Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gov. Walker and Charlie Sykes on Public Unions

Last week Monday, Governor Walker's office released what it felt were some of the biggest grievances to be laid against the public sector unions and their collective bargaining agreements. The following day, Charlie Sykes read them aloud on his radio program, and his songbirds called in to reaffirm his position. I wanted to go back, listen to his podcast, write out the list he read and then go over it item by item, but fortunately, the overconfident fool saved me the trouble, and listed them on his blog. So, for the benefit of all, let me detail what Walker, and by extension, Charlie, feel are the problems with public sector unions. As I list them, one by one, I'll shoot them down! Observe:

1. No volunteer crossing guards.

A Wausau public employee union filed a grievance to prohibit a local volunteer from serving as a school crossing guard. The 86-year-old lives just two blocks away and serves everyday free of charge.

Principal Steve Miller says, "He said, you know, this gives me a reason to get up in the morning to come and help these kids in the neighborhood."

But for a local union that represents crossing guards, it isn't that simple. Representatives didn't want to go on camera but say if a crossing guard is needed, then one should be officially hired by the city.

Source: WAOW-TV, 1/27/10

Sounds horrible, right? What sort of waste of taxpayer money is it to turn down a free crossing guard? And what sort of union would block saving taxpayer money?

Time out. Just who would this volunteer crossing guard be accountable to? No one, because he's volunteering. Who would be this crossing guard's supervisor? Nobody, he's a volunteer. If he screws up and gets a kid killed, can the family sue the city? No, because he's a fucking volunteer!

In short, the money the union demanded doubled as accountability protection and assurance for the city. AND, it kept the city from being dumb enough to dump a hard-working employee for nothing. That's money well spent!

Just imagine how you'd feel if some washed-up retiree offered to do your job for free, and you got the ax. Would you think that was fair?

Here's another:

$6,000 extra for carrying a pager.

Some state employees, due to the nature of their positions, are required to carry pagers during off-duty hours in order to respond to emergency situations. Due to the collective bargaining agreements, these employees are compensated an extra five hours of pay each week, whether they are paged or not.

For an employee earning an average salary of $50,000 per year, this requirement can cost more than $6,000 in additional compensation.

Source: 2008-09 Agreement between the State of Wisconsin and AFSCME Council 24

Okay, here's the reality of an emergency-responder. If you are required to carry a pager and be called in to work, you need to prioritize that possibility. Can you go out drinking? No. Can you babysit for your sister? No, because you might have to leave on a moment's notice. Can you do anything without planning for the possibility that you might have to drop it and run? NO! That's why that extra $6,000 is EARNED, EARNED, EARNED!

And some Republican hacks want to take this hard-worker and tell them that they shouldn't get paid for their work, and that their vigilance should not be funded. If you were the nurse, doctor, or EMT who was being told this, wouldn't you feel like there was little point to carrying that pager? Wouldn't you want that politician to spend a week doing your job before he claimed he knew what he was doing when he cut your pay?

How about this, isn't cutting this earned benefit no different than a TAX INCREASE?! Indeed! It's the same thing!

So much for fiscal responsibility! (You call these Republicans?)
Here's another:

Arbitrator reinstates porn-watching teacher.

A Cedarburg school teacher was reinstated by an arbitrator after being fired for viewing pornography on a school computer. The school district ultimately succeeded in terminating the teacher only after taking the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court at great cost to the taxpayers.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/23/08

And who was the arbitrator? The newspaper accounts do not say. But it was someone other than the school board and the teachers' union, or else the arbitrator would have had a conflict of interest. Hence, the ruling cost taxpayer money, not because of the union, or the collective bargaining agreement, but because the school board really, really wanted this guy's head, and was willing to pay YOUR tax dollars to get it.

Many conservatives would call this money well spent. I, for one, think it was stupid for this guy to be looking at porn on a school computer, but I also think that condemnation of porn is overblown. The evil of porn lies not in the fact that we see it, or even that we men jerk off to it. The evil lies in the fact that we ostracize it, leaving the women who star in it to be exploited by thugs. Our puritanism results in the suffering of the women we idolize. I call Bullshit!

I'm not afraid to say it: The arbitrator was right! Every boy in that school will find where his daddy's hiding his Playboy and Hustler magazines at some point, and will show them to his buddies on some hot, summer night in a backyard tent, or some other hidden venue. In short, this teacher did not expose kids to anything they wouldn't have found on their own anyway. It's a rite of passage for teenagers. This teacher was an idiot, but did not commit an offense that warranted being fired.

But oh, yeah, Walker is a puritan. That's probably why he doesn't see clearly on this one.

Here's another:

Milwaukee Public Schools teacher Megan Sampson was laid off less than one week after being named Outstanding First Year Teacher by the Wisconsin Council of English Teachers. She lost her job because the collective bargaining agreement requires layoffs to be made based on seniority rather than merit.

Informed that her union had rejected a lower-cost health care plan, that still would have required zero contribution from teachers, Sampson said, “Given the opportunity, of course I would switch to a different plan to save my job, or the jobs of 10 other teachers.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/14/10

Fair's fair: An outstanding teacher should not be let go for less competent senior personnel. That's why collective bargaining needed to be reformed on this point. But one does not throw the baby out with the bathwater!

The whole story is this: 1. Megan Sampson was an English teacher. The fact that she was good made little difference that she was in a relatively low-demand position. Were she math or science, she would never have been let go.

And 2. Megan Sampson was immediately recalled from being let go the instant additional funds were made available for MPS. She refused to come back, and instead started teaching at Tosa East, where she remains to this day. Okay, she rightly felt slighted, but her job was not, technically, lost. The crisis happened over the summer of 2008, and if she'd wanted it, she'd be the one with seniority today.

Here's another:

Union Opposes Cost-Saving Lawn Mowing Program

As a cost cutting measure, Racine County began using county inmates to cut the grass in medians and right-of-ways at no cost to the taxpayers. A county employee union filed a grievance indicating it was the right of government workers to cut the grass, even though it would cost the taxpayers dramatically more.

Source: Racine Journal Times, 5/12/10

Okay, am I the only one uncomfortable with the idea of putting prison inmates in close proximity to gasoline and whirring-bladed fucking machines?! I'D sure pay more to keep inmates clear of those things! Low-risk inmates or not, I gotta say that if we want to save ourselves some money with inmates, it should begin with not jailing marijuana dealers and saving all that wasted cash! In the meantime, I don't mind the idea of chain-gangs cleaning up our parks. Hell, I'm all in favor of it! But unhooking that chain, then putting the inmate on a lawn tractor in the middle of a median divide, where the inmate is only one sterring-wheel-swerve away from car-jacking his way to freedom, well, all I can say is... BULLSHIT!

Again, I have to ask how you'd feel if your private employer colluded with the local prison (which is also likely a private enterprise, these days), to have your job replaced with some criminal who will work for free. Would you feel that's just a bit fucked up?

If you're gonna tell some poor guy he's out of a job, you'd better have a better reason for it than giving a prisoner the means of escape.

(Notice we didn't even need to get to the subject of unions on that one?)

Want another? Here you go:

A Year's Worth Of Pay For 30 Days Work.

Under the Green Bay School District’s collectively bargained Emeritus Program, teachers can retire and receive a year’s worth of salary for working only 30 days over a three year period. This is paid in addition to their already guaranteed pension and health care payouts.

Source: WLUK-TV, 3/3/11

Here's the real-world, free-market reality about teachers. They're NOT overpaid! For teachers, especially in science and math, who have masters degrees, their pay is considerably lower than those in the free market with similar education levels. Why? Because businesses are willing to pay a whole hell of a lot more for a mathematician or a science professional than schools are for such a person to teach kids. With English or History, private-college professorships pay considerably more for the same level of education. So how can a public school afford to make up the difference? To lure people into giving up that difference between free-market and public service, it is necessary to give a little extra perquisite to those who dedicate their lives to educating the poor. Without that extra incentive to reach retirement, one of two things are bound to happen: 1.) Teachers will leave to chase a bigger, fatter paycheck with a private company. Or 2.) People will not leave the private sector to become teachers in the first place -- the pay is simply too low for the kind of shit teachers have to deal with.

Cut the perquisites, the teachers leave, our kids go under-educated. That's the law of supply and demand, which, I can only assume, Republicans are supposed to give a damn about.

There's more:

The $150,000 Bus Driver.

In 2009, the City of Madison’s highest paid employee was a bus driver who earned $159,258, including $109,892 in overtime, guaranteed by a collective bargaining agreement. In total, seven City of Madison bus drivers made more than $100,000 per year in 2009.

"That's the (drivers') contract," said Transit and Parking Commission Chairman Gary Poulson.

Source: Wisconsin State Journal, 2/7/10

Let's do the math: $159,258 minus the $109,892 in overtime means this bus driver gets a little more than $50,000 per year. That's a fair wage for a CDL driver with experience. It's a little less than city bus drivers make. Over the road truckers make anywhere between $45,00o and $65,000 depending on experience and clean driving record. First year truck drivers are almost guaranteed to make $40,000 in their first year. But none of these have to deal with sniveling kids.

Okay, so why the extra cash for this guy? Overtime is time and a half, minimum, we know this. Let's be extra generous and speculate that union benefits negotiated double-pay for overtime. That's a pretty hefty sum for our hypothesis! But even with that, since this guy earned overtime totaling almost twice his actual wage, he had to have been working over 80 hours per week! Jesus Christ! As a school bus driver, that kind of non-stop working can mean only one thing:

Nobody is getting hired to drive school buses in Madison.

And why might that be? Could it be that nobody wants to drive buses in Madison for $50K per year? Indeed it does! The free market has spoken, and drivers with a CDL, who could earn $75K on the open road, and not have to put up with school brats and their shit, will do so. Nobody wants to drive a school bus when they could be making so much more. UNLESS, there is a union contract negotiating better overtime pay.

Again, politicians try to mess with the laws of supply and demand. You'd think these weren't Republicans!

This just goes on and on. Here's another one:

$150,000 Correctional Officers.

Correctional Officer collective bargaining agreements allow officers a practice known as “sick leave stacking.” Officers can call in sick for a shift, receiving 8 hours of sick pay, and then are allowed to work the very next shift, earning time-and-a-half for overtime. This results in the officer receiving 2.5 times his or her rate of pay, while still only working 8 hours.

In part because of these practices, 13 correctional officers made more than $100,000 in 2009, despite earning base wages of less than $60,000 per year. The officers received an average of $66,000 in overtime pay for an average annual salary of more than $123,000 with the highest paid receiving $151,181.

Source: Department of Corrections

I shouldn't have to keep harping on the legalization of cannabis requiring not only far fewer inmates, but far fewer guards to watch over them, but there you are.

Only thirteen officers? I'm surprised it's that low.

Pop quiz: What would it take to lure you into a career as a prison guard, potentially getting attacked by some of the most violent motherfuckers at any given moment? $60,000 per year? Nah, me neither. Talk $80,000 and maybe I'm interested. And that's me, who happens to be wallowing in student-level poverty, seriously contemplating selling blood for beer money at age 40. What must the free market demand?

Obviously, more than the public sector is willing to pay. Which makes for a problem if we want guards to staff our criminal training camp. Oops! I meant to say, prison.

But there's more besides. This benefit is in place in case a prison guard really does get sick, and then has to come in anyway- which does sometimes happen. This poor guard, sniffling, aching, surviving on TheraFlu while guarding people who want him dead, has EARNED that money! Now some numbskulled politician, sitting behind his safe, comfy desk, is going to tell him otherwise? Let me say what that prison guard would say: FUCK YOU!

Here's more:

Paid Time-Off For Union Activities:

In Milwaukee County alone, because the union collectively bargained for paid time off, fourteen employees receive salary and benefits for doing union business. Of the fourteen, three are on full-time release for union business. Milwaukee County spent over $170,000 in salary alone for these employees to only participate in union activities such as collective bargaining.

I find it interesting that this is the first item which doesn't have a citation. I'm also surprised it's only three people full-time. This would be teachers, police, firefighters, bus drivers, even zookeepers. Only three. Wow.

Here's how it works: The union says, "Look, we can negotiate for even more county workers to be able to pay three people full-time, which would be something on the order of a couple hundred workers, or you can pay our three people directly for us, and save money." Those who wanted to save the taxpayers money said, "Okay, it's a deal." Thus, this gentleman's agreement, which looks like a scam at the onset, actually saves the taxpayers hundreds of thousands. Now, if some fool of a slash-and-burn politician comes along and calls this an outrage, it threatens to upset the whole applecart, and cause 1.) a fight and 2.) a sharp increase in the number of union jobs, because you can bet your ass, these three aren't losing their jobs anytime soon!

Okay, again, let's do the math: $170,000 per year divided by fourteen is only a little over $12,000 each. Not chump change, but not overwhelming, either. It's a little more than what you'd get if you worked part-time at McDonald's on weekends. But three are full-time. The other eleven are part-time, and so get a lot less than that. Let's say each of those eleven get only 4,000. That leaves the three full-timers with about $40K per year. About the equivalent of an accounts receivable clerk. Not small, but certainly not huge.

All in all, it's rather a bargain.

There's a few more, but I'm skipping to the best one:

Viagra For Teachers.

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) tried to use a policy established by collective bargaining to obtain health insurance coverage that specifically paid for Viagra. Cost to taxpayers is $786,000 a year.


Okay, time to do the math again.
According to Wikipedia, MPS has 6,100 full and part-time teachers in its employ. How many of them are male? Hard to say for certain. More male gym teachers and more female home economics teachers, I'll wager. But we'll split the difference evenly and call it 50/50. That makes for roughly 3,050 male teachers. If we divide $786K by 3,050, we get a cost per male teacher of about $258 per year.

Fuck, that's IT?

Okay, $786,000 sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But when we're talking about an operating medical benefits budget of something like $87 million (last I saw, that is, estimates vary), $786K just isn't very much by comparison. The lawsuit contended discrimination because the medical benefits still covered female sexual therapies, such as estrogen treatments, progesterone, or vaginal creams. It's a fair argument. However, the lawsuit, in light of recent events, has been dropped, so all this is moot, now.

Just an aside, would you want a sexually frustrated teacher instructing your kid? Me, neither!

Out of all Walker's points, endorsed, paraded, and championed by Charlie Sykes, not one of them really pans out or holds water. I'm surprised they're using these so flippantly -- as though there aren't citizens like me out there checking up on what they're saying.

These detriments overlook the primary benefit of a public employee union. Namely, that it keeps slash-and-burn politicians from making stupid mistakes that harm the public trust. Put it another way, you could save money by not changing your car's oil. That works, short term. But eventually, your engine breaks down.

Public unions make sure the oil gets changed.

Education is the key to our future. Sacrificing the children of tomorrow to pay the deficit of today ensures deficit spending in the next generation, and the generation after that. It's a stupid way to balance a budget!

I've argued all this, I'm not even paid by the union. Maybe I should be!


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