Bringing (Good) Things to Life

Sergeant Jeremy Mendenhall of the Ohio State Highway Patrol is really mad. He is the president of The Ohio Troopers’ Association and is busy working to defeat Republican-sponsored legislation that, he says, would gut Ohio’s collective bargaining arrangements and seriously enfeeble the power of unions like his. “People won’t forget this in 2012,” he indignantly told The New York Times this week. Yet the really interesting bit in this story is that Trooper Mendenhal is himself a registered Republican. His shock and anger then is a bit perplexing. What kind of political party did Sergeant Mendenhal think he was joining? Did he not notice that the 2008 Republican Party platform called for just the sort of labor initiatives that the G.O.P. is pushing in Ohio?

Mendenhall is not alone, of course, if he’s been thinking that the Republican Party is the champion of the American worker. One of Ronald Reagan’s singular achievements was convincing working Americans that the G.O.P. was on their side. The Democratic Party of the 60s and 70s made that an easier sell: The radical left-wing antics of the 1968-generation alienated a lot of American workers; the party of Franklin Roosevelt, they thought, had abandoned and perhaps even betrayed them. As Democratic stalwart Tip O’Neill observed in the wake of the Reagan landslides: “The Democratic Party created the middle class in this country, but we no longer represent it.”


Just how did that happen? True, the implosion of the New Deal coalition was evident by 1980, but the ‘conservatization’ of the American worker had been underway since the 1950s, the product of a collaboration of sorts between Reagan and a little known executive at General Electric, one Lemuel Boulware. Boulware was in charge of GE’s labor relations and over a career spanning twenty years, his take-no-prisoners, take-it-or-leave-it negotiating style was so effective that it inspired a corporate labor strategy still known as Boulwarism. A leading union official once described this strategy as essentially "telling the workers what they are entitled to and then trying to shove it down their throats." Reagan met Boulware in the early fifties when the out-of-work actor and future president was hired as GE’s corporate spokesman. We can say then that, in a big way, GE brought Reagan’s ideology to life and Boulware was the mid-wife. He was the one who “came up with the idea of trying to change the politics of blue collar America,” as Reagan historian Will Bunch has remarked. Boulware “wanted to wean blue collar workers off of the New Deal politics of Franklin Roosevelt and trade unionism and turn them toward a new politics of anti-communism, patriotism and progress.”

As Reagan traveled about the country making endorsements and meeting GE employees, Boulware’s ideas began to crop up in his remarks. It was here, on “the mash potato circuit,” as Reagan called it, that he developed and honed what later Reaganites called “the speech”: a folksy, yet forceful treatise on free enterprise, democracy, anti-communism and patriotism, the same speech he would give in different forms and forums for the rest of his career. “Progress” was the theme and for Reagan and Boulware "progress" meant that which was good for GE. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; both men believed in the adage that the business of America is business. Unions weren’t exactly capitalism’s anti-Christ, but as Boulware said in an interview late in his life, compulsory union membership was "wrong in principle and bad in practice." This sentiment is widely shared among Republicans to this day and lies behind many of the proposed reforms in Ohio and elsewhere.

Reagan had the charisma that Boulware lacked. In “the speech” Boulware’s ideas found a sophisticated, eloquent and friendly expression. Reagan had the talent and the smarts (yes, the smarts) to take Boulware’s ideas—ideas that were not obviously in the interests of workers—and convince people like Sergeant Mendenhall that they were. That was no small feat. No wonder they call him “the great communicator."


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Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
The dueling links!  Here's something from that left-wing radical magazine FORBES: 

Referring to a "compensation package" is not an accurate way to assess real benefits.  They need to be considered individually. 
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 11 months ago
As Mr. Cosgrove has said in the past, in reference to laissez-faire capitalism (the form I gather he approves), no system is perfect.  Collective bargaining and unions are not perfect either.  But the distribution of power to workers is preferable to what the forces of oligarchy are trying to accomplish.   At the moment, the industrial unions have been hit by the exportation of their work to China and elsewhere.  The badmouthing of public employees is now aimed at dividing them from their private sector brothers and sisters.  It is my understanding that the Wisconsin teachers have accepted cutbacks in their benefits and increased their share of the medical insurance  premium payments.  No mention of all the pension funds that disappeared into that black hole called Wall Street (after the German acquistion of the NYSE, perhaps it should be called Mauer Strasse) due to the deregulation.  But the Wisconsin governor is performing a power grab for the benefit of union-busting interests.  He gets HIS bribes from the Koch boys.  Maybe not now, but I'm sure there's a reward waiting for their pet in the future if he performs his tricks well.  By the way, I do support right-to-work laws, that is, the right to not having your work exported overseas. 
7 years 10 months ago
The only issue on the table in WI now is that of collective bargaining rights given the unions' concessions on pension contributions (which would seem a strange concession if they already were paying 100% into the plan as is argued above, but I digress).  Given this reality, I have a few questions for those on here (the bloggers, as well as commentators like Vince) supporting collective bargaining for government (I'm separating out private) employees.  To wit:

1. Do you support compulsory union membership? I.e., if you work for the government you must belong to the union? If yes, how does that accord with the right of free association, which presumably allows one to DIS-associate freely too?

2. Do you support compulsory membership dues? If so, do you think that state governments should be the collection agency such that the dues are deducted from workers' checks much like social security, etc.? 

3. In Laborem Exercens, Pope JP II gave a full-throated support for the right of labor to organize & collectively bargain, but cautioned against the unions becoming too aligned with one political party or political agenda.  In light of that warning, do you think the unions should be restricted from supporting non-labor related "liberal" issues like gay marriage?  Abortion?  A particular foreign policy? 

4.  In light of #3, do you support the un-regulated right of labor unions to spend un-limited amounts of money in elections in order to support or block particular candidates in elections, as articulated in the Citizens United case?  If yes, do you support an equal right of management to do the same?  Should individual workers retain a say in how their dues are spent?  For example, should unions get approval from workers before they contribute money to pro-choice candidates?

5. Scott Walker, whatever his faults, made clear in his platfor his views of labor and pension reform and was elected by the people of WI by a sizeable majority.  Likewise, the people of WI gave the GOP a majority in both houses of Congress.  No irregularities have been alleged in these elections in the coverage I have seen.  Therefore, is it acceptable for 14 state legislators to subvert these duly elected public officials from doing what they undoubtedly see as their duty by absconding to Illinois?  If you do support the "WI 14", would you likewise defend the right of a group of conservative legislators doing a similar act with respect to legislation they found reprehensible, e.g. a bill to legalize same sex marriage or strike down parental notification laws for abortions?  Do you support the right of 1 US senator to block legislation using the filibuster, even the merely procedural variety?
7 years 10 months ago

The quote I've seen is from the Bishop of Madison's letter on the subject.  I would except the quote, but here is a link:

A follow up question to your responses to #1 & #2: do you support the secret ballot being retained in union elections, and not the sham elections that are a part of the Card Check system in the Right to Work bill?

I must also point out that your views on the role of a minority in a democracy are decidedly anti-liberal!

I support the Citizens United opinion as I think as a general matter the "corrupting influence of money" is a sham.  And I'm pretty sure Walker was very candid about his views.
7 years 11 months ago
A lot of non sequiturs in this.  
First, there is the comparison of industrial and public employee unions.  A quick bait and switch that was made early in the post.  Industrial unions bargain with corporations and the public is a third party and are rarely effected except in some cases with price and product issues.  Public employees bargain with the people themselves since the people pay the public employees.  A typical person pays thousands of dollars a year to these public employees while they may pay only a few dollars toward a specific industrial union.  They do not bargain with the people they are paying directly but through the representatives the people elect.  Far too often these representatives do not represent the people and are bribed and blackmailed by the public employees so that unfair decisions are made that result in favorable results for the unions and bad decisions to the public.  So the whole analysis is flawed by this early bait and switch.  To make the analogy work, it would be like saying the industrial unions are bargaining in an industry with managers that they appoint.  That rarely happens.  Nothing else that is said after this bait and switch follows but it does make an interesting but irrelevant story.  Digging up Boulware was a nice rhetorical flair but as I said a non sequitur. 
The second flaw in the argument that makes this post irrelevant is that in Wisconsin there is no attempt to remove collective bargaining for law enforcement and firefighters.  They will apparently be treated differently in the Ohio bill but in a different way than in Wisconsin.  Ohio also faces a huge deficit issue and I wonder how Sergeant Mendenhall is prepared to deal with it. By giving back overly generous wage increases that were way above the rate of inflation while 10% of the industrial workers are unemployed and nearly double that underemployed.

Some recent article on this from the Columbus Dispatch show that the bill is still being debated with changes being made.
7 years 11 months ago
If anyone is interested in understanding capitalism, I suggest you find the Teaching Company course on the topic by Jerry Muller of Catholic University.  A lot of local libraries have it.
There are a lot of forms of capitalism and few these days really defend laissez faire capitalism though it certainly has some very attractive aspects.  Paul Ryan makes the careful distinction of capitalism and a market oriented economy.  A lot of capitalism practiced around the world and in the United States is not market driven.  One good example is the General Electric company used by author of this post in his attempt to undermine the confronting of union power.  GE is heavily tied into government contracts and rarely works in a true market driven economy, preferring to influence its chances with lobbying and government regulation.
I always find the complaint that the US is losing jobs to over seas competition as poorly understood.  The Great Depression was started by trying to manipulate trade in the US's favor and we saw how that worked out.  There is some merit today to the Chinese playing unfairly in this because of their currency manipulations.  However, if it wasn't the Chinese that we were importing from, it would probably be some other country, most likely in Asia.  However, the US is by far the largest manufacturer in the world and one of the leading exporter of manufactured goods if not the largest.  Should other countries complain that their jobs are being exported over seas to US companies.

Our trade deficit can be traced largely to the import of energy in the form of petroleum.  If we were energy independent then there would be no trade imbalance.  But this is an aside as this post is supposedly focused on union busting.
The fight with the unions is all about money directed to the unions to support the Democratic Party.  Without it, the Democrats would wither away.  Here is an article about this and the public employee union government dispute.
In it the author refers to General Electric  as ''the for-profit arm of the Obama Administration.''  This is ironic given the author above's attempt to paint GE as the evil capitalist union buster.
7 years 11 months ago
"But the Wisconsin governor is performing a power grab for the benefit of union-busting interests.  He gets HIS bribes from the Koch boys.  Maybe not now, but I'm sure there's a reward waiting for their pet in the future if he performs his tricks well."

This is the third post on this topic on the blog.  In each one, Cosgrove and I have attempted to marshall a series of arguments, backed with whatever evidence we felt would explain our position, and have asked and invited others to say WHY our arguments are wrong, WHY our evidence is insufficient, WHY there is no difference between private and public sector unions, WHY the negotiating balance between the public unions and government is just fine the way it is, and WHY it is ok that the unions should be allowed to spend millions of dollars swaying the elections of the very people they will negotiate their contracts with.  Again, its about arguments and evidence. 

And in every post on this topic, Cosgrove and I have been met with barbs, name-calling, mentions of "delegitimizing" and "power- grabs" (as if bankrupting the moral fisc isn't somehow a power grab), and, at best, repetitions of broad principles about the right of workers to unionize, as if just repeating the teaching solved the matter.  If you don't like the arguments, or agree with the arguments, fine - tell me why they're wrong!  Show me the economics of why it is that there is no problem with the structural barganing power of the public sector unions, why it is that they pose no threat to the financial health of our states and muncipalities, why FDR and Samuel Gompers were wrong to insist that unionization and government work is incompatible.  But until you manage to marshall such arguments, the name-calling and ad hominems about bribes (I'm STILL waiting on my check from the Koch brothers - ps) and vast right-wing conspiracy theories do the case for the public sectors no credit.
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
Relax Jeff-no one has called you any bad names.

Indeed, Cosgrove & you have "marshalled" conservative blog talking points with few facts.  When you do present them-e.g., the bogus  take on FDR-and are corrected you then abandon the point and  move on to new "facts."

We have a well-established public sector collective bargaining system. We have a 100+ years of Catholic social teaching on the justness of the labor movement.  You want to challenge both of those things.  The burden of proof, as my high school debate coach reminded us on the first day, is on you.
7 years 11 months ago
''Cosgrove & you have ''marshalled'' conservative blog talking points with few facts''

That is nonsense.  What facts do you want?  Do you want to see the actual salaries for teachers which do not reflect the retirement pensions they are promised?  The average is a $100,000 a year or higher for tons of places.  For example, White Plains, NY has a population of about 57,000 people.  The school district serving this city has over 420 teachers and administrators making more than $100,000 a year. That is more than $420 million a year just for these teachers and an additional $100 million per year for their retirement package that the state must bear.

If you go to surrounding states you will see the same thing and in other states a slightly lower extravagance but still the same pattern.   The average policeman makes similar money.  These are the people who are sucking up the money and are a major cause of the restriction of funds for alternative purposes.  A lot of liberals are up in arms over this too as many of their treasured projects are jettisoned to feed this voracioius monster that will cut jobs of their less junior compatriots to keep their own high salaries.

And if you want to say that teachers are somehow holier than other groups, I suggest that everyone watch ''Waiting for Superman.''  In it you will see the callousness of teachers as they endorse a system that pays them well but screws the kids.  Liberals are a hypocritic bunch.  They only care for the poor in order to get their vote.  When the poor and youth wake up the liberals will be thrown to the wolves where they should have gone a long time ago if there were any justice for the poor.
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
You're recycling your points. We've already discussed this issue of public sector workers and their pay & benefits (they get less pay on average and somewhat more generous benefits). They didn't cause Wisconsin problems but they've agreed to concessions.  The governor-who just gave tax advantages to the wealthy and turned down $800 million in federal funds-refuses to negotiate.

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN is a seriously flawed film that ignores the reform work being done in the NEA & AFT.  Simply referring to it as your unassailable evidence is like me closing off discussion on health care by arguing that SICKO is the final word on the matter (BTW, that is a damn good documentary!).

7 years 11 months ago
Off  by a facotor of 10.  The number in my previous post $42 million and $10 million.
7 years 11 months ago
''You're recycling your points. We've already discussed this issue of public sector workers and their pay & benefits (they get less pay on average and somewhat more generous benefits). ''

You accuse people of not providing facts and now when we do provide fact that we are recycling points.  I do not think $100,000+ is less pay on average.   And I have friends who are teachers who believe ''Waiting for Superman'' is fairly accurate of too many school districts in the country especially those with low graduation rates.  Do you want the documentation on low graduation rates?  Go here or am I recycling talking points.
7 years 11 months ago
What's wrong with public employees, like teachers and police officers, earning $100,000 a year?  I'm far more offended by stock traders and investment bankers earning millions a year.  My solution to the problem is redistribution of wealth through very high tax rates on the wealthy (at one time, the rate was 91% on the top bracket, and America's economy was very prosperous) and the distribution of the revenues to the poor and middle class.  That is very Catholic!  Just read what the Fathers of the Church had to say about the maldistribution of wealth: the wealth hoarded by the rich was "stolen" from the needy.
7 years 10 months ago

Those great right wing Republicans, The Beetles, well understood the implications of a ridiculous progressive taxation such as you describe and even sang about it( 16 for me and one for you, taxman). 
And they did what people of all political beliefs do when faced with such a choice, they moved.

7 years 10 months ago
My links are primarily to the Washington Post, the LA Times, the NY Times, and a Pew Forum survey from 2/23/2011.  If these are "conservative blog[s]" or merely "talking points", its news to me.  Again, (mis-)labelling arguments doesn't show their invalidity (I would have thought you'd learn that in debate class, too).  Nonetheless, even if your label were correct, that again doesn't mean their wrong (except to someone so sure of the infallibility of their own position, something which Michael Moore is certainly exemplary of, so perhaps your mentioning his movie is telling).  You didn't "correct" any of my points, FDR's letter included.  If a labor strike has "nothing to do" with the labor movement or collective bargaining, that's very interesting.  Perhaps you should tell that to the thousands of striking workers in Wisconsin.  I could go tit-for-tat with Vince's ad hominems and straw men, but alas, its ruining a gorgeous morning and always feels a little bit like a dog chasing his own tail.  SO I give up! Vince, let me know when you're preferred political POV manages to win an election (outside of Bernie Sanders up in VT), then I'll start paying attention again. 
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
What a treat-after a day of sunshine and no computer-to read these latest postings!

Jeff & Cosgrove-glad to get all those links, although I think the AMERICA staff has requested about a dozen times that we not do that.  I try to follow as many as possible but they usually don't end up proving your point. The FDR angle is priceless-I enjoy historical fiction but if you read the full letter-housed in the National Archives (and quoted in my earlier post)-there is no way one could conclude that he opposed public unions. Just keep repeating it and it might be true, right?

Walter, my figures were for public sector workers in unions at the national level.  Your 24% & 72% figure doesn't exactly make sense-especially when I checked the many anti-union websites that claimed the average Wisconsin teachers' pay was $81K, $73k, and/or $64K. Which is it? The Wisconsin State government reports that it is $52K.  There are breakdowns by district but in no instance did I find a district that paid out an additional 75% of a teacher's salary to their benefits.

You do not change minds when you present dodgy figures, links to articles of questionable validity, and throw hyperbole into the mix.

One final thing, and it's at the heart of the issue: notwithstanding Walter's claim that Governor Walker's bill will not "do away with collective bargaining completely" it will do exactly that. That's the purpose of the bill. That's why the governor won't consider bargaining table concessions. I appreciate the AMERICA folks keeping this fact-and the importance of labor union rights to Catholic social teaching-front & center. 
7 years 10 months ago
"Use your own words. Refrain from copying and pasting passages from secondary sources. A link, or brief citation, will suffice."
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
I stand corrected!  

Wow-I can't believe IAT editors want to invite too much of this. I'm a researcher by trade so I have been resisting the urge to drop citations and links into posts! I guess the self-imposed restraints are off. But then there's the warning to "be brief" and not respond excessively. . . 

Off to meetings etc. and will let others carry on w/the discussion.

7 years 10 months ago
Here is an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article

''The average Milwaukee public-school teacher salary is $56,500, but with benefits the total package is $100,005, according to the manager of financial planning for Milwaukee public schools''

New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania publish all their salaries on line.  I posted some of the results from local school districts north of New York City.  But a lot of total employee beneift costs do not make it into these published salaries as the two big expenses, medical and retirement are obscured.  For example, some teachers who have spouses with health insurance get additional money in salary when they forgo health insurance benefits.  None of the retirement benefits are in local teacher's salaries because the state pays them when they retire.  However, they are real costs and are esssentially what is bankrupting many of the states.  Teachers just happen to be the biggest group both in terms of numbers and total costs.
7 years 10 months ago
I have read the Forbes article and it does not add anything new of consequence.  What the author has presented is what is known as a ''distinction without a difference'' fallacy.  He wants to call the money paid for pensions by another name and by doing so says it is not the tax payers paying the pensions but the employees out of their agreed upon compensation.  The tax payers are paying everything and the distinction the Forbes author makes is one without a difference.  If the solution is for the teachers to take a pay cut, then that may be essentially the same thing the governor wants and needs to balance the budget but it doesn't change anything of substance.  His whole argument is much ado about nothing.

The organizations that should be complaining are the federal and state governments who are denied taxes on the additional income that the state employees are making but for which they do not pay taxes.  Most of us see this same type of thing in our 401K's where money is put away and allowed to accumulate and taxes are not paid till it is drawn upon when one retires.  Except in a lot of 401K's it is actual compensation that is contributed to the fund by the employee and the employee is not offered any defined benefits plan as is the Wisconsin state employees.  There was a joke two years ago that one's 401K had turned into 101Ks because a lot of them were invested in the stock market and yes, mortgage bonds.

One of the major problems with these defined benefit plans is that the method used depends upon the professionally operated funds generating 7-8% a year growth and they are no where near that in the last few years.  Thus, the funds are seriously underfunded to provide the defined benefits required in the future and then the taxpayers will have to pony up the difference.  And we are talking huge differences.  The author of this article was at best disingenuous.  Few people besides public employees get defiined benefit plans any more and that is an issue.  Maybe these public employees should be made to give up these types of plans as have most of the private sector.
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
"it does not add anything new of consequence."

Well, except to make the very important point that the employees are already paying 100% of their contributions.

Why should public employees "be made to give up these types of plans as have most of the private sector"?  The challenge should be one of working toward social justice-bring others into more secure pension plans. The notion of "everyman the investor" is a fraud perpetrated on the American public.
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
Jeffrey H. Keefe , "Are Wisconsin Public Employees Over-Compensated?" EPI BRIEFING PAPER #290 (Feb. 2011)

Factoring pay and benefits Keefe (Rutgers U.) concludes that"An earnings equation controlling for work hours of full-time employees demonstrates that Wisconsin public employees earn 4.8% less than comparable private sector workers working comparable annual hours." (p. 10)

I'm having fun with the citations but, taking Tim's gentle reminder, I'll stop here.
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
The answer to #1 & #2 is that I support the democratic outcome of elections, i.e., is a majority decide on a candidate than that person is a candidate; if the majority decide to have (or not to have) a union than that is the result.  Those who lost can run their candidate & issue again-not fold their arms and claim that they are part of the democratic process or that they can ignore the result.

Re. #3: You'll have to provide the words P. JPII used before I can comment.  He was quite familiar with labor parties in western Europe and around the world and never spoke ill of them or suggested they didn't adhere to Catholic social teaching.

Re. #4: I was disappointed with the CITIZENS UNITED decision.  I support the right of unions to be involved fully in the political process-do you support limits on corporations?

Finally, #5: Did Governor Walker explain clearly to the Wisconsin voters that he would no longer engage in collective bargaining and that he would push legislation that would effectively end public sector unions?  As to what the legislators do with filibustering, well, what's good for the goose. . .
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
A couple of typos:  if a majority decide on a candidate than that person is the new elected official; if the majority decide to have (or not to have) a union than that is the result.  

(There is one solution: people who "opt out" of the results of the democratic process could give back the difference between the union negotiated wages and benefits and what their non-union counterparts receive,  and forgo using the grievance and seniority process. Funny none have ever suggested this!).
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago

I not at all certain Walker was specific about his intentions or your characterization of "liberal" is accurate (BTW, I'm a socialist)! The warning from the bishops seemed to be that unions not function as political parties (and they don't).

Our labor law system is unbalanced and  is functionally undemocractic: if a majority of workers vote for a union they must go through at least three lengthy procedures and even after the election must fight for a contract (the percentage of workplaces where a union has been approved but where employer obstruction to signing a first contract is high). There is spotty enforcement of already weak labor laws and weak penalties for guilty employers.

 Obviously, I like to discuss and debate the issue of workers' rights but, really, should we be using the AMERICA  website to pursue these specific issues about labor law reform (especially when it is not currently before Congress)?
7 years 10 months ago
I was using "liberal" in the philosophically broader sense, i.e. each individual has certain inalienable rights that may not be abridged.  Of course, your self-proclaimed socialism would explain your nonchalance at the notion of a minority being trampled by the majority, being as that is a foundational element of socialism, with its inevitable gulag.

I am not trying so much to argue labor policy as to feel some of the "contours" of the debate re: the "right" to collectively bargain.  Many of the elements I asked about, e.g. mandatory dues collected by the state government, are a part of Gov. Walker's bill.  I was more curious as to just how robust the right to collectively bargain went in the eyes of folks standing on the ground of Catholic Social Teaching, and if it had any room for what many see as reforms of the union system. 


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