August 1, 2008

A Memorandum of Chain Jerking

Justin Katz

So the contract proposal that some public sector unions recently voted to reject was apparently not a real offer. According to the NEA's Bob Walsh, it wasn't the result of "negotiations," but of a "process by which a memorandum of settlement was reached." (Note the passive voice.) Presumably, Bob would have been just fine with the governor's having responded to broad approval of the contract by withdrawing its terms and declaring that it had just been, you know, a sort of poll of members' disposition.

So the negotiation process now has another layer. Union leaders "discuss" a settlement with the governor and vote to send it to their members as if it were an official contract to be ratified. Depending how that goes, they then enter into official "negotiations" with the governor to push for more. How many times contracts can be "discussed" without being "negotiated" is an open question.

From this perspective, the following bit of Walsh's explanation of why "union officials agreed to discussion, as opposed to negotiations," is of especial interest, strategically:

With contracts already in place through June 30, 2008, formal negotiations could have left the door open to a process where the state tried to reopen other issues in the existing agreement. This was not an idle concern, as informal discussions the prior year led a member of the administration to try (ultimately unsuccessfully) exactly that tactic regarding health care plan design.

In other words, "discussions" apparently allow the unions the flexibility to come up with contracts that the members can accept, while not opening up the previous contract for changes. This might be useful if, say, labor leaders wish to stall through the fiscal year without having to face the possibility of changes that might create immediate assistance to the fiscally ailing state. Sorry, Bob: the unions have had it every which way for far too long.

Me, I say that the unions blinked, and the governor should consider the thousands of Rhode Islanders who would be beyond relieved to see a flood of ads in the pitifully thin Sunday jobs section of the paper.

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Bob Walsh is a farce (Sorry Andrew if the truth hurts).

He claims that he “advocated for the final settlement”. What a joke.

First, there is ZERO evidence that he advocated or supported the settlement. Typically, when Bob Walsh is “supporting” something, like free healthcare, big raises, short work days, etc. for his flock of lazy public-teat suckers, he is most vocal and public in his support, writing letters to the editor, going on the talk show circuit, etc. So where was that Walsh-like “support” for the “settlement”. The silence was deafening.

Second, a “settlement” is something that comes out of “negotiations”, not a “discussion”.

Bob, you act is wearing thin and the public is on to you and your Entitlement-minded Union that think they can hold-up the Taxpayers via the courts. It's not going to happen. The party is over.

Looking forward to the layoffs. Can't wait.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 1, 2008 11:38 PM


You do not understand the process at all - especially the fact that it was the administration that wanted an attempt to resolve all contracts at once, not the unions.

First, it will be interesting to see how the members of the Governor's administration testify, under oath, when the "discussions versus negotiations" question is raised before either the courts or the labor board. Since they were honorable during the discussion process, I expect they will be honorable here as well and tell the truth, which is why I doubt that the process will get that far. In addition to fully understanding that we were in discussions, the Governor's representatives also understood that each and every bargaining unit had to vote separately on the memorandum of settlement.

If you had actually bothered to check with anyone who had experience in this area on either side of the process, you would have quickly learned that the process that was used was not particularly unique, and it preserved the rights of both sides to start from scratch if needed. If fact, it is exactly how the state approached things three years ago (where it broke down and negotiations started with Council 94 first, leading to conciliation, which led to a contract), and again last year, until the Governor's folks walked away.

If nothing else, that fact that multiple agreements were approved saved the state hundreds of hours. It is worth reiterating that the Governor's representatives asked the unions to undertake discussions, not the other way around, and they could have walked away from the table at any time as they did last year and three years ago.

The most foolish part of all this is the parameters of the fight - if the Governor prevails in his point of view that negotiations are finished (highly unlikely since no bargaining unit that rejected this settlement ever made any proposals to the State), the Labor Board will send the parties to conciliation as the next step after negotiations under the law (where the parties take all unresolved issues before a neutral party.) I understand the first hearing will be sometime after Labor Day. If, instead, the Governor started negotiating the day Council 94 rejected the agreement, he could move to conciliation 30 days after that process commenced.

Cooler heads will eventually prevail and this will be worked out, sooner or later.

And, by the way, if this was a stall tactic, why have more than half the workers agreed to the settlement?


(By the way, I have decided to ignore cowardly George Elbow since he is, after all, a fictional character, and a badly written one at that. Perhaps someday he might have the courage to both be truthful and to post under his real name, but then he would have to be accountable for both his lies and his hatred. )

Posted by: Bob Walsh at August 2, 2008 1:23 AM


Don't you see that "You do not understand the process"?

Guess that means that you need to remain silent like a good little taxpayer, and give your local union overlords everything they want.

The "process" has largely been controlled by the unions for far too long, which is why it is necessary to be creative. As for the "state labor relations board," they aren't worried about that for a good reason. As for any court action, and appeals, it will take too long to be relevant to the current fiscal situation. By that time, they will have gotten what they want through a new contract, or laid off enough people to make up the cost savings.

By the way, anyone familiar with the Latin legal term "de facto" ... as in "de facto negotiations"?

PS Bob, maybe they'll "go back to the negotiating table," once you concede that you were at it to begin with.

Posted by: Will at August 2, 2008 2:22 AM


What strikes me most about your comments both here and elsewhere is that they are laced with something I can't recall seeing in any union leadership discussing any contract situation previously and that is circumspection.

Most of the time, I hear rants about how the Governor is horrible, the people will not be denied, blah, blah, blah. But, to hear you say that this was the best solution possible and instead most members rejected the proposal is a new thing for me to see within the union quagmire (IMO) here in RI.

And it makes me ask myself one question: do the members of Council 94 truly understand the state's economic crisis and if like you, the other union leaders at the negotiating table agreed with this proposal, why was Council 94 leadership unable to get its membership to agree to the new contract?

Posted by: donroach at August 2, 2008 6:11 AM

Well, ah may not unnerstand the intrekacies of yer fancy negotiations, but it seems to me, as a practical matter, that once y'all voted to send the proposal to the unions, you acknowledged its validity as a negotiated document.

And, by the way, if this was a stall tactic, why have more than half the workers agreed to the settlement?

You're in a better position to answer this than I am. We were through the previous fiscal year by the time the votes took place, no? If you'd gotten into negotiations before that, as I understand your previous writing, the previous contracts might have been on the table (for furlough days, etc.) So you stalled official "negotiations" successfully beyond that window.

And now the lopsided nature of the Council 94 vote makes me wonder if it isn't part of a strategy to stall through the elections, so you can push the GA to raise taxes.

Or maybe y'all respect the democracy of your organizations enough to stall as much as you can and then put it in the hands of your people. Or maybe it serves your legal/strategic cause better to add the layer of confusion that comes with different unions voting differently.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 2, 2008 6:54 AM

When I worked for NY State from 1971-76 there was a health plan that had two options-prepaid by the state(HIP)which was a precursor to the HMO movement-it still exists.The other was GHI,a more typical Blue Cross type plan with a premium and copays.I chose the latter,so I could go to any doctor-HIP assigned doctors.I don't know the status of the plans today.
In the Federal government where I spent 21 years,there was a multitude of competing plans,both national and regional.Because the Federal government is such a big employer they can negotiate favorable rates and the employee can pay normal or high premiums depending on what they need,but the contribution of the employee has always been a substantial percentage of the premium,and is the same for retirees-even worse,because Federal active employees have their premiums deducted from their taxable income,while retirees,who make much less,obviously have their premiums counted as taxable income.
Maybe the stste and the unions could stop the head butting for 2 minutes and take on the health insurers-make them compete with plans of varying levels and expense.the state is big enough of an emplyer to use a big stick with the insurers and prevent a monopoly that costs the public too much money.
This is not an area where I have much knowledge so if I am all wet here please correct me.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 2, 2008 9:59 AM

Typical Bob Walsh gibberish.

When you don’t agree with his Entitlement-minded Union garbage, his standard non-response is “You do not understand.”

We understand plenty, Bob.

We understand that you and your Entitlement-minded Union flock could care less about real world realities or the greater good of the state. We understand that you and your flock of cowards fear the Free Market like a mouse fears a cat. We also understand that the party not only has to come to an end, but, despite your best efforts, it is finally coming to an end.

Bob Walsh should be ashamed and embarrassed at the nut-bag “process” he describes relative to employing people in this State. One can’t help but shake their heads and say “no wonder RI is on the verge of Bankruptcy”.

Bob whines that it was the “administration that wanted an attempt to resolve all contracts at once, not the unions.” That says it all, Bob. What the hell is wrong with resolving all this garbage at once? What’s to be gained by dragging it out?

Bob, how about we have a process as simple as:

1) State identifies job positions, along with qualifications of each position (presumably, this has already been done)
2) State decides the pay and benefits it CAN AFFORD to pay for each of those job positions (presumably this has already been done)
3) State hangs a “help-wanted” sign
4) Prospective employees, knowing what is being offered for pay and benefits, freely decide whether to apply for job
5) State hires the most qualified applicant (have a 3 member hiring team to decide which applicants should be hired, using perhaps a lottery (i.e. pick a name out of a hat) for those positions where there are many qualified applicants.
6) Employees show up to work the hours they are paid to work and do the job they chose to take with the pay and benefits package that the employer can afford to pay, NO contract relative to pay and benefits. Don't like the pay, quit.

How about a straight forward process like that Bob?

Sure, it probably means that things will get done more efficiently and the employees would be subject to the forces of the Free Market. And yes it will mean that your Socialist services will no longer be needed, along with the services of a small army of “lawyers”, but heck, your flock will at least be able to have some pride in not being whiny infant-like dependents of the Union.

PS – still looking forward to you telling us exactly what you saved thousands of RI jobs from (e.g. Taxpayer’s ability to pay, Taxpayer’s desire to reduce costs…), as well as what I’ve “lied” about.

PSS – Bob, since your flock gets to democratically vote on any agreement reached by the Union’s “leadership” via discussions / negotiations, is it fair to assume that you would support legislation that would require voter (Taxpayer) approval of ALL “labor” contracts?

Posted by: George Elbow at August 2, 2008 10:14 AM

Sorry George. Bob only answers questions from people who's real name he knows so he can get his investigator friends to look up all there is to know about you so he can send his sloped-brow thug Ducky to slash your tires and scare your kids.

Just ask about how Bob tried to pressure Justin into giving Bob my ID details so he could do just that....

Posted by: Greg at August 2, 2008 10:29 AM

You are not all wet in your observations / ideas.

What you are suggesting is correct, in that you want to force competition. In other words, you want to employ the principals and forces of the Free Market ...which you know goes against everything the Unions believe in.

Despite the Union's anti-Free Market view, what you are suggesting should absolutely be done.

But it must be coupled with those creating the "demand" paying their fair share.

Currently, we are subsidizing those creating the demand. That is, RI state employees are currently paying so little for their healthcare, there is no incentive for them to push back on the high cost of providers.

The rest of us are left carrying these non-paying leeches on our backs.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 2, 2008 10:30 AM

Don't forget.. Bob Walsh was also a vocal opponent of the voter initiative amendment, which further concentrated power in the statehouse bosses.

Posted by: Citizen Critic at August 2, 2008 11:50 AM

Common Cause has always opposed voter initiative-under Phil West I detected an elitist "we know what's best for you"attitude which is being carried on by this new young woman from Amherst(!)-her name escapes me,who has never had a real world job-all policy-wonk stuff.Anyone who thinks Common Cause is on the level is in for a surprise.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 2, 2008 12:29 PM

Yes, Phil West sold out on VI as well. For a while, it appeared that he wanted to be the uber lobbyist for all issues in the state. Then his star faded, and he retired or was forced out.

Posted by: Citizen Critic at August 2, 2008 12:35 PM


I think the uniqueness factor is that you are seeing these issues discussed publicly at all, due to the highly unusual circumstances this time. External factors always have to be part of the consideration when negotiating in the public or private sector - or, for that matter, when you are purchasing a home or a car.

Philosophically, we are generally opposed to any premium sharing as we believe that health care coverage should be a condition of employment (at least until the government gets into the act). That stance was not controversial before health care costs inflated so rapidly. (Side note to Joe B. - a decade or so ago state employees had a choice of five different health plans - Blue Cross Health Mate was the "standard plan", and employees could choose United or one other (Harvard?, I think) similarly structured plan, or buy up to Blue Cross Classic or get money back by choosing Blue Chip. Blue Cross' competitors left the market - United has since returned but demanded an exclusive deal when they bid for the state business (as did Blue Cross))

While the philosophy has not changed, times have changed, and we are dealing with that painful transition while trying our best to protect all workers, especially the lowest paid workers for whom the impact is particularly deep.

Perhaps the AR crowd will appreciate a military analogy - I saw two basic paths to get my troops off the battlefield -1) just about everyone gets wounded, but everyone comes home and eventually recovers, and the wounds while painful would be much less serious than originally proposed (the settlement agreement I supported); or 2) an uncharted path where the battle would continue and some would likely die (in employment terms, lose their jobs), and some as yet unused weapons could be used making the wounds even deeper and the recovery period longer for a majority of our members (everyone pays the same % for health care, regardless of income). Tough economic times lead to lousy choices, and while Justin is correct when he references my support for changes in the state's tax structure, my analysis is that those will actually occur but the funds will go to offsetting even deeper budgetary problems that the state will be experiencing very soon.

Finally, I don't think that most folks in general (union or not) are specifically aware of just how tough the state's short term financial outlook really is. As far as the local unions that voted against the settlement agreement, including some NEARI locals, there were several reasons at play, including anger and frustration at the entire situation (and some at me, by the way); a desire to bargain other issues; and of course, the hope that a better outcome could be achieved. Folks here keep looking for hidden meaning or conspiracy theories, but the process is democratic, and a majority in those groups that voted no probably did so because the opted not to inflict pain upon themselves in the the hope that the uncharted path would lead to a better outcome.

As far as some of the other issues raised in other posts, I think that unfolding events will better serve to underscore the points I made in the earlier post. I do understand that a lot of folks on AR don't like unions, don't like me, and/or don't believe me, so the proof of the "discussions versus negotiations" debate will have to come from the outside. But, unlike everyone who has weighed into this debate so far, I was actually there.


Posted by: Bob Walsh at August 2, 2008 2:36 PM


People like Tom "Giving Selflessly" Kenney and Bob Walsh, when confronted with their own words, tortured logic and hypocritical / contradictory views (e.g. Union membership gets to Vote yea or nay on negotiated agreements, but they'd fight tooth and nail to allow the Taxpayers footing the bill to vote on the same agreements; or not whining about anonymous posters who agree with them like EMT, who anonymously takes nasty shots at the Mayor of Prov.), ALWAYS try to wiggle out of the questions on the substantive issues.

Their's is a sign of weak intellect.

Being unable to address the issues raised in a credible manner, they quickly try to hide behind objections to whom raised the question and the manner in which they were raised (e.g. objecting to the "Tone" in which the question was asked).

Not to worry. Thanks to their persistant ineptness, the public is finally waking up to the mess they have created with their Entitlement-minded nanny-state policies.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 2, 2008 2:52 PM


You pretend the cost of health-care increased just recently. That is BS.

HC costs have been high for a very long time and your flock has shamelessly been getting a free ride on the back of the taxpayers for too long.

The negative impact of the combination of costly healthcare combined with little to no cost sharing by the employees has been masked by such things as your Union’s wholly owned subsidiary, the GA, taking credit from non-recurring items like the tobacco settlement.

And where is your public voice in educating the masses about “just how tough the state's short term financial outlook really is”?

Your efforts over the years in creating an Entitlement-minded flock has contributed greatly to the mess we are in. Where is your voice now in explaining that the game needs to change, that Union employees need to start contributing in ALL areas …healthcare, Pensions, salary increases, etc. ...that we can no longer afford Entitlements.

To use your buying a car analogy: imagine going to the local car dealer and when the dealer doesn’t like what you are willing to pay for the car, he takes you to court and tries to force you to pay whatever nutty price he demands? Worse, he goes to court and blocks you from going to another dealership? That, Bob, is the “process” you have created, which in turn has put the state on the edge of bankruptcy.

And yes, “you were there” …you were there all the way leading up to this mess. You must be very proud of yourself.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 2, 2008 3:12 PM

This is why union members shouldn't be allowed to vote on contracts in the first place. If they can't trust their leadership to negotiate (or whatever they want to call it) a decent agreement, they should get new leadership. That's what they expect citizens to do. As it is, the government can negotiate in good faith for months only to have the result rejected out of hand with no explanation. Anyone who isn't in the room sitting at the table shouldn't have a vote.

Posted by: Mario at August 2, 2008 3:18 PM

How about something as simple as NO contract?

I'm pretty sure it could be done, as the ONLY people I know who get up and go to "work" in the morning with a contract are Public employees.

I put the quotes around the word WORK in honor of people like PFD Union Pwesident, Lazy-ass Pauly "No Show" Doughty, who failed to work for 3+ years despite being paid to by the taxpayers.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 2, 2008 5:53 PM

I have for years proposed an interim alleviation measure for health care costs-and no one wants to listen to it(make that no politicians)-here it is(remember-not a permanent fix):allow ALL legitimate health care costs,medical,dental,and drug, as well as health care premiums to be treated as an adjustment to income on a tax return,much like a moving expense.Vanity plastic surgery would be excluded.This would extend tax savings to the people with the greatest medical costs,and would not pit rich against blue collar because an adjustment to income,unlike an itemized decuction,is not subject to percentage threshold limitations,nor does it require itemization at all-so a taxpayer could receive this benefit with a short form 1040(ok,not an EZ,but if you need the benefit use the short 1040)-and there is no bureaucracy needed to implement this.The taxpayer just needs to keep good records.The sickest benefit the most.The tax savings can be used to pay premiums and deductibles.I know politicians hate anything that denies them revenue,but in this case,they wouldn't make nearly as good a use of it.This is not a liberal or conservative idea-I just think it makes sense.Anyone think not?I would sincerely be interested in your answers.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 2, 2008 6:59 PM

On the one hand, anything that reduces the amount of taxes collected by the gov't is a good thing.

On the other hand, your plan, like the home mortgage interest deduction, is a gov't subsidy and therefore inflationary.

The issue we face currently in RI with respect to Council 94 and the other Unions is that the employees are getting a near free ride, so they ultimately could care less (and in fact have no clue) what health care costs.

Once they start appropriately sharing in the cost, they will be incented to help reign the costs in.

But as long as they are subsidized, the Free Market will not work its magic.

In conclusion, I would be against your plan, since it is essentially another subsidy.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 2, 2008 8:56 PM

I'm not sure how it is a subsidy any more than moving expenses are.The taxpayer already earned the money-letting the taxpayer keep more of what he/she earned is not a subsidy.My attitude is to keep government tax grabbers away from as much income as possible.
This idea is put forth with regard to Federal taxes obviously,but would also limit state tax liability.
It was really not that applicable to this thread except we got onto the subject of health care costs.
You know,George,when they let people deduct gambling losses,I don't see a problem with my idea.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 2, 2008 9:53 PM

I'm with you on reducing taxes / limiting what the Gov't confiscates.

But let's do that by lowering accross the board rates and reigning in the run away spending.

Whenever you have targeted tax breaks, you are creating a subsidy, which in turn is inflationary.

Why should I pay less taxes than someone else who works just as hard as I do, who makes the same pay as I do, but unlike my neighbor, I go out and buy all kinds of health care insurance (that I may or may not need). Under your scenario, I get a deduction on my taxes, but my neighbor who doesn't buy all that healthcare insurance, but instead buys cars (and contributes to the economy) doesn't get a tax break??

JB, subsidies / welfare never works.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 2, 2008 10:08 PM

Philosophically, we are generally opposed to any premium sharing as we believe that health care coverage should be a condition of employment (at least until the government gets into the act).

This statement right out of the Communist Manifesto. Bob Walsh wants the few (the union leaders) to dictate to the many (businesses, government and laborers) what the masses will work and make for a living. All the while paying themselves fat salaries, far above what the average worker will receive. Hell,
I'd fight tooth and nail to continue the status quo if I were Mr. Walsh. What Mr. Walsh fails to explain is that the "sharing" of their premiums falls not on "Government" but on you and I the supporters of this governmental system. Translation: the productive sector, those who receive less from the government than what they pay in taxes.

Posted by: bobc at August 2, 2008 10:21 PM

George-they aren't about to lower tax rates-even if they don't raise them,they get you with fees,fines,etc-they still grab your money.
Cicilline is trying to impose a "garbage tax" in Providence by mandating special garbage bags(probably sold by a relative of his)(half kidding)and giving ONE bag per household per week free.Cicilline's lifestyle pretty much rules out a housfeul of kids,so how does he understand what he will be doing to this city's productive people.The bums will just throw their trash in other people's bins and never pay a fine anyway.Let's see how many folks get shot or stabbed over dumping in other people's bins.I am sure Esserman will pay for all his bags.Just about when I replace Ortiz as the designated hitter.Government is sneaky at all levels.My plan is a stopgap.Anyway we're throwing out ideas here,so I like the debate.
If they ever toss out the mortgage interest deduction,I'll just pay off my house and the bank won't make sh*t.I took the foresight not to buy in over my head.People who did are just SOL.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 2, 2008 11:22 PM
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