Wisconsin Police: Volunteering for Defeat

Many Wi police labor leaders picked a fight they could have avoided.

There has been much discussion of winners, losers and the effect on public employee unions elsewhere in the US after the failure to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But there has been little comment on one group of unionized workers that were unaffected by public employee union reform, yet joined the losing side anyway. And not once, but on three different occasions.

When Gov. Walker first introduced his plan to eliminate public employee collective bargaining, automatic union dues deduction and require annual union recertification votes there were two notable exceptions: police and fire unions.

This exemption was a godsend and it would have been perfectly natural, and tactically sound, if Wisconsin police labor leaders had simply breathed a sigh of relief as the Angel of Death passed over their house on its way to visit AFSCME households.

Instead many police leaders shinnied up the downspouts so they could get on the roof and try to flag him down.

One expects this type of behavior from firefighters. They’ve always been more committed to labor “solidarity” and most probably know the words to “Joe Hill.” Firemen are accustomed to volunteering in political campaigns and charitable efforts. (Cops say it’s because firemen only work part–time.)

So when Wisconsin firemen began beating on drums in the state capital and protesting the reform legislation it was not surprising. (One unexpected side effect of the Migration to Madison was the absence of fire trucks blocking the curb at grocery stores and the welcome shortage of firemen brandishing boots in left turn lanes.)

Cops, on the other hand, don’t volunteer.

Part of the difference is attributed to how police and fire unions are organized. Firefighters are much more hierarchical, with the locals sending dues money up to the state and national organization, where spending decisions are made. Consequently fire locals usually have a shortage of money, but plenty of manpower.

Police unions are feudal. Many locals are independent baronies and keep all the dues money within city limits. Even those locals affiliated with the Fraternal Order of Police or other national organizations, still keep local dues money at home and remain politically independent. That’s why effective police unions (those with over 450 dues–paying members) usually have money for political action, and the disinclination to volunteer is not so damaging.

I’ve worked with police (and some fire) unions for over 20 years and aside from union officers, you get almost no rank–and–file participation. Clients have had to hire temporary workers to gather signatures for a police pay raise election because the officers wouldn’t volunteer.

Which is why it was so surprising to see all those motivated cops enjoying “mic check” communication and employing their decoupage talents on poster board.

Other public employee unions want the cops to join their campaigns because conservatives and taxpayers usually support police. Consequently, police participation can generate public approval.

Unfortunately for cops, labor “solidarity” usually runs in one direction. When is the last time you saw AFSCME members picketing city hall when some rabble–rouser accuses the police of brutality? How many times have public employee union leaders defended police officers accused of “racial profiling?”

The answer is never.

Gov. Walker treated law enforcement differently and police union leaders should have done their best to make sure the precedent continued. Instead of encouraging members to join a pointless and destructive protest in the capital, (the notable exception being the Milwaukee police union that stayed with Gov. Walker), officers should have been meeting with individual legislators to thank them and explain how law enforcement is the equivalent of domestic defense: a spending priority conservatives can and should support.

In Congress few if any members are calling for military pay cuts, reductions in health coverage and limiting pensions, even though the tail–to–teeth ratio in the military is much higher than it is in domestic law enforcement.

Police officers have a difficult and inherently dangerous job. Librarians are rarely shot down during the course of their duties and they almost never have to fight a patron when it’s time to pay an overdue book fine. Cops are faced with this possibility on a daily basis.

It makes sense for them to be able to retire after 25 years on the job, have access to comprehensive medical coverage before and after retirement and receive a hazardous duty pay differential, just like the military. What’s more, police unions, in stark contrast with other public employee unions, have fought to maintain strict hiring standards, extensive background checks and stringent physical qualifications.

Law enforcement, like national defense, is not an area where wise conservatives seek to cut corners. I doubt even the most frugal Tea party member would want to exchange US law enforcement for Mexico’s.

Fortunately for Wisconsin cops they have a chance to recover from their leadership’s serial errors. Currently there is no sentiment in the legislature to revisit public employee union reform or public safety employee status. Wise police union leadership should take advantage of this truce and seek to repair their relationship with Republicans.


Teachers suffering from paycheck ADHD

Teachers go hyperbolic, again.

There’s been a great deal of upheaval involving teacher’s unions over the last year. There was and is great drama in Wisconsin where teacher’s and their Democrat lackeys in the legislature went hands on with Gov. Scott Walker to fight his efforts to reform public employee unions.

But here in Prince William County, VA, where I live, it’s been comedy.

It began in Richmond, where the teacher’s statewide union and Democrat lackeys in the legislature defeated Gov. Bob McDonnell’s effort to reform tenure rules. Encouraged by this victory, local teachers and the Prince William Education Assn. began a ‘work to rule’ campaign to put pressure on the school board to include a raise in next year’s budget. This meant they didn’t stay after school to help students with extra curricular activities unless they were paid extra.

Teachers conducted “grade–ins” at grocery stores and government meetings. They wore buttons to school and made a big solidarity production out of entering the school building together in the morning and leaving en masse in the afternoon.

After writing about the campaign, I discovered area teachers are avid readers, because many of them took time to send me irate email. To recap, in my view the PWC school board has gone out of its way to protect teachers from the economy pounding the taxpaying private sector.

While 300,000 teaching jobs have been lost nationwide, there have been no layoffs in Prince William County. In Loudoun teachers were threatened with unpaid furlough days, but not here in PWC. And although the county government employees took a 5 percent hit to their paycheck to cover costs passed down from the state, teachers didn’t lose a dime.

It was striking to me how many of the hostile teachers complained about dealing with children. It’s like a surgeon griping about cutting people open.

Kids are unruly, there are too many of them, they clutter up the hallways, they turn in papers that need to be graded. According to those emails, working conditions rivaled that of a Chinese iPad assembly line worker. With long hours, oppressive supervision and no noodles for lunch.

Many of the emails were also confused about the practice of journalism and the cushy life reporters lead. Although I currently enjoy a lofty perch in the journalistic pantheon, I started out in this business as a sports director for a TV station in West Texas. After a month the news director informed me I was now the Midland city reporter AND the sports director, effectively doubling my workload with the same pay.

This meant my day could either start at 10 AM or 2 PM but it always ended at 10:30 PM after the last newscast. What’s more, we worked Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and the Fourth of July, if those dates came during the week. There were no four–day weekends or Easter Break in the news business. And we didn’t get the summer off.

But enough about me. Another correspondent complained that with a master’s degree and nine years experience she “scarcely make(s) over $50,000” a year. If she’s at step nine on the pay scale it means her salary is $58,312 annually.

This is $22,575 more than the per capita income in PWC and compares well with the median nationwide income of $61,273 for master’s degree holders. Particularly when you remember most master’s degree holders are working, according to Forbes magazine, 225 days per year instead of her 195 as a teacher.

Another disgruntled educator complained about having three bosses, evidently watching her like a hawk. Her compadre wrote, “teachers are observed by their administrators several times each year and formally evaluated every three years.”

And guess what? Everyone is above average, just like in Lake Woebegone! Last year in PWC out of 5,422 teachers a grand total of 16 did not have their contract renewed. That’s three tenths of one percent.

For comparison purposes, in healthcare — another “caring industry” — 4.6 percent of the employees were discharged involuntarily in 2011. Even in the utility industry, hardly a hotbed of job insecurity, 2 percent of employees were let go. In PWC education a comparable number would have been 108, but instead tenure protects the good, the bad and the unmotivated.

So what was the result of the work to rule campaign? Last week the school board did vote for the pay increase teacher’s demanded and it proved to be a real learning experience. Teacher activists got to familiarize themselves with the meaning of “Pyrrhic Victory” and brush up on their percentages.

The board approved an increase, but it also lengthened the school day from 7 hours to 7.5. The new school year adds an additional 97.5 hours, an increase of 7 percent.

This “pay raise” increases salaries an average of 2.85 percent for all employees although 1,800 teachers will receive less and 270 teachers at the top of the scale will receive nothing.

Getting down to cases, a teacher with a BA degree at step 10 made $54,863 a year or $40.19/hr. before the “raise.” After the raise she makes $56,427 (assuming she gets the full increase) but her hourly wage drops to $38.58/hr.

So after this victory she’s making $1.61/hr. LESS than she made before. A few more triumphs of labor solidarity like this and landscaping may start to look attractive as a career option.

At least Pyrrhus beat the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum, which is more than you can say for the PWEA. Teachers wanted a raise in the worst way and it looks like that’s what the school board gave them.