Powerful Rail Unions Defend Specious Disability Claims

RailroadDisabilityReport.jpg“LAX REGULATIONS; One examination in 1997 found that 97 percent of workers who applied for disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board were approved. Despite decades of efforts to re-evaluate the standards, the rate is as high or higher today.” Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) After learning that most of her career employees were retiring early and getting disability payments, the Long Island Rail Road’s president, Helena E. Williams, set out in October to learn more about the obscure federal agency in Chicago that was dispensing the money, a quarter of a billion dollars since 2000.

But when Ms. Williams asked to attend the next meeting of the agency — the federal Railroad Retirement Board, rail workers’ version of Social Security — she got a surprise.
The board, with about $34 billion in assets, had not met formally in nearly two years, and no new meeting was scheduled. The three board members, all full-time presidential appointees, rarely met even in private, employees of the agency say.
Operating out of public view, with little scrutiny from Congress and even from its former inspector general, the retirement board has become the agency that cannot say no, last year approving virtually every single disability application it received — almost 98 percent. It did not matter where rail employees lived or where they worked.
An examination of the board by The New York Times, including dozens of interviews and a review of government records, found a disability program plagued by labor-management infighting, weak standards and a failure to use tests that could better weed out specious disability claims.
. . .
(p. A25) More than a half-dozen state and federal agencies are now investigating the retirement board’s disability payments to former L.I.R.R. employees. In September, two days after The Times published the results of an eight-month investigation that documented those disability payments, federal agents raided the board’s Long Island office.
The L.I.R.R.’s disability rate, which since 2000 has ranged between 93 percent and 97 percent for retired career employees, is three to four times that of the average railroad. Workers at other railroads get disabilities just as easily, but they file for them less often because, unlike L.I.R.R. employees, they cannot retire early with a private pension plan to supplement their disability pay.
. . .
The rail unions, which have remained powerful even as the nation’s labor movement has ebbed, have aggressively defended their interests at the retirement board. Management has largely avoided a showdown, choosing to spend its political capital in other areas, including contract issues, according to current and former board officials.
“The unions have been successful not only in getting a separate system, but keeping it,” said Robert S. Kaufman, a former director of retirement claims for the board.

For the full story, see:
WALT BOGDANICH and NICHOLAS PHILLIPS. “The Railroad Disability Board That Couldn’t Say No.” The New York Times (Mon., December 15, 2008): A1 & A25.
(Note: ellipses added; the online version of the title leaves out the word “Railroad.”)

RailroadDisabilityHistoryInaction.gif

Source of time-line graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

French Labor Holds Management Hostage—Literally

PolutnikNicolasFrenchHostage2009-04-10.jpg “French Caterpillar executive Nicolas Polutnik, center, with workers after his release Wednesday.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) PARIS — Of the 22,000 workers Caterpillar Inc. plans to lay off this year, the French ones have perhaps the most radical tactic for negotiating their severance deals.

In an aggressive, and peculiarly French, negotiating strategy, they held their managers hostage. The workers detained the director of their plant and four other managers for about 24 hours this week. Workers released them only after the company agreed to resume talks with unions and a government mediator on how to improve compensation for workers who are being laid off.
. . .
Jérôme Pélisse, a sociologist, surveyed 3,000 companies in 2004 and found that 18 of them had experienced an executive detention in the prior three years.

For the full story, see:
DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS and LEILA ABBOUD. “In France, the Bosses Can Become Hostages.” Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 3, 2009): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Union Dynamited “True Industrial Freedom”

AmericanLightningBK.jpg

Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) The turn-of-the-20th-century war of capital and labor is not even half-remembered now. But the glum slab of the Los Angeles Times building will remind anyone who cares to look. The antiunion rallying cry of “True Industrial Freedom” is carved deeply into its façade. Completed in 1935, the building is a cenotaph for the 21 nonunion pressmen and linotype operators who were blown up on an early October morning in 1910 and died in a storm of fire and collapsing masonry.

The dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times was, for Howard Blum in “American Lightning,” the war’s decisive engagement. After it, a national campaign of union-led terrorism was exposed; labor sympathizers who defended the bombers were proved to be gullible (if not dishonest); and the political force of American socialism was wrecked. Reputations were wrecked, too, principally that of Clarence Darrow, who was then a renowned labor lawyer.
. . .
In 1910, Los Angeles was a young boomtown aching for water and respectability. To the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Harrison Gray Otis, respectability included making sure that the city was uninfested by union labor. It was an era of deep enmity and suspicion between business and labor, when it was not uncommon for strikes to end in riots and death. Otis and the Times preached the open shop with such vehemence that it was almost inevitable that they would become targets of prounion wrath.
The dynamite conspiracy unraveled when a second, unexploded bomb in Los Angeles was found to match another bomb discovered a month earlier by a Burns operative in a rail yard in Peoria, Ill. Burns tied the evidence to a campaign of terror against the National Erectors Association, a union-busting alliance of builders. The target of the association’s animus was the union shop in general and the Structural Iron Workers Union in particular. John McNamara was the union’s secretary-treasurer. His brother James was a union agent. Their weapons against the association and its allies were nitroglycerine and dynamite.

For the full review, see:
D.J. WALDIE. “Bookshelf; Dynamite and Deadlines.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 16, 2008): A23.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The reference to the book under review, is:
Blum, Howard. American Lightning. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.

Labor Unions Endorse Hillary and Edwards

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article excerpted and cited below.

 

Union endorsements could provide a big boost with next year’s early, front-loaded primary calendar. Half of all 15.4 million union members live in six states — California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and all but Pennsylvania will have voted by Feb. 5.

Major unions have already split their endorsements between three Democratic candidates: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Christopher Dodd, and former Sen. John Edwards. Union leaders are loath to repeat the division of support that marred the 2004 election, where major unions endorsed Richard Gephardt and Howard Dean, wasting resources on losing candidates. Only one Republican candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has picked up a major union endorsement.

 

For the full story, see: 

NICK TIMIRAOS.  "HOT TOPIC; U.S. Unions: Still a Political Power?"  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 29, 2007):  A7.

 

Union Decline Continues in United States

UnionDeclineGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Union membership dropped sharply last year in the United States, as the percentage of manufacturing workers in unions fell below the percentage of American workers in unions for the first time in modern history.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday that union membership fell by 326,000 in 2006, to 15.4 million workers, bringing the percentage of employees in unions to 12 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2005. Those figures are down from 20 percent in 1983 and from 35 percent in the 1950s.

Work force experts said the decline in union membership was caused by large-scale layoffs and buyouts in the auto industry and other manufacturing industries, together with the labor movement’s difficulties in organizing nonunion workers fast enough to offset those losses.

 

For the full story, see: 

STEVEN GREENHOUSE.  "Sharp Decline in Union Members in ’06."  The New York Times (Fri., January 26, 2007):  A11.

 

Plastic Pipes Need Less Labor, So Unions Oppose

PipeResidentialPlastic.jpg Residential plastic pipe. Source of photo: http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=46

 

(p. D1)  The City of Omaha is considering allowing an alternative to copper pipes in residential plumbing, a move the local builders association says could keep new home prices from rising so fast.

. . .

(p.  D2)  "Omaha is kind of unique in not allowing plastic. It’s kind of an isolated pocket," said Blas Hernandez, Papillion’s chief building official, who also has worked in the Kansas City, Denver, upstate New York and central Nebraska areas.

Mike Lipke, western regional manager for FlowGuard Gold CPVC pipes, agreed. He said Omaha and Chicago stand out among Midwestern cities for not allowing plastic water pipes.

Several people with long tenure in the building industry said they believe Omaha has lagged in adoption of plastics because the material is less labor-intensive to install and organized labor has fought to protect work for its members.

Stephen Andersen, business manager for the 470-member Omaha Plumbers Local 16, said he doesn’t think it’s necessarily faster to install plastic pipes, and he personally favors copper "because it’s such a good product, a proven product."

. . .

With the housing market slowed and copper prices still high, now may be the time to make affordability the most important consideration, said Paul Frazier, president of the Frazier Co. and a member of the Metro Omaha Builders Association’s board.

"MOBA is fully behind" the proposed change, President Rocky Goodwin said. Frazier represented MOBA in discussions with the Omaha Plumbing Board.

"We’re long overdue for this," Frazier said. "Anything that holds costs down while doing as good or better job is a good thing.

. . .

Lipke, who sells CPVC, said all the model codes and all 50 states approve the use of plastic and plastic has captured two-thirds of the market.

. . .

"People might try it because it’s less money, but they won’t keep using it if it doesn’t work," Lipke said. "It’s a good product, and it certainly shouldn’t be banned the way it is in Omaha."

 

For the full story, see: 

DEBORAH SHANAHAN.  "Omaha may lift ban on residential plastic pipe."  Omaha World-Herald (Wednesday, January 24, 2007):  D1 & D2. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

[Joseph Schumpeter was born on February 8, 1883.]

 

At Screen Actors Guild, Communists Threatened to Disfigure His Face

ReaganAnAmericanStoryBK.jpg   Source of book image: http://www.shopaim.org/assets/images/large/458i.jpg

 

There are better books on Reagan.  But Bosch’s book has a few illuminating anecdotes.  Here is one:

(p. 63)  Reagan first learned about Communists and their intentions as a member of a Hollywood union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  He had been introduced to the Screen actors Guild by his wife Jane Wyman and had quickly risen to become a member of the Guild’s board.  As a SAG Board member, and later as its president, he mediated a dispute between two rival unions.  One of the unions, the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), was led by a suspected Communist, Herb Sorrell.

. . .  

(p. 64)  Sorrell and Reagan went head to head.  When Reagan crossed a picket line outside Warner Brothers, Sorrell called for a boycott of his movies.  Reagan was called a fascist.  An anonymous phone caller threatened to disfigure his face so he could never act again.  He began to carry a gun and accepted police protection.  He became an informant for the FBI 

"These were eye-opening years for me," he later wrote.  "Now I knew form first-hand experience how Communists used lies, deceit, violence, or any other tactic that suited them to advance the cause of Soviet expansionism."

 

Source: 

Bosch, Adriana.  Reagan: An American Story.  TV Books Inc., 1998.

 

Teachers’ Unions Fight Innovation, Customization, and Variety

(p. A27) Washington – A Wisconsin court rejected a high-profile lawsuit by the state’s largest teachers’ union last month seeking to close a public charter school that offers all its courses online on the ground that it violated state law by depending on parents rather than on certified teachers to educate children. The case is part of a national trend that goes well beyond virtual schooling: teachers’ unions are turning to the courts to fight virtually any deviation from uniformity in public schools.

. . .

There is a universal American desire for customization and variety in goods and services, and education must respond to that demand, whether the unions like it or not.
. . .

This debate, like the ones over many other education issues, is fundamentally about who gets to have power. Yet the power the teachers’ unions now wield will be fleeting if public schools do not become more responsive to parents.
An industry cannot survive by rushing to court every time a new idea threatens even a small slice of its market share. Instead, maintaining, and even broadening, support for public schools means embracing more diversity in how we provide public education and who provides it.

For the full commentary, see:
Andrew J. Rotherham. “Virtual Schools, Real Innovation.” The New York Times (Friday, April 7, 2006): A27.
(Note: ellipses added.)