March 22, 2011

At Least It's Being Considered

Justin Katz

The legislation has so little chance of coming anywhere close to enactment that proposing it is mainly theatrics, but it's definitely a show worth performing, if only to remind people that the process exists to make it happen:

[The bill by Rep. Joe Trillo (R, Warwick)] would rewrite the rulebook on negotiations with public-employee unions, limiting contracts to one year, limiting talks to the issue of wages, making all contract provisions "null and void" when a contract expires and requiring city or town council approval of contracts negotiated by school committees.

The bill would also end payments for unused sick time, bar unions from deducting dues from members' wages, require an employee to work at least 30 hours a week to receive health care and retirement benefits and put all new hires into a 401(k)-style defined-contribution retirement system, like those common in the public sector.

Labor's choke-hold on Rhode Island has to be loosened, but for any catalyst to have a chance, it will have to be much more subtle. Of course, that means that, even if enacted, it would be much too slow.

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The only things I would change are

1. remove the 1-year limit on contracts. That's too short a time to see if negotiated results have a positive effect.

2. remove the restriction on the range of bargainable items. Free parties should be able to negotiate all aspects of their relationship.

I would add right-to-work/right-to-hire provisions to break the statutory "closed-shop" monopoly.

Posted by: BobN at March 22, 2011 9:52 AM

I often wonder if something like Wisconsin could ever happen here. Obviously we would need a Republican majority.
2012 would be the best chance to take advantage of this national momentum.

I put the likelihood at 30%.

Posted by: Bob at March 22, 2011 12:14 PM

I don't think Trillo understands the impact of one year contracts on the legal line item. Not only do three year contracts cost less in lawyers fees but it also frees up negotiator time to address other issues. The latter is more important in smaller communities. The former will matter in all communities. In some instances, in the end it would be cheaper just pay what their asking.

Posted by: Max Diesel at March 22, 2011 12:52 PM

Bob, if you are talking about the chances of something politically positive happening in Rhode Island, the odds are always 0%. I hoped for the 25 years I lived there and things just got worse, and worse, and worse... you'll die before change comes to Rhode Island.

All these limitations on negotiations are like trying to treat a bacterial infection with supplements, rest, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. The patient needs antibiotics or it will die. Right to work is the medicine that half the states have already taken to cure their labor diseases. All you have to do is look at a per capita budget deficit map to see that financial health corresponds almost perfectly to the right to work legislation. Public unions are not natural entities - they are created by law and granted workforce monopolies by law. Break the monopolies and you break their corrupt strangleholds - they turn back into reasonable organizations at that point. We still have public unions in Virgina, but they have basically become a non-issue thanks to right to work. Everyone's happy with that result except the Pat Crowleys of the world, so it's the ideal resolution of the problem.

Posted by: Dan at March 22, 2011 5:06 PM

Right, Dan. BTW for the Crowleys and other union thugs of RI: I am no anti-union. I think the right to form a union is guaranteed by the First Amendment. I also think that the employer's right to refuse to deal with a union and hire other people is also guaranteed by the Constitution. I just want unions to be subject to the same competitive market discipline as businesses are. I am anti-legislated-special-monopoly-privileges-for-unions.

Posted by: BobN at March 22, 2011 7:01 PM

I put the likelihood at 30%.
Posted by Bob at March 22, 2011 12:14 PM

LOL. I put the likelihood at zero point zero.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at March 22, 2011 7:59 PM

Bob and Max,

The reason I would support one-year contracts is because I think it is bad practice to let governments make any substantial financial promises that extend beyond the immediate appropriations horizon, lest the principle that the elected representatives of the people make the final decision each year on how much govenrment will spend begin be lost to an idea that elected governments can compelled by some higher power that they cannot control to raise taxes to pay for spending.

I understand that much of the reality of this needs to be resolved through the political process, with the ultimate answer being the election of representatives who are not fiscally insane, but I believe that the principle that requiring legislatures (defined to include city and town councils) the right to exercise their independent judgment on how much to spend during each appropriations cycle is one that needs protecting.

Also, I believe that requiring up-front that contracts with government unions be consistent with appropriations law is a better way to fully protect both the sanctity of contracts and fiscal democracy, than is subordinating the appropriations process to contractual provisions -- especially in a state where Donald Lally is a legislator.

Posted by: Andrew at March 22, 2011 8:37 PM

" especially in a state where Donald Lally is a legislator."

Thank you!

Posted by: Monique at March 22, 2011 10:29 PM

I will contact Joe if this will involve town councils and school committees in regional school districts. At present town councils such as mine has NO institutional authority to give approval to even the bottom line of school budgets like single municipality city and town councils have on their school budgets.
Scott Bill Hirst
Member, Hopkinton Town Council

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at March 23, 2011 6:22 PM
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