I thought the Sunday paper was pretty telling on the state of organized labor in the US these days. Not even a tip of the hat kind of labor hagiography in the holiday spirit over the weekend as best I could see. Not just in the paper, but across all local media I think there was more coverage of the Labor Day parade
, than about labor in any form. The PG Sunday
Forum section's only labor related content was, to be kind, not exactly labor friendly.
Which oped was that? Most readers here will have already seen the oped in the Post-Gazette
on the Allegheny Conference's view on the labor negotiations between the Port Authority and it's drivers. If you didn't catch it, the state factfinder's report
came out on Friday with her recommendations on an solution. The Trib
pointed out how the report was supposed to have been kept confidential
initially by mutual agreement with the Port Authority, but wasn't. Funny that.
I will give the benefit of the doubt to the Post Gazette folks that they sought out an opposing viewpoint to the one that was printed. On such contentious issues they would normally do that. That they would print such a one sided union bashing without an opportunity for the other side to say something side by side would be strange. But given how relatively quiescent the union has been in public I suspect they tried to balance the page and didn't get a taker.
So let's parse a bit. Beyond the rhetoric, the key substantive seems to be that other transit unions have made concessions recently in similar labor negotiations. Fair enough and the prime example is the agreement between the transit workers for the Chicago Transit Authority(CTA
So what did the CTA
workers concede? The biggest part of that deal was that the union agreed that in exchange for being given $549 million by the CTA
they would take on their retirement health care liability. That $549 million represented over half of what the CTA
calculated their health care liability to be at the time.
Could that work here? The Port Authority says it's health care liability is $700 million and growing rapidly. It's worth noting that their health care liability is the entirely the result of them not setting any money aside to pay for a liability they knew they were accruing. You might ask yourself if their plan all along was to have this unfold just as it has.. i.e. to let the liability accrue and grow until they could claim publicly they were facing unsupportable expenses. If true, they never expected to make good of their past contracts. They certainly made no plans to ever pay those anticipated expenses. That complete lack of planning if why the Port Authority has the unfunded liability it does today and what is at the heart of the current contract negotiations.
But back to the CTA
concessions. Would the Port Authority be willing to do as the CTA
did and float a bond to capitalize an equivalent $350-400 million dollar fund to be turned over to the drivers union in exchange for responsibility for their health care in the future. The Port Authority should be ecstatic at such a plan to instantly wipe out several hundred million dollars in liability on their books. I bet the union would agree to such an offer, but it's worth noting that no such offer is on the public record anwwhere
as I see. Bottom line, unless this is what the Port Authority is asking for and willing to do then all the talk you see on the drivers here being unwilling to make concessions similar to their Chicago brethren is a meaningless analogy. Though you would never know it reading the oped, it's all about the intransigence of the workers.
Beyond that, I couldn't find too much substance in the Sunday oped, it being filled mostly with anti-union rhetoric more than proposals. The sad thing is that I know KZ
the author knows the details and the issues in depth and is willing to go out of his way to discuss them (both here on this blog and on his own these days). That the message boiled down for the public is mostly a combination of invective and ad hominums
The five mentions of local ATU
union president Pat McMahon within a short 900 page oped is not gratuitous if it was by design. Trying to personalize and demonize union leadership is a common tactic. Just as the anti-union rhetoric is depersonalized with KZ
acting as a point person for that message. He abates a lot of anger that would otherwise be directed elsewhere. It's sort of like Captain Hawks and his red sailboat in Away All Boats*
. It makes you wonder why a non Port Authority employee is heard from publicly much more than all of the Port Authority leadership combined, including not only its executive leadership and everyone on its Board of Directors.*
OK, OK.. I know, only an analogy a real old time movie buff might get.