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Bruce Waidler: S.K. School Committee – Serious Questions of Transparency & Conflict of Interest

On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, I attended the South Kingstown School Committee meeting. The recently elected Vice Chair, Sarah Markey, is also the Assistant Executive Director for the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI). The vast majority of the employees working in the South Kingstown School Department are represented by this labor union.

Last year, Markey attempted to get appointed to a vacant school committee position.

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A Great Year for Worker Freedom – Help Spread the Word

This year was a GREAT year for worker freedom across the country, and here in the Ocean State. Early in the summer, the SCOTUS decision in the historic Janus case determined that state and local governments are forbidden from forcing their employees to join unions as a condition of employment. The ruling means union leaders can no longer automatically plunder the pocketbooks of public employees to fund the unions’ political agendas.

In August, we launched our MyPayMySayRI.com campaign to educate public servants about their restored First Amendment rights.

But the insiders want to keep workers in the dark, and in the unions… at any cost.

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School Choice: An Opportunity for Minorities, Republicans, and Conservatives

Some folks questioned whether minority school choice families put Republican Ron DeSantis over the top in the race for Florida governor.  Here’s the numerical evidence:

Of the roughly 650,000 black women who voted in Florida, 18% chose Mr. DeSantis, according to CNN’s exit poll of 3,108 voters. This exceeded their support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (9%), Mr. DeSantis’s performance among black men (8%) and the GOP’s national average among black women (7%). …

What explains Mr. DeSantis’ surprising support from African-American women? Two words: school choice.

More than 100,000 low-income students in Florida participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships to attend private schools. Even more students are currently enrolled in the state’s 650 charter schools.

Most Step Up students are minorities whose mothers are registered Democrats. Yet many of these “school-choice moms” vote for gubernatorial candidates committed to protecting their ability to choose where their child goes to school.

The school choice wave more than a decade ago created a challenge for Democrats, who are dependent upon support from government labor unions, specifically teacher unions.  It’s an area in which free-market reforms actually create something like a government benefit through the loosening of government funds already (for the most part) being spent.  This opens a window of opportunity.

This creates an opportunity for Republicans to open up new cuts of the electorate and, if they play their cards right, to teach some lessons about their policy principles.

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An Important Question About School Committee Impartiality

A minor controversy in South Kingstown raises a question that Rhode Islanders across the state should consider.

Town Council member Bryant Da Cruz (a Democrat) has expressed concerns that a newly elected member of the School Committee, Sarah Markey (another Democrat), can be expected to fully engage with her new role, considering that Markey holds a $126,000-per-year job as a member advocate for the National Education Association of Rhode Island.  Markey’s response, while entirely correct, points to how inadequate our thinking is on these issues in the Ocean State:

“From reviewing the recent ethics commision advisories, I would have to recuse myself from discipline, termination, and negotiations with the NEARI bargaining members,” said Markey when reached by email on Tuesday. “No, school closures don’t apply.”

Look, if this is what South Kingstown wants, it’s what South Kingstown should probably get, but that means the people of South Kingstown should understand what they’re doing.  To my experience, people don’t realize what school committees are, often seeing them as sort of official PTOs, not councils charged with the governance of multimillion-dollar, socially indispensable organizations.  Furthermore, folks don’t fully think through the political philosophy, according to which it is essential that the school committee is on the side of the students.

On that point, recall a 2015 post in this space pointing to the simple reminder from former teacher union head Marcia Reback that, when students’ and teachers’ interests diverge or even conflict, “I represent the teachers.”  Well, Sarah Markey represents the teachers as a highly paid occupation.  This isn’t something that can truly be compartmentalized.  As Da Cruz emphasizes, closing schools reduces the number of teachers. More than that: every expense of the school district that doesn’t go toward teachers puts more pressure on their compensation.

At the very least, Markey’s presence on the committee reduces the number of people on the committee who can reliably be expected to err on the side of students (and taxpayers) when one must benefit at the expense of the other.

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A Progressive Fawns as Amazon Shifts to Robber Barron Mode

Here’s an odd moment in a Scott MacKay essay on The Public’s Radio, about Amazon’s choice of our nation’s two bases of power — New York City and Washington, D.C. — for its new headquarters:

Luring 21st century innovation jobs to Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts will require changes in economic development thinking. These companies aren’t going to places that rely on the traditional metrics, such as low-taxes, low rents and cheap labor. “They aren’t going to low-cost places, right to work states,” says Michael Goodman, director of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Nowadays brains matter much more than brawn.”

That’s music to MacKay’s ears, because his a big union and high-tax guy, but it’s weird that he would present a behemoth establishment player like Amazon as an archetype of “innovation jobs.”  The choice of NYC and Washington for its new locations is an indicator that Amazon is shifting into robber baron mode, which means using the power of the media and government to suppress competition and secure its advantages.

Of course the company is fine with high taxes and organized labor.  Its executives want to be sit in a room with other powerful people who can tell their constituents or members what to do.  The freedom of low taxes and a right to work makes things unpredictable for the power brokers.

But the real innovators will go to places where they aren’t inhibited by these legacy systems, meaning places where they can try new things and reinvest what they earn.  Mix that economic flexibility with a culturally intriguing location (characterized, I’d suggest, by the freedom and character that come from a government that doesn’t meddle in people’s lives), and we’d have something powerful in Rhode Island.

Unfortunately, that’s a big “if” and a big lift in Rhode Island.

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The Dogs That Aren’t Barking

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes cracks the case with the observation that a dog didn’t bark during the commission of a crime.  From this, he infers that the animal knew the criminal.  Perhaps that explains a phenomenon that Rick DeBlois notes in a letter to the editor:

… Rhode Islanders complain about high taxes, incompetent leadership, back-door deals, cronyism, nepotism, and all the mobsters up on Smith Hill. We complain about poor roads, poor schools and a myriad of other issues that are wrong with our state.

But when the time comes to make a change, they reelect the same old gang of incompetent fools who got us here in the first place.

To be sure, part of the problem is that the people complaining turn on each other, a conundrum now personified in the person of Republican gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan.  She spent years building up an admirable brand as a politician who responds to Rhode Islanders’ complaints and presses for change, but when primary voters didn’t pick her to be their candidate, she targeted the only alternative candidate with a chance to win.

The bigger, more-systematic problem, however, is all the dogs that aren’t barking… the voters who aren’t complaining.  These are folks who don’t want anything to change because they’re getting something out of the system as it is, whether it’s a do-nothing government job, a government union perch with inflated compensation, or some kind of handout (from welfare to corporate cronyism).  These voters know their masters.

Another layer of voters may sometimes growl a little, but they are easily distracted.  The insiders throw them some progressive causes, some bits of identity politics, or some Trump hatred, and they happily gnaw on those meatless bones while the crime against our state persists.

It’s a fascinating state of affairs to investigate, although one needn’t be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.  Rather, where that character’s genius is truly needed is in coming up with a way to unravel the trap, because the complaints (and the bites) will multiply exponentially when necessary reforms begin to clear the fatal excesses away.

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Another Special Arrangement for a Rhode Island Government Union

WPRI’s Tim White provides another example of the excesses of government union contracts in Rhode Island:

A disproportionate number of Rhode Island sheriffs are out of work after claiming an on-the-job injury, collecting their full salaries tax-free at a cost to taxpayers of more than $2 million a year, according to a Target 12 review of payroll data.

As of September, 23 of the 179 sheriffs were on injured on duty status, or IOD. By comparison, only three of Rhode Island’s 226 state police troopers are out on IOD.

Target 12 discovered that unlike other public safety agencies, Rhode Island’s sheriffs have a unique two-tiered system that allows them to stay on IOD for years. Of the 23 sheriffs who currently have that status, seven have been on IOD for more than four years, with four on IOD for more than eight years. The longest for 11 years and nine months, as of September.

That $2 million is just the start, because the courthouse sheriff division has to pay overtime to cover missing employees, approximately $732,000 annually.  Moreover, the lack of sheriffs creates inefficient and dangerous environment, as courtrooms close or judges go without security.

Last year, the General Assembly refused to act, and Rhode Island law stacks the deck too strongly in favor of unions during negotiations, and that’s beyond the degree to which unions’ political activity places friendly faces on the other side of the negotiating table. This state of affairs can’t go on forever, especially in a state that strangles its economy with taxes and regulations.

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Teacher Absenteeism and RI’s Gap in Accountability

Taylor Swaak on The 74 reports that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) is beginning to use its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to address teacher absenteeism:

… This means the state will consider teacher absenteeism rates when gauging schools’ success and identifying low-performing schools. All ESSA plans have been approved as of last month.

The need for reform is clear in the Ocean State. It reported the third-highest rate of chronic teacher absenteeism nationwide — 41 percent — in 2015-16, according to federal data. Only Hawaii and Nevada recorded higher rates, at 48 and 50 percent, respectively.

Given the season, one thing that readers might observe is that Rhode Island is releasing its first ESSA report about our schools after the election.  Put that on the list of politically curious delays.

On a more-procedural note, though, consider what weak sauce this measure of accountability is.  First, the state includes the information in its report.  Next, the community has to begin making noise about it, pressure administrators, and elect new school committee members (or city/town council members where they handle contracts).  Then, those newly motivated decision-makers have to fight unions for changes in contracts.

As Swaak notes, teachers are absent so often because they are permitted to be.  Even with their 180-day school year, they still get a disproportionate number of extra days off — typically 20 sick days, plus a couple personal days, plus sabbaticals, plus leaves for various reasons, including union business.

With that as the origin of the problem, Swaak is correct to point out that the state doesn’t negotiate the contracts.  However, the state does set the conditions under which the local committees must negotiate.  If education really is a priority for Rhode Islanders, we have to begin tilting that balance back toward the officials who are supposed to be the people’s route to accountability.

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Learning That Providence Labor Unions Aren’t Divine

The headline of a Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal a couple of weeks ago might be “Parents air worries over student safety in Providence schools,” but it’s mostly about the problems that labor unions cause for students.  Asked, for example, how the city intends to avoid bus strikes in the future…

[City council member Sam] Zurier promised that there will no longer be language in the contract that includes bus strikes as “an act of God,” which allowed the bus company, First Student, to avoid responsibility for getting students to school.

Therein we see the basic lesson that one should always call things what they are.  The proclamation of a strike by a union is not an “act of God” and, even if one can’t foresee the consequences, should not be treated as such.

If the city is finally acknowledging its unions’ lack of divinity, members of those unions appear to be learning that they can’t wield their power omnisciently:

[Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth] Calabro also described a heated conversation with a parent who was furious that teachers would no longer be writing letters of recommendation for high school seniors. Calabro thought about how she would feel as a mother. Then she told her members to write those letters because, “This is a kid’s dream — to go to college.”

“If we don’t write the letters,” she said, “who are we hurting? Not the mayor. The kids.”

How is it that a teacher required soul searching to realize that harming children in order to hurt a politician would inevitably… harm the children?  And how is it that the practice ended only because the union president issued a decree, rather than bending in the face of pressure from the rank-and-file union members?

These aren’t lessons that should have to be learned.  They should be understood already.

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National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Calls Out Kilmartin, NEARI

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation today called out Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) and its Bristol-Warren local for attempting to mislead government employees in the Ocean State:

The notice comes after Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin – who signed onto an anti-Janus brief at the Supreme Court and received major support from union officials in his runs for public office – made the false claim that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling “only affects non-union members” and does not apply to union members.

The Attorney General is wrong. Under Janus all government employees have the right to resign their union membership and immediately stop any financial payments to union officials. Because the Supreme Court decision made it clear that public workers must opt-in to any union payments and explicitly waive their constitutional rights, union members cannot be restricted if they seek to resign from the union and stop the payment of any union dues or fees.

The Bristol-Warren Education Association (BWEA) and the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) also issued a letter blatantly misleading teachers about their Janus rights. The letter claims that union nonmembers must pay a NEARI attorney to file a grievance against the union. However, as the Foundation’s notice states, unions are legally obligated to provide grievance service to both members and nonmembers as part of its exclusive monopoly bargaining status.

The BWEA and NEARI union officials’ letter also incorrectly claims that nonmembers are unable to request days from the Sick Leave Bank, even though the BWEA’s monopoly bargaining agreement establishes the Sick Leave Bank for all teachers, including nonmembers, covered by the agreement.

National Right to Work’s statement is in line with the analysis offered in this space in August.

Government employees in Rhode Island who want more information about their rights can visit MyPayMySayRI.com or National Right to Work’s MyJanusRights.org, where employees can also request free legal assistance.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask that the state’s lead law enforcement agent would offer accurate legal opinions to the public and that labor unions would be more truthful with their own employees.

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The Practice of Commuting Children Around Providence Every Day

Dave Talan has an interesting (by which I mean “ought to be obvious”) take on Providence’s school busing woes:

The Providence school bus drivers strike, the extreme hardships it is causing for families, and the city’s total inability to react to it, raises this question: Why on earth are 9,000 students riding the bus when every one of them lives within walking distance to a neighborhood elementary or middle school?

We need a policy to allow most students to go to the closest school, one that is within walking distance from their home. The parents of most of these 9,000 students would choose this option if it were available to them.

I’m all for a school choice policy that allows families to choose other schools, but that presupposes a default option.  If the assumption is that children go to the school that’s within walking distance, with extra capacity available to students elsewhere, the families that choose different schools can be expected to account for the distance.

Sending students around the city as a general practice seems like it unnecessarily uproots them from their neighborhoods, while (naturally) adding expense for union jobs.

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An Uncomfortable Truth Buried in the Narragansett Teacher Contract

Those who keep an eye on unionized public education often observe the peculiarity that their contracts apply the same pay rates to every teacher at every level, no matter what they teach or the ages of the children.  This makes it difficult to pay teachers with more-rare skills dealing with more-difficult children what would be required to attract enough candidates while sending signals to the market that draw too many candidates into easier roles.

Recently, I came across language in the Narragansett teacher contract that implicitly recognizes this difference:

There are occasions when registrations exceed the above recommended limits [for number of students per class] and adding a classroom is not reasonable. The Committee will compensate teachers for each student over the above listed maximums. At the elementary level this compensation will be at $3 per student, per class, per day; at the middle school level the compensation will be $8 per student, per class, per day; and at the high school level the compensation will be at $13 per student, per class, per day.

If each student at the high school level adds more than four times the work or challenge that each student at the elementary level adds, how do districts justify paying teachers across the board the same base rate? Of course, there is a level of preparation and plain work that is the same across the board (getting up every day, meetings, preparing the classroom, etc.), so it would go too far to say that elementary school teachers should be paid one-fourth the amount that high school teachers are paid.

Still, failing to allow the market to differentiate between teachers, who even the union recognizes have very different jobs, serves nobody except those who manage to secure jobs that pay much better than they otherwise would — not the teachers who implicitly must accept less pay for this reason, not the taxpayers who have to make up some of the difference, and certainly not the students whose schools can’t apply their budgets according to fairness and need.

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Fire the Providence School Bus Drivers’ Union

Justin says, “Fire the Providence School Bus Drivers”. Maybe. Fire their union, the Teamsters? Absolutely.

What Teamsters Local 251 are trying to do to the drivers – whose best interest they supposedly represent – borders on criminal. It WOULD be criminal if they had a fiduciary role with regard to their members’ retirement.

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Fire the Providence School Bus Drivers

Sometimes officials and business owners have to respond based not only on a specific event, but also on the long-term precedents and incentives that the event creates.  That is why First Student should fire its bus drivers or Providence should cancel the company’s contract.  This is not tolerable:

Union school bus drivers in Providence are expected to continue their strike Monday, the third school day of a labor dispute that has caused an upheaval for thousands of city students, according to school officials. …

School attendance on Thursday was 84 percent, the district said. On Friday, it was 79 percent. School officials said Friday that there were “minimal problems” with arrivals that day.

If you won’t do your job — and especially if you do lasting harm to children by not doing your job — you ought to lose it.  This isn’t complicated.

The excuse for the strike only makes matters worse:

Teamsters Local 251, which represents the bus drivers, threatened to strike if First Student doesn’t allow the drivers to begin earning a pension rather than a 401(k). The union overwhelmingly voted down an offer from the company last week before approving a separate contract of their own.

First Student says it has offered pay raises and increases to its 401(k) contributions, but the company is unwilling to begin making payments the Teamsters’ existing regional pension system.

Defined benefit pension plans don’t work.  They exist mainly in government, at this point, because only government can hide the costs and kick the can continually down the road to make it somebody else’s snowballing problem.

First Student offers a 401(k).  Many private-sector workers don’t even get that.  If that isn’t good enough for some employees, they should work somewhere else.  And if the company can’t offer benefits that will attract competent employees, then it shouldn’t be given the contract for a service on which a city’s families rely.

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Whom Elected Officials Really Represent

Snippets from the AFL-CIO’s endorsement meeting leave no doubt that Rhode Islanders generally have scant representation when our supposed representatives negotiate with labor unions:

Seeking the blessing of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education Convention this past Wednesday, elected officials came bearing their own visions of a better world for workers.

If reelected, Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to raise the minimum wage “again and again and again.”

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said he’d help combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision by working on legislation to keep government-employee information out of the hands of union-disaffiliation campaigners.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a high-placed Laborers’ International Union official until last year, vowed to work on bills that would allow public-sector unions to stop representing non-members. (State lawmakers this year passed a bill letting police and fire unions do this, but legislation allowing it across government stalled.)

As Providence Journal reporters Patrick Anderson and Katherine Gregg put it, to the labor unions, “all of Rhode Island is a future job site.”  Implied is that this perspective leaves government as the mechanism that is able to take money and land and hand it over.  Raimondo would burden our economy.  Magaziner — inexplicably, if one believes his role is to steward taxpayer funds — wants to throw obstacles in the path of those who would help employees to be more independent.  And Ruggerio is intent on lightening unions’ burden while maintaining their near monopoly on employment with government.

By comparison, Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s only promise appears to be that he is no longer in favor of right to work laws.  That’s bad enough, but it’s a far cry from a pledge to shape the laws of our land in the unions’ favor even more than they already are.  Interestingly, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) is not mentioned in the article.

Two questions arising from the article:

  • Why did “just the phrase ‘right to work'” trigger “tense words between firefighters and building trades workers”?
  • Why didn’t the Providence Journal reporters note that they are members of the AFL-CIO, and did they vote on the endorsements?
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A Wheelchair-Bound Cop Out There Being Human

With the United States continuing to accelerate into insanity, take a moment for some unifying relief by reading Mark Patinkin’s latest article:

[Providence Police Officer Mike Matracia] first noticed something was wrong while playing basketball in 1994. A few times, he fell while running down the court. But he dismissed it — he was 30ish and in great shape.

He kept brushing off the falls. But then came other signs, like being off balance. …

Seven years later, he began using the chair. That’s when a higher-up told him he should come to work in street clothes instead of his uniform.

It devastated him.

“Obviously policemen can’t chase down bad guys in a wheelchair,” he says. But he was still a cop putting in a productive day on the job.

So, Matracia strove for permission to wear his uniform to work, and he’s stayed on the job rather than finding some disability-funded way out.

Now, it’s entirely possible Matracia might credit a labor union for his continued employment and oppose everything the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity stands for when it comes to public-sector labor, or maybe he’d be interested in MyPayMySay.  It’s also possible that at some point in his past as far back as high school he treated a girl or woman in a way that would bring him condemnation and rejection if he ever tried for some prominent position in the public eye.  Maybe he thinks North Smithfield was right to boycott Nike for its elevation of Colin Kaepernick, wearer of pig-cop socks.  Or maybe he’s sympathetic to the self-proclaimed anti-fascist progressives who see it as their duty to intimidate and silence people with whom they disagree.

I don’t know whether any of these apply.  I list them only because they’ve all been in today’s tide of headlines, posts, and emails.

I do know that Matracia is a human being out there busily being human in a way we can all admire, and that’s one aspect of news stories that we seem to be losing sight of, recently.

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The Missing Point of Teacher Complaints

Former Republican state representative Bobby Nardolillo promoted on Facebook a hand-made poster that reads as follows:

OK, Fine. You don’t want to pay teachers like a college educated professional? Then give them the glorified babysitter rate.

$10/kid x 8hrs./day = $80

$80 x 25 kids/class = $2k

$2k x 180 school days =

$360,000

Let’s put aside the haggling over the math (actual hours per day, value of benefits, days off, and so on).  What’s striking is the economic illiteracy of this poster, undermines the premises of the people promoting it.  You pay a babysitter a premium because you are seeking a limited, unpredictable engagement during non-business hours watching just a few children (with no economies of scale).  Make the babysitter a full-time nanny or a day-care center, and the price goes down.

Also remarkable is the lack of gratitude.  With reference to the likelihood of our moving into another house, one of my children and I got into a discussion about retirement age.  I said that it’s generally thought to be about 65, although that should probably adjust up as we live longer, and that I don’t expect ever to retire, really, for both economic reasons and my hope to be doing work I don’t feel the need to stop at that point.  I did not mention that it is not uncommon for public-school teachers to retire in their 50s.

Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a whiff of gratitude to the public for this remarkable career path.  Instead, we hear about how it ought to be even better, how expressing reservations about the cost and the quality of the resulting services is disrespectful.

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Yorke, Stenhouse, Walsh, and One-Way Fairness

In all the heat and contention, an important point slipped through on the episode of Dan Yorke State of Mind on which RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse debated National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director Robert Walsh:

Stenhouse was arguing, correctly, that teachers have a legal right to representation outside of their labor union.  Walsh was arguing, correctly, that the labor union has an increased interest in conflicts that arise within the “four walls of the contract” — that is, grievances arising from matters that fall under its unique scope.  And Yorke was stating, reasonably, that it isn’t really fair to force unions to spend money representing people who don’t pay into it.

On that last point, Stenhouse noted that the Supreme Court itself balanced this “free rider” issue against the decades of money that unions have collected from non-members against their will.  I’d go a bit farther, though.  Supporters of labor unions find it fair to force employees in a workplace to belong to unions and adhere to union contracts even if they’d prefer to make their own arrangements because that is for the good of the whole.  Just so, having a unified system for representing people in a bargaining unit could be said to be in everybody’s interests, even if those people don’t pay into it.  More directly, offering “free” services to non-members can still be in the financial interest of the union because accepting that burden gives them access to the larger, unionized workforce.

Fairness has to go both ways.

Now to the legal point:  Walsh is correct to cite the four walls of the contract.  In each district, that contract binds the school department, the union’s members, the non-union teachers, and the union.  As I’ve already explained, at least in the case of Bristol-Warren, the existing contract does not allow an additional fee.  However, it does place the burden of representing all teachers in grievances on the union.

If the union thinks this is unfair, then it must renegotiate the contract to include a fee, a concession for which a responsible school committee would extract something.  The union can’t simply create new terms in its favor just because one of its provisions turned out to violate the rights of non-members. In asserting this future possibility as a present fact, the union is deceiving teachers.

Again: Fairness has to go both ways.

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The Inherent Politicization of Government Unions

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new chairman, Stephen Skoly makes an important point in a recent op-ed (emphasis added):

At the root of the Janus case is the inherently political nature of government unions, which negotiate for taxpayer funded benefits. Prior to Janus, these activities were subsidized with dollars forcibly taken in dues or fees from public employee paychecks. Now that workers have been restored their rights to choose whether or not to pay, unions must become more transparent and diverse in their election and legislative advocacy, if they are to keep their members. Employees should know how their dues money is spent; this, too, will be part of our campaign.

For a sense of how true this inherent politicization is, look no farther than Dan Yorke’s interview with the director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, Bob Walsh.  Walsh makes light of the political allegation by breaking down the unions’ individual activities into their component parts, but that’s a distraction.  Instead, look toward the end of the interview, when Yorke turns the conversation to politics.

Note, in particular, that Walsh is explicitly speaking in his role as a union leader and that his points are inextricable from the union’s activities.  Explaining the two sides of the scale when it comes to his union’s decision not to endorse a gubernatorial candidate for the upcoming primary, Walsh says that Governor Gina Raimondo was “helpful in replacing Commissioner Gist.”

This is a reference to former Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who tried to bring some measure of reform to Rhode Island’s system, in which it is badly needed.  The union did not like her efforts to make its members accountable, so it helped to bring somebody into office who would appoint a commissioner more to its liking.  One can see the same thing in unions’ efforts to determine with whom they’ll be negotiating in local school committee races.

Thus, government unions are on every side of every negotiating table, leveraging taxpayer funds that until Janus employees had no choice but to give them to affect who will be elected.  That would be inherently political even if the unions weren’t leading advocates for a far-left ideology on issues having nothing to do with representing employees.

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A Familiar Name on the Twin River Picket Line

Scarcely had the new Twin River Casino opened in Tiverton than a labor union was out on the street reminding people that this is still Rhode Island:

The union representing security guards at the Twin River’s Tiverton Casino Hotel said it will hold an informational picket at Saturday’s grand opening of the casino following the firing of five security guards, including union president Charles Mulcahy and union secretary Timothy Panell.

“We just want people to be aware that they’re opening a brand new beautiful casino and we want to be a part of the casino,” said Ralph Ezovski, a spokesman for the Casino Security Officers Association of Rhode Island. “But we feel we’re being treated unfairly.”

Introduction of the concept of fairness at the end of the second paragraph might bring the eyes of Tiverton residents back to the name at the end of the first paragraph.  Unless it is an incredible coincidence of names, Timothy Panell is the police lieutenant who lost his job in Tiverton under accusations that he put in for hours that he did not work (including overtime) and led his entire shift in a habitual early morning nap time.  The Town Council allowed him to retire with a big check for all of his “unused” time off and health care coverage to the age of 65.

A man’s got to go on with his life, even after losing a job in disgrace, but as I keep saying, a little humility would be nice.

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Kilmartin Wants the Cogs to Stay on the Political Gear

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has already responded to a strange press release from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin in which the AG does little but attempt to sow doubt about information helping government employees decide whether they want to remain in their unions.  The most important observation one can make about the press release is that Kilmartin never provides an example of the supposed “misinformation,” or even names the supposed interloper; he’s simply casting shade.

However, the most eye-catching part is probably this:

“If you are contacted about disaffiliating from your public-sector union in the wake of the Janus decision, it is critical that you seek advice either from your union, or from some other reliable source. No worker should rely solely upon any outside group seeking to have the worker waive such a critical right.”

So, this public official’s advice to any employees who have doubts about their unions is to get information from… the unions.  One suspects that information would have a decidedly pro-union tilt, which is clearly what Kilmartin wants.  Take special note of his formulation about “outside groups.”  Implicitly, he’s saying that the unions are “inside groups.” Inside of what?  Well, government.  In his view, they are not essentially the privately run organizations that they actually are; they are part of a team with elected and appointed officials, helping to run government.

This is how progressives like to structure things.  Every group is represented by some hierarchy, and the leaders communicate and then issue edicts to their constituencies.  The “business community” works through whatever chamber or group government officials wish to select as their voice.  Employees are addressed not as individuals, but as members of their unions.  Even local communities aren’t so much electing representatives to go to Providence and advocate on our behalf as we are electing the people who will represent state government to us.

In this approach, employees aren’t valued individually for their work.  They’re cogs in the unionized machine that does work for government (and cycles taxpayer dollars back into political campaigns).  Those who fancy themselves not to be cogs in a machine should take a look at MyPayMySayRI.com.

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