Sunday, February 23, 2014

Union Workers Get Smacked

In case you missed it, the anti-union movement is alive, well, and gloating over its success while working people in both the public and private sectors suffer from stagnant and negative wages, more expensive benefits and the prospect of losing what dignity they have at the altar of unfettered free enterprise and wealthy-worship.

The story of the UAW's loss at the Volkswagon plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee last week because of scare tactics imposed by Republican national and state legislators is well-known. The surprising part is that VW seemed to be friendly to the idea of representation given that they had envisioned a workers council, which is prevalent in many other countries, that would protect worker's rights and act as a partner in running the plant. This could still happen, despite the right's irrational fear of unions, but it weakened the already-fragile union movement and did damage to its efforts in the south.

The picture is similarly bleak in the Midwest, as Governor Scott Walker's Wisconsin experiment is burying public union workers. A new report in the New York Times shows that many towns and cities are finding that they have more money to spend, or at least less debt, because of the anti-union laws passed in 2011, but that workers are being devastated by the law, called Act 10. In short, public unions were stripped of their collective bargaining rights on anything except salaries, but even they were to be capped at no higher than the inflation level. The result is a one-two punch.

Demoralization is the flip side of Act 10. In Oneida County in northern Wisconsin, the county supervisors jettisoned language requiring “just cause” when firing employees. Now, said Julie Allen, a computer programmer and head of the main local for Oneida County’s civil servants, morale is “pretty bad” and workers are afraid to speak out about anything, even safety issues or a revised pay scale. “We don’t have just cause,” she said. “We don’t have seniority protections. So people are pretty scared.” 

Assessing Act 10, Lisa Charbarneau, Oneida County’s director of human resources, said: “It’s been a kind of double-edged sword. It’s saved some money, but it’s hurt morale. It’s put a black eye, so to speak, on being a government employee, whether management or hourly. All government employees seem to have taken a hit, there’s this image that they’re sucking all these good benefits.”
Leah Lipska, the president of Local 1, scoffs at Mr. Walker’s famous suggestion that public employees are the “haves” in society, noting that many earn less than $35,000 a year. And the law, says Ms. Lipska, an information systems technician with the state corrections system, has made things much worse. 

“My family is now on food stamps,” said Ms. Lipska, a mother of three who earns $18.62 an hour. (Her husband’s computer installation business is struggling.)
This simply reinforces the idea that GOP orthodoxy on economics is dangerous. Taking money out of people's pockets and making them afraid to speak up because they might lose their jobs will not in any way help the economy to grow. And Scott Walker wants to be president (shudder).

Meanwhile, here in New Jersey, where the governor also wants to be president but won't be, the end of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf's term is proving rather dangerous for teacher rights. The Superintendent of Newark's schools is asking Cerf for a waiver so she can ignore seniority while making massive cuts to Newark's teaching force. Even better, or worse, is the suspicion that Anderson is doing this to protect the Teach for America teachers she's hired at the expense of more expensive, experienced educators. Anderson was a former executive at Teach for America.

This assault on both tenure and negotiated rights would be the most serious attempt by the know-nothing corporatists on the teacher's associations in the state. It would also be an opportunity for Cerf to make a final, lasting imprint on the state's education system that has already seen an ineffective evaluation system and massive cuts to school programs go into effect during his and Christie's term. My sense is that Cerf won't do it because the governor is facing multiple investigations into questionable behavior by his aides, and Christie won't need the added attention, but this would be an opportunity for both men to show their conservative bona-fides and take some eyeballs of the GW Bridge and Sandy affairs.

The bottom line is that the bottom line is guiding everything the GOP touches these days and public workers continue to be obstacles to knock over and criticize. Never mind that these are the same middle class workers who need to start spending if the economy is to make a broad rebound and will need to lead the country if it is to educate its next generation of citizens.

Can you say, "Organize?"

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