Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This is Not a Drill. The Ship is Sinking!!

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.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pay Cuts v. Layoffs and Other Alternatives

Today’s rant will be relatively short.

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

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Government has failed and I know why. The public sector is no longer devoted to its core functions. It has become process oriented. What this means is that the end result is not the objective. It is the process that is the objective to justify the cost of not getting failure.

First, let’s look at what government, at all levels, is supposed to do. It is supposed to govern. By that I mean that its core purpose is to tell us what and what not to do. That means that government’s purpose is to regulate the activities of its citizens. An over simplification yes, but I am have a simple mind. Those who complain because government regulates their lives are missing the point. Why else have government? Well, there is more to it than that.

Government also provides services the public cannot or will not provide for itself. We are talking about meeting the needs of the public for the greater good of all. There are those who believe they need no service from government therefore do not want service provided to others.

In order to regulate and provide service, we set up an institutional organization called government in a format that will allow these services and regulation to happen… but at a cost. (Taxes and fees for service) There is no free lunch so we have to hire people or private businesses to do the work of government. These employees and/or businesses demand payment. Here is where things start to unravel.

Government is all about providing service and regulating, nothing more nothing less. In doing so, government takes in a lot of money in taxes to pay the employees and vendors that feed off the public’s needs or desire for this service and regulation. Since anarchy would prevail if there were no organization to this scenario, government employs supervisors and managers to plan, organize and control the activities of the employees and vendors. Here is where things continue to unravel.

The private sector is very different from government. Business is all about making money, nothing more nothing less. So long as the business owners are making money, the employees and vendors to business are allowed to operate at will more or less. A business is considered a success so long as it makes money. It is a failure when it does not make money, no matter how well it is managed.

I must admit that large corporations seem to use the model described below as they fail in modern times just like government.

Government operation is viewed differently, and I first encountered the difference in the middle 1970’s when I left the private sector to enter the public sector fire service. The economy had all kinds of problems and sources of taxation were issues all over. Nothing like today’s problems but problems nonetheless. It was at that time I experienced the word “accountability” as it would come to apply to government.

We were told that government and public employees would have to become accountable. Government had a financing problem, and we were to be held accountable. In the business world things were different, when things did not go well and business was not making money we (at all levels) did what was necessary to make money or were fired. In the public sector, we were to be held accountable. Whatever the f**k that meant.

Accountability implies blaming someone which assumes failure. Therefore, if government employees must be held accountable for their actions at all times, they are considered perpetual failures.

A management guru type somewhere developed the idea that government should be run like a business to be successful. Nothing could be further from the truth. Government does not produce products that can be sold at a profit. It provides regulation and services that usually cannot be provided acceptably at a profit. There is no profit, just a cost. Some services can be provided better or hopefully cheaper by private enterprise, but government’s purpose is not to provide anything at a profit. That is why emulating the private sector management model is a guaranteed failure.

Since the hoped for profit result is impossible, government has adopted the appearance of emulating private business. Government has become totally process oriented, not service oriented. Management must decide what the private sector would do in each situation and try to look like they are doing it that way. In other words, just look like you are doing a good job and that is all it takes to gain tax payer approval. Adopt the terms of business; fret over efficiency and economical operation; seek out former business managers to bring their expertise to government, and all will become miraculously better. The public will be satisfied; right wing anti-government mavens will disappear, and budget will woes will dematerialize. It has not worked that way.

Anti-government forces will always try to destroy government by condemning its actions as over-reaching, wasteful, inefficient and too costly. When will we learn that nothing will placate the right-wing conservatives who want to live free of rules or die? They want to replace government with anarchy ruled by the wealthy.

After reading this a couple of times, I decided it does not make sense, but I am publishing it anyway because it does not make sense.



I somehow put the wrong date on today's posted blog which is below.