mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

The Two Labor Fallacies: Public or Private, It’s Work

As New Jersey throws its weight behind Wisconsin and Ohio in rolling back the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees, we are once again going to hear the  argument that public sector unions ought not to be confused with their private sector counterparts. They’re two different animals entirely.

Private sector workers, so the argument goes, have historically organized to win better working conditions and a bigger piece of the pie from profit-making entities like railroads and coal mines. But public sector employees work for “us,” the ultimate nonprofit, and therefore are not entitled to the same protections.

This is a fond notion at best. Yes, public school teachers were never gunned down by Pinkerton guards; municipal firefighters were never housed in company-owned shanties by the side of the tracks. But none of this cancels their rights as organized workers. No ancestor of mine voted to ratify the Constitution, either, but I have the same claim on the Bill of Rights as any Daughter of the American Revolution. Collective bargaining is an inheritance and we are all named in the will.

The two-labors fallacy rests on an even shakier proposition: that profits exist only where there is an accountant to tally them. This is economics reduced to the code of a shoplifter — whatever the security guard doesn’t see the store won’t miss. If my wife and I have young children but are still able to enjoy the double-income advantages of a childless couple, isn’t that partly because our children are being watched at school? If I needn’t invest some of my household’s savings in elaborate surveillance systems, isn’t that partly because I have a patrol car circling the block? The so-called “public sector” is a profit-making entity; it profits me.

Denying this profitability has an obvious appeal to conservatives. It allows a union-busting agenda to hide behind nice distinctions. “We’re not anti-union, we’re just against certain kinds of unions.” But the denial isn’t exclusive to conservatives; in fact, it informs the delusional innocence of many liberals. I mean the idea that exploitation is the exclusive province of oil tycoons and other wicked types. If you own a yoga center or direct an M.F.A. program, you can’t possibly be implicated in the more scandalous aspects of capitalism — just as you can’t possibly be to blame for racism if you’ve never grown cotton or owned a slave.

The fact is that our entire economic system rests on the principle of paying someone less than his or her labor is worth. The principle applies in the public sector no less than the private. The purpose of most labor unions has never been to eliminate the profit margin (the tragedy of the American labor movement) but rather to keep it within reasonable bounds.

But what about those school superintendents and police chiefs with their fabulous pensions, with salaries and benefits far beyond the average worker’s dreams?

Tell me about it. This past school year, I worked as a public high school teacher in northeastern Vermont. At 58 years of age, with a master’s degree and 16 years of teaching experience, I earned less than $50,000. By the standards of the Ohio school superintendent or the Wisconsin police chief, my pension can only be described as pitiful, though the dairy farmer who lives down the road from me would be happy to have it.

He should have it, at the least, and he could. If fiscal conservatives truly want to “bring salaries into line” they should commit to a model similar to the one proposed by George Orwell 70 years ago, with the nation’s highest income exceeding the lowest by no more than a factor of 10. They should establish that model in the public sector and enforce it with equal rigor and truly progressive taxation in the private.

Right now C.E.O.’s of multinational corporations earn salaries as much as a thousand times those of their lowest-paid employees. In such a context complaining about “lavish” public sector salaries is like shushing the foul language of children playing near the set of a snuff film. Whom are we kidding? More to the point, who’s getting snuffed?

 

By: Garret Keizer, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times Opinion Pages, June 24, 2011

June 26, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Democracy, Economy, Employment Descrimination, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teachers, Union Busting, Unions, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women And “Husband Issues”: We Work Hard, But Who’s Complaining?

When a couple dozen brawny, uniformed and helmeted firefighters, led by a bagpipe player, marched through a crowd of pro-union protesters in Madison, Wis., last month, I knew, almost to a certainty, that Gov. Scott Walker had picked a fight with the wrong crew.

As the firemen assembled on the Statehouse steps, the swelling, boisterous crowd, which had raucously encircled and occupied the Capitol for days, pushing back against Governor Walker’s plan to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights, all of a sudden slipped into silent reverence.

While the plan exempts policemen and firemen, the first responders rallied under the oldest first principle of militant unionism: An Injury to One is an Injury to All. And the presence of these mostly white, husky, mustachioed firemen — many with soot still speckling their uniforms — had highlighted a major issue that generally goes undetected by the news media when covering labor conflicts.

In short, it’s what my old union called “the Husband Issue.”

Allow me to explain.

I spent five years as an organizer, and hundreds of hours in the living rooms, at the kitchen tables and on the porches of countless low-wage nursing assistants, hospital food workers and clinical lab scientists, trying to talk them into our union.

These were almost always women. No surprise, really. Whatever growth there has been in organized labor over the last few years — and there hasn’t been much — has been primarily among service workers, that near-invisible class of underpaid workers who clean bedpans, vacuum hotel rooms and mop the floors of operating rooms. I recall one heady organizing drive in Southern California that unionized 9,000 hospital workers, and they were almost exclusively low-wage immigrant women.

Most of those I was recruiting had never been in a union before, had no relatives in unions, and were being introduced to a strange new concept, collective bargaining. For any question a woman had, whether about dues, strikes, seniority, pensions or what she had to gain from forming a union, I had an answer ready to go. (Dues give you power; strikes are rare; every one deserves to retire with dignity. You want a direct say in your wages and benefits, don’t you?).

There was one rebuff, nevertheless, against which I was utterly powerless. It had nothing to do with politics, the boss or dues. Seven simple but devastating words: “I need to ask my husband first.”

Despite the endless training we got on how to ease workers’ doubts, we could never really establish a convincing response for the Husband Issue. It would shift the dynamic so suddenly, and require treading on such volatile emotional territory, that we would often politely say goodbye and scuttle out the door.

(For the record: No man I ever spoke to said, “Excuse me, I have to check first with my wife,” before signing a union card.)

In the current storm over public employee unions rattling the Midwest, this issue of gender is usually overlooked. Women, working as state clerks, teachers and nurses, dominate the organized public sector. And just as Rust Belt Republicans have deftly exploited longstanding stereotypes about public workers as lazy, pampered and gorging themselves on the taxpayers’ teat, they have also made cynical use of gender clichés to try to keep female-dominated unions in their place.

The reality that women are increasingly the breadwinners, providing the financial stability for middle-class families through a good union job, doesn’t seem to inform the Republican state of mind. Instead, women’s income and benefits are still perceived by many as strictly supplementary to the nuclear family, if not entirely superfluous. And therefore they are a prime target for budget cuts.

In addition, pink-collar jobs already require a saint-like disposition and an overall doing-more-with-less attitude. Cutting the pensions of these female workers, freezing their wages and curtailing their rights seems, to many, one of a piece with the suffering and forbearance reserved for our mothers.

The error committed by the antiunion governors is that their attack this time around was so slashing that it cut to the very marrow of organized labor: middle-class white men who saw their futures and their rights threatened. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich even signed a law that goes so far as to prohibit policemen and firemen from negotiating over their staffing, or even the number of patrol cars and trucks at their disposal.

Police officers and firemen? Who is going to successfully argue that these guys are pampered and spoiled?

Call it what you want, and ascribe it to whatever motivation you please, but there’s just a radically different emotional atmosphere, a very divergent set of optics and ultimately an explosive political dynamic established when stoic firemen in bulky parkas and red helmets are on the picket line rather than teachers in pink T-shirts.

For better or for worse, they are still the Alpha Males of American society, our designated and respected protectors. They might be routinely taken for granted as a reliable conservative force, but someone forgot they are also still union men. These are men who recall clearly how the old-line male-dominated industrial unions — the steelworkers, autoworkers, miners and millworkers — have been whittled down or expunged. And to fiddle around with their livelihoods is like watching someone push your dad around. The reaction is an instinctive anger, horror and a sensation of the bottom falling out.

So, when those firemen took the steps of the Madison Capitol a few weeks ago, I was among those heartened and stirred. I could not resist, though, feeling more than a twinge of disappointment. I fear if it had been just some state home care workers or public school kindergarten teachers up there on the steps, it would not have ignited the same public sympathy and this fight would not be taken as seriously as it is.

By: Natasha Vargus-Cooper, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 2, 2011

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Employment Descrimination, Equal Rights, Governors, Income Gap, Jobs, Labor, Media, Middle Class, Politics, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Under The Supreme Court, Women May Get The Shaft In Walmart Suit

A class action suit that may include as many as 1.5 million women who claim sex discrimination on the job by Walmart is the biggest in U.S. history — though there are signs it won’t remain so for much longer.

The class action already has been approved by a federal judge and a federal appeals court, but it took a beating during argument at the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

Some analysts had said if the high court even accepted the case for review, instead of letting the lower-court verdict stand, it would be a sign that the 5-4 conservative majority wanted to strike the class certification.

Professor Deborah Hensler of Stanford Law School told the Chicago Tribune last year, “If the Supreme Court takes this case, it will signal this business-friendly court is hostile to class actions against corporate defendants.”

“This is the big one that will set the standards for all other class actions,” Robin S. Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, an agency of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The New York Times. The center filed several friend of the court briefs supporting Walmart at the Supreme Court.

The implication is that Walmart, headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., and one of the world’s largest corporations, is just too big to be the target of a class action.

The company tried to emphasize the massive nature of the class in its petition to the Supreme Court asking for review.

“This nationwide class includes every woman employed for any period of time over the past decade, in any of Walmart’s approximately 3,400 separately managed stores, 41 regions and 400 districts, and who held positions in any of approximately 53 departments and 170 different job classifications,” the company’s petition said. “The millions of class members collectively seek billions of dollars in monetary relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that tens of thousands of Walmart managers inflicted monetary injury on each and every individual class member in the same manner by intentionally discriminating against them because of their sex, in violation of the company’s express anti-discrimination policy.”

The Supreme Court review does not involve the merits of the suit — whether Walmart is guilty of discrimination against women — but whether the enormous class action, driven by statistics, should be allowed to proceed or whether the women must sue individually or in small groups.

The case started in 2001 in San Francisco when six women filed suit claiming Walmart discrimination, in part because they were passed over for promotion in favor of men. One of the six says she was told, “It’s a man’s world.”

Washington attorney Joseph Sellers, who argued for the women before the Supreme Court last week, told United Press International last year, “There’s a substantial body of evidence that comes from Walmart’s own workforce data,” including “very sophisticated analysis” to show what company policy was. Despite the size of the class, Walmart can use that evidence in an attempt to show that there was no company-wide discrimination, just as plaintiffs can use the same evidence to show there was, he said.

“We have evidence that there is a culture at the company that condones or says women are second-class citizens,” Sellers said, some of it surfacing at managers’ meetings at strip clubs or at Hooters restaurants.

Sellers had to think fast on his feet last Tuesday — ironically during Women’s History Month — as justice after justice tried to shred his argument from the bench.

Four of the court’s five-member conservative majority — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito — were expected to give Sellers a tough time, with Justice Clarence Thomas asking no questions, as is his custom.

The four-member liberal bloc was expected to give him help. The female members of the court, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan did their best to steer the argument in favor of the class action. Ginsburg argued the concept of gender discrimination into law in a series of brilliant cases in the 1970s.

But the fourth member of the bloc, Justice Stephen Breyer, barely spoke Tuesday, and kept his cards close to his vest.

The time allotted for Walmart’s lawyer, Los Angeles attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr., was relatively calm except for pointed questions from the women, but Sellers got a grilling.

Roberts was the first to strike, asking Sellers, “Is it true that Walmart’s pay disparity across the company was less than the national average” for similar retailers?

“I don’t know that that’s a fair comparison,” Sellers replied, adding Walmart was making that comparison “with the general population, not with people in retail.”

Kennedy was more acerbic. “It’s not clear to me: What is the unlawful policy that Walmart has adopted,” he asked Sellers, “under your theory of the case?”

“Justice Kennedy, our theory is that Walmart provided to its managers unchecked discretion,” Sellers said, with women getting fewer opportunities and less pay even with more seniority and higher performance reviews.

“Your complaint faces in two directions,” Kennedy said from the bench. “No. 1, you said this is a culture where … the headquarters knows everything that’s going on. Then in the next breath, you say, well, now these supervisors have too much discretion. It seems to me there’s an inconsistency there, and I’m just not sure what the (alleged) unlawful policy is.”

“There is no inconsistency any more than it’s inconsistent within Walmart’s own personnel procedures,” Sellers replied. A federal judge “found specific features of the pay and promotion process that are totally discretionary. There’s no guidance whatsoever about how to make those decisions. … But the company also has a very strong corporate culture … what they call the ‘Walmart way,’ and the purpose of that is to ensure that in these various stores that, contrary to what Walmart argues, that these are wholly independent facilities, that the decisions of the managers will be informed by the values the company provides to these managers in training.”

“Well, is that disparate treatment?,” Kennedy asked. “Disparate” or unequal treatment is a necessary element for discrimination.

“It is disparate treatment,” Sellers insisted. “It is a form of disparate treatment because they are making these decisions because of sex.”

Scalia echoed Kennedy.

“I’m getting whipsawed here,” he said. “On the one hand, you say the problem is that (local managers) were utterly subjective, and on the other hand you say there is … a strong corporate culture that guides all of this. Well, which is it? It’s either the individual supervisors are left on their own, or else there is a strong corporate culture that tells them what to do.”

Sellers replied that managers have broad discretion, but don’t make their decisions in a vacuum.

Scalia kept charging ahead.

“What do you know about … the unchallenged fact that the central company had a policy, an announced policy, against sex discrimination,” he asked, “so that it wasn’t totally subjective at the managerial level? It was, ‘You make these hiring decisions, but you do not make them on the basis of sex.’ Wasn’t that the central policy of the company?”

“That was a written policy,” Sellers said. “That was not the policy that was effectively communicated to the managers.”

Post-mortem evaluations of the argument were almost uniformly pessimistic for the class’s survival.

Lyle Denniston, dean emeritus of the Supreme Court press corps, wrote on SCOTUSBLOG.com that it took only a few minutes of argument “for a potentially fatal flaw … to stand out boldly.”

The basic claim in the suit is that Walmart maintains a common culture — “the Walmart Way” — to ensure uniformity in its 3,400 stores, Denniston wrote, but the corporate headquarters gives local store managers unlimited discretion to decide pay and promotions — resulting in lower pay and fewer promotions for women.

Kennedy’s point was those factors may seem contradictory.

But for a class action to survive under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “the legal and factual issues must share commonality” at a minimum, Denniston wrote. Much of last week’s argument focused on that key requirement.

In the Los Angeles Times, an article partly written by veteran Supreme Court correspondent David Savage said the statistics may support the women. Lawyers say two-thirds of Walmart’s employees were women though men made up 86 percent of store managers when the stats were gathered five years ago.

But the article said “the tenor of Tuesday’s argument suggested that the massive, decade-old suit may run aground before it can move toward a trial.”

The Times said even though the male conservative justices were more aggressively negative, all of the justices expressed at least some reservations.

The justices should rule before the summer recess.

Bottom line from UPI: Justices could certainly change their minds, but based on their behavior during argument, look for the class to be struck down by at least a 5-4 vote, and a larger margin, 6-3 or 7-2 or more, is certainly within the realm of possibility.

By: Michael Kirkland, UPI.com, April 3, 2011

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Corporations, Employment Descrimination, Equal Rights, Income Gap, Jobs, Labor, Republicans, Supreme Court, Walmart, Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Is Urged to Raise Teachers’ Status

To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.

Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.

“Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” Mr. Schleicher says in the report, prepared in advance of an educational conference that opens in New York on Wednesday. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The conference, convened by the federal Department of Education, was expected to bring together education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents from nine American states. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he hoped educational leaders would use the conference to share strategies for raising student achievement.

“We’re all facing similar challenges,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview.

The meeting occurs at a time when teachers’ rights, roles and responsibilities are being widely debated in the United States.

Republicans in Wisconsin and several other states have been pushing legislation to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights and reduce taxpayer contributions to their pensions.

President Obama has been trying to promote a different view.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.

Mr. Schleicher is a senior official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., a Paris group that includes the world’s major industrial powers. He wrote the new report, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president who is a former West Virginia schools superintendent, for the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation.

It draws on data from the Program for International Student Assessment, which periodically tests 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries in math, reading or science.

On the most recent Pisa, the top-scoring countries were Finland and Singapore in science, Korea and Finland in reading and Singapore and Korea in math. On average, American teenagers came in 15th in reading and 19th in science. American students placed 27th in math. Only 2 percent of American students scored at the highest proficiency level, compared with 8 percent in Korea and 5 percent in Finland.

The “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, the report says, include adopting common academic standards — an effort well under way here, led by state governors — developing better tests for use by teachers in diagnosing students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.

“Make a concerted effort to raise the status of the teaching profession” was the top recommendation.

University teaching programs in the high-scoring countries admit only the best students, and “teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous,” the report says.

Raising teachers’ status is not mainly about raising salaries, the report says, but pay is a factor.

According to O.E.C.D. data, the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher here was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all O.E.C.D countries (the figures were converted to compare the purchasing power of each currency).

But that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.

In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

By: Sam Dillon, The New York Times, March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 Posted by | Education, Employment Descrimination, Equal Rights, Professionals, Teachers, Unions | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Invest In Your Child’s Future: Pay Teachers More

From the debates in Wisconsin and elsewhere about public sector unions, you might get the impression that we’re going bust because teachers are overpaid.

That’s a pernicious fallacy. A basic educational challenge is not that teachers are raking it in, but that they are underpaid. If we want to compete with other countries, and chip away at poverty across America, then we need to pay teachers more so as to attract better people into the profession.

Until a few decades ago, employment discrimination perversely strengthened our teaching force. Brilliant women became elementary school teachers, because better jobs weren’t open to them. It was profoundly unfair, but the discrimination did benefit America’s children.

These days, brilliant women become surgeons and investment bankers — and 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores). The figure is from a study by McKinsey & Company, “Closing the Talent Gap.”

Changes in relative pay have reinforced the problem. In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher, the McKinsey study found.

We all understand intuitively the difference a great teacher makes. I think of Juanita Trantina, who left my fifth-grade class intoxicated with excitement for learning and fascinated by the current events she spoke about. You probably have a Miss Trantina in your own past.

One Los Angeles study found that having a teacher from the 25 percent most effective group of teachers for four years in a row would be enough to eliminate the black-white achievement gap.

Recent scholarship suggests that good teachers, even kindergarten teachers, increase their students’ earnings many years later. Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University found that an excellent teacher (one a standard deviation better than average, or better than 84 percent of teachers) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000. If there are 20 students in the class, that is an extra $400,000 generated, compared with a teacher who is merely average.

A teacher better than 93 percent of other teachers would add $640,000 to lifetime pay of a class of 20, the study found.

Look, I’m not a fan of teachers’ unions. They used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective.

But none of this means that teachers are overpaid. And if governments nibble away at pensions and reduce job security, then they must pay more in wages to stay even.

Moreover, part of compensation is public esteem. When governors mock teachers as lazy, avaricious incompetents, they demean the profession and make it harder to attract the best and brightest. We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.

Consider three other countries renowned for their educational performance: Singapore, South Korea and Finland. In each country, teachers are drawn from the top third of their cohort, are hugely respected and are paid well (although that’s less true in Finland). In South Korea and Singapore, teachers on average earn more than lawyers and engineers, the McKinsey study found.

“We’re not going to get better teachers unless we pay them more,” notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an education reform organization. Likewise, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform says, “We’re the first people to say, throw them $100,000, throw them whatever it takes.”

Both Ms. Wilkins and Ms. Allen add in the next breath that pay should be for performance, with more rigorous evaluation. That makes sense to me.

Starting teacher pay, which now averages $39,000, would have to rise to $65,000 to fill most new teaching positions in high-needs schools with graduates from the top third of their classes, the McKinsey study found. That would be a bargain.

Indeed, it makes sense to cut corners elsewhere to boost teacher salaries. Research suggests that students would benefit from a tradeoff of better teachers but worse teacher-student ratios. Thus there are growing calls for a Japanese model of larger classes, but with outstanding, respected, well-paid teachers.

Teaching is unusual among the professions in that it pays poorly but has strong union protections and lockstep wage increases. It’s a factory model of compensation, and critics are right to fault it. But the bottom line is that we should pay teachers more, not less — and that politicians who falsely lambaste teachers as greedy are simply making it more difficult to attract the kind of above-average teachers our above-average children deserve.

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 12, 2011

March 13, 2011 Posted by | Education, Employment Descrimination, Professionals, Teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: