The CUNY Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies

Check out the labor classes available at the CUNY Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. There is a joint CUNY/Cornell Certificate in Employee Labor Relations program, and undergraduate Union Semester program and the MA in Labor Studies program that I’m just finishing up. See the info at: http://www.workered.org/

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America’s Union Bashing Backlash

Friday, January 7, 2011America’s Union Bashing Backlash
By Paul Harris
guardian.co.uk
Unlike bankers, US labour unions had nothing to do with the economic crisis – yet they’re the ones now being scapegoated

New York’s incoming governor, Andrew Cuomo, giving his State of the Union speech in Albany, New York, 5 January 2011. He has proposed a salary freeze for state workers to help close New York’s budget deficit. Photograph: Reuters/Mike Segar

These are still tough times in America. Joblessness is rife, growth rates are slow and all sorts of fiscal crises loom in government. The impact of the Great Recession rumbles on and blights the lives of tens of millions of ordinary Americans.

No one should be surprised, then, that America’s political system is on the hunt for a scapegoat – some bunch of villains on which to blame the nation’s woes. But how odd that the current candidate turns out to be the labour movement in general, and public sector unions in particular.

Across the US, politicians are railing against the terrible abuses of powerful union bosses, especially in state government. Many of those politicians are Republicans. But far from all of them.

In New York, the freshly minted Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, has joined the backlash, asking for a wage freeze for all public workers. In many states, new laws are being considered that will trim union rights, such as the ability to get fees from their members or the right to negotiate a union contract or even form a union at all.

In Ohio, a new Republican governor wants to ban strikes by public school teachers. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie’s attacks on unions have become a YouTube sensation.

What is perverse about this trend is just how vastly it misunderstands what went wrong with the American economy. No one is denying that this is a time for belt-tightening. Or that some unions have problems.

Or that some union contracts look over-generous in austerity America. But the fundamental truth remains: powerful and reckless unions did not cause the Great Recession by rampant speculation. Nor did an out-of-control labour movement cause or burst the housing bubble.

It was not union bosses who packaged up complex derivatives to sell in their millions and thus wrecked the economy and put millions out of work. Nor was it union bosses who awarded (and continue to award) themselves salaries worth hundreds of millions of dollars for doing nothing of social value. Neither was it the union movement that was bailed out by the taxpayer and then refused to change its habits.

All that was the work of the finance industry.

Yet, as America continues to search for solutions to its economic problems, it is the labour movement, and not the banking sector, that is getting it in the neck. This is despite the fact that many unions, especially in such cases as the bailout of Detroit’s automakers, have proved themselves highly flexible in sacrificing wages and long-held workers’ rights in order to preserve jobs.

Meanwhile, the finance industry, where true and meaningful reform has failed to happen, still squeals as if President Obama were a raving socialist. Or, in the helpful and moderate words of Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

No, Mr Schwarzman, it is not like that at all.

In fact, American bankers and big corporations are flush with cash and generous tax breaks and back to most of their old habits (like grotesque bonus payouts, refusing to loan money and offshoring jobs and profits). But in the political world, it is the good union jobs that are suddenly an evil thing, when, in fact, a job that allows someone to afford their house and have good healthcare is a boon to the economy. Certainly, more of a boon than a multimillion dollar bonus to a financier who is already rich. A decent union job is a mini-stimulus package at a time when jobs are scarce and in a country where real wages are all too often stagnant or declining.

Not that the politicians care. Demonising labour has a long and dirty history in America, despite its historical weakness and low rates of union membership. Now, in times of trouble, American politicians have fallen back on the oldest stereotype they know: the evil union. Yet never has demonising the labour movement and the hardworking Americans it represents seemed more out of place.

Comments (132)

More Comments:

Lew Comenetz commented:

Bob: I just figured it out. The reason The Republicans are scapegoating the public employees unions, is that unions are the last basition of organized, well funded opposition to the Republican anti-working guy. If they can silence people like you, they will have no oppostion in the media, and in government. NONE. And the most logical place for them to go after the unions is in the public sector/government. Because it feeds on the anti government frenzy.

Danny Littwin commented:

If you needed proof that it is the Banking Interests and Corporations that control our government and media rather than “The Evil Unions” look no further. Steal a car, go to prison, steal the treasury go to the White House.

James Carlin commented:

Socialism is a word the far right use to distract people. And it seems to be working. They also use “wealth redistribution”. But wealth was redistributed. From the bottom and middle to the top! As pointed out, the top 1% increasingly holds more and more of the total wealth. But we are supposed to ignore that, because simpletons like Beck and Palin say so.

Blowhards like Limbaugh (and the goon squad on Fox) make lots of money by feeding people with what they want to hear (socialism communism Marxism etc). The pensions public employee get are not exactly what is being reported.

The republicans just want more spreading of the wealth by gutting pensions, then proposing new tax cuts (mostly for them).

What nobody on the right can tell me is how they think tax cuts for the top help. I mean, the economy fell apart with the tax cuts in place and Bush in office. And the tax cuts are still on, so where are all those jobs the wealthy are supposed to create??

I pay about 12% to social security and medicare. If I made 1,000,000 a year, only the first 100,000 is taxed for social security. So my effective tax is 12% of 10%, or 1.2%. This is fair how?? Why am I taxed 12%, when someone earning far more is taxed at 1.2%?

Then there is the so-called death tax. I believe the first million is not taxed at all, so 99% of the population will never pay it. Yet everyone who watches Fox seems to think they have an unknown rich uncle who has them in his will. It is wealth redistribution, from the bottom to the top.

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America’s Union Bashing Backlash

Unlike bankers, US labour unions had nothing to do with the economic crisis – yet they’re the ones now being scapegoated

Andrew Cuomo New York State governor, 2011
New York’s incoming governor, Andrew Cuomo, giving his State of the Union speech in Albany, New York, 5 January 2011. He has proposed a salary freeze for state workers to help close New York’s budget deficit. Photograph: Reuters/Mike Segar

These are still tough times in America. Joblessness is rife, growth rates are slow and all sorts of fiscal crises loom in government. The impact of the Great Recession rumbles on and blights the lives of tens of millions of ordinary Americans.
No one should be surprised, then, that America’s political system is on the hunt for a scapegoat – some bunch of villains on which to blame the nation’s woes. But how odd that the current candidate turns out to be the labour movement in general, and public sector unions in particular.
Across the US, politicians are railing against the terrible abuses of powerful union bosses, especially in state government. Many of those politicians are Republicans. But far from all of them.
In New York, the freshly minted Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, has joined the backlash, asking for a wage freeze for all public workers. In many states, new laws are being considered that will trim union rights, such as the ability to get fees from their members or the right to negotiate a union contract or even form a union at all.
In Ohio, a new Republican governor wants to ban strikes by public school teachers. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie’s attacks on unions have become a YouTube sensation.
What is perverse about this trend is just how vastly it misunderstands what went wrong with the American economy. No one is denying that this is a time for belt-tightening. Or that some unions have problems.
Or that some union contracts look over-generous in austerity America. But the fundamental truth remains: powerful and reckless unions did not cause the Great Recession by rampant speculation. Nor did an out-of-control labour movement cause or burst the housing bubble.
It was not union bosses who packaged up complex derivatives to sell in their millions and thus wrecked the economy and put millions out of work. Nor was it union bosses who awarded (and continue to award) themselves salaries worth hundreds of millions of dollars for doing nothing of social value. Neither was it the union movement that was bailed out by the taxpayer and then refused to change its habits.
All that was the work of the finance industry.
Yet, as America continues to search for solutions to its economic problems, it is the labour movement, and not the banking sector, that is getting it in the neck. This is despite the fact that many unions, especially in such cases as the bailout of Detroit’s automakers, have proved themselves highly flexible in sacrificing wages and long-held workers’ rights in order to preserve jobs.
Meanwhile, the finance industry, where true and meaningful reform has failed to happen, still squeals as if President Obama were a raving socialist. Or, in the helpful and moderate words of Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.
No, Mr Schwarzman, it is not like that at all.
In fact, American bankers and big corporations are flush with cash and generous tax breaks and back to most of their old habits (like grotesque bonus payouts, refusing to loan money and offshoring jobs and profits). But in the political world, it is the good union jobs that are suddenly an evil thing, when, in fact, a job that allows someone to afford their house and have good healthcare is a boon to the economy. Certainly, more of a boon than a multimillion dollar bonus to a financier who is already rich. A decent union job is a mini-stimulus package at a time when jobs are scarce and in a country where real wages are all too often stagnant or declining.
Not that the politicians care. Demonising labour has a long and dirty history in America, despite its historical weakness and low rates of union membership. Now, in times of trouble, American politicians have fallen back on the oldest stereotype they know: the evil union. Yet never has demonising the labour movement and the hardworking Americans it represents seemed more out of place.

More Comments:

Lew Comenetz commented:


Bob: I just figured it out. The reason The Republicans are scapegoating the public employees unions, is that unions are the last basition of organized, well funded opposition to the Republican anti-working guy. If they can silence people like you, they will have no oppostion in the media, and in government. NONE. And the most logical place for them to go after the unions is in the public sector/government. Because it feeds on the anti government frenzy.

Danny Littwin commented:

If you needed proof that it is the Banking Interests and Corporations that control our government and media rather than “The Evil Unions” look no further. Steal a car, go to prison, steal the treasury go to the White House.

James Carlin commented:

Socialism is a word the far right use to distract people. And it seems to be working. They also use “wealth redistribution”. But wealth was redistributed. From the bottom and middle to the top! As pointed out, the top 1% increasingly holds more and more of the total wealth. But we are supposed to ignore that, because simpletons like Beck and Palin say so.

Blowhards like Limbaugh (and the goon squad on Fox) make lots of money by feeding people with what they want to hear (socialism communism Marxism etc). The pensions public employee get are not exactly what is being reported.

The republicans just want more spreading of the wealth by gutting pensions, then proposing new tax cuts (mostly for them).

What nobody on the right can tell me is how they think tax cuts for the top help. I mean, the economy fell apart with the tax cuts in place and Bush in office. And the tax cuts are still on, so where are all those jobs the wealthy are supposed to create??

I pay about 12% to social security and medicare. If I made 1,000,000 a year, only the first 100,000 is taxed for social security. So my effective tax is 12% of 10%, or 1.2%. This is fair how?? Why am I taxed 12%, when someone earning far more is taxed at 1.2%?

Then there is the so-called death tax. I believe the first million is not taxed at all, so 99% of the population will never pay it. Yet everyone who watches Fox seems to think they have an unknown rich uncle who has them in his will. It is wealth redistribution, from the bottom to the top.

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I think I’ve got this right. How about you?

How can the citizens of the United States of America have forgotten so much about the concept of democracy, freedom and liberty?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
From  “The New Colossus”, a sonnet by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), written in 1883 and, in 1903, engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the Statue of Liberty.
I received the list of the draconian penalties illegal immigrants allegedly receive if they attempt to enter North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Venezuela, and Cuba.
To suggest that the United States of America, “the land of the free and home of the brave”, should follow the policies of countries whose record on human rights is actually worse than our own is insulting to our founding fathers, and unless you are a Native American Indian, your own forefathers. We are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.
As for the list of “free” benefits for illegals in the USA that are listed below, they are not so available, and not so “free”.
1) There is no guarantee of a job for illegals and the jobs they can get are mostly at the bottom of the income scale with substandard wages and conditions. They do however have to pay taxes on that income.
2) Yes, illegal workers can get a drivers license in the U.S. if they pass the same test as citizens. Would you rather they drove illegally and uninsured? Watch your insurance rates go through the roof if that happens.
3) Social Security, Welfare, and Food Stamps are not now, nor have they ever, been available to illegal workers. The government has far more serious ID checks for determining qualification for these benefits than most private employers. So, the illegal workers pay in to Social Security, Unemployment, and Disability insurance along with the rest of their taxes, but never collect, ever!
4) If you are here illegally you do not have the right to vote, anywhere.
5) Unless one is homeless, you either own a home or rent. Either way, whether a citizen or illegal, you pay real estate taxes, either as a property owner or as part of your rent. This pays for the schools for everyone, citizens and illegals alike.
6) There is no government program designed to give special loans to illegals for any purpose what so ever.
7) The “free” health care that is available to illegals is the same as given to citizens that can’t afford to pay for emergency room emergencies.
8) We print documents in many languages for citizens, legal visitors and students, and yes illegals. This allows everyone to understand our laws and customs and helps with public safety in this cultural melting pot we call home.
9) In a free country such as ours, people have the right to lobby, speak, and write about whatever they choose, welcome to Democracy folks.
10) Yes, illegal immigrants have the right to carry our flag, both in protest, and in it’s defense. Many illegals have served with distinction in our armed forces as a way to earn citizenship.

God bless the United States of America, the land of opportunity.
 I used to think about immigration much the same way you do, then I read a book or two on immigration policy in the U.S. as part of the MA in Labor Studies program at the CUNY Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.
So yes, I think I’ve got this right. How about you?

Respectfully,
Bob D
  

This is what I received today:
SEE IF I GOT THIS RIGHT!!!

IF YOU CROSS THE NORTH KOREAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU GET 12 YEARS HARD LABOR



IF YOU CROSS THE IRANIAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU ARE DETAINED INDEFINITELY.

   IF YOU CROSS THE AFGHAN BORDER ILLEGALLY, YOU GET SHOT.
 IF YOU CROSS THE SAUDI ARABIAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU WILL BE JAILED.
 
IF YOU CROSS THE CHINESE BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU MAY NEVER BE HEARD FROM AGAIN.
 
IF YOU CROSS THE VENEZUELAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU WILL BE BRANDED A SPY AND YOUR FATE WILL BE SEALED.
 
IF YOU CROSS THE CUBAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU WILL BE THROWN INTO POLITICAL PRISON TO ROT.
 
IF YOU CROSS THE U.S. BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU GET !!!
 
A JOB, A DRIVERS LICENSE,  SOCIAL SECURITY CARD,  WELFARE,  FOOD STAMPS,  CREDIT CARDS, 
SUBSIDIZED RENT OR A LOAN TO BUY A HOUSE,  FREE EDUCATION,  FREE HEALTH CARE,  A LOBBYIST IN WASHINGTON,   BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF PUBLIC DOCUMENTS PRINTED IN YOUR LANGUAGE 
THE RIGHT TO CARRY YOUR COUNTRY’S FLAG WHILE YOU PROTEST THAT YOU DON’T GET ENOUGH RESPECT AND, IN MANY INSTANCES, YOU CAN VOTE. 
I JUST WANTED TO MAKE SURE I HAD A FIRM GRASP OF THE SITUATION !!!
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Less News in the New Year

By Libby Reinish
Savethenews.org

Look out Pocatello, Idaho: There’s a new broadcast TV duopoly in town. According to TV News Check, the broadcast station KIFI – the market leader in Idaho Falls-Pocatello – will soon take control of ad sales and operations of its former competitor, KIDK. The agreement will cost nearly thirty people their jobs and residents will lose access to diverse, competitive news. The jointly run stations will only face news competition from one other station, the local NBC affiliate.

What’s even more troubling about this venture? KIDK is skirting Federal Communications Commission ownership rules by not transferring its license to KIFI, and instead entering into a “shared services agreement,” which allows KIFI to control virtually all aspects of KIDK’s operations, from ad sales to news programming. The result of this agreement – consolidated newsrooms producing less news with fewer journalists – appears a lot like media consolidation.

The official announcement asserts that “entering into the shared-services agreement with KIFI will enable KIDK to become a stronger and more competitive station,” but a KIDK employee told reporters that KIFI will produce KIDK-branded newscasts, that there will be fewer of them, and they will be timed so that they don’t compete with news programs on KIFI. And as for the 27 employees who are out of a job, their departure heralds the degradation of editorial independence and journalistic innovation. The job cuts include KIDK’s general manager and news director.

The news-slashing arrangement in Idaho is just one of dozens of similar deals affecting communities across the country. Other agreements have resulted in less local news programming in Denver, San Antonio, Hartford, and Asheville, to name a few. In November, we wrote about the scarcity of election coverage in Honolulu http://www.savethenews.org/blog/10/11/08/different-channels-same-electio…, where Raycom Media controls three stations, and offers only a single, simulcast newscast. In Honolulu, a local organization is formally challenging the agreement at the FCC. The FCC has been sitting on the complaint for over a year, but needs to take swift action.

Current FCC rules don’t do enough to protect against this covert consolidation. In fact, stations aren’t even required to disclose these agreements to the public or file them at the FCC. The lack of transparency makes it impossible for the FCC to know which communities are affected and whether the agreements violate existing rules. The FCC should require media companies to disclose news sharing agreements, and should create standards and guidelines for these agreements to ensure that the public is protected from covert consolidation. Competition and diversity on the airwaves is key to a healthy media system. We can’t afford to let media companies use hidden business deals to consolidate local media markets under our noses.

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Comcast-NBC Merger Does Nothing To Enhance The Public Interest

By Michael Hiltzik
Los Angeles Times
With his proposed conditions on the deal, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is trying to sugarcoat a terrible regulatory decision that underscores the derelict condition of government regulation in our age.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is poised to greenlight the proposed merger of the big cable company Comcast Corp. with the huge entertainment conglomerate NBC-Universal. Genachowski wants to impose several conditions on the deal to ensure that the resulting entertainment behemoth can’t use its dominating power to shut down competition, jack up rates for customers, and generally undermine the public interest.
The likely result of those conditions? Comcast will be as free as it wishes to shut down competition, jack up rates for customers and generally undermine the public interest.
That the FCC chairman is trying to sugarcoat a terrible regulatory decision underscores the derelict condition of government regulation in our age.
Here’s the basic truth about this deal, no sugarcoating: Nothing about it enhances the public interest, which is the standard that must be met for the FCC to approve the license transfers that are essential to the deal.

Neither Comcast nor NBC needs this merger for its survival. It won’t improve cable TV or Internet technology. It won’t by itself lead to more innovative or even more popular television programming. It won’t result in more efficient entertainment production.
In fact, by concentrating economic power in fewer hands, it may lead to less of all that. Claims similar to those being made by Comcast and NBC — that the merger will be great for customers — were made for all the media mega-mergers of the last 15 years, involving Walt Disney Co., ABC, Viacom, CBS, Time, Warner Bros., CNN and AOL, among other companies.
These deals didn’t create a golden age of filmed or video entertainment, or engender a surge of trenchant news reporting or analysis (quite the contrary), or deliver lower costs for the audience. Cable and Internet technology advanced, but that would have happened anyway.
One irony of the Comcast-NBC deal is that it’s barreling through in the name of media deregulation just as we’ve lost perhaps the smartest deregulator we’ve ever had: Alfred E. Kahn, who died two days after Christmas, oversaw the deregulation of the airline industry in the late 1970s, a policy that has saved Americans billions of dollars in fares.
Kahn understood that deregulation comes in many flavors, and some of them leave a bad taste in the public’s mouth. In 2002, he observed that the airline mergers that followed his deregulation of that industry reflected an “abdication” by government.
Unhappy that the airline industry had already become more concentrated than it had been before deregulation, Kahn wrote, “That is why we have antitrust laws.” He blamed the reconcentration of the air carriers on “the failure of the Department of Transportation to disallow even one merger of direct competitors.”
The media landscape isn’t much different. The last big media merger to be rejected by the FCC was the proposed DirecTV- EchoStar deal in 2002, which would have given the combined company 90% of the satellite TV market.
If Comcast-NBC goes ahead as planned, former FCC Commissioner Tyrone Brown has predicted, it will be the first big deal of many. “Three megacompanies — at most four — will effectively control every aspect of the product chain, from creation to distribution to the customer.” (Brown said this in testimony to the FCC as president of the Media Access Project, a Washington nonprofit advocacy group.)
The Comcast-NBC deal will create novel opportunities to undermine competition and diversity in the cable and Internet industries. Comcast’s self-interest as the owner of major broadcast and cable channels will give it an incentive to keep new, independent channels off its cable grid. Its leverage as owner of the NBC networks will allow it to shoulder other channels out of prime spots on other cable systems.
Comcast will have an incentive to hamper the growth of non-cable video distribution services, such as the Internet-based instant-viewing option offered by Netflix or the rental service of Amazon.com, whether by denying them NBC programs or interfering with their transmission to Comcast Internet subscribers.
Surprise: Comcast already is jacking up its fee to carry the Netflix video stream “as a tool to impede competition,” according to a complaint filed with the FCC by Level 3, the company Netflix hired to deliver its digital bits to customers. Level 3 says it shouldn’t pay anything extra to deliver the Netflix service to Comcast’s subscribers. Comcast says its dispute with Level 3 is a plain-vanilla disagreement over Internet traffic, not an effort to stifle a rival.
Who will pay if these fees stand? The customer. Netflix will raise its rates to cover its transmission costs, and I bet Comcast will find a way to charge its customers more for the higher Internet speeds and usage limits they need for high-quality Netflix video.
Genachowski’s proposed conditions, which have been circulated to the other four FCC commissioners, include barring Comcast from discriminating against services like those of Netflix and Amazon. But enforcing the rules will almost certainly depend on complaints from aggrieved parties such as Level 3.

That’s a weak system. Given the complexity of Internet and cable service, establishing that an action is discriminatory is an incredibly time-consuming and costly process. That’s why the incumbent almost always gets its way and why “conditions” imposed by regulators seldom present real obstacles to underhanded behavior.

The only effective way to combat this discrimination is to keep it from happening in the first place. The drawbacks of allowing content producers to own their distribution networks were recognized in this country as long ago as the 1940s, when the government forced the Hollywood film studios to sell off their theater chains. Back then, the Supreme Court found that the evidence that the studios had fixed ticket prices and engaged in other anti-competitive behavior was “incontestable.”

We’ve forgotten a lot since the court’s 1948 ruling in U.S. v. Paramount 334 U. S. 131 (1948) . Or maybe we’ve just gotten more gullible when monopolistic corporations claim they need to be bigger to serve us better.

Or maybe the regulators have just given up. As Comcast-NBC goes, so goes the nation. Brace yourselves; your pockets are destined to get picked by fewer, but bigger, media monsters.

Michael Hiltzik’s column appears Sundays and Wednesdays in the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at mhiltzik@latimes.com, read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik, check out facebook.com/hiltzik and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.

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Cuomo Plans One-Year Freeze on State Workers’ Pay

By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE

New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

As part of his emergency fiscal plan, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to take aim at unions during his State of the State address on Wednesday, officials said.


Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will seek a one-year salary freeze for state workers as part of an emergency financial plan he will lay out in his State of the State address on Wednesday, senior administration officials said.

The move will signal the opening of what is expected to be a grueling fight between the new governor and the public-sector unions that have traditionally dominated the state’s political establishment.

It will also come days after the New Year’s Eve layoffs of more than 900 state workers, an event that union representatives marked with a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Capitol and outside government offices in five other cities.

“The governor said during his campaign that the difficult financial times call for shared sacrifice,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the governor’s address. “A salary freeze is obviously a difficult thing for many government workers, but it’s necessary if the state is going to live within its means.”

While the immediate budget savings from the freeze would be relatively modest — between $200 million and $400 million against a projected deficit in excess of $9 billion — achieving it would be politically meaningful.

And because such a step would not require legislative approval, Mr. Cuomo could achieve it while bypassing the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and the Democratic-controlled State Assembly, labor’s most powerful allies in Albany.

Of course, a freeze — which Mr. Cuomo promised he would seek during his campaign — would be subject to negotiation with the unions. But labor contracts for the vast majority of the state’s 190,000 employees expire on March 31, giving Mr. Cuomo an opening to seek changes at a time of public unease toward government workers’ benefits.

Salaries, health care and pension benefits for state workers represent one of the largest and fastest-growing areas of spending, accounting for about one-fifth of all state dollars.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest union of state workers, said that the association was open to discussions with Mr. Cuomo, but was uncomfortable with unilateral demands.

“There’s a significant difference between negotiating in good faith, and issuing some kind of edict that may or may not be legal,” said Stephen Madarasz, the association spokesman. “It’s really all based on what action follows.”

Public-sector unions around the nation face growing political pressures not only from Republicans but also from their traditional allies among Democrats, as governors grapple with recession, declining tax revenues and pension funds perilously close to bankruptcy.

In November, following the Republican takeover of the House, President Obama ordered a two-year salary freeze for civilian federal workers, subject to Congressional approval.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo is also expected to call for a constitutional cap on state spending that would limit growth to the rate of inflation and for a budget that does not raise corporate, personal income or sales taxes, echoing proposals he made on the campaign trail. He will also repeat his call for a cap on the growth of local property taxes.

Even if he succeeds in winning a freeze, experts said, Mr. Cuomo will ultimately need to tackle more difficult public employee benefits, including a substantial restructuring of the state’s pension system, which faces serious shortfalls in the coming years.

“The past couple of budgets have really been holdover, stopgap plans,” said Elizabeth Lynam, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, an advocacy group that favors more limited spending. A one-year salary freeze, she added, would be “a beginning, and it’s a shot across the bow at organized labor, which has to date been uncompromising.”

“Hopefully it will lead to broad-based changes in the way state employees are compensated,” she said.

Mr. Cuomo has made clear that breaking the stranglehold that entrenched interests, including unions, have on political leaders in Albany is a major priority.

But Mr. Cuomo, who has longstanding ties to labor and was endorsed by the Public Employees Federation last year, is hoping that unions will join him in the effort to fix the state’s budget problems. In recent months, he invited public-sector unions to become his partners, even sending their leaders copies of “The Man Who Saved New York,” a biography of former Gov. Hugh L. Carey, which recounts how Mr. Carey, a Democrat, teamed up with labor leaders in similar fashion in the 1970s.

At the same time, Mr. Cuomo has signaled that he is ready to fight, and has vowed to avoid the fate of his predecessors, who have endured millions of dollars in withering television advertisements from public-sector unions seeking to forestall cuts to state spending.

After his landslide victory in November, he kept a substantial campaign war chest on reserve to run his own ads to counter any union-backed television campaigns and is now deploying outside advisers to organize business interests into what he hopes will become a counterweight to labor: a new group known as the Committee to Save New York.

Mr. Cuomo on Sunday attended Mass with his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, and his three daughters at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, down the street from the Executive Mansion. Shortly after that, he returned to work at the Capitol, where aides were huddled to help draft Wednesday’s speech and attend to other issues.

“We’re going to be getting back to work,” he told reporters after the service.

He also issued an executive order that will require top administration officials to undergo ethics training within the first three months of this year and to be recertified every two years afterward.

Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.

(A version of this article appeared in print on January 3, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.)



Broadcast Union News: Yikes!! Gov. Cuomo is the candidate endorsed and successfully elected by the Democratic Party, proof positive that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are friends of Labor. All working class Americans should be very afraid. I am.

The Democratic Party has become a bastion of hypocracy, cowtowing to the rich and powerful, while claiming to be the party of the working people.

William LeGro commented: “For Cuomo and the other governors he’s so slavishly imitating, public employees are a pinata – easily-targeted scapegoats for the failure of politicians to tax and budget properly, for the recession, for resentful non-unionmembers who don’t have the courage to organize themselves to fight for economic justice, and for voters who are ignorant of the fact that freezing public salaries saves a pittance and really, there’s something fundamentally wrong with a plan to reduce the benefits of one group of workers to the level of the rest of us rather than try to raise the benefits for uninsured and underinsured Americans.”

LeGro goes on to say: “Cuomo-type governors promise not to raise corporate and personal income taxes. Yet in the middle of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, corporations are sitting on mountains of cash and the rich are getting richer, widening the gulf between themselves and the rest of us, the great unwashed as far as they’re concerned. Taxing the corporations and the rich at levels prevalent during the 1950s, or even the 1970s, would go a long way toward both funding public employee benefits and providing equal benefits to all citizens.”

When 1% of Americans get 25% of the total U.S. annual income and 10% own 80% of the outstanding common stock, the “free market” is not so free.

When millions in tax payer bailout money goes to executive bonuses because they have “employment contracts”, but collective bargaining agreements are violated and ignored, the market is not free and the playing field is not level.

When workers do a bad job, they get fired. When management in the financial services and auto industries did a bad job, they got a bailout.

Now, the same kind of mismanagement by public sector executives results in pay and benefits cuts for the workers, not the bosses.

Even Henry Ford, certainly no friend to labor, said; “You have to pay the workers enough that they can afford to buy our products.”

With the death of the middle class, the destruction of our infrastructure, school systems, unions, and manufacturing base, there will be nobody to buy those products, whether produced here or overseas.

We are becoming a third world country and nearing the end of democracy, so short sighted, too sad to contemplate. So stand up! Fight back! Mobilize! Organize to take back the Democratic Party, The Labor Movement, and this country from the greed fat cats currently in control. The land of the free can only exist through the efforts of the brave.

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Broadcast Union News Responds To The Ritual Annual Stagehand Bashing

By Bob Daraio
Broadcast Union News

In Mark Hemingway’s December 27, 2010, Washington Examiner article, The Power of Unions he quotes a November 1, 2009 Bergen Record column by James Ahearn, For Backstage Labor, Rich Rewards , that suggests that stagehands represented by IATSE Local One, working 80 to 100 grueling hours a week during the Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center seasons, are over paid.

They are wrong.

These articles imply that stagehand work is unskilled and that the compensation package for the IATSE Local One represented department heads at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center are typical for stagehands in NYC.

Both these inferences could not be further from the truth.

Having been a stagehand working in theater, film, and television since 1977, I am offended that people are under the misguided impression that our work is “unskilled”. Like most stagehands, I have a BFA in Theater Technology. Many of my brothers and sisters have MA or MFA degrees in our field. I am currently studying industrial labor relations in order to earn an MA in Labor Studies. A number of my union brothers and sisters have earned MBAs and law degrees in order to be better prepared to function effectively in the business of entertainment.

Stagehands in NYC have to pass a difficult entrance examination and serve an apprenticeship prior to earning their IATSE Local One union card. In addition, stagehands are required to be licensed for many special skills such as pyrotechnics and rigging, as well as having to keep current on the latest computer assisted design (CAD) techniques, computerized lighting systems, automation and robotics, a wide range of audio, video, and other multimedia technology.

I think the average stagehand in New York City earns somewhere between $60 and $70 thousand dollars a year. My best year in TV, I earned $96,000 in 260 long work days.  My average annual pay over a 30 year career was about $70K. A good living, but hardly a king’s ransom. Yes, there are always exceptions at both ends of the earning scale.
Many stagehands have seen a drop in income due to the closing of TV studios, canceling of long running soap operas, and shrinking crews on Broadway as more automation, smaller shows, and limited runs take their toll on employment.

People who don’t work in the entertainment industry don’t realize that the theatrical schedule is six days a week, including all weekends and holidays. TV stations are on the air 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year to provide you with news, sports, and entertainment. Shouldn’t there be compensation for missing Thanksgiving dinner with our families, Christmas and birthdays with our children, year after year?

Department heads at large shops like Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and Lincoln Center have to manage multimillion dollar budgets; use advanced computerized payroll, employee scheduling, and inventory reporting systems; understand complicated pension and welfare plans to advise their crews on health insurance and retirement issues; and be experts at management/labor relations.

There is a very good reason these well educated, highly skilled, accomplished stagehands earn six figure incomes. The level of responsibility they assume, the intellectual abilities required, and the hours they put in demand a commensurate level of compensation.
It is interesting to note that neither Hemingway nor Ahearn have any issue with Carnegie Hall’s CEO, Clive Gillinson’s $946,581.00 annual salary, but are offended by the earnings of highly skilled department heads that receive between one third to half of Gillinson’s wages for two to three times the hours worked.
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Defending Workers Against Discipline

Defending Workers Against Discipline

By Robert Schwartz
 
Labore Notes Editor’s note: The author is working on a new handbook on defending workers against discipline. Here are some excerpts.

Forced Resignation

Q. Can we submit a grievance for a nurse’s aide who resigned from work after her supervisor falsely accused her of patient abuse, threatened to discharge her, and suggested that she quit?

A. Yes. Under a theory called “constructive discharge,” a resignation extracted by duress or coercion is considered equivalent to a discharge.

Retracting a Resignation

Q. When a supervisor demoted a worker, the worker lost it and declared, “If that’s how you feel about me, I quit.” That night she called the union and said she had made a big mistake. Management says a quit is a quit. Can we grieve under the just cause standard?

A. Yes. An employee who quits her position because of emotional stress can retract the resignation if she gives prompt notice by telephone, fax, or email and if the employer will suffer no significant harm by permitting the employee to return.

Applying Rules Off-Duty

Q. Does a work rule prohibiting the use, sale, or possession of controlled drugs apply when an employee is off-duty?

A. Generally, no. Company rules do not apply to off-duty conduct unless expressly stated. Even if the rule says it applies off-duty, the union can challenge the rule as unreasonable if the prohibited conduct does not have a demonstrably adverse impact on the workplace.

Drug Test

Q. A worker failed a drug test. Can the employer fire him without an interview?

A. No. Under due process principles, the employer must give the employee a chance to explain why he was taking the banned substance and why he should not be punished.

Double Jeopardy

Q. An employee threatened another worker. Two hours later, his supervisor said, “If you do that again, you will be in a bag of trouble.” The next day, human relations called the worker in and suspended him for a week. Can we defend on the grounds of double jeopardy?

A. Yes. A worker cannot be disciplined twice for the same conduct. The first notice was a verbal reprimand. The worker viewed it as final and continued working. The matter should have ended there.

Anonymous Complaint

Q. Personnel fired a driver after an anonymous customer sent a letter containing graphic descriptions of sexual misconduct. Do we have a chance at arbitration?

A. Yes. An employer cannot justify a discharge solely on the basis of hearsay. If the driver consistently denies the charges, and the complainant does not appear to testify, an arbitrator is likely to order reinstatement.

Snake in the Truck

Q. A driver drove his truck into a guard rail. He claimed he saw a large snake on the passenger seat and grabbed it with both hands to avoid being bitten. Impossible case?

A. No. When a discharge is based on circumstantial evidence (no witnesses), the evidence must eliminate reasonable explanations advanced by the employee. If the driver gave the snake explanation from the get-go, and stayed with it consistently, he should prevail at arbitration.

Lie Detector Test

Q. An employee suspected of theft declined to take a polygraph test. Can the employer cite her refusal as evidence of guilt?

A. No. Arbitrators disfavor polygraph tests. They almost never hold refusals against employees.

Disparate Treatment

Q. The company discharged a five-year worker for sleeping on the job. Two years ago, a worker with 20 years’ seniority was given a one-day suspension for the same offense. Does the difference in service time justify the difference in penalties?

A. No. Differences in seniority do not justify wide divergences in penalties.

Dog Ate It

Q. Management says it lost the paperwork that explains why it issued a lenient penalty two years ago. Is this sufficient to avoid a finding of disparate treatment?

A. No. An employer cannot escape a finding of disparate treatment by asserting that paperwork has been lost or misplaced.

Pick Your Poison

Q. The company fired a worker who was seen smoking marijuana in her car. Six months earlier a worker who drank beer on the job was given a five-day suspension. Isn’t this disparate treatment?

A. Yes. There is no acceptable basis for imposing substantially harsher penalties on employees who commit drug offenses than on employees who commit similar alcohol offenses.

Erasing Disparate Treatment

Q. If an employer suspends an employee for sleeping on the job, is it barred from firing future offenders?

A. No. An employer can erase past leniency by making a clear and unequivocal announcement to the workforce that it intends to discharge employees for all such offenses in the future.

Progressive Discipline

Q. Our contract has a four-step progressive discipline policy. An employee with 20 years’ service committed four offenses and was discharged. But in an earlier case, management gave a 22-year worker with four offenses another chance. Can we raise disparate treatment?

A. Yes. The employer surrendered its right to insist on a lockstep application of the progressive discipline provision. If mitigating circumstances are considered for one employee, they must be considered for all.

Zero Tolerance

Q. The company manual says any violations of safety policies “shall result in termination.” Is this penalty binding in arbitration?

A. No. Arbitrators frequently rule that zero-tolerance policies are trumped by contractual just-cause clauses.

Robert Schwartz is the author of several labor law handbooks published by Work Rights Press and available from Labor Notes, including The Legal Rights of Union Stewards.

About Labor Notes

Labor Notes is a media and organizing project that has been the voice of union activists who want to put the movement back in the labor movement since 1979.

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