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Unions’ Manipulation and the Possibility of Revolution

As Rhode Islanders contemplate the significance of the AFL-CIO’s apparently getting its way and killing a public referendum on public financing of the proposed PawSox stadium, and as we consider the possibility of pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of debt into building and fixing schools that local governments failed to maintain, and as House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello collects around $90,000 at a single fundraising event, Megan McArdle’s musings on government unions and might-as-well-be-government unions are worth a read:

… as the Times notes, both the cost of labor and the amount of labor that’s used contribute a great deal to those bloated bottom lines. Why does Paris, with its feisty unions, manage to use fewer workers than New York City, and get jobs done for a fraction of the cost?

Because New York unions are politically connected, and for various reasons, the American government is particularly vulnerable to capture by these sorts of interests, especially as regional partisanship hardens. New York City is a one-party town in a very blue state; while New Yorkers may occasionally vote for a Republican mayor or a Republican governor, the down-ticket offices are filled in the Democratic primary. Those politicians have no interest in angering a large segment of their base that has a lot of cash for campaign contributions, and is well organized to turn out and influence elections. And the finance industry throws off such a vast river of cash that they can get away with bloated construction budgets. So no one has any incentive to crack down on wages or featherbedding.

Unionization and the sheer size of government have combined to create a political system that is in large part dominated by people voting to give themselves other people’s money.

In a free market, somebody selling something (including his or her labor) is constrained by the possibility that the customer will simply go elsewhere or forgo the purchase.  As insiders endeavor to make sure that Rhode Island taxpayers do not have the choice to forgo the purchase of a new PawSox stadium, we can see how the constraint on labor unions in modern Rhode Island is not far short of the possibility of actual revolution.

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How Accountability Works in Government

Former WPRI employee Stephanie Chalfant describes the accountability faced by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who inadvertently put an entire city into panic by hitting the “incoming missile” button rather than the “this is a test button”… twice:

The employee who hit the button has since been reassigned, according to state officials.

“I’m sure he feels horrible,” Chalfant added. “I can’t even imagine being in this person’s shoes who had done this. He must feel awful.”

Well, as long as he feels bad, then the public can rest assured that these sorts of mistakes — with the very real potential to put people in harm’s way — will not happen again.  (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

In the private sector, the consequences to an ordinary employee — somebody who isn’t connected or mission critical — would almost certainly be much more substantial, not the least because the entire company could go out of business.

Once again, the impression is that they (government workers) don’t work for us.  We’re just lucky that they deign to provide us services.

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Teacher Unionization Hurts Boys, Especially Minorities

Iain Murray highlights part the abstract from a new paper by Cornell researchers:

The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $149.6 billion in the US annually. Among men, we also find evidence of lower employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation. Exposure to collective bargaining laws leads to reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which male workers sort as well. Effects are largest among black and Hispanic men, although white and Asian men also experience sizable negative impacts of collective bargaining exposure. Using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we demonstrate that collective bargaining law exposure leads to reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults, and these effects are larger for men.

In other words, exposure to unionized teachers in one way or another tends to reduce boys’ exposure to the skills that men tend more often to need on the job and generally lower abilities, especially in minority populations.

That seems like a data point that ought to be part of the public discussion on education.

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Swamp Draining Would Be Win-Win-Win

I’m with Kimberley Strassel on this one:

Let 2018 be the year of civil-service reform—a root-and-branch overhaul of the government itself. Call it Operation Drain the Swamp.

When Candidate Trump first referred to “the swamp,” he was talking about the bog of Beltway lobbyists and “establishment” politicians. But President Trump’s first year in office has revealed that the real swamp is the unchecked power of those who actually run Washington: the two million members of the federal bureaucracy. That civil-servant corps was turbocharged by the Obama administration’s rule-making binge, and it now has more power—and more media enablers—than ever. We live in an administrative state, run by a left-leaning, self-interested governing class that is actively hostile to any president with a deregulatory or reform agenda. …

If Democrats insist on engaging in class warfare, Republicans should take on the governing class. Washington is now home to a bureaucratic elite, fantastically paid and protected, divorced from economic reality, and self-invested in thwarting conservative policy efforts. Let’s drain the swamp, or at least make it smaller.

Certainly in our current context, shrinking the government workforce is an unmitigated good.  As Strassel notes, it would allow the elected government to operate as the electorate wants, but it would also immediately increase our freedom as individuals and organizations by reducing government’s ability to control us.  And as an added bonus, it would reduce deficits.

Of course, the people most likely to disagree with my assessment are also the most powerful people in the country.

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Jobs That Appear When the Taxpayer Money Starts to Flow

Here’s a doozy of an example of government waste:

Workers in the East Side Access tunnel, which will connect Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan with the Long Island Rail Road. The project’s costs have ballooned to nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track. …

The budget showed that 900 workers were being paid to dig caverns for the platforms as part of a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the historic station to the Long Island Rail Road. But the accountant could only identify about 700 jobs that needed to be done, according to three project supervisors. Officials could not find any reason for the other 200 people to be there.

Sadly, one suspects that this is just an extreme version of a typical activity, and that’s before one points out the reality of jobs that are happily claimed on the books, but that could easily be discarded, such as the proverbial three union workers on every project whose apparent job is to watch the one who’s actually doing something.

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General Assembly and Projo Editors Show Nurses Who Owns Them

Don’t miss Jennifer Bogdan’s article in the Providence Journal, about the hassles that the State of Rhode Island created for nurses in the state by failing to pass legislation to remain in the interstate Nurse Licensure Compact, which allowed nurses in any of the 25 participating states to carry use licenses across borders.

…  a bill was never even introduced in last year’s General Assembly thanks in part to strong resistance from nurses unions that argue the compact has deprived Rhode Island nurses from opportunities to work here.

The situation has left local nurses who pick up out-of-state work scrambling to quickly acquire other state’s licenses. Meanwhile, out-of-state nurses currently working in Rhode Island under the compact are flocking to the Department of Health with their $139 applications for Rhode Island licenses in tow.

Donna Policastro, executive director of the Rhode Island State Nurses Association, which supports the compact, said she’s been fielding calls from concerned nurses who’ve learned about the change. In one case, a nurse is working from home advising for a national company in 16 states. The woman now needs 16 additional licenses.

The Projo’s editors did Bogdan a huge disservice by recasting her article — completely inverting both the angle of the story and the significance of recent events — with the headline, “Unions: Compact deprives R.I. nurses of work.”  The bias of the headline writer is apparently so deep that he or she created the false impression that there is currently a compact in effect in the state.  The headline should have been something like, “Nurses scramble for licenses after state quits compact.”

More important, though, is the lesson on our relationship with our government.  Think of it:  These folks, mainly women, have to beg the General Assembly to keep their jobs possible every year, and this year, the unions managed to brush them aside to ensure more-total ownership of our lives in the Ocean State.

None of this should be acceptable, across the board.

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Money-Grabbing State Officials Seek To Tax Everything That Moves

Yet again, Rhode Island has been saddled with a bottom-10 ranking: This time for its heavy-handed occupational licensing regulatory regime, which effectively denies many people the right to earn a living. In Washington, the Trump administration is returning to a “light-touch” regulatory strategy, a strategy that our state would be wise to follow.

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Contrasting Benny’s with State Bennies

While sympathetic to the plight of Benny’s employees whose jobs are disappearing out from under them, I can’t help but wonder how many people actually enter retail expecting benefits like severance pay.  Kim Kalunian and Ted Nesi’s WPRI article on the impending closure of all Benny’s stores makes it seem as that must be a thing, but even with a good bit of retail experience, I’ve never heard of it.

Presumably, workers were satisfied with the terms of their employment while it was ongoing.  It would be generous of the company’s owners to offer employees who happen to be working for the stores now that they’re closing an additional, unexpected bonus, but it would be above and beyond what tends to happen in the private sector.

Now contrast that situation with Kathy Gregg’s Providence Journal follow-up article on Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s incentive offer to near-retirees on the state’s payroll:

The retirement plan hinges on the one-time payment of an amount twice the “longevity” bonus that each worker, already eligible for retirement, is receiving. Until this bonus-pay program was frozen in 2011, the state automatically gave state workers 5-percent, 10-percent, 15-percent, 17.5-percent and 20-percent pay increases at milestones in their career, such as the 5-year, 10-year or 20-year mark. The cap on Raimondo’s offer: $40,000. …

More assumptions: the departing workers would leave with $8.94 million in retirement-incentive payments and $4.57 million in “severance payments” for all of the unused vacation days and sick time they were allowed to bank over the course of their careers. Assuming the administration replaced 252 of these workers by the end of this budget year — at substantially lower salaries — the Budget Office projected $2,608,406 in state-dollar savings this year.

We really do have two classes in Rhode Island, whose lived experiences and expectations about the world are entirely separate, and politicians (rather than workers’ talents) are the ultimate gatekeepers to the more-desirable one.  In one class, we work by mutual agreement, and all parties are tasked with assessing their own financial needs and adjusting accordingly, seeking the best deals we can as we go.  The other class collects what it needs from taxpayers and makes decisions based on the political clout of special interests (notably labor unions) before considering financial viability.

As Kalunian and Nesi report, the financial reality of defined-benefit retirement plans forced an end to the benefit at Benny’s in 2007.  The state’s, on the other hand, still stands available as another bucket of money and liability into and out of which officials can slop cash so as to create the appearance of fiscal viability in any given year.

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Chris Maxwell: RIDOT’s Inadequate Environmental Assessment Intended to Accelerate Toll Bait Lawsuit

[Below are the prepared comments of Chris Maxwell, President of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, for the RIDOT toll gantry workshop Tuesday evening. The video of Chris’ actual comments, abbreviated due to time constraints, can be viewed here. For the sake of the news outlet that erroneously reported that public comment Tuesday night was mostly a re-hash of old objections and omitted all on-topic comments from their story, Ocean State Current has bolded all of Chris’ comments that pertain to the Environmental Assessment that was the subject of Tuesday’s workshop.]

Good evening. My name is Chris Maxwell and I represent the Rhode Island Trucking Association and all local trucking companies adversely affected by truck-only tolls.

Our opposition to this plan from its introduction in the spring of 2015 is well-documented. And despite the justified rancour that still exists, our industry’s willingness to contribute to infrastructure improvement remains steadfast – even beyond our existing contributions which are considerable.

In 2016, the trucking industry in Rhode Island paid roughly $70 million in federal and state roadway taxes.

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Wheee! Warwick Fire Chief Puts Taxpayers On Hook for Cool $2.8 Million Fine

From the front page of yesterday’s Warwick Beacon.

[Taxpayer activist Rob] Cote claims that in the past four years the fire department has averaged about 1,400 shift changes a year, totaling about 5,600 Form 109s that are supposedly missing or have been purposefully disposed of. This could incur a maximum fine of $2.8 million, which the city would be on the hook for, according to Cote.

Cote filed an Access to Public Records Act request (APRA) in May and December of 2016 to get any documents pertaining to changes of shift within the Warwick Fire Department.

Fourteen hundred shift changes per year times four years requires 5,600 forms, each of which must be signed by four people in authority. What happened to those 5,600 forms? Where they destroyed? That is what Warwick Fire Chief James McLaughlin claims. Or did they never exist? If the latter, those 5,600 shift changes were never authorized and, therefore … what? The firefighters must pay back that money? (Asking honestly. Legal-types are encouraged to chime in on this point.)

Terrific work by Rob Cote, who worked for over a year rounding up all of this information and (lack of) documents to expose what is a scam, one way or the other — and could well turn out to be a costly one to taxpayers.

One other item from the article. This is called foreshadowing. (Emphasis added).

In response to allegations from Cote that fire department personnel had used the change of shift system to subvert using vacation or sick time in order to go work other jobs or even attend a softball tournament in Maine, McLaughlin said that he had seen no evidence of such activity, and if anybody has proof of such accusations to please bring it forward.

As they teach first year law students, never ask a question you don’t know the answer to … and government officials should never ask for proof of shenanigans unless they are 100% certain it does not exist.

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The Calciphylaxis of Union Contracts

Tim White provides the numbers for the long-term leave benefit that allows state employees to change jobs with a right to return to the jobs they left:

More than 1,600 positions in state government are effectively on hold, with employees having the right to return to them and potentially bump the worker who holds the job now, according to data reviewed by the Target 12 Investigators.

For the record, 1,600 jobs is about 11% of all authorized full time jobs in the state budget.  More telling, though, is this:

“The Leave to Protect rule was developed really in large part as a management tool to encourage employees to accept promotions, take a chance on a new opportunity and later if they did not pass the exam for that opportunity they would still have the ability to go back to their former position,” [Deputy Director of the Department of Administration Mark Dingley] said.

Merit exams are no longer common with promotions in state government, Dingley said. Yet the Leave to Protect policy has expanded to cover more employees as another job protection prized by organized labor.

Merit exams go away; this aristocratic benefit just keeps on going.  Just so, the benefits and stability that used to be the public sector’s compensation for its lower pay remain in effect though government work has become increasingly lucrative.

These provisions are like calcification in the blood stream, sticking to the walls and forcing us to work harder to push the blood through.  Once again, it appears that they don’t work for us; we work for them.

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… By the Way, RIDOT’s New Tolling Study Has Major Problems, Too

At about the same time they issued a not-ready-for-primetime Environmental Assessment of the first two proposed toll gantry locations in southern Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) also issued an “investment grade tolling study” of the entire RhodeWorks toll plan – a study, we should note, which cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island a cool million dollars.

During their show, “Changing Gears”, yesterday on WPRO, Mike Collins and Chris Maxwell broadly hinted at major problems with this tolling study. Maxwell remarked that the state “would have been wise to put it through the shredder because it is very favorable” to the truckers’ anti-toll position.

Stay tuned on this – or drop by RIDOT’s hearing on Tuesday to hear about it first hand. That’s when the Rhode Island Trucking Association (represented by Maxwell) and the American Trucking Association (represented by Collins) will point out chapter and verse how RIDOT’s own toll study apparently torpedoes Governor Raimondo’s highly destructive, wasteful and unnecessary RhodeWorks toll plan.

Remember, Governor Raimondo and the General Assembly are only going to toll trucks! *snort*

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Hearing Tuesday on First Toll Gantries With Acute Case of UHIP-itis

RIDOT has identified the locations of the first two proposed toll gantry locations in southern Rhode Island. This Tuesday, they will be holding a workshop and taking public comment on their newly-released (not to say rushed out the door) Environmental Assessment of the locations. The problem is that the assessment suffers from exactly the same serious flaw as the ill-fated UHIP system: it was released before it was ready. “Continue Reading” to learn why – and for deets about attending the hearing.

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Is the Game About to Change for Labor Unions?

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