Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Public Employees or Public Enemies

Public Employees... or Public Enemy Number One?

Dave Loebsack won't be on the Education and Labor committee in the next Congress. He's not losing his assignment under Republican control, the way Bruce Braley lost his seat on Energy and Commerce. Rather, the committee is changing names as they did in 1994:
Republicans are planning the name change, and it isn’t the first. For years, the committee was called Education and Labor. But when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House in 1994, they wanted to show that there was a new sheriff in town—and he was not a pro-labor sheriff.

“Education and the Workforce was the name selected by Republicans more than a decade ago to reflect the committee’s broad jurisdiction over polices that affect American students, workers, and retirees,” explained Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for committee Republicans.
Banishing the L word is one of those petty, spite-motivated things Republicans like to do just to annoy us, like calling us the "Democrat Party" without the -ic.

The more substantive change on the Not Labor Committee: California Democrat George Miller, one of Loebsack's mentors in the House, will turn over the gavel to a new chair, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who has an AFL-CIO rating of zero.

For politicians seeking a Sister Souljah moment, public employees are public enemy number one.

And as we all know, the actual Public Enemy number one is still Chuck and Flav, boyee. So my rap reference is a bit 1990? Hey, I voted against Terry Branstad that year, too.

Full disclosure here: I'm a proud union public employee, chair of my bargaining unit, member of our contract negotiation team, and son of two lifetime National Education Association members.

Here in Iowa, organized labor and outgoing Governor Chet Culver may have had a stormy relationship, especially after Culver vetoed labor's must-pass agenda in a fit of pique over being kept out of the legislative loop. (And also, perhaps, because labor enthusiastically backed rival Mike Blouin in the 2006 Democratic primary.)

But that was Solidarity Forever compared to labor's feuds with Terry Branstad, our back to the future governor. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ("AFF-skmee" in union speak) had to take Branstad to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1991 to get a ruling that binding arbitration is, in fact, binding. And no one voted them out or impeached them over it, either.

So with a transition from a fair-weather friend to a sworn enemy looming on the horizon again, AFSCME overwhelmingly took the deal it could get from Culver, a relatively reasonable 3 percent a year over a two-year contract. Branstad is sputtering with rage and threatening layoffs.

"AFSCME members have taken pay freezes," said AFSCME Iowa Council 61 president Danny Homan:
"They voted to take 5 days of off without pay, and also lost part of their deferred compensation. AFSCME members who know how state government works on the front lines submitted many good ideas that were eventually included in the successful government reorganization that occurred last year. We also believed strongly in the early retirement program that was implemented, which resulted in around 2000 state workers leaving their employment with the state. We believe that these actions have helped Iowa to save millions, and we now have a budget surplus."
But that level of responsibility is lost on Branstad. His priority is the politics, the reduction of AFSCME's influence, and that battle is way more important for him that demonizing The Gay. Branstad is looking to elevate "labor relations expert" Leon Shearer from a consultant on contract to a full-time administration official.

Shearer has consulted in the past for the Master Builders of Iowa. That's the same group that requested a delay in bid openings for a $68 million prison renovation project at Mitchellville and for a separate project at the Iowa Veterans Home at Marshalltown until after Branstad takes office on January 14, in the hope--no, let's be real, in the certainty--that Branstad will revoke Culver's executive order signed by Culver that encourages the use of project labor agreements on state construction projects. But Culver, who seems to have become labor's best bud since losing the election, rejected the request.

It's all part of the zeitgeist in D.C. and in Des Moines. Slate sees this as part of a national pattern:
Republicans might even be able to pass legislation that would allow states to declare bankruptcy, which would move the pension debate from politics to court, zapping all of the unions' leverage. "From the Republican perspective," wrote Pethokoukis, "the fiscal crisis on the state level provides a golden opportunity to defund a key Democratic interest group."
Defunding the left. I remember that phrase from back in the Reagan days, right around the time Ronnie fired all the unionized air traffic controllers. It took decades for public air safety to recover from that loss of experienced public employees. Republicans are more concerned with the politics of union-busting than with our overwhelmed human services workers and overcrowded classrooms.

"They're getting a big assist by this economy," writes Joan McCarter at Daily Kos, "which makes too easy the job of drumming up resentment against anyone who might have a bit of job protection or--gasp--the promise of a pension to make the prospect of old age just a little less frightening."

"We think that it’s important to have our roads cleared in the winter, so that citizens and business can continue to function," says Homan "We think it’s important to have our prisons properly staffed, so that our citizens are safe from violent offenders. We also believe that it’s important that the state is able to protect kids from abuse, make sure child support claims are investigated, and take care of people in mental health institutions and in our Veteran’s Home."

But either you understand that or, like Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) you'll mock it:
"There's one video I've seen where (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie) is talking to a teacher. And the teacher's like, 'We work so hard.' " McHenry does his best imitation of the pathos in the teacher's voice. "Christie says, 'You know what? You don't have to do it.' "

McHenry sits back, holding out his hands in a "can you believe this?" gesture. "You watch that, and you think—that's a governor. And that's a teacher. The teacher always wins, man!"
Can it be just two years ago that the Employee Free Choice Act was a live issue? How long has it been since anyone uttered the words "card check" in public?

No comments: