Category Archives: labor

We are all High Risk now

I’ve heard it all about Trump. I agree with much of it. He is all the bad things you think he is. He is a whirlwind of incompetence. All true. Not in dispute on my end. And yes, we should be very vigilant and very involved, because what he seems to be doing, primarily, is making people very uneasy about the future. But enough of the hot-takes and put-downs and emperor-has-no-clothes memes. It is time to put away the childish things. All the rants, all the ridicule, all the facepalm… all of it. Even if it is just for a minute.

 

Try this: Think about Trumpworld like you were having it explained to you by a financial advisor. Maybe your financial advisor, if you have one. He/She is likely very serious, very focused, and not a political blowhard. He can chat about either party with equal ease. He knows that filtering out the political background noise is essential to making good financial decisions. What would the Trump administration look like if you filtered out the stadium-volume politics? That is what good financial advisors do. The good ones are good because they can look at a proposition without getting too wrapped up in the writ-large politics of it. Trump is not a politician. He has no political background, skills, or even firm political beliefs. What he has done with his life is amass a personal fortune, and a key part of amassing a fortune is learning to lay off risk. If you play with big numbers and you can get someone to reliably take more risk than you take, you will reliably amass wealth at their expense. That’s how a guy who couldn’t make a casino work; who rolled craps on bottled water, vodka, and steaks (I guess American’s couldn’t get on board with those things); a guy who has cratered and declared bankruptcy at least four times (plus other sell-offs and bail-outs); managed to become the President of The United States of America: Laying off risk on potential voters.

 

That’s not all of it, of course. The other part of the Trump mystique is getting people to ignore or minimize the risk he are asking them to take. To make this sleight-of-hand work you have to either misdirect them about the degree of the risk, or you have to get them very focused on some other risk. The mark has to be so focused on that other risk that they overlook the obvious risks they are being asked to take by Trump. That is how you get investors to buy in, and it extends executives, staff, regulators, and whole governments. Reading the room and having a feel for what token of misdirection will be most effective is probably the one thing Trump is really good at. He proved it during the 2016 campaign. He routinely clobbered people with better, or better-formed, political platforms because he could play an arena full of potential voters in a way they couldn’t dream of. Prairie Home Companion, meet Tony Montana fronting Led Zeppelin.

 

The last tie-in to Trump’s success in 2016 is evangelism. Not just Christian Evangelical evangelism, but also the idea of a true believer who is all-in. Apple was showing their understanding of the concept’s power when they added “Mac Evangelist” to their org chart. Trump is a Trump Evangelist. The Best. The Smartest. The King of Deals. And so on… And that nauseating passage aside, Trump is pulling from both flavors of the word, almost equally. In a religious setting the risk is always outside, facing in, threatening the audience. The unbeliever. The heavy metal music. The gangsta rap lyrics. The [insert your favorite secular pleasure here]. The reward the religious evangelist offers is the safety of being inside, away and apart from the external menacing force. Trump knows this play like he knows the buttons on his TV remote. All he had to do is sprinkle in the barest soupçon of old time religion and the audience understood. Inside Good. Outside, Bad. Prosperity Gospel Politics brought to the Presidency.

 

And yet again, there is a huge risk component in Religious Evangelism. [“Again with the risk?” you ask? Yes. Stick with me for a sec] Think about it like your somewhat boring and outwardly apolitical finance guy would. Guys like Joel Osteen are just laying off huge amounts of risk on their flocks, and the house always wins. Trump is doing the same thing, but in his case the flock absorbing the risk is 350 million US citizens who are now finding out that the risks are high, they are real, and there is no way to mitigate them.

You want an example of what kinds of risk I am thinking of? Here ya go: You have rank amateurs running the departments of Housing, Energy, and Education. How do you feel about those three things? Pretty strongly, I’d imagine. If there is a bedrock to western civilization it is housing, energy and education. So who were “the best people” to guide these bedrock agencies? You have a guy who initially refused the job because he admitted not having any pertinent experience (aside from having lived in a house, I shit you not), running Housing. You have a guy with an Ag degree [full stop] in charge of our nation’s nuclear weapons and fissionable materials over at DOE. And lastly you have a woman with no professional education or education policy background in charge of Education… but who’s brother (Eric Prince of Blackwater fame) made a cool billion(z) leveraging the US population’s concept of risk in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, oh yeah, this: did anyone notice that her husband is the founder of Amway. Amway is basically a peak-risk-distribution effort. The company always takes on less risk than their franchisees. Always. The house always wins. Always.

 

So stop thinking about what a braying jackass Trump is. He was one before all of this started. Nothing will change. He will always be a braying jackass. Get over it.

 

I am making the case that we start thinking about Trump as the guy who sees the entire US population as a risk-soak. His presidency is just like every other Trump deal: The less equity you have at buy-in, the more risk you gotta take. And over 95% of the US population does not have the required equity to hedge against Trump. We are faced with the prospects of backsliding on worker protections, civil rights, air and water quality, Social Security, healthcare, foreign relations, foreign economics, domestic economics, and the feeling that a world war is imminent. At the same time we are seeing Wall Street deregulated, energy corporations take over the EPA, and a massive increase in military posture and spending. The payoff is supposed to be a period of sustained economic resurgence. Last I checked the DOW was over 20,000. That was pre-Trump. At the end of eight years of G W Bush it was around 6,500. Talk about selling ice cubes to eskimos! There has been plenty of economic growth in the past 10 years, but it all stayed out in shareholder-land. The money was not used to create jobs, build factories, build coal-fired power plants, and club baby seals for fun and profit. It was used to pay the guys who had been exposed to the least risk in the first place. They are the people who bear the least risk of being without good housing, good healthcare, good education, clean water, affordable energy and good nutrition.

 

While the US Senate deliberates in secret over what version of Trumpcare can get 51 votes, think about the risk you are being asked to take on. Guys like Trump use risk as the basic measuring stick for every major decision. Maybe it’s time we all started doing the same.

America gets a real-time IQ test

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I’m going to assume that some moderate percentage of the US population could either describe an oligarchy or identify one if they saw one. I don’t think it is anywhere near 50%, but let’s say it is greater than 25%. (But read the Wiki. It’s a good primer on what tipping-point we just crossed)

Now what percentage of them could identify an emerging oligarchy? It would be like saying you can ID an oak tree, but not an oak sapling. Lots of people fall into that category.

What just happened in the US is that an oligarchy sapling just broke through the forest floor, is getting lots of nutrients and sunlight, and before you know it, son, you got yourself a mature oligarchy growing right there in the front lawn. And the bigger it gets the harder it will be to get rid of. How do we know if we have a real oligarchy, and not just a playboy-type with delusions of grandeur? The dichotomous key to political systems will get you close:

You have a billionaire as president-elect. He became a billionaire by extracting moderate sums of money from thousands of people at a time, and then doing it again, and again. What billionaires care about it not whether the Dallas Cowboys are looking good (That’s Jerry Jones’ issue, and he is “special”), or whether their bills are getting paid. They mainly care about other billionaires, their money, and how they stack up against them. So we can check that box. They play “Fantasy Billionaire” the way Joe Six Pack plays Fantasy Football. But with piles of other people’s money. No other billionaires have been elected to the presidency of the US. That is a big bragging point right there. That goes over real big when he gets on the phone with other billionaires AND with other heads-of-state. It’s a win-win. And don’t he know it? It’s Trump, Putin, and a few guys in the UAE. That, as they say, is the list of billionaire heads-of-state. Don’t go looking for their free press or their sterling record on human rights.

And in the case of our current president-elect, Donald Trump, he is demonstrating his incuriosity, thin skin, and sub-par intellect at every damn turn. We don’t have a super-genius billionaire, or even a really smart billionaire. We have a whiny douche from Queens who inherited more money from his daddy than the average American makes in a lifetime. He is accustomed to outsourcing virtually everything. He hires “the best”. (More on that, and how he only hires the best for himself and hires the worst when it comes to protecting the American citizenry, later.) How does a guy like this plan to run a country?

Glad I asked! First, you put military lifers in positions where you want chain-of-command respected, not a bunch of smart-ass sass-back. You only want to hear “how high?” when you yell “Jump”. So you stock Defense, Homeland Security, and Intel with guys who will throw their mother in front of the L-train in the name of chain-of-command. It helps if you have conspiracy theorists with itchy trigger-fingers and an axe to grind. Less motivational work and coercion to waste Trump’s time.

Next, you recruit fellow billionaires who you know will put other billionaires (like the president-elect. just sayin’) first, and pretty much fuck the little guy all day long. That is how they got there. When you find anyone who ever called Rex Tillerson “human rights champion” please let me know. Trump himself has *never* gone on the record regarding human rights (I looked, and if you find something I am all ears). It is safe to say he has never though about the concept other than as a way to tar a “loser” who put humanity over making a dollar. Go find the country that Rex Tillerson has staked out where you have a thriving middle class, lots of manufacturing jobs, cheap top-flight health care… Good luck. If that model was successful they would be like Johnny Appleseed, as opposed to Joey Goebbels.

And Trump has Bannon, who jerks off to photos of Goebbels, so another base covered. This guy is a “strategist” in only the broadest way. He seems to be the worst kind of political apparatchik. The kind who will never be seen in public, or grant interviews, or take any real responsibility. He has his hand up Trump’s ass and it looks like Trump is talking, but you are really hearing Bannon throwing his voice. THAT is this dude’s “strategy”. And as usual, when “strategy” is next separated from “propaganda” it will be the first time.

Next, Lackeys. You cannot have a functioning oligarchy without lackeys. You need dopes who are so far over their skis that they will take whatever direction they get because what the fuck does Rick “Dancing with the Stars” Perry know about nuclear warheads? Nothing. And he ain’t gonna learn anytime soon. The steady stream of agency heads who are incompetent or outright hostile to the charters of the agencies they are being tapped to head is not a coincidence. You want a nice mix of incompetence and hostility. Both is nice.

Like an exterminator examining the mud casings in the footings of your democracy, I hate to tell you this, friend: you got a colony of oligarchs, military stooges and lackeys setting up shop in your house. The fix is to get at it early and maybe in short order you’ll have a problem you can fix with a can of RAID. But for now you gotta be ready to do the hard work to knock this oligarch colony down to size.

 

Organized Labor goes Bananas…

A few points of interest for those of us who follow the trials and tribulations of organized labor…

The participants in the Republican Presidential Debates, or whatev’ they are calling that clown show these days, pulled off a major coup by engaging in a work stoppage, a mutual agreement on contract terms, and a negotiation session regarding working conditions. There is no other way to describe their actions that I can think of. These candidates now have *zero* anti-union credibility.

It brought a chuckle and a tear to my eye to see how they wilted under the brutal white-hot pressure of a televised debate and demanded that they be involved in setting terms and conditions for their working environment. As President Obama has pointed out, Putin is waiting for you in the green room, bitches.

In another shocking turn of events, football players at Mizzou organized a work stoppage in support of a hunger-striking classmate, forcing the resignation of their University President. The headline is Players Wage Power Play. They used the leverage of college football economics to enact change. I applaud them and their efforts. I hope it bears fruit in the form of real social change and not just an administrative change.

The subtext that I immediate saw was this: If NCAA athletes ever unionize, they will do so under a no-strike structure. In organized labor there are contracts that allow the workers to strike (work stoppage) and contracts that don’t (binding arbitration). The Mizzou action may have a side-effect of greasing the rails toward unionized NCAA athletics, with the caveat that they will concede the right to do what the football players at Mizzou just did.

The financial calculus has not changed. The universities and television networks reap enormous profits from big-time NCAA athletics, and the athletes see a tiny fraction of that cash-flow. The imbalance was exploited by the Mizzou athletes with a reversal of the “Right Stuff” axiom… No Buck Rogers, No Bucks. The football coach at Mizzou, Gary Pinkel, makes over $4 million per year. His support of the athlete’s actions, probably more then those actions themselves, sealed the deal for president Tim Wolfe.

I admit that the no-strike wrinkle is a bit of organized-labor wonkery, but I am sure that I am not alone. The athletes may get stipends, health care, guaranteed scholarships (no take-back in the case of injury), and so on. But they will probably have to hand over the right to strike in order to get that. And if so, it would mean that Mizzou may have been the event that won a battle but lost a larger tactical war.

Again from the top… this time with feeling!

After a week where SEBAC comes off looking even more rudderless, we are now starting to see voting schedules appear for the “Son of SEBAC 2011” Clarified Tentative Agreement.  It looks like August 19th should be the wrap up date, but if a union really wants to drag their feet it could be longer.  The delay in signing the clarified TA seems to have been that the job security language looks different when you have over 3,000 employees holding layoff notices.  We are hoping that everyone acts like adults over at OPM, but people who’s layoff take effect before the (hopefully, for them) ratification of the clarified TA might be kinda up shit creek…  I hope there is a process to recall even those notices and get them back on the job.

I think a few things need stating at this point:

Based on people I talk to at work, and comments I read on the InterWebs, I really do believe that many people don’t understand how their union works, how SEBAC works, or even how their contract works.  The people who assume that SEBAC is some kind of puppetmaster clique are also shocked when SEBAC reports that unions, and bargaining units within those unions, are to decide how to vote on this new TA.  What! SEBAC can’t force unions to do their bidding?

Just like the people who characterize union workers as unwashed pinko hippies singing the Internationale while masturbating to pictures of Chairman Obama can’t close the loop to explain how the NO voter contingent seems to be right wing libertarian free market types shitting their cage about ObamaScare… If you believe SEBAC calls all the shots, then why is the voting process such an uncoordinated freakin’ disaster?

Here’s why: Each of the 15 unions in SEBAC have a lot of autonomy.  The bargaining unit(s) (representing a single contract) that make up a union has some autonomy but usually they work through an Executive Committee comprised of bargaining unit leaders within that union.  As a result, the power in SEBAC really does flow “uphill”.  Unions dictate to SEBAC, not the other way around.  The ratification/voting bylaws changes that SEBAC passed only affect how the individual votes are processed by SEBAC, not how the individual bargaining units vote.

Next: the fact that there were over six weeks of negotiations that produced a concessions package, and that the unions were given time to go through the voting process, then regroup after a rejection, clarify terms, and organize a second round of voting, is evidence that a Governor was elected who was/is willing to work as a partner with the State workforce.  Meanwhile, In Parallel Universe Connecticut, [cue spooky organ music] the following things happened since January 2011:

  1. The Parallel Governor issued 5,000 layoff notices in April, and told SEBAC: “We’ll see ya’ in a year, maybe.”  With the majority of employees under contract through June 2012 the PG has no incentive to bargain.  Why bargain with a captive audience under an existing contract?  Plus, you can always stop answering the phone when the individual unions call looking to work out the next contract, and get a free wage freeze for FY2012 when SEBAC 2009 expires.
  2. PG Whatshisname has now cut spending deeply and will ride out the public outcry with the cheers of his supporters to block it out.  He has time to look at the union contract chessboard and decide whether to stall and force a 0% year in FY2012, go to arbitration and look for a rollback in the -2% to -3% range (happened in multiple Northeast states already), or spend the next year building support in the LOB for the revocation of collective bargaining rights for pension and healthcare.
  3. He is also just starting a 4-year term so his long term plan will include political wedge play to soften up spots for like-minded challengers in contested races.  He could have an anti-collective-bargaining coalition in office by his third year.  By which time he may have balanced the budget and have tilted the table fully his way.

My!  That dastardly Parallel Governor is a cold-hearted union buster!  How do you feel about that “nasty” Dan Malloy now?  After all of the rhetoric, and scare tactics, and people using this agreement as a referendum on everything from the 2010 Connecticut Governor’s race to fucking Obamacare, and right wing nutjobs like Johnny HotTub intentionally misreading every tealeaf to support their childish agenda of lies… uh… where was I?… oh!  you have a sitting Governor working with the unions, through the established bargaining process, to save state employee jobs and preserve public services.

Remember: The concessions package process is not a fait accompli.  Both sides have to want to work one out.  Otherwise we have a situation like those poor bastards over in Parallel Connecticut.  God have mercy on their souls!

Maybe this comes as a surprise, but I’m not a huge fan of the actual TA.  I do, however, understand why it exists, how it came to exist, and that it is far and away preferable to the alternative.  The TA itself, it has a lot to wrinkle one’s nose at, but almost every section has an “out”:

  1. Doubling the early retirement penalty, BUT, a way to preserve the current retirement age past 2022.
  2. Increasing healthcare costs to $100/mo plus a $350 annual deductible, BUT creating a program where you avoid those costs by engaging in active healthcare programs.  Use more healthcare, and it’s free! Also, you would have a public riot worthy of the National Guard if that $100/350 plan was offered to the general public, so haters, stop bitching about getting the cheapest insurance deal in the State, with an option for it to stay essentially FREE.  It makes you look stupid and petty when you complain about stuff like that.
  3. Pay 3% into a retiree healthcare fund for 10 years, BUT the system is funded on-time and you keep the current system in place through 2022. (There is a bit of bad math going around that this fee equates to a constant wage loss, because some people can’t tell a fixed cost from a salary increase… don’t be a dummy, figure it out)
  4. And, retirees COLA range is extended on the low end as well as the high end, where if you read the COLA language and look at the history you see that you are more likely to use the middle and the low end shouldn’t be a problem.  Read the whole section, ask your benefits coordinator, and breath easier.

I encourage people who are interested in this to really get their hands dirty and understand the bits and pieces, and educate themselves.  That allows a decision to be made on the facts, not on some “could happen” scenario, or what some guy told you his brother-in-law heard over coffee…   We’ve got about three weeks to have a rational discussion about this problem.  My vote is: Use It Constructively

The sound of the OTHER shoe dropping…

How many damn shoes does SEBAC have to drop, anyhow?  Apparently a lot of them.  This week we were treated to a major bylaws revision, along with a waiver for a 30-day notification requirement for bylaw changes.  As I reminded my friendly union chapter president today, I predicted that SEBAC would do whatever the needed to do to get the outcome they wanted.  If it means rolling in shit, then by gosh, roll in shit.  I mean, once you are covered in shit it can’t get much worse.  The main debate seems to be over the “why” question.  On the face of it, one could come to the conclusion that this is a way of telling the members “the deal was fine, the problem is with YOU”.  Those of a right-wing anti-union bent feel that this is a monument to political backscratching, giving Governor Malloy the “win” at all costs.  The SEBAC mantra of “save jobs, protect public services” just doesn’t have the cache it used to.

What we are awaiting now is news of how SEBAC will approach ratification of an agreement.  Will they pursue a revote on the old agreement, a vote on a newer “clarified” agreement, or just sweep in the old agreement under the new rules using the previous voting results?  Or some completely unpredictable approach?!?!

Stay tuned…

P.S. if SEBAC doesn’t mind a little more “mud” in their eye, they should vote to restore the old voting rules after this debacle is resolved.

Why SEBAC Can’t Read….

Just a few current-events type observations regarding the SEBAC 2011 drama…

First, if anyone followed the “sustinet” process back in the spring they would know that the creation of “sustinet” was thwarted, a commission to continue looking into possible efficiencies between public and private health insurance systems was created, and the only impact on SEBAC employee healthcare could have been that the State of Connecticut self-insurance system could have been accessible to people outside the state employee system.  Nobody was pushing State employees into someone’s program… but they may have been able to participate in ours.  BTW, to those state employees who have been in a cave for the past twenty years: private sector employees would crawl over barbed wire to get your health care package and low out of pocket costs.  The real world is knocking, and if you think you can hide behind the couch you are wrong.  The SEBAC 2011 deal would have let you keep your cushy helath care package for the next 11 years.  got it?  no?  too bad.  no cookie for you.

Second, bills to allow private sector and municipal workers to participate in the State’s self-insurance system come up almost every session, and at least every year.  This isn’t new, and it predates “Obamacare” by about a decade.  So shut the fuck up about “Obamacare” and SEBAC 2011 already…

Third… SEBAC has a communication problem, and they need to fix it.  Distributing the text of the draft tentative agreement, and final tentative agreement, and contract-specific tentative agreement, was all well and good.  It was all well and good back in the days of the mimeograph.  I am not a big fan of 21st century this and that… but this IS the 21st century. What SEBAC didn’t do was what anyone from a mom-and-pop operation to the United States Military Services do when they are trying to get a message across: break the agreement down into bite size chunks and make it simple… a PowerPoint type presentation might have made this a lot easier to grasp.  What SEBAC did was like the US Congress telling you to “read the damn Bill if you have any questions”.  Yes, the Q&A sessions were helpful, but that is a 60 minute event as opposed to the month that people had to engage in fear-mongering and misreading (both intentional and unintentional misreading).  Next, SEBAC needs to get their unions voting on a tight timeline with some real message control.  Letting one union’s vote tally go public a week before others unions cast a ballot is a massive failure of discipline and fairness.  Fix it, or resign and let adults take over.  Next, create a central clearing house email-address for inquiries about the deal, with official responses from the appropriate SEBAC delegate, and use the responses to update to a FAQ, and you have measurably increased accountability and transparency.  Those four “features” of clarity, fairness, accountability, and transparency, were, and still are, lacking in the SEBAC 2011 process.  Weeks after the official “no” vote we still have not heard directly from the leadership of the four dissenting unions… and if anyone believes that they don’t know what the problem was, they are delusional.

Last, Kevin Rennie should read before he blogs, and shut up about smoking guns until he actually has one.  All he was doing was serving up a post-vacation softball for his pal John Rowland to hit over the fence when he got back on the radio.  Rowland, like Rennie, cares less about facts now than he did when in office, which seems impossible, but there you have the proof.  Intentionally misreading things is becoming the “cat photo” of the right wing fear machine… the first time it is cute or dismissible as a dalliance, after that it says more about the lack of depth of the perpetrator than anything else.  AFSCME President Luciano was talking about opening access to the State self-insurance system, and how it was being confused with “sustinet”, which is just what Rennie did, and Rowland did, and most of the blithering idiot commenters on news feeds around the state continue to do… couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

SEBAC had better have a really great “second act” or this is gonna blow up in their face in a really bad way.

SEBAC Power!

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The throngs of SEBAC 2011 “NO” Voters amassing on the lawn of the CT State Capitol! Rawr!

But seriously, if SEBAC pulls some kind of hokey bylaw change they will have lost my support entirely. I know “dirty pool” when I see it. The “outdated bylaws” whining was disgraceful when it was trotted out at Chapter 24 of CSEA P4, and again when the same union busting thugs ran that sorry game on P4, but to hear that crap from “the good guys” is beyond belief.

Dear SEBAC: Move on, cool off, and get your ass in gear for SEBAC 2012. Bargaining under one set of bylaws and voting under another sounds like fertile ground for a successful legal challenge, probably of the class-action variety. Don’t make a bad situation worse.