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 na├»ve 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.