September 1, 2011

Using the Legislature to Increase Union Leverage

Justin Katz

Senator Frank Ciccone, who was a leading voice for legislation to generate some monopoly business for a particular media purchase agent and who makes $161,168 working for the Laborers' State Council, wants to provide micromanagement-level oversight of quasi-public entities:

In a letter that went out to the top administrators of these agencies on Aug. 25, Ciccone posed a series of questions, such as this: Does the agency give bonuses to any of its employees? Does it pay overtime?

Does it provide any form of compensation to its board members, including "travel, lodging, meals, training and, or education and if so, please provide a list of all compensation and/or reimbursement that board members received in FY 2011?"

Does the agency make "charitable and non-charitable contributions" and, if so, did its "employees or board members receive any benefits from [these] contributions, such as tickets, meals or golfing?"

Each letter also asks the administrator of each agency to "please list all gifts, benefits or other compensation that vendors or consultants gave to employees or board members in FY 2011."

That looks to me like an information-gathering effort for his union employer and its other allies in labor. Just another indication of why it doesn't have to be illegal to be corruption in Rhode Island.

It occurs to me, incidentally, that public-sector unions are essentially quasi-public entities, inasmuch as they collect their revenue directly from government revenue and conduct their activities with in and for the purpose of government operations. Surely, they should be receiving bullying letters and demands from legislative boards, especially considering the recent antics of executives in the National Education Association Rhode Island.

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Your first day working for the Federal government can be a little intimidating. It starts with the usual, coming in an hour early to meet with an HR manager and filling out all the mundane tax and benefits information. At the end of this meeting, they tell you that your "union representative" is on her way to meet you. A bitter-looking 40-something woman walks in and shakes your hand without smiling. You introduce yourself politely, start making conversation. "Not here. Let's go to the cafeteria so we can talk in private." You get in the elevator with her. "I've been working for the Agency for 5 years. We're going to talk to you about your *rights*. The managers here will do everything they can to take away your rights that the union has fought for." You walk into the cafeteria together. She leads you to a table against the far wall, isolated from all the others. "This Agency has some of the worst management I've ever seen. They take everything for themselves. They'll fire you like nothing. You need the union to protect you or you won't last. Legally, we don't have to defend you if you don't pay dues, so you'll go straight to the back of the line. We're very, very good at what we do." She puts a form and a pen in front of you. You ask her some questions. She doesn't like questions, she wants you to *sign*. Maybe you didn't HEAR her right... you would have to be crazy not to join with all the union does. "Besides, if you believe in karma, you don't want to be a *freeloader*, do you?" You politely decline. "I'm very, very disappointed to hear that." She takes you on the long walk back to HR without saying a word.

The rest of the day rolls along. You meet some of the managers who seem like nice, reasonable people. They warmly welcome you and tell you how happy they are you chose to join, how they need someone with your skills and experience. If you need anything at all, let them know. You meet your supervisor, really nice lady. She looks forward to working with you, she says with a big smile. She shows you to your desk and lets you settle in for the rest of the day. Hmm, something's strange here. Maybe it's not as bad as the union representative said? A couple of coworkers come by to chitchat and welcome you aboard. As you're checking your first batch of e-mails, a couple hours later, you get "the visit." A couple of morbidly obese 60-something men with scowls on their faces and New York-Jersey accents stop by your desk to "welcome" you. "Did you meet with your union representative?" You tell them that you did. "Did you join?" No, you tell them. "Another freeloader. That's disappointing. How are we ever going to keep our rights if these new kids won't join us? You know you're going to be the first one fired, right? The management here doesn't care about you. Well, don't expect anyone here to help you when you need it." They tell you they'll stop by "sometime later" to see if you've changed your mind. And they do. Every month thereafter.

Posted by: Dan at September 1, 2011 8:26 AM

One thing on which I'm not entirely clear is what percent of paid worktime Federal union members are permitted to spend on union activities. The reasonable policy would be zero, but I know they have certain manufactured "rights" in that regard. It seems like many members do little else, always at some union meeting, or event, or putting up posters and Local X stickers everywhere. Your tax dollars at work. The stickers are a real problem because they destroy the paint on the walls and the legitimate papers and work notices on which the union members stick them.

Posted by: Dan at September 1, 2011 8:56 AM
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