February 26, 2007

Unions and Progressives: They May Agree to Vote Democrat, But Not on Much Else

Carroll Andrew Morse

Some local political analysts predict that the alliance between the unions and the do-gooder liberalism that dominates Rhode Island cannot last forever, because the interests of the two factions don't converge. Tom Coyne put it very succinctly describing last year’s General Assembly session on the (sadly dormant) Rhode Island Policy Analysis Website

The labor – liberal Democratic coalition that controls the General Assembly now faces an agonizing choice: The Rhode Island economy is in such tough shape that we can keep paying social welfare checks or public employee pension checks, but not both. Their old game is over.
In today’s Projo, Scott Mayerowitz adds another angle, reporting on how the divergence of interests extends beyond money…
Thousands of Rhode Islanders who qualify for food stamps don’t sign up for the program, and some advocates say the state isn’t doing enough to encourage them to enroll....

Many eligible Rhode Islanders don’t think they qualify, think the application process is too cumbersome or simply can’t make it to state offices to enroll because the hours conflict with their jobs....

[Acting Director Gary Alexander] said the Department of Human Services has wanted to experiment with evening hours but that the state has yet to reach an agreement with the unions to allow different work hours.

Is it unreasonable to ask unionized public employees to be flexible and occasionally take the public good into consideration in return for the big pension checks they've been promised?

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Is it unreasonable to ask unionized public employees to be flexible and occasionally take the public good into consideration in return for the big pension checks they've been promised?

No, it's not unreasonable, as long as they're compensated. It is unreasonable to ask anyone to work only for the public good. The size of their pension checks really shouldn't enter into it, should it? When I'm asked to change my responsibilities at work, my 401(k) doesn't come into the discussion.

Posted by: mrh at February 26, 2007 12:08 PM

MRH -- that you see no difference between the public and private sector is a tad discouraging.

while i agree that government employees are no different than private sector employees in that they're simply working for a paycheck, the public sector (government) is at its core not meant to be a profit-driven enterprise.

In fact, our government's role is rather simple: it is there to provide the protections and on occasion the assistance for a free and open society to function and thrive.

Since the issue of food stamps falls into the latter category of providing a needed assistance, then we should conclude that in order for the government to be most effective - both in terms of service and cost - it should seek to accommodate the maximum number of people who rely on that service.

In the early days of the PUC (late 70s/80s), the commissioners recognized that they were there to serve primarily a demographic that could not attend mid-morning shut-off and rate hearings, so what did they do? They instituted night hearings.

Remember: the government is there to work for US. By extension that means public union employees should recognize that they are employed to provide a service which has been judged to be in the public good.

Further if this WERE a private business issue, would you continue to employ a full staff when your demand is only at 50% of capacity? Just think of the great performance ratings those employees would receive!

You see, the problem with many of our government agencies is that unlike in private business where revenue depends on the quality and volume of service, there's little to no accountability in the tax-funded public sector.

just as any good businessman wouldn't keep hours for less than half of his potential clients, neither should the state.

This is an opportunity for democrat and union leadership -- who are always invoking classism into their arguments -- to stand up and act in the interest of the poor. But judging from your defensive reaction, I doubt that will be happening any time soon.

Posted by: johnb at February 26, 2007 12:58 PM

No, on the contrary, John, I do see a difference between the public and private sector. My response was hasty because I'm generally frustrated by knee-jerk anti-labor sentiment.

I'm all in favor of gov't agencies serving their constituencies better. However, surely you recognize that switching from day to night hours isn't a trivial change for the agency or for the unionize workers who would be affected? Once again, if my employer asked me to work evenings instead of days, I would certainly need to reconsider the terms of my employment. They might need to hire someone else who could work nights to do the job.

I'm not saying the union in this matter is blameless -- I haven't read anything other than this blog post -- but the immediate rhetorical move to "big pensions" raised a flag for me.

My position is: change the hours if that makes more sense, by all means! But don't assume that a union would resist a change in work hours solely out of spite and ingratitude.

Posted by: mrh at February 26, 2007 2:04 PM

I think we're already seeing this with Murphy and Montalbano. They may do unions' bidding, but they're not what you would call progressive-minded, really.

Posted by: Rhody at February 27, 2007 12:33 AM