Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor-less Day

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 is unfortunate.

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.


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

"It's sort of like Captain Hawks and his red sailboat in Away All Boats*."

Is that anything like the decoy vessel Capt. Jack Aubrey assembled and to shake off the French in Master and Commander? I bet it's the same thing.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Zapinski said...

I‘m surprised that you would describe my PG commentary as “not exactly labor friendly.” To the contrary, it was complimentary of organized labor working with management to deal with their common problems in a responsible way. And I cited the recent Chicago Transit Authority contract settlement as one such episode.

It’s unfortunate that the 900 words didn’t allow me to describe the laundry list of accommodations that the unions made. For one, the unions agreed to relieve the CTA of its healthcare obligation by settling for a little more than 50 cents on each dollar owed. Union members went from paying nothing for healthcare coverage to paying 3% of base wages. Retirees go from paying nothing for healthcare coverage to paying up to 45% of the premium cost. And the age for retirement with full benefits goes from 55 years old/25 years of service to 64/25.

A full description of the CTA reform package is available here on the web site of Democratic Illinois State Rep. Julie Hamos.

The piece also praised UAW Ron Gettelfinger and his creativity in helping automakers deal with retiree healthcare liabilities that were driving them to financial ruin. The piece quoted Gettelfinger almost as extensively as it quoted Pat McMahon.

Was the piece complimentary to ATU Local 85’s leadership? No. But that is not the same thing as “not exactly labor friendly.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

1001 ways to not admit fault.

Chris, I guess this is a new way for Ken to say you guys will have to agree to disagree. He wouldn't have to admit he was wrong. P.S I'll bet he has a copy of that "CONFIDENTIAL" fact finders report!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To describe McMahon as a "leader" is more than a bit of a stretch.

As anyone who has ever seen him in action can attest, he's a screamer and a table-pounder that stakes out outrageous positions more for effect than results. Behind his back, everybody (PAT board, County Executive, County Council, PAT management, ACTC, even ATU members and other union leaders) laughs and/or complains about it. More often than not, they just snicker at him. He's a hothead, plain and simple, and he is one of biggest liabilities that organized labor has in this town.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the factfinders report a public document (or rather should it be)? Chris, is there anyway that you can get a hold of it and post it?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 3:52:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

Every time I have heard (really, read) McMahon, his language has always been belligerent. That doesn't mean he might not turn out to be the good guy, after all, only Nixon could go to China (and my personal corollary, only Clinton could sign welfare reform).

So what happens if PAT's management endorses the fact finder's recommendations and labor rejects them? A strike? Onorato going to court?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 5:02:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I don’t know Pat Mcmahon at all. Never met him, nor have communicated with him in any way so I can’t speak to his mannerisms. I would suggest that if the ATU had been spending as much as the Port Authority is reported to be on pure public relations, both directly and indirectly, then you would get a smoother public front. I honestly don’t see anything in the Port Authority positions that would be labeled as more of less ‘belligerent’ than the ATU’s at this point in terms of their negotiating position… but granted the ATU is losing the PR battle mostly by not showing up.

As for the factfinders report. I probably can’t spend my day trying to track down a document that folks don’t want to send me.. but I will see what I can do. Whether the ATU rejects and PAT accepts it, or vice versa, or both reject or both accept I have no real basis to predict. It’s a question in game theory. Both would want to appear to be the side to ‘accept’ it while the other side rejects. So it’s like a game of chicken. I suspect that in normal years PAT would be quite happy with what the factfinder came back with, but if they think they are winning the bigger battle they may want to double down their bet and go for more. The union appears to be getting no more than cost of living increases so there isn’t much reason to accept it unless they really believe they are going to lose big time in some final negotiation.

Where this will all wind up??? As KZ has pointed out, the union has already said it may strike and the Port Authority is already publicly saying there will not be a lock out despite the fact that there is no public mention of a lockout. Things that make you go hmmm…

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 6:04:00 PM  
Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

Pat McMahon staking out outrageous positions, that's a good one.Somebody out there ask him if he would accept an extension to the present contract and keep the status quo or is that too outrageous a demand. Too many of you guys think taking a decrease in wages and benefits shouldn't be a problem for MR. McMahon to present to his membership and that to just have a job should be enough. I have a suggestion for everyone who thinks this way just march into your bosses office and demand a cut in your pay and then announce to all your fellow co-workers how they are a bunch of over paid sloths and they need to make less money too. Unbelievable! now I know why my pen name is what it is. Somebody wake me out of this nightmare when this race to the bottom is over.Does any one know what golden parachute Steve Bland will have when his goals are achieved? Will it be another DROP program for him too. Chris is dead on when he states that Authority mgmt. underfunded their pension obligations what incentive would they have to properly fund them in the first place when you see this all out assault on the rank & file of local 85 achieving what they wish any way. Yea What a big scandal that DROP program of mgmt caused they get their retirement and once again the little guy gets squashed pardon me while I go vomit now.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 7:18:00 PM  
Blogger A Son of the Greatest Generation said...

I asked the question before i'll ask it again if local 85 is the problem with this transit agency then why can't they be the solution to it also by having his emminence Dan Onorato appoint a couple of local 85 officers to the board of DIRECTED. My guess is that alot of these shenanigans would cease or would someones kickbacks be infringed upon.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 7:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken Zapinski said...

Re: the fact-finder's report as public document...

Whether it's "public" (as in available via a public records request) or not, presumably Joe Grata at the PG and Jim Ritchie at the Trib both have copies. Why haven't they posted a PDF of the document so that everybody can read for themselves what it says?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 7:50:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

Kenny, better yet why don't they tell us who sent it to them? Who do you think sent it to them? My guess is the same person who sent it to you.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Not really part of this thread, but I don’t want to make a blog post for this by itself. It’s not the most voluminous blog ever, but still something we may not see from the PAT board for a long time when it comes to outreach. Here is the personal (semi-official?)blog of the Chairwoman of Transit Board in Chicago which oversees the Chicago Transit Authority: http://ctachair.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, September 02, 2008 10:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Say Ken, have you posted the fact-finder's report on your blog?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 9:07:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Well well... The Port Authority itself has released the entire fact finders report. I'll let others debate what that means in terms of the reported agreement to keep it confidential, in the end I have to approve of transparency in all forms. Read it on the Port Authority's (pseudo)information site. Have not had time to read it in the depth it deserves.. Lots in there, but I do see two findings of the fact finder that deserve first mention. One is they pay no heed to the contrived cost-of-living adjusted wage argument commonly heard.. or as Dean Rigler puts it

"Looking at public transit operator wage rates in metropolitan areas nationwide, the 2008 Port Authority operator base rate ($23.53/hour) is higher than many, but certainly not all. Operators in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston earn in excess of $26 an hour, Philadelphia’s (SEPTA) rate is almost exactly the same as the Authority rate, while Minneapolis/St. Paul, Miami, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Portland are in the $23.20-$22.42 an hour range. "

and if you want to look at the more fundamental conclusion on wages, this was telling and again verbatim from the factfinder:

"......it simply cannot be disputed that the economic, educational, and social fabric of southwest Pennsylvania would suffer a dramatic, and adverse, change were the Authority’s operations to cease, or shrink in any significant way......"

".....the economic livelihood of this area absolutely needs well-paying jobs like those held by Local 85-represented employees. Should the compensation and benefits for the employees holding these jobs be seriously diminished, the larger community would also suffer"

Well then.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 8:34:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I guess that would better be described as one paragraph of fact and the rest opinion...

I would be interested if anyone else has a copy of this. This could be nothing, but I find it odd that certain words other than section headers were bolded in the text. Just cynical me wondering if that could have been added after the fact. I doubt it, but it's odd that words like "absenteeism" and "overtime" were highlighted in bold in mid sentence. Just seems odd to me, especially given the fact that the factfinder pretty much ignored those issues.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 8:48:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

and one more thing, if anyone recalls my post on how the Port Authority was conflating the terms "management" and "administrative" or "non-union" when desribing their workers. In the factfinders text is this little snippit:

"The lowest paid, non-represented Port Authority employee, in 2007, received annual compensation of $22,932. "

If you read what I have posted already on this, the Port Authority and others would have you think the $22K/year employee is part of management and that it makes sense to average in their wage when comparing the wages of drivers and management. Too funny.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 8:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what would the theory be re: accepting the FF's report? Who does (or should)vote first? If the first voter rejects it, does that moot the second voter? How do you see this playing out?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 8:57:00 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Neal Cassady said...

Chris, unless I'm mistaken, I believe when you posted, "I bet the union would agree to such an offer, but it's worth noting that no such offer is on the public record anywhere 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" you were talking about negotiations that may not have been released to the public. I don't believe you were referring to the concessions made by the CTA, and I'm pretty sure you had read them prior to your post. When you wrote "So what did the CTA workers concede?" I don't think you were asking Kenny to explain the concessions to you or anyone else.

Well that being said Kenny seems to be up to his same old spin tactics in his blog. He replied to your blog on his own saying " With all due respect to Sean Connery…

Null Space weighs in on my Sunday Post-Gazette Forum commentary on the Port Authority labor dispute. He raises a very good point about the lack of detail on the recent contract settlement agreed to by the Chicago Transit Authority that addresses many of the same issues facing the Port Authority. (His “Away All Boats” reference, alas, does not hold water.)
Spin? I think so. Trying to confuse the public, or just confused? Maybe. Friend of Union Workers? I think Not!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

Just astonishing, Chris.

Am I conceding too much by going waffly on the principle of Guaranteed Healthcare for Life? It seems like such a thing is too onerous to be sustained these days ... but I don't want to make the Larger Community Also Suffer, or whatever.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Sean Connery? Man, people should see the film. No Sean, but Clint Eastwood had an uncredited part in it even.

They were kind of rhetorical questions. Actually the comparison of here vs. what has been happening in recent years in Chicago is rather interesting. I may get into it next week.

as to "who should move first".. I addressed as best I can how I think the strategy of this lays out. I have no idea how it plays out and it may be best to let it lie for a few days at least to see how the two sides stake out their post-factfinder positions.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 11:34:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

lack of healthcare can be kind of onerous.

Actually, that isn't my reply. Health care is a big problem all around and it sure isn't going to be solved here.

Here's the thing. The reason the ATU has been losing the PR battle here is because the public debate has been shaped the way the other side wants it to be shaped. As long as the debate is over how much health care costs then whatever benefits the drivers get can and will be made to look unreasonable. Yet it's all without context, a lot of that context I didn't fully realize until looking at the Chicago situation. I'll try and explain what I mean by that next week depending on time and how this all evolves.

Which again brings me back to the sailboat which is a little more seaworthy than Ken gives it credit for. I hope there is some analyst at netflix wondering why there is a run on such an obscure movie in Pittsburgh of all places. Worth watching.

Thursday, September 04, 2008 12:03:00 AM  

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