Saturday, January 30, 2010

Caveat Lectores on Rushing to Judgment

I am seeing a trend in the news concerning reports of Fire/Rescue misdeeds and nondeeds and the tragic results that can occur when somebody fails to do something or does it incorrectly.

The ultimate example happened in DeKalb County, Georgia this week when it appears that a full alarm of firefighters failed to properly investigate a reported dwelling fire and the resident of the home died. All public employees should heed the lesson from this tragic incident. Do your jobs by the rules.

If you are a fire service worker, you already heard about it. Some regular citizens have not, but eventually all will have heard the awful news. What appears to be the official report can be found at:

I can neither condemn nor defend what happened without more information that I probably will never get in my hands. What happened cannot be undone by anybody. An innocent woman is dead, and the careers of several firefighters destroyed. I suspect they will go to their graves trying to figure out why somebody did not do just a little more.

When I looked back on the hundreds of false alarms to which my crews and I responded in the middle of dark and cold nights, trying to remember whether we ever went back in service before making absolutely sure there was no fire is impossible. I suspect I may have made a call of “Code Zero” without beating on every door in the immediate vicinity of the reported address in the middle of the night. Did we set up a full incident command contingent for every alarm even when it appeared to be a false alarm? NO. Fully involved fires are easy to spot at night. Small incipient fires that have not breached are impossible to find if you do not go looking. Somebody did not look hard enough.

I guess I was lucky. It looks like many trained firefighters on that incident made a series of what appeared to be small, seemingly minor mistakes all at once with tragic results. Do your jobs by the rules.

Reports of such incidents seem more common lately. I suspect it is just “better” reporting. The press is pretty reliable about reporting heroic saves, but the screw ups make more electrifying news. There are so many good stories about the fire/rescue service they can become common place. The low down and dirty news makes interesting headlines. I hope all public employees are learning a lesson here as well.

Budget cuts, pay and benefit cuts, layoffs and reduced staffing make good morale in short supply. The management exhortation that “you should be glad you at least have a job” does not invite good will.

You must expect that at every encounter with the public there is someone looking over your shoulder with a camera phone recording what you are doing. Doing things according to the Standard Operating Procedure is the only way to go. Anything else may result in tragedy, the end of your career and maybe the end of a life.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Caveat Lectores on the Supreme Court and Campaign Finance

Last week was a veritable triple play for those who want to harm working people. Here is a bit of political intercourse between wjc and good friend and modern times commiserator IAFF 12th District VP Larry Osborne. He agreed to take credit for this week’s Caveat Lectores Rant. His views are welcome anytime, and he writes with much more civility than do I.

Monday, January 25, 2010
After just getting off of the phone with Jeff Carnes, I can't help myself. Those people who like those offensive pictures of President Obama as Hitler should take note of something, in view of this Supreme Court ruling. Before Hitler and his henchmen tried to get rid of Jews, they got rid of the independent judiciary and impartial judges and justices. Without doing that, they could not have done their other mischief and evil.Larry O.

Sunday, January 24, 2010
Thanks for taking up the slack in my resolve. Frankly, I spent the weekend so disgusted with the current state of affairs I decided to remain silent lest I publish something I would regret. You are much more polished than I in moments of utter angst. I am angry at the conservative courts and legislators but angrier at those who put them and keep them in office so they can destroy so much so many have worked for. With your permission, I will make you the Caveat Lectores spokesman for the week.
and Oh yes... Have a nice day?wjc

Sunday, January 24, 2010
I have been thinking about how I could beat my pal, attorney Jeff Carnes, to a Sunday rant. Then it struck me. I wonder how those Brothers who complain about union dues, endorsements, and support going to candidates who they don't like will like a part of the price of the goods and services which they use and purchase going to political candidates? They will have a hell of a lot less to say about who those candidates will be than they do at the local, state association, and IAFF level. (And, they too often forget that IAFF dues do not go to candidates, hence the importance of FIREPAC.)

Do you think that there is the slightest chance that the legislative directors and liaisons for these now politically freewheeling corporations will look kindly upon Representatives and Senators who support our "National Collective Bargaining" Bill, never mind something like EFCA? And, they don't really like FLSA applying to their own employees, never mind public employees. Better hope that this same court doesn't get a shot at Garcia.
One thing about it though, it will give some of us an idea of where to spend our money. All we need to do is look at the corporate campaign contributions to swell guys like Jim DeMint in South Carolina (stay in touch Mike!), or Marco Rubio in Florida.
Can't help thinking now, that if Al Gore and/or John Kerry had been elected President when the IAFF endorsed them, the Supreme Court, and the Federal District and Circuit courts would have been very different. But, that's some more of them "liberals" some of us support, you know, the ones who really support free speech and freedom of association. Of course, those two things make up the cause of most of the Guardian and EDF requests in the 12th District. Go figure.

Fraternally,Larry O.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Caveat Lectores on “union bosses”

This is not gonna be pretty. I am already pissed over what happened in Massachusetts… then this…

TSA Nominee Withdraws Name from Consideration,
ABC News January 20, 2010 9:03 AM

Criticized by some conservative Republicans, President Obama's nominee to head up the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Erroll Southers, withdrew his name from consideration, it was announced today.

Calling Southers "uniquely qualified for this job," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said that "it is with great sadness that the President accepted Southers' withdrawal. Fortunately the acting TSA Administrator is very able and we have a solid team of professionals at TSA doing vital national security work to keep us safe."

Southers, the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department Assistant Chief for Homeland Security and Intelligence, said in a statement that though he'd been "extremely excited about the opportunity" to head the TSA, "it is apparent that this path has been obstructed by political ideology" and that his "nomination has become a lightning rod for those who have chosen to push a political agenda at the risk of the safety and security of the American people."

The reference to what Southers called an "unacceptable" and "partisan" climate was intended as a shot against Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who had repeatedly questioned whether Southers would allow TSA’s security screeners to unionize.

"The safety and security of the American people are far too important to be controlled by union bosses," DeMint said last Fall. "It’s time for Mr. Southers to give an unequivocal answer: Will he give union bosses control over the safety of Americans at our airports, yes or no? “Unionizing TSA would be a homeland security disaster. TSA needs to be nimble in responding to ever-changing threats."

DeMint went so far as to say that the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 "is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA." The TSA currently has the "flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack," DeMint said, but if labor unions were involved, labor leaders could "veto or delay future security improvements at our airports."

The statements by that SC Republican, anti-worker Congressman man who some will call “the honorable” Jim DeMint really piss me off. Unfortunately, people like him stay in office because ignorant working people buy his bull shit and that of the other right wingers who pander to the workers’ misguided fears about guns, god, race, sexuality, right to work for less, universal healthcare. You name it some sumbitch is against it if it has anything to do with progressive thought. They abound.

I have been a union supporter and member for four decades ever since I shed the shackles of a cotton mill town and realized there was more to life than no rights for workers other than to pick up your last paycheck if you dared to challenge the boss man. For four decades, I have been associated with public safety and giving care to those who needed it. For four decades, I have seen all the things public safety unions do for the public as well as their members. Never has a public safety union or so called “union boss” obstructed management’s right to provide service when needed. It does not happen. It is the unions that fight to provide better service not less service. The real fight comes when management wants to reduce services to save money.

"The safety and security of the American people are far too important to be controlled by union bosses,"
DeMint said last Fall. "It’s time for Mr. Southers to give an unequivocal answer: Will he give union bosses control over the safety of Americans at our airports, yes or no?”

That is a “do you still beat your wife question.” If the unions did have control, the service would be greater not less. I wonder what percentage of firefighters, police officers, teachers and other public servants waste their votes and jeopardize their careers by voting for people devoted to cheating them out of what they deserve or even not voting at all.

And Oh yes, Have a nice Day?


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Caveat Lectores on More Bad Media Coverage

Rather than preach doom and gloom all by myself, maybe it is better to share what Caveat Lectores reads on a daily basis. I get angry when I read or hear lies that can harm the livelihoods of public employees. What worries me more is reading articles and editorials that are relatively factual and certainly believable to those who do not really understand what is happening.

The attack to expect is for the media to claim that government and the “poor” tax payer have been victimized by the “powerful union bosses” who misdirect the members and politicians into harming the public by granting what amounts to nothing more than a living wage and attractive benefits.

This happened to my Local in the late 60’s then again in the 70’s. Our friends were afraid to be seen in our presence. Our enemies felt empowered to try to destroy anything positive that had to do with the fire service in Tampa, Florida. It was a tough time until we got control of the storm of criticism from within as well as without.

The simple truth is that a labor union is never as powerful as we wish or our enemies will suggest in order to discredit us. For many, to say that a labor union is powerful is to imply corruption.
The attacks are becoming more frequent and better directed.

Here is some sweet poison that should not be ignored.

EDITORIAL: Immovable unions, irresistible budget crunch

Something will hit the fan at City Hall Jan. 03, 2010
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Push is coming to shove at the city of Las Vegas.
Last week, two unions balked at the city's budget-cutting ultimatum: wage cuts of 8 percent in each of the next two years, no salary increases of any kind and no promises to "catch up" at a future date -- or else, mass layoffs of public employees.
Firefighters warned that such cuts would result in higher insurance costs and all sorts of carnage because of longer emergency response times. City officials called the warning a scare tactic.
Then the Review-Journal reported that the Las Vegas City Employees Association -- the bargaining group that represents most city workers outside of public safety -- sent a belligerent letter saying it would not come to the table till every other union had submitted to cuts.
So far the unions have agreed to a reduction in cost-of-living wage hikes of 1 percentage point. Not a pay cut, mind you, just a slightly smaller raise. How generous.
Along comes an article in Reason magazine titled "Class War: How public servants became our masters," by Steven Greenhut, a former Orange County Register columnist who now runs the Pacific Research Institute's Journalism Center.
Mr. Greenhut says public servants once were paid less than workers in the private sector but in return had greater benefits and job security. Now public-sector wages far outstrip those in the private sector, but the real time bombs are in the benefits, especially pensions that have grown beyond the ability of taxpayers to support in any actuarially reasonable way.
Mr. Greenhut notes: "Most of these benefits are vested, meaning that they have the standing of a legal contract. They cannot be reduced." And the employees have allies in government. For example, when the city of Vallejo, Calif., filed for municipal bankruptcy reorganization under the burden of 75 percent of its budget going to unionized police and firefighters, the state Assembly introduced a law that would not allow cities to file for bankruptcy without approval from a union-friendly commission!
Mr. Greenhut's article is not yet online, but some of his sources are. Take a gander at Michael Hodges' Grandfather Economic Report ( Mr. Hodges points out that in 1930 government accounted for 12 percent of the economy. Today it consumes 45 percent.
"People who are supposed to serve the public have become a privileged elite that exploits political power for financial gain and special perks," writes Mr. Greenhut. "Because of its political power, this interest group has rigged the game so there are few meaningful checks on its demands. ...
"It's a two-tier system in which the rulers are making steady gains at the expense of the ruled."
Challenge in the legislative halls? Most legislators, commissioners and council members owe their elections to public employee union support. And they have the same pension plan. Challenge in the courts? Judges are public employees.
If the unions take pay cuts, their union leaders will lose power. If the unions refuse and massive layoffs are required, the number of union members will decline, along with ballot power.
It just will not work to attack the messenger of the news blindly. Nor will it work to whine about how unfair the news media treats you.
What will work is unyielding political action and effective lobbying to fill in the gaps that public relations leaves open as you try to get the message across that you are not a bunch of greedy union goons who prey on an impotent political structure and an allegedly impoverished taxpaying public.

It is your choice. Do it right or get f**ked out of your career and your future.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Caveat Lectores on Other Viewpoints

Recently, I painfully slathered through a Rant on some unpleasant topics only to lose it in the Microsoft Abyss by not saving it properly. My patience was exhausted looking for the document until I found what is offered below. It is something you should read. The really uncomfortable part of the blog entry below is that, although it is not favorable from a labor union viewpoint, it is not the deluded ramblings of a right wing conservative zealot determined to hurt his victims. I can disagree with much of the viewpoints but not all of the conclusions or facts.

END OF THE YEAR POLITICAL OBSERVATIONS Mike Clitella, Retired Executive Chairman, Pitney Bowes

I am going to make some end-of-the-year observations about the way I see the political system, the economy, and our society evolving.

Many elected officials do not have the political will to address fundamental structural economic and political issues. We built an economy after World War II promising middle class wages for all Americans, but without the foundation of skills and educational capabilities to make such promises sustainable. Public sector labor unions and unions in heavily politicized private sector industries like the automobile industry, successfully negotiated collective bargaining agreements allowing people with very low skills and educational attainment to secure middle class wages and benefits, and protections against downsizings, even as our economy has had to become more globally competitive.

Private sector companies with these less productive and over-staffed workforces are uncompetitive. The public sector has become too expensive to support for the level of services we receive, as John Donahue of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government powerfully describes in his book The Warping of Government Work. So why do we not address these structural problems?

Elected officials do not get re-elected by allowing large numbers of individuals to experience pain. Under-skilled people in private industry or the public sector would either be unemployed or employed at well below middle class wage levels if they freely competed in a globally competitive sector of the economy.

The long-term answer is better education and re-skilling of our population. Unfortunately, labor unions control much of our education system, and most resist the kinds of education reforms, like aggressive teacher performance management, that would make our education system able to fulfill this mission.

Politicians and labor leaders cannot easily act to address these issues because the highly competent teacher and the teacher who should be downsized have the same voting power. In fact, the more a labor union is comprised of people overpaid relative to the marketplace, the more the union leader will be compelled to resist fundamental change. Elected officials representing dying communities needing to make structural change have constituents least likely to want change.

So what’s the answer? First, acknowledge the problem openly. Second, recognize that even among labor unions or dying community populations, there are many change champions from whom support can be obtained. Third, craft solutions that minimize the number of losers. Fourth, recognize that not everyone in an overpaid, under-skilled population is motivated to retain their specific compensation and benefit packages. People are diverse, and there needs to be an effort to take advantage of that diversity, rather than ignoring it.

I am less optimistic than many about the long-term recovery of our economy. We have difficulty making clean, fast, directionally powerful decisions because we have created big centrally controlled systems with powerful interest groups able to prevent actions that would have adverse effects on them even in the slightest way. That is why the Obama Administration has had to resort to a lot of ugly political horse-trading to pass a single health care reform bill in the Senate, and why the health care reform process is so ugly.

For the big structural issue I described, there will need to be three broad-based tactical approaches:
Find ways to dramatize the pathology by personalizing it. Think about the number of laws that have passed because of the dramatization of a particular victim of a pathology. We have “Amber alerts” because a girl named Amber was kidnapped. We have “Megan’s law” to address violent sexual abuse. The public face of government employees that receive excessive pay and benefits is usually a heroic police officer, firefighter, or teacher, not the Massachusetts toll collector who can retire at age 45 with full pension and retiree medical benefits after 23 years of service. If the public realized how much those retirement benefits cost and how the public is supporting obsolete jobs that could be replaced by automatic toll collection technology that would eliminate toll plaza traffic jams, their attitudes about these benefits could be very different.

Build grass-roots support through fact-based advocacy. Our society has been very successful in changing public attitudes with grass roots campaigns on issues like smoking, driving while intoxicated, and seat belt usage.

Use the power of entertainment. I am involved with film and reality TV investments because I need to learn about how to use entertainment to change society. Neil Baer, the executive producer of Law & Order SVU, is a physician who cares deeply about health care reform. His show is a powerful platform to address many issues associated with sexually transmitted diseases and violence.

Over the next 12 months, I will be doing a fellowship at Harvard University to help myself learn and grow in a way that will enable me to contribute creative insights and to drive actions that will help lead the way in this much more difficult environment.

I like to gleefully and sometimes successfully attack purveyors of anti-union rhetoric whenever possible, but this writer is more difficult to undermine. Not only does he point out problems, but he makes suggestions for remedies as well. Rather than just add verbiage to an already long rant, I will ask you to consider the implications of the message and work with me to find ways to avoid the disaster that would come from his ideas taking root and growing.

And Oh yes, have a nice day?


Caveat Lectores on the Internet and Social Media.

Leaked e-mails expose union labor plotThe Times of Trenton - NJ.comA Facebook group for the Robbinsville Professional Firefighters Association — IAFF Local 3786, the labor union that represents Robbinsville's fighters — has ...

This article is disturbing for several reasons.

First, it calls union activity a "plot" in an obvious attempt to discredit the union as if something legal they were trying to accomplish is a criminal activity. This is typical but annoying just the same.

Second, the “plot” became known because somebody “leaked” the message. Who knows, it may have been the union who leaked the information to make sure the employer would feel pain and know where it was coming from. If the message was leaked by a member, there is an internal problem that will have to be handled internally.

In the interim, here is the message. Do not trust secrets to anyone other than those who will be hurt be revealing the secret. JFTDC!! What does it take to keep our side from shooting us in the foot?

The next bit of this is too simple for words, but I will say it anyway.

Stop using social media for anything you do not want announced to the entire world.

Stop using the employer email system to discuss union business unless you want to announce what you are doing to the employer.

For those of you who have figured this out, you think I am nutz for even mentioning this because you think no educated labor person would do such a stupid thing. Well, you are wrong.

And oh Yes, have a nice day?


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Caveat Lectores on The Art of War

Today’s Rant is about literacy or lack of it. I am not going to rant about how illiterate union leaders are because they are not. Many do, however, lack certain training and education from academic sources for all kinds of reasons.

Forget the reason and just take the time to educate yourself to the levels that your management competitors have frequently achieved.

The first on my list of reading material is The Art of War a Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu in the 6th century BC. It is one of the oldest and most revered books on military strategy. It has had an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking and business tactics. It should be part of labor union strategy as well. Sun Tzu suggested the importance of positioning in strategy and that position is affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment. Different translations from the Ancient Chinese manuscripts make for interesting interpretations. There are 13 chapters in most versions that have remained relevant to this day and beyond. The Internet may be the easiest way to learn about The Art of War.

Reading and applying the writings of Sun Tzu is not easy but valuable to any strategist who wants to prevail over an opponent. Failing to heed the wisdom of the past can and often has lead to failure in the union movement.

There is a 1998 book called The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers. The book shares thematically with Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and has been compared to The Art of War. While I find his revelations interesting, I do not agree with many of the suggested elements and tactics of maintaining power. Some of the suggestions from Greene are so compelling and familiar I want to believe I thought of them first, but we are all merely reporters and messengers from the great minds of the past. Nothing is new.

Some other must reads are mentioned below:

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, by Michael Gerber (1995). "Work on your business, not in it" may be the most oft-quoted piece of wisdom in the entrepreneurial vernacular. Gerber urges readers to develop systems that allow their companies to operate even without them. This is an unlikely book for me to suggest to union leadership, but I will do so anyway and allow the reader to learn from the principles and adapt to union leadership. It has great value.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is based on the core idea that people have a fundamental psychological need to feel important. This book details “three fundamental techniques for handling people, six ways to make people like you, twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.” This is the everlasting book of the last century that will transcend the times to maintain relevance to any person who seeks to advance in the world of people.

Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton is the quintessential resource for negotiators. Union and management negotiators should begin here and work up to the more specific resources, but this is the starting point for a successful negotiator.

When I ask my clients and other union leaders about having read these or other books valuable to the learning experience and success, I frequently hear that the leader is too busy. That is bull shit. If you do not have time to learn, you will find time to fail if you are not careful.

Of course, no list of essential books about public sector unions and organizational effectiveness would be complete without mentioning The Survivor’s Guide to a Successful Public Sector Union: Fire/Rescue Edition and its companion, Finding the Forest Without Any Trees by me.

No false modesty here. I just cannot say enough about how relevant these two books are to the problems and issues public sector union leadership face today. There is a money-back guarantee that has never been tested. The only buyer who ever sent a copy back was to have it autographed.

And oh Yes, have a nice day?