplace rules that govern a big chunk of members� lives. The organizing process should be as democratic as possible. That means honoring the secret ballot, not doing away with it.

Don't expect that, though, for the Wall Street Journal has shown that Big Labor is staking millions on getting it passed. Democrats believe that more union workers means more Democratic votes (as if correlation is causation). The editorial board at WSJ asks a broader question:

The question for Americans more broadly is whether a return to widespread unionization is really the way to raise middle-class incomes. The case for card check is that, amid global competition, the balance of organizing power has shifted to business. Giving unions more power will redress this imbalance and let workers grab a higher share of corporate profits.

But this claim is highly suspect, given the record in autos, steel and the rest of unionized American manufacturing. The only sector of the U.S. auto industry that is prospering is the part not organized by the United Auto Workers. Likewise, Europe, with its high jobless rates and slow growth, argues against unionization as a way to lift middle-class incomes. To the extent a country like Germany has modestly reversed some of this, it has been the result of recent labor-law reforms and labor concessions.

I pointed out in a letter to the editorial board at the StarTribune, in response to a request for comments, that its belief that the pendulum has swung to employers was not really accurate in a world where unions continue to win a majority of certification votes (sources here and here.) What win percentage for unions would you think is correct, if 55% is too few?

Like a sports team owner trying to buy a championship, the unions are trying to buy 100%.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Couldn't have said it better myself 

Our friends at Labor Pains went to the Minnesota State Fair and asked some attendees if they would prefer to use an authorization card to vote for Al Franken in lieu of voting. The results are as you might expect, unless you are a union organizer.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Unfavorable deductions 

The hearing on the EFCA ads was held on my father's birthday, and I was in the Boston area at the time. I thought it would be hilarious if I was taken into custody the following Monday.
Other prisoner: What are you in for, son?
Me: Unfavorable deduction about Al Franken.
OP (sliding slowly away): You're his accountant?
(With apologies to Arlo Guthrie.)

As Michael posted yesterday, the complaint was dismissed (he's again posted the Order of Dismissal.) He notes the silence (also evidenced by the lack of posts on the subject found on the BlogNetNews aggregator for the state) of other bloggers who had accused others of lying.

What is "an unfavorable deduction"? The ad states that the Employee Free Choice Act would have eliminated a worker's right to a secret ballot. The defense has been that secret ballots could still happen. True, but as the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace notes yesterday in its press release announcing the dismissal:
Under EFCA, the NLRB must recognize the union without an election if a majority of workers sign an authorization card identifying who they are. Once the 50% threshold has been crossed, the statute is unequivocal in its command: "the [NLRB] shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or organization as the labor representative."
Could the organizers still seek a secret ballot? Yes they could ... but under what circumstances would we expect them to do so? If they can just get that 50%+1 for signatures, they can dispense with the ballot, and the costs of campaigning, and not ever face the counterarguments against unionization. The cost of proceeding past 30% -- the threshold at which you can seek the ballot -- is relatively small and the benefits large. If they don't think they can get 50%+1 votes, they won't ask for the ballot. If they can get the votes, they can also get the signatures. And there is the distinct possibility that one could get 50%+1 signatures in a card-check campaign without getting 50%+1 votes in a secret ballot. So I would argue that it is highly unlikely a union would ever seek the election option. Justin Wilson of the Employee Free Action Committee makes the same point.

That's what the administrative law judge calls "an unfavorable deduction." And that's what Brian Melendez was calling a lie, and what the DFL was saying should be prevented from the airwaves in a country that still has the First Amendment.

I am quite willing to still debate the analysis and facts of EFCA with Mr. Melendez at any place, at any time. I can come by the DFL booth at the State Fair, if he was of a mind to agree to that. I don't expect he will, though, and you can draw your own unfavorable deduction from that.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

And I'm proud still I hung doorhangers for him 

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as "card-check." There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

There's no question that unions have done much good for this country. Their tenacious efforts have benefited millions of workers and helped build a strong middle class. They gave workers a new voice and pushed for laws that protect individuals from unfair treatment. They have been a friend to the Democratic Party, and so I oppose this legislation respectfully and with care.

To my friends supporting EFCA I say this: We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election. We are the party that has always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.

Some of the most respected Democratic members of Congress -- including Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, George Miller and Pete Stark of California, and Barney Frank of Massachusetts -- have advised that workers in developing countries such as Mexico insist on the secret ballot when voting as to whether or not their workplaces should have a union. We should have no less for employees in our country.

Former Sen. George McGovern, yesterday in the WSJ. H/T to Gary. I'll have more details later, but they are still trying to silence our ads rather than debate the point. Mr. Melendez, my offer is still good: Let's debate the facts, and I promise to quote at least Sen. McGovern as a good Democrat.

(And yes, in 1972, this then-fifteen-year-old did hang literature on NH doorknobs for McGovern. Michael will have a fit about this on air next week.)

So who gets to ask Elwyn Tinklenberg why he disagrees with George McGovern?

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Union Card Check Doublespeak 

There is a move afoot by Democrat members of Congress, including The Ego-bama, to enact a law called the "Employee Free Choice Act." It sounds innocuous enough but typical of Orwellian doublespeak, the act would eliminate a union member's right to vote, via secret ballot, the current law. As soon as half (or one more) employee have been "persuaded" or intimidated or coerced into signing cards, all employees lose their right to a secret ballot vote.

Thus, I propose this 15 second commercial for Republicans. To be accompanied by solemn background music.

Question - As a union member, do you wish to keep the secret ballot provision for election of union leaders and decisions?

Worker (multiple workers) - "Of course." "Absolutely!" "Yes!" "No way do I want to give up that right!"

Announcer - To keep your free votes, options, choices, vote for _________ for senator. He/she supports every worker's right to a secret ballot.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Complaint returned 'incomplete' 

Michael has posted a copy of the administrative law judge's dismissal of the complaint about our ads regarding Al Franken and card-check legislation. That doesn't necessarily end the story of the complaint; the judge found that Melendez and the DFL had failed to provide any documentation of their claims that the ads violate section 211B.06 of the election laws. So they could file again. It's like getting your paper back from the professor who says "I failed this because you didn't follow directions. You can send it back in for a grade if you will finish your work."

It's weird to see my own name in a complaint like this, but we feel the ad is on relatively solid ground. The principle of free speech allows us latitude to interpret EFCA in its practical intent. We do not need to be literalists, to use David Brauer's term, to meet the requirements of the law. For the 50% minus one workers who do not sign (or are not offered the opportunity to sign) union membership cards, the last protection of their right to a secret ballot would be lost if card-check legislation passed.

I believed from the moment the complaint was filed that its audience was the media, not the campaign board. Call it vapor-complaint. Its intent was to keep us off the air. However, that has failed, as more ads are currently running.

One can hardly accuse us of being anti-labor. A Zogby survey done on behalf of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that 53% of union workers, when offered a choice between card check and the current secret ballot form of organization, chose the government protection of a secret ballot, as opposed to 41% favoring card-check. 84% of the respondents agreed with the statement "workers should have the right ... to vote on whether they wish to belong to a union." No wonder the union leaders and the DFL have tried to squelch these ads. Their own rank and file do not agree with them.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

That card's expensive, too 

One part of joining a union is agreeing to allow your union dues to be used by the union's leadership to engage in political activity. One of the groups pushing card-check, the SEIU, is strong-arming its rank-and-file for money to fund political activity this year. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has asked the Justice and Labor Departments to investigate the practice.

Article XV, Section 18 of the union�s constitution now authorizes the SEIU�s national brass to fine local unions for failure to meet its annual SEIU COPE fundraising obligations. SEIU COPE is the union�s federal PAC, and the FEC lists it as the top labor union PAC with over $23 million in receipts for 2005-2006.

However, federal labor law forbids unions from political fundraising through the imposition of mandatory financial penalties and it prohibits the conversion of union dues to �hard money.� In addition to asking for a Department of Labor investigation, the coercive nature of the amendment�s punitive mechanism violates core provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act, and warrants a Department of Justice criminal prosecution.

The new amendment also appears to allow local affiliates to use nonmember employees� mandatory dues payments to cover PAC contributions and the SEIU�s fines. While imposition of financial penalties for failure to make political contributions is illegal regardless of how those fines are spent, the use of funds derived from nonmembers� fees for political purposes also violates those employees� constitutional rights.

Ed Morrissey notes
Now the SEIU suddenly has $150 million, from which they�ve already committeed at least $85 million specific to Democratic candidates. ... The union knows how to protect itself and its interests, and the lockstep nature of their support for Democrats should awaken voters to the threat their policies comprise. This is nothing more than a closed-feedback loop for Democrats, and Card Check is the prize that will ensure its rapid growth.
It's not even necessary, though, if the Justice Department does not forbid the compulsion of agency fees for payment of penalties for failing to hit the quota for its contributions to the unions' PACs.

But signing that card, my fellow worker, is now more expensive than ever. You will have no recourse to them taking that extra $6 per year. Did you sign such a card and now regret it? Instructions here on what rights you still have, at least until the next attempt to pass card-check.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Sign here, buddy 

I don't watch the Sopranos, but I get this:
An ad ran yesterday in the StarTribune from the Minnesotans for Employee Freedom, for which I am a member of its steering committee. The ads have drawn some attention from the press this week as the first issue ad in Minnesota.

It's worth thinking a bit more about this issue: What is wrong with card check? I got a card to join AARP recently; I didn't have to fill out a secret ballot on whether AARP could represent me or not. But unions are not voluntary organizations. If 50% plus one of my fellow employees sign a card for a union, the rest of us are compelled to make it our agent for the terms and conditions of our employment. We would give away a great deal of control to our fellow workers if they were permitted to simply get 50%+1 of employees to sign cards. I would argue that a private ballot in voting for giving someone agency rights over our voluntary association with an employer is higher-stakes than our vote in a Presidential election (since the group is so much smaller, our ballot has a much higher probability of being decisive.) You might wonder why unions would be opposed to secret ballots; my answer is "cui bono?"

As I pointed out last month, and as the new ad makes clear, voting in public is coercive. Often union representatives have access to personal information about employees in a shop they want to organize, including home addresses and phone numbers, by which they can repeatedly visit and hope for a signature in a weak moment. Consider a couple of examples. From the Man Show, a spoof was done to get women to sign a petition that would "end women's suffrage." Of course, you hear that word and if not careful think "suffering" and what woman wouldn't want to end suffering? The result is, they just signed a petition to give up their right to vote.

The other is from Penn&Teller's Bullshit program, which is a petition to get dihydrogen monoxide banned. Sounds like awful stuff, until Teller draws for you what it is. Passion overcomes reason when someone is jamming a clipboard or a card in your face asking "only" for your signature.
Remember, nobody gets to talk to you when the fellow with the card comes to visit. EFCA says that employers will be found guilty of violating the National Labor Relations Act if they should interfere with a card check drive. Interfering could be anything including signs or pamphlets advising against signing cards. This after that employee and employer had already entered into a voluntary agreement. The choice is asymmetric -- laws make it much harder to remove an existing union than to create a new one. Should that agreement be abrogated by Johnny Sack with a clipboard?

UPDATE: I had not seen until someone commented on it the "Reality Check" by Pat Kessler. Kessler is misleading on two points.
The bill that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken supports does not eliminate the secret ballot election. Workers still have the right to hold one but labor unions say the new option gives employers less control.
We've cited what the bill says, and we're happy that Kessler agrees that Franken supports HR 800/S 1041. But unions have a strong preference for card check -- which they can only get by agreement with the employer currently. EFCA removes the ability of the employer to negotiate after the cards reach 50%+1. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation has analyzed all union elections and card checks since a case was decided in favor of employees having access to information from their employers. Over 250 were done by card check since November 2007 (basically, a six month period; the last data I saw had about 2500 elections a year by 2005.) As it is, unions win a majority of elections when they are held, 57% between 2001 and 2005. According to data from the liberal Center for Economic Policy Research, perhaps a quarter of all workers organized were through card check. But obviously that's not enough because...
You can agree or disagree with the motive of the bill, but the effect is that it would make it easier to form a union. That's why labor unions want it so badly. Union membership is plummeting.
Unions are not entitled to a share of the labor force. As the traditional manufacturing sectors have declined and as service sector jobs become more high-tech and professional, it is only reasonable that union membership would decline. Union membership is also declining in Sweden, hardly a bastion of free market capitalism. Kessler misleads by implying that employers in the US have been more successful in reducing unionism against the wishes of their workers. There's no evidence that would support that claim.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Why you should care about card check 

Here's a good example of why unions want to pass card-check, and how the DFL is helping them:
Workers at the newest hotel in Minneapolis, Hotel Ivy, have signed union cards and organized as part of UNITE HERE Local 17.

The employer was bound to a card-check agreement under the terms of financing provided by the City of Minneapolis to help build the hotel. The City provided $6 million in tax increment financing for the $100 million development, which renovated a historic 1930 Moorish-style tower as part of a larger project that includes 136 hotel rooms, 92 condos, and a 17,000 square foot health club.

The new bargaining unit will include about 50 workers, reported Martin Goff, director of organization for UNITE HERE Local 17. ...

"It took about two weeks to organize," Goff said. "We had some people we knew inside from our other hotels." Once Local 17 recruited an organizing committee, Goff reported, "the committee signed up virtually everyone." Goff said 86 percent of the workers signed union cards.
Now I'm not defending Hotel Ivy here, because if you take the dime of TIF, you do the time of dealing with card-check. But understand how a union card works, versus a private ballot. Let's hear it from a former organizer for UNITE HERE, in testimony before Congress.
A �card check� campaign begins with union organizers going to the homes of workers over a weekend, a tactic called �housecalling,� with the sole intent of having those workers sign authorization cards. Called a �blitz� by the unions, it entails teams of two or more organizers going directly to the homes of workers. The workers� personal information and home addresses used during the blitz was obtained from license plates and other sources that were used to create a master list.

In most cases, the workers have no idea that there is a union campaign underway. Organizers are taught to play upon this element of surprise to get �into the door.� They are trained to perform a five part house call strategy that includes: Introductions, Listening, Agitation, Union Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to quickly establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking about what their job entails to what they would like to change about their job, agitate them by insisting that management won�t fix their workplace problems without a union and finally convincing the worker to sign a card.

...From my experience, the number of cards signed appear to have little relationship to the ultimate vote count. During a private election campaign, even though a union still sends organizers out to workers� homes on frequent canvassing in attempts to gain support, the worker has a better chance to get perspective on the questions at hand. The time allocated for the election to go forward allows the worker a chance to think through his or her own issues without undue influence�thus avoiding an immediate, impulsive decision based on little or no fact. After all, the decision to join a union is often life-changing, and workers should be afforded the time to debate, discuss and research all of the options available to them.

As an organizer working under a �card check� system versus an election system, I knew that �card check� gave me the ability to quickly agitate a set of workers into signing cards. I did not have to prove the union�s case, answer more informed questions from workers or be held accountable for the service record of my union.

...In addition to the �housecall,� the union frequently employs other tactics to manipulate the card numbers and add legitimacy to their organizing drive. One strategy is to manipulate unit size. One of the most common ways that we ensured the union could claim that we had reached a majority was to change the size of the group of workers we were going to organize after the drive was finished. During the blitz, workers in every department would be �housecalled,� but if need be, certain groups of workers would be removed from the final unit, regardless of their level of union support. In doing so, the union reduced the number of cards needed to reach a majority. Another such strategy is that organizers are told to train workers to �provoke� unfair labor practices on the part of the company in an attempt to create campaign legitimacy and coerce a �card check� agreement.

One egregious example was when Ernest Bennett, the Director of Organizing for UNITE at the time, told a room full of organizers during a training meeting for the Cintas campaign that if three workers weren�t fired by the end of the first week of organizing, UNITE would not win the campaign. Another strategy is that organizers are told not to file any unfair labor practice charges because it would slow the �card check� process and make time for the workers to question their decisions.
Coercion in voting should offend us all; we watch Zimbabwe this week where an opposition party that won a plurality of the votes in a primary has chosen to withdraw rather than risk violence against its supporters by the Mugabe government. But we hear very, very little about the legitimate threats made to workers -- not violence, but getting workers fired so that you could pass a unionization effort -- in order to support the L of DFL. That's what the city council in Minneapolis did to those workers at the Hotel Ivy. Do they care?

The AFL-CIO reports that Barack Obama has said he would sign the bill that creates card-check for all workplaces, not just those that take government money. They are hoping for change that reduces employee freedom.

UPDATE (6/24): Andy reports that CD6 DFL and Independence Party candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg is also in favor of removing voting rights from the workplace. Funny, I don't see that on the IP platform.
These are our core values:

1) A democratic process with integrity and broad citizen participation

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

DFL -- Democrats Funding (big) Labor 

The Mankato Free Press weighs in against a local proposal to impose prevailing wage laws.

The state already has prevailing wage rules for state-funded projects. Under the proposal before the Mankato City Council, the same rules would apply to city-funded project. The state sets the prevailing wage in dozens of job categories.

During initial discussion, there have been widely varying estimates of how much a local prevailing wage would add to project costs � from zero to some 40 percent.

Unions representing many of construction workers in the area argue that the prevailing wage rules used in state contracts don�t drive up the cost of projects.

That appears to be true in the Twin Cities metro area, where the going market cost for construction projects is about the same as the cost required under the state�s prevailing wage law.

But in outstate Minnesota, where wages and living costs are lower, prevailing wages do appear to drive up the cost of public projects, sometimes substantially.

A St. Cloud contractor doing a state project at St. Cloud State, told a television station that he is paying more than 30 percent more for the wages of his employees than he normally would.

That news report was on KARE 11 early in May, detailing how much we pay for labor outstate is creating excess costs for outstate projects:

In Koochiching County, up along the Canadian border, we found the state mandating pay rates for the most basic labor - they call it "common labor" - at $34.43/hour. This is a combination of wages and benefits.

If the employer doesn't have benefits totaling at least $10.61/hour, the state requires that the difference be made up in cash.

The bottom line is, the minimum pay ordered for entry level and unskilled labor in Koochiching county is $34.41/hour, if your tax dollars are being used to pay the bill.

That rate holds true (within a few pennies) all the way to the far arrowhead region along the northern border.

Points west drop as low as $26.70/hour.

In St. Cloud, the W Gohman Construction Company is building a parking ramp and public safety office on the campus of St. Cloud State University. It's a job paid for with your state tax dollars, so prevailing wages must be paid. The total job cost is about $7 million - half of it is labor costs.

Company president Michael Gohman tells us, if he could pay the market rate on this job, instead of the 'prevailing wage' he would save taxpayers between $350,000 & $700,000.

What's more, he took specific labor groups and compared the cost with and without the prevailing wage to show how prevailing wage inflates the cost of a project.

Gohman says those working under the state classification of "common laborers" are normally paid $25/hour in wages and benefits.

But on this taxpayer-funded project, the prevailing wage requires that they be paid $32.99. That's a 32% raise.

Cement Masons who are normally paid $32/hour have wages set by the state under the prevailing wage at $42.30. That's another 32% raise.

Gohman says he generally pays carpenters $30/hour. Under the prevailing wage laws he is required to pay them $32.99/hour. That's a more modest 8% raise.

The reason offered is that "prevailing wage" is set based on the mode of the distribution of wages; since most building projects happen in the Metro area, Metro wages are imposed across the state. This protects those contractors and labor unions from competition by other outstate Minnesota firms. A simple bill that would have made wages determined on something other than the mode, sponsored by Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud), died in committee in the last legislative session.

Peer-reviewed research, as opposed to legislative auditor reports or working papers, finds the prevailing wage to be inefficient in the construction of public buildings. Kessler and Katz (2001) show that overall wages decline only slightly (2.3-3.9%) in construction from the repeal of prevailing wage laws, but that union wages declined much more than 6% in the short run and near 11% in the long run. Prevailing wage laws are a means of funding big labor, at taxpayer expense. And the DFL legislature has no intention of stopping the booty paid to its supporters.

(Same goes for living wage laws, says David Neumark.)

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Franken, spending your money on the union man 

Al Franken thinks your stimulus check is a mistake. I could buy that, if he was going to say that it just implies higher taxes later so it won't really stimulate. But no, that's not what he's saying.
As he embarked on a tour of Minnesota focused on the economy, Franken said he was "not thrilled" with the $168 billion economic rescue package Congress approved in February.

While stopping short of saying he would have voted against the plan, Franken said he would have preferred more emphasis on helping states and municipalities move ahead with deferred repairs to highways, bridges and sewer systems.

"It would have the benefit of putting people to work, which is what you need to do in a recession," Franken told reporters at a state Capitol news conference. "And it would have the added benefit of actually repairing some infrastructure, which is also good for our economy."
Dollars spent put people to work, but dollars drained to pay for those workers puts other workers out of work. Which ones does he favor? The ones that are in the construction industry. These are both temporary jobs and they are unionized. Those ads playing on Twin Cities television right now blaring how good unions are for us all, are the friends of Al Franken.

Which makes him not the friend of those of us who have to pay those workers.

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