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What’s really happening here…for what it’s worth

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross—Sinclair Lewis

Over at The Defeatists this morning, one of my commentators there said that he could learn to stomach the Republicans if only they’d be up front about their goals – maybe put on T-Shirts or have a motto that really described what they are trying to do. “Together we CAN make the USA the next Guatemala!” was his suggestion. Of course, my correspondent said that the Democrats already have one, “I don’t care what you’re talking about, please stop yelling at me!” Ssince I’m quoting Lewis or quotes attributed to Lewis, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this one: The trouble with this country is that there are too many people going about saying, “The trouble with this country is…”

Wisconsin is probably the beginning of our potential devolution to the next Guatemala, although I think that’s probably unfair to Guatemala. Since Citizens United and the buying of the last election by the Chamber of Commerce and the big corporate interests, I’m starting to think that the level of corruption and general disaster is starting to look more and more like Russia or Ukraine. The nonsensical drills going on in the House of Representatives this week, with John “Snooki” Boehner alternately saying things like “So Be It” to job loss and “Read My Lips!” while his members pass amendments to the continuing resolution and budget that indicate that Helen Bonham Carter must have prepped for her role as the Red Queen in “Alice” by visiting Tea Party events in places like Council Bluffs and Anniston is another example of the slide into becoming the next, I don’t know, Albania?
Rights of an At Will Employee
So, we have a situation in Wisconsin that probably shouldn’t be surprising. The state is going to run a surplus, so the incoming governor, a wealthy man whose campaign appears to have been bankrolled by the Koch brothers, convinces his Tea Party dominated legislature to pass a lot of tax breaks for business. He then proposes a state budget that includes some non-budgetary aspects that basically will strip the state employees of their right to collectively bargain except for wages – wages which are already limited by law to the increases in the Consumer Price Index. The governor also wants this to happen by Monday, February 14; he announces his plan the previous Wednesday or so. Hilarity ensues – we got state workers doing sickouts and showing up in Madison, we got the Democrats in the State Senate shuffling off to Illinois or Minnesota so that the Senate doesn’t have a quorum thus invoking memories of Texas and Tom Delay’s gerrymandering, we got the Tea Party showing up en masse tomorrow to protest the protesters, we got kids out of school.  However, the comedic aspects beside the point, what we have is really an attack on workers by bosses.

I’ve done labor relations consulting in government and all the frustrations that the Republicans allege have some validity. The problem is that the reasons for the frustrations arise from abusive acts in the past. As an employee, if there are no limitations placed on the employer, I’m naked to abuse in many forms. There is no law requiring the employer to provide affordable health insurance; there is no divine precept about vacations; there is no requirement for sick leave enshrined anywhere. Overtime, limits to the work weeks, limits to child labor, freedom from abuse and discrimination are legal protections that were largely enacted because of pressure from unions.

As a professional, I have always been an at will employee. This is an English Common Law Concept: My work is at will – they can fire me at any time and I can chose to quit anytime. For any or no reason. They don’t have to pay me severance, and I don’t have to give them notice. That’s about as fair and balanced as Glen Beck and Fox booking a guy who compares the President to the Anti-Christ. Seriously.

For employees who belong to unions, there is usually some redress here. I have had to explain to a lot of my professional and manager friends who wanted to sue someone who fired them for bad but not illegal reasons that we are protected by government for a lot of things. We are not protected from mismanagement. Unions provide workers with some protection against that. They level the playing field significantly. Bosses hate that. Much as I personally liked one of my past bosses, it used to drive me crazy when we were discussing some aspect of our relations with the union that he’d inevitably go into a rant about “Damn socialist-communist union Democratic California Liberals…” I’m a product of the 60s, and I recall that Unions were pro-Vietnam War and in fact busted a lot of “liberal heads.”

That, of course, is why we are where we are today. The big unions became more and more irrelevant; they were co-opted and when the Teamsters backed Nixon they eviscerated labor’s ability to influence elections as much as they did before. Fewer and fewer employees are members of unions because there are fewer and fewer exempt employees. Employers can browbeat employees if they have reason to believe that someone is interested in starting a union;  there can be equal browbeating the other way, but working class solidarity is largely a thing of the past. Union jobs are in Thailand now, and Matamoros and Costa Rica…and China, as companies like Boeing outsource work to “partners” over there. We struggle to be become “exempt” employees, which means we struggle to become salary-slaves without any protections for work weeks.

Bosses can be abusive. Supervisors can be arbitrary. Employees can find themselves having their jobs threatened for no good reason. In Wisconsin, the public employee unions are primarily opposing the changes in collective bargaining and the abrogation of work rules. The workers in unions – public and private –have the right to negotiate work rules; hours of work, standards of conduct, uniforms, special pays and so on. The guy that MSNBC has found from the Republican side of the Senate is frothing at the mouth because the unions have the right to negotiate these. There is an issue there – the states and local governments need to have better negotiators. As do companies that have unions…

Here’s why. The union member pays dues, and most of that money goes to support the collective bargaining function. As a result, the unions spend a lot of money training their negotiators, their stewards and their reps; business, not so much. The union sees the cost of spending that money on training and on preparation as an investment; in general, management sees it as an expense. Absurd, no doubt, but real. For example, the last collective bargaining I was involved in was fascinating – our lead negotiator on management’s side was an employment law attorney and he’s a very competent and knowledgeable guy. He was handicapped because he was acting as our spokesman but he and I had to constantly fight with the local and in some cases corporate leadership as to what we could do. He also had a full plate of his normal corporate lawyer stuff to do; and, he admitted that he hadn’t negotiated a contract in years.

The guy across the room – totally different story. He was the head of the Regional  Local of the International and had been doing this as a steward, union business representative and Regional Local Head for over 30 years. He knew the old CBA basically by heart, as well as all the other CBAs he had in the local which covers a major slice of Southern California including all of the Inland Empire as well as parts of Nevada. He can do this in his sleep; I kept warning out team that he wasn’t going to get tired, and was going to be prepared. His ass was iron; he mind was focused; and he knew what his members wanted, what he could get from us and how to make it meet in the middle.

That’s what unions provide their members – expertise, leadership and experience representing them. This occurs in grievance procedures where employees are fighting discipline; hell, it starts prior to that, with the Weingarten Rule. This applies to union members only, although there have been a couple of brief periods where the NLRB has flexed its muscles and applied it to all employees. The Weingarten Rule requires that if an employee is going to be interviewed in conjunction with an investigation that could lead to disciplinary action, they are entitled to have a union representative present. They don’t have the right to plead the 5th Amendment; they have to cooperate and are subject to discipline if they don’t. However, they are entitled to have someone there to observe and prevent the arbitrary exercise of power.

Take this Job and Shove It by DAC Bosses hate that. “When I tell you to jump, boy, you just ask how high!” Well, that works on chain gangs and in the service; it works in organizations run purely by fear and intimidation. It doesn’t work that way in union shops. It shouldn’t work that way anywhere, of course. But again, the protection of the law is distant; the protection of the union is closer. If I lose my job so they can hire someone younger or without bits and pieces of PTSD, as an executive I have limited options. I can sue. Or, I can negotiate a severance package. However, a union member has a right to due process before being fired. Again, this is something bosses hate. “It’s my way or the highway!” God, they like to say that. If I’m running the Road Crew responsible for getting the ice and snow off the highway between Wausau and Madison on Christmas Eve, I want to be able to do what I want. Maybe give the overtime and double-time and call-out pay or something to my buddy Bob or my cousin Melissa. Maybe I’m concerned about productivity and I want my most experienced driver out there; maybe I have budget problems and I want to skimp on how many I call out. However, since Management and the Union have negotiated work rules, I can’t do what I want. I have to follow seniority, keep in mind rest requirements, crew size, relief drivers and so on.

Now, I have worked in Labor Relations in a state DOT. Most of the grievances were about violations of seniority. In fact, most grievances are about violations of seniority for assignment of overtime. This results in weak managers with poor collective bargaining skills getting frustrated. Good managers with good labor relations folks don’t have that problem.

Unions aren’t something new to Wisconsin government. I suspect that they have very practiced managers and well-trained labor relations staffs. Governments do spend a lot of money training their employees, and their practices of tenure within government result in having experienced people on both sides of the table.

This is not about money, and I actually don’t think it’s about work rules. It’s about union-busting. Unions are largely aligned with the Democratic party, except of course    back in history when the Dems were largely rural and southern while the Unions were largely urban and…what? Socialist? Anarchist? Monarchist? How about, especially in Wisconsin, Republican? Unions do make it somewhat pricier to do business – there has historically been about a 15% differential between union workforces and non-union workforces in the same area doing the same work. That differential decreases when there’s a threat of a union organizing drive, of course, but in general there are some dollar  advantages. However, in addition to the Collective Bargaining expense, a portion of union dues goes to union political activities. Since Citizens United, the only really large organizations to support the Democratic Party are the Union PACs as well as funding things like voter education and get out the vote drives. The DNC  can raise some money and grass roots efforts can raise more – nobody ought to forget that after what the Obama campaign was able to do in 2007-08 and what  Howard Dean did as head of the DNC. But, if I’m trying to buy TV time for my candidate, I’d rather be able to call up Freedom Works and get a six figure donation  as opposed to having a bunch of interns and volunteers call everybody in Iowa asking for a couple of bucks a piece.

Break the unions, and we have a one party system run by the rich and business because of the Citizens United decision. That simple. That’s what this is about – the end of the American experiment of government for, by and of the people.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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