Lopping Off the Competition Camel’s Nose
Suppose you had a variety of tasks, none of them highly specialized, for which you wished to hire workers. Of the several people whom you interview, one declares that he can do everything himself, provided you sign a contract to that effect. Now, do you expect him to offer an hourly rate that is:
- Substantially less than,
- About the same as,
- Roughly double the market rate for each job individually?
I ask, because it looks as though, in its relationship with the local educational support personnel segment of the NEA, the Little Compton School Committee may have chosen C:
The two [non-union] summer painters, Stephanie Chapman, 21, of Warren, and Corey Leite, 18, of Tiverton started work July 2 and have since been painting parts of the school building, outside and inside. They are being paid $7.40 per hour for 30 hours weekly, working from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for seven weeks of work until August 18, for a combined total of $3,108.
The union has asked the labor board to order that the school cease and desist its employment of Ms. Chapman and Mr. Leite, and instead post and fill the positions with bargaining unit employees at the union pay scale rate of pay, $14.73 to $15.58 per hour (reported figures differ), which for the seven weeks would amount to between $6,186 and $6,543.
Jane Argentieri, who filed the complaint, is assistant executive director of the National Educational Association Rhode Island/National Education Association (NEARI/NEA), the parent organization for Little Compton Local #862 that represents the approximately 20 educational support personnel in the local school bargaining unit.
Ms. Argentieri said the two positions should have been posted first to members of the union, who would be hired on the basis of their seniority if any of them wanted the work. The work belongs to the union. Only if no one “inside” wanted the work could the positions go to “outsiders.”
Inside, outside… “the work belongs to the union.” With an eye toward charity, the union may conceivably be imparting a tough-love lesson to Stephanie, who just received a degree in psychology from Roger Williams, and Corey, who just acquired a trade school GED: Get out of the state now if you want to have a future. Don’t take a quiet summer of symbolic school painting to figure out what steps to take at this critical juncture in your life. Leave. All the work is owned ’round here.
The message for the school committee is more of a warning. According to the fantastically named Sakonnet Times reporter Tom Killin Dalglish, the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement with the union says nothing at all about painters or painting. And although it does spell out a “grievance procedure” to resolve alleged violations of the contract, “for reasons not explained the grievance procedure was not utilized in this case.” Surely the committee is capable of doing the math necessary to understand the “reasons” — and the message:
- $6,186–6,543 to hire two workers who will keep the union happy, or
- $3,108 to hire two young Rhode Islanders trying to get a jump on their adult lives, plus the services of the school’s $135-an-hour lawyer
We own the work. How far yous want to take this?
From the Rhode Island taxpayer’s point of view, the mystery is what benefit this sort of extortionary relationship provides to the school. Ours is not, however, a point of view that is commonly considered in these matters, and one gets the sense that politicians and administrators sold that soul long ago. The question that ought to concern union officials — before they go rendering our college-aged sons and daughters unemployed for the summer — is whether there’s a threshold at which we’ll come to claim the soulless body.