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Newport Sees Latest Teachers Union Outrage

In the Newport Daily News, Sean Flynn highlights another example of the outrageous behavior among teachers union organizers, which ought to embarrass well-intentioned, professional teachers:

Superintendent of Schools Colleen Burns Jermain sent a notification to all parents on March 1 informing them that the conferences would take place between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on three days this week, one day at each school, the same as has been done in past years. …

The conflict reached a new flashpoint over the weekend with an advertisement in this newspaper paid for by attorney Jennifer Azevedo, who is an assistant executive director of the National Education Association RI, on behalf of the Teachers Association of Newport. The ad claimed the parent-teacher conferences would be held during the regular school times at each school on the designated days. Regular school hours are staggered between 7:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. among the three schools.

On first review, this has the feel of parents who are tearing their children apart as they head toward divorce, but that analogy isn’t applicable.  The union advertised publicly in a way that presumed to set school policy.  Here’s the ad; it’s extremely misleading, with no indication that it’s actually part of a disputed policy.  This is the union saying, “Whatever your elected and appointed school administration might think, we run the schools.”

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will give teachers the ability to get out from under this thuggish organization when it decides its Janus case this year.  Be that as it may, parents and voters should respond to this abuse of contracts to figuratively rip the contracts up.

And any legislator who votes for the legislation to make teacher contracts last forever unless renegotiated ought to find him or her self unelectable.

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The Reason for Pension Shortfalls in Providence

Taking up Providence pension woes, Dan McGowan and Walt Buteau highlight a recent study concluding the following:

Wainwright Investment Counsel LLC projects the beleaguered fund would have an additional $305 million today if city leaders made the correct yearly payments between 1996 and 2006 and again in 2010 and 2012, an amount that would bring the city’s current pension funding level close to 50%.

The firm calculated the amount that city leaders failed to contribute to the system – $111 million – and the monthly returns the actual money in the retirement fund saw between July 1996 and June 2016. Between 1998 and 2002, Wainwright estimates the city shorted the fund by $76.8 million.

Keep in mind that this means the rest of the shortfall was due to generous benefits hidden under faulty assumptions:

Providence is still solvent, but its pension system was just 25.8% funded as of June 30, 2017, with an unfunded liability that exceeds $1 billion.

So, skipped payments account for less than one-third of the missing money.  The other 700-some million dollars are a result of elected officials’ giving away too much in benefits and deceiving the public about the cost by gaming the actuaries’ calculations.  The key piece of that deception has been (and continues to be) the discount rate, or the rate of return expected on the investment.

Both elected officials and labor union leaders (who often helped elect the people with whom they’re negotiating) haven’t minded understating the cost of government employees.  Both union members and taxpayers should be furious, but taxpayers shouldn’t be held liable for promises that they had no realistic means of preventing.

And as the bill comes due, we can be sure that the exploding tax bills and collapsing services will push taxpayers — including those collecting government pensions — somewhere that they don’t have to pay for it.

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Weight-Lifting Disabled Firefighter Loses Pension

Well, it looks like John Sauro won’t get to keep his disability pension, after all.  The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling finding against him summarizes the story succinctly:

In July 1998, plaintiff suffered a right shoulder injury while performing his firefighter duties.  Mr. Sauro had been a firefighter since August 5, 1991.  In October 2000, the board granted plaintiff an accidental disability pension for his on-the-job shoulder injury.  In April 2011, footage of plaintiff lifting substantial weights at the gym aired on a local television channel.  The board subsequently ordered plaintiff to submit to an independent medical examination (IME).  At the 2011 IME, it was determined that the plaintiff remained disabled from his 1998 injury.  Again in 2013, the board directed plaintiff to undergo an IME, to be conducted by Brian McKeon, M.D., in Boston, Massachusetts; plaintiff refused to do so because, he asserted, he was bedridden due to both physical and psychological illnesses.  The city then hired a private investigator to undertake surveillance of plaintiff.  In September 2013, plaintiff was observed leaving his home, driving his vehicle, and shopping at various retail stores.  On December 18, 2013, the board voted to suspend plaintiff’s accidental disability pension based on his failure to attend the IME that had been scheduled for October 16, 2013.

To lay out the calendar, then, Sauro worked for seven years.  He then lived off of this benefit for 13 years, until WPRI’s Tim White caught him doing a strenuous workout.  The payments have continued over the course of the past seven years while the matter was tied up in court.

As the decision suggests, the purpose of disability pensions is “to compensate work-injury-related disabilities and encourage qualified persons who are relieved of those disabilities to return to work.”  We shouldn’t have a system in which an injury on the job that doesn’t leave one unable to do any job becomes the equivalent of one of those old lottery tickets that paid out a decent annual income as a prize.

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Rhode Island as the Land of Insiders and Suckers

On his still-new Web site, Russell Moore shares a conversation he had with a couple of guys at the gym:

That’s when the second gentleman spoke up.

“If you live in Rhode Island, and you’re not in a public sector retirement system, you’re a sucker,” he said. “You’re paying for lavish benefits you’re not going to get.”

I’ve been covering government and politics in Rhode Island since 2005. Never in my life had I heard the situation put so succinct–or so blunt. You can’t argue with his logic.

And there you go.  The anecdote raises two questions for those who aren’t on the winning end of that seesaw:

  1. Why are you here?
  2. What are you doing to stop being a sucker?

Too many people choose to leave.  We need everybody to speak up.  If folks (especially business owners) are worried about the consequences of doing so, get in touch with those who are active, as we’re working on ways around the obstacle of intimidation.

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When People Aren’t Forced to Support Unions, the Left-Wing Languishes

Quoting from a lament in The Nation by Sean McElwee, Stephen Green quips the inference:

It’s nice to see the Left acknowledge, even tacitly, that they can’t win without the advantage of legalized theft against the workingman.

Here’s McElwee:

In line with previous research by Roland Zullo, who found that right-to-work and limitations on collective bargaining make it more difficult for unions to bolster turnout, this research found that right-to-work laws reduce turnout in presidential elections by 2 to 3 percent. Indeed, studying individual-level survey data, the authors found that the share of blue-collar workers reporting a get-out-the-vote contact declined by 11 percent following the passage of right-to-work laws, with no concomitant effect on white-collar workers.

The share of campaign contributions from private-sector unions also drops by 1 to 2 percent, as does fundraising by Democratic candidates in state and local races.

The effects aren’t impactful just for unions and the Democratic Party but also for the progressive movement more broadly. Working-class candidates—who past research finds are more likely to be progressive on economic issues—are less likely to win elected office after the passage of a right-to-work law. Right-to-work states have between 1 and 3 percent fewer working-class elected officials (defined as working in a non-professional, blue-collar job before running for office) in the legislature, and send fewer working-class candidates to the US House of Representatives.

So, when the large portion of the population that has been forced to join a union in order to work is given the opportunity to work without contributing to a union, money and campaign support for Democrat and far-left candidates drops.

I’ve been saying for a while, now, that employee services is really just the way in which modern labor unions (particularly those in the public sector) raise money and build leverage.  Their real mission is partisan politics and advancing a left-wing ideology. The above findings certainly don’t contradict that theory.

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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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