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

Friday, September 11, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Conservative Media Personalities

Question: What do the following conservative media personalities have in common?

Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Patrick Buchanan, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly.

Answer: All are not journalists but merely ultra right-wing TV, radio and Internet entertainers who feed poisoned Kool-aid to the conservative masses who want to hear the hate they preach, and they do a damned fine job of it, if you ask me.

On the other hand, Robert Novak, William F. Buckley, George Will, William Safire are/were educated and well read conservative writers and otherwise conservative pundits who usually had some semblance of ethical behavior behind their conservative views. They reported facts from a conservative point of view. I could appreciate their points of view for what they were even if I thought they were full of s**t. They did not lie; they just gave their opinion and called it that.

Novak and Buckley are dead. Will and Safire are less prominent than before. That is probably because they refuse to invent facts or distort quasi facts to the point of causing ridicule to be pointed back at them. Charles Krauthammer may be the only credible conservative star of the rest of the decade. That is frightening.

Rep. Joe “the heckler” Wilson is the best thing that has happened to the Dems lately. If we can get him to team up with the current pack of journalistic impostors and miscreants, the Republican Party will implode.

I am not suggesting a one party system will provide a desirable result, however. The Democrats have issues with stupidity as well, but I will save that for another day. Today, the Rs can sizzle in their own hot oil.

…And Oh yes, have a nice day!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Stupid Investments

I could not help but notice recently the Florida Retirement System had lost over $266,000,000.00 on a real estate deal in Manhattan. The state of Florida invested $250,000,000.00 along with $16,000,000.00 in fees on a deal that paid more than $400,000,000.00 over the asking price for some run down, rent controlled apartments.

The idea was to evict the existing tenants and raise the rents to current market value so the investors could make money. Apparently, no one even dreamed that the tenants would hire a lawyer to stop that nonsense. When a court agreed this was not a good idea, the investment went belly up and the $266 million vanished into thin air. Wow. WTF!

Newspaper reports indicated that the watch dogs who failed to protect the money were:
• Charlie Crist (a Republican Governor who is trying to leave Florida ASAP to move to Washington, D.C. and pretend to be a Senator)
• Bill McCollum (a Republican Attorney General who wants to be governor or whatever position to which he can get elected)
• Alex Sink (a Democrat Florida CFO who wants to be governor and should have been paying better attention)
• Coleman Stipanovich (a Republican holdover from the Bush fiasco who approved the investment but apparently did not read the reports that cautioned BEWARE! DANGER! BAD IDEA!)

Tax payers and Florida employers can expect to pay for this little bump in the road just like they paid for the $355,000,000.00 losses on Enron stock bought after warnings on the financial instability of the stock were issued.

State of Florida employees and those covered by the FRS pension fund must expect to hear that recent losses and unfunded liabilities make it necessary to curb, reduce or destroy pension benefits because the employees must finance the mistakes of management. (See prior Caveat Lectores Rant)

And, Oh yes, have a nice day!


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Who to Believe

As I watch my labor union clients suffer because of the current economic downturn and “tax revolt,” I sometimes find myself at least a little sympathetic to the plight of employers who are losing money or hemorrhaging green and red ink in their budgets.

My advice is to accept that things are bad and make adjustments to future expectations. They do not like hearing that. It sounds like I am on the side of management. When those words are spoken, what I am trying to do is prepare the client for a reality not often seen in our lives. That reality is the employers may not be lying this time when they cry with the poor mouth. During the fat years when growth, budgets and profits were significant, we heard the pitiful cry of the under privileged employer, both public and private sector. In 34 years of union work, I have never heard an employer come to the bargaining table with a smile and an offer to share the wealth. Now when things really are rotten, we are suspicious. I wonder why?

What causes me the real pain is seeing the employers and media attack their employees because they are reluctant to finance the incompetent decisions of management by opening their wallets to bail out the bungling employers. Employers threaten layoffs; demand pay freezes, pay cuts and furlough days, reductions in healthcare benefits and pensions to make up for the shortfalls created by their lack of leadership and management skills.

Individually, not all management is at fault, but as a whole, it was not the workers of the world who directed business and government into this mess. It is the higher level managers who are still being paid unconscionable sums who f**ked up the economy.

Recently, I heard from an anti union conservative that the unionized workers in the auto industry were the cause of the debacle that has been working to culmination since the early 70’s. This person blames the unionized workers because the US automakers cannot design cars the American public wants to buy. Let’s blame the Japanese and the Germans for making better cars and the UAW for negotiating a living wage for their members. Makes sense to me. Some people blame rape victims for getting raped.

(I do not drive an American car today and have not since 1971 when I compared a Datsun 510 to a Pinto and a Vega. My choice was the 510 and it served me well. I currently own two old BMWs with 32 years use and over 300,000 miles between them. Yes, I contributed to the downfall of Detroit by refusing to settle for mediocrity. No union member was responsible for designing the Pinto or Vega. Or the other failures from the American auto industry, but I digress.)

The working middle class did not cause the Enron disaster and recent banking failures. No union member dreamed up home loan scams that have nearly destroyed our economy. We working class union members foolishly participated, however, in something only a con man could dream up. There is a sucker born every minute. It will be interesting to see what happens when the working class discovers how they have been scammed by the current cries for help from the same people who created the need for the help.

And oh yes, have a nice day.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Thoughts in Celebration of Labor Day

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.1 With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men, than any other association of men.2 Every advance in this half-century -- Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another - came with the support and leadership of American Labor.3 It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic nation to have free and independent labor unions.4

Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.5 If capitalism is fair then unionism must be. If men have a right to capitalize their ideas and the resources of their country, then that implies the right of men to capitalize their labor.6 In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as 'right-to-work.' It provides no 'rights' and no 'works.' Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining.…7

If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.8 If hard work were such a wonderful thing, surely the rich would have kept it all to themselves.9

The words of...1Abraham Lincoln, 2Clarence Darrow, 3Jimmy Carter, 4Franklin D. Roosevelt, 5Dwight D. Eisenhower, 6Frank Lloyd Wright, 7Martin Luther King, Jr., 8Molly Ivins, 9Lane Kirkland

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Caveat Lectores on Socialism

All this talk about socialist inspired health care has caused me to rethink my views on other forms of socialism and how they affect the cost of government and our individual freedoms.

If we abort our dependence on socialist programs and revert to a more capitalist economic model, we can save a bundle in taxes.

Just think how much we can save on taxes if we do away with services that are controlled by the government and paid for by all but used only by a few. These services can be supplied by the private sector at a reasonable cost to only those who will to pay for what they get. No more freeloaders and no more government bureaucracies to get in the way of free enterprise. That way the worthy get the service and all at a profit for the vendors. The others can just do without. If I am so smart, why didn’t I think of this before.

Here is my list in no particular order: Fire/Rescue, Law Enforcement, Public Schools, Public Roads, Social Security, Public Welfare, Public Pensions, Public Water Supply and Waste Disposal, Public Libraries, Public Hospitals, Armed Forces, Medicare and Medicaid.

Now that I think of it, maybe the list is too long for me to finish. Maybe you can add a few. And Oh yes, have a nice day!