Americans Should Not Be Required to Join a Private Organization Against Their Will

(p. A15) I am one of 10 California teachers suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which will be heard by the Supreme Court Jan. 11. Our request is simple: Strike down laws in 23 states that require workers who decline to join a union to pay fees anyway. In our view, paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school. No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally. Teachers deserve a choice.
. . .
I was a member of the union for years and even served as a union representative. But the union never played an important role in my school. When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid.
Instead, the union focused on politics. I remember a phone call I received before a major election from someone in the union. It was a “survey,” asking teachers whether they would vote for so-and-so if the election were held tomorrow. I disagreed with every issue and candidate the union was promoting. After that conversation, I thought about what the union represents. Eventually, I realized that my dues–about $1,000 a year–went toward ideas and issues that ran counter to my beliefs.
. . .
A Gallup poll last year found that 82% of the public agrees that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.” That’s all we’re asking.

For the full commentary, see:
HARLAN ELRICH. “Why I’m Fighting My Teachers Union; I don’t want to be forced to pay for a political agenda I don’t support. Now the Supreme Court will rule.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 4, 2016): A15.
(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 3, 2016.)

French Union Activists Rip Shirts Off Backs of Executives and Force Them to Escape Over Fence

(p. B3) PARIS — Angry workers stormed Air France headquarters on Monday [October 5, 2016] as top managers were meeting to discuss plans to shed more than 2,900 jobs, forcing two executives to flee over a fence and in the process ripping the shirts from their backs.
The violence at the Air France offices near Charles de Gaulle Airport broke out shortly after 9:30 a.m. Officials, including the chief executive officer, Frédéric Gagey, had informed the company’s workers council that 900 flight attendants, 1,700 ground crew members and 300 pilots could be laid off as the airline strives to return to profitability.
The talks at the company, which is facing headwinds from an economic downturn and competition from low-cost carriers, had been tense for more than a year. While violence had not marred previous negotiations, the protests Monday were the latest in a series of incidents in France in which workers have held company bosses hostage or damaged property to make their point.
As the Air France executives detailed the latest restructuring plan, union activists swarmed into the room, waving flags and chanting protests, prompting Mr. Gagey to make a hasty exit.

For the full story, see:
LIZ ALDERMAN. “Workers Storm Air France Offices as Job Cuts Are Discussed.” The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B3.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title “Angry Workers Storm Air France Meeting on Job Cuts.”)

High Costs of Public Sector Unions

(p. A11) . . . the costs of public-sector unions are great. “The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste,” the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. Increasingly, such a burden is fatal. When Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, a full half of the city’s$18.2 billion long-term debt was owed for employee pensions and health benefits. Even before the next downturn, other cities and some states will find themselves faltering because of similarly massive obligations.
There is something grotesque about public workers fighting for benefits whose provision will hurt the public. Citizens who vote Democratic may choose not to acknowledge the perversity out of party loyalty. But over the years a few well-known Democrats have sided against the public-sector unions. “The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted into the public service,” a Democratic politician once declared. His name? Franklin Roosevelt.

For the full review, see:
AMITY SHLAES. “BOOKSHELF; Public Unions vs. the Public; Pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 16, 2015): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2015.)

The book under review is:
DiSalvo, Daniel. Government against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Police Unions Make It Harder to Get Rid of Bad Cops

(p. A29) A small percentage of cops commit most of the abuses. A study by WNYC News in New York found that, since 2009, 40 percent of the “resisting arrest” charges were filed by just 5 percent of New York Police Department officers. In other words, most officers rarely get in a confrontation that leads to that charge, but a few officers often get in violent confrontations.
But it’s very hard to remove the bad apples from the force. Trying to protect their members, unions have weakened accountability. The investigation process is softer on police than it would be on anyone else. In parts of the country, contract rules stipulate that officers get a 48-hour cooling-off period before having to respond to questions. They have access to the names and testimony of their accusers. They can be questioned only by one person at a time. They can’t be threatened with disciplinary action during questioning.
More seriously, cops who are punished can be reinstated through a secretive appeals process that favors job retention over public safety. In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has a riveting piece with egregious stories of cops who have returned to the force after clear incompetence. Hector Jimenez was an Oakland, Calif., cop who shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man in 2007. Seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him in the back three times while he ran away. The city paid damages. Jimenez was fired. But he appealed through his union and was reinstated with back pay.

For the full commentary, see:
David Brooks. “The Union Future.” The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 19, 2014): A29.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 18, 2014. )

Flexibility of System of Industrial Relations Makes German Economy Strong

(p. 183) We have argued that the remarkable transformation of the German economy from the “sick man of Europe” to a lean and highly competitive economy within little more than a decade is rooted in the inherent flexibility of the German system of industrial relations. This system allowed German industry to react appropriately and flexibly over time to the demands of German unification, and the global challenges of a new world economy.

Source:
Dustmann, Christian, Bernd Fitzenberger, Uta Schoenberg, and Alexandra Spitz-Oener. “From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany’s Resurgent Economy.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 167-88.

18 Unions Each Spent More on Politics than Koch Brothers

(p. A13) Harry Reid is under a lot of job-retention stress these days, so Americans might forgive him the occasional word fumble. When he recently took to the Senate floor to berate the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch for spending “unlimited money” to “rig the system” and “buy elections,” the majority leader clearly meant to be condemning unions.
It’s an extraordinary thing, in a political age obsessed with campaign money, that nobody scrutinizes the biggest, baddest, “darkest” spenders of all: organized labor. The IRS is muzzling nonprofits; Democrats are “outing” corporate donors; Jane Mayer is probably working on part 89 of her New Yorker series on the “covert” Kochs. Yet the unions glide blissfully, unmolestedly along. This lack of oversight has led to a union world that today acts with a level of campaign-finance impunity that no other political giver–conservative outfits, corporate donors, individuals, trade groups–could even fathom.
. . .
The Center for Responsive Politics’ list of top all-time donors from 1989 to 2014 ranks Koch Industries No. 59. Above Koch were 18 unions, which collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries ($18 million).

For the full commentary, see:
KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. “POTOMAC WATCH; The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs; Harry Reid surely must have meant the unions when he complained about buying elections.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 6, 2014.)

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values “Voyaging into the Unknown”

PhelpsEdmundWinner2006NobelPrize2013-10-24.jpg

“Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. C7) Edmund Phelps’s “Mass Flourishing” could easily be retitled “Contra-Corporatism,” for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common “third way” between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America’s current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which “voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” or in Republicans in the thrall of “traditional values,” who see “the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance.” He instead yearns for legislative solons who “could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?”
. . .
The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with “a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback.”
. . .
In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a “panoply of new roles,” from regulations “aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition” to lawsuits that “add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification.” It is as if “every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract” in which “no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation.” But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change–and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.
. . .
But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are “aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy,” and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a “national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms”–not my favorite idea.

For the full review, see:
EDWARD GLAESER. “How to Unleash the Economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘Mass Flourishing’ by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.”)

The book under review is:
Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Mass-FlourishingBK2013-10-24.jpg

Source of book image: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/files/2013/08/Mass-Flourishing-cover.jpg

Entrepreneur Arik Achmon Stood Down Powerful Union to Keep His Company Alive

LikeDreamersBK2013-10-24.jpg

Source of book image: http://www.seraphicpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/like-dreamers.jpg

(p. C2) Mr. Halevi, an American immigrant who has worked as a journalist and analyst in Jerusalem for 30 years, has created a textured, beautifully written narrative by focusing on seven men — and they are all men — . . . , who served in the paratroop brigade that conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
. . .
. . . , the men Mr. Halevi has chosen are compelling. One is Arik Achmon, a secular liberal from a kibbutz who helped transform Israel’s failing statist economy into a thriving capitalist one. Mr. Achmon helped found the first private domestic airline in Israel. The story of how he stood down the once-powerful Histadrut trade union federation to keep his company alive illustrates the enormous changes that Israeli society has undergone in the past three decades.

For the full review, see:
ETHAN BRONNER. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 7 Paratroopers and Paths They Took Through an Israel at a Crossroads.” The New York Times (Thurs., September 26, 2013): C2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 25, 2013.)

The book under review is:
Halevi, Yossi Klein. Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

HaleviYossiKlein2013-10-24.jpg

“Yossi Klein Halevi.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.

Faculty Unions Oppose MOOCs that Might Cost Them Their Jobs in Five to Seven Years

ThrunSabastianUdacityCEO2013-05-14.jpg “Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford, is Udacity’s chief executive officer.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dazzled by the potential of free online college classes, educators are now turning to the gritty task of harnessing online materials to meet the toughest challenges in American higher education: giving more students access to college, and helping them graduate on time.
. . .
Here at San Jose State, . . . , two pilot programs weave material from the online classes into the instructional mix and allow students to earn credit for them.
“We’re in Silicon Valley, we (p. A3) breathe that entrepreneurial air, so it makes sense that we are the first university to try this,” said Mohammad Qayoumi, the university’s president. “In academia, people are scared to fail, but we know that innovation always comes with the possibility of failure. And if it doesn’t work the first time, we’ll figure out what went wrong and do better.”
. . .
Dr. Qayoumi favors the blended model for upper-level courses, but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes, which could be expanded to serve many more students at low cost. Traditional teaching will be disappearing in five to seven years, he predicts, as more professors come to realize that lectures are not the best route to student engagement, and cash-strapped universities continue to seek cheaper instruction.
“There may still be face-to-face classes, but they would not be in lecture halls,” he said. “And they will have not only course material developed by the instructor, but MOOC materials and labs, and content from public broadcasting or corporate sources. But just as faculty currently decide what textbook to use, they will still have the autonomy to choose what materials to include.”
. . .
Any wholesale online expansion raises the specter of professors being laid off, turned into glorified teaching assistants or relegated to second-tier status, with only academic stars giving the lectures. Indeed, the faculty unions at all three California higher education systems oppose the legislation requiring credit for MOOCs for students shut out of on-campus classes.
. . .
“Our ego always runs ahead of us, making us think we can do it better than anyone else in the world,” Dr. Ghadiri said. “But why should we invent the wheel 10,000 times? This is M.I.T., No. 1 school in the nation — why would we not want to use their material?”
There are, he said, two ways of thinking about what the MOOC revolution portends: “One is me, me, me — me comes first. The other is, we are not in this business for ourselves, we are here to educate students.”

For the full story, see:
TAMAR LEWIN. “Colleges Adapt Online Courses to Ease Burden.” The New York Times (Tues., April 30, 2013): A1 & A3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 29, 2013.)

KormanikKatieUdacityStudent2013-05-14.jpg “Katie Kormanik preparing to record a statistics course at Udacity, an online classroom instruction provider in Mountain View, Calif.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

“The French Work Force Gets Paid High Wages But Works Only Three Hours”

(p. B1) PARIS — “How stupid do you think we are?”
With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.
“I have visited the factory a couple of times,” Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.
“The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”
“I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, ‘That’s the French way!’ “

For the full story, see:
LIZ ALDERMAN. “Quel Brouhaha! A Diatribe on Unions Irks the French.” The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1 & B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)

For a similar account, see:
GABRIELE PARUSSINI. “U.S. CEO to France: “How Stupid Do You Think We Are?” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013, and has the title “U.S. CEO Blasts French Work Habits.”)

Steve Jobs Advised Obama to Reduce Regulations of Business and Union Power in Education

(p. 544) The meeting . . . lasted forty-five minutes, and Jobs did not hold back. “You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” Jobs told Obama at the outset. To prevent that, he said, the administration needed to be a lot more business-friendly. He described how easy it was to build a factory in China, and said that it was almost impossible to do so these days in America, largely because of regulations and unnecessary costs.
Jobs also attacked America’s education system, saying that it was hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year. It was absurd, he added, that American classrooms were still based on teachers standing at a board and using textbooks. All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.

Source:
Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: ellipsis added.)