Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day Open Forum

It's Labor Day, which is a good time to talk about labor issues in Connecticut. What's been happening that is of significance to labor, lately? Does organized labor have a future here? Remember that one of the more attractive things about Connecticut to the group of corporate scouts that came here a week or so ago was that Connecticut's workforce wasn't much more unionized than other areas of the country. 16% of our workforce belongs to a union (13% nationally).

I myself was a member of a union for three years (the CEA - the CT arm of the NEA, a teachers' union) and found them much more interested in selling me life insurance than making working conditions better for their members.

33 comments:

ctkeith said...

Just wondering Genghis,

How many union meetings did you attend?

Did you run for office?

Did you offer to help negotiate a contract.

Being a member of a union doesn't mean reading the mailer from the national and complaining.

You weren't a member you were one of the many parasites who enjoyed the benifits of union membership but did nothing to earn them.

Genghis Conn said...

Keith,

If you are only interested in attacking others, I suggest you go elsewhere. You do nothing to help your cause by acting in this childish and obnoxious fashion.

As for your remarkably uninformed commentary, I paid my union dues just like everyone else, attended union meetings and supported the officers, several of whom were my friends. The NEA is more interested in acting as a clearinghouse for insurance and other services than in making the lives of teachers better, or in improving education in this country. Big labor is like this all over the USA: bloated, unresponsive, and slowing going comatose.

ctkeith said...

It's all we got Ghenghis,

Even if it's everything you say it is.
For you to bash it like that is totally wrong.
Ask any teacher in Texas, where it's against the law for teachers to be union members, if they would like the salary and benifits the people in the union got for you long before you were ever employed there.It's your and my generation that let it break and our respomsibility to fix it not bash it.

DeanFan84 said...

Genghis-- Can we please stop the obscenties?

You want Democratic candidates to come to this site, and you put up ant-union drivel on Labor Day?

Ever wonder why teacher salaries are so high in CT? um, the CEA. Thank God for it.

Why don't you go down South where skilled labor gets paid about half of what it does up here, and teachers make less than 20K/yr.

Really, I want an apology. Otherwise I'm going to start e-mailing and each and every campaign. And the Unions.

Shame on you.

Genghis Conn said...

DeanFan,

I'm not anti-union, I think unions ought to be made better than what they are now. The unions need fixing, including teachers' unions. They were very strong during the 1980s (which is where the high salaries come from), but nowadays there is a sense in the ranks that they have become much more complacent and less attentive to worker needs. Certainly life would be worse without them and the strides made years ago, but they could be improved. That's my point.

DeanFan84 said...

Genghis--

You are not getting off that easy. Your Labor Day post. "one of the more attractive things about Connecticut ... Connecticut's workforce {isn't} much more unionized than other areas of the country. {Only} 16% of our workforce belongs to a union (13% nationally)."

Then you put down the CEA.

If there was an ounce of constructiveness in your post, maybe I'd give you the benefit of the doubt.

But for you to post such crap, on LABOR DAY, is unforgivable. I hope you're ready to own this.

Genghis Conn said...

Huh? I was just pointing out the fact that a bunch of corporate scouts found the state attractive for that reason. I don't recall saying I agreed with them.

You really ought to try thinking before you react.

MikeCT said...

I think Genghis' repetition without comment of the claim that CT's modest union density is an "attractive" factor would lead people to question whether he is anti-union. Combine that with slamming the CEA, an airy, rhetorical "Does organized labor have a future here?" and the use of the term "big labor", and he paints a very negative picture.

On the other hand, Genghis also *seems* to be critiquing unions which are based on a "service model" rather than an organizing and advocacy model. This kind of critique is often made by progressives and by union reformers, such as the writers of Labor Notes, Teamsters for a Democratic Union and many labor academics. (I have no basis on which to evaluate CEA/NEA and whether this is legitimate.)

One can be very critical of union practices and be militantly pro-labor. I'll try to accept Genghis' statement that is he not anti-union, but I think his initial statements were too negative, one-sided, and without nuance.

Here's what one recent study said about CT union density:
"In 2004, 16.6% of the Connecticut workforce was represented by unions, a slight increase from the 2003 level of 16.4%. .... In 2004, only eleven states had a greater share of their workforces covered by collective bargaining agreements. Connecticut’s union coverage surpasses the national rate of 13.8%, but is less than the average rate in the Northeast (20.0%). The Northeast has a concentration of states with high rates of unionized workers (led by New York’s 26.4%, the highest rate in the country in 2004)."

A Labor Day weekend story in the Courant covers this report. Some excerpts:

"..... many of the state's workers - as well as the nation's - are falling behind even while the economy leaps ahead. .....Traditionally, family income at the middle of the pay scale, when adjusted for inflation, moves in lock-step with gains in productivity - the more workers produce, the more they take home in their paychecks.

But in the last several years, median wages in the state have fallen behind. Between 2000 and 2004, productivity gains outpaced growth in median wages by 33 percent.

Over a longer horizon the discrepancy is more stark: Since 1997, productivity gains were 44 percent greater than growth in median wages, according to the Connecticut Voices report.
.....

"Firms are more productive and profits have been strong, but wages have been flat. The money has to go somewhere. So the money's been going to owners of capital instead," said Philip Swagel, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

The new report also criticizes the kinds of work being created in Connecticut. The sectors in which Connecticut lost the most jobs between 2003 and 2004 - including manufacturing and financial services - paid an average of $83,000 a year, substantially more than the $38,181 annual salary of the industries that replaced them, such as construction and retail trade.
....
Of particular concern to Hall is the growing polarization among the state's workforce. Over the past 15 years, inflation-adjusted wages for the top 10 percent of Connecticut workers increased by 20 percent, double the increase for those exactly at the middle. Meanwhile, wages for the state's poorest 10 percent fell by 2 percent."

A good book on why unions matter is Why Unions Matter. Elaine Bernard is also a good spokesperson on why they matter from a political and democratic perspective.

Genghis Conn said...

MikeCT,

This subject is definitely provoking strong feelings. Let me clarify where I stand a bit:

I don't like the way a lot of unions work right now. A very visible portion of them have become so entrenched, massive and powerful that they no longer seem to exist for the sake of their members, but for their own sake. They also seem disconnected from their membership, and can't adapt to change. The NEA is one of these. The AFL-CIO is another.

These huge unions seem unable or unwilling to buck the power structure to protect their members against outsourcing, inflation and unfair job practices. Without the full support of the big unions, the smaller member ones don't have the clout they need to negotiate good contracts.

That's "big labor." I've never been particularly impressed by them. The NEA obviously has lots of money to spend on very nice glossy mailers (sent to my house at least once a month when I was in the profession) advertising life insurance and NEA credit cards, but, as has been mentioned, there are plenty of teachers who make very little money in the South and the West, and whose working conditions are much, much worse. I'm sure they were thrilled to get information about NEA credit cards, but they probably could have used smaller class sizes and a pay raise even more. The national union seems unconcerned with that.

The local union was also powerless to stop several unfair firings (including a good friend of mine) and an unsafe work environment in my old district. Why was I paying union dues, then, if administrators could basically do whatever they wanted to us?

So no, I'm not particularly happy with unions right now. Unions could be a force for change, and for fairness and justice. A lot of them simply aren't anymore.

DeanFan84 said...

Happy Labor Day!

Lon said...

This Week in Connecticut Politics has officially launched! We hope this to be a weekly look at the Connecticut Blog-o-Sphere along with interviews of state, federal, and local candidates.

On this edition we discuss the Connecticut bloggers' response to Hurricane Katrina, reveal that Republican Congressional staffers are blogging on government time, and interview East Haven Mayoral candidate Michael Debenedet. The voice quality is not as good as I would have liked, but we will be addressing those issues in next week's edition.

There are a few ways to tune in. You can listen to it directly by clicking here, or subscribing to our feed with iTunes or another Podcasting application. Subscribing to the feed will download the newest edition to your computer the moment it's posted online. The feed address is:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/ThisWeekInConnecticutPolitics

We'll have an iTunes button available just as soon as it gets listed in the iTunes directory.

Show notes are available at CTPolitics.net. Please feel free to leave a comment there and let us know what you think!

Dave said...

Genghis-
A couple of minor points- The CEA is not a union, they are an association. They are quite insistent on this point. Second, the AFL-CIIO is not a union. They directly represent 0 workers. They do not organize workers. Affiliate Unions do that, like the AFT, the UAW and the IUOE. The affiliates also service the workers, fighting grievances and negotiating contracts. The reason that organizing is sometimes pushed to the back of the servicing part is that Union leaders must run for election every three years, which means that 50% plus 1 of their members have to agree with how they are handling the union, and they, for the most part want to see representatives on a regular basis and get better contracts. They are not usually interested in the greater competition for Union jobs that new members bring. I am not familiar with the governance of the CEA- do they have direct election of state officers, or are they a KofC type org that has a board appoint them? I do know, however that the CEA and the Unions in the state have a presence in Hartford that is visible and effective in holding the CBIA, CABE, the ABC and all the other alphabet groups back from making our state a minimum wage, no bargaining rights, no worker rights state. Look at the bills that were introduced last year by bob Ward, Lou DeLuca and the minions of darkness and thank the unions. Without them we would be in a lot more trouble than we are

Aldon Hynes said...

Genghis’ post did come across as a bit ‘anti-union’ to me as well and I can see why a lot of people were upset by it. However, I can also see how it might have been intended to be constructive criticism. Personally, I have never been represented by a union. Not a lot of information technologists are. However, I became very interested in the SEIU’s public membership organization, Purple Ocean and joined them.

Perhaps Genghis is right. Perhaps the labor movement isn’t especially visible here in Connecticut. Perhaps the labor movement is more like the levee’s of New Orleans. People paid little attention to them for too long. They were always there in the background. Unfortunately, they were neglected and when they were most needed they broke. I believe that we have fairer and better working conditions in the United States today because of the labor movement. I believe that we run great risks by neglecting the labor movement.

I wonder, how many of you think about looking for the union label? The number of union textile shops in the United States is decreasing as more and more of our clothes are made in sweat shops. We can and should do something about it. Recently, I’ve been promoting No Sweat!. They are an online merchant that sells union made apparel. Yes, I make a commission off on any sales from people following my link. However, I’ve been encouraging others to set up their own affiliate programs with links on their own pages.

To me, the labor movement is all of us who want to see clean, safe and fair working conditions for everyone. When we criticize the labor movement, we are criticizing ourselves. Sometimes, the criticism that we aren’t doing enough is well founded and we need to change what we are doing. Please, look for the union label.

Nate said...

It seems that things are starting to cool off a little bit here, but I still want to point out how out of line I think you are, DeanFan, for demanding an apology and threatening to call campaigns and unions on Genghis for bringing up his thoughtful (and rather mild) issues about unions. It's his blog; he can say what he wants. If you don't like it you don't have to read it. In the meantime I suggest you do Howard Dean a favor and leave his name off your ill-conceived outbursts.

Nate said...

Hey Aldon,
Thanks for posting the link to No Sweat!, I'll be checking that out in the near future.

Anonymous said...

Gang,

As a moderate Republican and a lurker here, I would like to share a few thoughts about labor unions and this thread:

1) Labor Day should celebrate EVERYONE'S labor, not just the 16% of us in labor unions.

2) Labor unions provide a crucial function in society, and I am a big fan of them in concept. Collective bargaining, ensuring the safety of workers, etc.-- unions have a history to be proud of.

3) However, Genghis brings up many good points about how unions could be improved. Specifically, I agree with the "break away" faction of the AFO-CIO (teamsters, services union, etc.)... unions need to focus on organizing workers and collective bargaining, not politics and making the leadership self-important.

4)As a moderate Republican, I have no problem with unions being involved politically-- but it should be their secondary focus. Many union members I know wish they could "opt out" of the union because they don't think it does anything for them (including the CEA).

5) I am 30 and have many friends in their 20's who think the teacher's union holds them back. They find lazy teachers in their 50's getting paid more than they do, when they participate much more in students lives (e.g., extra-curriculars, etc.)

Now two general comments on this thread:

1) Genghis-- DeanFan mentioned that he wanted to attract Democratic candidates to this site. Is this site meant only for Dems, or is it supposed to be a open forum?

2) The reason I have liked this blog is that it has a lot of well-thought out debate, and not too many mindless personal attacks that are all too common on the Internet. Let's keep it that way.

Genghis Conn said...

Anonymous,

This is not a Dem-exclusive site: everyone is welcome here.

ctkeith said...

A few things,

Anonomous,

Please define moderate republican for me.Anyone who supports W is neither moderate nor Republican.I can't tell you how many self identified Rockefeller Republicans told me they were sick that they couldn't vote for their parties presidential candidate last Nov.
Are you are one of them?

If Labor didn't balance the corperate interest in DC we would already be a total Facist state instead of just close and moving closer to one."Big Labor"
ain't perfect but fighting with a small fraction of the resources of Corperate America they do what they can.

NATE

Now that Genghis admitted his Labor Day post was not up to his own standards perhaps you'll rethink your attack on deanfan?

Aldon,

The next time you take a stand on something will be the first time.

The reason the DeStefano Blog can't generate traffic is because the Desefano campaign spends more time balancing on the fence than standing on solid ground.

I just took a ride to get coffee and saw three homemade signs on homes in my town calling What happened in New Orleans "A national Disgrace" and yet the man who wants to be Governor has a blog that has not one word of outrage at these events or those reponsible by it's management.

Why on earth would anyone looking for change or leadership consider Destefano when the avoidence of saying anything worth hearing seems to be the bane of the campaigns existence?

Nate said...

Ctkeith:

Um, I think I'll stand by the substance of my brutal and barbaric "attack": that publicly threatening to blackball this blog because one doesn't share the same opinion is wrong, that Genghis has the right to say what he wants on his own blog, and that people don't need to read the site if they don't want to. To me, the fact that Genghis took the time to carefully explain his position to people personally attacking him reveals his character, not his guilt.

While we're on the topic, were you going to rethink calling Genghis a "parasite" or making sweeping, "working class hero"-style generalizations about everyone who ever attended a 4 year school?

Anonymous said...

Ct Keith--

To define moderate Republican, I am someone who generally agrees with the party on fiscal and military issues, but disagress on social issues. To take two high profile examples, I am pro-choice and pro-gun control. I like Joe Lieberman and John McCain.

I do generally support the President, except when it comes to things like stem-cell research (he is wrong here), abortion, etc.

I think your posts are a little radical..."if Labor didn't balance the corperate interest in DC we would already be a total Facist state instead of just close and moving closer to one"... this is obviously untrue. Facism is a totaliterian state where the government controls all..from all economic means of production to thought control.

I think if the Democratic Party clings to such believes, it will be a permanent minority party. I actually have many Dem friends who feel similarly to CTKeith and DeanFan, and they are why the party continues to lose ground. Moderates like the DLC and Joe Lieberman are the way for the party to win.

Just the thoughts of a moderate...

ctkeith said...

Anon,

Go read this
http://www.omnicenter.org/warpeacecollection/facism.htm#14fascism

Sound familiar?

Nate
I do generally support the President, except when it comes to things like stem-cell research (he is wrong here), abortion, etc.

So Lying about WMD and bungling a war against a country as weak as Iraq is something you support?

This is the Funniest part of your entire post
I am someone who generally agrees with the party on fiscal and military issues

Look at the record,Republicans can't handle Either.
Enjoy your taxcuts because your kids are going to pay dearly for them.Believe it or not GREED IS NOT GOOD.

Nate said...

I don't know how my name got tangled up in there, but I'm not the anonymous poster and just to restate it for the record I don't support Bush or his policies.

Anonymous said...

CT Keith--

Good luck winning a single election with your platform. I doubt many Democrats who actually have won elections (even here in CT) would agree with you.

-Moderate Republican

MVD said...

wow, quite a heated bunch of comments. People should be able to disagree without getting personal. I think unions, imperfect as they are, are the only solid source of power against the corporations, who now seem to own the goverment and the media (except the blogs!). So they are important to our country. And I have to add, re: the "moderate republican", that I don't understand agreeing with the Republican party on fiscal and military issues. You agree with the creation of a huge deficit? that's W's fiscal policy. You agree with destroying the National Guard in pursuit the unwinnable war in Iraq (that's his military policy)? I find the whole "moderate republican" concept hard to understand....what makes anyone cling to that party is beyond me. Do you agree with the way Katrina was handled? I'm not trying to be unfriendly with these questions, I think it's great that you are posting--we should all try to 'talk' to each other--maybe we can begin to understand each other.

ctkeith said...

soory Nate,

All those commemts were for anon.Must of been another one finger typo.

Anonymous said...

MVD,

You are right about civility in posting. In that spirit, let me tell you why I am a moderate Republican.

First, why I agree with fiscal and military issues. I believe that smaller government is better for society-- that most of the good things we enjoy today are the products of business and entreprenuerial activity. I believe we are all taxes too much, and that a lot of the money is wasted. I believe that people need to help themselves, and government should be there as a safety net-- not a replacement for individual initiative. I am generally a fan of business...I believe society is served by everyone seeking to better and enrich themselves.

On military issues, I believe that American will be safer and citizens of other countries better off if they are capitalist democracies. I believe the war in Iraq is justified on these grounds (obviously not WMD), and that we should be moving all countries (inlucing allies like Saudi Arabia) in this direction.

President isn't perfect here...we screwed up the first six months after winning the war in Iraq (e.g., disbanding the army) and obviously Katrina has been a mess. But just because I think the President has made some mistakes doesn't mean I don't support him.

So why am I a "moderate"? Because I agree with many Democratic positions-- I'm pro-choice, pro-gun control, for separation of church and state. I dislike the more invasive aspects of the Patriot Act. I think my party emphasizes the "religious right" issues too much. I am, as they say, a "Rockefeller Republican."

So why do I stick with the party? Because I believe the Democrats are a party of special interests (unions being a big one), and have no vision for America or Connecticut beyond just taxing and spending to get themselve re-elected. Now, there are a lot of thoughtful Democrats out there (Joe Lieberman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Sam Nunn, just to name a few)....but the leadership of the Dems is in my opinion just as bad as the religious right in their "orthodoxy of tax and spend" and weakness in foreign affairs.

Phew. I have written way too much for anyone to care. But you asked. So I vote Republican about 70-80% of the time...I will probably support McCain in 2008, and really like Jodi Rell.

--Moderate Republican

Genghis Conn said...

Moderate Republican,

Thanks for the interesting post. I think there are a lot of people in this state who share many (if not all) if your views. Therein may lie the secret to Jodi Rell's popularity.

On the other hand, there are certainly many Democrats who aren't fans of what the party at the national level does, but stick to the party because they feel the other side is worse.

I worry that moderates from both sides (and I am one) will find themselves more and more isolated from their respective leaderships as the tone in Washington gets worse and worse.

MikeCT said...

Anonymous,

Specifically, I agree with the "break away" faction of the AFO-CIO (teamsters, services union, etc.)... unions need to focus on organizing workers and collective bargaining, not politics and making the leadership self-important.

In the latest edition of Counterpunch, Joann Wypijewski questions whether this insurgency is really interested in will be effective at new organizing.

The reason I have liked this blog is that it has a lot of well-thought out debate, and not too many mindless personal attacks that are all too common on the Internet. Let's keep it that way.

Amen!

Anonymous said...

Genghis,

I share your worry about the "extremes"... especially in DC. In Connecticut, both parties appear to be dominated by moderates. The legislature works reasonably well with the Governor (at least compared with DC).

I worry that gerrymandering for Congress is creating too many "safe" districts where it is the extremists who win in their party's primaries. I think most Americans (including most of us in the Nutmeg State) are moderates, but moderates don't participate at the levels of the extremes..partly because the extremes are so passionate in their beliefs they are right.

I was very glad at the "group of 14" compromise on judges, and I hope to see more of that kind of thinking in Washington.

ctkeith said...

Anonomous,

When W took over his hack Greenspan said We have too much money so lets give some back.At the time the biggest problem Greenspasn foresaw was we would pay off our national dept too fast.

Today this country is borrowing 2 billion a day and we have gone from a 5 trillion projected surplus to a 7 trillion projected deficit.

Is this your idea of conservative fiscal policy?

Anonymous said...

CT Keith,

Yes and no to your fiscal policy comment. I think the Republicans have failed to hold the line on spending...they are as bad as the Democrats were when they controlled Congress. Until this year's budget (the first good one of the Bush years), spending on both military and non-discetionary domestic programs were increasing at 5-10% per year. Unacceptable.

However, I am a big fan of the Bush tax cuts. I think they saved us from a bad recession, and were fairly distributed (15% lowered to 10%, 36% lowered to 33%, etc.) I just think we need to control spending to ensure we don't have these huge deficits.

As for your calling Greenspan a hack, I think that everybody else in the universe would disagree. He has masterfully kept our economy with low inflation and steady growth for 20 years. As Woodword's book title says (no arch conservative is he), Greenspan is the "maestro".

--Moderate Republican

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