Category Archives: labor

Police Union Actions Imperil Public Sector Unions

I wrote a post on the subject of police union conduct and public relations last July, and it seems to be an appropriate time now to link back to it.  There was also a post on police accountability.

I’ll repeat for those who haven’t read those posts that I am a former public sector union member and former office holder in a public sector union.  I am not an opponent of public sector unions, and I am not fond of those who pile on the criticism when there’s bad publicity.  However, I am concerned that police union leaders are treading a fine line, which if crossed too often or too far will cause more harm to their associations than good.

We now have two more unfortunate examples of union leaders who are jeopardizing the effectiveness of their organizations:

(1) Philadelphia, PA — police union president calls members of Black Lives Matter a “rabid pack of animals,” after previously asserting a police officer’s Fatherland tattoo with an eagle was just a picture of a bird.

(2) Cleveland, OH — the police union doesn’t want to hold the flag because Cleveland Browns’ management supported players’ protest.

Why do these actions and announcements imperil public sector unions? Let me count the ways:

(1) There are those who don’t support public sector unions and these people would be ever so pleased to remove your capacity to negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions.  Police and Firefighters have been lucky thus far that many anti-union pieces of legislation have carved out exceptions for first responders — but make no mistake, if the criticism gets too vehement and too prolonged those exceptions will be more difficult to maintain.

(2) One of the most common arguments against public sector unions is that they “protect bad apples.”  This contention has been widely employed against teachers and other public sector employees.  By focusing on protecting individuals who have behaved badly instead of on the provisions of the contract the union leadership gives credence to these voices.  A pro-tip might be: If someone is about to hit you don’t hand them a bat.  There are times you might have to say, “We will defend the rights of Officer X, and help him present the best possible defense.”  Unspoken in this context is “we’ll help him present a defense if he can dream one up.” The less the personnel issue is “personalized” the more likely a positive outcome in the long run.

(3) Focus on what’s important.  Every union needs to focus on wages, hours, and working conditions.  The more the focus is extended into politics, social issues, religious controversies and other realms the less effective the union can be in improving those three basic elements.  Getting involved in local (or national) political controversies, such as the one in Cleveland, creates distractions and distractions create eventual problems at the bargaining table.

(4) Don’t forget you do work for the public.  That would be all the public, even the ones who don’t like or trust you. I once had a prolonged dialog with a person who offered an initial disparagement of public sector unions with a common generalization about “they are in it for themselves and not the public.”  My admission that I was a former public sector union member who agreed with some of the criticism and yet could provide a rationale for some rules and contract provisions was met with “you’re different.”  The more members of the general public can be convinced that “we” are mostly “different” and do not fit the convenient generalizations parroted by opponents the better.  However, taking sides isn’t helpful.

Another point should be emphasized.  No one would dream of allowing a nurse to refuse to treat a person because of the patient’s nation of origin.  That would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of the patient’s rights.  No one wants a teacher to refuse to assist a student who is a member of an ethnic minority, that too would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights.  No one wants a county clerk to register only members of one political party — that would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights. No one could imagine a firefighter refusing to rescue a person because the individual was a member of a particular religious faith.   So, how is it not unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights to refuse service to a group because members of that organization, team, or party hold views not in accordance with your own?

(5)  Don’t let management off the hook.  There are, in any organization of any size, some individuals who cannot or will not perform up to expectations and standards.  The reason that some “bad apples” are in the barrel is that someone hired them and put them there.  And, that someone isn’t the union.  A shop steward’s or union rep’s job is made much easier when management is encouraged to maintain or increase its hiring and performance standards.  Speaking of performance standards, a union representative’s life is smoother when those standards are mutually agreed upon after thorough discussions concerning the most appropriate elements to incorporate into the standards and practices, and how performance is to be measured.  For example, if a person’s performance involving interaction with the public is jeopardized by personal tattoos which seem to align that individual with Neo-Nazi or other white racist elements  then that’s something the union and the management need to discuss.  A standard should be agreed upon and mutually enforced.  To do otherwise is to invite all the criticism upon the union and its representatives and let the management off the hook.

Perhaps it’s time for a gentle reminder that to be elected to union leadership means not only do you represent your union members to the management, but that you represent your union to the public?

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Filed under football, labor, Politics, public safety, racism

Wage Discrimination is an Economic, not just family, Issue

Rosie Riveter

Consider the following report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research:

“Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2015, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 21 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.”

DB’s ranted on about this before: (2013)

“Women are having a tough time in the present economy, and the situation isn’t made any better by the wage gap.  NPWF reports: ” In Nevada, on average, a woman who holds a full-time job is paid $35,484 per year while a man who holds a full-time job is paid $41,803 per year. ” (pdf)  This has some very real economic consequences for the state since 125,402 households in Nevada are headed by women. In 32,479 of those households the income is below the poverty line.  Thus 25.89% of those households are barely getting by.”

And on the GOP filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act (2014).  However, it really is necessary to broaden the discussion – equal pay for equal work is not just a “woman’s issue,” nor is it a “family issue.” It’s an economic issue.

Once more, let’s look at the reality of what happens when men and women aren’t paid equally for equal work.

In the state of Nevada right now, the average annual wage for a food service manager is $62,160. Pay ranges from $18.51 per hour to $46.97 per hour with a mean wage of $29.89/hr. [NDETR calc]  Let’s keep all the variables such as experience, tenure, and specialization, the same, and concentrate solely on what would happen if two people of the same level of experience, expertise, and skills were to be paid based on gender.  Let’s have our hypothetical male food service manager paid the annual average of $62,160 per year.  This means that our hypothetical female food service manager would receive 79% of that, or $49,106.

If both our male and female food service managers were being paid $62,160 per year, and if both were in the same household then the household income would be $124,320.  Now, here’s why this is an economic issue and not merely a “gender” one.

If our male and female food service managers are paid along the lines of the 79 cents for every dollar that holds nationally, then the total household income is reduced.  That $124,320 in total household income drops to $112,266, a reduction in income of $12,054.

That $12,054 is money NOT spent at the grocery store, or at the furniture store, or the clothing store, or at the restaurant, or the automobile dealership, or the carpet center, or the movie theater. It is NOT spent on educational expenses, books, and Internet service. It is NOT spent on sporting goods, family entertainment, or automobile parts and service.  It is NOT spent at the florists’ shop, or the cabinet-maker’s store, or the barber shop, or the beauty salon.  It can’t be spent because they don’t have it.

The only way to avoid talking about this simple arithmetic is to prattle on about “Job Creators” and the Trickle Down Economics Hoax. “Supply side economics” is a theory in search of statistics – it doesn’t work in the real world, and it never has.   If there is no demand for goods or for a service, there will be no jobs created.  And, there will be no demand IF people don’t have the money to spend for those goods and services.

Once more, here’s the First Law of Personnel Management:

First Law Personnel ManagementHow are businesses in this country supposed to SUSTAIN demand for goods and services if the female employees in the country, who are doing the same jobs as their male counterparts, aren’t able to contribute the same amount to the family’s disposable income?

So, tell me, how do we grow the economy of the United States of America, an economy based in no small part of consumer spending, if we artificially limit the amount of income contributed to family coffers by women?

There are 123 million women ages 16 and above in the United States, and 72 million (58.6%) are working or looking for work. Women are now 47% of the total U.S. labor force, and they are projected to account for 51% of the increase in the total labor force between 2008 and 2018.  73% of employed women are working full time, while 27% are employed on a part time basis. [DoL]

We are no longer talking about the “little woman” working outside the home for some ‘pocket money.”  We are talking about two-income families, both incomes being necessary to move toward the middle class life style or to maintain it.   If a family of four, with an annual income of $112,266 lives in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, their income is comparable to 56% of those adults in that area. That’s the middle. [Pew Calculator] Diminish the second income and we diminish the whole.

Diminish the whole and we diminish the potential for economic growth.  Equal pay for equal work is simply dollars toward a stronger economy and old fashioned common sense.

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Filed under Economy, labor, Nevada economy, Politics, sexism, women, Women's Issues

Unsolicited Advice for a Police Union

Rockwell cops I write this from the perspective of a former public sector union member and officer. I write this without rancor for other public section union members and their officials, but I write this because there is a difficult line to walk between protecting the interests of the membership and drawing lines between the members and the communities they serve.  Once those lines are drawn they are very difficult to erase.

There is always a temptation on the union side of the ledger to focus  on protecting the individual member from disciplinary actions, from demotions, involuntary transfers, dismissals, or refusals to re-employ.  That’s part of the job.  However, some disciplinary actions are both appropriate to the situation and often inevitable. Therefore, the focus of the union representatives is more productive in the long run if the philosophy is to protect the due process rights of the member, and the provisions of the master contract.  Put ever so much more bluntly, there are times when it’s necessary to tell a member, “I’m here to help you offer the best defense you can, if you can dream one up.”  

What is not helpful is to operate on the assumption that every member (or non-member in some instances) is worthy of full throated public support.  Nor is it helpful to assume that criticism of one, or a few, is necessarily criticism and vilification for all.    Yet, that seems to be the standard operation in a few high profile union/community examples.

“The St Louis Police Officers Association claimed that officers found the actions of (St. Louis Rams) Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Tre Mason to be “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory”, and demanded that they be disciplined.

Five of the players emerged for their game against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday with their hands aloft, a gesture used by protesters who claim that Brown was surrendering when he was shot dead by officer Darren Wilson on 9 August. Last week a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson.” [Guardian] December 1, 2014

Wouldn’t it be nice if ALL police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, aviation employees, letter carriers, and state and municipal employees were respected for the countless hours of service they provide?  If everyone understood that first responder vocations are of paramount importance? If everyone understood that teaching and nursing are high stress occupations with long hours and little overtime?  However, respect doesn’t necessarily indicate adoration, reverence, and exaltation.   Further, demanding veneration means there will be higher standards applied to the members of the organization.  The old line applies: If you want to be respected do your job; if you want to be worshipped you have to do your job perfectly.

Mix a bit of racial tension into this toxic stew and there’s a recipe for unhelpful recrimination.  

“Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, blasted de Blasio for his inflammatory remarks, which followed Wednesday’s decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict cop Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“What police officers felt yesterday after that press conference was that they were thrown under the bus,” Lynch said.

De Blasio had called the Garner case “profoundly personal for me,” saying that because of “the dangers [Dante] may face, we’ve had to literally train him . . . in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” [NYPost] December 4, 2015

That a father would have The Talk with his son about interactions with police officers is common in the African American community.  I have yet to meet an African American who hasn’t been followed in a department store at least once, or hasn’t had The Talk with a son, grandson, or nephew.  Yes, The Talk implies a negative perception of the police, but an essential part of The Talk is to show respect for the officer and the directions given.  No one is getting tossed under the wheels of any imaginary bus – this is simply generational wisdom passed along regarding how to cope with some people in authority.  There are also  Talks about how to cope with cranky teachers, or how to behave in a department store.  These same talks are replicated in the white community, although without the sense of urgency and fear.  “Respect your teachers, respect police officers, keep you nose clean and mind your manners.”  Aren’t those things what we want all kids to do?

When the dust settles, let it settle. The outcome of mediation, arbitration, or litigation may not be the desired outcome for the union, but once it’s done it should probably “stay done.”  Such as in the case of the Eric Garner settlement in New York:

“Sergeants Benevolent Association head Ed Mullins, meanwhile, had a different take. In an interview with the NY Post (who else?), Mullins described the settlement as “obscene” and “shameful,” asking the tabloid’s readers, “Where is the justice for New York taxpayers? Where is the consistency in the civil system? In my view, the city has chosen to abandon its fiscal responsibility to all of its citizens and genuflect to the select few who curry favor with the city government.” [Translation: AL SHARPTON AL SHARPTON AL SHARPTON.] [Also: AL SHARPTON.]

“Mr. Garner’s family should not be rewarded simply because he repeatedly chose to break the law and resist arrest,” Mullins concluded. (Police claim Garner had been selling loose cigarettes outside a Staten Island deli when officers approached him.)” [Gothamist]  July 14, 2015

Or, in the case of Tamir Rice’s family in Cleveland:

“The head of the Cleveland rank-and-file police union says the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice should use money from a $6 million settlement to educate children about the use of look-alike firearms.

Steve Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association association, was criticized on a national scale for statements he made to the media in the weeks and months after two officers in his union were involved in Tamir’s death.” [Cleveland PDealer] April 25, 2016

When enough has been said, enough has been said.  Until it happens again —

“Four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working the Minnesota Lynx game at Target Center on Saturday night walked off the job after the players held a news conference denouncing racial profiling, then wore Black Lives Matter pregame warm-up jerseys.  Lynx players did not wear T-shirts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of Tuesday’s game in San Antonio.

“The Lynx organization was made aware about the concerns of the off duty Minneapolis police officers,” the team said in a statement. “While our players message mourned the loss of life due to last week’s shootings, we respect the right of those individual officers to express their own beliefs in their own way. … We continue to urge a constructive discussion about the issues raised by these tragedies.” [MSTrib]

[…]

“Kroll (Minneapolis Police Federation) criticized Lynx players, citing the “false narratives” in the past two years in which some allegations of police misconduct in the killing of black people were refuted. “Rushing to judgment  Police sign up for off-duty jobs to work Lynx games, Kroll said. “They can start or stop a job whenever they want,” he said. “They are working on an independent contract.”

Asked about a report that seven or eight officers had walked off the job, Kroll said, “They only have four officers working the event because the Lynx have such a pathetic draw.” [MSTrib]

Here we go again.  Lt. Bob Kroll commends the officers for walking off, and then slathers on a bit of misogyny about the “pathetic draw.”  Putting distance between your union and your community doesn’t serve most positive purposes – in terms of  issues both philosophical and practical.

On a philosophical level, if we assume  there is already a divide between the African American community and the police – how does walking away from a potential opportunity for “constructive discussion” help anyone? What of, “I protect and defend your rights, including freedom of speech, until you say something I find offensive?” From a practical standpoint, the Lynx organization already hires private security; does it help other police officers trying to earn  extra pay if they are perceived as potential ‘walk outs’ should they be in any way offended by players’ statements?   The police chief tried to tamp down the rhetoric:

“Walking off the job and defaulting on their contractual obligation to provide a service to the Lynx does not conform to the expectations held by the public for the uniform these officers wear,” she said. “While I do not condone the actions of the officers, I realize how every member of law enforcement throughout this country, including myself, is feeling right now.” [MSTrib]

Here’s a thought: When the employer is trying to smooth the waters for the union, there’s a possible need to curtail wave making actions.  There are already calls for the privatization of police  [HuffPo] popular in some libertarian quarters, and touted as a ‘solution’ to police/community relations.  If your opponent wants to make a cudgel, refrain from handing him a tree branch.   Or a tree trunk, as in Denver:

“It’s only natural that some police departments reassess how they handle protests after the terrible shootings in Dallas last week that left five officers dead. But the demand by the Denver police union in the wake of the tragedy that local cops wear riot gear during protests was truculent and out of line.

The union has been pushing for the use of riot gear at protests for two years, ever since demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., spread across the country. But the tone adopted by Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association, in a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock and police Chief Robert White, was rude and combative, while some of its factual content was questionable.

Basically, Rogers warned those two officials that if any officer not wearing riot gear is injured during a protest, the union will attempt to hold them personally liable, citing federal court decisions that “officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials ‘created the danger’ that caused the harm.” Presumably he means the union will sue the mayor and chief in an effort to blame them.” [DenverPost]

There’s also something to be said for an employer who is trying to maintain the public image of police as public servants and not an armed militia out to suppress citizens, some of whom are already reluctant to give the police the benefit of the doubt.

Highly publicized emotional comments in highly volatile times, too often made from intransigent positions predicated on “us vs. them,” may garner approval from some quarters but approbation from others.   It’s best to function from the position that there are those who will always be in support no matter what the issue; however, it’s the increasing level of approbation which ought to be of primary concern.  Listening to supporters is always comforting; listening to the adversaries is always necessary.  On a more tangible level one thing the police unions would do well to avoid is the perception (now conveniently applied to public school teachers) that the union will protect the “bad apples.”

The recent devolution of respect for the teaching profession includes the argument that “schools are bad, they are bad because of bad teachers, and unions are bad because they protect those bad teachers.”  That none of this makes any sense isn’t the point. We certainly don’t need for some elements in the political spectrum to start arguing that “policing is bad, it’s bad because of bad officers, and the unions are bad because they protect those bad officers.”  Once this contamination spreads it’s more difficult to resist the privatization proponents.

If the perspective is truly to defend the due process rights of police officers, and to protect the provisions of the master contracts, then it’s much easier to defuse confrontations.  Due process and contractual elements aren’t personal.  Personalizing them adds emotion, emotion reduces discourse, and reduced discourse increases confrontations.  Negotiations are rarely improved by adding confrontation into the milieu. There is, indeed, a time for more collaboration and less conflict.

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, labor, Politics, privatization, public employees, racism, unions

DIY Business News: How to stop yelling at the TV screen and get some real news

Stock Ticker Old

Spare me the whining about Americans and their financial illiteracy.  It’s not like they are getting any help from institutions which ought to be assisting them. 

Media bashing gets a bit cheap at times, but in this realm the broadcast media isn’t delivering anything close to real “business news.”  For starters, most of what passes for “business” news on the cable TV outlets is nothing more than financial sector gossip and stock market reporting.   When everything is said and scrolled across the screen, what the consumer has gotten is information of the stock markets, by the stock markets and for the stock markets.  

If we take the most generous definition of an investor possible – one including individual investors, investors in retirement 401(k)’s, IRAs, mutual funds, and ETF’s – then we can claim that 48% of the adults in the U.S. have money invested in “the market.” [CNN]  Meaning, 52% of Americans have no investment in “the market” at all, and one could question how carefully those who have funds in the retirement accounts are attending to the investments made on their behalf.  Drilling a bit deeper into the numbers we find that only 13.8% of all U.S. families held any individual stock. [CNN] “Ownership of savings bonds, other bonds, directly held stocks, and pooled investment funds sustained sizable drops in ownership rates between 2010 and 2013, although none of the four types of assets are commonly held, with ownership rates in 2013 varying between 1.4 percent (other bonds) and 13.8 percent (directly held stocks).” [FED pdf]

The best face we can put on this is that what passes for business news in this country is stock market information of direct interest to at best 14% of the nation’s adult population.  Why? We can guess — (1) It pleases the managerial types who are focused on short term gains in stock prices? (2) It’s cheap to produce?  Reporting on stock prices is really easy, especially if the big driver is something accessible like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (3) It gives executives an opportunity to tout the value (whatever that might be) of their companies, thus moving their stock prices up?  However, what it doesn’t do is give anyone a clear overall picture of business in the United States of America.

Do It Yourself

If business news isn’t what’s on offer from the news channels which purport to provide it – then where to find it? 

The Federal Reserve has all manner of publications available online which will inform the inquisitive about consumer and personal finance.  Auto and Student debt is up at the moment, while the home ownership rate is falling, but not as many homeowners are now in default.  Interested in income inequality, or wealth gaps? Information is available from the FED on those topics as well.  Look and one can find all manner of information and analysis, unfettered from political punditry, on the subject.  In fact, one can discover that the way we talk about income inequality may be a function of how we measure it.

The San Francisco Federal Reserve is pleased to highlight its blog, with features ranging from how the FED recycles old currency to how Medicare payments may be curtailing inflationary trends.  If more generalized information is the target, then the Beige Book is as good a source as any:

“Commonly known as the Beige Book, this report is published eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and Branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector. An overall summary of the twelve district reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis.” [FED]

Think of the Beige Book as “one stop shopping” for general economic news in each of the FED’s regions.

 Hard Hat

Labor:  A steady diet of cable business news might leave a person with the idea that labor news doesn’t exist except so far as it concerns minimum wage issues, or the latest protest of less than living wages. It’s more difficult to find than information about economic trends, but it’s there.   A person might want to start with Labor Press.OrgLabor Notes, is another source.  Union labor issues are well publicized in AFL-CIO sites.  There’s more information available from the SEIU, and AFSCME.

Those cable shows – and they are just ‘shows’ – could fill a goodly amount of their time just from Department of Labor information.  They won’t because they’re too busy tossing softballs to CEOs, but they could for example offer the investor’s side of the argument about fiduciary responsibility and financial advisers from DoL information.  If it’s numbers that are wanted, there’s a whole bureau for those – the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Want the current consumer price index, the unemployment rate, payroll employment figures, average hourly earnings, the producer price index, productivity statistics, or the employment cost index? All these are available from the Department of Labor.

Doing Business:  Republican presidential candidates Cruz and Kasich both proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce.  This is taking the Tea Party Express right over the edge into the Silly Swamp.  One excellent source of information about our economy is the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles data regarding personal income and outlays – read: income and spending – what could be more “economic” than that?  Want information concerning the Gross Domestic Product? Consumer Spending? Corporate Profits? Fixed Assets?  Balance of Payments? State and Metropolitan GDP? Quarterly GDP by industry? It’s all available from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When thinking of broadcast media it’s important to remember that what keeps the cable ‘business’ news going are advertising sales, and a commercial which might cost $2,000 to $3,000 for a network broadcast sponsorship could be as cheap as $175 on cable.  Little wonder their business seems to be limited to softball interviews and streaming the DJIA numbers on the screen – which you could do at home on any computer monitor.  Those shows are relatively banal because they probably can’t afford anything else.

Enterprises like Bush’s Baked Beans, Chef Michael’s Canine Creations, and Slap Chop are right in the mix with Ford, Chevrolet, and Wal-Mart sponsoring what passes for business and news reporting. [HuffPo] We’d be better served to Keep Calm and Do It Yourself.

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Filed under Commerce Department, Economy, labor, media, Tea Party Express

It’s A Train Wreck?

Amtrack wreck Reno The cable news networks are off on their usual “Who’s To Blame?” penchant in reporting tragic news, and in the midst of the palaver over the Pennsylvania Amtrack wreck there’s the usual lack of context.

For example, has the media told us there were 220 derailments in 2012, 191 in 2013, and 228 in 2014? [FRA]  Or, when looking at accident or incident causation we have the following information at hand? [FRA]

Cause 2012 2013 2014 2015
Track 112 91 87 101
Human 98 96 132 112
Equipment 39 33 47 44
Signal 12 9 8 6

What is interesting about this abbreviated table is the the track and human failure seems to predominate, while equipment and signal failures account for substantially less than the  first two factors.  (Miscellaneous factors are not included in this summation.)

There’s another way to observe train accidents, by state, and we find the following among the states with the highest number of accidents:

State 2012 2013 2014 2015
California 17 20 13 18
Illinois 24 33 50 38
Minnesota 10 9 4 3
North Dakota 5 4 6 4
Nebraska 13 7 8 11
Ohio 14 10 15 14
Texas 35 22 31 37

*This summary doesn’t include crossing accidents.

The Federal Railroad Administration also keeps records of fatalities and injuries, and this is what garners most attention from the news media. Again, we can look at the record over the last four years, noting that those numbers for 2015 are preliminary.

Fatalities 2012 2013 2014 2015
California 19 12 18 25
Florida 4 8 7 4
Georgia 6 4 5 3
Louisiana 3 2 1 6
New York 4 7 1 12
N. Carolina 4 8 5 5
Ohio 7 3 5 4
Pennsylvania 3 4 3 3
Massachusetts 3 1 0 0
Texas 11 7 4 18

*PA will add 8, those fatalities in the Amtrak accident near Philadelphia, May, 2015.

What we might expect to find are a higher number of fatalities in the Northeast Corridor, where ridership includes commuting,  but the reports indicate higher numbers generally in California and Texas.  If the accident numbers (in terms of passenger travel) appear to be increasing, so is the ridership, as shown from BTS (interactive) figures from 2000 to 2015.  The light blue line doesn’t include seasonal adjustment.

Rail passenger miles

The general trend shown by the unadjusted and adjusted numbers indicates more people using rail transportation since 2000. In calendar year 2006 the FRA reported 602,280,892 passengers transported; the number of passengers transported as of the end of calendar year 2014 was 694,507,965.

FRA regions map And, where is the ridership?  Where we would expect it.  Region 1 reported 369,467,363 transported, Region 2 reported another  83,444,579.  Region 7 reported 99,512,195; Region 6 reported 56,260,844.  Region 4 reported 41,748,653. Region 5 reported 32,943,327.  Region 3 reported 5,938, 814; and, Region 8 reported the lowest passenger traffic at 5,149,686.

What Use Can We Make Of The Numbers?

First, if we take a look at the ridership numbers (which don’t include local transit services) and the reported fatalities,  it’s reasonably clear that passenger travel is remarkably safe. Certainly safer than travel by private automobile.

Secondly, we can question the popular opinion offered to explain the political inaction on public transportation funding – like for Amtrack – that low funding is because most of the country isn’t using passenger rail service.  Granted that Regions One and Two (Northeast Corridor) are reporting the highest usage, but quite obviously Region Seven (California) and Region Four (the upper Mid West) are contributing significant ridership numbers.  The assertion that low ridership may equate to low support could only true for the Southeast and the Northwest.

Third, if we look at accident causation, it’s worth repeating that track issues and human error are the most common.  Therefore, while it’s useful to speak of new and better gadgets for passenger train safety – and we should be applying the best technology we can devise for passenger safety – it’s also true that suggestions like putting a second person in the cab, or promoting better track maintenance should be part of the larger conversation.

Fourth, if we focus down on the human error factor, we should note the 2006 FRA study of the fatigue factor:

“As part of the study, researchers analyzed the 30-day work-schedule histories of locomotive crews preceding approximately 1,400 train accidents and found a strong statistical correlation between the crew’s estimated level of alertness and the likelihood that they would be involved in an accident caused by human factors, FRA said.”

We can delve into the details to substantiate this conclusion:

The risk of human factors accidents was elevated at any effectiveness score below 90 and increased progressively with reduced effectiveness. At an effectiveness score ≤ 50, human factors accidents were 65 percent more likely than chance. Human factors accident risk increases reliably when effectiveness goes below 70, a value that is the rough equivalent of a 0.08 blood alcohol level or being awake for 21 hour following an 8-hour sleep period the previous night. Below an effectiveness score of 70, accident cause codes indicated the kinds of operator errors consistent with fatigue, confirming that the relationship between accident risk and effectiveness was meaningful. [FRA]

If preventing the next accident is our major concern then addressing the fatigue factor is crucial, and yet we have a situation in which railroad employees and management are at odds over the safety rules. For example, SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) wanted to relax fatigue abatement rules in 2014:

“Regional Rail engineers have asked federal regulators to require SEPTA to follow a safety rule designed to limit fatigue. SEPTA wants the Federal Railroad Administration to renew a waiver that the transit agency has had from the work rule for two years. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen asked the federal agency to deny SEPTA’s request and hold a public hearing on the issue, citing accidents at other railroads caused by fatigued engineers.” [Phl.com]

And the reason for the waiver request?  That can be safely predicted:

“SEPTA said the waiver was “in the best interests of the riding public from both a service (more employees available for duty to address service demands) and economic standpoint (reduced labor costs by eliminating a potential need to hire additional employees).”

“Maintaining tight controls on labor expenses and operating expenses is one way SEPTA manages to fulfill that obligation [to operate efficiently],” SEPTA said in its request for the waiver extension.

“SEPTA estimates one additional crew costs approximately $150,000 annually, so even one new employee could cost SEPTA hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor expenses in a relatively short period of time.”[Phl.com]

In short, to address demands for service it was deemed better (from an economic standpoint) to have fewer workers working longer hours, in spite of the FRA report eight years before demonstrating the decline in the probability of passenger safety.  Is the “mission” of SEPTA to function “efficiently” or “safely?”

Fifth, returning to the gadget fixation there’s an abiding American proclivity to believe that we can apply tools to fix human problems.  It’s one of our basic strengths – we have a problem, we invent a tool to mitigate or solve it.  The news media has been abuzz about the Positive Control Train System, but while we have this tool in the box it’s not been applied universally.  The recent wreck provides a case to the point:

“In 2008, Congress ordered the installation of what are known as positive train control systems, which can detect an out-of-control, speeding train and automatically slow it down. But because lawmakers failed to provide the railroads access to the wireless frequencies required to make the system work, Amtrak was forced to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies that are often used in mobile broadband.

Officials said Amtrak had made installation of the congressionally mandated safety system a priority and was ahead of most other railroads around the country. But the railroad struggled for four years to buy the rights to airwaves in the Northeast Corridor that would have allowed them to turn the system on.” [NYT]

This junction of private vs. public concerns was literally a wreck waiting to happen? Could Congress have made the wireless frequencies immediately available to the railroads? Probably yes. Would they buck the powerful lobbying interests of the mobile broadband providers? It doesn’t look as if they did.

Sixth, in the interests of not perpetually “fighting the last war,” or focusing too narrowly on factors associated with one instance of a rail system problem, we need to be cognizant of the other common factor in derailments and related accidents – the track inspections.  Perhaps it’s time for a report along the lines of the Deep Dive study conducted on the Metro North system, which called for Metro North to “create a plan for the use of advanced (track) inspection technology, ensure track is maintained to Metro North Track Standards, collaborate with labor unions to increase the availability of off hours maintenance time, improve training programs for track inspection and maintenance, and to analyze train schedules to determine whether there is sufficient time for inspection and maintenance of track.”

It’s not reassuring to find out that Minnesota has only one track inspector for its 4,500 mile of track. [MST]  Pennsylvania has 5,600 miles of track and “There are currently six PUC railroad inspectors who each focus on a specific discipline (track, operating practices, hazardous materials, grade crossing and motive power and equipment). PUC inspectors work in close coordination with FRA inspectors to ensure safe train movements throughout the entire state.” [PPUC]  Please tell me there are more than 6 people working on inspections!  The recent controversy over the Oil Trains moved New York to conduct an examination:

“Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced completion of the latest round of targeted crude oil tank car and rail inspections, which uncovered 100 defects, including eight critical safety defects that require immediate action. The inspections were the latest part of the Governor’s push to protect New Yorkers from the potential dangers associated with the transport of crude oil by freight rail companies. State and federal teams examined 704 crude oil tank cars and approximately 95 miles of track in these inspections.”  [Gov.NY]

Perhaps the Amtrack accident might move the states to engage in comprehensive reviews of track safety?

Finally, we need to address some philosophical and political problems.  What is the “mission” of our transportation system, especially with regard to our railroads?  As usual, there are more questions than answers.

Is the mission, to replicate the focus as illustrated by SEPTA  on “management efficiency,” or is the mission to provide safe, reliable, and modernized transportation for passengers and freight?  Have we down-sized employment levels of engineers and track inspectors to a point where we are being penny wise and pound foolish?  Are we requiring adherence to the best safety standards or simply accepting what is “economical” at the moment?

Have we placed impediments to modernization such as the implementation of Positive Control systems? Have we also jeopardized other safety considerations and systems by emphasizing privatization at the expense of public safety and the economic benefits of infrastructure improvement?

Are we perceiving our transportation system and infrastructure as essential to the economic well being and growth, or are we limiting our vision to the quotidian arguments between labor and management?

The national conversation about railway infrastructure and its management needs to be far broader than the current fixation on how to prevent wrecks.  That train left the station long ago.

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Filed under Economy, Infrastructure, labor

Senator Heller’s Nostalgia for the Good Old Days of 1896

Child LaborWho knew Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) was so nostalgic for the Good Old Days?  Senator Heller is one of the co-sponsors of The Tea Party Darlins’ shiny new bill to bring back the Glorious Early Days of the Industrial Revolution.   Senators Coburn and Paul have  introduced the Enumerated Powers Act of 2013. This bill gives members of Congress the procedural tools necessary to stop unconstitutional legislation. And what is “unnecessary?” [TP]

The third part of this truly unbelievable bill is a gateway to the past — “3)      Prohibits the use of the Commerce Clause, except for “the regulation of the buying and selling of goods or services, or the transporting for those purposes, across boundaries with foreign nations, across State lines, or with Indian tribes…” [Coburn]

So, let’s declare unconstitutional some of those little irritants that so burden the Titans of Industry, things like:

Child Labor Laws

8 hour days

Weekends

Overtime Pay

We should all be so grateful to our corporate masters that we should revert to sub-menial jobs with 12 hour shifts for 75 cents an hour instead of participating in a pension plan.

Liability for Industrial Accidents

Sweatshop regulation

Strikes and job actions

Master contracts

Sexual harassment and discrimination statutes

Minimum wages

In Senator Heller’s Ideal World if your boss wants to institute 12 hour shifts with no overtime pay — that’s perfectly all right.  If your daughter’s boss harasses her in the work place — she’ll just have to quit to be rid of him.  If your son’s employer wants him to drive his big-rig long into the day and night — so be it.

If your wife’s minimum wage job pays $1.25/hr. she should be grateful to have any job at all.  If you are injured on the job and are unable to work — that’s your problem.

If you’ve not read Otto Bettmann’s “The Good Old Days, They Were Terrible,” run — don’t walk to your nearest library or bookstore and get your copy today — it will explain just exactly the working conditions Senator Heller thinks are appropriate for the 21st century American worker.

Now, are there any questions about who Senator Heller represents in the U.S. Senate?

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Congress: Not Exactly Working Overtime

Hard HatHouse Speaker John Boehner would have us believe that he and his cohorts like Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV3) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2) have been thinking of nothing! — Nothing, I say, except jobs for the last two and one half years:

“So tomorrow the president says he’s going to go out and ‘pivot’ back to jobs.  Well, welcome to the conversation, Mr. President, we’ve never left it.  We’ve been focused on jobs for the last two and half years – actually, longer than that – but the two and half years we’ve been in the majority. [Speaker]

What Haven’t You Done For Me Lately?

Really?  In the first 99 roll call votes in the House’s 113th session there are NO jobs bills.  There was a bill passed to “prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from taking any action that requires a quorum of the members of the Board until such time as Board constituting a quorum shall have been confirmed by the Senate, the Supreme Court issues a decision on the constitutionality of the appointments to the Board made in January 2012, or the adjournment sine die of the first session of the 113th Congress.” [H.R. 146]  It’s a bit of a stretch to figure out how handcuffing the NLRB is a way to promote the wealth and welfare of American workers.  Nevada Representatives Amodei and Heck voted in favor of this blatantly pro-corporate management bit of legislation; Representatives Horsford and Titus did not.

Ah, but wait! The Republican controlled House wasn’t finished with the NLRB, on April 12, 2013 H.R. 1120 was passed which declared: “Effective on the date of enactment of this Act, the National Labor Relations Board shall cease all activity that requires a quorum of the members of the Board, as set forth in the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 151 et seq.). The Board shall not appoint any personnel nor implement, administer, or enforce any decision, rule, vote, or other action decided, undertaken, adopted, issued, or finalized on or after January 4, 2012, that requires a quorum of the members of the Board, as set forth in such Act.”  [roll call 101]

This wasn’t handcuffing, it was a full on effort to make the NLRB completely dysfunctional.  Contending that this bill has anything at all to do with Job Creation is an argument which only works if one adopts the discredited Supply Side Economics Hoax — theorizing that if corporate management is happy then everyone will be happy.  Representatives Amodei and Heck were happy to vote for it.

Ah, but the assaults on the labor force continued with H.R. 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act.  Yes, a person could label this as “flexibility” for American workers, but a better shorthand description would be the Anti-Overtime Bill.  H.R. 1406 Prohibits an employee from accruing more than 160 hours of compensatory time. Requires an employee’s employer to provide monetary compensation, after the end of a calendar year, for any unused compensatory time off accrued during the preceding year.   Once more Reps. Amodei and Heck were pleased to support corporate management and vote yes, Rep. Titus and Horsford, failing to see how substituting comp time for actual overtime wages would help most workers,  voted no. [roll call 137]

Veterans were supposed to see some benefit from H.R. 1412, which would have job training programs end up paying veterans 75% of what the job normally pays — the current rate is 85%.  [CRS] And, then there was this kicker: “Extends from November 30 through December 31, 2016, the requirement of a reduced pension ($90 per month) for veterans (with neither spouse nor child) or surviving spouses (with no child) covered by Medicaid plans under title XIX of the Social Security Act for services furnished by nursing facilities.”   Thank you for your service?  The bill passed on May 21.

Let’s not forget that old “Job Creator” — the XL Pipeline — and let’s also remember there’s some very real controversy about how many actual jobs this would create while subsidizing the transportation of Canadian oil to global markets.   The provision of H.R. 3 passed on May 22, with Representatives Heck and Amodei voting to subsidize the Canadians; Representatives Titus and Horsford voting no. [roll call 179]

Add to this H. Res. 274, the Drill Baby Drill Act, this time on the continental shelf of the U.S.  There’s a pattern here — Reps. Amodei and Heck yes; Titus and Horsford no.

Now, we’re up to Roll Call 300 in the last session of the vaunted Job Creators in the U.S. House of Representatives — How about something called the “Offshore Energy and Jobs Act?”  Evidently, if you add the word “jobs” to a bill it automatically means — jobs?
“(Sec. 101) Amends the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to direct the Secretary of the Interior to implement a leasing program that includes at least 50% of the available unleased acreage within each outer Continental Shelf (OCS) planning area considered to have the largest undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources, with an emphasis on offering the most geologically prospective parts of the planning area.”  Drill Baby Drill, and keep drilling.  Here we go again: Amodei and Heck voting with the Oil Lobby, Titus and Horsford voting no on H.R. 2231.

Thus far we can document that the 113th Congress has taken target practice at the NLRB, at worker’s over-time pay, promoted the construction of pipelines and wells for the benefit of global energy corporations — and…. we haven’t touched another category of bills the House GOP asserts would be “job creators,” bills to gut the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate finance reform law and the Dodd-Frank financial sector reform law.  There have been bills to restrict the SEC’s capacity to regulate the derivatives markets, and the commodities markets.  In short, it’s the same old drum beat: Corporate Subsidies and De-regulation.

Once Upon A Time

There was the administration proposed American Jobs Act, which the Republicans allowed to expire from the last session.  The bill would have cut the payroll taxes for 98% of American businesses, which we usually call “small business.”  It sought to prevent the layoff of 280,000 teachers and funded renovations and upgrades to some 35,000 schools (construction jobs anyone?)  The bill contained an Infrastructure Funding system, with a proposal to finance road construction, airport improvements, rail improvements and high speed projects…. and the GOP let it die.

Undaunted by the failure of the Republican leadership to craft any legislation including infrastructure and employment, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) has introduced an updated version of the American Jobs Act.  Wilson’s “Jobs Now Act” (H.R. 2574) was introduced on July 18, 2011, and Representative Wilson is ready to try again.  The House leadership may be just as willing to let the bill expire yet again in the House Education and Workforce Training Committee.

But wait?  Speaker Boehner wants us to understand that the Congress should be praised for what it hasn’t done.  If that is the standard then the body is praise-worthy indeed — they’ve done relatively little except cater to the Wall Street bankers who want to return to the Good Old Days of Casino Capitalism, to the Oil Giants, and to the top floor corner offices of corporate management.

The rest of us?  Not so much.

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Filed under Economy, House of Representatives, labor, Nevada politics, Politics

ALEC Inspired Assault On Public Employee Retirement in the Nevada Legislature

Nevada Legislature BuildingA bill introduced in the Nevada Assembly, AB 342, (pdf) should be carefully watched.  Once more the Public Employees Retirement System is under assault from ALEC inspired Republican interests in, transforming PERS from a defined benefit system to a defined contribution system.  In the case of AB 342 there’s a gimmick.  The bill would create a hybrid system for those who are hired after July 1, 2014, including the creation of a defined contribution individual trust account paid into by the employer (at a 6% rate.)

The first, and the most obvious, reason to oppose this bill is that We Don’t Need It.  RPEN reports “Due to careful management, PERS’ unfunded liability has decreased recently and the system’s assets have grown to a record $28.6 billion which speaks to this time-tested system’s viability.”   [Review, April 2013]

Why would anyone think we do need to change the PERS system from a defined benefit to a defined contribution, or in the case of AB 342, some kind of hybridization?

The “privatization” of public employee retirement has been a common motif of narratives spun by conservative organizations, among which ALEC is one of the most notable.

“The solution to the funding crises in state pension plans will require fundamental reform. Everything should be on the table, including changes in benefits and increased employee contribution rates, as well as employer contribution rates. These plans should consider replacing their defined benefit plans with defined-contribution plans for new employees.” [ALEC]

First, ALEC and related organizations would like us to believe that Public Employee Pensions are IN CRISIS! Crisis, I Say!   However, even if we revert to the wake of the last financial meltdown the situation nationally (and in Nevada) was not quite so alarming as the advocates of defined contribution plans would have us believe.

Information from the GAO should have been reassuring back in that day:

“Government Accountability Office said last summer, “our analysis shows that state and local governments on average would need to increase pension contribution rates to 9.3 percent of salaries— less than .5 percent more than the 9.0 percent contribution rate in 2006 to achieve healthy funding on an ongoing basis.”  Divided between employees and employers in whatever way negotiated, this is hardly an earth-shaking departure from the status quo.” [PS.org]

In short, the logic in the aftermath of the financial collapse was that defined benefit plans for public employees were in crisis because there was a down turn in the value of their investments and therefore the plans should be transformed into defined contribution plans which place retirement accounts in greater jeopardy during times of financial market volatility.  If this doesn’t make sense to you give yourself a Big Gold Star — because it doesn’t.

Secondly, the push toward defined contribution plans, or some variations thereon, obfuscates the result — that the defined contribution plans mean lower benefits for retirees and more expenses for the state to maintain the program. [FLPE]

There have been some analytical studies to support this conclusion, (using DC to mean defined contribution, and DB to mean defined benefits):

Generally, the reports found that the DC plans carried a higher price-tag than maintaining the current DB systems. In both the Michigan and New Hampshire reports, the proposed employer DC contribution rates were scored to be comparably higher than the normal DB cost. The studies cite that higher costs derive primarily from administrative costs – whether they are outsourced to a third-party or expanded internally, legal and consulting fees assumed by public pension fund handlers, and additional operating costs.  [FLPE]

Thus, moving from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan primarily augments the coffers of the administrators, legal consultants, and fund managers — not the state or the retired state employees.   If defined contribution plans are more beneficial to Wall Street, then who benefits from the defined benefit plans?

We do. There is evidence of this:   Traditional defined benefit plans reduce employee turnover and aid in employee recruitment. They pay higher benefits at lower administrative costs than the DC plans.  The benefits are expended in local communities adding to their economies.  Individuals with predictable incomes tend to contribute more to the economy as consumers.  [SDCERA]

AB 342 is not a particularly useful addition to the fiscal discussions in the Nevada Assembly.  We don’t need it. It won’t save anyone any more money — and may, in fact, end up costing the state more.  Nor will it serve to do anything more than line the pockets of those wonderful people who brought us the Financial Meltdown of 2008 — who now want public employee retirement accounts to add to their funds to gamble in the Wall Street Casino.  The bill should be watched — from a distance — in what ever dark and hidden corner it now resides.

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Nevada GOP Reps Support Assault On 40 Hour Work Week

SweatshopRepresentatives Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Joe Heck (R-NV3) voted on May 8, 2013 in favor of H.R. 1406 “To amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide compensatory time for employees in the private sector.”  [roll call 137]  The CRS Summary describes the bill:

“Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 – Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to authorize private employers to provide compensatory time off to private employees at a rate of 1 1/2 hours per hour of employment for which overtime compensation is required. Authorizes an employer to provide compensatory time only if it is in accordance with an applicable collective bargaining agreement or, in the absence of such an agreement, an agreement between the employer and employee.”

Trade your time and a half for comp time? What could possibly go wrong? Let us count the ways!

#1. Right off the bat, this is a frontal assault on the 40 hour work week.  The old system, in place since 1938, (pdf) is a dis-incentive for employers to demand longer hours of their employees because over-time costs more, one and one half times more.  This Republican “innovation” allows employers to require more over time work, without any extra compensation.

#2. There are limits on the employee, not necessarily on the employer. For example, under the terms of the bill employees may not accrue more than 160 hours of comp-time in any calendar year.  If there are approximately 260 work days a year (52×5) and we take out 5 for holidays leaving 255 days, then we’d have a total of 2,040 work hours (255×8) during a calendar year.   160 hours is about 8% of the total number of annual work hours.  In some jobs it wouldn’t take much to hit the limit quickly.

#3. H.R. 1406 slaps the wrists of employers who coerce employees into taking comp-time rather than over-time payment with a serious application of a soggy noodle.

“Makes an employer who violates such requirements liable to the affected employee in the amount of the compensation rate for each hour of compensatory time accrued, plus an additional equal amount as liquidated damages, reduced for each hour of compensatory time used.”

Got that?  If an employer threatens an employee who doesn’t want to take comp-time, the employee will be compensated for the “lost hours” plus liquidated damages MINUS each hour of comp-time used.  So, hypothetical Mr. Grinch demands that his employees participate int he comp-time scheme.  Miss Cindy Lou doesn’t want to participate, but is given a “choice” by Grinch to either take the comp-time or (a) get nothing or (b) get canned. She takes the comp-time.  When she complains to authorities she’s to be “paid” back but the time she took off (at the firm suggestion of Grinch) is counted against her?  Lovely.   The “choice” to take uncompensated time off isn’t a viable choice for most working families.

#4. Nothing in the bill requires the employer to be consistent about over-time or comp-time policies.   In fact, an employer can shuck the comp-time scheme if he or she gives the employees 30 days notice.   Then there’s the matter of when the comp-time will be taken.  It would be in the employer’s interest to have employees work over-time during peak seasons and  give comp-time during slow periods.  There’s NO flexibility for employees if the employer is the one determining when the leave can be taken.  Does Cindy Lou need to cash in some comp-time because The Kid is out of school with chicken pox?  Nothing in the bill requires any employer to award comp-time except at his or her own discretion.  This is “flexibility” for the employer and the same old (but this time uncompensated) routine for the employee.

#5.  Employees could easily end up bankrolling the employer in this scheme.  Here’s one example:

“That’s because employers would be able to pay workers nothing at all for overtime work at the time the work is performed and could schedule comp time off at no extra cost to them (for example, during less busy periods when co-workers can pick up the slack). So, when employees request comp time, they essentially become lenders to employers. For example, a worker earning $12 an hour and banking the maximum amount of hours (160) would be giving an interest-free loan of $1,920 to his or her employer.” [AFLCIO]

If we pick the thread in #4, in which the comp-time is scheduled at the convenience of the employer, and the employer is getting the services of the employee at NO EXTRA CHARGE, then those 160 hours of accrued time become a form of freebie loan to the employer.

The Republicans in Congress appear to take some pride in saying they are “pro-business,” and that they promote “pro-business” policies — you can’t get much more pro-business than assaulting the requirement of the 40 hour work week, or the eight hour day, or the notion that employees should “donate” their time to their employer.  What’s next?  By GOP lights should families have the “flexibility” to send their 10 year old kids into the factories? Only in the burbling boiling  cauldron of crazy — does H.R. 1406 constitute a “pro-family, pro-worker” act.

Representatives Horsford (D-NV) and Titus (D-NV) had the good sense to vote against this patently pro-sweatshop bit of legislative stew.

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Filed under Amodei, Economy, Heck, labor

Turkey Time: DB’s Nominations

It’s holiday time, and here are DB’s nominations for the Birds of the Season.  The Turkeys are (in no particular order):

Presidential candidate Mitt “47%” Romney, who managed to insult ethnic minority groups, women, moderates, independent thinkers, elders on Social Security, students getting Pell Grants, advocates of clean energy, conservationists, women’s health care proponents, Medicare enrollees, consumer advocates, social safety net supporters, and then wondered why he didn’t win the 2012 election.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who having defended the nomination of Condoleeza Rice to be Secretary of State (Anyone remember that Mushroom Cloud reference?) attacked U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for being “stupid” and “deceitful.”   This state of affairs shouldn’t be surprising because a quick search of DB would soon demonstrate that Senator McCain was quite often the recipient of the unwanted and un-complimentary Deck Bass award of recent memory.

Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) nemesis Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, gets a Turkey for his statement that revenue increases are maybe kind of sort of could be OK, IF we fix the Real Problem.  The Real Problem for Senator McConnell appears to be that Social Security exists.   There’s no reason to raise the retirement age in the United States, because the Social Security system adds ZIP ZERO ZILCH to the national debt.  However, if we want to make the system more secure — how about lifting the cap on taxable earnings above the current $110,000?

Republican members of the Ohio state legislature who decided not to consider a sex education bill in favor of advancing bills to strip funding from Planned Parenthood, and to enact a “heartbeat” anti-abortion bill. [TP] Because, hey, there’s nothing like preventing kids from getting medically accurate, scientifically valid, information on human sexuality to keep unwanted pregnancies from occurring?

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) whose definition of “compromise” means that the GOP would consider cuts to military spending and all other spending cuts to reduce the national debt — but would not consider any proposals to pay for the Bush Tax Cuts and the two wars launched during the Bush Administration.  [TP] It seems obvious that Senator Paul would like to balance the national budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, and the poor.   There’s a real Turkey.

Energy company backed climate change deniers whose opposition to any measures to conserve our planet by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels may be precipitating a situation which the UN Environment Program, the World Bank, PriceWaterhouseCooper, World Meteorological Organization, and the International Energy Agency say is dire now and could become life threatening sooner rather than later.  [HuffPo]

Hostess/Wonder Bread, which having been sold and bought three times since the 1980s and selling off valuable company assets all along the way, piled up so much debt that it first declared bankruptcy in 2004 — after management gave themselves handsome bonuses for creating the dismal financial situation.   During the 2004 bankruptcy process the union gave back $110 million in concessions, which they were told would be spent on new technology and machinery.  The promises were never kept by the two hedge funds and a private equity firm who own the company.  Instead the management saddled the corporation with about $800 million in debts, and then asked labor for 27% to 32% in additional give-backs.  [Counter] [Forbes]  This, while senior management asked the current bankruptcy court to give them a 75% bonus for sticking around to liquidate the company. [Reuters] Somehow, “gobble gobble” sounds entirely too polite.

Faux News commentator Bill O’Reilly who is quick to tell us that single women, ethnic minorities, and African Americans aren’t “traditional” Americans, i.e. “real Americans.”   O’Reilly joins Andrea Tantaros who opined that Food Stamps could be a wonderful “diet plan.” [MMA]

The Security and Exchange Commission, which is supposed to be the nation’s watchdog agency on Wall Street, seems to have been spending an inordinate amount of time on “extra-curricular” activities. [C&L] There’s more from Rolling Stone magazine.  The article is an antidote to the tryptophan in the turkey.

Don’t take House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) too seriously when he says the Affordable Care Act is now the Law of the Land, he walked that statement back in land speed record time.  He and his conservative allies are supporting law suits to attack the bill’s provisions, delaying the implementation of the insurance exchanges, and rejecting Medicaid expansion.   [TPM]

The GOP operatives, legislators, and strategists who are promoting Vote Suppression.  [Nation]  Phony voter identification law proposals are still on the horizon, there’s a conservative backed case headed to the Supreme Court to gut the Voting Rights Act, and last year House Republicans tried to eliminate the US Election Assistance Commission.  Voting is a RIGHT, not a privilege.  Turkey.

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Filed under abortion, ecology, labor, McCain, Politics, Romney, Securities Exchange Commission, Vote Suppression, Voting, Women's Issues