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?