"How can fringe benefits be nearly as much as salary?"
February 27, 2011 9:29 AM   Subscribe

WSJ bravely criticizes the "excessive power of collective bargaining." Robert M. Costrell of wsj.com explains how the governor's proposal to restrict collective bargaining...seems entirely reasonable. via twitter.com/ftrain
posted by fartknocker (139 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is brave, considering how it will infuriate their core readership.
posted by atrazine at 9:33 AM on February 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


The WSJ opinon page is where bitter old men go to die.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:38 AM on February 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


I love when people complain that teachers are getting more than they deserve. Christ what an asshole.

Mr. Costrell is professor of education reform and economics at the University of Arkansas.

UofA is a public, state university, right? So, what's his takehome after soaking the taxpayer?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:42 AM on February 27, 2011 [19 favorites]


My husband calls these the "lucky ducky" arguments -- where someone goes on about how lucky the poor are or how privileged publi sector workers are. And yet, if you ask those people to switch - to live off welfare or leave their Wall Street job to teach high school in Wisconsin, suddenly they go all quiet.
posted by jb at 9:44 AM on February 27, 2011 [114 favorites]


Yeah, Heaven forfend they actually, you know, bargain and negotiate and compromise like civilized people rather than legislate away basic human rights. Much easier if you get to act like a king when decreeing what the peasants and serfs will get, and then only at your pleasure.

Conservatives are neo-feudalists, tools of the new aristocracy. They must be shown the door.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:44 AM on February 27, 2011 [61 favorites]


Mr. Costrell is professor of education reform and economics at the University of Arkansas.

I wonder what his benefits are like?

I see Cat Pie Hurts beat me to it.
posted by Max Power at 9:45 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I say get the U.A.W involved and your union problems will be over real quick.

tools of the new aristocracy

could you define this so I know who to picket?
posted by clavdivs at 9:47 AM on February 27, 2011


I am A-OK with teachers and nurses making more than me. I push pixels and bytes around.
posted by desjardins at 9:48 AM on February 27, 2011 [25 favorites]


The thing I think most peculiar about this is why they want to blame union members because everyone else is being raped by the costs of health care and pension provision in a supposedly free market?

And how come these tossers only ever bitch about one side of the free market deal? "Oh no, we must never set limits on the freedoms that Capital enjoys." But my my freedom to engage in association with like-minded people and negotiate our salaries collectively is somehow up for grabs?

Finally, not seeing anything brave at all about this cringing, arse-licking capitalist running dog. He's just angling for a gig as a pundit on Fox News.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:51 AM on February 27, 2011 [53 favorites]


How can fringe benefits be nearly as much as salary?

Well, the way we Wisconsin state employees manage this is by getting low salaries.
posted by escabeche at 9:52 AM on February 27, 2011 [81 favorites]


How can fringe benefits be nearly as much as salary?

The same way bankers bonuses can exceed their salaries by millions or billions.
posted by X-Himy at 9:54 AM on February 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


How can bonuses be more than salary?
posted by vibrotronica at 9:55 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cool. Good to know which nonsense article my Dad's gonna quote next time we argue about this shit.
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:57 AM on February 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Really Bad Reporting in Wisconsin: Who 'Contributes' to Public Workers' Pensions? - by journalist, author and tax law professor David Cay Johnson

"Economic nonsense is being reported as fact in most of the news reports on the Wisconsin dispute, the product of a breakdown of skepticism among journalists multiplied by their lack of understanding of basic economic principles.

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to "contribute more" to their pension and health insurance plans.

Accepting Gov. Walker' s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.

Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services."
posted by madamjujujive at 10:00 AM on February 27, 2011 [51 favorites]


I appreciate Paul Ford's Quantified Outrage Rule.
([Wife] and I have a rule that when something enrages us we give money to the people we support. WSJ made me $100 angry at least.)
posted by zamboni at 10:00 AM on February 27, 2011 [26 favorites]


Also, I'm not seeing this as an article on how sweet life is as a public school teacher, but rather an article on how financially fucked in general the private sector is, based on these average figures he's producing.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:01 AM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've said this before but I'll say it again: People rail about the sacrifices they've had to make, and demand that union workers make the same sacrifices. But that makes no sense - if you've had to pay more for your healthcare, that money does not go into the state coffers. It has NO impact on the state budget. So what exactly have you done to contribute? Voluntarily paid more taxes?

Also, pensions aren't paid for with taxpayers' money.
posted by desjardins at 10:02 AM on February 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Pooling resources to leverage a favorable outcome for the members of the pool is the very definition of free-market capitalism, except when the resource is labor instead of cash. Then, it's filthy horrible communism.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:03 AM on February 27, 2011 [46 favorites]


In other news, hedge fund managers earning billions pay much of their taxes at 15%.
posted by Wyatt at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


escabeche: "Well, the way we Wisconsin state employees manage this is by getting low salaries."

Good (but bitter, alas) point, escabeche - I'll point out that there's usually two sides to a bargain, and I've noticed with many news stories that I've followed in the past (mostly Philadelphia, admittedly) about unions vs institutions stories (strikes, soon-to-be-strikes, contract-renegotiation-drama stories) is that the other side usually is looking for some sort of immediate concession (like no pay increases for the next two years) due to budgetary concerns, to which the union asks for a longer-term return-concession - e.g. pension improvements, etc. that are cheaper in the short run, but perhaps expensive in the long term.

So why hasn't this story focused onbad decisions by Government as the other half of the problem?* That especially with government, "problems" are resolved by the people who aren't in for life? Walker only has to live with any consequences of his decisions for this term, and maybe another if he gets re-elected. But teachers and the unions have to live with the consequences of their bargaining for the duration.

So maybe we should look at ways the Governmental side should be reigned in a bit from making short term gain, long term loss decisions, rather than blaming the employees who work for them?


* I'll admit, I haven't been following this story voraciously - it's possible that some journos have been bringing this up.
posted by illovich at 10:09 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


You're trying to tell me that the Wall Street Journal is siding with the wealthy old men with the monocles and top hats? That's not the WSJ I grew up with...

...oh wait.
posted by Sphinx at 10:12 AM on February 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


The average Milwaukee public-school teacher salary is $56,500, but with benefits the total package is $100,005

So, it's professional compensation, then.

Fine with me. I don't have a problem in the world with a teacher's total compensation package being six figures.

Except the author is cheating more than a little bit here.

Because the truth is every job costs every employer more than the salary. That first percentage Costrell itemizes -- payroll/FICA -- is taken out of every paycheck in America, unless you're a 1099'er (or make beyond the ceiling at which FICA regresses). Many private employers who provide a group plan subsidize their insurance at a similar cost. If a private entity has a long-term insurance and pension plan for its employers, it will have similar costs. If they don't, they may have some contribution towards an individual retirement program.

So a good chunk -- probably around half -- of that additional 40k that Costrell finds in expenses is probably there in any similarly salaried middle class employee expenses. The rest can probably be explained in the fact that retirement vehicles like the 401k are inferior compensation to the pensions they're replacing, particularly for lower paid employees. They naturally cost employers less.

Rather than showing the unreasonable power of collective bargaining, it may be that a closer inspection reveals that collective bargaining is the only power that's been able to keep personal benefits intact.
posted by weston at 10:13 AM on February 27, 2011 [28 favorites]


a quick story on why we need collective bargaining and unions.
In the Great Depression my father lost his factory job. He was lucky. He got work at a wealthy metals plant owned by a relative.
Management would not give him a management job because he had not even a high school education. The union would not take him in because he had management's name.
He got the shit jobs: stoking furnaces when the plant was closed, on holidays etc.
Lesson: you are either on one side or the other or you are shit on by both sides.

My answer? LET EVERYONE HERE POST OVER AND OVER THAT THEY WILL NOT SPEND ANY VACATION TIME OR MONEY IN ANY STATE THAT DOES AWAY WITH COLLECTIVE BARGAINING. POST SUCH A NOTICE AT ALL SITES AND IN ALL EMAILS AND SPREAD THE WORD OF THE REAL ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES IF STATES TRY TO DESTROY COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.
posted by Postroad at 10:14 AM on February 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


That should make MeFi really entertaining really fast.
posted by proj at 10:20 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]



UofA is a public, state university, right? So, what's his takehome after soaking the taxpayer?


According to the databases at Arkansas Online, his 2009 salary was $140,000. Presumably this does not include his benefits.

He's counting the Social Security and Medicare taxes into the cost of benefits, but since when were those rates influenced by collective bargaining?
posted by dilettante at 10:22 AM on February 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Management would not give him a management job because he had not even a high school education. The union would not take him in because he had management's name.
He got the shit jobs: stoking furnaces when the plant was closed, on holidays etc.
Lesson: you are either on one side or the other or you are shit on by both sides.


Although I like and support unions and think that teachers should be paid more (although this is self-interest on my part, admittedly) and also that benefits as a percentage of salary is a ridiculously terrible metric to use (give me the opportunity and I will decrease those benefits to 1% of the salary! Without taking away any benefits! ECONOMIC GENIUS!), this story mostly inspires me to think "Wow, unions are also looking out for their own interests, and are not simply vehicles for supporting weak, individual workers who can't fend for themselves." I'm not saying unions aren't good, I think they are, but this story also illustrates why we need to keep an eye on union leadership as well as management to make sure they are really serving the interests of the people they purport to represent.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:24 AM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Postroad, that should be a separate site. MetaBoycott? RightsFilter? Not entertaining, but more valuable than Facebook.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


At this point, this whole argument sounds like something I would imagine taking place between two political advisers in Civ4 who are arguing over the merits of Democracy (+50% trade) vs. Fundamentalism (+1 attack bonus and negates the effects of libraries and universities).

It seems so clear that a huge chunk of people involved in this debate, and the ones largely driving the discussion, aren't even trying to argue in good faith anymore and are just playing a game where they try to get as much money as possible before I notice and send in the militia.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:28 AM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


That article is a perfect example of the kind of thing someone was complaining about on Facebook this morning: Why is a 3% tax increase on the richest considered "socialism" but a 14% pay cut on the middle class is "doing your part?"

Remember, kids, it's only class warfare when taking away compensation is aimed upwards!
posted by immlass at 10:29 AM on February 27, 2011 [47 favorites]


LET EVERYONE HERE POST OVER AND OVER THAT THEY WILL NOT SPEND ANY VACATION TIME OR MONEY IN ANY STATE THAT DOES AWAY WITH COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.

You can have my plane ticket for Spring Break in Wisconsin when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Hoopo at 10:31 AM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


The union would not take him in because he had management's name. He got the shit jobs: stoking furnaces when the plant was closed, on holidays etc.

So... you're saying that being a union member means that you won't be treated like a dog, even when a family connection to the ownership doesn't mean squat when there's blood to be squeezed from a stone?

I don't think you're making a very good case against unions. You are making a great case against your father's family.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:32 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My answer? LET EVERYONE HERE POST OVER AND OVER....

Spamming is not cool. But I could be on board with starting something on FB/Twitter:

" I will not spend tourist or investment dollars in states that eliminate collective bargaining. RT to support union rights. "
posted by zennie at 10:34 AM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Conservatives are neo-feudalists, tools of the new aristocracy. They must be shown the door guillotine.

FTFY
posted by Xoebe at 10:37 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


LET EVERYONE HERE POST OVER AND OVER THAT THEY WILL NOT SPEND ANY VACATION TIME OR MONEY IN ANY STATE THAT DOES AWAY WITH COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.

What do I do if I live here?
posted by desjardins at 10:37 AM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Spring Break in Wisconsin

dude you are doing it wrong
posted by desjardins at 10:38 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The response to public sector workers making more through collective barganing is for other types of employees to also engage in collective barganing in order to bring up their wages.

The thing is I rarely see this brought up. People complain about how they are trying to make private-sector middle class people hate public sector middle class people for having cushy benefits (without mentioning the lower wages for similar education levels), but no one ever says: Look if you don't like it then unionize and ask for more money!

I think the problem is that Unions have, in the past, been kind of annoying. Both corrupt as well as in some cases not doing a good job representing their workers. The other problem is that they form a monopoly.

But whatever. It's a nice bit of misdirection they're pulling. Start blaming public employees for making too much money while ignoring the fact that the bosses are making enormous amounts of money off their workers.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 AM on February 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


Pardon a bit of a derail: Am I the only person who thinks teachers should be the highest paid and most respected people in the country? Our future very literally depends on them. I always thought professional athletes - who are completely irrelevant to anything whatsoever in the scheme of things - and teachers should have their salaries swapped. Let the children make a living throwing balls around if they want, but give the money to the people who are trying to ensure that he next generation of people fucks things up less than we did.

For the records, no I'm not a teacher.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 10:38 AM on February 27, 2011 [31 favorites]


The other thing, instead of complaining about corporate power being in the hands of the conservatives, liberals should be trying to acquire corporate power for themselves. Ariana Huffington is a good example of someone doing that. The problem is liberals tend to care less about money and therefore have less motivation to go into business. But the reality is with so much power in the hands of the business elite, liberals (and not just the greedy ones) need to do more to get into those fields.
posted by delmoi at 10:40 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love when people complain that teachers are getting more than they deserve. Christ what an asshole.

This infuriates me as well. Until teachers are literally getting free sexual favors, they're not getting more than they deserve.
posted by odinsdream at 10:42 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


My husband calls these the "lucky ducky" arguments

That term comes from another WSJ editorial, in which it described people too poor to owe taxes:
Who are these lucky duckies? They are the beneficiaries of tax policies that have expanded the personal exemption and standard deduction and targeted certain voter groups by introducing a welter of tax credits for things like child care and education. When these escape hatches are figured against income, the result is either a zero liability or a liability that represents a tiny percentage of income.
posted by enn at 10:43 AM on February 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Until teachers are literally getting free sexual favors, they're not getting more than they deserve.

Well, I am married to a teacher, and uh... well she's still not getting what she deserves...
posted by tommyD at 10:45 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


According to the databases at Arkansas Online, his 2009 salary was $140,000.

He has an endowed chair. I couldn't find who endowed the chair but they are usually entirely funded through outside gifts. My guess is that any benefits would be the responsibility of UA.

His CV is interesting. Assuming it's complete, for a couple decades, he wasn't anything special, with only seven publications in 20 years. Then he starts writing about "education reform" from a neo-liberal economics position, in particular the need to cut teacher pensions, and suddenly his publications go through the roof (though it seems mostly for conservative think-tanks and projects), he gets a job with Mitt Romney then the Bush administration and someone ponies up the money for him to have an endowed chair (which costs about a half million dollars at least to set up).

In others words, it took him awhile to figure out which dicks to suck, but once he did he got the rewards.
posted by williampratt at 10:45 AM on February 27, 2011 [66 favorites]


I am hearing the police have been ordered to clear the Wisconsin Capitol building at 4 p.m. today, but they might not do that, but rather will join the protesters instead. Anybody have confirmation?
posted by tommyD at 10:51 AM on February 27, 2011


And yet, if you ask those people to switch - to live off welfare or leave their Wall Street job to teach high school in Wisconsin, suddenly they go all quiet.

If public sector employees are so overcompensated, shouldn't the big banks have been champing at the bit to be nationalized? Those guys know from overcompensation.
posted by kenko at 10:51 AM on February 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Been following the situation in Wisconsin closely, and it's clear to me that this is part of a bigger strategy on Republicans' part. It's like they want deficits and public debt, so they can justify drowning government in the bathtub.

To wit: for 30 years, we've been cutting taxes and increasing borrowing. Obviously, that shrinks total revenue, which sets the stage for the Republican agenda: to "stop wasting money" (read: cut social spending) while still cutting taxes. Sounds agreeable enough to voters, so here we are.

Being a bit more organized and powerful than other spending that's come under the budget axe, the unions have (mostly) hung on throughout this process. And now that they're one of the last things left to cut... hey, they must be what caused this budget mess in the first place! We gotta stop this runaway government spending!

So this posturing about unions "not wanting to make sacrifices" and "refusing to accept reality about the budget crisis" just makes me crazy. I can hear Japan and Germany laughing from here...
posted by Rykey at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


tommyD - AFAIK police are still preparing to clear the capitol for cleaning today at 4. AFL-CIO says some protesters may peacefully resist. The police slept alongside the protesters Friday and Saturday.
posted by desjardins at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rykey: "Been following the situation in Wisconsin closely, and it's clear to me that this is part of a bigger strategy on Republicans' part. It's like they want deficits and public debt, so they can justify drowning government in the bathtub."

Well said.
posted by theredpen at 11:19 AM on February 27, 2011


"They get free health care! They get free benefits!"

NO! They trade their labor for it!
posted by Brocktoon at 11:24 AM on February 27, 2011 [43 favorites]


No the conservatives are not neofeudalists. They would be more helpful to the serfs if they were.
They lived at closer quarters so they had to keep the serfs reasonably healthy and content not to be killed in their sleep.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:27 AM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can hear Japan and Germany laughing from here...

At this point, I'd be willing to believe Japan and Germany, and hell, pretty much anyone else in the G20, is funding the GOP. Now that pretty much anyone can invest in any political campaign they like (I think we might as well just set the "donation" nomenclature aside), why wouldn't anyone who can benefit from slipping American economic dominance back the party that seems least willing to spend the money necessary to maintain it?

It boggles my mind that it was only a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about how "All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:28 AM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


The U of A business school, and to an extent the whole university, is greatly influenced by Walmart/Walton money. Charter schools (always pro, evidence be damned) are another of their causes.
posted by aerotive at 11:45 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The arguments people are using against teachers are absolutely infuriating to me. Those lazy overpaid teachers that don't even work for three months out of the year, sucking up MY TAX DOLLARS with their lavish 54K salaries and Cadillac benefits!


(gotta love the logic that states that someone who makes 54,000 is overpaid but people who make over 250,000 are too poor to put on their big boy pants and pay their taxes.)

My father taught in the Wisconsin public school system for over 35 years. Generations of kids. I can assure you that we did not grow up wealthy, rolling in YOUR TAX DOLLARS (we were rolling in an AMC Hornet, if you must know. Ain't no Cadillac.)

Oh, and he paid taxes too, yep, I saw him do it.

He is in no way lazy. He often spent nights and weekends working on lesson plans and papers, went to work very early and stayed late, and that's not counting the other work he did with his students and with the community. He either taught during the summer, or worked another job, and somewhere in there founded the community theater, earned a Master's degree, among many other things. He was an excellent, smart, creative teacher, who made his students want to learn. His work changed people's lives.

The work that he did, and the work that all teachers do, makes Wisconsin a better place in ways that are immeasurable on a balance sheet. And they honestly get paid too little to do that work.

In fact, I bet the same could be said for all the state employees whose bargaining rights would be stripped. Their labor has real value, and they deserve to at least be treated like adults for the work they do.

Those taxes you pay, Mr. OW MY TAX DOLLARS, are not some evil Commie plot to take your money away. You want those people to have jobs, and you want them to do them well, and if those people are gone, you will notice. You will wonder why they are not there and why you suddenly find yourself living in a complete shithole.

I don't know where this rhetoric regarding those no good, lazy, greedy, overpaid teachers originates. But it is poisonous, it is false, and it is personally insulting.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:47 AM on February 27, 2011 [59 favorites]


On a related note I'd love for the term cadillac benefits/health insurance to diaf already. The doctors in my family also cynically refer to public school teacher health insurance as a gold card. Aieeee.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:52 AM on February 27, 2011


I love when people complain that teachers are getting more than they deserve. Christ what an asshole.

This infuriates me as well. Until teachers are literally getting free sexual favors, they're not getting more than they deserve.


If we already have this benefit outside of work, can our partners get reimbursement? Thanking you in advance for your consideration.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:55 AM on February 27, 2011


Been following the situation in Wisconsin closely, and it's clear to me that this is part of a bigger strategy on Republicans' part. It's like they want deficits and public debt, so they can justify drowning government in the bathtub.

That, and the likelihood that using various means to minimize dues paid to unions translates to a lot less money for Democrats in election years.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:58 AM on February 27, 2011


As for insurance benefits—isn't it true that in many instances (and so I would also assume for unionized teachers) trade unions have taken increased benefits in lieu of higher wages? And that it is the ridiculous rate of health sector inflation that has largely increased employment costs?

Also: how can someone be a professor of "education reform"? And—why does it make sense, in the current political climate, that he would be a professor of economics as well?
posted by adoarns at 11:59 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look if you don't like it then unionize and ask for more money!

I think most people in most other industries realize that if they start asking for more money, their jobs will be shipped overseas and they'll end up with nothing. A whole lot of blue-collar jobs in the US exist right on the cusp of the outsourcing break-even point.

What pisses a lot of people off, and why you're seeing a backlash against public-sector unions I think, is because people whose jobs are at risk of outsourcing (or are otherwise at risk in the competitive marketplace), really hate the job security of the public sector which funds itself from taxes, and especially hates the idea that people with basically guaranteed job security can negotiate themselves higher paychecks. (Whether this is true or not is immaterial; it's the perception that really matters, and there's a widespread perception that public employees are un-fireable, desk-by-the-window, lifetime-employment deals.) While I'm sure that the average voter doesn't understand it in so many words, the idea that public sector unions can lead to rent seeking resonates when it's presented by conservatives in the right way, and that's why you're seeing what's going on in Wisconsin and, probably soon, elsewhere.

In large part I think it's a PR problem on the part of public sector unions. I know of specific instances where public sector unions have attempted to extort win pay raises when it was clear that there hadn't been any inflation and tax receipts had gone down; that is not the way to win the hearts and minds of the people paying your checks at the end of the day.

Anti-union sentiment and anti-union interests have existed as long or longer than unions have, so the current situation is not new and the driving forces behind it aren't going to go away. A large part of the onus is on the unions to demonstrate that not only is their existence beneficial to the members, but beneficial to the public at large (who, through legislation, has given them the benefit of binding arbitration and otherwise keeps employers, public and private, from simply end-running them in a slack labor market). I think this second duty has been forgotten by modern unions. What democracy giveth, democracy can taketh away; there is nothing in the Constitution that would prevent unions, but nothing that would allow them in their current form in a slack labor market, either.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:01 PM on February 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


I always thought professional athletes - who are completely irrelevant to anything whatsoever in the scheme of things - and teachers should have their salaries swapped.

A particularly interesting point in Wisconsin, the only place in America where the public pays both salaries (kind of.)
posted by Navelgazer at 12:03 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


American Exceptionalism.
Except for you and you and you and you.
posted by peacay at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Those taxes you pay, Mr. OW MY TAX DOLLARS, are not some evil Commie plot to take your money away. You want those people to have jobs, and you want them to do them well, and if those people are gone, you will notice. You will wonder why they are not there and why you suddenly find yourself living in a complete shithole.

This, exactly.
posted by Rykey at 12:08 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Those jobs are at a risk for outsourcing because our government allows the products of the outsourced industry into the country. We could change that.
posted by wuwei at 12:09 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


In large part I think it's a PR problem on the part of public sector unions.

Of course the $320,000 Koch front Americans for Prosperity reportedly spent on ads supporting Walker's bill might have had a teensy bit to do with that PR problem.
posted by nanojath at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


How is it a union PR problem when the schools don't teach any history beyond what's mandatory for standardized testing? If people knew what the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was and its significance to the labor movement and subsequent impact on their day to day life, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:20 PM on February 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


In all fairness, I pretty much answered my own question there. Oh, a window that edits!
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:22 PM on February 27, 2011


When the big banks loaned people money who obviously couldn't pay it back the mefi consensus was that it was just common sense that they had to pay for that misjudgment.

What would make anyone think right now is a good time to loan your state or municipality half of your income for a long term with loose terms when you know for a fact that they are not even using legitimate accounting principals to manage the debt they already owe you?

They are not using legitimate accounting, they are not trustworthy so why would you give them a loan?

I'd rather have a dime today than a promise from my employer to pay me anything in 40 years.
posted by Wood at 12:28 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those jobs are at a risk for outsourcing because our government allows the products of the outsourced industry into the country.

True, at least for the moment. Although the situation becomes much stickier when you look ahead a few years towards a world where the big markets will be in Asia. Cut them out now, and they make lock the US out of their markets -- do we have the will to accept that?

I am personally in favor of a far more protectionist stance towards trade than has been the norm over the past several decades, and I think the alleged benefits of trade that economists love to talk about are far more concentrated to a small elite than the benefits of industrialization (e.g., by restricting trade to boost domestic production you might decrease GDP, but might increase equality). But I haven't seen organized labor spending a ton of political capital in favor of trade protections; yeah periodically there's a bit of anti-NAFTA rabblerousing, but nothing that looks particularly interested.

Union apologists (of which I am sometimes one) generally respond by saying that unions shouldn't have to advocate for national policy this way, and have been concentrating their political capital on how they might best benefit their members ... and my response is more an observation: if that's the case, they seem to be engaging in the same sort of short-term / long-term tradeoff that corporations are often criticized for; they are trading the long-term health of the US labor market for the short-term benefit of their members. Perhaps we need to think about ways to incentivize not just corporations, but unions as well, to think about the long haul rather than the next quarter's results or the next pay cycle's negotiations.

I don't have any quick answers to that, but I think it lies at the crux of the whole issue. Both Labor and Capital are selling a century or so's worth of advantage (gained more through accident than anything else) down the river in order to get a few more years of good times. But it's really Labor that's going to suffer; Capital (and the few individuals who control it) can get up and move to greener pastures when the going gets too rough. The employees who have found themselves redundant both as a maker and a buyer may find it slightly harder.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:29 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


"While I'm sure that the average voter doesn't understand it in so many words, the idea that public sector unions can lead to rent seeking resonates when it's presented by conservatives in the right way, and that's why you're seeing what's going on in Wisconsin and, probably soon, elsewhere."

When the public is too lazy to question convenient lies, and conservative service-slashers are more than happy to tell those lies, yes. That is a problem.
posted by verb at 12:30 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]



I don't know where this rhetoric regarding those no good, lazy, greedy, overpaid teachers originates.



Clearly, today it is from News Corp.'s Wall Street Journal, and a certain endowed Academic Chair whose libertarian boilerplate is bankrolled at a rate 3x that of the average "excessively powerful" unionized WI public teacher (fringe benefits not included).

You have to be amazed that a journal with "Wall Street" in the title has the temerity to publish anything decrying another sector's excess, especially fringe benefits. It strains belief, this pushing the notion that normal things like pensions and health care are somehow tokens of excess, and that somehow collective action of the working class is unfair because it makes them harder to kick around.

It's kind of like a diatribe from a schoolyard bully complaining that because a number of kids stood together, he was only able to strong-arm most of the kids into giving up their milk money. Brave indeed.
posted by millions at 12:45 PM on February 27, 2011 [32 favorites]


This infuriates me as well. Until teachers are literally getting free sexual favors, they're not getting more than they deserve.

Thank you, I've been wondering for years how I might become a useful volunteer at my kids' school. You've saved me an Ask!
posted by Brocktoon at 12:46 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Blaming the public or the educational system always seems like weak sauce to me. You need to work with what you have, not what you want. The public may not be particularly well-educated when it comes to labor issues, but they can still recognize a value proposition when it's put to them. The anti-labor forces have done this, and are basically saying "organized labor (in the form of public sector unions) costs you money (in the form of taxes) and doesn't get you anything (that you couldn't get by hiring people for absolute minimum wage and flogging the crap out of them, figuratively or literally)." That's the crux of the message.

Unions, especially and in the short term public-sector unions who exist effectively by fiat, have two options: either they can respond to this, and try to demonstrate to the public -- who are generally not union members at all, and certainly not generally members of the public-sector unions in question -- that the existence of these unions are generally beneficial, or they can cede the narrative, give up, and probably die as institutions.

It's daunting but I don't think it's really that complex. The public has been presented something that is clear, simple, and (allegedly) wrong. But there's not much in the way of a competing argument. What I hear from union supporters isn't really an argument so much as repeated screaming that Unions=Good without much attempt at swaying someone who doesn't have a union job or is sold on the concept already.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


When the public is too lazy to question convenient lies

I'm sorry, but it's not a "convenient lie" that public sector unions often engage in rent-seeking behavior. They simply do. Yes, yes, I know, corporations do it too, that doesn't make it right or desirable.

We can weigh the costs and benefits of that rent-seeking, and perhaps the benefits outweigh the costs (I'm not sure what I believe). But it does happen.
posted by downing street memo at 1:05 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do people actually want their children to attend a school where they are taught by people earning minimum wage? Money attracts talent, there is a reason rich people pay their hedge fund managers obscene amounts.
posted by Shit Parade at 1:06 PM on February 27, 2011


Some men just want to watch the world burn.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:23 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do people actually want their children to attend a school where they are taught by people earning minimum wage?

Of course not. That's why God gave us private schools.
posted by erniepan at 1:26 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


either they can respond to this, and try to demonstrate to the public

They're already talking about doing just that in Wisconsin.
posted by Rykey at 1:29 PM on February 27, 2011


The sad thing is, were these accusations true -- that collective bargaining had yielded "excessive power" -- then the WSJ wouldn't be making them. The unions would be strong enough to pressure the WSJ, and the WSJ would be happily sucking up to them as it does to all the powerful stakeholders.
posted by chortly at 1:33 PM on February 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


I don't understand how there is a winning argument to be made within the framework of this so-called rational debate about economic value when it is presented as a zero-sum game where if one side "loses", they die. How does "the unions are costing us too much" turn into "we should ban the very act of negotiation between management and labor?"

This fight has been very expertly fixed.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


governor's proposal to restrict collective bargaining

But somehow this proposal doesn't affect collective bargaining by corporations, lobbies, employers and the like? How unexpected!

Really I think this is a point that should be brought up every time people complain about how awful unions are. Everything bad attributed to unions is something that corporations do as well, but corporations usually get a free pass. Someone who won't acknowledge this is probably lying about the motivation for their position.
posted by hattifattener at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


Sorry if its been posted before but here is a live stream from inside the capital building.
posted by goneill at 1:48 PM on February 27, 2011


So maybe we should look at ways the Governmental side should be reigned in a bit from making short term gain, long term loss decisions, rather than blaming the employees who work for them?

I'm sure our shameless, pandering, power-mad political class will eagerly sign-up for this.

...liberals should be trying to acquire corporate power for themselves.

Um ... yeah ... could work ...

If public sector employees are so overcompensated, shouldn't the big banks have been champing at the bit to be nationalized? Those guys know from overcompensation.

Never let facts get in the way of a bizarre argument (salary comparison only) ...

That, and the likelihood that using various means to minimize dues paid to unions translates to a lot less money for Democrats in election years.

Surely you're not suggesting that Democrats are pandering whores who would say and do anything to stay in power ... just like Republicans?

I always thought professional athletes - who are completely irrelevant to anything whatsoever in the scheme of things - and teachers should have their salaries swapped.

Yeah, cause, y'know, professional sports team owners have their heads completely up their asses, and are wholly unable to think in terms of their enlightened self-interest, when trying to decide whether a particular sports superstar will be a big enough performer / draw to justify his (or her?) negotiated salary...

The anti-labor forces have done this, and are basically saying "organized labor (in the form of public sector unions) costs you money (in the form of taxes) and doesn't get you anything (that you couldn't get by hiring people for absolute minimum wage and flogging the crap out of them, figuratively or literally)."

Absolute minimum wage??? Hyperbole much?

I'm sorry, but it's not a "convenient lie" that public sector unions often engage in rent-seeking behavior. They simply do. Yes, yes, I know, corporations do it too, that doesn't make it right or desirable.

Why do you hate our selfless, disinterested public employees?

Do people actually want their children to attend a school where they are taught by people earning minimum wage? Money attracts talent...

Yeah, and tenure attracts deadwood.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:50 PM on February 27, 2011


The benefits of unions are not evenly distributed among their membership in many cases. Most people see the case for unions as a way of preventing exploitation of the weakest participants in the labor market. Most people also see that seniority systems reward cronyism over competence and result in junior workers getting less job security or pay than employers might be willing to give. Collective bargaining puts the more recent hires at a significant disadvantage.

It's a bit hard to swallow the narrative that union = selfless mutualism when you see things like this SEIU press release, which is just one more move in a 2 year struggle between two unions that has become increasingly litigous. I have been getting all the mailings from both sides ever since this started, and increasingly find myself wondering just what proportion of members' dues has been spent on glossy full-color flyers demonizing the competing union, because they have both sent out a hellacious number of them by now.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:54 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


"we should ban the very act of negotiation between management and labor?"

That's not what's happening, at least as I understand it; what's under consideration are rules which require management -- which in this case is the state -- to negotiate with labor, rather than being able to just say "well, we think we can do better on the open market, you're all fired, goodbye." In the absence of those rules you could still have unions, and in truth unions existed long before those rules did. (If you include trade guilds, a lot longer.) But unions are obviously in a far better negotiating position with them.

There is really no serious argument about the right to voluntarily organize and collectively bargain in a non-coercive way (i.e. employees that don't want to partake don't have to), it's just that the unions that you'd get out of this wouldn't be nearly as powerful as they are currently. Basically, without rules that force management to negotiate with labor, unions would need to organize not only the workers currently employed by a firm, but all the workers qualified and willing to work for that firm, in order to have an effective strike. (This would in some ways make them more like a guild.) This would arguably force them to work for the benefit of all workers and not extract gains for one group who happen to be employed at the expense of others who aren't. OTOH, it might make them so weak that they might as well not exist, when the labor market is slack. I tend to think that both are true; it's not either-or.

There's an apparent tradeoff here: in the case of public sector unions it's between higher costs to the taxpayer and, if the unions are correct, higher-quality services. That's the argument that needs to be made to the voters.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:54 PM on February 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Workers have unions. Businesses have lobby groups -- if collectives are such bad things, then corporations should lead the way by dismantling their collective negotiation machines first...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 2:01 PM on February 27, 2011


Really I think this is a point that should be brought up every time people complain about how awful unions are. Everything bad attributed to unions is something that corporations do as well, but corporations usually get a free pass. Someone who won't acknowledge this is probably lying about the motivation for their position.

Yes; thank-you.

Workers have unions. Businesses have lobby groups -- if collectives are such bad things, then corporations should lead the way by dismantling their collective negotiation machines first simultaneously...

FTFY.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:07 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be clear, I'm no lawyer, so I have no idea what the specific provisions of the pending law in WI imply, but to me the end of public sector unions by the removal of their ability to negotiate meaningfully is the logical end game, using essentially the same strategy that has been used to erode social services one (potentially manufactured) budgetary crisis at a time.

This is kind of what I mean by it being an unwinnable argument, because if I engage your totally reasonably presented line of discussion, I am accepting the premise that this is a scenario that justifies an existential threat. To my knowledge, the unions in WI have not only offered to negotiate, they have offered significant concessions (maybe even enough to cover the shortfall? I'm not sure), all overtures which, to the best of my understanding, have been summarily rejected.

Why not engage the unions in the negotiation they have asked for? Why does it come to this?
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:09 PM on February 27, 2011


The Class War Pincer Movement
posted by homunculus at 2:09 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


American Exceptionalism.
Except for you and you and you and you.


No, you misunderstand. America is so goshdarned exceptional, so ripe with opportunity, so fully paved in gold and covered so thick in special sauce, so overflowing with bounty and so rich in booty, so utterly the best place on the planet to do anything of any sort, that if you can't make it work for you and provide for your own and have enough left over to buy a summer home or a foreign government, not to mention pay for your own damn benefits - well, then, you must be some kind of loser.

I mean, the money's so easy in America you can make billions just betting on when bad credit starts to stink. If you aren't making enough teaching or fighting fires, charge your customers more. Easy as apple pie.

And this concludes the cover letter for my American Enterprise Institute fellowship application. I assume the job pays six figures plus full benefits. Can I take my paid leave before I actually start think-tanking?
posted by gompa at 2:11 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tell you what.. get BoA and the rest of those fuckers to pay their share, jack up the tax rate on top earners, and slash military spending by 1/4 and we'll all be eating steak (or dish of your choice) and lobster with a balanced budget.
posted by edgeways at 2:29 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The private sector is dominated by competition and turbulence. Performance-related pay is the norm, and redundancy commonplace. The public sector, by contrast, is a haven of security and stability. Many people have jobs for life and performance measures are rare. The result is a paradox: the typical public worker is better off than the people he is supposed to serve, and the gap has widened significantly over the past decade. In America, pay and benefits have grown twice as fast in the public sector as they have in the private sector.

Union rules make it extremely hard to fire teachers who turn out to be bad at their jobs. Younger teachers are usually the first to be let go, even though seniority does not necessarily ensure quality. In 2009 Indiana and Florida fired young staff who had been nominated for “teacher of the year”.

On benefits, union compensation is higher – and has been rising faster – for government workers than for non-government workers. The cost of hourly benefits averaged $13.85 per hour in the public sector in the third quarter of 2010, up 32 percent in seven years. By contrast, private sector benefits averaged $8.20 per hour, up 23 perce...nt in that same time frame.

While students in many developed nations have been learning more and more over time, American 15-year-olds are stuck in the middle of the pack in many fundamental areas, including reading and math. Yet the United States is near the top in education spending.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:33 PM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Costrell proves himself to be a dishonest hack about worker benefits. He uses the same trick they used arguing about autoworker benefits. Remember how this works because they do it every single time.

Costrell takes the benefits paid annually to retired workers and allocates it to current workers to make it seem like their benefits are higher than they are. It is the same as saying that your annual salary is higher by $20,000 because your father collects social security. What some teacher who retired 20 years ago gets is no benefit to a teacher working today, yet Costrell adds that on to the total to get "average teacher benefits."

When you encounter dishonesty like this, simply disregard the entire article. You already know they are made up numbers and you can trust nothing they say.
posted by JackFlash at 2:39 PM on February 27, 2011 [13 favorites]


On benefits, union compensation is higher -- and has been rising faster -- for government workers than for non-government workers.

Let's put this into some context:

In a report released in December 2010, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average state/local government worker earns $40.10 an hour in salary and benefits. The same report found the average private worker earns $27.68 an hour in salary and benefits.

But the report was quick to note that this is not a direct comparison. Government workers tend to be better-educated than their private-sector counterparts, and government jobs are more likely to be professional or managerial as opposed to the many more manufacturing and sales jobs in the private workforce.

In fact, studies that compare salaries and benefits for similar jobs between the public and private sectors show that government workers lag.

An April 2010 report by the Center for State & Local Government Excellence -- a nonpartisan, Washington-based group with Republicans and Democrats on its board of directors -- found that in 2008, state workers nationwide earned 11 percent less and local workers earned 12 percent less than private workers with comparable education levels.

posted by virago at 2:40 PM on February 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


This fight has been very expertly fixed.

And the thing I "love" about this fight is the one-two combo the conservatives use: they pair the "teachers are making too much money" punch with a solid "teachers in public schools are turning our kids into godless, communist homosexuals who believe we descended from monkeys" uppercut to devastating effect. Like the great Billy Dee Williams said of Colt .45, works every time.

And what's sad is that they didn't put "the fear of God" into the ref the way organized crime would with a real fight to get their desired outcome; instead, they put "the fear of being seen as a liberal" into him. That's why you get people who should know better going out of their way to agree with the talking points. "I'm pretty far to the left but I have to say that unions are bad and/or have bad PR" "I'm socially progressive but fiscally conservative, and I think we all need to make sacrifices right now" etc.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:50 PM on February 27, 2011


The really stupid thing is this:

Management generally assents to long-term benefit demands in exchange for not paying higher wages now - in other words, they think they're being smart because money isn't coming out of their pocket right now.

The kicker is this (and anyone with any union experience knows it): A dollar in bennies is always preferable to, and worth more than, a dollar in wages. When negotiating a contract, a smart union negotiator will always value benefits over wages.

Simply put, if government has buyer's remorse, it's not the unions' fault. (IMO, government has screwed the pooch in this arena so many times because they have no need to be responsible. They have the citizens to cover their bets - basically, the taxpayers are their insurance company.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:51 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


An April 2010 report by the Center for State & Local Government Excellence -- a nonpartisan, Washington-based group with Republicans and Democrats on its board of directors...

"Nonpartisan" != "disinterested."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:01 PM on February 27, 2011


Younger teachers are usually the first to be let go, even though seniority does not necessarily ensure quality.

This kind of thing is at the heart of the problem. I have seen this happen in California too. Experience, dedication, and length of service are all valuable, but tend to be considerably overvalued where an entrenched seniority system is present. Younger employees pick up the tab for this in multiple ways. It is unfair, and the oft-repeated argument that 'if it wasn't for us, you wouldn't have (overtime pay, safety regulations, a 40 hour week, whatever)' is really coming from the same privileged place as 'if it wasn't for us you wouldn't have (a job, roads, checking facilities, whatever).'

Two big things have changed since the heyday of American labor. They are not the only things that have changed, or even the only important things. There are many valid political arguments about the shifting balance of power between labor and capital and how it has influenced the political process. But all the same:

1. the rest of the world is more economically competitive with the USA than it used to be. After WW2 Europe and Japan had had their industrial capacity shattered, while China and India were still a century behind in terms of technological development. It was easy for the US to be top of the economic heap for several decades under these circumstances. Those days are over, because other countries have repaired or caught up. That fact cannot be legislated or negotiated away.

2. the demographic balance of the US has changed. The ratio of retirees to workers is rising, and Europe and Japan are having similar problems. The economics were better for the baby boom generation because when they entered the workforce there were far fewer retirees to support and life expectancies were shorter. Paying for social security and medicare did not take a huge bite out of younger workers' paychecks. Nowadays the costs are higher, and they are projected to keep rising up to about 2040, when the proportion of retired workers has fallen back to its historical average. That can't be legislated or negotiated away either.

People keep saying 'well, just jack up taxes on the rich.' They should go up, somewhat. But jack them up high enough, the money will just go somewhere else. Global economic competition and shifting demographics are way more powerful than unions or corporate bosses, and the USA is just going to have to get to grips with it sooner or later. Complaining about school students being forced to undergo testing suggests the answer is going to be later, possibly too much later.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:04 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's an apparent tradeoff here: in the case of public sector unions it's between higher costs to the taxpayer and, if the unions are correct, higher-quality services

You mean:

There's an apparent tradeoff here: in the case of public sector unions it's between, if Walker and other GOP politicians are correct, higher costs to the taxpayer and, if the unions are correct, higher-quality services.

Maybe it's true that unionization of the public sector costs taxpayers more, and maybe it isn't. When calculating, remember that lower-quality public services are a cost to the taxpayer.

You may think, for instance, that the quality of public universities relative to private ones will stay constant as wages and benefits of public employees get chipped away; that's not a crazy position. But people who hold that position don't believe in free-market principles as strongly as they think they do.
posted by escabeche at 3:14 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


But jack them up high enough, the money will just go somewhere else.

@anigbrowl: Couldn't we just make laws to prohibit the rich and their money from leaving the country?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:14 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is that a joke? Passing a law to prohibit someone from leaving the country? Maybe we could make them all live in small enclaves as well!
posted by Justinian at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2011


I'm going to assume because of the comment about being forced to undergo testing that your list of arguments is aimed at me.

What is this really about? What's the goal here? If the goal is to reduce costs, what is it about either point you raised that means that it's something that is totally beyond our ability to work out any sort of solution to it such that we should just give up and blow the whole institution up? Why is there no room for discussion on this point?

Stipulating that the unions, at least in the case of WI, are willing to make significant monetary concessions, because this is what they have said, why is there no room for negotiation?

To rephrase one last time: why is it that the answer to a problem which is supposedly beyond the reach of negotiation is to dismantle the system of negotiation?

Removing one side's leverage entirely, while openly preparing the National Guard to cross their picket lines if they strike in protest and it is so ordered by a whimsical governor, is not "fixing" a broken process, either.

I don't see the point in discussing this "on the issues" until there is some sort of explanation for why the "issues" are being framed as "do we go bankrupt or do we get rid of these greedy unions?"
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:21 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


the money will just go somewhere else

well, it's not like they are significantly contributing anyways, so it might be a risk worth taking.

There has to be some move towards equity, even if it frightens some people. Right now the top ~20% have about 90% of the wealth... so why should they not contribute 90% of the tax funds?
posted by edgeways at 3:34 PM on February 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Is that a joke?

Um ... yes ... yes, it is INDEED a joke ...

/jonathan swift
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:34 PM on February 27, 2011


When we were rolling through the high times near the end of the Clinton years and even into the real estate bubble, people told me that going into state service was a retarded move that meant lower pay and stagnation. These same people who poopooed my low risk strategy are the same people who now want to punish me for picking the right game plan for an unexpected economic downturn and the Koch brothers, inc. are using this negative energy to guide the sheeple into giving them what they want, industry without any rules.

The economic crisis, the scape-goating, looks to me like the rise of fascism in pre-WWII Europe, but it's not the government making a grab for power, it's capitalists.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:45 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Krugman on pensions: "Whaddya know, we’re being sold a bill of goods."
posted by madamjujujive at 3:45 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


ZenMasterThis: "The result is a paradox: the typical public worker is better off than the people he is supposed to serve, and the gap has widened significantly over the past decade. In America, pay and benefits have grown twice as fast in the public sector as they have in the private sector."

So you are arguing for a race to the bottom?
posted by marienbad at 3:46 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to assume because of the comment about being forced to undergo testing that your list of arguments is aimed at me.

Er...no, not really. Objections to standardized testing seem to be pretty broad-based and strongly correlated with support for maintaining the status quo in public education, and public sector union representation in general. My opinion is that the status quo is not working out that well. I don't know why you assumed it was directed at you especially. When I wish to aim a remark at someone specifically I quote their remarks, as above.

What is this really about? What's the goal here? If the goal is to reduce costs, what is it about either point you raised that means that it's something that is totally beyond our ability to work out any sort of solution to it such that we should just give up and blow the whole institution up? Why is there no room for discussion on this point?

I think you must have me confused with somebody else, as I cannot understand how you got any of that from what I wrote.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:50 PM on February 27, 2011


The result is a paradox: the typical public worker is better off than the people he is supposed to serve

So's the typical doctor.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:01 PM on February 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


So you are arguing for a race to the bottom?

No, but looks like this thread is already there.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:01 PM on February 27, 2011


Regarding the teachers. This is a bit of a far-off tangent, but to me it is the biggest problem is that when all of these arguments about benefits and pay boil down to the essence, the wall that the debate hits is this: most (many?) teachers only work nine months out of the year. Teachers' salaries are low compared to other developed nations, but those other nations' (Europe, east Asia) school years run much longer. And there's a complicated Venn diagram going on with the increased pay due to more actual days teaching plus the fact that other developed nations tend to have more respect for the profession. In other words, just maybe places like France and Sweden and Japan would pay their teachers a decent wage even if they worked only nine months out of the year.

I think a big chunk of the problems we face in the school system can remedied by changing up the school year. There's a three month holiday for American kids, and this only came about because 100 years ago, kids were needed on the farm for planting and harvesting. We've definitely outgrown that model, but there it is, deeply embedded in the American society. Most people probably don't give the school year a second thought. But changing it to something like three-months-on, one-month-off (as a few school districts in the U.S. actually do) would be better for everyone. Aside from some grumbling kids.

And those teachers need not be idle during the breaks. With all the problems that kids have, why let them flounder for three months--or one month? Continued class in the summer--both elective and mandatory for the laggers--would be one way that we can keep the teachers employed. And how we can pay them a wage that they need to be paid.
posted by zardoz at 4:06 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe I did confuse you with someone else, I apologize. I read what you wrote as support for dismantling the ability of unions to collectively bargain because they are too expensive, which is why I questioned the assumption that this problem cannot be resolved via negotiation and must be addressed by taking action which I believe would ultimately prove fatal to the unions.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:11 PM on February 27, 2011


Rumors exploding right now that moderate Republican Senator, Dale Schultz, whose attempts to broker a compromise were rebuffed by both Walker and Senate Democrats, is flipping his vote to "no."
posted by escabeche at 4:46 PM on February 27, 2011


Two facts about unions and teachers:

1) States with the best schools are heavily unionized.
2) Finland is widely acknowledged to have one of the best school systems in the world. Also heavily unionized.

Does this mean that unions don't sometimes push for some stupid rules that benefit their members at the expense of kids? No. But it does put a lie to the idea that teachers' unions are the death of good education claimed by many "school reformers."

Further, it's really absurd for people to think the solution to the problem caused by Wall Street is to take away more benefits from the middle class and poor. It wasn't excessive teacher pay and benefits that got us into this mess.
posted by Maias at 4:49 PM on February 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm surprised to see Krugman come out as a supporter of the financial analysis of state pensions made by the state pension administrator's association.
posted by Wood at 5:03 PM on February 27, 2011


Costrell is right at his teat, isn't he?
Thread, tl;dr, but it was ex-wages-and-benefits collective bargaining on the guillotine, was it not? I apologize for missing salient facts, people, but I humbly believe I didn't miss anything.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:08 PM on February 27, 2011


"States with the best schools are heavily unionized."

Anyone know of an accessible state ranking that doesn't cost a subscription?
posted by bz at 5:11 PM on February 27, 2011


No one but Mother Jones confirming the Schultz thing.
posted by escabeche at 5:27 PM on February 27, 2011


I think most people in most other industries realize that if they start asking for more money, their jobs will be shipped overseas and they'll end up with nothing. A whole lot of blue-collar jobs in the US exist right on the cusp of the outsourcing break-even point.

I keep hearing this sentiment repeated by rote with this sort of wistful, knowing tone, as if we all just have to accept it as one of those tragic realities of life... And yet, Germany still has plenty of unions. And France still has plenty of unions. And unions in Egypt played a central role in the revolution there. And the solidarity movement in Poland that led to a new Democracy there? Yep, unions played a major role there, too. And somehow they were able to overcome those same economic realities.

Apparently, this is just another way America is exceptional. And unlike every other free country in the world, we don't even need unions anymore. No, we all just need to learn to aspire to be oligarchs ourselves, even though the more we accept and internalize this argument, the more our standard of living slips away, and the bigger the economic gap gets. This is the last battle for the future. If we give up on organized labor it is all over for anything resembling democracy in America. I'm sorry if that sounds pessimistic or melodramatic, but I am absolutely convinced of it. Look back at the history of the labor movement. Back then, Americans knew what they were fighting for, and who they were fighting against. Our problem is, we'd rather not face it. But we're not going to have that option much longer.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:35 PM on February 27, 2011 [19 favorites]


The public sector, by contrast, is a haven of security and stability. Many people have jobs for life and performance measures are rare.

That thing about performance measures isn't true at all-- in fact, they are more common in the public sector, where everything has to be measured and documented in order to make decisions about promotions and whom to fire. It's the private sector where you find little performance documentation outside of some pro-forma stuff invented by HR at the last minute before firing someone with cause so the employer doesn't have to pay unemployment or where people simply get fired capriciously.
posted by deanc at 6:04 PM on February 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think most people in most other industries realize that if they start asking for more money, their jobs will be shipped overseas and they'll end up with nothing. A whole lot of blue-collar jobs in the US exist right on the cusp of the outsourcing break-even point.

This reminds me of the story of the two men standing before the firing squad. Before the execution the first man defiantly shouts the injustice of their situation. The second man, begs "Please! Don't make trouble."
posted by JackFlash at 6:11 PM on February 27, 2011 [16 favorites]


deanc: "It's the private sector where you find little performance documentation outside of some pro-forma stuff invented by HR at the last minute before firing someone with cause so the employer doesn't have to pay unemployment or where people simply get fired capriciously."

I've seen it happen in the public sector too. Dude misses a day, gets put on a personal performance plan, and 90 days later he's pulled out of a meeting to be fired. In the two years I worked there I never saw an official performance review.

Bad management is everywhere, and can weather any crisis, so long as the pitchforks of shareholders and taxpayers can be directed down the chain of command.
posted by pwnguin at 7:43 PM on February 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's like they want deficits and public debt, so they can justify drowning government in the bathtub.

Anyone who doesn't realize this is an established long-term strategy of the pro-corporate Right -- and doesn't also see their short term strategy of sabotaging the current recovery to try to prevent Obama's re-election in 2012 (John Boehner's "So be it" responses to press questions about the damage the Republican budget efforts will have on the economy and employment being the most handy reference) -- simply isn't paying attention.
posted by aught at 6:46 AM on February 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


To try to hold teacher's unions on the issue of education outcome is absurd, not that there is any shortage of absurd these days. The real culprits are the boards of education, the people that should be on them but are not, and the voting public that only pay attention when it comes to tax increases.

And seriously, how in the hell can anyone suppose for a moment that teachers, of all people, don't need unions?! Public employees of great importance, involved with the children of the taxpayers. I can see how it would go without unions: Give Johnny Richkid a bad grade, oops, teacher is fired, as a flavor to Johnny's dad. It matters not that little Johnny doesn't trouble himself with his education.

And why is this old bullshit about "only working 9 months a year" going unchallenged? I'm sure I can find a large supply of experienced teachers who would enjoy that. Oh, I suppose it is more common if you insist that mandatory training times don't count as "work".

This is such a tragedy to happen in Wisconsin. Once upon a time, Wisconsin was the only state in the USA to have recognized Gay rights.
posted by Goofyy at 7:01 AM on February 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Public employees of great importance, involved with the children of the taxpayers. I can see how it would go without unions: Give Johnny Richkid a bad grade, oops, teacher is fired, as a flavor to Johnny's dad. It matters not that little Johnny doesn't trouble himself with his education.

Exactly! Many, if not most, of the political reforms we've made over the last 20 years or so have had the effect--intentionally or unintentionally--of increasing the disparity in social and political power between the wealthy and the rest of us though secondary effects like the one you're describing here. I don't think it's deliberate in every case--at least, it's certainly not always deliberate on the part of the non-political classes who support this allegedly "conservative" political movement. But in this relentless, bull-in-a-china-shop destructive rush to "shrink the government" (which if you really stop to think about it is a childish and simplistic metaphor in the first place--I mean, would you trust a mechanic who told you the problem with your car is that you need to "shrink" the engine?), we're systematically dismantling mechanisms that promote greater equality of sociopolitical power and economic opportunity that have been decades and even centuries in the making.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:19 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Spring Break in Wisconsin
dude you are doing it wrong

No, no, desjardins! I spent my very first college spring break in a smelly barn in Ellsworth, Wisconsin!

My friend's parents' sheep farm was doing shearing, and bunch of us were there to hang out and help and have fun. For example, I got to sit at the top of a huuuuge burlap sack and stuff in whole pelts (is that the word for the filthy blanket of wool that's zipped off the poor beasts?) ias soon as the shearers had them off the sheep.

It was awesome in a lanolin-rich kind of way!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:03 AM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can take the person from the Union but you can never take the Union from the person.
posted by clavdivs at 8:06 AM on February 28, 2011


clavdivs, I have no idea what that means. A union, by definition, is a collective of people.
posted by desjardins at 8:42 AM on February 28, 2011


"Conservatives are neo-feudalists, tools of the new aristocracy. They must be shown the guillotine.

FTFY"

That was not cool and totally uncalled for. Completely inappropriate to call for the murder of people with whom you disagree.
posted by massysett at 10:59 AM on February 28, 2011


when people oppose a Union (labor/workers) and try and take it away, you create a new one.

a collective of people is a Union, Ok, like the Libyan people or Wal-Mart, is that a union?
so i have no idea what your even trying to convey.
posted by clavdivs at 11:05 AM on February 28, 2011


So's the typical doctor.

An interesting comparison, since doctors are a profession that's strictly controlled by a national supply cartel (or perhaps better described as a trade guild), apparently in order to keep salaries high. While I don't think the market would ever set an MD's salary at minimum wage due to the education and other qualifications required, it would probably be lower if it weren't for the AMA keeping the number of medical slots unreasonably low. Doctors in other countries typically aren't as wealthy as they are in the US. It seems like it ought to be on par with other professions requiring a similar amount of training (lawyers, research scientists, etc.).
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:41 AM on February 28, 2011


Good thing unions are nothing like cartels.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:44 PM on February 28, 2011


Doctors in other countries typically aren't as wealthy as they are in the US. It seems like it ought to be on par with other professions requiring a similar amount of training (lawyers, research scientists, etc.).

Um, why? Doctors and research scientists should be well paid because they provide a supremely useful function, like teachers. What could be more important than saving lives and preserving health?

Sure, there are some fucked up doctors—like there are bad people in every profession—but it never ceases to astonish me when people argue that doctors don't deserve high pay. They deal in shit and piss and blood and life and death: why shouldn't they be paid extremely well? Why should some corporate lawyer or financier who adds no value to the world get paid more than someone who saves lives? I can see why sports heroes and musicians and actors get high pay, even if we should value usefulness highly: they bring joy and that's useful, too.

But I don't get saying doctors shouldn't be well paid.
posted by Maias at 6:07 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


"And why is this old bullshit about "only working 9 months a year" going unchallenged?"

This myth is being promoted far and wide, apparently successfully. My neighbour at work, a successful 62 year-old professional well into his second career, practically jumped over the cubicle wall last week to rant about how teachers in Alberta only work 10 months a year! And they get $150k average! And they have benefits up the wazoo!

Much of which is just plain wrong, but he's a $100k+ a year public servant with a full pension, a second income etc., and he's still able to overreact to this silly argument.
posted by sneebler at 7:37 PM on February 28, 2011


Going to put this in both active WI threads:

Petitions for Walker recall legally can begin begin on 11/3/11, once started there is only 60 days to collect 540,206 signatures. The group United Wisconsin is "pre-gathering" (read: setting up a database to tap into on 11/3/11) Wisconsin residence willing to sign a recall petition.
posted by edgeways at 7:44 PM on February 28, 2011


whole pelts (is that the word for the filthy blanket of wool that's zipped off the poor beasts?)

A pelt is if you flay off the skin of a fur animal. When you shear a sheep, you get a fleece. If you took off the skin with wool attached, you'd have a sheepskin.
posted by zamboni at 7:50 PM on February 28, 2011


They deal in shit and piss and blood and life and death: why shouldn't they be paid extremely well?

Because there's not really any shortage of people willing to do the job? The supply is artificially restricted due to the way medical education and licensing are handled in the US. It's not the blood and guts that keeps more people from being doctors, it's the ridiculously low number of medical school slots.

There are a lot of jobs that also "deal in shit and piss and blood and life and death" -- paramedics, for example, or nurses -- and while it makes sense that an MD might make more due to the increased educational commitment, it shouldn't be that much higher if, as you say, it's the getting your hands dirty that deserves such compensation.

Also, the idea of paying people based on some metric of social utility seems dangerous; it's too subjective. When you need a good lawyer, you might be pretty damn happy to see them too.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:04 PM on February 28, 2011


Let's see this Walker character attack the AMA with the same gusto as public employee unions. Bet he won't! Those guys have money! Walker is just another posturing, petty, pimple on the posterior of Wisconsin. And Fox and related ilk have done a great job of teaching Joe Public to not recognize such types when they see them.
posted by Goofyy at 11:51 PM on February 28, 2011


Forbes: The Wisconsin Lie Exposed – Taxpayers Actually Contribute Nothing To Public Employee Pensions
posted by zennie at 9:45 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you took off the skin with wool attached, you'd have a sheepskin.

And a cold, and somewhat less-functional sheep.
posted by Sportbilly at 4:03 PM on March 1, 2011


Because there's not really any shortage of people willing to do the job? The supply is artificially restricted due to the way medical education and licensing are handled in the US. It's not the blood and guts that keeps more people from being doctors, it's the ridiculously low number of medical school slots.

There are a lot of jobs that also "deal in shit and piss and blood and life and death" -- paramedics, for example, or nurses -- and while it makes sense that an MD might make more due to the increased educational commitment, it shouldn't be that much higher if, as you say, it's the getting your hands dirty that deserves such compensation.

Also, the idea of paying people based on some metric of social utility seems dangerous; it's too subjective. When you need a good lawyer, you might be pretty damn happy to see them too.


I think social utility is a far better metric than scarcity of people willing to do the job. And I fail to be convinced that there's a massive number of people who could cut it as doctors who aren't making it because a conspiracy of greedy doctors create a limited number of medical school slots. There are certainly people who aren't making it to med school because of crappy undergraduate education— but that's a very different story. And there are surely some artificial limits on med school slots and qualifications in the U.S.— they don't want foreign doctors undercutting them, that's true.

But why should they? It may be that the doctors are smarter than other professionals in terms of standing their ground against the relentless drive of globalizers to lower everyone's pay except for that of top executives. We need an actual working, middle and upper middle class—not just 3 rich people surrounded by millions of poor.
posted by Maias at 6:17 PM on March 1, 2011


Homecare workers see more piss and shit than any doctor, and take care of our elders -- and their level of pay resembles those said feces.
posted by jb at 12:00 AM on March 2, 2011


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