Saturday, March 3, 2018

Labor stuff

300 of the 430 kids at Beckley Elementary qualify for free breakfast and lunch under federal law, and striking teachers are helping to make sure they get fed. Via Today.

The Federalist's David Harsanyi looking for an even bigger audience at National Review Online, à propos Janus vs. AFSCME, the case, for which the Supreme Court just heard oral arguments, involving the union's right to charge workers who are unwilling to join not dues, but a fraction of the dues listed as "agency fees", to cover the collective bargaining from which those workers have benefited, without contributing to the union's political activities, of which the plaintiff disapproves:
Among many significant problems with this arrangement, the most obvious is that it’s an assault on freedom of association. If there is another organization in American life that has a license to compel workers to participate in their nongovernmental organization simply to secure a job, I haven’t heard of it.
The prime bullshit there is that it isn't the union that compels employees to participate in this attenuated way, it's the agreement between the employer and the employees, who have democratically appointed the union to represent them. As a contract it's no different than the managing agent a coop building hires collecting a fee out of your maintenance checks. Or, if the employee status is so special and sacredly different from other relationships, the health insurance plan and if you're lucky the retirement plan your employer forces you to buy. If you're politically opposed to Blue Cross and that's all they've got to offer, you're stuck.

But you're not "associating" with AFSCME if you refuse to pay dues and become a member, which you are permitted to do; you're just accepting a paid service that can't be avoided, since the employer can't have you hanging around getting lower pay and no benefits just to satisfy your fascinating and original feelings, it would be bad for the shop as a whole, and you should pay for it because you're getting value for money. This is absolutely more true in government than elsewhere, since pay scales and benefits are so elaborately specified, thanks to the unions that have helped make it this way and protect them from abuse.
The vast majority of media coverage on the topic similarly relied on euphemism-heavy stories that did everything possible to avoid words like “compelling,” “forcing,” or “coercing.”
Well, whoop-de-fucking-do. I'll say "compelling". In fact I just did. We can make it our little safe word.
Most outlets framed the entire case as a concerted partisan attack on unions and, by extension, the Democratic party
Oh please, you're going to tell me it isn't a concerted attack on unions? And while I'm asking questions, how did you go about composing your headline?

Public-Sector Unions Deserve to Be Destroyed

Not a concerted attack at all.

The worst is, he goes on to dump on the West Virginia public school teachers who've been on strike since Washington's birthday, because they don't have an effective union, thanks to state law. He sees that as a reason for blaming the teachers:
In many states, public-sector unions don’t have collective-bargaining rights. Yet, as I write this, every school in all 55 counties of one of those states — West Virginia, where the average teacher’s salary is a bit higher than the average worker’s — are now closed due to an illegal teachers’ strike.
It's because the state denied them collective bargaining rights that they're driven to this expedient, not in spite of it. If their unions were able to function as unions, they'd be able to make an agreement.

"A bit higher than the average worker's" means what, exactly? That they're already rich enough to stop kvetching? In Missouri, where the median household income in 2016 was $51,746, the typical teacher earns around $58,000, more than a bit higher, and good for them, but it's still not princely. In West Virginia, where the 2016 median household income was $43,385, high school teachers earn an average $45,240, and that average covers a range from the 24-year-old special needs preschool teacher Huffington Post interviewed whose salary is $33,000 and is carrying $50,000 in college debt.

And West Virginia is very poor; a quarter of the kids are in poverty, and the striking teachers have been packing lunch for them to make sure they don't stop eating while the schools are closed.

Harsanyi might say (he doesn't, quite) that West Virginia teachers have chosen to work in this particular job, and if they think they should get paid more they are free to go elsewhere, but the fact is that many do, which is why West Virginia has a devastating teacher shortage, partly because trained teachers can earn $20K more next door in Virginia or Maryland (HuffPost link above):
A series of business tax cuts have left the state with little money to give public servants who’ve been waiting for meaningful raises. West Virginia now ranks 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in teacher pay, and it was one of just five states to see average teacher pay go down in 2016, according to the National Education Association. Of West Virginia’s 55 counties, more than half border a state with better teacher pay. And the state was trying to fill 700 vacant positions as of last spring.
“There’s just no reason to stay here, especially the ones who aren’t married,” said Patty Hamilton, a second-grade teacher with 30 years at the same elementary school. “It’s very sad that this is happening.”
In that sense the West Virginia teachers are doing the state, and the children, a service by forcing the government to do something about the situation, and doing it, when they could just as easily walk, out of love. "But the strike is illegal," sniffs Harsanyi, whose libertarianism, like that of most libertarians, really pretty much restricts itself to the liberties dear to the propertied class. Fuck him, you know? If the law is so poor that it gives these generous and diligent people no legal recourse, then fix the law, and in the meantime  don't fuss when the teachers use the only means available to them to change the situation.

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