Free Markets, Free People

unions


Dems have become the government union choice

Charles Lane hits at least part of the Democrats problem with voters right on the head. 

Public sector unions are not just the base of the party — they’re the base of the base.

[…]

But in an era of increasing discontent over taxes, government spending and the perks of government employees, these are not necessarily the allies you want to have. A party that depends on the public employees to get elected will have trouble reaching out to the wider electorate — i.e., the people who pay the taxes that support public employee salaries and pensions.

Bingo. The supposed strength of the Democratic party was its support of the common man – the blue collar worker. The middle class family. I’ve always thought such a characterization was nonsense, however, that was the narrative they successfully embedded for years.

That is now visibly changing. And I think it is apparent that the new narrative isn’t a particularly good one politically speaking.  They’re now the party of big government and government unions.  In an era of financial difficulty that’s not exactly the constituency you want to be identified with – especially when it is becoming common knowledge that government workers now earn more than private sector employees doing comparable jobs.

And that’s especially true now that the woefully underfunded public pension plans are coming to light and Democrats are casting around for a solution to include considering ideas such as using 401(k) funds to rescue them.

This new constituency is not a particularly popular one and even more damaging is they’re a very visible one.  Think of all the incidents that reflect badly on government unions which have involved the SEIU lately.

When the majority of the country is oriented toward smaller government, less spending and less intrusion, working to satisfy a constituency whose entire existence demands precisely the opposite approach is not the best place to be at election time.

~McQ


The folly of green protectionism

Here’s a formula for you to study:

Green groups want less forestry in the developing world. Industry wants green protectionism to cut the volume of competitive imports. Unions want green protectionism to stop imports to ensure they can keep workers in high-paying jobs.

So using the environment as an excuse, we have these three groups colluding to further their own agendas. Call it “green protectionism”.

In a recent case it has been to keep toilet paper made in foreign countries out of Australia.

That’s right, toilet paper.

Can anyone now figure, based on that formula, what the missing part of the equation might be? The part that is necessary to make such collusion pay off?

Yes, government. Certainly green groups can want less forestry in the developing world, and industry can wish for a way to cut the volume of competitive imports. And unions always hope to ensure high paying jobs.

But only one entity can actually make all those wishes, wants and hopes come true. If government becomes involved it has the power to fulfill the wishes and hopes of these three disparate special interest groups.

That’s what happened in 2008 when two Australian toilet paper manufacturers, Kimberly Clark Australia and SCA Hygiene as well as the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the World Wildlife Fund essentially colluded to keep foreign manufactured toilet paper, primarily from Indonesia and China out of the country. Their ostensible complaint was those countries were “dumping” their product in Australia.

For a short time they succeeded in getting imports restricted by the Australian Customs Service, until, it seems, the ACS did a study to determine the validity of the complaint. Their findings were significant. The Australian Customs Service report calculated that the potential downward pressure of imports could be as high as 42 percent of the price.

In other words, the collusion would cost consumers in Australia 42% more because the competitive pressure that kept prices low would have been removed. In addition, a recent report commissioned by the Australian government found that “illegally logged material” – one of the prime reasons these groups claimed Australia should ban imports of foreign wood products – only comprised 0.32 percent of the materials coming into Australia. In other words, the threat was insignificant.

That’s Australia, but what about here? Well, we’re hearing the same sorts of rumblings concerning “green protectionism”.

Sadly these campaigns appear to be part of a spreading green protectionist disease, where industry, unions and green groups work together. In the United States the disease was brought to life by the Lacey Act, which imposes extra regulation on imported wood and wood products to certify their origin and make them less competitive.

The Lacey Act is actually an update of a 1900 law that banned the import of illegally caught wildlife. It now includes wood products (2008). And that means, since extra steps and cost are incurred by foreign manufacturers, that consumers are stuck with the increased cost.

While the reasons for protectionism may sound good on the surface – save the forests, higher wages, less competition to ensure jobs – it isn’t a good thing. If freedom is defined by the variety of choices, what protectionism does is limit those choices and impose an unofficial tax on consumers. They end up paying the cost of collusive action between government and special interests.

So, each time your government announces that it is doing you the favor of limiting the imports of this commodity or that, based on “green” concerns, hold on to your wallet. Whatever the government is protecting you from, you can rest assured that the price of the domestic variety is headed up, since the other product of government intrusion is limiting competition. Rule of thumb: restricting free trade is rarely a good thing. And the only entity that can do so is government. “Green” is just the newest color in an old and costly game – protectionism.


Outsourcing "outrage"

A union, outraged over the fact that non-union workers were being used in the construction of a Washington office building decided to protest and picket. 

But, uh, it was just too hard or too much of a hassle to have real union people do it, so they hired some non-union unemployed at minimum wage instead:

"For a lot of our members, it’s really difficult to have them come out, either because of parking or something else," explains Vincente Garcia, a union representative who is supervising the picketing.

So instead, the union hires unemployed people at the minimum wage—$8.25 an hour—to walk picket lines.

Which I’m sure has the developer and non-union workers in the building just quaking in their boots.

The article goes on to say that a lot of protest groups and advocacy groups have hit a bonanza with the unemployed.  They can hire them for peanuts (min. wage) and swell their groups and pad their numbers in public.

For the unemployed?  Well, I’m sure any little bit does help, of course.  And it sure beats standing on street corners waving “we buy gold” signs – I guess.

But keep that in mind the next time numbers are quoted at a protest or rally for something.

~McQ

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White House and unions clash over Lincoln

So what lesson should we take from the Blanche Lincoln primary victory last night against Democratic Lt. Governor Bill Halter?

Well a lot of people are divining a lot of things from her win, but the one I’m seeing the most is her victory spelled a defeat for Big Labor. The last count I saw said BL had pumped 10 million buckaroos into the primary fight – and not on Lincoln’s side.

Here’s how it breaks down. Lincoln was President Obama’s candidate. He’s made that clear, he has campaigned for her, he wanted her to win.

Bill Halter was labor’s chosen candidate and had the backing of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and other major unions. Ginormous amounts of union funds were used in an effort to defeat Obama’s candidate — by the left. That’s the point to be made here – this wasn’t opposition by the Tea Party, this was opposition funded by the natural allies of the Democratic party and, supposedly, the White House.

According to Ben Smith at Politico, once it was clear that Lincoln had prevailed, the White House couldn’t wait to make it clear that the unions were on the wrong sheet of political music. Smith said a WH official contacted him, saying:

“Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,” the official said. “If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

In other words, “get with the program boys, and do it how we tell you to do it”.

Message sent, and received:

AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale responds that “labor isn’t an arm of the Democratic Party.”

Yeah, right – at least not for today.

Way to firm up your support with your base Mr. President – apparently they’re good to go as long as they spend their members money the way he wants them too.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 25 Apr 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the controversial Arizona immigration law, and the squeeze public employee unions are putting on state budgets. The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Speaking of pensions and unions

If you loved TARP, were enamored with the government bailout of banks and financial institutions and orgasmic at the government takeover of GM and Chrysler, you’ll love this as well:

Here, let me lay it out for you – if Bob Casey can push this through Congress and rescue private union administered pensions via taxpayer money, what has been set? Why precedent, of course.
Now refer to the story about California just below this one and tell me what the number you see there amounts too.  If Congress grants relief to union administered pensions, it’s only fair that it do the same with those owed by state governments who are also upside-down on pension benefits to the tune of multiples of billions of dollars (in CA’s case 500 billion), right?  I mean can you expect California’s pension debt to be characterized as anything other than a “crippling expense” that “threatens” the financial viability of the state and “the jobs of its employees?”  Yeah, I can’t either.  But I can imagine California and other states petitioning the federal government under the same provisions this plan uses to rescue private union-administered pension plans.  Can’t you?
$8 -10 billion cost.  What a load of crap to begin with.  And then add the more than probable addition of state pension funds.  But, of course, you can count of PAYGO being duly invoked and used on this one, can’t you?  Yeah, in the pig’s other eye.
~McQ


Health Care Reform:When Is A “Cadillac Plan” Not A “Cadillac Plan”?

Why when you’re a part of a favored special interest group of course:

Unions tentatively struck a deal Tuesday to exempt collectively bargained healthcare plans from a tax on high-cost plans expected to be used to help raise revenue for the healthcare overhaul.

The left constantly clamors for “fairness” but quickly throws such concerns under the bus when it is possible that one of their favored special interest groups may be negatively effected.

As Philip Klein notes:

If this policy is adopted, it would mean that there could be two Americans receiving the exact same benefits, but one American may be taxed and one wouldn’t, and the only difference would be one of them being a member of a union. This is unseemly and unfair, even by the standards of Obamacare. It has nothing to do with policy-making. It’s simply an outright bribe to a constituency that has contributed handily to Democratic campaigns.

Legislative favoritisim? How “progressive”.

It doesn’t get anymore blatant than this, folks.

~McQ


When Is A “Cadillac” Plan Not A “Cadillac” Plan?

When you’re a federal worker, of course.

Reps. Jerry Connolly and Jim Moran, two Democrats from the federal employee haven of Northern Virginia, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressing concern that the Senate health care proposal, which includes the tax, “may adversely affect health coverage for federal employees and retirees.”

Connolly and Moran explain in the letter that the Congressional Research Services has provided them with data indicating that the cost of Federal Employees Health Benefits Plans used by federal employees is close to the threshold ($8,000 per individual and $21,000 per family) that would trigger the proposed 40 percent excise tax.

“Throughout this year, we and members of the Administration have assured the public, including 2 million federal employees, that if individuals or families like their current health coverage, they will not have to change,” the letter said. “The current proposal from the Senate Finance Committee could undermine that tenet of health insurance reform.”

Don’t you just love special interest legislation. It’s okay for you, but not for the 2 million federal employees. And they join a growing list of groups for whom exemptions are being sought – firefighters, labor union members, coal miners and other favored groups.

You? Just shut up and pay the tax.

Hope and change.

~McQ


Podcast for 09 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the furor over the Health Care bill.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Health Care – Plans To Exempt Unions, Tax Others

No “gold plated” care for you – unless you’re in a union.

Yes, friends, it’s payback time in the health care legislation world. Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. Senate proposal to impose taxes for the first time on “gold-plated” health plans may bypass generous employee benefits negotiated by unions.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, the chief congressional advocate of taxing some employer-provided benefits to help pay for an overhaul of the U.S. health system, says any change should exempt perks secured in existing collective- bargaining agreements, which can be in place for as long as five years.

The exception, which could make the proposal more politically palatable to Democrats from heavily unionized states such as Michigan, is adding controversy to an already contentious debate. It would shield the 12.4 percent of American workers who belong to unions from being taxed while exposing some other middle-income workers to the levy.

This is how they manage to get at your health care plan. Baucus wants to tax any health care benefit that is more costly than those provided federal employees. Those costs are about $4,200 for individuals and $13,000 for families. The claim is they again want to go after the “rich” who have “gold plated” plans. And the example in the Bloomberg article is the $40,543 in health benefits paid to Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the fifth largest U.S. bank.

Of course that threshold will also affect people much lower on the financial totem pole than Lloyd Blankfein. For example:

It can also affect companies such as Henderson, Nevada- based Zappos.com, where workers’ $11 per hour pay is supplemented by employer-paid health insurance plans worth about $7,500.

So immediately you have an $11 an hour employee liable for $495 at 15% of the difference. But remember, your taxes won’t go up by a dime. Not a single dime.

Why the desire to exempt unions? Well it gets a favored constituency off their back, is a measure of payback for their support and union members can then enjoy their “gold plated” coverage while $11 an hour workers pay the freight. Don’t believe unions have gold plated coverage. Try this example:

Sandra Carter, a retired Pacific Bell Telephone Co. technician from Stockton, California, said her health benefits, worth about $12,000 per year, were negotiated by the Communications Workers of America. She is unmarried with no children, meaning her individual coverage exceeds benefits paid to federal workers by about $7,800. If that amount were taxed at the 15 percent marginal rate, she would owe $1,170.

“I can’t afford the taxes I pay now,” said Carter, who said she suffers from diabetes. “Why should I get taxed on a benefit that keeps me a functioning person?”

Gee Ms Carter, why should anyone? Why is it any business of the government to limit the coverage to $4,200 and tax the rest. Who is Max Baucus, or anyone, to arbitrarily set the insurance limit at $4,200 for individuals and $13,000 for families and punish those who have better plans through taxation?

I would guess, however, Ms Carter is fine with unions being exempted and also fine with others being taxed in her stead.

Most unions, of course, see themselves as the exceptions deserving of such exemptions:

Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview that workers have often traded salary increases for better benefits in agreements.

Taxes “shouldn’t be taken from the backs of workers who have bargained away wages and other things for their benefits over the years,” Burger said.

But it is ok if others who’ve negotiated the same sort of exchange privately get nailed, eh Ms Burger? It’s not the principle, it’s the exception which is important here apparently.

To their credit, some unions are actually standing on principle:

“Either way, we are against a tax on health-care benefits in whatever form it takes,” said Jacob Hay, spokesman for the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The union represents 500,000 workers, largely in the construction industry.

Special interest democracy – political payback – so blatant now that you don’t even have to wonder if it is being done. Democrats are shameless in their pursuit of it. If you’re in a favored group, your ship has come in.

~McQ

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