June 3, 2005

The NEA's Bob Walsh on the Dan Yorke Show

Marc Comtois

Here is a very rough, running summary of the two hour discussion between WPRO's Dan Yorke and the NEA's Bob Walsh. Again, it's pretty rough and, though I doubt I'll get to it any time soon, I'll clean it up if I have time. Remember, I'm not a stenographer].

First, they talked about Yorke's experience during the union rally at the State House earlier in the week and then they bantered about the contention that talk radio misrepresents the teachers' union and its members. In general, a bit of inside baseball.

Yorke then clarified that his real concerns are pension and insurance co-pay [really premium sharing] reform. (He said he didn't get caught up in the 180 day work year and other, to him, ancilliary issues). To Yorke, the world has changed and teachers have to adjust their financial expectations, too. Why can't we [teachers and the public] just move forward on these acute issues?

Walsh tackled premium sharing. He went through the history (since 1992) of negotiating health insurance plans and gave an example of contract negotiations in S. Kingstown: 2 contracts ago, the NEA accepted less raises for no premium sharing; for the last contract, under the spectre of an election, the NEA said "OK," it all works out the same [they did premium sharing and got higher raises, I assume]. As far as salaries, puts much in comparing Mass. and Ct. to RI.

Yorke: but CT has higher payrolls and business taxes, etc.

Walsh: apples and oranges [what? can you compare salaries and benefits of RI, CT, MA in an attempt to set your own and not take into account the financial structure that supports that?]

Yorke played clip of union member (Amy Mullin) saying "everyone of us performs at a high level" and says its B.S., no profession can claim that.

Yorke complained about being invited to rally and then being intimidated.

Back to economies of scale. 10% higher in CT, but economics of private sector is comensurate. (IE, it's relative).

Walsh: A big gap between teachers salary and private sector. Its a demographic thing, having to do with older population that were first employed in manufacturing that has since left the state. They aren't competitive with a comparable worker in CT and MA.

Yorke: Same jobs do pay more in CT and MA because of Cost of living.

They continued on this vein for a while.

Gets to union contract negotiation consolidation. Yorke likes idea of autonomy, but every community is starting to realize a template for health care and pension needs to be set. If not, it'll all come apart.

Walsh: switches to pensions. 1/2 of teachers are excluded from Soc. Sec. for various reasons. So 6.2% of the wages for teachers not paying into SS are saved by communities and, actually, teachers also get means tested. In short, pensions are 9.5% of salary.

Yorke: Governor trying to shade it down and the kicking and screaming is amazing. What's the problem?

Walsh: We're not opposed?

Yorke: What are your proposals?

Walsh: Let me give some history. 2 issues, Government, banking crisis contributed to unfunded liability, past sins, etc.

Yorke: Then why is Carcieri being hung?

W: Proposed increase in contributions and change in COLA. Against both.

Y: But it's conceptual. The concept of pension has gone by the wayside, especially for public employees. It was fine when most people kicked off at 65-70, but now people are retiring with 80% and living 20+ years on it. We're asking for reasonability.

W: Gov's reps weren't allowed to deal piece by piece but wholistically.
Kind of devolved into real insider politics junk.

W: RE: people living longer. There should be a fully transportable pension system.

Y: Not practical

W: Pension system fully funded should be relatively self-sustaining.

Y: But it's not, we have to fix it.

W: If your going to say to somebody you have to work longer, how can you say to them they have to pay the same or more? How can you tell the new college grad that they have to pay for the person already retired in florida

Y:Bottom line, pension/hc are political because people in working sector (non-union) who were insulted by the "working rhode island" rally. BTW, 401k is a portable pension, but you make the choices. And mine hasn't budged other than what I put into it. In other words, 401k is no guarantee and people take umbrage over dispute over a COLA adjustment.

W: Tries to take it to a macro level and criticizes Bush. Would trade off individualism for safety. Essentially says there needs to be countrywide reform ensuring all people have some sort of retirement safety net (presumably other than SS).

Open for phone calls:

Union caller criticizing the failure of the RI AFL-CIO leadership for not keeping labor strong in state.

Yorke: We have an old guard leadership in this state. Your the first to show up. Shouldn't they try better and harder? That's why they have a hard time selling their message.

W: Different philosophies

Y: The problem with the rally is that different groups with different issues, needs, etc. clouds the issue.

W: I disagree, we want teachers to know about the building trades, etc. Went into example of student informed by teacher that they can get a good job as an electrician

Y: Went into another why-is-the-union-anti-talk-radio-rant.

another call:
Military retire after 20 years, the point is that others retire young and get pension.

Yorke: Your point?

Her point was trying to equate teachers with military. Yorke had none of that, said the military is a higher plane and the caller wouldn't concede the point.

Another call: A friend of Walsh, did research showing that a teacher puts far less than he gets back, especially if he lives for a long time after retirement [of course this is at least partially a factor of compound interest]. Walsh got off onto numbers talk and kept coming back to past sins. Caller brings up Health care and how there is no competitive bidding in the process.

A republican union member: tired of liberal NEA teaching practices and disparity in benefits.

Walsh : Prem. Shar is popular for political reasons.

Caller: its not political its taxes, 80% of my towns property taxes go to education and 80% of that goes to salaries and benefits.

Walsh:package has to be competitive.

Caller: Has to be equitable with what can be payed by the community.

Yorke : What's wrong with merit pay?

Walsh:Philosophically opposed, but it essentially exists (MA gets more, certificates get more, etc).

Y: But when you come to the table and say you're philosophically opposed, it stifles negotiation. We have to agree that there are good and bad teachers who should be rewarded appropriately.

W: Argues against outside business-type people who come in and offer their own plans for merit pay and don't want to listen to when told that won't work, here's why.

Y: The idea that all teachers perform at same level is specious as well as the idea that teachers won't like merit pay.

W: There's a difference between merit pay and performance pay. The performance issue is difference. There is a mechanism for removing poor teachers.

Y: It's not an easy one.

W: I don't apologize for that. We represent, management removes.

Y: Cites Education Partnership Report (and alludes that there is a lot of vitriol in the email coming in). Freedom for Union officers to do union work during school time?

W: It's in the contract. Also slams the Ed. Partnership (funded by private companies) for their goings on. Said they (the NEA) originally worked with them, until the report. Said it meant "war." They got one of their employees to be paid through the East Greenwich School Dept. so she could stay in pension system. [He's trying to damn the messenger using a few bad examples]. He is trying to portray them as not real "partners."

Y: Come on, you guys are challenging anyone who tries to change the system.
Some loose banter

Y: It gets back to management rights. Too much is given up at the bargaining table. They are almost vacant. Everything that goes on is negotiated in the contract.

W: That's how its done.

Y:That's the problem.

Caller: Brings up that pension payouts are based on past 3 years, which skews the average over thirty years.

W: Again, but it gets back to fully funding.

Another call: A teacher who supports merit pay. Says union stands in way of he, an English teacher, getting paid more than a Home Ec. or Phys. Ed. teacher. Don't you think we work more?

Walsh: Sometimes I hear from Science and Math teachers that they could get more in private sector. I say that our people work hard in a different way and I'm not going to denigrate one over the other.

Yorke: This is exactly the thing! People work equally hard and get paid different salary all the time! Who's kidding who! C'mon.

Walsh: Talks of how he was inspired by certain teachers. Some people inspired by science teachers and some by phys.ed.

Yorke: OK, nice bit of rhetoric. In reality, you can't p*** anyone off.

Caller: How come your teachers couldn't listen to a cost saving health care proposal in East Greenwich?

Walsh: I wasn't there. The School Committee set up United Health Care and didn't tell Teachers Union. I hope it all gets settled next week.

Yorke: Why don't we do this again in a forum? I'll do the Donahue thing with Teachers and community.

Walsh: Sure, why not.

Yorke: Admit that you have a challenge. A lot of teachers want the status quo.

Walsh: A lot of people do. Thanks for having me.