Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Santa Claus, Professional Wrestling and Public Meetings

For those of you who accept the reality of Santa Claus and professional wrestling, you must now accept some usually undiscussed realities about politics and public meetings. Many are fully aware of this but others not so much.

Elected officials almost never make up their minds on an issue because of what happens at a public meeting or hearing expressly called for the purpose of discussing the merits of the issue at hand. How can that be? Have they been lying to us all this time? Is this all a charade? Is it just a show to make us feel like they care? The answers are yes and no.

No, you were not lied to because you have never asked the questions. Yes, you may have been lied to if you were led to believe that the decision was made at the last minute. This probably was not the case. You just wanted to believe a fairy tale like Santa Claus. By the way, Santa Clause does exist, but not quite in the simple terms we tell our kids when they are small.

The reality of political decision making is that the politician’s vote may be recorded at the committee meeting, bill hearing, general meeting or whatever we call when the votes are tallied. However, the decision is nearly always made prior to the meeting based on the information received and digested by the official. The information that causes the decision comes from many sources not the least of which is from one or more lobbyists.

The time to convince a politician of the merits of your position begins long before any public meeting to tally the yeas and nays. Political decision making is always complex. Some will say the decision comes from the first or last input received. Others will say the decision comes due to the loudest or most sustained voices or regrettably the voice with the largest checkbook.

Most often, the decision comes from a combination of all the sources of influence. If anyone knew with absolute certainty what and how much to do to guarantee success, that person would be incredibly rich. A lot of people are trying to get rich claiming they have the secret formula. There are a lot of names to describe these people, both good and bad, but all are lobbyists in one form or another. That is the way our system of government works.

I do not believe the process now in effect subverts democracy or representative government. It does make it more difficult for naïve people who actually believe they can go to a meeting and change the outcome. It can happen, but counting on it happening causes the frustration that so many people feel about politics.

• Some people think they are above all this political BS and refuse to participate. They are losers.

• Some people will not do what is necessary to be successful for many reasons. They are losers.

• Some people are just too lazy to do what they must do to succeed politically. They are losers.

• Some people eventually get the idea and do what they must to get what they or their constituents need. They are winners.

The question becomes: Are you a winner or loser?

BTW, professional wrestling is faked only to those who believe it is a competitive sport. It is a very dangerous show that provides entertainment to some. Politics may be a show as well that can provide success but only to those who participate. Spectators get what is left over.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Sartorial Correctness

Today’s rant has been festering inside me for at least a quarter century. Now that I have a forum, here it comes. It has to do with the appearance union leaders make before the public. This is more than a little sensitive to some and will rile up those who do not agree with me but…..

Union leadership needs to move away from the notion that they always need to look and dress alike to show unity. That methodology works fine when you want to show unity and strength. It works fine when you want to rally the troops. Everybody wearing a union logo ball cap and shirt is fine for union meetings, conventions, picnics, charity events and generally any group outings for union members and where group unity is valued.

HOWEVER…. Stop looking like the Three Stooges, Village People or the Harlem Globetrotters when you go to public hearings, private hearings, private meetings, public meetings, negotiations, grievance meetings, political functions or any type of situation where you need to blend in. Wearing union garb is not as good an idea as it seems to many of my brothers and sisters. Here are some reasons why:

· Politicians, friend and foe, and management are not impressed with the union uniforms.

· If a politician does not know who you are without your showing him/her your union baseball cap, you are a loser in the lobbying profession. You must have a relationship that has already made you well known.

· Sadly, not all politicians are comfortable appearing in all public arenas with union folks. You must blend in the picture.

· Management, politicians, business people and the general public should not be able to tell the difference between labor and management by what you are wearing unless you are wearing better looking conservative clothes than them.

· Casual and poorly fitting or worn clothing of any kind is not appropriate in a professional setting.

· Business casual for union people should be nothing less than a collared shirt, trousers and possibly a blazer for the men. Women’s clothing should be similarly appropriate. I never wear a slit skirt or a “wife beater” to a business meeting and neither should you. By not understanding that fact, some people subtly place themselves in an inferior position they must later overcome.

· Not all settings require the same boring clothes, but make sure you can identify who you are trying to impress and dress at least as well as they do.

· Over dressing can be as damaging as under dressing. Good fashion judgment is a must.

· Your cause is what is important … not your comfort.

If you do not normally wear business clothes, buy at least one properly fitting blazer type jacket and a couple of broad cloth white or blue shirts that fit. Assume they will shrink and you will gain weight so buy them ½ size larger than you normally buy. Get two conservative ties that match the shirts.

There is more for me to say on this topic. I have already done enough to piss off some but have caused others to nod in agreement.

And Oh yes… Have a nice day?


Caveat Lectores on Public Relations, Political Activity and Lobbying

With all the bad things happening in the world of public employment, the level of good will to all did not diminish this holiday season. What I mean by this is that firefighters, cops other public employees have not lost their desire to help those who really need help. The daily barrage of news we receive was filled as usual with stories of charitable giving of time and resources to the needy and unfortunate by firefighters and other public employees.

Firefighters do a better job of getting involved, but they are not alone. They do, however, do a much better job of making sure the public knows what they do. It is called effective public relations. PR is the foundation cornerstone of public employment success. Without effective PR and making sure the public knows how valuable any segment of public employment is to the community, there is an assurance that the public will take the employees for granted. If all a public employee group does is come to work and do a good job, they become invisible. Invisibility means failure to attain success.

Firefighters, both professional and volunteer, are a model for PR success that other groups should study and emulate. PR keeps the fire/rescue service in the public’s consciousness. Good feelings about firefighters make it easier to support their causes which include, among other things, their own wages and benefits.

Effective public relations create credibility with the public. Credibility with the public makes a group attractive to politicians. It takes more than just money for public employees to become credible. Political activism comes as the extension of the successful PR program.

”Effective political activism leads to relationships with legislators that give you access to put forth your point of view. Friendly politicians will listen to you. They may not always agree with you, but they will listen. Develop relationships with as many legislators as possible so you will have that access. This is not rocket science. … Remember, you and your Local are trying to persuade … people from varying backgrounds with varying goals and objectives to narrow their focus to agree to help you and your members achieve your frequently very different goals and objectives. You must find common ground.” *

Working with politicians is called lobbying. You cannot succeed without a successful lobbying effort. You can live in denial and fail or get your head out of the clouds or your ass and do what it takes to succeed. My best professional advice is to get more involved with PR, political activity and lobbying.

And… Oh yes, have a nice day?


Excerpt from the most important resource available to fire union leadership: The Survivor’s Guide to a Successful Public Sector Union

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Union Busting

The Rant is not really all that much about union organizing or union busting, however. It is about history and how it may repeat itself if we do not study labor history maybe just a little. The history of labor unions is mostly lost to nearly all workers without considerable effort to sort it out. Most available labor history is incredibly partisan; therefore, suspect to anyone but the most trusting.

Either side of the labor/management argument is usually woefully ignorant because they only know what they heard from a supporter or a detractor. Most learned what little they know from their parents who held equally ignorant opinions.

Most secondary and post secondary schools do a miserable job of teaching labor history and unions do a pitiful and partisan job. It does not take much reading of any historical narrative to feel the point of view of the writer. Maybe I am being harsh on myself as well because I was a serious union supporter long before I troubled myself to learn anything about the union movement. How I got there is chronicled in my bio on the blog site. Why I stay on the union side is another matter.

My professional specialty, if I have one, is public sector unions with a subspecialty in fire/rescue. After nearly four decades of involvement, I call myself an expert and many people agree, but they do not always agree with me.

Here are some observations made from years of experience in watching what goes on with unions, both from the inside and outside the circle of the brotherhood.

• The labor movement predates us all and was born of suffering and wretchedness I will never fully understand, with any luck at all. Millions of workers lived in third world conditions. Too many workers still do.
• It was the threat of a strange sort of civil war that prompted Congress to legalize and sanction collective bargaining for private sector workers.
• This continued threat and the effects of the Great Depression caused those in power to rethink the laissez -faire attitude toward worker rights and pass the National Labor Relations Act.
• Many public employees even as the first decade of the 21st century ends do not have the same rights.
• As the triumphs of private sector unions have risen and fallen, public sector unions now have found the opportunities that once resided only in the private sector.
• Private sector unions are rapidly dwindling in power and relevance.
• Local, state, and federal sector unions are steadily increasing in numbers of members and will explode if legislation passes at the federal level to open up the opportunity for more to collectively bargain.
• This anticipated opportunity has caused private business and government to ratchet up the war against worker rights.

In order for all unions to grow instead of shrink to irrelevance, the leadership and the members will have to mature to fit the needs and realities of the 21st century. That is going to be more difficult than many would believe. 20th century methods of organizing and administration of unions at the national and local level will not provide success.

Why do I say that? Look at the past 30 years. I am not a rocket scientist, but I can see there needs to be a change of tactics. This is not an indictment of present leadership, but that things must change. Times change, the definition of relevance changes as well. Let’s hope that the time never comes when the old ways of gaining success that worked in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s ever revisit us.

The reason this in not a tirade on how to be successful is that there is no quick answer that can fill a couple of pages. I have lots of incremental suggestions, but no guaranteed fix that will not require time, pain and resources.

• Modern workers and their expectations are more complex, and even more complex solutions will be required to entice them to join unions,
• Management is more sophisticated in the way it goes about union busting.
• Some would say that government and the politicians have been bought and paid for by those who oppose worker rights.

Daily, I hear my union brothers and sisters whine about how things are going to “hell in a hand basket.” I call it whining because it is similar to a child’s lament that “it’s not fair.” Things will not change for the better until we do what is needed to make it better.

In the private sector, the solution is too intricate for today’s rant. The public sector is simple but not easy. sustaining success in the public sector will require public relations, political action and lobbying in such a way as has not been seen before.

That is all for today’s installment. More to come and prior Caveat Lectores have touched on this topic, as well.

I just finished watching Matewan. It is a 1987 movie about a coal mining town and the people who were involved in trying to organize a labor union. .The story line in Matewan was filled with the misery, brutality and losses before successes began to appear. In fact, there was little to no success attached to that period in history. I highly reco9mmend it to begin the study of labor history.

And Oh yes… Have a nice day?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Rednecks

According to Wikipedia: “Redneck is a disparaging term that refers to a person who is stereotypically Caucasian and of lower social-economic status in the United States and Canada, particularly referring to those living in rural areas. Originally limited to the Southern United States and then to Appalachia; the term has become widely used throughout North America.”

That definition generally follows my understanding of the term. When growing up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, we pretty much equated redneck with farmers who toiled in the sun and got rednecks and a “farmer’s tan.” We did not necessarily equate it with the “poor white trash” definition that has evolved, but my personal goal was to avoid being a redneck. Only upon moving to Florida did I encounter people who claimed to be rednecks and were proud of their limited knowledge or acceptance of things otherwise civilized.

Many of the people I know who claim “redneckdom“ are also very politically and socially conservative and sometimes are very right-wing republican in their viewpoints. While I have never fully understood how a working man or woman could be an anti-union republican, it happens with great frequency.

Recently, I learned a factoid that defies common thinking on rednecks.

It seems the term “redneck” is really a labor union term for a group of West Virginia coal miners who in 1921 participated in the Battle of Blair Mountain when coal miners wore red bandanas around their necks to identify themselves as loyal union men battling the mine owners for the right to unionize.

For more interesting information on this, Google “Battle of Blair Mountain.” Private detectives, state and local law enforcement and federal troops were called in to beat down the coal miners.

The Battle of Blair Mountain is alleged to be the largest incidence of union warfare in the United States. This is thought to be a major catalyst for what is now known as the National Labor Relations Act. If you have never seen the movie Matawan, it is worth a look.

Anyway, maybe I am a redneck and can be proud of it.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Caveat Lectores on David Anders

Below is a response to an Email I received from Brother David Anders. He was sharing some labor history. There is not much good labor history in North Carolina, particularly for public employees. David is the President of Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics of North Carolina. He is from Asheville, NC. My family lived in Asheville for about a year in the late 60’s. It was a wonderful place. I have met him only once, but it feels like we are brothers. His leadership has made a positive impact on a very sad labor situation in North Carolina that may be changed soon. Below is the link to some interesting facts about North Carolina that should not be ignored.


My apology for not responding sooner but I was on the road and just got things under control enough to pay attention.

It has long troubled me that there is a virtue in business using everything in its power for profit, but it is unholy for workers to prosper. Business leaders are lauded by many even when their profits are unconscionable but they have not been caught (yet) breaking the law. When they are caught, their punishment is miniscule compared to the economic and social damage they have caused. They serve their time and spend what is left of the ill gotten gain after a limited prison sentence and/or fine. Legal fees can be considered a fine that comes pre-conviction. The politicians never suggest that we should completely do away with businesses and entrepreneurs just because some are illegally greedy.

When there is an allegation or even hint of union transgression (frequently meaning power), suddenly it is corruption to the max and racketeering that can only be solved by dismantling the rights of workers to stand up to the greedy bastards who caused the need for the union in the first place. But then... maybe I am a little less than objective because I was raised in a company mill town under the thumb of the Bossman. We called him Uncle Charlie.

I served my time in North Carolina. I love the place. My heart's in Carolina but I am in permanent exile. Somebody would end up lynching my ass because I could never keep my mouth shut. I am sure many of my relatives were glad to see me leave and they are family. Racism and anti-worker sentiment is bad enough in Florida to keep me on the edge of a stroke daily. NC would get me killed.

When I lived in Kannapolis, NC, I knew (or cared) nothing about organized labor because of a virtual blackout of information except the bad stuff. My education and early career experience were totally management oriented. It was only after my station officer handed me a union card and told me to join the IAFF, unless I wanted my back up in a fire to hate me because I was too cheap to join, that I began to enjoy the benefits of a brotherhood that serves me to this day. He was from Flint, Michigan and a union man all his life. The fire chief was a steelworker in his early years. It made me feel very good to know that my hometown fire department is now IAFF. You can bet their chief once had an IAFF sticker on his truck too. When I go home soon, I will stop and remind him.

But then that's just my opinion. BTW NC is no worse than many other areas of the country. I did spent a week in northern CA recently and was not barraged by the daily hateful conservative, anti everything progressive mantra that exists in the south.

Please share the sweet poison I write in the Caveat Lectores blog with your members. They may learn something they do not want to know.

And oh yes, have a nice day?


Friday, November 27, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Local Union Leadership

It has long been my belief that a union local should run more like a business and less like a neighborhood club much like we used to form when I was a kid. We would get together; decide to form the club; compete to see who would be in charge; then fail to get anything done largely because of lack of organization until everything fell apart. A few months later, we would begin the process all over again, learning nothing from our prior experience. I do not know about modern kids operate, but that was the way it was in my neighborhood.

My first experience with a local union copied that formula and traces of it seem to still exit today in too many labor organizations. Frequently, union leaders are fueled by an emotional need to do something they cannot accomplish within the traditional corporate framework. This motivation is fine, but it does not provide a formula for success.

Four decades ago, when I suggested an approached to union leadership from a business oriented decision making model, I was viewed as a management shill embedded into the union movement to make it fail. It has taken many years to make myself enough of an expert that some will actually listen to me.

Most of my experience is with fire unions (IAFF), but the same problems exist in most union atmospheres. In fact, the firefighters are frequently more sophisticated in their approach than police and general employees. Teachers are their own world that is unfathomable in many instances. My deceased wife was a teacher’s union leader. Because of that, I have never made any attempt to enter that realm. It would be like herding cats.

The international parent organizations provide generic union leadership training to the members based on their specific model. Each model is frequently similar to the rest, but public and private unions are quite different in their approaches. Public sector bargaining is all about politics, but many union leaders on all levels do not really understand how to make political action work. The rank and file tends to hate political involvement and will avoid it if possible. The traditional private sector approach is about strength in numbers and perceived power to overcome management. That approach has been ineffective for decades.

Actual training sometimes seems to be an afterthought that is easily pushed aside for the more pressing issues of the moment. I have seen many programs begun but not finished or continued. Remember, there are no qualifications necessary to become a local union leader except for 51% of the vote or internal political appointment. There is a reason there are so few real labor education programs in this country.

Getting votes takes tough talk and bravado. Being perennially successful requires staying in office and applying skills required of a manager. Management skill and competence is an anathema to most union members.

As long as a union leader can get re-elected, he can successfully fail as long as he or she can convince enough members into believing the failure is attributable to management abuse of power. Having the actual skills necessary for the right kind of leadership is not considered essential. In fact, it can be counter productive.

Many local union leaders are part-timers or retirees being paid little or nothing. They have full time jobs, families, hobbies and many interests competing for their time, skills and energy. They would rather pick up the phone and call the attorney, make a complaint about something and hope the attorney can fix the problem. If things work right, they get a bill they can afford to pay. A union leader has a problem explaining to the members why he spent money just talking to the attorney. The members like to see the action that caused the expense.

We lawyers and other experts are out there willing to do the battles for a price. Unfortunately, winning a battle does little to win the war that will never end. Seldom does a local union leader really understand that the war never ends. Many go from crisis to crisis hoping that winning an isolated battle will cause an end to hostility.

The union leaders who endure over time are the ones who understand the process of conflict and understand how to mitigate the hostility into a controllable but chronic divergence of economic and management philosophy. The others burn out, lose interest or are defeated by their members or management.

Few are the times when litigation, arbitration, ULPs, impasse procedures or anything related to enforcement of labor law produces a truly positive result greater than to get what was already lost but at great expense. That is the nature of litigating anything. It is necessary to keep an impure system seeking purity.

You cannot litigate a contract. You must negotiate it. Too many labor leaders and their attorneys seem to think they can litigate management into submission and agreement. The rank and file members support that philosophy until the money runs out.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Caveat Lectores on the Value of Silence

Many years ago, I worked for a very large corporation as a fledgling sales person. This company placed great value on training its operatives. They trained us well, paid us well and expected us to perform well. During the sales training we received, we were given some advice I remember to this day and have shared this advice with my students at USF in the labor negotiation class and to clients as well.

In a negotiation, “He who controls the silence controls the action.”

This valuable negotiation tool is seldom used because controlling one’s need to fill the air with noise is overcoming to most untrained negotiators. Please consider the following:

• Silence makes people uncomfortable. We expect to hear noise all around us all the time. When someone makes an offer in a negotiation, they expect a response. When the immediate response is silence, it puts them off rhythm. Many times they will make another offer just because they cannot endure the silence. It called bidding against yourself. A prime no-no in negotiation. Remember, he who controls the silence controls the action. Of course, someone has to eventually speak or nothing gets negotiated but do not be in a hurry to be the first one to break the silence.
• Listen more and talk less. If you are listening you are silent. Asking pertinent question then patently listening to the response is not a passive act. It requires work. Asking the right questions encourages the other side to say what is on their mind. It lets you find out what they want from the negotiation. In order to get your needs met, you must meet their needs as well. Remember, he who controls the silence controls the action. The person who is asking the question has control of the negotiation at that point and should be learning things that will aid in the process.
• Control your words when you do speak. Negotiation is a sport much like professional wrestling is a sport. Each done successfully is a drama well rehearsed and conducted by people who know that they are doing or they would hurt each other much more than they do by accident. Make every word count for what it should mean, not what it would mean if you were in total control of the words. Negotiation is all about the words and the other side’s response to the words spoken. Words spoken cannot be unsaid.
• Control the non-spoken words. Body language can say more good and bad about your reaction to the other side’s offerings than words. Learn what the various body language indicators tell your adversary, and then learn to control your non-spoken words. Poker players call them “Tells.” Body language is the subject of another Caveat Lectores rant saved for another day.

Professional negotiators are skilled and able to do what it takes to get the job done. Silence can be the most valuable tool in a negotiator’s bag of tricks.

Remember, he who controls the silence controls the action.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Caveat Lectores on Excessive Wages?

What do these three news articles have in common other than they are BS?

They all make the assumption that $100K is too much for a public employee to make. There is no concern for what the employee actually does or how hard or long the employee works to make that unconscionable wage just that it happens. Therefore, we must exterminate the opportunity for success immediately.

Treasure Coast Newspapers
Indian River County has fewer government employees making $100,000
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - The number of Indian River County Commission employees who earned more than $100,000 declined by nearly 17 percent in the recently completed budget year, in part because no fire rescue workers reached six figures. That stands in stark contrast to nearby Martin and St. Lucie counties. The Martin County Commission had 91 Fire Rescue Department employees who earned $100,000 or more in the 2008-2009 budget year, records show. The St. Lucie Fire District had 63 six-figure earners in the budget year that ended Sept. 30.

Treasure Coast Newspapers
One in eight Martin County Commission employees earned more than $100,000 in the last budget year
MARTIN COUNTY - As the county commissioners cut services, shed workers and lamented tax revenue declines, one in eight commission employees earned more than $100,000 during the 2008-2009 budget year. Fire Rescue Department workers accounted for 91 of the 109 commission employees whose pay topped $100,000 in the budget year that ended Sept. 30, county records show. The commission has 869 employees, so the six-figure earners accounted for 12.5 percent of the workforce.

Treasure Coast Newspapers
Port St. Lucie, St. Lucie County Fire District see spike in $100,000 earners
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - As a historic housing market collapse and loss of property tax income forced the Port St. Lucie City Council to cut services and layoff workers, a total of 67 city employees earned more than $100,000 during the 2008-2009 budget year. That's an increase of 81 percent compared to the 37 six-figure earners in the prior year, city records show. "I think it's ridiculous," said Victoria Huggins, a Port St. Lucie political activist. "We definitely can't afford that. They're cutting people from the wrong end of the spectrum. The way that I see it is; reduce the pay of these elites."

Many of the employees who made these wages likely did so because of extra hours and duties caused by layoffs, hiring freezes and unsuccessful outsourcing.

Here is the mantra: The politicians refuse to appropriately fund government; therefore the employees must finance poor decision-making by working more for less, with less but more expensive benefits.

Yes, tax payers do not like to pay taxes. So WTF about that is new news. I do not like to pay my taxes or my power bill or my insurance premiums. However, I am not stupid enough to actually believe I can get the high level of service I expect without paying for it. I cannot negotiate with my power supplier to lower the rate just because I do not like the rate. I can use less electricity, but I will suffer the result. People (tax payers) want the same level of service for less because the news media and politicians support the fallacy that public employees do not earn their pay. But then who was it that elected those f**k ups to begin with? We get the leadership we deserve.

and Oh yes, have a nice day?


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Thanksgiving

Here it is Thanksgiving Day 2009. I am with my family, or at least part of it, and will see much of the rest this afternoon. I am alive and well. There just is nothing that needs a rant from me today.

I mean it this time. Have a nice day!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Caveat Lectores on PC

I may have crossed the line on political correctness recently in my effort to share my brilliant sense of humor and musical tastes. Here is my stow-ry.

Each Friday, I close the office promptly at 5:00 and go to YouTube for a little fun. Actually a lot of fun if I can find it. I love to research old music videos. Some older than others. My superior legal research skills allow me to find musical interludes that surprise even me. Naturally, there is limited fun in this if I do not share my incredible finds.

The Internet makes sharing simple. Face Book makes it easy. Alls I have to do is insert the hyperlink into a message and presto; all my “friends” get to share the wealth of my research. I have been doing this sporadically for several months.

Yesterday, Friday November 20, 2009, I found a forgotten version of “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones with Cheryl Crow. I like this song for two reasons. It may be the best raunchy rock & roll song ever, and it reminds me of my daughter. HTW first came out in 1969. She was nearly two years old and used to sway to the music in the adorable way only a two year old can. I smile when I hear the song, but some would find it a little less than prudish. I posted it to Face Book. That received no immediate response.

The trouble started when I went one step further and posted another favorite by Guns N Roses, “Used to Love Her.” I love the melody of this song if you can call it that. Yes, I kind of know the lyrics, but since I cannot sing a note, the most I ever do is hum to any song, even “Happy Birthday.”

The lyrics go like this:

I used to love her, but I had to kill her. I used to love her, but I had to kill her. I had to put her, six feet under and I can still hear her complain. I used to love her, (whoa yeah) but I had to kill her. I used to love her, (oooo yeah) but I had to kill her. I knew I'd miss her, So I had to keep her. She's buried right in my backyard. (whoa yeah). (whoa yeah), (whoo-oo yeah).

Boy, did I step in it or what?

I told my Significant Other, affectionately known as Little Sweetie, what I had done, and she was not amused or repulsed but then she never really heard the song. I went to Face Book this morning and found six responses: three from males who seemed to show appreciation for my musical tastes, and three from females; who were not pleased. I immediately apologized to the “friend” who seemed genuinely offended, and I deleted the message and the responses before things got out of hand. If there was going to be a discussion on Face Book among my “friends” about domestic violence, there was nothing in it for me to get credit for starting the social intercourse.

What is my point? I am not sure.

· Part of me is pissed off because I cannot publish a popular but off color music video to the Internet without creating discussion about something that should have everyone on the same side. Violent acts toward anyone, male or female, (domesticated or not) are always inappropriate, immoral AND illegal.

· Part of me is pissed off because I did not see it coming.

· Part of me is concerned that, from the comments, the men seemed to line up against the women.

· Part of me is concerned that there are probably a lot of people out there who have such bad memories of the subject they can only feel pain when reminded of a part of their past or maybe even their future.

· An apology to those people is in order and sincerely posited.

During my search for a way to cleanse my inner being of guilt over my crossing the PC line, I did some research as I so frequently do. I found that at least once a man has been accused of murder after searching for and downloading the song from Google. He was from St. Augustine, Florida. Dammitall nothing can be deleted from a hard drive.

I also found a list of songs that purportedly are dedicated to the demise of a spouse, lover or significant other. Naturally, I did not Google any of them lest I get the chair if something ever happens to anybody I know.

Here they are if you dare:
"Excitable Boy" Warren Zevon
"I Used to Love Her" Guns n Roses
"Delia's Gone" Johnny Cash
"Psycho" Elvis Costello
"The Cold Hard Facts of Life" Porter Wagoner
"Women's Prison" Loretta Lynn
"It'll Be Me" Jerry Lee Lewis
"Red Headed Stranger" Willie Nelson
"Hey Joe" Jimi Hendrix
"Hey Joe" The Byrds
"The Name of This Thing Is Not Love" Elvis Costello
"Run for Your Life" The Beatles
"30 Days" Chuck Berry
"Smoking Gun" Robert Cray
"97 Bonnie and Clyde" Eminem
"Kim" Eminem"Kill You" Eminem
"Stan" Eminem
"Tom Dooley" Kingston Trio
"Behind the Wall" Tracy Chapman
"Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?" Richard and Linda Thompson
"Time of the Preacher Theme" Willie Nelson
"Knoxville Girl" Louvin Brothers"Pretty Polly" Sandy Denny
"Goodnight Irene" Leadbelly

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Labor Arbitration

In my practice, I have found that for a variety of reasons there is frequently a difference of opinion about the issues and important facts to be taken to a labor arbitration. The grievant has his agenda and theory of the case which is frequently completely unworkable. The union may see something else as important, and I will sometimes see still another issue or issues that may be relevant. As the attorney, my job is to assist the union in representing the interest of the individual and the entire union. The union has not only a duty (DFR) to the grievant, but also has to consider the impact any award will have on the membership.

Most labor attorneys will bring years of labor experience to the process and feel quite strongly about their ability to address the issues and perform their professional duties; therefore, they do not hesitate to advise their union clients on how to best approach an arbitration. That is their greatest source of relevancy and value to the client. However; no attorney has a crystal ball and does not know everything.

It is my sincere belief that it takes more skill and active restraint to act professionally and appropriately than to appear confrontational just to please the crowd. Too many attorneys act this way. These tactics are what eventually escalate to become “stupid lawyer tricks.” This is usually costly to the grievant/client in many direct and indirect ways. The purpose of the proceeding is to win the grievance not provide a theatrical venue for the attorneys to see who can make the most objections.

Most labor arbitrators have many years experience as either advocates or arbitrators or both. They are not a jury made up of regular people. They are not impressed with legal theatrics from either side. They do not appreciate seeing a lawyer mistreat a witness, a lawyer trying to protect his witness by objecting just to break up the flow of the questions or a witness obviously trying to mislead the arbitrator by providing evasive answers. They know bullshit when they see and hear it, and they punish those who have not figured it out.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Free Speech

There is some real nonsense going on in Hartford, Connecticut.

A firefighter is being denied the privilege of parking his car inside a fire station because of some bumper stickers he put on his vehicle. What insanity will next arise to overcome this idiocy? As always, I would be willing to bet there is more to the story than the news media has reported. Stay tuned in to this one.

I would be irate, if I were him. However, he would be well advised to be careful about violating a direct order which he seems inclined to do. He should file a grievance if the labor contract is violated by his being denied a privilege which rises to the level of a term and condition of employment somehow covered by the contract or past practice.

On the other hand, he might rethink his choice of bumper stickers. It seems the stickers were as follows:

  1. Somewhere in Kenya, a village is missing its idiot: While I would not have placed such a bumper sticker on my car suggesting the same for President Bush, I did chuckle when I saw a similar one about him. If we assume this is a comment on Presidents Obama’s birthplace, it just re-enforces the lie “birthers” cannot give up. It really is time to abandon that soap box. My vote says this is ignorant but acceptable political comment that should be protected and ignored.

  1. I’ll keep my guns, freedom and money. You keep the change: The first time I saw this slogan, all I could think of was… What??? I guess it is some 2nd Amendment commentary that escapes me. I want my guns, freedom, money and change. Maybe he is referring to change of thought instead of coins. I am confused on that one, but… Who cares? Anyone with something like that on their car seems a little paranoid but … Who cares? Just because he may be paranoid does not mean they are not out to get him.

  1. Obama Bin Lyin. Impeach Now: This one is offensive because it compares President Obama to Osama Bin Laden. There may be reasons for saying that but no acceptable excuses. I was not comfortable when President Bush and VP Chaney were compared to ignoble tyrants in similar fashion, but I got over it. The John Burch Society put up billboards that read, “Impeach Earl Warren,” but they did not liken him to a terrorist. Is it an acceptable expression of political free speech? I hope so.

One would think that times are bad enough for the fire service and public employment without causing undue public disclosure and possible ridicule about what amounts to nonsense. BUT NO. The real public relations problem may come from the tax payers finding out they built a fire station and maintain it to house private vehicles. We could not do that when I was a fire fighter. I wonder if it is too late to file a grievance.

And oh yes, have a nice day?


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Political Action

Today’s rant will apply to almost any group vying for public approval, acceptance and success but is directed to public employees and their unions.

Leaders of any public sector employee organization claim to preach the virtues of having “good politics;” however, they must be failing because public sector workers are firmly in the cross hairs of attack from all sorts of political enemies. Why hard working public employees would come under attack makes little sense except when one recognizes that the middle class, private sector employee has been reduced to irrelevance. Now it is time to destroy public sector employment, as well. Sorry about your luck.

The political mantra is well known to many but unheeded by just as many. “Get your politics in order and things will not be so bad. Ignore this reality and things will fall apart.” Times are bad for government and somebody has to pay for the misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance of management and politicians. Since the tax payers do not like to pay taxes, who is left to pick up the tab left on the table by a public that wants service but does not want to pay the bill for the service? Public employees are all that is left.

It makes good news copy to demonize public employees such as administrative workers, waste water workers, parks workers and librarians, firefighters, police, teachers. Add any job title and, if that worker is paid by government, they are assumed superfluous, lazy and overpaid. Some few may be as entirely awful as is said about them, but all are lumped together to the detriment of all.

Could public sector workers deserve the abuse? If so, is it because many are too self-absorbed to do what is necessary to correct their bad image and get involved in the political process that either rewards or punishes them? Public employees work for the public. The tax payer is the ultimate boss. Politicians and management are the tools hired (elected) by the boss to get things done. As with any job, an employee must impress the boss with the value the employee brings to the job or things get ugly. Any public employee who feels all he or she must do to gain success is to merely do the job is naïve to the point of certain failure in today’s economy. Wake up or sink like the Titanic.

The common refrain I hear when I preach the necessity of public relations, political action and effective lobbying is: “…we try to get them involved but they just won’t listen.” Then the excuses for failure begin to roll off the union leader’s tongue. It makes me want to puke.

I fully recognize that many who read this will think I am talking about them specifically, but these are generalized statements that just happen to apply generally. If the shoe is uncomfortable, you need to change shoes or accept failure.

Here is what I have consistently observed in my four decades of involvement.

· Public employees and their unions who are actively involved in public relations, political action and effective lobbying are more successful than the losers who do otherwise. How much more specific can I get? Apparently some feel secure in failure.

· The per capita costs in legal fees are less for those who invest their resources into public relations, political action and effective lobbying. Having me or another attorney or advisor give assistance on how to do it right is much less costly than legal battles that never add a truly positive consequence. The most gained from litigation is getting back to where you should have been.

· Public relations are necessary to build a good public opinion of the workers and build support when times are good as well as bad.

· Anonymous, invisible people are easier to ignore or vilify than those who are visible and admired. Police, fire and education start off with a leg up in that department, but that is no excuse for other employee groups to hide in the shadows and complain because they do not get the attention they think they deserve.

· Brilliant PR campaigns in effect for years have brought some workers into the spotlight, and even then some within these groups fail because they do not execute the entire program.

· Political action relates to getting involved in elections. I did not say winning elections. Of course, you want to win any race but just being in the race has an advantage that is understated in terms of importance.

· The real, long term winners in politics are the one with resolve and staying power. Even when you help a loser, the winner will take heed if they know you made a credible effort and will be back for more next time.

· Public relations and political action will not mean much if the follow through of lobbying is not consistently in effect.

· Lobbying may have some negative connotations but government cannot operate effectively without some form of information getting to the elected officials other than Fox News. We call these information providers lobbyists. Become one or fail.

· Effective, day in-day out lobbying of all the decision makers, their hangers on and staff is absolutely essential for success.

Without these three functions ably accomplished, the group to which you belong needs to print new T-shirts with LOSER printed on the front and back. You can wear it with pride in a job poorly done.

And Oh yes, have a nice day.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Caveat Lectores from Devil’s Neck to Sleepy Hollow

This begins with the caveat that the Lector has a three beer buzz going that motivates this Rant.

E/S and I had lunch at the Sleepy Hollow biker bar just down the road from Devil’s Neck. People know about Sleepy Hollow ( who never heard of Floral City. We ended up there after deciding to just drive around until we found it.
Here are the directions: leave the house on Devil’s Neck and keep turning right until you get there. That is all I can tell you. Other people find it. So can you. Apparently, riding a motorcycle will make it easier to find because nearly everyone there is on a bike. There were a few cars and trucks, nearly all of which were American made. There was only one M3 in the afterthought car lot so my car was easy to find when we left.

I loved the place. Actually it was the people I loved. Let me describe the demographics:
· Lots of facial hair on the men
· Ponytails abound on men and women
· Weathered faces, more burned by the sun than tanned on the beach
· Tattoos
· Beer bellies are common except on the really skinny women
· Lots of Marlboro Red lung bleeder smokers
· Budweiser is the beer of choice for this crowd
· Jeans and boots everywhere
· Not a lot of silicone enhanced breasts or face lifts
· Leather vests, ball caps and do-rags
· Vietnam vets are noted as are Marines
· VFW and American Legion are making a comeback
· The crowd is getting older, three wheelers are common
· The band plays both types of music, Country AND Western
· Their version of Cocaine sounded like it should. J.J.Cale would approve
· There were some pseudo bikers, but these people work for a living
· I would like to think they made up more than the average of union members
· I really liked them and being there although I doubt we would agree on politics

We need a lot more people like that, but they were not racially or ethnically diverse. Affirmative action is not an issue but I suspect they have the capacity to accept a lot more than it looks like. Anyone who earns their respect would fit right in.

If you are ever near the house on Devil’s Neck, just ask for directions to Sleepy Hollow. Everyone knows how to get there.

And oh yes, have a nice day.

Caveat Lectores from the Devil’s Neck

It is a little difficult for me to conjure up a Rant from the house on Devil’s Neck* but…. I am up to the task after reading an Email from a trusted colleague I have known for many years. His emails tend to either contain religious messages (wasted on me), pictures of nude or nearly nude good looking women (always welcome) or right wing conservative comments disparaging the President and anyone who would not qualify as a John Burch supporter. While I usually encourage spirited debate on political issues, this type of garbage is just that. The subject line read like this:


It is story about “new” evidence of a transcript from a college that asserts the President is a foreigner who applied for financial aid and was awarded a fellowship for foreign students from the Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program. This damning evidence has nothing to do with the Supreme Court when you realize the Supreme Court, controlled by a conservative majority, has refused to pander to the madness of the “birthers.”

The purported news article was an April Fool’s Day hoax and nothing more.
The person who sent the email to me and surely others continues to fall prey to incredible gullibility because of an irrationally intense dislike of the current President. This malady causes pitiful attempts to bring discredit upon President Obama only to bring discredit upon himself. Why this person is willing to go to such lengths is known only in his inner mind.

I recognize there is nothing I will contribute that will cause these poor souls to convert to supporters of the President, but I am very disappointed they will go to such extremes to undermine him they that they will cause themselves to look foolish in the eyes of others who actually check up on the source of such Bull Sh*t.

When it became obvious that the rumors about former President Bush’s many bad characteristics could not be proven I gave it up and focused on others weaknesses he so obviously displayed. Maybe it is time for others to do the same.

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and a score of other right wing commentators blinded by hate and their own greedy desire for fame are doing all that is necessary to destroy the Republican Party without amateurs getting onto the fight.

President Obama has made enough real missteps, on his own, to make my future more difficult. The amateurs only have an audience among themselves. Kinda like preaching to the choir.

And oh yes, have a nice day?

*FYI. Devil’s Neck is a peninsula that roars out into a lake called Floral City Lake. The “House on Devil’s Neck” is not mine but it could feel like home. I will stick with Devil’s Neck because it sounds more manly and mean. Floral City Lake sounds a little, well... You know.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Remarks by the President at DSCC/DCCC Reception in Miami

“We provided relief to states so they wouldn’t have to lay off teachers and cops and firefighters.”

On behalf of the hundreds, possibly even thousands of Florida public employees, including cops, teachers and firefighters who have lost their jobs, I want to express my disappointment in the President that he would make such a statement.

Where the f**k has he been?

And Oh yes, have a nice day!


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Caveat Lectores on New FTC Rules

In the interest of full disclosure and open and honest transparency about the relationship among me, Caveat Lectores and Lectores Labor Consulting, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lectores Information Technology, LLC, please let me state this: This whole operation is designed to figure out a way to pay for my insane desire to help public employees live a better professional life. Everything about this is commercial with the intent to sell something and give me an outlet for what is sometimes my rage disguised as a civilized Rant called Caveat Lectores.

There are some new FTC rules coming out in December 2009 that I do not yet fully understand, but I want to beat the rush to submit to government censorship.

Lectores Labor Consulting and Lectores Information Technology, LLC gives me free copies of the books and CDs that I wrote in order to allow me to plug them in my Blog. I admit it. I would allow them (me) to pay me (myself) bribes, if there was any money flowing from this.

Now, I feel so much better. Long live government censorship.

Please review the advertisements and order something. If it were not for my intense desire to impress rather than annoy, these Rants would be a lot more severe.

And oh yes, have a nice day!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Media Coverage

Firefighter who fell down pole shaft gets $12.7 million
Jones currently lives with his twin sister, Lt. Meg Jones, who also is a Seattle firefighter and his guardian. The union negotiated for other firefighters to take her shifts voluntarily so she wouldn't have to use vacation or sick time ...

Please go to the link. Read the entire article and the first response to the article.

If you just read the headline you get the impression a firefighter has found a way to make a fortune off the “system,” but that is not the case here. Yes, it was a firefighter who fell who may receive nearly 13 million dollars BUT…..

After he pays for his past and future medical bills, a guardian and caretaker, his attorney fees and all it will take to keep him alive for a few years, falling down a negligently designed and maintained “pole hole” on his head was not a winning ticket to the lottery. At best, he will live out his years without becoming a total burden to his family and society or one of those poor and socially abandoned homeless people we avoid when we pass them on the street.

The facts indicate a lot more than does the headline. What is the moral of the story? The news media is not your friend.

The news media does what it takes to get people to read the medium so there will be wide spread circulation so advertising rates will pay the bills. This is not subversive to anything, but it is dangerous to believe the news media is on your side. Done correctly, the news media is on no one’s side except the public it supposedly serves.

The press, so-called fourth estate, is supposed to keep its eye on those in power to keep them honest, more or less. The actual news article appears to be an honest recounting of what happened to that unfortunate firefighter, but the headline is not. I will let you determine the public purpose of that headline.

The headline took a cheap shot at firefighters and other public employees. As you know, public employee bashing is popular right now.

The headline should have been this…
“Severely Injured Firefighter May be Partially Compensated for Injuries “

And oh yes, have a nice day.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Caveat Lectores on the Value of Unions

At an Oktoberfest get-together this past Saturday, I encountered two former Employment Law students. I am proud to say they were good students and both are in graduate school. One former student is in law school and credits me with motivating him to become an attorney. That is a little scary, but I will enjoy the image of me as a mentor. I am always afraid that the motivation went like this: “If he can make it through law school, so can I.”

The other student is more familiar to me and getting a master’s degree in Economics. I enjoy speaking with him because I fancy myself a student of economic theory and have claimed to have what could be considered a dual undergraduate major in Business Administration and Economics. I am not sure that is correct, but I did take several courses in economics, and that makes me a self-styled expert.

Remember, we met at a bar so my professorial demeanor was diminished by Paulaner Beer. His pretense of professorial respect had diminished, as well.

Somehow we started to talk about labor unions and how unions interfered with the economic models that work best. He excited my indignation when he said that unions existed only for the benefit of the union leadership. Naturally, this college student has never lead a union nor even belonged to one. He is the victim of his upbringing and anti- union readings, lectures from teachers and peers who know, at best, little more about how unions work than he.

Unfortunately, he may not be entirely incorrect. Unions do indeed interfere with the employer’s unilateral manipulation of the workplace. So far as I can determine, that is their purpose. He was correct when he said the need for unions,in many areas of protections for employees, has been supplanted by the laws the unions helped to pass. (OSHA, ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, Title VII, FLSA, et al)

Where he was dead wrong was in the statement that unions exist only for the benefit of union leaders. He may know more than I about economic theory after one semester of graduate school, but he is ignorant of union leadership and will likely remain so. That is the risk of academic education. He can become an expert and develop “educated” opinions without the benefit or burden of experience.

Most union leadership is performed at the lowest levels. Local union leaders seldom prosper because of their involvement. They occasionally receive some payment for their time, but the good feeling that comes from helping others is about all they get. At the upper levels of national leadership the remuneration is much, much greater. However, there have never been any national union leaders who even begin to make as much as the upper level corporate executives of the 21st century. This was a major source of our discordant social intercourse as well.

I am reminded of a speech I gave to an IRRA labor management group about twenty years ago. I offended all in the room when I said that my experience with both labor and management convinced me that, as far as greed and corruption were concerned, labor could be just a greedy and corrupt as management just not as successfully. The most corrupt of labor leaders have never robbed the economy like today’s robber barons who call themselves banking executives, CEOs, CFOs. Just read the papers about executive pay gaps. The Internet has a lot of information about this topic.

15 Oct 2009 Goldman Sachs Nine-Month Compensation Totals $527192 a Person ...

And oh yes, have a nice day.


Caveat Lectores on American Flag Display

This is a tough one. Or is it?

A Pennsylvania firefighter is being disciplined because he refused to remove an American flag from the outside surface of a locker he used for personal items. Notice I did not say “his” locker.

Apparently, this saga started when someone made a complaint about something objectionable displayed on a locker. The employer overreacted and told everyone to remove everything from the outside of the lockers. The employee refused to remove the flag, and we now have an employee disciplined because of patriotic respect for “Old Glory.”

No one will win this battle. Somebody needs to blink so we can move on with what is important. Thirty-five years involvement with the fire service tells me there is more to this story. I will not speculate about what is between the lines. Go to for the story.

The firefighter must recognize that rules are rules he must follow unless doing so will endanger a life. He could have removed the flag and made a complaint that could have served him well, but he may have not gotten his name in the news.

The employer must recognize such reactionary management only makes management look stupid in the eyes of the employees and now the public. No one cared about what was on the lockers until someone complained about something racially offensive. Rather than deal with the real problem, the employer decided to start enforcing a rule that had been apparently violated for a long time. Unfortunately, this is typical behavior from far too many fire managers.

Why not have the department buy American flag decals for all the lockers and require they be displayed? Remember, the lockers are the property of the American people. I will bet I can get somebody to donate the decals. I have seen IAFF emblems with an American flag on them. The union should donate the decals. If there are any rats or scabs in the department, they may complain because they have to look at a union endorsement. Oh well, you cannot please everyone.

And oh yes, have a nice day.


Caveat Lectores on FLSA Overtime, Again!

Apparently, the Ft. Myers, Florida newspaper did not read my blog on overtime a couple of weeks ago. It is found here at:

The media and nay sayers are attacking firefighters in Lee County for making too much money by working the overtime their employer requires someone to work. They either volunteer or are ordered to do so and then are attacked because they are paid according to a federal law. It is a law, stupid! Does someone have a hard-on for public employees or what? Since when is working long hours and doing a good job such a sin?

Yes, times are bad in Lee County. A concocted tax revolt and sinking economy has made taxes scarce. So let’s attack the public employees for doing their jobs. That will make it all better. What a bunch of #^*&$# numbnuts.

One of the major cities in Lee County has even asked its employees to take a “voluntary “ pay reduction. Never mind there is a union that bargains wages. The city even put a deadline for taking such a cut in pay. How can you put a deadline on something you want people to do voluntarily? The cutoff was Friday. I wonder if the same city “fathers” requested its citizens to voluntarily pay a little more in taxes to pay for the services they receive. There are about 600,000 people living in Lee County. $1.66 per person per year amounts to nearly $1 million dollars to pay for needed services. Instead, they attack their firefighters and ask the employees to volunteer to take a pay cut after layoffs did not save enough money. Go figger. There must be something in the water that causes complete loss of reasoning ability.

And oh yes, have a nice day.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Caveat Lectores on the Nobel Peace Prize

At first, I was merely surprised, not stunned, that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." He is young and has not had fifty years of failure mixed with success to provide support that he is deserving. I filed it in the knowledge bin like all the other announcements of like nature and moved on. But then, I started to feel the pressure of the explosion of bigotry and right wing revulsion from those elements of American society who cannot accept that a dark knight could be so well thought of by a world community that has accepted that a non-white, non- Anglo Saxon can actually be a leader.

I assume the racists made loud protests when Dr. King won the prize in 1964 and maybe less so when Archbishop Tutu won. Nelson Mandela caused some controversy as have many others even if not cursed with dark skin. Al Gore won the prize because of his work trying to convince the world about climate change, and there is still a too large segment of our country that does not accept that reality. I assume many of those same people really believe the world was created in six days.

Rather than be proud of American accomplishment, there are those among us who want to denigrate the honor. We Americans do not control the committee who makes the decision. That must be pretty hard for some to accept. My opinion of the validity of the award is as valueless as all the others who agree or disagree on whether the President of the United States, who some still believe is a foreigner, is worthy. Somebody else made the decision. Get over it.

Here is what I say to my President who has now become a Nobel Laureate.

I am a proud American who is proud of the honor bestowed upon you. Now get your skinny brown ass in gear and become the peacemaker somebody thinks you are. You are fighting two wars. There is nothing to win. You did not start them, but you must figure out a way to end the madness, or you should give back the award and the cash.

And oh yes, Have a nice day!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Crystal Lee Sutton, RIP

Crystal Lee Sutton died Sept. 11, 2009 in Burlington, N.C. She was 68. Who was she?

Her story is familiar if you saw the movie Norma Rae. Ms. Sutton was the real life person who became known as Norma Rae. I cannot speak about the movie because I never saw it. My excuse is that I had lived it once and do not want to relive it. I kissed off the cotton mills in 1967 and will not go back.

Ms. Sutton was a heroine whether she liked it or not. Defying management in a cotton mill is worse that just asking to get fired. It usually means you will have trouble getting work elsewhere seemingly forever. News travels fast in a small textile town.

Here is the short version of her story. She stood up to cotton mill management and supported a union and was fired. Eventually, she got her job back, but by then she had moved on with her life and returned only briefly. The movie version of a book written about her saga made the name Norma Rae famous, and to a limited extent she gained notoriety but never profited from it greatly. Ms. Sutton had her ups and downs with family and work like so many southern women.

She died of brain cancer but not before winning a battle with her insurance company over coverage of a treatment regimen. It is my loss that I never met her.

"It is not necessary I be remembered as anything, but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world." (Crystal Lee Sutton, 2008 quote from a local newspaper.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Overtime Pay

I am about sick of hearing about how much firefighters, police and other public employees make in overtime.

Maybe a short history lesson is needed here. A federal law (FLSA) requires a public employer to pay time and one half the regular hourly rate to non-exempt employees when they work more than a certain amount. For most employees the ceiling is 40 hours before O/T kicks in. For law enforcement the ceiling is 43 hours in a 7 day period. For firefighters the ceiling is 53 hours in a 7 day period. There are all kinds of ways the employer can manipulate the work period to reduce the financial impact of this law, and some employee take “comp time” off in place of the money.

The only reason for overtime at all is because the employer does not hire enough employees to provide the needed service. Follow closely here, but this is not rocket science. The lack of manpower forces the employer to require somebody to come to work on their regular day off. When public employers chronically under staff, the employees work a lot of overtime. Some employees volunteer to work and others do not. When there are not enough volunteers, the employer requires the employees to work. The work is not a gift or bonus. The purpose of the law was and still is to penalize the employer who does not hire enough people to provide the service with employees working their regular hours. The FLSA went into effect during the Great Depression and was passed, among other reasons, to decrease unemployment by encouraging the employer to hire more employees by penalizing them if they did not.

In today’s news, we regularly read about the “greedy” public employees who make all this extra money in overtime. This is bullsh*t. In order to discredit the employee side of the resistance to taking pay cuts, the employer, with the media’s assistance, inflates the earning of employees to make it seem like they are overpaid.

Frequently, a firefighter’s work schedule is 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off duty. This benefits both the public and the employer as it allows for 24/7 coverage. Law enforcement frequently uses 10 or 12 hour shifts to provide this coverage. Many other employees work similar shifts in the public sector to provide the needed 24/7 service. Such concentrated work time allows for concentrated time off for the employee as well.

What this means is that regular work schedules require the employee to work more and the employer by law must pay overtime rates. It is a part of the job not a #@!%&(^%^ benefit.

Frequently when a union negotiates a wage rate, it finds that the employer is trying to maintain a lower hourly rate to make the yearly salary fit into the “market.” Hourly rates for firefighters are frequently relatively low. When the union wants to increase the rate, the employer reminds them of how many hours they are “allowed” to work which makes their yearly salary more competitive. The same applies to police and other workers.

Sure, some fire, police and other public employees work a lot of overtime, but they did not force to employer decide to under staff which causes the overtime.

Here is an interesting video that actually addresses the excesses of public employees.

Then just when you thought you had heard enough nonsense

And Oh yes, have a nice day.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Caveat Lectores on the Public Sector Mess

There is something roiling in my gut that needs purging. I feel a RANT coming on.

In our law office, we briefly review about 50-100 news article per day concerning public employees. We do so to get a feel for what is happening in this state as well as nationally. We see trends that usually start in one place and wash over the landscape, often like a summer storm; but sometime like a tsunami. Other times the trends just appear all over at once. What I see is happening all at once all over this country. No one is safe from harm.

All public employees, general, fire and police, teachers and anyone else on the public’s payroll, have been targeted for bringing into the same bottomless pit that so many private employees already inhabit. Whether you can avoid this ill-fated doom is largely up to you.

Here is some really unpleasant news for those of you in Florida and elsewhere. You and your members are experiencing the Perfect Storm of your entire professional lives. Many of you are in denial, but that will not save you. Your lawyer cannot save you nor will anyone who was your “friend” before the life raft began to sink.

At the same time the Florida legislature and the public decided they needed to stage a contrived tax revolt, the national economy tripped into the toilet and somebody flushed it. Either one of these situations was a catastrophe. Both together may signal a public sector employment benefit Armageddon. Florida is not the only state to fall into the toilet. The same problems exist in one form or another in every state. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. THIS IS THE REAL THING.

Disasters can be sometimes avoided and always managed to some extent, but I do not see the local unions making the proper preparation for managing the huge wave about to wash over public sector employees. I see a lot of denial and huffing and puffing as if that would help. What is needed is some sound leadership based on knowing what to do and how to do it. Some pundits say leadership starts from the top down. I say it takes leadership from the bottom and top to get the leadership in gear to do what is needed. All hands need to see the problem, understand the problem and set out to weather the storm together.

Factoid #1: State and local government is in financial trouble. They cannot print money.
Factoid #2: State and local government will overstate how much they are in trouble to save a little for the next round of funding cuts.
Factoid #3 Private sector employees will not support you as you seek to save your pay and benefits. They have had it bad for a long time and many hold you in scornful contempt.
Factoid #4 Politicians will not risk losing their positions to save you.
Factoid #5 Legal systems will not prevent what economic reality will present.
Factoid #6 Government does not exist to employ you but to provide service to the public.
Factoid #7 Conservative antigovernment radicals and the right wing media have convinced much of the public that government is superfluous and a waste of money.

What I am talking about is that public sector employees and their union leaders must look at reality with clear heads and prepare to mitigate the damage rather that exacerbating it.

The news media, adversarial management and unfriendly politicians are and will continue to demonize those union leaders and their members who will not work with management to minimize the damage caused by this Perfect Storm some call recession that may become a depression. They will turn the public against you. Once that has been accomplished, you have lost your only source of power. If you are not careful, you will see your former friends walk on the other side of the street as you pass by. Wake up and smell the sickening odor of rancid public opinion before it overcomes you. Share the smell with your members so they can sense the pain before it becomes a layoff or reduction in benefits.

Employers are looking for give backs from the employees. And if they cannot get the employees to give back, they will take back either now or later. Under the present circumstances, you can only delay the inevitable and try to minimize the negative effect it will have on the members and the public. Now is not the time to stand stiff in a gale force wind that will blow you over.

All public comment over any suggestion that the union may need to consider renegotiating should be made to seem as conciliatory as possible. Let your lawyer advise you on whether to file a ULP or grievance. Labor lost a big ULP case recently that harmed the potential for litigating successfully.

Long before the give back request occurs, you should have been prioritizing how to deal with the request. Your pension is at the top of the list of things to protect, right along with your job. Losing either may become permanent. Foregoing a raise is nothing if you do not have a job. Less overtime means nothing if you do not have a job. Really, it is that bad in some departments.

There is no strategic advantage derived from letting the news media and the public decide you are a greedy bunch of fat cats who do not care about the poor tax payers who are out of work or underemployed while you feed at the public trough. Once that happens you are F**KED. You can lose, in one brief encounter with the news media, what it took years to develop. They will crucify you and turn your fair-weather political friends into enemies.

Now is the time to ratchet up the public relations machine to full tilt boogie. The public, news media and politicians need to see the faces of those they will harm. If your members are too busy now for PR, they will have plenty of time after the layoff.
Make good political action decisions. Now is not the time to screw up.

Make lobbying a full time job for as many people as possible. Do it well and do it often or expect to fail.

Do not become militant. Your ammo belt is empty. You will be shooting blanks but with the gun pointed back at you; so do not pull the trigger.

Do not encourage others to become militant. The harsh glare of public opinion cast upon them will harm you.

Educate your members so they will understand what is going on. Their span of understanding will frequently be more limited than yours. (That is a nice way of saying that many have “head up the ass syndrome.”) I see lots of denial going on in my line of work.

Do not count of the internationals, state associations or anyone else to do your job locally. It is your job to do what it takes at home. They can only provide support.

My personal advice is to buckle up the five point harness and get ready for the ride of your union leader career or resign now before you blindly lead your members into despair for which they will never forgive you. I will repeat what was once spoken to me as we thought we were headed for disaster. “We may be headed over the cliff, but at least we are in the locomotive. We have the best seat on the train.” The next few months even years are going to provide some adrenaline rushes for those who stay for the train ride. When I was a firefighter, we used to call it “going to see the Genie” when we entered a fully involved fire. For those of you who have never met the Genie, it can be fun if you know what you are doing or terror if you do not.

and Oh yes, have a nice day.

*Any rant from Caveat Lectores may contain minor error in detail but not in the general idea. It’s a rant not a calmly written research paper.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Caveat lectores on Pay Cuts v. Layoffs and Other Alternatives

Today’s rant is a retread from a couple of months ago. It needed to be reprinted because you need to reread it.

Public servants are facing some drastic changes in employment that were unheard of until recently. Government cash flow is in a bind. The contrived tax revolt and tanked economy have produced a real problem that will affect you other public employees soon if not already. Reliable experts promise it will get much worse before it gets better.

Layoff provisions in most CBAs were an afterthought no one really believed would ever require use. Oh boy, were we wrong or what? Forget about the usual mantra we hum about how they are out to get us. Even our friends are looking to decide whose job is on the chopping block. Our enemies are just trying to decide who to screw first and to make sure it is us. It is every man and woman for him/herself in times like this.

American culture seems to favor layoffs if hiring freezes and attrition will not work. There are other options considered first in other countries that we tend to avoid In America. Let’s look at some of the options:

Find the money they hid away. (That will not work in a time like this. There is probably not enough to meet long range deficits.)

Pay freeze. (This will not fix today’s problem. Only in the future will this lessen the green bleeding.)

Hiring Freeze (Same analysis as above.)

Lay offs. (Hurts a few traumatically and allows the ER to shed unwanted employees but makes hiring costly later on.)

Cut pay. (Hurts all except the ER and is a morale killer for those left behind.)

Reduce work week. (Like a pay cut but makes it easier to restore status quo.)

Shift benefit cost to employees. (Happens every day and will not fix the problem.)

Reduce benefits. (Same analysis as above.)

These are not the only options, just the most obvious. None of this addresses reductions in service and productivity which the ER is trying to avoid and the public does not expect. The public has been brainwashed into thinking you are expendable tax consumers, and your salary could be spent on anything more important.

Whose fault is that?

You may have to face deciding how to negotiate a negative outcome. That is something most have not had to do. All the options are unpleasant. Public employees need an education in reality so they can guide their leadership as you try to navigate in uncertain waters. Standing by without participating in reducing the trauma and whining about how mistreated you are will not make things better. Head up the ass syndrome will allow the employers to do as they please. The legal system cannot undo years of bad political judgment, nonexistent planning and poor management unless the employer breaks the law and then not before the axe falls.

And Oh Yes, Have a Nice Day.


*Any rant from Caveat Lectores may contain minor error in detail but not in the general idea. It’s a rant not a calmly written research paper.

Caveat Lectores on Public Sector Pensions

I could not have said it better or with more authority.

Public-sector employees earn their pensions
Miami Herald, 9/15/2009

The Aug. 31 editorial How to fix pension mess was a collection of hyperbole and insinuations about government pensions.
Only about 10 percent of public-sector employees can retire before age 50 -- typically public-safety employees -- and most of them hardly retire ''long before'' that age. Even public-safety employees must serve 20-25 years before retirement.

The editorial implied that public pensioners receive almost their full working salary. However, most top out at about 80 percent of their salary and then only after 25-30 years on the job. Many don't receive that much, and since public-sector salaries still lag those in the private sector for the same jobs, the idea that 80 percent of a public salary is overly generous is a stretch. In fact, the average public pension in Florida is $1,354 a month, which is hardly lavish.

The editorial also stated that ''cost-of-living adjustments go far beyond the national average,'' when in fact 50 percent of Florida's plans do not have COLAs. What does ''far beyond the national average'' actually mean?

Overtime pay included in salary calculations for pension benefits was represented as an excessive perk. Public-sector workers labor in notoriously understaffed departments that require them to exceed the productivity expectations of their private-sector counterparts and oblige them to spend too much time away from their families to serve the public, a daily condition of work for which they deserve to be paid.

The statement that ''most businesses were turning to 401(k) plans, in the 1980s and 1990s'' is a misrepresentation. Defined-benefit plans still are prevalent among Fortune 1000 companies. Small employers, or those who have gone bankrupt, have steadily moved in the direction of defined-contribution plans.

Cities certainly face challenges in meeting pension funding obligations during a down market. Reduced revenues caused by the housing slump hurt. However, during strong stock-market years, many cities made no contribution to their employees' pension plan. In fact, approximately 80 percent of public-pension payouts nationally come from earnings on investments and employee contributions, not taxpayer dollars.

If there are problems with public pension plans, then let's fix them. If there are abuses, let's stop them. We oppose enhancing pension benefits without added funding. To fix the problems, we should engage in honest discussions with real facts and figures. Hyperbole won't solve any problems.

chief executive officer, Florida Public Pension Trustees Association, Tallahassee