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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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Providence School Unions Send Parents a Message

… and that message ought to be: These unions have too much power over your lives.

First up is the threat of a strike by the Teamsters who represent the bus drivers:

The union representing 200 bus drivers for Providence schools is threatening to strike.

A strike authorization was approved by the membership of Teamsters Local 251, secretary-treasurer Matthew Taibi said Wednesday.

Astonishingly, what they want is for the bus company for which they work, First Student, to switch out their 401ks for a pension.  A pension!  Everybody in the world is learning that defined-benefit pensions just don’t work.  Reasonable contributions and a realistic rate of investment returns just can’t produce enough money to keep people living as well as they want for as long as they live.  Wanting in to this system would be insane, except that the unions are banking on their ability to make governments (and government contractors) increase the cost of services to taxpayers.

Yet, precisely this sort of shenanigan is what should make taxpayers less sympathetic to their plight.  The next time we have to choose between huge tax increases to “honor our promises” to employees and reducing the benefits that employees receive, remember that the unions are key players in forcing those promises to be made despite the risks.

Next up is the threat of work-to-rule from the teachers union:

The Providence Teachers Union has voted overwhelmingly to authorize work-to-rule in the event that tomorrow’s negotiations with the city do not show progress, according to PTU President Maribeth Calabro.

She said 1,940 members voted Monday to move to work-to-rule after two years without a new teachers’ contract. Work-to-rule means that teachers only do what’s is laid out in their contract.

Ah, life in a workers’ paradise, where bus drivers striking in order to enter a broken pension system could force families struggling to make ends meet to find some other way to get their children to schools in which well-paid teachers who work a significantly shortened work year refuse to do anything beyond the minimum in order to protect and expand their employment deal.

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The Unspoken Solution for 195 Bridge Traffic

This thread jumped out at me from a Providence Journal editorial about the disaster-level traffic resulting from ordinary, planned bridge construction on Route 195 West:

Fortunately, Mr. Alviti, though not answerable to the voters, quickly caught wind of the uproar. He announced last week that he, his planners and traffic engineers will go “back to the drawing board” to see if anything can be done. They were working over the weekend on a new plan, looking at opening an additional lane and otherwise increasing capacity for vehicles. …

In the real world, there is no easy way out, of course. As one of the 235 deficient bridges in the state, Washington Bridge does need to be repaired. In the 20 years since its northern span was reconstructed, it has been rotting away, with rusty reinforcement rods sticking out of the concrete on its underside. …

To speed things up, the RIDOT already plans to work around the clock, toiling through the night, which adds to a project’s cost but makes the work go faster.

For some reason, the most important point for us to discuss as a community in response to these government failings never seems to come up.  If we were to lighten up on the ridiculous labor rules that make the cost of roadwork so high, project managers would gain all kinds of flexibility.  That’s a side effect whenever the price of something goes down.

Drop the cost of construction 25–40% (or more), and the state and municipalities will find it easier to keep roads and bridges well kept so they don’t get to the point of needing major repairs as quickly.  Working around the clock or only when traffic is light would more-often be an option.  If the cost were lower, we might have the slack in maintenance budgets to (in some instances) build entire alternate routes while the main route is entirely shut down.

When insider deals and corruption eat up budgets to the maximum that people will tolerate for the minimum tolerable output, there is no room for spending on strategies that make Rhode Islanders’ lives better in the midst of construction.

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Matt Brown Gets the Problems Right but the Solutions Dead Wrong

See, here’s the thing.  I don’t think anybody outside of Matt Brown’s progressive base believes that his socialist policy suggestions will fix the problems he describes:

“How did we end up in the situation where the roads are broken, the hospitals are closing, the schools aren’t providing a good education for our kids, we’re 50th out of the 50 states for education of Latino children, the school buildings are falling down,” he said. “That’s a pretty extreme situation to be in. And that’s going to take some bold ideas and some real changes.”

How did we end up in this situation?  Because big-government progressivism has redirected the money that we were taxed and feed from infrastructure maintenance to insider deals, interest-group buy-offs, and bureaucratic proliferation.  Because the progressive urge to take control of everything has squeezed opportunity out of our state, leading to the exit of productive Rhode Islanders and a lack of paying demand for services such as hospitals (while lowering the availability and quality of those services and driving up the costs).  And because co-opting public schools as a means of indoctrination and a funding mechanism for left-wing teachers unions has undermined the incentives for a healthy system.

If you agree with Matt Brown about the problems, you have to disagree with him about the solutions.

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Center To Spread the Word About Public Employees’ Restored Rights under Janus

I have big news. We’ve launched a major new campaign designed to inform public servants of their recently restored First Amendment rights, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Janus v AFSCME case. You can see our new website at MyPayMySayRI.com. As a consistent champion of constitutional rights for all citizens, we believe that public employees deserve to know that they now have full freedom when it comes to deciding whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues.

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Young Democratic Socialists Are a Little Late in the Game

The pamphlet described in an article by Zachary Petrizzo on Campus Reform reads like a smoking gun memo from a strategy that was implemented decades ago:

The Young Democratic Socialists of America organization is urging socialists to “take jobs as teachers” in order to exploit the “political, economic, and social potential the industry holds.”

“Why Socialists Should Become Teachers,” an 11-page pamphlet crafted jointly by YDSA and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, contends that education is “a strategic industry to organize,” and offers prospective socialist educators “a basic roadmap for how to get a job in education.”

Socialists enter education in government schools.  They get a high-paying job that is stable to the point of being just about permanent.  And they gain access to impressionable children whom they can indoctrinate.  As a bonus, part of their pay goes to labor unions, which cycle the taxpayer money back into activism and political donations.

The synergies here are so obvious that the plan is already in effect and undermining our society.  But kids always have to feel like they’re coming up with radical ideas.

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The Balance of Freedoms in Rhode Island

A thousand discussions could be sparked by the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States ranking and Rhode’s Island’s 42nd place ranking.

The datapoints that go into the index cover a wide range of issues and are subjective.  For example, Rhode Island is number 1 in “marriage freedom,” largely on the strength of its same-sex partnership laws, but some might suggest that the use of government to redefine a cultural institution is hardly a marker of freedom.  Some might also note that same-sex marriage accounts for 2% of a state’s overall score while religious freedom accounts for only 0.01%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the only area in which Rhode Island is dead last is asset forfeiture. However, another low rank for the state could arguably be considered its defining problem: labor market freedom.  Here, our 49th place ranking results from laws on:

  • General right-to-work law
  • Short-term disability insurance
  • Noncompete agreements permitted
  • Minimum wage
  • Workers’ compensation funding regulations
  • Workers’ compensation coverage regulations
  • Employer verification of legal status
  • Employee anti-discrimination law
  • Paid family leave

The total effect of these policies has been that Rhode Island hasn’t budged from 49th since the first year measured: 2000.

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Rhode Island has a great deal going for it, but if people can’t find work here, they won’t live here.  The Ocean State is roughly in the middle fifth for fiscal and personal freedom — although dropping from 18th to 27th in fiscal freedom from 2000 to 2016 and from 12th to 31st in personal freedom.  If we take Cato’s weightings as our guide, that decline has been making life less free.  But those changes pale in comparison to our languishing at the edge of the bottom fifth in regulatory freedom throughout, and that’s an area in which we need great resolve and quick action to improve.

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Michael Riley: Rhode Island May Have Dodged a Bullet, No Thanks to Our Treasurer

In assessing the effort to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island, it is important to review the role of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. The state treasurer was asked to analyze the costs and opine on affordability, as would be expected with a large borrowing like this. Mr. Magaziner opined in October 2017 and in June 2018 as numbers changed along with the terms of the deal and then opined again recently, finally giving a nod to the deal.

But what everyone needs to know is that $350 million dollars in debt for Pawtucket’s other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for former employees was not used in his analysis. This is more than twice the city’s pension debt! In fact, it was purposely left out by Magaziner. Including OPEB debt would obviously have made the City of Pawtucket’s borrowing look dangerous and ill-conceived. Ignoring OPEB allowed for an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars by the treasurer.

Think about it.  Seth Magaziner violated his own risk recommendations by hiding a liability in his analysis; this is the type of stuff they did with 38 Studios. Mr. Magaziner owes it to taxpayers to lay all the cards on the table and not to fall in line with political winds. Had he actually laid the cards on the table, looked at all the debt, and been transparent and honest, the PawSox deal would appropriately have never seen the light of day.

As can be seen in the comprehensive Debt Affordability Study, Pawtucket already exceeds Magaziner’s limits for debt, along with Woonsocket and Providence, before even considering borrowing for the new stadium or the $350 million in OPEB liability, which the board is to reconsider as a component next year. This $350 million is so significant and overwhelming, it would be irresponsible for any treasurer to think Pawtucket absorbing new debt was a good idea.

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Information About the Rights of Government Employees

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has launched a statewide effort to inform government employees of their newly recognized rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling:

A consistent champion of constitutional rights for all citizens, the Center believes public employees deserve to know that they now have full freedom when it comes to deciding whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues; and that they cannot be recriminated against if they choose to leave. Prior to the Janus ruling, all state and municipal employees in Rhode Island were forceed to pay their government-designated unions as a condition of employment.

However, the Supreme Court has decided that because it is their pay, union membership – or not – is rightfully the say of every public worker; especially when workers may disagree with their union’s political advocacy, which is paid for with their dues money.

Case in point is Michelle, a municipal employee in the Ocean State, who opted-out right after the Janus ruling and who said: “I don’t understand why some of my friends continue to pay their dues despite their political views being completely opposite of what the union supports.”

A related Web site, MyPayMySayRI.com, provides access to information for public-sector employees, as well as assistance for asserting their rights.

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Article on Teacher Shortage Misses the Obvious: Economics

This Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal covers familiar ground:

The demand for high school math and science teachers, especially in chemistry and physics, is so intense that districts often resort to “poaching” from one another, superintendents say. But the biggest competition comes from private industry, which offers higher pay and a better career trajectory.

In contrast, however:

In North Smithfield, Supt. Michael St. Jean said he had 260 applications for four elementary education openings last year.

Oddly, over the course of around 40 paragraphs, nobody expresses the obvious observation from economics.  We should change the way we structure employment in public schools so the system could rise to market price of the technical professionals who are in demand while reducing the pay offered to teachers in areas that have such a surplus.

That’s how the market would function in the private sector.  If one job seems impossible to fill while another generates sixty-five times more applicants than there are positions, employers will try to get a qualified person to fill the second job at lower pay so that he or she can increase the offer for the first job.  This will go on across the industry until the pay being offered for the second job can’t attract any qualified applicants.

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Is This Representative of RI Teachers?

TEACHER ALERT: 100% of the Nat’l Educ Assoc of RI (NEARI) endorsements are for Democrats, including EVERY far-left PROGRESSIVE incumbent. If you pay union dues and this political extremism is not shared by you, the US Supreme Court ruled in June that you no longer have to give part of your paycheck to the union – and you cannot lose your job, status, or benefits.

What would it take for you to consider leaving your union saving about $7,000 over ten years for your family?

Open post for image.

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Relative Windfalls for Government Unions

A major not-quite-sub-text of the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME ruling is the issue of funding labor unions, which cycle the money into the political system.  The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted some numbers along these lines:

Pennsylvania stopped collecting agency fees from 24,000 state workers that totaled $6.6 million last year, a state official said. The figure is expected to grow because it doesn’t include workers at municipalities across the state. In New York, which has the highest rate of public sector union membership, the state stopped collecting agency fees in July from 31,000 state workers which totaled between $9 million and $10 million last year, a spokeswoman for the New York State Comptroller said. That tally is also expected to grow because it doesn’t include local agency fees.

By one estimate, unions in New York state overall will lose $112 million in agency fees from 200,000 state and local workers, based on what workers paid in 2016, according to the Empire Center, a conservative think tank in Albany.

Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito touched on this angle:

We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term, and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members. But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years. It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment. Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

Clearly, the windfall from government employees who have declined to join unions but have still paid them money pales in comparison with the money that unions have collected by virtue of their monopolistic role in government employment.

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Ending Another Union Money Transfer

The characterization is perhaps too tidy, but many policy decisions in Rhode Island can be explained under the premise that politicians are striving to funnel money to labor unions in an effort of mutual assistance.  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity offers an example in its public comment in support of a proposed Trump administration rule removing the ability of states to send federally backed provider payments to third parties:

It is also morally unjust that federal dollars, earmarked for home care services, could have dues automatically siphoned-off by state government unions from workers’ paychecks, then transferred to the unions, with some of the funds ending-up in the political campaign coffers of SEIU. If the proposed rule is enacted, it would be just and proper that 100% of the allocated federal funding for home care services should first go to the workers; and it would then be up to the unions to collect dues – on their own – from those who freely choose to join.Earlier this summer, after a major push by SEIU and other progressive activists, legislation that had been on the back burner was rammed through Rhode Island’s General Assembly and signed by the Governor. This new law could transfer control of the home care services industry from the private sector to the government and its union allies. This proposed rule, by removing the government as its potential partner, would create less of an incentive for SEIU to attempt to unionize this industry.

At the same time, the burden on state taxpayers would rise, as the government would surely provide frivolous and unnecessary benefits to allow unions to offer a more compelling reason to unionize.

The new law in Rhode Island seeks to lure home care workers, most of whom are now employed under a successfully operating private ‘agency’ system, to register with the government, becoming quasi-public employees, with their names and other personal information then to be turned over to SEIU labor bosses for the purposes of unionization efforts.

Policymakers in Rhode Island strove to make this look like some sort of system innovation to provide better services, but it’s just an opening for labor unions to collect a cut of federal money.

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Unions: Doing to Our Hospitals What They Did to Our Schools

One of the advantages of living on the East Bay is our easier access to Massachusetts for things like hospitals.  In a pinch, a while back, my family went to Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro, and it turned out to be one of the most terrible decisions we’ve ever made, with lifelong consequences.  In the years since, we’ve heard from others with similar stories.

I don’t want to be unfair, though.  It’s all too easy for a bad employee or unfortunate circumstances to create a uniquely bad experience.  Especially in our time of social media, these isolated instances can come together to create a misleading impression.  Some people will swear by Apple versus PC or Verizon versus AT&T and vice versa and so on.  I don’t think this caveat applies to my take on Providence hospitals, but it might.

Let’s just say that the recent public theatrics of the nurses’ labor union in Providence don’t contradict my feelings:

Unionized nurses and other health care professionals at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital on Thursday voted no confidence in Lifespan’s CEO, Tim Babineau, and Rhode Island Island Hospital’s president, Margaret Van Bree, and called on Lifespan’s board “to take immediate, corrective action to restore the public’s trust in Rhode Island’s only Level One Trauma Hospital.”

Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098, which represents 2,400 nurses, technologists, therapists and health professionals at the two hospitals, said members also authorized union leaders to issue a 10-day strike notice if negotiations break down.

Obviously, I can’t speak for “the public,” but my lack of trust in this system has to do with people who work (or worked) there, not the management… except to the extent that management is to blame for the employees.  The union organizers from United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098 definitely are to blame for enabling employees who’ve made devastating mistakes.

The unions are doing for our hospitals what they’ve done for the public school system.  That Bishop Hendricken alum Ray Sullivan is the union lead for the nurses as well as an organizer with the National Education Association of Rhode Island only drives home the point.  Among the incidents that made labor unions so distasteful to me was a plan by Tiverton teachers to picket a hospital where a school committee member worked.  Picketing a hospital — where people are suffering, grieving, and panicking — is no more acceptable when the union represents its workers than when it doesn’t.

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An Illustration that Leftism Is Unions’ Reason for Being

I’ve often repeated the observation that government labor unions offer member services as a means of raising money and gaining influence, but their real reason for existing is progressive activism.  That seems like a reasonable explanation for this peculiar reaction to the Janus ruling, observed by Joanne Jacobs:

After the Janus ruling — public employees can’t be required to pay “agency fees” to unions — some thought that “unions might temper their left-wing politics” to keep members from quitting, write Rick Hess and Grant Addison on National Review. That’s not happening.

“We’re becoming more political, not less political,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten declared at the union’s annual convention, which featured speeches by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and an award for Hillary Clinton.

The NEA, at its convention, gave awards to former First Lady Michelle Obama and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, note Hess and Addison.

An ordinary, run-of-the-mill organization constituted to provide a particular service will, upon some change that makes it easier for its customers to leave, take steps to ensure that it doesn’t give those customers reasons to do so.  Backsliding into partisan, ideological positions is contrary to that impulse, especially with indications that only about half of teachers voted for Hillary Clinton.

Of course, the calculation is very different if moderating the organization’s politics is simply not an option.  In that case, it makes perfect sense that they would retrench, take the hit to their bottom lines, and hope that pulling even harder on the far-left side of the rope will turn government back in their favor.  Maybe — like cable news networks — they’re calculating that being more strident will make them more appealing to a narrower range of the potential customer base.

Or maybe it’s a last-ditch effort to win the political fight once and for all.  If even-greater political activism can help their allies take over government, the unions can have their status and largess written into our society for good by force of law.

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Truck Tolls: *Sigh* No, Peter and Gene, We Cannot Conclude that Truck Drivers Support Them

Every Thursday morning, as you probably know, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti hosts RIDOT Director Peter Alviti on the WPRO Morning News for a half hour plus segment. (Yeah, I know, I find it annoying, too.) Alviti takes questions from callers and spends a significant amount of air time promoting Governor Gina Raimondo’s wasteful, unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme.

On July 19, Alviti ratcheted it up a notch by involving his host.

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Next/Last Round of Toll Gantries: Raimondo Administration Solicits Public Comment on an UNFINISHED Environmental Assessment

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Department of Transportation announced the locations of the balance of ten toll gantries and released an Environmental Assessment [PDF] of them. They also announced that hearings to take questions and comments on the E.A. would occur in three locations on July 27 – tonight, as a matter of fact.

Yes, that’s right, RIDOT is holding public hearings on a very significant project on a summer Friday evening. Quite similar in spirit, as a matter of fact, to the scheduling and location of the hearing for the first Environmental Assessment – in that case, two days before Thanksgiving hard by a cow pasture in South County so remote, the cows themselves need GPS to get there.

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Home Care: When Everybody Works for the Government and Government Works for the Unions

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is warning that the Rhode Island government’s dogged push to unionize home care workers despite recent Supreme Court precedent in the opposite direction could very well make the state a target for lawsuits:

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity warns SEIU and the state government that it could face legal peril if they do not fully comply with the new federal restrictions expected to be in place this fall, as it pertains to the attempted unionization of the home care industry.

“The landmark Janus decision by the US Supreme Court, combined with the expected implementation of the Medicaid Provider Reassignment Regulation Proposed Rule by the federal government, means public employees can no longer be forced to support the political agenda of their designated union. It also means the government can no longer aid unions in their attempt to skim dues from precious Medicaid dollars, intended for the care of our loved ones.” explained Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center.

Voters can tell whose side their elected officials are on by how they respond to these changes in federal labor law.

There isn’t really any question, in Rhode Island.  The governing Democrats believe that unions represent a critical partner in their control of the electorate.  Taxpayer dollars flow to the unions and then to the politicians (through jobs, donations, “independent” campaigns, and other routes), and unions organize employees into a voting block for the high-tax, big-government policies that the state’s dominant party is selling.

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In Government, Labor and Management Negotiate Together Against an Empty Seat

In brief, what many of us on the right find objectionable about public-sector unionization is that it turns incentives around to put employees and management (i.e., elected officials) on the same side of the negotiating table, with taxpayers on the other side without representation.  Developments in Rhode Island since the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling reinforce that impression.  The unions are in the midst of a campaign to convince non-members to join.  For example:

For the last two weeks, the president of one of the AFSCME locals at the University of Rhode Island has been on a campaign to win over potential union members who had, at some point in their work-lives, made a decision to opt-out of their union.

His target: a relatively small cluster of state workers in a professional staff unit at the university who have been paying a “fee” instead of union dues to Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

And yet:

The Raimondo administration has essentially gone mum since the “Janus” decision, except for the public release of a memo in which Gov. Gina Raimondo reaffirmed the state’s ban on giving out the personal contact information of state workers.

In other words, “management” is taking steps to give the labor unions total and un-countered access to employees while denying any similar access to groups that might oppose unionization.  Of course, that access might not be necessary if the administration were doing what it ought to be doing in the oppositional design of labor negotiations and assuring the public that it is taking every step possible to let employees know what their rights are, including the benefits of being free of a labor union.

But a Democrat government in Rhode Island would never do that (and Republicans only rarely), so it falls to outside groups, like the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.  The irony is that the government-insider types accuse the Center of being a creature of out-of-state business interests, which isn’t true, but even if it were, Rhode Islanders should take note that the only people on their side in this arrangement are the “outside groups,” which is necessary because nobody on the inside of our representative democracy actually represents them.

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Differences in Union Negotiations

Two separate instances of difference are notable in stories about labor negotiations ongoing with Lifespan and the United Nurses and Allied Professionals.  The first is a sort of hypocrisy of rhetoric.  Lifespan has spent $10 million preparing to keep its operation going in the face of a threatened strike starting July 23, and the organization has said its final offer to the union is now reduced by that amount.  In response, union organizer and former RI representative Raymond Sullivan states:

“UNAP’s dedicated nurses and caregivers have no intention of negotiating with a gun to their heads,” Sullivan said. “As of now, there are no plans to resume talks until Lifespan ceases its attacks on the union’s protected rights to collectively bargain and strike.

So when the union threatens to deprive the hospitals of the workers they need to operate, that’s just fair labor negotiations, but when management says it’ll have to hire temporary employees and make the cost up in the contract, that’s “a gun to their heads.”

The second notable difference is that between Lifespan’s actions and those of public-sector management.  Sullivan, for example, used to work for the National Education Association of Rhode Island, an industry in which a hard line from management looks quite different.  Far from facing a reduction in management’s final offer, in public schools, the union can usually expect to get multiple years of retroactive pay if it takes that long to come to an agreement.

This turn of events can leave taxpayers with the impression that school committees aren’t so much negotiating with the unions for that long as they are waiting for some turn of events to make it possible to take from taxpayers what both “sides” want.  One can hardly imagine a school committee’s taking retroactive pay off the table, let alone reducing an offer.  The union rhetoric (and media coverage) would be apocalyptic, and drag the school committee members through an agonizing time.

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Teacher Unions and Students’ Earnings

Robert Verbruggen highlights what appears to be the same study I mentioned in January, although the researchers have increased the magnitude of the effect of teacher unionization on students’ future earnings:

We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: in the first 10 years after passage of a duty-to-bargain law, male earnings decline by $2,134 (or 3.93%) per year and hours worked decrease by 0.42 hours per week. The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $213.8 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower male 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.

Verbruggen expresses skepticism, as he should for a study that has a bit of that too-good-to-be-true feel for conservatives, but I’m not sure he’s considering the mechanisms.  For instance, he emphasizes that the study focused on men because (his words) “the labor market for women changed so dramatically in this time period.”  Having this ready excuse could lead one to be too quick to dismiss an underlying mechanism or indirect cause.

For instance, from the 1987-1988 school year to the 2011-2012 school year, the percentage of public school teachers who were men dropped from 29.5% to 23.7% (or one out of every three to one out of every four).  If the same rate of decrease extends back in time, the percentage of male teachers at the beginning of the study window would have been much higher.  That could suggest that the apparent effects of teachers’ collective bargaining are actually effects of a changing workforce, or it could suggest that the demographic trend is a result of collective bargaining.

In any event, it will be interesting to see whether the ability of government school employees to avoid union membership will have an effect on the percentage of men in the classroom, the career results of students, or both.

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