Re #1 to a Question from the Woonsocket Fire Department Restructuring Discussion

In response to Monique’s post on the restructuring of the Fire Department by the Woonsocket City Council, commenter Tom Kenney asked…

Are you willing to negotiate with the unions for those concessions or is your answer the same as many conservatives are proposing…do away with collective bargaining altogether?
Here’s how I would answer the first part of that question, if it had been addressed to me.
1. I would not be willing to “negotiate” when obvious mistakes need correcting. For concrete examples of what I mean by obvious mistakes, think of 1) substitute-teacher pay in Providence 2) the stories from Massachusetts about firemen going out on disability at a higher pay-grade than their official rank, because they were doing a higher-rank desk job as a temporary fill-in when they became injured.
If there are practices that increase costs to the public, without improving the effectiveness of public services, then the public doesn’t have to “give something back” to have them fixed. Relevant to the original conversation in Monique’s thread, if it is true that there are contracts that allow overtime to be paid because of some paper-distinction about whether someone should be on or off duty during a particular hour of the week, not because of the total numbers of hours worked in a week, this is the kind of provision outside of any legitimate need for negotiation. (This is different from saying there shouldn’t be any such thing as overtime).
2. I would not be willing to enter negotiations that begin with unions taking a position that “we’re entitled a big piece off-of-the top of the tax-levy beyond the salaries for the positions that are established because of decisions made 20 years ago, and this cannot be altered except maybe by changing the size of the piece off-the-top by a percentage point or two”.
I believe that history teaches that this dynamic is a major source of the poisoning of relations between public unions and the public; a full explanation of the historical dynamic I am referring to is here. This does not mean that I do not believe that steps have to be taken to take care of people who have relied on the good sense of the “negotiators” of Rhode Island’s past (ha ha ha ha) to provide for their futures, but going forward into our future, steps need to be taken now to prevent this issue from continually recurring.
Finally, I believe that if the barriers between public safety unions and the public described above were to be removed, members of public safety unions would find a base of support for their work that is broad and strong amongst the public, and that is a better long-term bet than is relying upon promises made by top-down and very shortsighted political machines.

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Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“do away with collective bargaining altogether”
This is total crap right here. I don’t know of anybody, conservative or otherwise, who disagrees with collective bargaining in totality. Freedom of association is guaranteed by the constitution and that includes the freedom to participate in a union. This has been recognized many times on Anchor Rising.
The problem is that Rhode Island’s public unions are granted artificial monopolies over the state and municipal workforces by law. This is not simple association – this is coercion, and the results are a disaster in every state without right to work legislation. Simply look at a per capita budget deficit map compared with right to work states. There is virtually a 1 to 1 correspondence with public union monopolization and fiscal irresponsibility.
I live in a Republican-controlled southern state and we still have unions, public unions even. Like around half the other states (most of which are faring far better than RI, CA, NY, NJ, CT, MA, etc. fiscally), we have right to work legislation guaranteeing that if somebody doesn’t want to join a union, then they don’t have to join. The unions are free to offer their services and negotiate on a level and consensual basis. Those who wish to represent themselves without the union do so. Besides union leadership, most are very happy with the arrangement.
Tom and Michael – How can you possibly argue against this?

David S
David S
11 years ago

Dan, I’ll answer. You neglect to mention a part of right to work. RTW laws allow an employee to not join a union and not pay dues but to act as a free rider- receiving any benefit union members bargain for. The purpose for the free rider provision is to bust unions, pure and simple. If I understand your objections to closed shop rules or even reduced collective bargaining rules, do you object to the free rider component of rtw?

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

David S – Even outside of the union arena, there are always going to be “free-rider” problems (some would call them external benefits) whenever bargaining includes issues of safety, comfort, work rules, etc. But if we’re focusing on the more typical pay and benefit items, then absolutely I am against any components of right-to-work that enable free-riding. There should be freedom of negotiation for all parties – the state, unions, and non-union employees. It’s the monopolization of the workforce that is the real problem. I’m not sure how anyone outside of union leadership could possibly morally support closed-shop legislation.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

Aren’t we all free riders to some extent? Wasn’t it unions that got many working conditions improved and also got new labor laws on the books? I benefit from a safer working environment because of those laws put in place, but I’ve never been a member of any of those unions. So that makes me a free-rider too, right?

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

The “free rider” argument is pure BS.
If the union’s members believe that it gets a better deal for its members than they would have had without the union, that is all that matters. There is no “right” of the union to receive any allegiance or payment from non-affiliated people who may also have benefited in a collateral way.
The reason for the “closed shop” is that the union bosses know that members are skeptical about the value of the union and they must use corrupt political schemes to maintain their power.

michael
11 years ago

“Finally, I believe that if the barriers between public safety unions and the public described above were to be removed, members of public safety unions would find a base of support for their work that is broad and strong amongst the public, and that is a better long-term bet than is relying upon promises made by top-down and very shortsighted political machines.”
Spending too much time on blogs and Projo.com forums leads you to a false assumption that there is no broad and strong support among the public when the exact opposite is true.
There is broad and strong support among the public, and I see it every day. Here, it’s a different story. The Dan’s and Bob N’s of the world are the vast vast minority.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Great, Michael. So to prove your point, you would support right-to-work legislation, right? After all, if you are correct you have nothing to fear from putting unions into a competitive environment.

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

There are two sides of the right-to-work issue. To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, I am against right-to-work legistlation.
As far as “negotiations” between management and workers, the way I see it there are only 3 possible ways to come to a workable contract.
1. Management dictates
2. Labor dictates
3. Management & labor negotiate terms that are acceptable to both sides

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

Aren’t we all free riders to some extent? Wasn’t it unions that got many working conditions improved and also got new labor laws on the books? I benefit from a safer working environment because of those laws put in place, but I’ve never been a member of any of those unions. So that makes me a free-rider too, right?
Posted by Patrick at March 27, 2011 9:56 PM
The horse has been led to water.

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

And to Andrew’s point —> “If there are practices that increase costs to the public, without improving the effectiveness of public services, then the public doesn’t have to “give something back” to have them fixed.”
I agree. Negotiations are not about a 1 for 1 swap of give and take. Negotiations are about finding acceptable terms for both parties. Sometimes it’s a swap. Other times 1 side makes concessions without any gains. It’s all about the realities of the times…hence most unions have made very considerable concessions over the last few years whether some people want to believe that or not.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Tom – Please explain WHY you are against right to work. We want to hear you attempt to justify the coercion and monopolization of the workforce. Defend the indefensible.
Michael – the public is split 50-50 on unions at the moment according to most poll data. What you should be very concerned about is that this is the lowest public opinion since the polling began. I personally don’t particularly care what the general public believes as it is not always indicative of reality.
You dodged all of my points on right to work, as usual. Answering would require intellectual honesty and courage, I suppose. You should consider public office.

michael
11 years ago

I actually don’t know anything about right to work, hence I have decided to not comment. I applied for a job as a firefighter and was hired in Providence. Then I learned about Local 799 and the IAFF. I’ve gladly paid my dues, considering the never ending battles local politicians wage when times get tight, or they find somewhere else to spend the taxpayers money.
The Honorable Congressman Cicillinini is just the latest example of the liars and cheats we have to deal with. Without the money gathered from dues paying members we wouldn’t stand a chance for fair contracts.
And that is just the way it is.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

As David S notes, the specific ways in which right to work is enacted can be complex, but the issue here is simple:
Do you support public union membership being mandatory by “closed shop” legislation, or do you support “right to work” leglislation guaranteeing public workers the right to choose whether to join a union or not?
If you do support “closed shop” legislation mandating public union membership, how do you justify that coercion and monopolization of the work force? What is the danger in letting individuals choose?

michael
11 years ago

Call me paranoid, but I get the feeling this is a loaded question. I’m happy with my situation and don’t have an opinion on anybody else’s.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Michael – I didn’t think the question was loaded, but I can rephrase the question to its most basic form: Do you think the state should force its workers to join public unions, or should the workers be able to choose, and why?
The position in question is your own since you are a dues-paying RI public union member, so you are in a perfect position to comment.

michael
michael
11 years ago

If I felt like it I could rephrase the question to sound as one sided as yours, but I don’t. The “state” cannot force anybody to do anything.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Michael, if you want to play sophomoric word games, that’s your prerogative. I asked you a very straightforward question about right to work legislation. Your decision to side-step the question and philosophize over the existence of “the state” just demonstrates to the readers what a dodgy character you are underneath your bogus savior of the downtrodden persona. A man who cannot give a simple honest answer is without honor. If you take issue with the wording of the question, then qualify your answer instead of ignoring it. I honestly don’t know how to simplify it further for you.

michael
11 years ago

“Do you think the state should force its workers to join public unions, or should the workers be able to choose.”
I’ll leave it to a jury of my, uhh peers to decide, if they choose to bother, whether this is a loaded question.
In my opinion this is a leading question, with a “simple” yes answer committing me to endorsing a state that has the power to force its citizens to do something against their will.
I won’t waste my time insulting you like you did me, it just isn’t worth it, but it is an intriguing question.

David S
David S
11 years ago

Patrick’s comments..”Aren’t we all free riders to some extent? Wasn’t it unions that got many working conditions improved and also got new labor laws on the books? I benefit from a safer working environment because of those laws put in place, but I’ve never been a member of any of those unions. So that makes me a free-rider too, right?”
Yes, you are quite correct. And so free riding does not have to have a bad connotation. Work safety rules and other labor laws should apply to all workers, not just some. What I was writing about in regards to rtw was the free riding on bargained compensation. Right to work laws allow a worker to not pay dues and then by law, still enjoy all the pay raises and other compensation that unions in that same workplace bargained for. This is not the libertarian dream- individuals all free to live by our own dint and determination. Right to work is union busting. Under right to work laws, 95% of a workforce could want to be represented by a union and the other 5% would not be on their own in seeking their own compensation- that 5% would start off with what the 95% collectively bargained for – and then whatever else. Dan- you want to comment on morals?

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

[[[ Tom – Please explain WHY you are against right to work. We want to hear you attempt to justify the coercion and monopolization of the workforce. Defend the indefensible. ]]]
Dan,
YOU think it is indefensible.
YOU think it is coersion and monopolization.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Tom and Michael – Government is force. Government accomplishes everything it does via force or the threat of force, i.e. coercion. This is not debatable or a libertarian point of view, this is simple definition and functionality. Government is an organization authorized by its citizenry (or a portion thereof) to enjoy a monopoly on the initiation of violence. If you don’t understand what government truly is at its root, then that is an obstacle to discussion. Even the most pro-big government progressive should be able to freely accept and acknowledge this fact as a starting point. Justification and scope are where viewpoints can legitimately diverge.
That the two public union members here are the ones sputtering about with sophomoric mind and word games instead of answering a simple question about right to work legislation is very telling. Again, if you disagree with wording then you can simply qualify your answer. Avoidance is apparently the Providence Fire Union’s modus operandi when it comes to serious policy questions regarding the state’s fiscal health. It’s all a big joke until the checks stop coming. So much for shared responsibility.
Please, prove me wrong and answer the question. I won’t be holding my breath.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

In the Federal system an employee who was part of the “bargaining unit”could opt out of union membership,but still be represented in any labor-management dispute,grievance,or action to recover money on their behalf.
I really don’t recall if anyone opted out that I worked with.
I did get pissed when the union went to bat for people who plainly didn’t belong on the job.
I’m speaking of out and out crooks in this regard.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Joe – Every federal workforce is different. My friend works for the patent office and they have a very professional union of mostly lawyers and young technical employees. Under 50% of the workforce in my agency choose to be in the union. You’d have to be nuts to join the union in my opinion. They charge an outrageous $500/year and they can’t even negotiate pay or benefits. They have the worst relationship with management I’ve ever seen, and they have themselves to blame for that because they’re run by radical, dim-witted, verbally abusive socialists. All they do is protect the slobs who abuse sick leave, come in late, or don’t do their jobs period. All the really hard-working and ambitious people in the office get along with management fine and don’t need the union. The real sad saps get sucked into the union world, file grievance after grievance, stand outside with bullhorns over flexible work schedules and core hours and then wonder why they get passed over for promotions. Oh, and they let the majority of us know just how much they despise us for “free-loading” off of them. Whatever, I love the work I do, I get along with everyone, management has been very reasonable and generous with me. I wouldn’t want to stay in a job in which my boss hated me anyway. Most of the above-mentioned individuals would be doing everyone a favor if they simply retired or found another job instead of grieving up a storm over nonsense. It’s all a great argument for right to work. My outrage would be immeasurable if I had to actually pay those fools to represent me.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

“Under right to work laws, 95% of a workforce could want to be represented by a union and the other 5% would not be on their own in seeking their own compensation- that 5% would start off with what the 95% collectively bargained for – and then whatever else.”
Or less. According to all unionistas, without the union’s negotiating teams, they’d be getting much worse contracts. So that takes me to the point that I don’t really understand, why are you afraid of “right to work”? If everything is as you say it is, unions lead to better contracts and better compensation, wouldn’t 100% of the employees *choose* to be in the union? So why not just open up RI as a right to work state and then let people choose. Show people that they’ll do much worse as not being members of the union.
Isn’t it that simple?
Which way is it? That the 5% non-union people (from David’s example) will do better on their own, or that the great benefit of unions is their negotiating power and without unions, the management will force a bad contract upon them?
This sounds like trying to have it both ways, no?

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

The fact that “all” members are protected equally is what makes a union a good thing. There are rules set by employers. There are rules set by contract between employers and union. Those who do not follow these rules are let go…for just cause.
The unions protect individual employees from being let go or punished unjustly. Does that mean that unions are sometimes forced to represent and fight for employees who are not worthy of their positions? Unfortunately it sometimes happens. These employees usually find themselves in trouble again and sometimes lose their jobs at that time.
It’s similar to our legal system, better for two guilty people to go free than an innocent person be incarcerated.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Arbitrators are selected based upon their results record. Each side eliminates the arbitrators that they feel will be unfavorable to their side, ensuring that selected arbitrators always take the middle of the road path. Since there is technically nothing more severe than firing an employee from the managerial side, this means that the arbitrator will always reinstate the public union employee with some kind of one-time compensation-based reprimand and it is essentially impossible for them to be fired until the 3rd or 4th round of “progressive discipline.” I know arbitration law and I’ve seen the system in action, so don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Taking the middle of the road in every case is not justice or impartiality, it is madness. In most employment disputes, and legal cases generally, one side is far more in the wrong than the other side. Generally, but not always, this is the employee. The labor arbitration system designed to “split the baby” and reinstate the employee in every case therefore results in injustice more often than it results in justice, which can only be handed down by a truly impartial judge, not an arbitrator. See also: binding arbitration resulting in public union pay increases year after year despite municipal bankruptcy.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Andrew, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. My only point is that people like Tom and Michael who treat government as just another employer and gloss over the ramifications of government granting unions monopoly status are missing that crucial coercive component that distinguishes government from other types of voluntary associations. It is entirely possible to justify government from any number of different utilitarian and philosophical angles, but recognition of that awesome violent power should be the starting point in the discussion, not a footnote.

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Andrew,
My belief regarding public safety unions and their employers (and it is well founded) is that without minimum staffing and minimum apparatus provisions in our collective bargaining contracts the cities and towns would shut stations or trucks (the fire department side of public safety) whenever they wanted. This is not acceptable to me. Firefighter safety and public safety would be greatly jeopardized. That is the truth.
Also, without the protection of a signed contract defended by a union my benefits, including my pension benefits (which is not a gold-plated pension by any stretch of the imagination) could be cut in half at the whim of a city council vote. If I’m not a part of a union I would have to cover the legal fees to challenge it in court, thus the city could easily bully me out of what I was promised.
As for Chiefs and administrators, those days are long gone…at least in Providence. The person looking to be COD interviews with the Mayor. The Mayor tells the candidate what he expects…a plan to cut costs which could very well call for the reduction of manpower or apparatus. “Would you support me with this plan?”, he asks. If the answer is no, he doesnt get the job. It really is as simple as that.
Our last COD told the mayor that he knew us (our union) very well (he was a former president of our union) and that he could break us. That’s why he got the job.
And btw…he failed miserably.

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Andrew,
One more thing.
[[[ In the ideal, if a department trusts its community, a union shouldn’t be necessary for running an effective department with reasonable workloads; police and fire departments should be able to staff-up and get the resources they need working through the usual legislative process. ]]]
You are absolutely correct, but only “in the ideal”.
Would you think that I’d trust my safety, my job, the public’s safety, or my family’s protection to politicians who would ideally” do the right thing?
Would you???

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

[[[ According to all unionistas, without the union’s negotiating teams, they’d be getting much worse contracts. So that takes me to the point that I don’t really understand, why are you afraid of “right to work”? If everything is as you say it is, unions lead to better contracts and better compensation, wouldn’t 100% of the employees *choose* to be in the union? So why not just open up RI as a right to work state and then let people choose. Show people that they’ll do much worse as not being members of the union. ]]] The fact is that many people are penny wise and dollar foolish. They could elect to forego their opportunity to join a union, and pay $500 – $1,500 per year in dues, while still collecting union negotiated pay rates, benefits and protection. Most businesses, private and governmental, pay the same wages and give the same benefits to non-union employees as they do to union members. Most companies afford the same rights to non-union members as union employees. The reason for this is that they know that if they offer lower wages or working conditions employees would all eventually opt for the union. The problem with this is that once the union’s presence is weakened by many workers opting out, the resulting lack of bargaining power of that union leads to the company being able to demasnd less pay and reduced benefits and protection. Can anyone deny that in addition to the stated goals of the lawmakers in Wisconsin in passing recent legistlation, getting better control of the taxpayer’s money, that they (the government of Wisconsin) are also attempting to break the unions in their state? This would give them the freedom to peck away at pay rates, benefits and worker’s protections all in the… Read more »

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Of course, the Chicken Little cry comes up from unionists that Wisconsin wants to “break” unions. In reality, the only thing they want to break is the chokehold that unions have over the workers they hold hostage and the taxpayers from whom they extort. Wisconsin is leading the movement among states and citizens to re-level the playing field after decades of corruptly legislated union domination.
Are the union bosses afraid to compete for their positions? Is it fear that drives your diatribes, Tom?

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

“unionistas”
“chokehold”
“hold hostage”
“extort”
“corruptly legistlated union domination”
You bet it’s fear that makes me speak out to people who don’t want to hear what I say. Fear that the hatred you have for unions will be transfered to others who read your slanted views if there is no counterpoint.
My motivation doesn’t negate the fact that my points are legitimate.
With words like those I put in quotation marks above is there any doubt that you would love to “break the unions”? When I say that this is part of the motivation of the conservative politicians, you accuse me of being paranoid…

michael
11 years ago

Well stated, Tom. Thank you.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

How does one even “break” a union? We simply want to those working for the state the choice of whether to join your union or not. You have a problem with offering them that choice… why?

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Dan,
See my post above…

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

So you’re afraid of a few words that are the King’s English compared to what you on the Left say about conservatives?
Coward.
If you have honestly read any of my posts, you know that I do not “hate” unions. I oppose the cozy, corrupt relationship that they have developed with Leftist politicians to have the state guarantee them unfair privileges. But I have always been clear about my belief that unions have every right to exist.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“Dan, See my post above…”
I see it, Tom…
Still no meaningful analysis of right to work…
Still no justification of coercing state workers to join your union against their will…

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

BobN:
That’s big of you to not deny our right to exist. You can’t hide your disdain.
Dan:
I’m 100% pro union and I don’t trust big business or government to be benevolent employers. Period. What about that don’t you understand?

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Tom, you’re the one who is confused. Scared and confused. I have no problem with your right to freely associate with a union. Nobody is trying to take your collective bargaining right from you. Listen to me – NOBODY. We simply want to know why you will not extend to others the right to disassociate with your union if that is their choice. Are you really willing to stoop to corrupt, coercive legislation to force state workers to join your union against their will? You want their dues that badly? How can you look yourself in the mirror each day knowing that your union is forcing people to join who would rather save their money and represent themselves? What you are supporting is immoral, and it has nothing to do with your right to collectively bargain. I don’t know how many times we have to tell you here that we recognize freedom of association is protected by the Constitution.

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Dan:
I’m sorry but this is absurd. You are the one suggesting that we “change” things in RI to a right-to-work state.
Also, your insults are getting tiresome. You question my ability to look myself in the mirror? That’s laughable. It really is….

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

So you fear my disdain?
So typical of the Left: despise those whom you can buy off or intimidate, fear and hate those you can’t.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Tom – yes, right to work has been a resounding success in most of the states in which it has been enacted. I live in a right to work state right now. We have public unions and very few disputes. We have a very low budget deficit and our county ran a surplus last year (which it then used to give public workers a bonus). Your “right” to force people to join your union against their will through corrupt closed shop legislation comes second to workers’ right of free association.
You aren’t understanding a word I am saying. I expect another incoherent reply about attacking your collective bargaining right or some such thing, which nobody here is trying to do.

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Andrew, uou stated in your post:
[[[ Relevant to the original conversation in Monique’s thread, if it is true that there are contracts that allow overtime to be paid because of some paper-distinction about whether someone should be on or off duty during a particular hour of the week, not because of the total numbers of hours worked in a week, this is the kind of provision outside of any legitimate need for negotiation. (This is different from saying there shouldn’t be any such thing as overtime). ]]]
What you don’t recognize with this statement (with regard to firefighters) is that the majority of weeks we work we put in 48 hours of straight time. There are some weeks that we put in 34 & some 38, but most weeks are 48.
Under your complaint we should all recieve 8 hours of overtime per 48 hour work week.

michael
11 years ago

“You aren’t understanding a word I am saying. ”
Actually, Dan, we understand exactly what you are saying.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Impossible to tell, Michael, when you dodge or ignore every question you are asked.
We still don’t have an answer from you on how you justify mandatory union membership legislation for workers who would rather represent themselves.
Is avoidance how you deal with all issues that make you uncomfortable?

Tom Kenney
11 years ago

Andrew,
I understand your point. However, when do you need the extra firefighters on duty? During a serious and long-term firefighting operation? Indeed you do, but this is also what mutual aid agreements are for. You can call extra manpower and apparatus from neighboring cities and towns.
The problem with this scenario (as well as with the practice of calling back extra firefighters during these types of emergencies) is that although the extra personnel may help reduce the amount of property damage, it does nothing toward saving lives.
Neither mutual aid nor emergency callback of off-duty members have ever saved a single life!
For firefighting, including life safety, purposes the personnel NEED to be on duty and ready to respond before the first bell tips for the incident.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Tom, how do you explain/rationalize the game of some members calling in sick in order to trigger “recalls” of others on an overtime basis? I used to hear this being played daily on my scanner, and know enough about the department involved to know it was a scam.

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