Sunday, May 2, 2010
Unions get a pass from new campaign finance disclosure rules.WSJ, May 03, 2010
Democrats in Congress last week introduced White House-backed legislation that would indirectly reinstate free-speech restrictions that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in January. Backers say the measure will force disclosure of corporate money in politics, but the real goal is to muzzle criticism—at least from some people.
The legislation, sponsored by Democrats Charles Schumer in the Senate and Chris Van Hollen in the House, would prevent government contractors and corporate beneficiaries of the Troubled Asset Relief Program from spending money on U.S. elections. It would also ban U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies from making political contributions if a foreign national owns 20% or more of the voting shares in the company, or if foreign nationals comprise a majority of the board of directors.
The provisions are designed to undermine this year's landmark Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which held that limits on independent campaign expenditures by corporations or unions violate First Amendment free speech guarantees. But, under the bill, unions with government contracts would not be subject to the same restrictions as corporations.
If, as proponents claim, their worry is that a company will use campaign contributions to win government contracts (pay-to-play), why does their bill not show equal concern that labor unions will support candidates with the goal of getting government contracts driven to union companies? The legislation also fails to impose limits on the foreign involvement of unions with global reach, such as the Service Employees International Union or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
It's no coincidence that the lead authors of these bills are the current head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (Mr. Van Hollen) and the immediate past head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (Mr. Schumer). And it's no surprise that Republicans have been reluctant to sign on. The House bill has two GOP sponsors and the Senate bill has none.
When President Obama berated the High Court earlier this year for its free speech ruling, he was very specific about whose free speech he opposed. "This is a major victory for Big Oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and other powerful interests," said Mr. Obama of the decision, suggesting that despite the good governance rhetoric, this legislation is not about muzzling spenders generally so much as specific spenders who don't always salute the Democratic agenda.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Their children’s hell will slowly go by.
The Wall Street Journal, p A10, Aug 03, 2009
The conflicting interests of teachers unions and students is an underreported education story, so we thought we’d highlight two recent stories in Baltimore and New York City that illustrate the problem.
The Ujima Village Academy is one of the best public schools in Baltimore and all of Maryland. Students at the charter middle school are primarily low-income minorities; 98% are black and 84% qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Yet Ujima Village students regularly outperform the top-flight suburban schools on state tests. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Ujima Village students earned the highest eighth-grade math scores in Maryland. Started in 2002, the school has met or exceeded state academic standards every year—a rarity in a city that boasts one of the lowest-performing school districts in the country.
Ujima Village is part of the KIPP network of charter schools, which now extends to 19 states and Washington, D.C. KIPP excels at raising academic achievement among disadvantaged children who often arrive two or three grade-levels behind in reading and math. KIPP educators cite longer school days and a longer school year as crucial to their success. At KIPP schools, kids start as early as 7:30 a.m., stay as late as 5 p.m., and attend school every other Saturday and three weeks in the summer.
However, Maryland’s charter law requires teachers to be part of the union. And the Baltimore Teachers Union is demanding that the charter school pay its teachers 33% more than other city teachers, an amount that the school says it can’t afford. Ujima Village teachers are already paid 18% above the union salary scale, reflecting the extra hours they work. To meet the union demands, the school recently told the Baltimore Sun that it has staggered staff starting times, shortened the school day, canceled Saturday classes and laid off staffers who worked with struggling students. For teachers unions, this outcome is a victory; how it affects the quality of public education in Baltimore is beside the point.
Meanwhile, in New York City, some public schools have raised money from parents to hire teaching assistants. Last year, the United Federation of Teachers filed a grievance about the hiring, and city education officials recently ordered an end to the practice. “It’s hurting our union members,” said a UFT spokesman, even though it’s helping kids and saving taxpayers money. The aides typically earned from $12 to $15 an hour. Their unionized equivalents cost as much as $23 an hour, plus benefits.
“School administrators said that hiring union members not only would cost more, but would also probably bring in people with less experience,” reported the New York Times. Many of the teaching assistants hired directly by schools had graduate degrees in education and state teaching licenses, while the typical unionized aide lacks a four-year degree.
The actions of the teachers unions in both Baltimore and New York make sense from their perspective. Unions exist to advance the interests of their members. The problem is that unions present themselves as student advocates while pushing education policies that work for their members even if they leave kids worse off. Until school choice puts more money and power in the hands of parents, public education will continue to put teachers ahead of students.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Obama v. the Tort Lawyers - The president's Auto Task Force worked hard to shield the new GM from jackpot justice
The president's Auto Task Force worked hard to shield the new GM from jackpot justice.
WSJ, Jul 09, 2009
Ask a CEO or small business owner to list his biggest economic problems, and near the top is always the depredations of the tort bar. Would you believe Uncle Sam feels the same way when he's the owner?
Apparently so, if we can judge from the sensible behavior of the Obama Administration's Auto Task Force. General Motors could emerge from bankruptcy as soon as today, leaving the federal government with a majority stake in the car maker. And it turns out the task force worked hard to shield the new GM from jackpot justice.
In its original reorganization plan, the Administration even proposed to leave behind in the old GM all tort claims arising from cars manufactured before bankruptcy. That would have meant that all past, present and future claims related to cars GM produced before June would have had next to no chance of meaningful recovery, as they would have had to stand in line with every other unsecured creditor of the bankrupt firm.
This was the arrangement approved by the courts in Chrysler's bankruptcy, and the task force sought to repeat the feat with GM. But 11 state Attorneys General and a group of tort lawyers cried foul and filed an objection to the bankruptcy plan with the court. In the end the Administration agreed to leave liability for future claims with the new company, while leaving behind current suits.
That's at least something. And the task force's attempt to shed these lawsuit liabilities shows that the feds recognize how expensive it can be to get caught in the sights of the tort lawyers. If only the Administration could see the issue with the same clarity when the targets of its trial-bar supporters are privately owned companies.
Monday, June 29, 2009
CEI, Jun 25, 2009
In the ongoing debate over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, H.R. 1409, S 560), the Act’s card check provision has received a great deal of attention. This provision would effectively eliminate the secret ballot in union certification elections in favor of the card check process, in which union organizers ask workers to sign union cards out in the open. This exposes workers to high-pressure tactics that the secret ballot is designed to avoid. By focusing on its undemocratic nature, EFCA opponents have helped muster popular opposition to card check, and the bill has failed to move forward in Congress. However, EFCA supporters are now looking to craft a “compromise,” which would retain other harmful provisions in EFCA.
The Employee Free Choice Act’s Section 3, “Facilitating Initial Collective Bargaining Agreements,” has not received nearly as much attention as card check, but its implications could be enormous. If enacted as part of an EFCA “compromise,” it could fundamentally change the way businesses deal with their employees. Section 3 of EFCA empowers the federal government to impose mandatory binding compulsory interest arbitration, whereby government representatives are enjoined to create a fresh contract from scratch. It would allow the government to write “first contracts” between employers and unions even if one party objects.
Full Document Available in PDF
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Many school choice supporters are discouraged after having suffered a series of setbacks on the voucher front, ranging from the loss of Utah's nascent voucher program last year to the recent death sentence handed to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. A rambling and inaccurate article in the normally supportive City Journal got the chorus of naysayers rolling more than a year ago with the cry "school choice isn't enough."
The bright spot for vouchers in recent years has been the success of special-needs programs. Yet the Arizona Supreme Court ruled recently that school vouchers for disabled and foster children violate the state constitution, which forbids public money from aiding private schools.
Naturally, the pessimists and opponents of choice are forecasting the death of the voucher movement. They're wrong, because there never was a voucher movement to begin with. It has always been movement for educational freedom, and it is still going strong.
Over the past several years, there has been a gradual shift in focus from vouchers to an alternative mechanism: education tax credits. Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa already provide families with tax credits to offset the cost of independent schooling for their own kids. Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and three other states provide tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations that subsidize tuition for lower-income families.
The fundamental difference between these programs and vouchers is that while vouchers use public money, credits do not. Credits are targeted tax cuts, and no public dollars are spent with them. That single distinction is the reason Arizona's Supreme Court struck down two voucher programs in March, but upheld the state's scholarship donation tax credit program in 1999.
In fact, tax credit programs have withstood every lawsuit raised against them. Since 1995, seven tax credit programs have been passed and all are still in operation. Four voucher programs (in Florida, Colorado and now two in Arizona) have been struck down by the courts in that same time.
This does not mean that credits are invulnerable. Arizona credits just received a temporary setback from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that is sure to be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, as is the case with so many other 9th Circuit Court decisions. Vouchers have certainly enjoyed some important legal victories, but vouchers' use of government funds opens them up for attacks to which credits are far less susceptible.
Credit programs have not simply survived, they have thrived. Scholarship donation programs now support more than three times as many low-income children as do voucher programs, though they are generally of more recent vintage. Direct K-12 education tax credits are benefiting hundreds of thousands of families, albeit in more modest dollar amounts.
However, these are not the only reasons that supporters of educational freedom have increasingly begun to favor credits over vouchers. Credits better preserve the autonomy of independent schools, and they extend choice and accountability to taxpayers as well as parents. Taxpayers get to choose to participate in credit programs as well as pick the recipient organization for their funds if they do. In addition, credits command increasingly bipartisan political support.
So while advocates of educational freedom regret that vouchers have been under heavy fire in many states, tax credit programs can be created or expanded to accommodate the children formerly served by vouchers.
Adam B. Schaeffer is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom and an adjunct senior fellow with the Education Reform Initiative at the Virginia Institute for Public Policy.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Trying to deny military families.
The Wall Street Journal, Jun 19, 2009, p A14
Public school teachers are supposed to teach kids to read, so it would be nice if their unions could master the same skill. In a recent letter to Senators, the National Education Association claims Washington, D.C.'s Opportunity Scholarships aren't working, ignoring a recent evaluation showing the opposite.
"The DC voucher pilot program, which is set to expire this year, has been a failure," the NEA's letter fibs. "Over its five year span, the pilot program has yielded no evidence of positive impact on student achievement."
That must be news to the voucher students who are reading almost a half-grade level ahead of their peers. Or to the study's earliest participants, who are 19 months ahead after three years. Parents were also more satisfied with their children's schools and more confident about their safety. Those were among the findings of the Department of Education's own Institute of Education Sciences, which used rigorous standards to measure statistically significant improvement.
If you call that "failure," no wonder the program has been swimming in several times as many applications as it can accept. They come from parents desperate to give their kids a chance to get the kind of education D.C.'s notorious public schools do not provide. That's the same chance the Obamas have made by opting for private schools and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has taken by choosing to live in a Virginia suburb with better public schools.
Contrary to the NEA's letter, the D.C. voucher program isn't magically expiring of its own accord. In March, Congress voted to eliminate the vouchers after the 2009-2010 school year unless it is re-approved by the D.C. City Council and . . . Congress. The program, which helps send 1,700 kids to school with $7,500 vouchers, was excised even as the stimulus is throwing billions to the nation's school districts.
The NEA's letter was a pre-emptive strike against the possibility that 750,000 students in military families would benefit from vouchers. That idea was raised in a Senate hearing this month, when military families explained that frequent moves and inconsistent schooling was harmful to their children. "The creation of a school voucher program should be considered," Air Force wife Patricia Davis dared to say.
President Obama pledged to support whatever works in schools, ideology notwithstanding. But neither he nor Mr. Duncan have dared to speak truth to the power of the NEA. Military families can join urban parents on the list of those who matter less to the NEA than does maintaining the failed status quo.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
A New York putsch could one day hurt D.C. schoolchildren.
WaPo, Sunday, May 31, 2009
WHETHER NEW York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will retain control of the city's public schools will soon be decided by state lawmakers in Albany. This is an issue about which there should be no debate. By any measure, the city's schools are better off today than under the byzantine system that preceded mayoral control. Too much is at stake -- for New York's 1.1 million students as well as for education reform efforts nationwide -- for the legislature to turn back the clock. If the vested interests of the education establishment succeed in their bid to kill off mayoral control in the nation's largest school system, it will make it harder for other cities to sustain the oversight of schools by mayors. Places such as Washington, D.C., are likely to become the next targets.
The 2002 law that gave Mr. Bloomberg direct authority over the schools, replacing a system of local control overseen by a central Board of Education, expires at the end of June. Lawmakers must decide if mayoral control should be maintained, abolished or modified; the lobbying is ferocious. Critics -- including the United Federation of Teachers -- want to curb the mayor's influence, saying that he and Chancellor Joel Klein have ruled like dictators. Among the suggested changes, presented under the specious guise of "checks and balances," are proposals for reconfiguring the education panel that replaced the old school board so that it would be able to overrule the mayor and giving broad new powers to local community councils. So much for accountability and responsibility; apparently the fact that Mr. Bloomberg was overwhelmingly returned to office in 2005 after staking his political future on running the schools isn't enough.
It's important to recall the grim reality prior to mayoral control: struggling and unsafe schools, failing students, inequities in funding, corrupt politics and patronage. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein instituted such reforms as ending social promotion and standardizing curriculum. They closed chronically low-performing schools and innovated with new and charter schools. No less an authority than U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed the undisputed progress of these seven years. "I'm looking at the data here in front of me," Mr. Duncan told the New York Post. "Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up. Teacher salaries are up . . . ." Indeed, test scores announced this month showed 68.9 percent of students in fourth grade and 57 percent of students in eighth grade met or exceeded grade-level readings standards, up from 46.5 percent and 29.5 percent, respectively, in 2002.
Why sacrifice progress and momentum when there are so many students yet to be helped? One answer is in the clear dislike by teachers union officials of the hard-charging Mr. Klein, who, much like his D.C. counterpart, Michelle A. Rhee, is absolutely fearless in putting the interests of children ahead of job protection, seniority or being liked by city pols. Unions talk a good game about wanting to be change agents, but here, when real reform is on the table, they opt for sabotage. Easier to criticize a style of governing than the benefits of real leadership. Easier to look out for your own institutional interests than what's good for pupils.
A lot is riding on the outcome in New York; Washington, where the same union leaders have inserted themselves into the fight over education, should pay particular attention.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Heritage Backgrounder #2275
May 21, 2009
What do unions do? The AFL-CIO argues that unions offer a pathway to higher wages and prosperity for the middle class. Critics point to the collapse of many highly unionized domestic industries and argue that unions harm the economy. To whom should policymakers listen? What unions do has been studied extensively by economists, and a broad survey of academic studies shows that while unions can sometimes achieve benefits for their members, they harm the overall economy.
Unions function as labor cartels. A labor cartel restricts the number of workers in a company or industry to drive up the remaining workers' wages, just as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) attempts to cut the supply of oil to raise its price. Companies pass on those higher wages to consumers through higher prices, and often they also earn lower profits. Economic research finds that unions benefit their members but hurt consumers generally, and especially workers who are denied job opportunities.
The average union member earns more than the average non-union worker. However, that does not mean that expanding union membership will raise wages: Few workers who join a union today get a pay raise. What explains these apparently contradictory findings? The economy has become more competitive over the past generation. Companies have less power to pass price increases on to consumers without going out of business. Consequently, unions do not negotiate higher wages for many newly organized workers. These days, unions win higher wages for employees only at companies with competitive advantages that allow them to pay higher wages, such as successful research and development (R&D) projects or capital investments.
Unions effectively tax these investments by negotiating higher wages for their members, thus lowering profits. Unionized companies respond to this union tax by reducing investment. Less investment makes unionized companies less competitive.
This, along with the fact that unions function as labor cartels that seek to reduce job opportunities, causes unionized companies to lose jobs. Economists consistently find that unions decrease the number of jobs available in the economy. The vast majority of manufacturing jobs lost over the past three decades have been among union members--non-union manufacturing employment has risen. Research also shows that widespread unionization delays recovery from economic downturns.
Some unions win higher wages for their members, though many do not. But with these higher wages, unions bring less investment, fewer jobs, higher prices, and smaller 401(k) plans for everyone else. On balance, labor cartels harm the economy, and enacting policies designed to force workers into unions will only prolong the recession.
Full report here
Monday, March 30, 2009
Cato, Mar 28, 2009
The "education president" remained silent when his congressional Democrats essentially killed the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in the city where he now lives and works.
Of the 1,700 students, starting in kindergarten, in this private-school voucher program, 90 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic.
First the House and then the Senate inserted into the $410-billion omnibus spending bill language to eliminate the $7,500 annual scholarships for these poor children after the next school year.
A key executioner in the Senate of the OSP was Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat. I have written admiringly of Durbin's concern for human rights abroad. But what about education rights for minority children in the nation's capital?
Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Institute (where I am a senior fellow) supplied the answer when he wrote: "Because they saw it as a threat to their political power, Democrats in Washington appear willing to extinguish the dreams of a few thousand poor kids to protect their political base."
Teachers unions are a major part of that base. Among those demanding that Congress kill the voucher scholarship program was the largest teachers union, the National Education Association.
Two of the kids affected by the action, Sarah and James Parker, attend Washington's prestigious Sidwell Friends School. Their scholarships will end with the next school year. The classmates they'll be leaving will include Sasha and Malia Obama. The Obama children, of course, do not need voucher money to avoid Washington D.C.'s failing and sometimes dangerous public schools.
As New York Times columnist David Brooks noted, the congressional Democrats even refused to grandfather in the kids already in the voucher program, "so those children will be ripped away from their mentors and friends ... ." President Obama, he added, "has, in fact, been shamefully quiet about this."
Doesn't Obama at least have something to say publicly to those children and their parents when his own Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opposed the congressional shutdown of Opportunity Scholarships?
Said Duncan (New York Post, March 6): "I don't think it makes sense to take kids out of a school where they're happy and safe and satisfied and learning. I think those kids need to stay in their school."
Duncan suggests that donors provide financial assistance through graduation to those kids stripped of their Opportunity Scholarships. Perhaps our "education president," from his continuing royalties from the sale of his books such as "The Audacity of Hope," might help out.
One of the recipients of the Opportunity Scholarships, teenager Carlos Battle (VoicesOfSchoolChoice.org) said that in a D.C. public school she'd "have to think more about protecting myself than about learning."
As for the Sidwell Friends School, its headmaster, Bruce Stewart, told the Wall Street Journal that the school has welcomed the OSP students. He said that when parents get more educational choices for their children, their kids and the whole community benefit.
Virginia Walden-Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, offered an excellent suggestion for members of the White House press corps:
"I'd like to see a reporter stand up at one of those nationally televised press conferences and ask President Obama what he thinks about what his own party is doing to keep two innocent kids from attending the same school where he sends his?"
I wish Jay Leno had thought to ask Obama that question.
In a March 2 editorial, the Washington Post — not a conservative newspaper —summed up the Congressional Democrats' scholarship shutdown in these words: "It's about politics and the stranglehold the teachers unions have on the Democratic Party. Why else has so much time and effort gone into trying to kill off what, in the grand scheme of government spending, is a tiny program?"
Friday, March 27, 2009
DLC: On behalf of the nation’s children, Obama is prepared to take on members of his own party and the special interests
Politico, Mar 26, 2009 @4:36 AM ED
President Barack Obama’s recent speech on education reform demonstrates that he is willing to put the full weight of his office behind fixing our failing schools. He called for higher standards, more charter schools, merit pay and eliminating bad teachers. When many of our urban school districts are graduating only 25 percent to 50 percent of their students, he knows that the failed methods and orthodoxies must be jettisoned for what will work.
The brave new world of the 21st century demands much more from our children. Obama’s ambitious and sweeping agenda will help educate and equip them to make the most of the opportunities created by an integrated global economy.
While there is a broad national consensus for education reform in the country, Obama expects that special interests will oppose his reform agenda. Those who do will fight vigilantly to hold onto the failed schools that shame us as a nation.
But their actions will put them against the best interests of our children and on the wrong side of history. Teachers unions and education groups have expressed opposition in the past to ideas like merit pay and charter schools. They are strongly opposed to a successful voucher program in Washington, D.C., which tragically was killed by Senate Democrats in the omnibus spending bill that passed the Senate last week.
On behalf of the nation’s children, Obama is prepared to take on members of his own party and the special interests. Along with turning around the economy, education reform could become the defining issue of his presidency.
Toward that end, the president and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should consider hosting an education reform summit at the White House. The focus could be on what is working in public schools around the country. This list of “best practices” should be studied, evaluated and shared with principals and teachers — especially in schools that are underperforming.
He could invite education groups, teachers unions, principals, teachers and education leaders who have a proven record of reform and inform them how they could qualify for federal funding for programs that comply with the policy ideas of the Obama administration.
The genius of America is that we have always been able to overcome the challenges we face. Acknowledging our failures and focusing on methods and programs that have succeeded in educating our children are the best place to start.
It is also time we wake the sleeping giant: the parents who have children attending public schools. Alexis de Tocqueville said that people in a democracy “reign supreme.” The parents of public schoolchildren have never fully realized the power they have to bring change to underperforming schools.
With the financial support of the nation’s leading charitable foundations, Parent Teacher Associations around the country could be transformed into a national grass-roots effort to advocate for reform of our schools. Patterned after the missionary zeal and political sophistication of the Children’s Defense Fund, PTAs could be organized in school districts nationwide. Parents — motivated by wanting a world-class education for their children and being highly informed and organized — could bring persistent pressure to members of Congress to adopt an agenda of change to fix our failing schools.
What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream. To pass it on to our children and generations to come, we must restore quality and innovation to all our schools. President Obama knows that our legacy of excellence in education must be redeemed and, with his speech a couple of weeks ago, he has set us on a course to give our children the knowledge and skills they need to compete in this new and changing world.
As Americans, it’s time we think of our obligations to each other. It’s time we take seriously our collective responsibility for future generations. Providing our children — regardless of race, class or religion — with a world-class education is what binds us together and will make our country stronger.
President Obama’s plan to reform our schools will help our children live up to their God-given potential. We don’t have a moment to lose. Congress should enact his education reform proposal this year.
Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Washington Post, Sunday, March 22, 2009; A02
As business and labor gird for battle over legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize, the debate could be transformed by a "third way" proposed by three companies that like to project a progressive image: Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods.
Like other businesses, the three companies are opposed to two of the Employee Free Choice Act's components -- a provision that would allow workers to form a union if a majority sign pro-union cards, without having to hold a secret-ballot election, and one that would impose binding arbitration when employers and unions fail to reach a contract after 120 days.
But the companies' chief executive officers say they also recognize that just opposing the legislation, commonly called "card check," is not enough because of the widespread perception in Democrat-dominated Washington that there is not a level playing field between labor and business. So the CEOs have come up with ideas they hope will form the basis of new legislation.
Their proposal would maintain management's right to demand a secret-ballot election and would leave out binding arbitration. The proposal would keep the third main element of card check -- toughening the penalties for companies that retaliate against workers before union elections or refuse to engage in collective bargaining. But it would also toughen penalties for union violations, and it would make it easier for businesses to call elections to try to decertify a union.
To address labor's concern that businesses intimidate workers before elections, it would set a fixed period in which an election must be held, limiting the delays that give employers time to exert pressure. The proposal does not specify what the time period should be.
The proposal would also provide unions equal access to workers before elections -- for instance, by allowing organizers to address workers on a lunch break in the company cafeteria just as management can.
"We wanted to see what we can do to come up with a compromise position that is going to address the concerns of labor and also protect the sanctity of the collective bargaining process and secret ballot," said Costco Wholesale chief executive James D. Sinegal.
Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz cast the proposal in more defensive terms. "The way the wind is blowing, we're heading toward a bill that is not the right approach," he said. "My responsibility is to not be a bystander but to offer a voice of reason, offer a more positive alternative that levels the playing field."
The effort is being led in Washington by Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton. Davis said he had approached about 20 Senate offices and gotten an overwhelmingly encouraging response. The Employee Free Choice Act has majority support in both chambers, but there are signs it may have trouble getting a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, where several centrist Democrats who previously supported it are expressing reservations.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a centrist who is ambivalent about card check, praised the companies' proposal. "I appreciate a good-faith effort that could result in a reasonable compromise on what has become a highly polarizing matter," he said.
Davis said he thought that the proposal would intrigue President Obama, who as a senator was a co-sponsor of the card-check bill in 2007 but signaled in an interview before his inauguration that he was also open to other proposals to help organized labor. "This is consistent with President Obama's overall approach of avoiding polarized positions and looking for third-way ideas," Davis said.
The business lobby has been warning against any moves to tweak card check just enough to give centrists cover to support it. And word that a compromise is circulating from three "progressive" companies prompted business groups to warn yesterday against premature compromise.
But it is possible that the proposal will generate even greater opposition among unions and their supporters in Congress. Some business groups say they are open to limited changes in organizing rules, separate from card check -- a position not so far from what the three companies propose.
Labor unions, though, are adamant that workers be able to choose to organize via card check so they can avoid employer intimidation before elections. They say binding arbitration is needed because so many companies refuse to bargain -- nearly half of new unions never even get a contract.
The three CEOs are at odds with those planks. Whole Foods Market chief executive John Mackey said that binding arbitration is "not the way we normally do things in the United States" and that allowing workers to organize without a secret ballot "violates a bedrock principle of American democracy."
And the CEOs also do not share the labor movement's underlying belief that the decline of organized labor has contributed to income inequality and the economy's current imbalance. "That so few companies are unionized is not for a lack of trying but because [unions] are losing elections -- workers aren't choosing to have labor representation," Mackey said. "I don't feel things are worse off for labor today."
Of the three companies, only Costco has a substantial minority of employees that are unionized -- about a fifth of its hourly employees belong to the Teamsters, with whom it has good relations. Starbucks and Whole Foods have resisted most unionizing efforts.
Giving organizers the ability to use card check, Schultz said, would lead to a slew of separate bargaining units at a company like his, leading to "havoc and significant cost and disruption." Mackey had an even grimmer view. "Armed with those weapons, you will see unionization sweep across the United States and set workplaces at war with each other," he said. "I do not think it would be a good thing."
Thursday, March 19, 2009
WSJ, Mar 19, 2009
The Obama administration's zeal to not "waste a good crisis," as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, has been stunning even for Washington insiders to behold. In the first 50 days of Barack Obama's presidency, Congress approved $1.2 trillion dollars in new spending, or $24 billion a day. That's $1 billion every hour. The national debt now is $11 trillion and climbing.
The Democratic Party's governing elite has long believed there is no problem that European-style policies cannot cure. This is why President Obama's agenda centers on vastly expanding entitlement programs, strengthening unions, and increasing government control over the private sector.
The stimulus bill contains multiple provisions that burden the already strained unemployment insurance system with new entitlements, such as paying workers who choose to leave the workforce for "family-related" reasons. Imposing such entitlements on an insurance system designed to support workers who are laid off compromises the integrity of the program. To sustain the expanded system in the future, states will have to levy higher unemployment insurance taxes on employers. And raising taxes on jobs will only lead to fewer job opportunities. That is why some governors such as Rick Perry (R., Texas) and Bobby Jindal (R., La.), are taking a pass on stimulus money that would broaden their states' unemployment benefits.
In a move that certainly pleased unions, within days of taking office Mr. Obama issued executive orders rescinding requirements for workers to be informed of their right not to pay portions of union dues attributable to political activities with which they may disagree. These orders are mere prelude to the forthcoming congressional debate over the "Employee Free Choice Act," which should more accurately be called the "Employee No Choice Act." This bill will deprive workers of their right to secret ballot elections in unionization efforts, and impose a 120-day deadline for companies to sign a labor contract -- after which government arbitrators would dictate labor contracts.
Efforts are also underway to cut the budget of the lone federal agency charged with protecting union members' rights and ensuring union integrity. In January, the Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards implemented a rule requiring that relevant information on union finances be provided to rank-and-file union members to better ensure transparency and accountability, as required by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. In the rush of actions after the inauguration, the Obama administration delayed the effective date of this rule. It remains to be seen if other union transparency and accountability rules will be gutted or revoked.
Americans should also be concerned about the protectionist impulses -- as evidenced by the "Buy American" provision of the stimulus package -- of those now in charge, which run counter to one of the painful lessons of the Great Depression. Impeding international trade will ignite retaliation by America's trading partners, deepening and prolonging the economic downturn. Policy makers should also resist closing America's doors to skilled workers from overseas, many of whom are educated in our universities and whose talent can help make our economy stronger. Yet provisions like the "Employ American Workers Act" in the stimulus package limits banks that receive government funding from employing skilled foreign workers.
European-style interventions to which the Obama administration is inclined will not make America more competitive in the world-wide economy. Such policies will not increase growth, will not decrease unemployment, and will not increase wages for workers. Evidence of this has been apparent for decades in Europe's declining growth rates, higher unemployment, lower per-capita income, and longer durations of unemployment. America has problems; Europe's are worse.
Yet despite all of this, the Obama administration seems intent on radically expanding government's role. This is because, as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has stated, "crises are opportunities to do big things."
It was telling that in his recent address to Congress, the president downplayed the credit crisis's culpability for the recession and swiftly segued to implicating oil, health care and education. Why would the president draw a line between the recession and these other issues, unless he wants to exploit the current situation to advance an agenda unrelated -- and even antithetical -- to fixing the economy?
Perhaps spending trillions of taxpayers' yet unearned dollars seems trivial when socialized medicine and rewarding political allies are your priorities. But it is not the change most Americans had in mind.
Ms. Chao was the 24th U.S. Secretary of Labor.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Heritage WebMemo #2341, March 12, 2009
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, H.R. 1409, S. 560) does more than take away secret ballot elections: It empowers the federal government to impose contracts on newly organized companies. The government would set wages, benefits, work assignments, promotion procedures, and any major changes to business operations. Because EFCA has no meaningful small businesses exemption, it would authorize federal control of up to 4 million small businesses employing 39 million Americans. Consequently, bureaucrats with no management experience would effectively control these small businesses.
Four Million Small Businesses Affected
The misnamed Employee Free Choice Act affects both large and small businesses. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has a small business exception. However, this exemption has not been updated for inflation since 1959. It covers all non-retail businesses with gross revenues of $50,000 a year and retail businesses with gross revenues over $500,000 a year.
To put those figures into perspective, the average private-sector worker costs his or her employer $56,000 a year in wages and benefits--before the cost of any capital needed to do the job. A business with one worker earning average pay would not qualify. Consequently, the law has no meaningful small businesses exemption.
The Heritage Foundation used Census Bureau data to calculate how many small businesses EFCA would affect: The act covers 4,180,000 businesses employing 38,934,000 workers.
EFCA's Other Provision
EFCA takes away these workers' right to a secret ballot vote on joining a union--a consequence that has attracted considerable controversy. However, the bill has a second provision of equal if not greater significance to small businesses that has attracted much less attention: EFCA replaces collective bargaining with government-imposed contracts for newly organized companies. Section 3 of the act provides that, after unions organize a business, the company has 10 days to meet with union officials to begin collective bargaining. After 90 days of bargaining, either party may request mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). Thirty days later, if the parties have not settled on a contract or agreed to extend negotiations, the FMCS shall refer the dispute to an arbitration board established in accordance with such regulations as may be prescribed by the service. The arbitration panel shall render a decision settling the dispute, and such decision shall be binding upon the parties for a period of two years, unless amended during such period by written consent of the parties.
In place of collective bargaining, the government would impose a contract for two years. In practice, EFCA will effectively eliminate collective bargaining for initial contracts because the system provides no reason for unions not to hold out for a government contract. Unions would have strong incentives to make extreme demands and hope the FMCS appointed arbitrator splits the difference between these demands and management's position.
Bureaucrats Control the Workplace
Granting such a radical amount of power to the FMCS puts control of workplaces in the hands of unaccountable government bureaucrats. Labor contracts do not simply set wage and benefit levels but cover many aspects of how businesses operate. Under EFCA government bureaucrats would impose:
- Wages and bonuses;
- Employment levels;
- Retirement and health care plans;
- Changes in business operations;
- Promotions procedures;
- Work assignments;
- Subcontracting; and
- Closure, sale, or merger of a business.
Additionally, the government would also be empowered to make critical decisions regarding business operations. Any business operation that significantly affects workers' jobs or working conditions would be set by arbitrators--even the equipment employees use. The government would determine what tasks a firm subcontracts out for and what work gets performed in-house. For two years, government bureaucrats would set most major business decisions for newly organized businesses. Given the power the government would now wield over the private sector, EFCA effectively allows the government to run these companies.
Businesses at Risk
Government control would harm any company, but it would be particularly hard for small businesses to recover from government mistakes because they have less money with which to absorb losses. Consider a small car-repair shop that employs five mechanics. Teamster organizers take three of the mechanics out for beer after work and persuade them to sign union cards before hearing opposing arguments. The Teamsters--under EFCA's card check recognition requirements--then represent all five workers in the shop. If, after four months of negotiations, the owner and the union had not reached a contract--perhaps because the union insisted on extreme demands such as firing any worker who did not join the Teamsters--the union could request meditation through the FMCS. After a lengthy process, approximately 15 months in the public sector, the government would impose a contract.
At that point both the small business owner and the mechanics would lose all control over their workplace. Workers have no vote on the contract and they cannot go on strike; workers must accept whatever the government chooses for them.
For instance, the government could:
- Decide that the shop needed to hire two new mechanics while setting wage rates higher than competing repair shops,
- Take away employee health benefits,
- Prevent the shop from installing new labor saving machines,
- Force the shop to fire any worker who does not pay union dues,
- Force the workers into an under-funded union pension plan,
- Impose work rules that prevent the most experienced mechanic from handling the most difficult jobs (unpleasant tasks would be assigned to less senior mechanics), and
- Determine which employee gets the next promotion, irrespective of merit.
Many of these provisions would drive up costs and force the repair shop to raise prices. But if higher prices drove customers to a competitor, putting the shop out of business, the government would not protect the mechanics' jobs. EFCA forces workers to accept whatever the government gives them and live with the consequences.
Government Control of Small Businesses
The misnamed Employee Free Choice Act puts control of small businesses in the hands of government bureaucrats because it contains no meaningful small business exemption. About 39 million employees from 4 million small businesses would lose their right to a secret ballot. EFCA then allows the government to impose contracts on newly organized small business employees. The federal government, not workers or their employers, would decide how much workers should earn, how--and if--they are promoted, and what benefits they receive. The government would assign work tasks and set business operations. The government would take control of every significant aspect of the small business workplace.
James Sherk is the Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Open Market/CEI, Mar 05, 2009
This week, Dr Anne Layne-Farrar, an economist with the Law and Economics Consulting Group, published a new study in which she analyzes the likely economic effects of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act if it were to be enacted, especially on employment. EFCA would replace secret ballots in union organizing elections with a process known as card check, whereby union organizers ask employees to sign union cards out in public, thus exposing workers to high-pressure tactics which secret ballots are designed to avoid. Labor unions see this as a way to revive their declining number. The summary of Layne-Farrar’s findings includes:
[P]assing EFCA would likely increase the US unemployment rate and decrease US job creation substantially. The precise effect on unemployment will depend on the degree to which EFCA increases union density, but for every 3 percentage points gained in union membership through card checks and mandatory arbitration, the following year’s unemployment rate is predicted to increase by 1 percentage point and job creation is predicted to fall by around 1.5 million jobs. Thus, if EFCA passed today and resulted in an increase in unionization from the current rate of about 12% to 15%, then unionized workers would increase from 15.5 to 19.6 million while unemployment a year from now would rise by 1.5 million, to 10.4 million. If EFCA were to increase the percentage of private sector union membership by between 5 and 10 percentage points, as some have suggested, my analysis indicates that unemployment would increase by 2.3 to 5.4 million in the following year and the unemployment rate would increase by 1.5 to 3.5 percentage points in the following year.
As Layne-Farrar explained in a press conference call today, she analyzed the experience of Canada with both card check and secret ballots. Union organizing in Canada is set at the provincial, rather than federal level, so different provicial policies allow for contrast. As she explained, several provinces have moved from card check to secret ballots, while one went the other way. To control for other factors, she said she did a regression going back 22 years.
Study available for download here.
For more on card ceck, see here.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Unions are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The Weekly Standard, Mar 02, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 23
Unions spur unemployment, and "there is no question" about it. "High union wages that exceed the competitive market rate are likely to cause job losses in the unionized sector of the economy." That is the unvarnished conclusion of one of the country's most admired economists. From 1970 to 1985, a state with average unionization had a rate of unemployment 1.2 percentage points higher than a state with no unions. This represented "about 60 percent of the increase in normal unemployment" in that period.
Okay, a finding from several decades ago may be a bit dated. But the phenomenon of how unionization affects unemployment isn't. Nor is the economist--Lawrence Summers, formerly president of Harvard and now President Obama's chief economic adviser. In this week's Fortune, Nina Easton calls him "the mastermind" of Obama's economic policy. His influence has limits, however, for Obama is aggressively promoting unionization at the worst possible time, smack in the teeth of a deepening recession with soaring unemployment.
Media attention has focused on the hot button issue of "card check." It would jettison labor's biggest impediment to signing up workers, the secret ballot. Naturally, it's labor's top priority in 2009. And though Obama and the vast majority of Democrats in Congress favor card check, its fate is unclear.
But Obama has already taken significant steps to aid unions. Steps that underscore his support for a surge in unionization. "I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem," he told union leaders at a White House event last month.
"To me, it's part of the solution." Summers must have winced when he heard that.
Obama has issued four executive orders to benefit unions, nominated a union pawn as labor secretary, and picked a union lawyer to head the National Labor Relations Board. Aside from ramming card check through Congress, there's not much more he could have done in his first month in office to please labor leaders.
One executive order says private contractors on federal construction projects should hire union workers. This puts non-union contractors, especially small minority companies who compete by making lower bids than contractors with unionized workers, at a distinct disadvantage. Another order bars federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses incurred in trying to persuade employees not to form a union. A third would force contractors to retain workers when taking over a project from another contractor.
These orders will have an immediate impact. Most (if not all) of the infrastructure projects funded in Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan will have union workers. Given the higher labor costs, this means fewer of the estimated 1 million construction workers currently unemployed will find work.
To make matters worse, the "prevailing wage" required on federal projects by the Davis-Bacon law will apply to all projects. This is supposed to be the average wage for construction workers in a region, but it usually turns out to be the higher union wage. So fewer workers will be employed even on non-union projects.
There's a double whammy here. Despite rising unemployment, a sharp limit is being imposed on hiring. And taxpayers will be required to pay considerably more for construction projects than necessary. This should be unacceptable in good times. In a recession, it's worse. This is flagrantly counterproductive.
Take one example. A non-union employer with the low bid wins the contract on a partially completed construction project. If the prior contractor had union workers, the new boss would have to retain them, their union wages, and possibly even their union.
As a devotee of the New Deal, Obama ought to have learned the lesson of increased unionization. After the Wagner Act of 1935 empowered labor organizers, unionization flourished and wages rose for those who had jobs. At the same time, unemployment went up.
If card check passes, this trend--more unions, fewer jobs--will shift into high gear. But the measure suffered a slight setback last week. Blue dog Democrats got House speaker Nancy Pelosi to postpone a vote until the Senate acts. The queasy moderates fear voting for an unpopular bill that could fail in the Senate. Labor leaders had hoped House approval would give card check a big boost in the Senate, where a handful of Democrats have voiced misgivings.
At the White House, organized labor's clout is still palpable. The president is indebted to union leaders for their lavish support for his campaign with money (hundreds of millions) and personnel (tens of thousands). And labor trumps Larry Summers. Too bad. On unions and unemployment, Summers knows best.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
IER, February 4, 2009
On February 3, 2009, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), in conjunction with union leaders and environmental groups, released their “Good Jobs First” report. Although advocates of a “green recovery” point to estimates that 456,000 green-collar jobs would be created by the stimulus package, the new Stabenow/Inslee report reveals the dirty little secret that many of these new jobs would offer low pay and poor working conditions. For example, the Good Jobs First report discusses a recycling firm in Los Angeles-which is just the type of operation that will “green” stimulus money-where workers make $8.25 an hour and receive no health insurance.
Of course, the Good Jobs First report doesn’t state the obvious conclusion: government efforts to “help” workers and “stimulate” the economy will only make things worse. Faced with the unintended consequences of their original scheme, the proponents of a green recovery want to double down and shovel more tax dollars at the problem and hope something sticks.
Although critics have pointed out the plan’s flaws since its inception, it is at least encouraging that the unions-the alleged beneficiaries of green-collar stimulus money-are beginning to realize that the deal isn’t as rosy as they have been led to believe. No matter how much politicians might like to claim otherwise, they can’t repeal the laws of economics.
“Demand curves slope downward,” economists say, meaning that people buy more of something only when its price is lower. This law applies to consumers who walk the aisles in grocery stores, but it also applies to businesses that make solar panels. To get the biggest bang of jobs “created” for the stimulus buck, those jobs have to be low-wage. The higher the pay and other perks the unions demand, the fewer jobs that employers will be able to afford-even with government subsidies.
This underscores a basic flaw in the whole notion of a green recovery. Of the millions of unemployed Americans today, not many of them have the specific background and skills necessary for the good-paying jobs that are available in the so-called green sectors of the economy. So even if the government provides the handouts, the only way to get these people into green jobs quickly is if they fill positions requiring no extensive training.
The popular pro-green recovery studies, which purport that there are plenty of American workers with the right skills to fill the new, high-wage positions, suffer from a basic flaw in their methodology. As IER pointed out in its critique of such studies, they count up the number of skilled workers in the work force as a whole, rather than counting up the qualified workers in the current pool of unemployed workers. The only way, then, that these alleged hundreds of thousands of high-paying, “green” jobs could be filled-relying on government subsidies, of course-is to siphon most of their workers away from other industries. No net jobs would be created, because the new green slot would be offset by the existing jobs vacated by the skilled worker.
Confusion between gross and net job creation is typical of the green jobs. For example, the 456,000 figure touted by the Center for American Progress does not take into account the jobs that would be destroyed by the government’s methods of paying for the necessary subsidies. The CAP estimate simply assumes that all 456,000 workers filling these new green slots would have come from the ranks of the unemployed and that the higher taxes and Uncle Sam’s increased borrowing will have no job-destroying impact on the rest of the American economy.
It is refreshing to see that even the unions are catching on. But rather than ask for a bigger handout, they should stop looking to the government to help workers. Only when the government stops trying to pick industrial winners and losers can true economic recovery begin. Only when the government stops changing the rules and throwing around hundreds of billions in borrowed money will the unemployed get good jobs in the private sector.
2 Good Jobs and Green Jobs: Which Road to Take? By Jason Lefkowitz
Change to Win, February 3, 2009 at 10:19 AM
A few days ago, I wrote about how green jobs are not automatically good jobs:
The old thinking was that it was impossible to grow the economy and clean
the environment at the same time. The green jobs movement has done important
work in freeing the world from the tyranny of that particular dead idea; thanks
to their efforts, there’s a lot of people thinking hard about how to apply the
stimulus in ways that grow green jobs.
But green jobs are not, in and of themselves, good jobs. They can be
good jobs - jobs that provide workers with decent wages, economic security and a
shot at the American Dream - but they can just as easily go the other way. It
all depends on the choices we make.
Today, in conjunction with Good Jobs First and the Sierra Club, we’re rolling out a new report that demonstrates in detail just how true that is.
“High Road or Low Road? Job Quality in the New Green Economy” (PDF) looks at a range of existing green jobs in sectors across the economy, including manufacturing, construction, and waste management, and finds that while policy choices have made some of these green jobs good jobs, the connection is by no means automatic:
- Low pay is not uncommon in the workplaces we profile: the lowest wage we found was $8.25 an hour at a recycling processing plant, but we also discovered jobs in manufacturing facilities serving the renewable energy sector paying as little as $11 an hour.
- Wage rates at many wind and solar manufacturing facilities are below the national average for workers employed in the manufacture of durable goods. In some locations, average pay rates fall short of income levels needed to support a single adult with one child.
- Some U.S. wind and solar manufacturers have already begun to offshore production of components destined for U.S. markets to low-wage havens such as China and Mexico. Examples of offshoring include the manufacture of blades for wind turbines, defying the common assumption that such blades are too large to ship overseas.
- Very few workers at wind and solar manufacturing workplaces identified in the course of our research are covered by collective bargaining agreements. In at least two instances, this appears to be a direct result of aggressive anti-union campaigns run by employers with the help of union-busting consultants. On the construction side, we found that a leading contractor engaged in energy efficiency work has a similarly hostile approach to unions.
- We could not find specific wages for nonunion construction workers employed in green building, but publicly available data on overall construction wages suggest that they are far lower than those of the union members profiled in the report. Analysis provided by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that among nonunion laborers, carpenters, painters, and roofers, a majority make less than $12.50 an hour and a third make less than the federal poverty wage for a family of four ($10.19 an hour).
Given the economic and environmental challenges facing America and the world, the need for a green economy becomes clearer every day. In the push to get there, though, we must make sure that the workers whose labor powers that green economy aren’t left behind by it while its benefits flow to a few plutocrats at the top. If we do not, we risk repeating the mistakes that led us into the current economic crisis in the first place.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
PowerLine Blog, Jan 31, 2009
The New York Times reports that President Obama signed three executive orders pleasing to unions. The Times quotes Obama directly addressing the union officials at the White House ceremony: "Welcome back to the White House." The Times summarized the substance of the orders in one paragraph:
The orders Mr. Obama signed, which union officials say will undo Bush administration policies that tilted toward employers, make it more difficult for federal contractors to discourage union activities. And when a federal contract changes hands, the new contractor will be required to offer jobs to workers who were employed by the earlier contractor.
And that's that, as far as the Times is concerned. It seems highly doubtful that Times reporter David Stout has bothered to read the orders or ask anyone what kind of sense they make. Interested readers will have to look elsewhere for addtional information.
The orders have been posted here by Carter Wood at the Manhattan Institute's PointofLaw.com site. Wood's Saturday morning update notes:
Judging by the metadata of one file, one of the regulations was written by the SEIU's legal counsel, or associate general counsel, Craig Becker -- although he may have gone to work for the Administration. (See this Shopfloor.org post.) Remember all those headlines from eight years ago along the lines of "White House lets business lobbyists write the law?"
What sense do these orders make? The Times frames the story as Obama taking a swipe at Bush, consistent with Obama presentation of them at the White House ceremony. Times reporter David Stout is discreetly silent about Obama's debt to organized labor. The orders are Obama's downpayment on the debt.
The orders are couched in terms of government economy. Unions are of course well known for their contribution to economic efficiency. Mickey Kaus actually took the trouble to track down the text of the order requiring a contractor to retain the old workers when a federal contract changes hands, to borrow the Times's formulation. Kaus quotes from the order:
The Federal Government's procurement interests in economy and efficiency are served when the successor contractor hires the predecessor's employees. A carryover work force reduces disruption to the delivery of services during the period of transition between contractors and provides the Federal Government the benefits of an experienced and trained work force that is familiar with the Federal Government's personnel, facilities, and requirements.
Kaus displays a bad attitude toward the order. You might say he doesn't take it at face value:
[W]hat if the contract got switched because the previous work force, you know, sucked? ... P.S.: For example, the Obama administration itself can be seen as having won a new contract to perform the same Federal services, at the same location, as the previous contractor, the Bush Administration. Did Obama keep all of Bush's employees in order to reduce "disruption" and enjoy "the benefits of an experienced and trained work force that is familiar with the Federal Governments ... facilities"? I don't think so! ...
Kaus aptly calls the orders "the labor payoff of the day." It's a point that seems to have escaped the Times.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Heritage, January 22, 2009
Heritage Lecture #1106
One of my major responsibilities has been representing the Department of Labor--and, indeed, the United States government--in international organizations that deal with labor and employment issues. And, of course, the major international organization I have worked with is the International Labor Organization.
My bureau works closely with the ILO on a number of projects.
- We oversee labor programs funded by the State Department and implemented by the ILO in the Middle East and Latin America.
- We oversee numerous projects that are implemented by the ILO's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). Over the past decade, the U.S. has funded nearly $370 million worth of programs in over 75 countries. As a result of these programs, we have rescued more than a million children from exploitive child labor.
I think this is an opportune time, with the current economic challenges, to talk about the ILO itself: to give you my perspective on what it does well, what concerns the U.S. government has had, and what we at my Bureau see as the road ahead.
The Mission of the ILO
The International Labor Organization was created in 1919, in the wake of World War I, with the purpose of creating an international institution that could bring governments, employers, and workers together to improve living and working conditions and help preserve social stability in the new post- World War I order. As the sole remaining component of the League of Nations, and as a member of the present-day U.N. system, the ILO has been a strong voice for worker rights, for helping to build democracy in Poland and South Africa, and building strong, open-market systems in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The ILO continues to be a beacon in promoting freedom in some critical places across the globe. For example:
- In Burma, the ILO is the sole U.N. agency that plays a useful role on the ground. It has been directly responsible for enabling victims of forced labor to report on their treatment without fear of reprisal. The ILO's special adviser in Burma has helped people get out of jail, has helped rescue child soldiers, and has actually engaged the military in dialogue on forced labor.
- In Belarus, the ILO's Governing Body has been in perfect sync with the Bush Administration's goal of pushing for democracy, both by condemning Belarus for its lack of freedom of association and by at the same time offering to work with the government to move forward.
- In Zimbabwe, thanks to the workers and employers--and with no thanks to countries like South Africa or China--the ILO has been in the forefront of criticizing the atrocities of the Mugabe regime. In the labor area, this includes the systematic arrest, detention, and harassment of trade unionists. At its last session, the Governing Body decided to send to Zimbabwe a Commission of Inquiry, one of the highest-level investigatory missions available.
- In regard to Iran, the ILO has regularly condemned the Iranian government for arresting and imprisoning independent trade union leaders and for its record on discrimination in the workplace.
- And in Colombia, the ILO--largely at the behest of the United States--has established an office on the ground to help address key labor issues, including violence against trade union officials. The Colombian government, the business community, and the labor unions themselves supported the establishment of the office.
The Other Side of the Story
There's also another side to this story. Go to the ILO Web site or look at the Director-General's speeches over the past few years. You won't find very many references to all of the good work I've just described. What you will find are articles and speeches that deal with the ILO's role in:
- Climate change and energy policy,
- Reforming the international monetary system,
- Changing the rules of the international trade system,
- Addressing international investment issues,
- Addressing the global food crisis,
- Mandating social policy for individual countries, and
- Suggesting that the ILO take the lead in addressing global social policy in the current economic crisis.
Here's another example: In November, the officers of the Governing Body issued a statement calling for six steps to be taken to address the financial crisis. I won't enumerate them, but among them were:
- Ensuring the flow of credit to consumption, trade, and investment;
- Supporting productive, profitable, and sustainable enterprises, together with a strong social economy and a viable public sector, so as to maximize employment and decent work;
- Maintaining development aid as a minimum at current levels and providing additional credit lines and support to enable low-income countries to cushion the crisis.
In short, the key problem is that the ILO is seeking to become the world's lead institution in addressing the social consequences of globalization. This is not a conspiracy theory; rather, it's a point made regularly by the Director-General. The world of work, a challenging field unto itself, suddenly loses importance and instead becomes a platform for launching all sorts of social projects.
That's why we have been very concerned about a new instrument that was adopted by the organization's conference just this past June, called the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. The title alone suggests exactly what is wrong with the ILO at this time. What is worrisome is that it opens the door to efforts to attribute universal applicability to conventions that heretofore would be relevant only if a country formally ratified them. That means, for example, that select conventions on employment and social protection could conceivably take on the status of agreed international principles without our consent.
Now we, of course, would not honor this. Suffice it to say, it would be appalling, both morally and in terms of economic efficiency, if an international organization were to determine the "right" balance between employment and social protection.
How well are these resources managed? In short, not well. The ILO fails to ensure adequate impact analysis of its programs. We receive reports from them on what they did and how they managed programs, but we can't get answers to questions like, "What do we get for the $10 million spent on Project X?"
When our Secretary of Labor raised this with the Director-General, he replied, "You have to realize that it's sometimes very difficult for the ILO to measure the impact of what we do. After all, we don't sell shoes. We hold seminars. We give advice. And how do you measure the impact of advice?"
Perhaps there is something to be said for that question, but for an organization that spends almost one-half billion dollars per year, that's not enough.
The ILO is the only tripartite organization in the U.N. system--that is, the only organization in which each country is represented three ways: by representatives of the government, employers, and workers. In my view, this tripartite nature is both the strength and the weakness of the organization. The good part is that it includes the private sector and civil society. But there are two difficult issues.
- First, the ILO is disproportionately run by workers--and, to be exact, by trade unions. Workers see the ILO as their organization, but if its outputs are going to be useful, governments and employers have to see it as their organization too. This drove the International Organization of Employers earlier this year to stand up and demand that the ILO ensure "that employer priorities, objectives and resources are treated on an equal basis with those of the workers." This might not be easy: Just a year ago, during a discussion on "sustainable enterprise," the representatives of workers objected to any inclusion of the word "entrepreneur."
- Second, governments are being marginalized. If workers and employers agree on an issue, the views of the governments--the funders of the Organization--become irrelevant because the worker-plus-employer majority is declared to be "consensus." Something must be done to address this issue.
There are many times when the interests of organized labor and the interests of other employees may differ significantly. Perhaps thought should be given to including other worker groups--maybe professional associations or entrepreneurs or non-governmental organizations--to better represent the real workforce. I don't have an easy answer to this, but it's something we will surely have to deal with in the future.
What Should the ILO Be Doing?
What should the ILO be doing? Here's what I would suggest. It may not be glamorous, but we think the ILO could--and should--focus its activities on helping countries improve their capabilities in these areas:
- Labor Law and Implementation. [...]
- Building Capacity. [...]
- Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Trafficking. [...]
- Fewer International Meetings, More Work in the Field. [...]
- Corporate Social Responsibility. [...]
As we look at the problems and the potential of the ILO, it's worth asking the question, "If the ILO disappeared tomorrow, would we need to replace it?" Or, as I said in the blurb for this meeting, "Can the ILO be saved from itself?"
The short answer is yes; the ILO could be a very useful tool in addressing many of the issues the world faces in the era of globalization. Both the United States worker and employer representatives agree on this.
Unfortunately, the ILO is veering further from, rather than closer to, being in a useful position. I hope that the new Administration, which has given much attention to labor issues, will use its influence to push the ILO to do its real job: to create better opportunities and better workplaces for working people, to promote job creation, to help provide businesses with the skilled workers they need, and to help boost economic development and prosperity around the world.
Charlotte M. Ponticelli, at the time of this lecture, served as Deputy Under Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor. She has also served in the U.S. Department of State as Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues and Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration, and on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Full article w/references here
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
OpenMarket, CEI blog, September 11, 2008
…looks very different than it does in the United States. And by Miller, I mean Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).
In 2001, Rep. Miller and several of his colleagues wrote to a labor adjudication body in the Mexican state of Puebla urging that body to uphod the secret ballot as “absolutely necessary to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.”
Yesterday, the Mexican Supreme Court agreed, ruling that workers’ secret ballots in union organizing elections must be protected, reports Laborpains.org.
What does this have to do with the U.S.? Legally, nothing, but politically, plenty. The same protection that Miller so strongly defended for Mexican workers is the same one he is now trying to take away from American ones, through his sponsorship of the mandatory card-check organizing bill known as the Employee Free Choice Act.
Miller’s double-talk notwithstanding, he does deserve credit for one thing: He was right once. Now if only he could apply such wisdom inside his own country’s borders.
For more on card check, see here and here.
Monday, January 5, 2009
The Corner/NRO, Monday, January 05, 2009 @02:57 PM
From Patrick Semmens at National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation:
Just to add to what others have written regarding Hoyer's comments on FNS. While it's often a fine line between gross misrepresentation and out and out lie, I'd say at least one aspect of Hoyer's comments fall into the second category:
Hoyer says "The employees currently have and will have the opportunity to opt for a secret ballot. They don't have to sign the card. They can say, 'Look, we'll have an election, and we may vote.' But they have that choice right now, and they will continue to have that choice."
But the fact is the so-called "authorization cards" that unions use to run a card check doesn't give employees the choice to opt for a secret ballot election. In fact, the cards often seem to intentionally bait-and-switch employees into thinking that they are supporting an election, when really they have done just the opposite by signing a card that will be later be counted as a "vote" for unionization under card check.
We have an example of a typical union card here. You'll see that on the top of the card in big bold print it says it is a request for a representation election. However, in fine print at the bottom it says that signing the card authorizes the union "also to represent me..." (meaning that it would count in a card check).
In short workers have no opportunity to request only a secret ballot vote... it's card check or nothing because the union controls the cards and what they are used for. Meanwhile as others have pointed out, union organizers technically could request a vote, but they never would because it is always easier to pressure or mislead 50% +1 workers into signing cards, than it is to get them to vote in a union within the privacy of the secret ballot.
Hope that helps.
Also, people need to be reminded that in most states (the 28 without Right to Work laws) once a union gets in (through card check or secret ballot) every worker must (1) accept the union's representation even if they don't want it and (2) pay dues to the union or be fired. So while obviously the secret ballot election is far less coercive than the card check scheme, let's not forget that both are still part of a fundamentally unjust system.
—Patrick T. Semmens
Legal Information Director
National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation