Posts Tagged ‘unions’

I was recently catching up on some reading and was caught by a section in my BusinessWeek called, “What Works in the USA”.  It was compiling stories of best practice from around the nation of where governments have done innovative and thoughtful things to actually improve their communities and save money, time, or provide a needed (emphasis on needed) service.

The one that stood out to me was about Philadelphia’s Savings in Fleet Management.  This short piece documents how the fleet management department eliminated non-emergency vehicles, and instead starting renting from Zipcar.

Under an entrenched system common in many local governments, cars had been assigned to individual employees, who came to view them as their personal wheels. The vehicles often sat idle during the day, even when other workers on city business needed a ride, then went home at night and on weekends.

Faced with a citywide budget crisis in 2004, the Office of Fleet Management (OFM) set up a system under which employees reserve a rental car electronically for official business, specifying the time, date, destination, and official purpose. Cost savings have averaged $1.8 million per year, according to K Wilson of OFM’s budget office, through reduced spending on auto maintenance, fuel, and parking charges. Those costs are now the responsibility of Cambridge (Mass.)-based Zipcar, which took over the contract from a nonprofit in 2008.

I think this is an incredible move by that department.  Governmental agencies are almost always interested in how they can grow their budgets, not reduce them.  And yet, if we are ever to see our governments grow more efficient, this drive for efficiency is almost certainly what we will need to see across the board.  Saving $1.8 million a year is a fantastic start.  Granted that won’t go very far, especially in large metros like Philly.  But it hopefully will breed copycats.

The difficulty I can see similar efforts facing is from unions.  Clearly Philadelphia would have to eliminate many jobs, such as mechanics, fuel pumpers, and other position that catered to caring for that fleet of cars – most likely many of which are unionized.  But it was unnecessary and a waste of resources.

Another thing that came to mind when reading about the program is how they are electronically monitoring mileage and usage of cars still in the fleet.  I’ve read of lawsuits from employees who’s company or government vehicles tracked them at their homes when they were supposed to be working.  So even when you are breaking company policy you still try to get away with it.

We’ll see if there is a trend here – but it is certainly hopeful.  Good on ya, Philly!

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…fun when they are actually doing something cute – but usually just crying, and shitting all over.

Okay, just kidding… unions are never cute.

My long absence from writing was re-awoken this morning upon seeing the picture below in the Wall Street Journal.  The French, if you didn’t know, are embroiled in major strikes because of government proposed changes to the retirement age from 60 to 62 (sacrebleu!).  Gas stations have run dry as refinery workers protest, workers blocked the road to the airport causing travelers to walk on foot (see the sideshow in the above link for more photos of fires, trash, and general mayhem).  And why is the government proposing the age increase?  Because the pension is unfunded and people are living longer and taxes are already stifling the countries economy.  But this would only make sense to the sane – and un-entitled.

I know how to use colors in my sign!

The thing that annoys me most about unions (and this is primarily the ones overseas, because thank goodness ours don’t pull this crap) is how their intent of making everyone suffer until their needs are met is the primary concern.  And this is where the baby comparison comes in.  How does shutting down gas stations that your fellow Frenchmen use help your cause?  Or making people walk to the airport?  Imagine being at a restaurant and someone not getting the salad they ordered and so they take everyone hostage.  It’s infuriating.  And it’s the same thing we witnessed in Greece.  A country is drowning in the ocean, and the people want it to rub suntan lotion on their back while they sleep on their stomachs (bad analogy – or brilliant?).  I’ve never understood how this mentality gathers any support.  Hundreds of subway workers are unhappy so they strand thousands and reduce the productivity of a city to near nothing.  Unions are the only group who’s mob behavior is celebrated – except for the mob that is, with whom Americans are fascinated.

The unions in Europe are worse than America, because they have been bred on a welfare state mentality for far too long.  And that is why I am fiercely anti-union (see here, here, here, here, and here if you don’t believe me).  I don’t want to see our amazing country ever reduced to a spectacle such as this.  Thankfully our unions simply picket and use the same bumper sticker from the 1920’s, rather than set fire to things.  But that day may come – if you don’t discipline the baby, you get a rotten kid.

So what is there for us to do?  Is it possible to protest the protesters?  Well, we have but the government will come around on their side.  We choose to buy from Toyota or other car makers who’s non-union cars are more pleasing and affordable for us – and the government bails out GM.  We put our kids in private school and ask for our tax money back and are laughed at.  We ask for a Walmart in our town, and the city council creates rules about square footage.  At least for the time being we can shop at Trader Joe’s which pays better than union grocers – but, hey that still won’t stop unions from picketing them.

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I want you to ask yourself something that you know intuitively… does competition bring more benefit to the customer or the company?  I know, it’s too easy… the customer.  Competition forces organizations to do one of many options: improve their product, become more efficient and lower their costs, decrease profit margin to attract customers, create new and exciting products.  In all these scenarios the customer wins out.  They either get a highly improved and quality product, or they can receive incredible value for their dollar in the form of low prices.

Now I want you to ask yourself… who is the customer and who is the company when thinking about education?  Obviously, the customers are the students – and indirectly, their parents as well.  And one of the easiest and most convenient ways to bring competition to education is through school vouchers.  The amount of money allotted from our government for each child’s education remains the same as it is now, but instead of the public schools getting the money directly from the government, they get it from the students (read: parents) in the form of a voucher.  So now the student has a choice of where they want to go to school, and all schools are competing for their dollar vouchers.

Who do you think will benefit most from this arrangement?  The students and parents, correct?  So who do you think would be most opposed to it?  Public-funded schools and their teachers, correct?  And it’s true, the teachers unions and school districts are the most vocal opponents of the voucher system.  But I don’t get that.  If you claim to be most concerned about students and learning… wouldn’t you support what’s best for them?

But as is typical with union mentality and protectionist measures, the interests of the few are put ahead of the many.  Competition may mean that your job isn’t as secure (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean that others do things better than you (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean that you don’t get a pension (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean that you work more than 9 months a year (how novel an idea!).  Competition may mean working more hours than you previously worked (again… how novel an idea!).

But guess what?  Competition may mean that good teachers actually get paid more (unbelievable!).  Competition may mean that bad teachers are fired (aghast!).  Competition may mean that some schools will close (never!).  Competition may mean that our education system finally gets on track after years and years of a downward spiral brought on by the elimination of innovative and competitive thoughts and actions by a highly centralized bureaucracy (hope AND change!).

In addition to the competitive forces that vouchers would release… it also would seem to me to be the most fair for taxpayers.  No longer would a parent who sends their child to a private school be paying into their education twice.

Just what was running through my head this morning.

I’d love to hear the thoughts against vouchers, because from where I’m coming from I don’t see them.

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Sounds like an ad on Facebook or something, but it’s actually the theme of a story by the Los Angeles Times about teachers in LA Unified that are “housed” – basically paid to do nothing while charges against them go through the system.

The main portion of the story details disabled teacher Matthew Kim, who gets paid $70,000 a year plus benefits to sit in a room doing crossword puzzles.  How long has this been going on?  Seven years.  Why is he waiting?  Because he has sued the district for firing him, saying it was discrimination because he is disabled.  Why does the district say it is firing him?  Because of his four counts of sexual harassment in one year.  He was only hired by the district after he sued for discrimination when he wasn’t hired by 15 schools.

In the meantime, the district has spent more than $2 million on him in salary and legal costs.

Another disturbing example of unions protecting the bad, along with the good.  But also an example of how bad school districts behave.  Most of Kim’s harassment repots came in his first year, but it wasn’t until he had been there over two years and gained tenure (wow, a whole two years for tenure?) that the district decided to TRY and fire him.

Pathetic on all counts.

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I have tried very hard to not write too often about my continuing disagreements with president Obama, as that was something that annoyed me to death during W’s presidency when he couldn’t sneeze without people hating him for it.  So I have sat on my hands while I daily read stuff that does perk my interest, but that I don’t think deserves a report from me.

But here’s one that I think is both funny and disturbing at the same time.  It has been in the news for a few days that Obama was going to cut $100 million from his budget.  You think, “Wow, he’s really got this deficit in his cross hairs!”  But you would be wrong.  As George Will points out that:

…$100 million, which is about 13 minutes of federal spending, and 0.0029 percent — about a quarter of one-hundredth of 1 percent — of $3.5 trillion.

So now you think, “By Grabthar’s hammer…. what a savings.”  [anyone, anyone?]

How much is a zillion dollars?

How much is a zillion dollars?

Would you agree, that this is laughable and disturbing simultaneously?  It’s probably not even worth the time of the cabinet to find the $100 million to save, since it amounts to so little.  Will goes on to point out that Obama is also going to “save” $15 million by shutting down a program (which is very popular, and considered successful) in Washington, D.C. that was basically a voucher system to get black and hispanic students out of poorly performing public schools.  Will sees this as a direct pandering to teacher unions who hate vouchers, and who donated significantly to Obama’s campaign – and I agree with Will.

I feel like for some reason American’s have lost all perspective about money.  We each can struggle individually with coming up with a few thousand dollars to pay for our lives, and yet shrug off the fact that $100 million has become less than pocket change to our national government.  Isn’t that a sign that we have, 1) allowed our gov’t to grow too large, and 2) lost the sense of the value of things when money is placed in the hands of others?

MARK ADDS:  Reader Tim had a link to a post with a great image from The Heritage Foundation demonstrating the significance of cutting $100 million.


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UPDATE: Senator Arlen Specter has made a decision to not support the bill… which will likely doom it to failure.  Specter fails in many respects as a true conservative, but kudos to him on this decision.


The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, H.R. 800), coming before congress this session is the most absurd bill I have heard of in a while.  My dislike of unions is not hidden (posts here, here, and video here) and this brings up a perfect reason.  The law is designed to make it possible for a union to be formed by workers openly signing forms – “card check” – versus using a secret ballot.  At what point in American history have we ever assumed that forcing people to make their vote known publicly is “freer” than secret ballot?  If that is the case, what’s the deal with the secrecy in our local and national elections.  Clearly, the desire is to be make people nervous about their vote so the unions can bully them into voting for the union.

Don’t agree?  How about what has been said openly by the unions to potential swing-vote Senator Arlen Specter?  From the Washington Times:

…labor leaders promised Sen. Arlen Specter that they will switch union members from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party to help him win a tough 2010 primary election, The Washington Times has learned.

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President William M. George said he pledged Mr. Specter “all kinds of help from the union” in a series of meetings to woo the Republican senator’s support for the bill, which would ease rules favoring secret-ballot elections to unionize workplaces.

“We are pushing to give him help in the primary, including changing Democrats to Republicans for the primary,” Mr. George told The Times. “It’s hard to do because of other races in the state … but we’ll do it for ‘card check.’ “

How exactly do you go about making your members change their registration status again?  Not only do they try to bully people into voting a union shop into existence, but then they promise openly to bully people into voting for candidates they want.

The AFL-CIO’s argument for this law, here.  Heritage Foundation’s argument against, here.


MARK ADDS: With the Obama administration, there seems to be no getting around news about unions lately.  See this article about how the Davis-Beacon provision is being incorporated into stimulus money for projects… so many projects are forced to pay prevailing union wage.  An example in the article talks of workers caulking the windows of low-income housing in L.A. to weatherize them.  County Officials typically pay $15/hr for that work, but stimulus rules will require them to pay $30/hr… so half as many houses will be serviced.  Great news… unions win at the expense of others, as usual.

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You may wish to read this short “muckraking” piece, if you will, written by former Wired journalist Charles Pratt, who went undercover as a Walmart employee.  This is an interesting follow-up to my earlier post, A Dialogue On Walmart.

He also has a take on union pressure that I hadn’t thought of… namely the interest they have in increasing THEIR bottom-line.

Walmartwatch.com, for instance, is partnered with the Service Employees International Union; Wakeupwalmart.com is entirely owned by United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. For years, now, they’ve campaigned against Wal-Mart, for reasons that may have more to do with money than compassion for the working poor. If more than one million Wal-Mart employees in the United States could be induced to join a union, by my calculation they’d be compelled to pay more than half-billion dollars each year in dues.

(HT: Powerline)

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