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Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence

It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer.

A new report from our Center, released this week – Paid for Not Working, Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence – highlights the many forms of collectively-bargained “leave time” allowed for teachers.

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Maybe We Should Say, “At Least It’s Only 18 Days”

When Rhode Islanders read an article reporting that about 25% of all Providence teachers were marked absent 18 times during a school year, we tend to think that’s a lot.  That’s especially true considering that the teachers’ 181-day work year is already one-fifth smaller than the 230 days private-sector workers typically work after they’ve taken all of their allowed paid time.

But there’s another way to look at this question.  As the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity points out, today, the Providence teachers’ contract allows them to take many more days off than they do.  In fact, in a standard year, every teacher could be out of the classroom 26 days, for various sick, personal, and other reasons.

On top of that, life events requiring time off — weddings and deaths — are counted neither as sick nor personal time, but are additional.  If the teacher gets married and experiences deaths in his or her the immediate, in-law, and extended families, the total would be 11 days.

That doesn’t happen all the time, of course, for which we can be grateful, but teachers could also rack up another 11 days out of the classroom for various activities related to their labor union.  And even this doesn’t count the equivalent of 36 and 72 days that a union coordinator and president do not have to do classroom work.

These totals also do not count longer-term absences, like sabbaticals or time off for being injured on the job, or the years Providence teachers can take off without pay.

A table on the Center’s report lays it all out, with references to the contract.  And again, this is all in addition to the fact that public school teachers who don’t take a single additional day off would still work about five fewer workweeks than somebody in the private sector who used up all of his or her time-off benefits.

So, maybe the takeaway shouldn’t be that Providence teachers are abusing their time off allowances, but that they aren’t even using them to their fullest.  It’s the entire system that is abusive.

(Of course, one caveat in our compliment to teachers’ diligence is that they get to carry over all sick days they don’t use, up to 150, and then receive a portion of that pay as a bonus when they leave the district.)

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Bright Today Educational Freedom Scholarships To Counter Collective Bargaining Inequities

At a cost of approximately $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one-million or so residents, a typical family of four is paying over $3500 annually to support the extravagant compensation programs for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

Beyond these extreme financial costs, there may be an even more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism.

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The Fruits of Top-Down Economic Development

As has been written in this space before, elected officials and bureaucrats simply aren’t well suited to taking business gambles with taxpayer money.  Even putting aside questions of competence (such as: Why would somebody who can reliably and profitably invest millions of dollars not be working for him or herself?), the incentives are wrong.  If a government agent makes a bad investment decision, he or she keeps working without losing a penny of income, and moreover, it’s very easy to spin the amount of success.

Along these lines, GoLocalProv reports:

The $1 million to build out Johnson & Johnson’s space at 1 Ship Street in the Jewelry District proved to be wasteful as the company used the space for less than two years.

As the Wexford Innovation Center was being developed it was agreed between Commerce RI and Johnson & Johnson that the company would move from the newly built on Ship Street to Wexford.

Johnson and Johnson was scheduled to take a full floor in Wexford — 25,000 square feet for their 75 employees and for potential future expansion.

But now Johnson & Johnson has slashed their space needs and only leased 40 percent of what they planned — just 10,000 square feet in Wexford.

With the cut back by Johnson & Johnson and Brown University moving just 85 existing jobs, the only new permanent jobs in the $88 million building are Cambridge Innovation Center employees — just 12 new hires in the Wexford complex.

In other words, the state invested tens of millions of dollars to keep labor unions busy building and to give some existing organizations an opportunity to move their offices within Rhode Island.  (At least one of those organizations is a tax exempt nonprofit, to boot.)  We’ll never know what opportunities our state has missed by not taking the simpler approach of freeing residents from our heavy tax burden and restrictive regulatory regime.

Given the (at best) debatable fruits of the government-centric economic development model, however, there is no principled reason not to give something else a try.  Of course, having no principled reason doesn’t mean insiders don’t have self-interested reasons.

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The Teacher Union’s Power and Barriers to Entry

Erika Sanzi asks some key questions of the Providence Teachers Union, but the last one cuts right to the heart of unionization, at least in the public sector:

Will the union stand in the way of eliminating the arbitrary barriers to entry into the teaching profession so that we can begin to build a long overdue talent pipeline to include people who come to teaching via an alternative pathway?

The application of some simple logic finds the reason the union will likely answer “yes” to this question — meaning “yes, we will stand in the way” — until absolutely forced to moderate.  The union’s primary value proposition to its members is that it will gain them privileges and security.  The teachers to whom this protection is most valuable are those with the least capacity to fend for themselves and gather their own leverage.

The more talented a teacher is, and the more experience he or she has in other environments than government schools, the less he or she needs the union as leverage against management and the more independent he or she will be as a union member (or bargaining unit member if he or she does not join the union).

Imagine a flood of conspicuously competent people — driven by the mission of turning Providence around and enabled by the extremely desirable compensation packages that government unions have secured — entering the system as full participants.  Not only would those new teachers refuse to stand for the union’s obstruction of the mission’s success, but they would present a stark contrast to the most dedicated union members, who should predictably be the ones with the most need for union protection.

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The Mystery of Deteriorating Roads

As is true around the state, the condition of the roads are a constant (and justified) complaint in Tiverton, with a particular focus on those that the state owns and, therefore, is responsible to fix.  Oh, they’re on the 10-year plan for repair, but that means at least five more years — five more winters and five more thaws — until the worst of them are addressed.

A local landscaper asks a question that occurs to many Rhode Islanders, in one form or another:

Louis Dupont, said the state “better do something.”

“The state gets all this money from the lottery. Where does it go?” Dupont asked. “That baffles me. All that money. Where does it go?”

Asked his opinion of the eastern stretch of East Road, Dupont says: “The tractor almost jumps off the trailer.”

The state now has a $10 billion budget, and the municipalities collect another $2.5 billion in taxes on top of that.  Where does all the money go?

Well, this is the Know a Guy State, and budgets fund special favors, handouts, pet projects, and a substantial pay premium for government employees.  Once a chunk of cash is claimed for anything or anyone, it becomes an entitlement that is extremely difficult to take away.  When money does go toward infrastructure, cost-growing mandates from the state, such as prevailing wage, drive up the expense to ridiculous heights so taxpayer dollars can’t go as far as they otherwise would.

Big-government politicians everywhere understand that they’re better off siphoning money to things that shouldn’t be priorities so that the public will consent to higher taxes and more fees in order to fund the things that they really care about, and Rhode Island has made that principle a way of life.  Until we stop shaking our heads and writing it off simply as the way things are around here, the practice will continue.

But imagine if we insisted on change and our roads were rapidly repaired, perhaps even while we experienced a reduction in taxation.  Decline has been a choice, and it is within our power to reverse it and rocket up the national rankings that give Ocean State residents a near-monthly slap.

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RI Seeks a Workaround to Janus

Ballotpedia highlights a new union-helping law in Rhode Island:

On July 8, Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed H5259 and S0712 into law. These companion bills authorize public-sector unions to impose fees on non-members who request union representation in grievance and/or arbitration proceedings. It requires public-sector employers to notify unions within five days of hiring new employees. It also requires employees to file written notice with the state controller in order to discontinue payroll deductions for union dues.

Some labor attorneys with whom I’ve spoken have suggested that this is patently unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Janus decision.  They say that if union members do not have to pay extra for a service — that is, if the service of grievance representation is included in dues — then non-members cannot be charged for it.

At the very least, one can say that it is a legally gray area.  Consider this from Janus, wherein the court is arguing that the idea that employees are “free riders” if they can’t be forced to pay agency fees is not a very strong point (citations removed):

What about the representation of nonmembers in grievance proceedings? Unions do not undertake this activity solely for the benefit of nonmembers—which is why Illinois law gives a public-sector union the right to send a representative to such proceedings even if the employee declines union representation. Representation of nonmembers furthers the union’s interest in keeping control of the administration of the collective-bargaining agreement, since the resolution of one employee’s grievance can affect others.  And when a union controls the grievance process, it may, as a practical matter, effectively subordinate “the interests of [an] individual employee . . . to the collective interests of all employees in the bargaining unit.” Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co.

The next paragraph suggests less-invasive means than agency fees, such as charging for the service.  However, the text and a related footnote imply that the ability to charge is dependent on the employee’s request for union representation, which seems to suggest that non-members in a collective bargaining unit can choose other representation.

If non-members must be covered by a contract and cannot negotiate their own, separate grievance procedures, they should be afforded the option of hiring some other representative for that narrow purpose than the union.  Naturally, this being Rhode Island, we should expect all legislation to be geared toward helping the labor unions rather than balancing the legitimate interests of everybody involved.

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How You Can Help Break the Union Grip that Contributed Mightily to Providence Education “Horror Show”

By now, you must have heard about the scathing Wall Street Journal editorial on the Providence school system. They didn’t hold back, and it is right in line with what our Center has been saying for years. It is a total embarrassment for teachers who truly care about educating kids.

The WSJ put blame on the powerful teachers unions as a key reason why students are not receiving the education they deserve.

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Rhode Island’s Politicians Are Failing

For too long, the political class has failed the people of our state. At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, our recent Public Union Excesses report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.

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Discussing the State’s Effect on Municipalities on State of the State

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new board member, Judge Robert Flanders, recently accompanies me for an appearance on the State of the State show to discuss the effect that state-level rulings and legislation can have on cities’ and towns’ ability to manage themselves and their budgets.

6-10-19 Impact of Legislation/Court Decisions on Municipal Management and Cost from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

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Important One Year Milestone: Union Membership is Now Your Choice

The end of the 2019 school year coincides with an important milestone: June 27th will be the one year marker since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which determined that forcibly collecting union dues and fees from public workers, including teachers, is unconstitutional.

This summer is the perfect time to ask yourself the question: What is my union doing for me?

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How the Issues Blend in the General Assembly

Maybe I’m being a little too cynical, but a serendipitous press release from the Rhode Island Senate at least provides an opportunity to contemplate how things operate at the State House.

As readers probably have heard by now, the Democrat leadership of the Senate engaged in an unprecedented last minute political stunt by pulling an abortion bill that decriminalizes fetal homicide from the Judiciary Committee and sends it to the Health and Human Services Committee, which everybody expects to pass it.  The reason for this unusual move was that Senate Republicans looked like they were going to leverage their rights as a minority under the chamber’s rules to add two votes to the “nay” side and stop the radical, unnecessary, and deceptive legislation.

The odd thing about it is that Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D, Warwick) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence, North Providence) could have done the same thing.  Instead, the Senate president managed to ensure that the bill passes committee without admitting that he voted for it.

Now the press release posted on the Web the same day as the committee maneuver:

The Senate today passed legislation (2019-S-803Aaa) sponsored by President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) that takes a new approach to economic development on large tracts of state land. Spurred by delays and impediments imposed upon the Hope Point Tower proposal for the I-195 Redevelopment District, the bill intends to create a more streamlined process for approvals on these state-owned parcels moving forward.

“We have a rare opportunity for development at the former I-195 land and some other areas across the state,” said Senator Ruggerio. “In the I-195 District, a developer is hoping to invest more than a quarter of a billion dollars to create an iconic structure that redefines the skyline. We should have welcomed this investment with open arms. Instead, we did everything we could to chase the developer away. Thankfully, he’s still here. This process has sent a terrible message to anyone looking to invest in Rhode Island.”

This is a big-money deal of particular interest to labor unions, for which Ruggerio worked until he retired after becoming Senate president.  The only reason I hesitate to link this with the abortion bill is that the vote wasn’t really that close: 28 to 8.  On the other hand, eight “nay” votes is pretty substantial in our one-sided legislature.  Had 10 votes flipped, the bill would have failed.  When the bill was in Senate Judiciary, four flipped votes would have stopped it.

So, the lesson:  When considering the up-and-down votes on any particular bill, you can’t assume legislators are judging the merits alone.  The lives of unborn children, in this case, can perhaps be sacrificed for the sake of a crony development deal.  Or perhaps some other backroom deal has been struck so that the House will stop the legislation in exchange for a return favor from the Senate.

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Upcoming Budget: More Privileges for Insiders or Real Help for RI Families?

With the General Assembly session nearing the end, we fully expect the new state budget to contain no meaningful remedies to the many problems that plague our state, such as high taxes across the board, high energy and healthcare costs, and onerous regulatory burdens on job-producers. In our Public Union Excesses report, we identified that there are $888 million per year in excessive collectively-bargained costs, responsible for driving up local property taxes by up to 25%.

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Public-Sector Labor Legislation and the Law of Unintended Consequences

While we must be wary of giving credit-rating agencies the power to dictate the legislation of our elected representatives, Rhode Islanders should contemplate the significance of this development, which Katherine Gregg reports in the Providence Journal:

A warning from one of the nation’s largest credit-rating agencies, Moody’s Investors Service, has revived the debate over the union-backed continuing-contract legislation that Gov. Gina Raimondo signed last month over the objections of city and town leaders.

The new continuing-contract law indefinitely locks in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The teacher union lobbyists who took the lead in pushing the bill said it was aimed at preventing cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay or making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.

“The law has the potential to provide collective bargaining units with advantages in negotiations,’’ Moody’s public-finance division wrote in a special report out Thursday that echoed one of the biggest concerns raised by Rhode Island mayors and town administrators.

Moody’s worries that the law may be “a significant impediment to local governments’ ability to negotiate labor contracts,” and as a local elected official participating in negotiations, I can confirm that to be the case.  It isn’t just a matter of unions’ refusing to make concessions that help government agencies balance their budgets.

The legislation — and even just the fact of its passage, along with the firefighter overtime bill — is already shutting off areas of discussion.  A municipality and union trying to balance current expenses with employees’ long-term interests can’t trust that the state won’t change the rules out from under them.  Even in a situation when the current members of a particular union have long demonstrated a desire to work cooperatively with management, decision-makers can’t consider only that relationship, but must worry about the unknowns of what future union members might do and how union-friendly legislators might change the rules on their behalf.

As with so much in Rhode Island government, the legislature and governor have demonstrated that they don’t take the broad, long-term effects of their actions into consideration.  One imagines that if they were ever to acknowledge the law of unintended consequences, they’d move swiftly to pass legislation repealing it.

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Help Spread the Word About the Cost of Government Unions

Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.

Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.

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