Musk Fights for Right of Individuals in Sweden to Enter into Contracts

(p. A15) Sweden is the West’s most corporatist society. Powerful interest groups, often described as “social partners,” use collective bargaining to set rents for apartments and wages earned in labor markets.

This model is being challenged by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is refusing to enter into collective wage agreements with Swedish trade unions. The unions have responded with strikes and blockades on Tesla operations in the country.

. . .

Liberal democracy presupposes fundamental rights and freedoms. Some of these, such as the freedoms of opinion, press and expression, are enshrined in the Swedish constitution. But the right of the individual to enter into contracts isn’t similarly guaranteed.

. . .

Liberal democracy is being threatened globally by growing populist and illiberal movements. The government in Stockholm should counteract this threat by strengthening people’s individual rights and freedoms in the Swedish constitution. If this happens, Mr. Musk will have given Sweden a great gift.

For the full commentary, see:

Lars Jonung. “Musk Fights Sweden’s Unions.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 14, 2024): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 13, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

Experienced Nurses Can Be Disciplined If They Use Hunches from Clinical Observations to Override AI Protocols

(p. A1) Melissa Beebe, an oncology nurse, relies on her observation skills to make life-or-death decisions. A sleepy patient with dilated pupils could have had a hemorrhagic stroke. An elderly patient with foul-smelling breath could have an abdominal obstruction.

So when an alert said her patient in the oncology unit of UC Davis Medical Center had sepsis, she was sure it was wrong. “I’ve been working with cancer patients for 15 years so I know a septic patient when I see one,” she said. “I knew this patient wasn’t septic.”

The alert correlates elevated white blood cell count with septic infection. It wouldn’t take into account that this particular patient had leukemia, which can cause similar blood counts. The algorithm, which was based on artificial intelligence, triggers the alert when it detects patterns that match previous patients with sepsis. The algorithm didn’t explain (p. A9) its decision.

Hospital rules require nurses to follow protocols when a patient is flagged for sepsis. While Beebe can override the AI model if she gets doctor approval, she said she faces disciplinary action if she’s wrong. So she followed orders and drew blood from the patient, even though that could expose him to infection and run up his bill. “When an algorithm says, ‘Your patient looks septic,’ I can’t know why. I just have to do it,” said Beebe, who is a representative of the California Nurses Association union at the hospital.

As she suspected, the algorithm was wrong. “I’m not demonizing technology,” she said. “But I feel moral distress when I know the right thing to do and I can’t do it.”

. . .

In a survey of 1,042 registered nurses published this month by National Nurses United, a union, 24% of respondents said they had been prompted by a clinical algorithm to make choices they believed “were not in the best interest of patients based on their clinical judgment and scope of practice” about issues such as patient care and staffing.” Of those, 17% said they were permitted to override the decision, while 31% weren’t allowed and 34% said they needed doctor or supervisor’s permission.

. . .

Jeff Breslin, a registered nurse at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Mich., has been working at the Level 1 trauma center since 1995. He helps train new nurses and students on what signs to look for to assess and treat a critically ill or severely injured patient quickly.

“You get to a point in the profession where you can walk into a patient’s room, look at them and know this patient is in trouble,” he said. While their vital signs might be normal, “there are thousands of things we need to take into account,” he said. “Does he exhibit signs of confusion, difficulty breathing, a feeling of impending doom, or that something isn’t right?”

. . .

Nurses often describe their ability to sense a patient’s deterioration in emotional terms. “Nurses call it a ‘hunch,’ ” said Cato, the University of Pennsylvania professor who is also a data scientist and former nurse. “It’s something that causes them to increase surveillance of the patient.”

. . .

At UC Davis earlier this spring, Beebe, the oncology nurse, was treating a patient suffering from a bone cancer called myeloid leukemia. The condition fills the bones with cancer cells, “they’re almost swelling with cancer,” she said, causing excruciating pain. Seeing the patient wince, Beebe called his doctor to lobby for a stronger, longer-lasting pain killer. He agreed and prescribed one, which was scheduled to begin five hours later.

To bridge the gap, Beebe wanted to give the patient oxycodone. “I tell them, ‘Anytime you’re in pain, don’t keep quiet. I want to know.’ There’s a trust that builds,” she said.

When she started in oncology, nurses could give patients pain medication at their discretion, based on patient symptoms, within a doctor’s parameters. They gave up authority when the hospital changed its policies and adopted a tool that automated medication administration with bar-code scanners a few years ago.

In its statement, UC Davis said the medication tool exists as a second-check to help prevent human error. “Any nurse who doesn’t believe they are acting in the patient’s best interests…has an ethical and professional obligation to escalate those concerns immediately,” the hospital said.

Before giving the oxycodone, Beebe scanned the bar code. The system denied permission, adhering to the doctor’s earlier instructions to begin the longer-acting pain meds five hours later. “The computer doesn’t know the patient is in out-of-control pain,” she said.

Still, she didn’t act. “I know if I give the medication, I’m technically giving medication without an order and I can be disciplined,” she said. She watched her patient grimace in pain while she held the pain pill in her hand.

For the full story, see:

Lisa Bannon. “Nurses Clash With AI Over Patient Care.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 16, 2023): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2023, and has the title “When AI Overrules the Nurses Caring for You.”)

Public Sector Unions Make Government Unaccountable to the Will of the People

(p. A17) In 2008, six years after securing control over New York City’s public schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein put forward a program to tie teacher tenure to student performance. The goal was to reward the best-performing teachers with job security, encourage better student outcomes, and hold teachers accountable for demonstrated results. To most New York residents, it surely sounded like a good idea.

To New York’s teachers’ unions, however, the program was utterly unacceptable. Union leaders lobbied Albany, threatened state lawmakers (who could pass legislation binding the mayor) with the loss of political support, and walked away with a two-year statewide prohibition on the use of student test performance in tenure evaluations. In short, the union thwarted the mayor’s authority over the city’s schools and commandeered the state’s legislative power.

In this case and many others, a public-sector union served its own interests at the expense of the public’s. In “Not Accountable,” Philip Howard shows in vivid detail how such practices have made government at all levels unmanageable, inefficient and opposed to the common good. He argues that, in fact, public unions—that is, unions whose members work for the government—are forbidden by the Constitution. The argument, he notes, would have been familiar to President Franklin Roosevelt and George Meany, the longtime president of the AFL-CIO, both of whom championed private-sector labor but believed that public workers—teachers, fire fighters, policemen, civil-service employees—had no right to bargain collectively with the government.

. . .

Mr. Howard makes a persuasive case, but the chances of seeing it affect American political life are, at the moment, remote.

. . .

Still, the goal is admirable and worth pursuing. In place of public-sector collective bargaining, Mr. Howard calls for a merit-based system for hiring and evaluating government employees. Instead of stultifying work rules that thwart creativity, he envisions a public-sector structure in which employees can use their talents and judgment to improve the functioning of government. Fundamentally, Mr. Howard views the Constitution, and the law generally, as a mechanism for both action and accountability, one that entrusts powers to inevitably fallible human beings while subjecting them to the checks of others in authority and, ultimately, to the will of the people.

For the full review, see:

John Ketcham. “BOOKSHELF; Unelected Legislators.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 14, 2023): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated March 13, 2023, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Not Accountable’ Review: Unelected Legislators.”)

The book under review is:

Howard, Philip K. Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions. Garden City, NY: Rodin Books, 2023.

Bankrupt Yellow Trucking Firm Got $700 Million Covid “Rescue Loan” from Taxpayers

(p. B2) Trucking company Yellow is preparing to file for bankruptcy, according to people familiar with the matter, heightening the threat that one of the nation’s largest freight carriers will shut down as customers abandon it amid a cash crunch and union negotiations.

. . .

A bankruptcy filing would again spotlight the $700 million Covid-19 rescue loan that Yellow received from U.S. taxpayers in 2020. A congressional probe later concluded that the Treasury Department erred in giving the loan on national-security grounds when Yellow didn’t meet the standards for that designation.

For the full story, see:

Soma Biswas, Paul Page and Alexander Gladstone. “Trucker Yellow Prepares To File for Bankruptcy.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, July 27, 2023): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 26, 2023, and has the title “Trucker Yellow Prepares to File for Bankruptcy as Customers Flee.”)

Long Waits for Italian Cabs Due to Regulations Limiting More Cabs and Ride-Sharing

(p. A4) Returning to Rome from Naples one Monday afternoon in June [2023], a train trip that takes just over an hour, Daniele Renzoni said that he and his wife waited for more than an hour and a half at Termini station for a cab under a blazing sun.

“Just image a long line of grumbling, frustrated people, complaining, cursing. Hot day, angry tourists, there’s not much else to say,” said Mr. Renzoni, who is retired. “Taxi drivers will tell you there’s too much traffic, too many requests, too much everything, but the fact is, the customer pays.”

The situation is “a disgrace to Italy,” said Furio Truzzi, president of the consumer rights group Assoutenti, one of several associations that protested the shortage.

. . .

Thanks to the taxi lobby, ride-sharing services are almost nonexistent in Italy, where Uber is the only platform in use, with many restrictions.

The government lost an opportunity for real change, said Andrea Giuricin, a transportation economist at a research center at the University of Milan Bicocca. He said the best way to meet consumer needs would be to increase the number of licenses for Italy’s chauffeur services, known as N.C.C., which work with Uber.

“It’s very difficult in Italy” because “there isn’t a culture of liberalization in general,” creating little opportunity for competition, said Professor Giuricin. Taxis “are a small but powerful lobby” that easily influences politics, “which is very weak” in Italy, he said.

Angela Stefania Bergantino, a professor of transportation economics at the University of Bari, pointed out that previous governments had tried to open up the taxi market. But they failed.

“The problem is that taxis are regulated by municipal governments, which can find themselves captive in the sense that it is difficult for City Hall to implement policies that the cab lobby doesn’t like,” she said. “These are lobbies that have effective strike tools,” like wildcat strikes or traffic blockages that can paralyze entire cities, she said.

. . .

Above all, though licenses are issued by the city, they can then be sold by the drivers, for sums that can reach 250,000 euros, or about $276,000, depending on the city — a retirement nest egg for many. With an influx of new licenses, the value of an existing license would depreciate.

City administrators fear cabbies could revolt and strike if the status quo changes. “If I decide to issue new licenses,” said Eugenio Patanè, Rome’s city councilor in charge of transportation, “I’m going to find 1,000 taxis blocking traffic in Piazza Venezia,” the downtown Rome square that taxi drivers habitually clog while protesting.

For the full story, see:

Elisabetta Povoledo. “Getting a Cab in Italy Is Hard. But Remedying That Isn’t Easy.” The New York Times (Friday, August 11, 2023): A4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 10, 2023, and has the title “Getting a Taxi in Italy Is Too Hard. Fixing That Is Not Easy.”)

Public Unions Are “Designed for Inefficiency”

(p. A13) Mr. [Philip] Howard, a lawyer and writer, first noticed how unions stymie governance during his public service in New York as a member of a neighborhood zoning board and chairman of the Municipal Art Society. “I kept wondering why my friends who had responsible jobs in government couldn’t do what they thought was right,” he recalls. That might be speeding up a land-use review for a construction project or approving repairs on a school building.

“I’d have discussions with them about what made sense in a particular situation, and they would say, ‘I wish I could, but I can’t.’ ” Any careful or profitable plans were quickly blown up by union rules, such as limits on workers’ hours and duties.

This week the New York transit union gave an example for the ages. It blocked the subway system’s plan to sync its schedule to new ridership norms, with fewer trains on slow days and lightly traveled routes and more trains on busy ones. The change would have saved $1.5 million a year, benefited riders and preserved workers’ paid hours. But an arbitrator shelved it Tuesday because the union couldn’t bear the “variations in start and end times.”

“They’re not just inefficient,” Mr. Howard says of the unions. “They’re designed for inefficiency.”

“They’re designed to require a new work crew to come cut a tree limb because the people fixing the rails don’t have authority to remove a tree limb. They’re designed to prevent supervisors from observing teachers, except under very controlled circumstances. They’re designed to prevent the principal from giving extra training to a teacher. They’re designed to prevent a supervisor in an agency from going and talking to a worker and soliciting ideas about how to make things work better.”

Mr. Howard, 74, keeps listing examples until I jump in to stop him. They’re fresh in his mind because these schemes are the target of his new book, “Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions.”

For the full interview, see:

Mene Ukueberuwa, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Public Unions vs. the People.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 4, 2023): A13.

(Note: bracketed name added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date March 23, 2023, and has the same title as the print version. In both versions, the word “designed” is in italics.)

Philip Howard’s book mentioned above is:

Howard, Philip K. Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions. Garden City, NY: Rodin Books, 2023.

Firms Nimbly Shift Shipping Away from Unionized and Bottlenecked California Ports

(p. B1) Sharpie maker Newell Brands Inc. is opening distribution centers in Pennsylvania and North Carolina to lessen dependence on seaports in California. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is moving more merchandise through New York and New Jersey to avoid West Coast bottlenecks. Air-conditioning manufacturer Trane Technologies PLC is sending most of its cargo this year through ports in the South, instead of the Los Angeles area.

The hierarchy of U.S. ports is getting shaken up. Companies across many industries are rethinking how and where they ship goods after years of relying heavily on the western U.S. as an entry point, betting that ports in the East and the South can save them time and money while reducing risk.

Their reasons range from fears of a dockworkers strike along the West Coast and a repeat of the bottlenecks that roiled supply chains early in the pandemic to a reduced dependence on Chinese production and the need to get products to all parts of the country faster.

In August [2022], Los Angeles lost its title as busiest port in the nation to the Port of (p. B6) New York and New Jersey as measured by the number of imported containers. It trailed its East Coast rival again in that measure during September and October, according to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and ports data.

The share of all U.S. containerized cargo handled by Los Angeles and a neighboring port in Long Beach fell through the first 10 months of the year to a combined 25% as measured by weight, according to census data analyzed by Jason Miller, interim chair of Michigan State University’s supply chain management department. That was their lowest level in nearly two decades, down from a height of 33%.

Other ports benefiting from this shift include Savannah, Ga., Houston and Charleston, S.C.

For the full story, see:

Paul Berger. “New Routes for Big Business.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022): B1 & B6.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 14, 2022, and has the title “California Long Ruled Shipping in U.S. Importers Look to East.”)

To Avoid “Misconduct” Starbucks Asks “That All Future Elections Be Conducted Fully in Person”

(p. B5) As the union drive at Starbucks stores accelerates, Starbucks has ratcheted up its efforts to push back on the campaign, asking on Monday [Sept. 15, 2022] that the National Labor Relations Board investigate allegations of misconduct during a union vote in the Kansas City area.

Starbucks, in a letter to the labor board, asked that the agency investigate reports by an N.L.R.B. employee that there was unfair coordination between the agency and the union, specifically that several employees were given special voting arrangements and that the N.L.R.B. provided confidential real-time election results to the union. The company asked that the agency suspend all elections until the allegations could be investigated. In addition, Starbucks asked that all future elections be conducted fully in person.

For the full story, see:

Emma Goldberg. “Citing Misconduct Claims, Starbucks Asks to Halt Union Elections.” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 16, 2022): B5.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version has the date Aug. 15, 2022, and has the title “Starbucks Asks for a Suspension of Union Elections.”)

Union Blocks Automation That Would Make Ports More Resilient and Efficient

(p. B6) The companies that transport and handle the cargo say the automation is one solution to the congestion at ports, particularly the Los Angeles and Long Beach sites at the heart of America’s supply chain woes. The spare use of robotics at U.S. ports leaves them uncompetitive with big gateways in China and Europe that are packed with automation, they say.

Jeremy Nixon, chief executive of Singapore-based container line Ocean Network Express, told the TPM22 Conference produced by The Journal of Commerce in Long Beach earlier this year that European and Asian ports can clear backlogs quickly because they have automated cargo-handling equipment that operates around the clock. “Here, we just don’t have that resilience,” he said.

. . .

A port performance index created by the World Bank and S&P Global Market Intelligence ranked the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex dead last in efficiency among the world’s ports last year, trailing Luanda, Angola, and the Port of Ngqura, South Africa. The world’s most efficient ports were in the Middle East and Asia.

For the full story, see:

Paul Berger. “Port Union Talks Center on Automation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 10, 2022): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2022, and has the title “A Deep Divide on Automation Hangs Over West Coast Port Labor Talks.”)

Truckers Hurt If Union Dock Workers Strike to Add to Their Six Figure Pay, and to Block Efficient Technology

(p. B1) LOS ANGELES — David Alvarado barreled south along the highway, staring through the windshield of his semi truck toward the towering cranes along the coastline.

He had made the same 30-minute trek to the Port of Los Angeles twice that day; if things went well, he would make it twice more. Averaging four pickups and deliveries a day, Mr. Alvarado has learned, is what it takes to give his wife and three children a comfortable life.

“This has been my life — it’s helped me support a family,” said Mr. Alvarado, who for 17 years has hauled cargo between warehouses across Southern California and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a global hub that handles 40 percent of the nation’s seaborne imports.

He weathered the blow to his paycheck early in the pandemic when he was idling for six hours a day, waiting for cargo to be loaded off ships and onto his truck. Now the ports are bustling again, but there is a new source of anxiety: the imminent expiration of the union contract for dockworkers (p. B5) along the West Coast.

If negotiations fail to head off a slowdown, a strike or a lockout, he said, “it will crush me financially.”

The outcome will be crucial not only for the union dockworkers and port operators, but also for the ecosystem of workers surrounding the ports like Mr. Alvarado, and for a global supply chain reeling from coronavirus lockdowns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Inflation’s surge to the highest rate in more than four decades is due, in part, to supply chain complications.

The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 22,000 workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle, and the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping terminals, is set to expire on Friday. The union members primarily operate machinery like cranes and forklifts that move cargo containers on and off ships.

. . .

The negotiations have centered largely on whether to increase wages for the unionized workers, whose average salaries are in the low six figures, and expanding automation, such as using robots to move cargo containers, to speed up production, a priority for shipping companies.

“Automation allows greater densification at existing port terminals, enabling greater cargo throughput and continued cargo growth over time,” Jim McKenna, the chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Association, said in a recent video statement on the negotiations.

. . .

As he drove past the ports, Mr. Alvarado turned his truck into a warehouse parking lot, where the multicolored containers lined the asphalt like a row of neatly arranged Lego blocks.

It was his third load of the day, and for this round, he didn’t have to wait on the longshoremen to load the carrier onto his truck. Instead, he backed his semi up to a chassis, and the blue container snapped into place.

He pulled up Google Maps on his iPhone and looked at the distance to the drop-off in Fontana, Calif.: 67 miles, an hour and half.

It might, Mr. Alvarado said, end up being a four-load day after all.

For the full story see:

Kurtis Lee. “As Dockworkers Near Contract’s End, The U.S. Has a Stake.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 30, 2022): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “As Dockworkers Near Contract’s End, Many Others Have a Stake.”)

Buffalo Stadium Subsidy Is Corporate and Union Welfare Pork

(p. A11) It’s bad enough that the budget agreement announced Thursday night by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will shower more than $1 billion of the public’s money on a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, a billionaire-owned football franchise that competes in the world’s most profitable sports league. But Ms. Hochul has attached conditions to the deal that will drive up the construction cost by roughly 20% and assure that a big chunk of the subsidy will be wasted. That contradicts her claim that she sought to negotiate the “best deal for taxpayers.”

Ms. Hochul is the first New York governor to hail from Buffalo since Grover Cleveland. Her husband is general counsel of Delaware North, the chief concessionaire at Highmark Stadium, the Bills’ current home in suburban Orchard Park. The new 60,000-seat facility is to be erected nearby, on the site of an existing stadium parking lot. Ms. Hochul says it’s a good deal for residents, who are rightly suspicious. So too are economists, whose strong consensus is that taxpayers almost always come out losers in publicly funded stadium projects, which chiefly enrich owners.

In this case, the corporate welfare pork is greased with a costly handout to unionized labor. That’s because of the state’s so-called prevailing-wage law, which effectively mandates that contractors on public construction projects such as schools, roads, bridges and subways pay union-level wages and benefits. Last year, a “source familiar with the negotiations” told the Buffalo News that the project’s $1.4 billion price tag was driven in part by “prevailing wage and union workforce requirements, among other rules.” Exactly how much the prevailing-wage law adds to the stadium deal is hard to know, but it’s likely in the hundreds of millions.

For the full commentary, see:

Peter Warren. “CROSS COUNTRY; The Buffalo Bills’ Stadium Subsidy Is a Hand-Off to Unions.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 9, 2022): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 8, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)