Understanding Democratic Racism

Jeb Bush was recently pilloried for his characterization of the relationship between African-Americans and the Democratic Party. As insulting as his statement was, what’s worse is the lost opportunity it represents.

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

His explanation of black politics echoes the age-old racist trope that black voters are looking for “handouts.” Democrats, by that reasoning, are buying votes with welfare while Republicans are appealing to good, honest people who want to stand on their own two feet.

This is yet another example of an opportunity lost by ignorance and racism. Bush lurched past a prime opportunity to set fire to the Democratic coalition. Democrats do in fact use welfare and other critical social safety net programs as leverage to manipulate black voters. It just doesn’t work the way white racists imagine.

A history of systemic looting, which hasn’t entirely ended, has left many black communities with almost none of the financial or political capital required to begin a climb. For many of the worst affected communities, access to social welfare services are the starting point for survival, the first critical step before anyone can begin to consider advancement. Democrats did not create that circumstance with social welfare programs, but they exploit it for political advantage. That reality is critical to understanding what is really happening in America’s Democratic-controlled cities.

People want to get welfare like they want to get chemotherapy or an abortion or a good lawyer. Republicans’ ignorance and occasional racism leaves us completely blind to the way Democrats exploit this situation. We are unable to connect to the very real frustrations of black voters trapped in the gears of the Democratic urban machine. That frustration is on full display in Chicago, but few if any Republicans have noticed.

Deep behind the Blue Wall, Democrats who hold a super-majority in the Illinois State Assembly were recently handed a shock. A Republican Governor had been elected in Illinois on his promise to clean up the state’s quagmire of union-driven public corruption. He vetoed a bill designed to further insulate public sector unions from any pressure to moderate their salary and pension demands. Democrats’ effort to override the Governor’s veto failed when three Democrats refused to support it.

One of those Democrats was Ken Dunkin, a black legislator from the South Side of Chicago. In order to pressure Dunkin to cooperate on the veto override, House leadership tied the bill to a vote on state funded child care services. Details are complex, but in essence Democrats in the Legislature used the state’s day care program for low-income families as a hostage to ensure black legislators’ support for the union bill. Dunkin resisted the pressure and low income residents in his community are suffering the consequences imposed by the Democratic leadership.

Think back for a moment to Jeb Bush’s comments on “free stuff.” Imagine how powerful his statement might have been if he understood the pressures Rep. Dunkin faced. That day care program is not “free stuff.” For black parents struggling to find their first rung on the economic ladder, access to child care is a crucial component in their rise. People who aren’t working or going to school do not have a pressing need for child care. This is just one example of that ways that black advancement is sacrificed by Democrats to protect interests they truly respect.

For those who still buy the 19th century rhetoric on the role of unions, this conflict might sound confusing. After all, strong unions are supposed to be a force for economic progress for the underprivileged. They may have served that role once, but that’s not what’s happening today.

Dunkin’s resistance to the union bill reflects certain realities of life inside the Democratic coalition that few Republicans understand. There is probably no major public institution in American life more stubbornly, unapologetically racist than trade unions. And although public employee unions have, by contrast, been fairly helpful to their many African-American members, those same unions treat the black communities they disproportionately serve as an occupied territory to be exploited. Most of the power Democrats reap from a loyal black constituency is used in ways that undermine black political and economic interests. Republicans for the most part neither see nor care.

Much progress was made in desegregating trade unions in the sixties and seventies. However, as blacks became increasingly trapped by the Democratic machine, their leverage to drive reforms in the party’s most powerful institutions declined. Big city trade unions are the Dixie of the North and they dictate Democratic politics.

An example from Philadelphia tells a familiar story. In 2011 Philadelphia’s black Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter challenged trade unions there to begin hiring black workers. Unions doing work in the majority-minority city were almost universally white. For decades they have successfully resisted desegregation by quietly defeating the efforts of young black apprentices to move up through the ranks. As public money pours into their coffers for job programs and new projects, black residents are systematically excluded from any benefit.

Nutter insisted that he would block new contracts with the unions until hiring changes were implemented. The mayor was forced to back down under the cover of a negotiated settlement. In fact, almost everything Nutter managed to achieve for the public in his term as mayor of Philadelphia had to be clawed from the hands of union bosses.

A similar scenario is playing out in Chicago, shedding light on the more complex relationship between black communities and unions representing government workers. Public employee unions have been more open than trade unions to black participation. In fact, government jobs have been a key force in moving black workers into the middle class.

Unfortunately, the same forces that fostered job security have also undermined black access to effective public services. The extraordinary power of public employee unions has left their members immune from accountability. Those unions employ a lot of black members, but they also wield enormous political power over black communities.

Thanks to those unions, it is next-to-impossible to remove poorly performing teachers, abusive cops, or corrupt bureaucrats. Mayor Emanuel has been engaged in a low-grade war with unions to open up more black employment and improve public schools. Those unions exist to serve their members, not the public. For minority communities struggling to advance economically and politically, public employee unions take away with the left hand what they give with the right. In the Democratic Party, the fruits of black political activism belong to labor unions. African-American communities get whatever is left over.

It is no accident that the most visible and egregious examples of police brutality in recent years have emerged from Democratic strongholds like Baltimore, New York, Chicago and even Ferguson, Missouri. It is no accident that school districts in Democratic-dominated areas are burdened with needless expenses and poor teachers who cannot be fired. Black Lives Matter, but in the Democratic Party the union always wins.

A Republican could throw a devastating wrench into this machine by asking one simple question: “Why are Democrats allowing trade unions to engage in systematic racial discrimination?” We have been unable to present Democrats with this dilemma for a couple of frustrating reasons.

First, Republicans have no idea that any of this nonsense is occurring. We are so utterly disengaged from urban and minority constituencies that we lack the most basic awareness of the issues that shape their lives. Unfortunately, that isn’t the only problem.

Thanks to the Dixiefication of the Republican Party, we operate under a tacit agreement that we will never acknowledge the existence of racism under any circumstances. Calling out the Democrats on the racism that drives their union politics means admitting that racism exists. If racism exists, then we might have to answer some awkward questions about Voter ID, police brutality, the Voting Rights Act, gun regulation, affirmative action, and a whole range of other subjects that many Republicans would prefer to ignore.

The “free stuff” or “plantation” talking points so common among Republicans are insulting perversions of a very dark reality. Democrats do in fact exploit the economic vulnerabilities of minority communities, leveraging their political support to better serve the interests of the party’s white voters. With a modicum of humility and willingness to wrestle honestly with our own racial liabilities, Republicans could offer black voters a potent alternative. If we ever develop a genuine interest in minority concerns, we will find doors open to us that we never imagined.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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86 comments on “Understanding Democratic Racism
  1. 1mime says:

    Wealth and affirmative action – the social safety net is “supposed” to smooth over the gaps in wealth; however, there is so much stigma attached to redistribution of wealth here that it simply cannot work properly. Of course, there is always abuse, and those who dislike (and that’s a “soft” term for their views) welfare, seize upon this as justification to eliminate all. Would that everyone in the United States of America was in the top 1%! Imagine how cool that would be!

  2. Rob Ambrose says:

    Here’s a relevant story from my native Canada.


    Some backstory: US Steel bought Stelco, the huge Canadian Steel company a few years back. The Conservative gov’t allowed it to go thru after assurances that all pensioners benefits would be honored.

    Surprise, surprise, US Steel has now cut all benefits, including drugs, for over 20,000 retired pensioners. These are ppl that have put in 20, 30, 40+ years of good and honest labor, working hard, paying into their pensions with the understanding that they will receive a certain amount of benefits through their retired years. And now they get cut just as easily as cutting spending on marketing.

    Now tell me, how is going to stand up and say “this isn’t that right” if not for the unions? The Union will be paying for world class lawyers in order to litigate this in a Canadian courtroom. How could they afford that otherwise?

    These scumbags care only about the bottom line, and until that changes, the working class needs a unified voice at the table.

    Anyone against unions needs to strongly examine their own biases. We know the far right is completely ok with spending billions on climate change denial and promoting failed trickle down economic policies. Why would we think it would be any different for unions? They HATE unions with a passion, and why would we expect them to act differently from other issues they hate? They spend billions to promote the causes I just mentioned. Why would we not expect the same effort denigrating unions?

    • 1mime says:

      That’s awful rob. I’m guessing the assurances weren’t written down between the government and the steel company? More “American business as usual”. It’s no wonder so many people on other countries resent the U. S.

    • flypusher says:

      Would it be going out on a limb to assume that the CEO isn’t taking a payout here to help out with that bottom line?

    • Titanium Dragon says:

      This is the fundamental problem with unions – like many things, they’re neither good nor evil, but can do both. Unions are good when they’re standing up against stuff like this; they’re bad when they’re making it hard to fire people for being incompetent. But obviously, not being fired is in the interests of union employees, so obviously, the union will want to oppose easily firing people.

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        But if companies hadn’t proven themselves very willing to fire employees for just about anything (especially daring to ask for more money or organizing the labour pool) and workers were regularly getting harrassed and exploited by management, then those rules wouldn’t have been needed.

        Sure, some crappy employees who don’t deserve protection get it. But that number is insignificant vs the many workers who are protected b/c of such rules who DESERVE to be protected.

        If management hadn’t shown such eagerness to use the threat of losing ones job to do all sorts of heinous things throughout American history, then such rules would be unnecessary.

        You can’t exploit and exploit and exploit workers again and again and then complain when the rules they finally adopt to protect themselves end up protecting a few undeserving employees. YOURE THE REASON the rules are there in the first place (not talking about you personally, of course. Just the corporate class in general)

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi Rob
        I agree totally
        In a well run operation the union becomes the organisation that runs the annual trip to Blackpool – that is all it needs to do
        A good manager knows that the union is a very useful partner in the combined task of making the product
        As long as they work together all can be sweetness and light

  3. johngalt says:

    In the union-bashing (and defending) there is an important point to be made: management, whether political or corporate, has agreed to what may seem like crazy rules to protect incompetent employees, to hamstring firing, to institutionalize ridiculous inefficiencies like needing to call the electrician to move a lamp across the room. Why? Because unions accept lower pay in exchange for job protections. In both the public and private sector, this makes sense: lower pay reduces costs today (to the shareholder or taxpayer) while the problems will largely be realized after the terms of these particular politicians or managers.

    Would a union accept a pay raise in exchange for scrapping the crazy rules? You know they would, it’s just a matter of how big. Would teachers accept a 25% raise to get rid of tenure and the rubber rooms and acknowledge that some portion of their evaluation will be based on objective metrics? Would it take more? Less?

    • goplifer says:

      They’ll never get that choice.

      There are institutional reasons why union contracts favor retention over quality. A union, by virtue of its structure, needs numbers. It doesn’t need quality.

      The purpose of a union is to establish a kind of monopoly over access to labor. Monopolies are not interested in quality. They care about control.

      Mass mediocrity is far more valuable politically for a monopoly than higher wages or differentiation.

      Again, it brings us back to the contrast between trade unions and professional associations. Doctors and lawyers have no problem getting higher wages, even though a vast percentage of their membership work in the public sector. Teachers do. The difference is in their institutional representation.

      • johngalt says:

        Doctors and lawyers use monopolistic powers as well. Both have state licensing procedures that are largely controlled by their professional associations. Within those strictures, they are free to contract with whatever employer they wish (or go solo). Teachers can be members of a union, but are likewise not tied to a specific school district (particularly in Texas, with a state-run pension system). They don’t like one district, then next year they can teach in another.

        The relatively low pay for teachers is not because of unions or, at least, this is not the biggest factor. Teaching has historically been perceived as a part-time (the “I’d love for my day to end at 3:15 and have my summers off” nonsense) and is female-heavy. They are also public employees. This combination explains the low salaries, not whether they are or are not unionized.

        Doctors and lawyers also have higher educational credentials than most teachers. Your typical GP has seven years of post-graduate training. A surgeon or oncologist might have a decade or more. Few teachers have more than a non-thesis 18-month master’s degree). Lawyers have less, but they largely write the rules, the first of which is that lawyers get paid a lot of money.

      • 1mime says:

        Doctors and lawyers are miles apart from teachers. Terrible comparison. In the first place, income has segregated both these professions to top tier status which teachers definitely do not occupy. Second, as noted, these professions enjoy the attention and protection via a legislative body that reflects their professional background. I have observed few instances where doctors and lawyers deserving of sanctions actually got them from their peer organization.
        It still comes down to believability where repubs are concerned. Every action appears focused on taking away benefits from lower income people to the benefit of those at the top. This is why unions persist, and why Black people don’t trust what Republican candidates say.

      • Bobo Amerigo says:

        Have you ever tried to get a bad doctor fired? Or even just correct a doctor’s bad behavior?

        A lot of damage has to be done before there’s even a creak in the drawbridge chain.

      • 1mime says:

        Boy you got that right! And their “self-policing results are pitiful as well.

    • Crogged says:

      In Texas teachers have annual ‘contracts’-nearly all districts can fire teachers and are not required to offer a contract the next year. There are exceptions.

      • Crogged says:

        And our schools reflect the voting patterns, the thirty percent and less who vote in our elections for state legislature and the less than ten percent (if you are in a really involved community) who vote in local school board elections.

    • duncancairncross says:

      Just a comment about “crazy rules” like “needing to call the electrician to move a lamp across the room”
      These are very very rarely anything to do with the union – they are normally due to an inept managerial response to a regulation, insurance or a health and safety matter.
      They are however used as a stick to beat unions in the media

  4. Crogged says:

    I think I understand the author’s frustration after find the attached.


    In the middle of the article is a very brief historical synopsis of ‘what happened’ in Chicago and in the middle of attempting to deal with the aftermath of the turmoil of educating millions of kids across decades, one inserts a public union representing teachers.

    Historically unions played a role, and some of it was racist in trade unions, in supporting what we call a ‘middle class’ life. The supposed disappearance of middle class with declining union enrollment is correlated, not causal.

    The question is, why do we need to have proxy organizations, unions and corporations, to ensure any individual from ruin, to deal with the hazards of life? Circumstances change, but organizations do not-they become entrenched and determined to ensure their own survival by claiming to protect the individual. Pool the risk for everyone, teachers should be just as capable of losing theirs jobs as we are, but losing your job because of circumstances beyond your control shouldn’t mean individual ruination. Guaranteed minimum income. Pool the risk, allow change to happen without threatening anyone.

    • Rob Ambrose says:

      Sure, in a perfect world we wouldn’t need unions because the corporations wouldn’t exploit the labor force and strip away benefits and salaries to the bone, throwing workers into poverty.

      But corporations aren’t dwsigend like that. Its in their nature to cut costs to the bone wherever possible. Since this is not a bad thing when talking about overhead or inventory or infrastructure, its not wise to do away with it. However, this tendency is unacceptable when dealing with human assets, and until corporations stop squeezing every drop of blood out of their workers (i.e. never) unions play an absolutely crucial role in both protecting the economy and out democracy.

      No one is saying they are all good. Chemo isn’t “good” ether. But oftentimes its necessary.

  5. parhiscan says:

    Typical Republican trope. EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG IS THE FAULT OF UNIONS. Destroy the unions and it will be a gigantic blow to what is left of the middle class. It seems Republicans are at war with every segment of society except the outliers,fringies and big corporations. What would be your proposal for all the union retirees who depend on their pensions to live. Just throw them off on welfare? Oh I forget you want to destroy the welfare system, so I guess it is just tough s**t for them.

    My daughter-in-law is a teacher at a top performing school system. She was recruited by the then principal. Her students won awards and she loved her job. Then came no child left behind with just rules but no money for implementation, followed by even more tinkering. It is an upscale community with parents making much more than she does but she still has to buy their school supplies. With negotiations coming to a halt with the rebulican school board, there was a strike. My daughter-in-law was made the communications director. The strike which was supported by many of the parents and students out on the picket line,was eventually settled. There are hard feelings from the admin and board with revenge on their minds. Were it not for the union she probably would have lost her job by now. She is considering quiting and going into another profession. Her mother who is a retired reacher saw what was coming and begged her not to go into teaching. I am sure that my granddaughter will not go into teaching seeing what has happened to her mother. Where do you purpose we get the teachers of the future with so much denigration of that profession? Good smart motivated students will look at this and say “oh hell no”

    People have the choice of getting a job with being a union member or taking the same profession without the union. They don’t need politicians destroying their choice and bad mouthing those that have made their choice. Carpenters,plumbers, etc.can always work non union construction jobs, teachers can always get jobs at charter schools until the school fails as happens frequently in OH. So just get off the unions as the cause of all the problems in the USA. The real problem is with the Republicans who will do anything for money and corporations no matter how much damage it does to the country. I used to vote by choosing both Rs and D’s depending on their positions. Now there is no way in hell I would vote for any Republican, not even were they a member of my own family.

    • goplifer says:

      Here’s why teaching sucks: No reward or recognition is available for doing your job well.

      Unions are not the only contributor to this problem. Being a civil servant also factors in. But between those two factors you get a miserable job with no possibility of real advancement. Across northern states where the unions are most powerful, doing your job remarkably well is actually punished. Some people do it anyway out of deep commitment. Some affluent communities with the money and political influence to fight the unions manage to overcome these obstacles in small ways. But in general, the institutional structure of our educational system results in a miserable job performed with regular, enforced mediocrity.

      Teachers could band together to address this. They haven’t, because the institution under which they are organized, a labor union, was not built to meet their needs. Labor unions are an institution formed to protect the needs of coal miners and steel workers and railroad hands – people who perform dangerous, menial, endlessly fungible services in which differentiation based on quality is meaningless.

      Teaching is not like this. Good teachers have a much higher value than mediocre ones. Great teachers are as valuable as great political leaders or business innovators. Thanks to unions and civil service pay scales, they all get treated the same. This makes bad things happen.

      Doctors have heavy institutional representation, and they perform heavily regulated work with an intense public-service focus. But they don’t have the same problems as teachers. Doctors, like lawyers and accountants, are organized under professional societies, not labor unions. There are historical reasons for the difference related to sexism and discrimination. But the result is that teachers are highly trained professionals who get treated like pipe-fitters or welders.

      The situation is so bad that the profession is actually breaking down. And the worst impact, no surprise here, is in parts of the country where the profession is heavily union-controlled like Indiana and New York. Whatever misty-eyed sentimental attachment people may have to unions as the “protector of the little guy” the facts on the ground have no mercy. A labor union is a dumb way to organize highly trained, heavily educated professionals. As a consequence, the whole process is coming apart at the seams. Unionized teaching is doomed because it sucks.

      It might be a good idea for people who care about the profession to start building smarter institutions to represent teachers. A look at the way doctors and lawyers and accountants have done it might offer some insights.

      • Stephen says:

        “But the result is that teachers are highly trained professionals who get treated like pipe-fitters or welders.”

        Bad analogy Lifer. For the guy who welds your car muffler this might be true. But not for the person who welds and fits high pressure tubes, speciality metals or in difficult areas like underwater welding. It takes as long and as much smarts to do those things as becoming a surgeon. My own field is chemistry, analytical lab analyses and water treatment. But I have worked with these professionals and have learn a deep respect for them. There is a reason they earn high pay.

      • Crogged says:

        I blame Pink Floyd, we don’t need no education, we have the itnerten.

      • 1mime says:

        Lifer are you aware that many teachers join unions in order to get health benefits? Now with the ACA they at least have an alternative.

      • Titanium Dragon says:

        Another important factor for teachers getting poor pay, incidentally, is that (at least historically) a lot of people want to be teachers. Basic rule of supply and demand: if there’s a lot of people who want to do something, you can pay them less. And, contrary to what you say here, teaching isn’t actually much like being a doctor or a lawyer – it has a much lower skill cap to achieve competence.

        There just aren’t that many people who have the patience to become doctors or lawyers.

        Also, the reason why things are the worst in Indiana and New York isn’t because of unions; its because of the student bodies there. White flight has rendered those areas overwhelmingly black in many cases. Black students have more behavioral issues than whites do, and there is a large intrinsic achievement gap – and being in class with students who are significantly below your level drags you down. There are schools where the high achievers can’t get into colleges because they can’t get 1000 on the SAT.

        These poor inner city schools are hell to work in, and so you basically end up with either people who don’t care or people who care too much and go kind of crazy frustrated with the situation.

        The unions may not help a whole lot with this, but the reality is that the problems these places have are caused by the culture of the community and the lack of integration. When the only people who go to the public schools are the children of the poor, you end up with bad results.

  6. way2gosassy says:

    I read your post yesterday and my first reaction was to write a really scathing rebuttal, so I waited for awhile and reread your post again.

    I get it! You really, really hate unions of any kind and for everything you believe they do or don’t do. I got the message loud and clear. So now that I have come to this understanding I would like to know what it is that you think that would replace employee unions given that the current House is now trying to repeal current worker protection laws as well as abolishing unions as we know them? How do you allow people to negotiate for fair pay and benefits? Safe work conditions? Who advocates for a worker fired for no other reason than the boss just doesn’t like your personality, your religion, sexual preference or any other of the hundreds of reasons or no reason at all?

    Unions like many institutions are not infallible, they are not perfect by any means but they are the only voice many workers have.

    • Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

      Sassy – you raise some good questions, and I’m not sure I have answers (and wouldn’t presume to answer for Lifer), but as a wacky liberal, this is a topic with which I’m not always aligned with my liberal brethren and sistren.

      For the entirety of my professional work career, my boss has had the ability to fire me for no other reason than he/she just didn’t like me. My expertise and experience make me generally marketable in my field, but I would venture to say it is easier to get an industrial electrician job somewhere along the gulf coast than it is to land a job doing what I do. I do not have the protection of a union. Through the years, we have had dozens and dozens of interns that I had no thought of bringing on as regular staff for reasons ranging from lack of technical skills to the fact that they did not have the personality or work style to “fit in” with our team.

      I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with a company being able to fire (or not hire) people they just don’t like. It probably isn’t the best strategy for a company (my experience suggests that it is probably more likely to be the managers that are the problem rather than the employees), but I do not have an urge to regulate firing folks because we don’t like them.

      There are laws that ostensibly keep people from being fired due to race, religion, gender, and a few other protected factors. Those laws probably are not enforced well enough, and particularly nefarious people can probably make it look like the person is being fired for something else, but those protections exist.

      Workplace safety issues, work hours, and those types of issues made a lot of sense for unions to tackle, but in 2015, those specific issues are generally relatively well addressed at this point, and although they get lip service in union negotiations, they are not a driving force in negotiations today.

      Issues regarding pay and benefits also make some level of sense because it is hard for one individual to negotiate with any power on those issues in jobs where unions are prevalent.

      However, when it comes to firing folks, I happy to give companies pretty broad leeway in doing what they want to do (excluding the protected factors).

      Below, Duncan is correct that companies with unions have the ability to fire people and that management just needs to do its job correctly to get that done. However, in the course of busy jobs, it sometimes is just not worth the hassle, and the HR, and the attorneys, and the union arbitration to get it done.

      If I’m the first line supervisor or the manager of the first line supervisor, I’ve generally got a full plate of headaches on a day-to-day basis, so giving Bob, my pain-in-the-ass, not so effective electrician, the full time task of changing lightbulbs throughout the plant just to get him out of my hair might be a general waste of a $50k a year salary, but it won’t take a year out of my life hassling with HR and the union to get Bob fired. I can fault the company for not firing Bob, but I understand why the supervisor makes the decision just not to futz with all the hassle.

      • way2gosassy says:

        HT, I have always had the utmost respect for you and your opinions you looney liberal! ; )

        Now to your post… I take it that your experience with unions in general have had more to do with contract negotiations and not so much of what happens in union halls between the rank and file and their leadership, am I correct? Let me say this, Union Leadership can best be described as the dysfunctional cousin of our National Political machine. They are democratically elected and once in office sometimes do not address the members issues in the way most of us would like. Just as National laws do not always fit the needs of every state in the union, union policies work much the same way. What you do not see from a company standpoint is what the unions do for individual members who have been harmed by safety issues not addressed in negotiations when money and benefits trumped those issues based on a formula of risk analysis. You know, the greater good for the majority kind of thing.

        As for the “bad employee” scenario, Local unions with the aid of the National unions began doing peer review and intervention with individuals who were poor performing, had multiple review issues and the like. The purpose was to identify those individuals and provide coaching, additional training or providing other forms of support to improve the situation before they became a problem for the company. Contrary to your belief most union workers do take pride in their work and most have good work ethics. There are exceptions to every rule but to deny 90% of the unionized working class for the actions of the other 10% is wrong by every measurement. The same applies to unions.

        I also know that companies, as you pointed out, are as guilty of maintaining poor performing employees as unions are of protecting them. It is the mark of good leadership to make sure that their team is performing at the peak of their ability but too often that is not the case.

    • Bobo Amerigo says:

      Sass, I agree with you. Chris has a jones about unions. That’s his curse.

      And HT, workers are maimed and/or die every day in this country from unsafe working conditions. Each year, thousands more acquire workplace illnesses that compromise their lives. You can be casual about that, but your attitude doesn’t mean it’s correct or moral.

      I feel unions do sometimes go overboard, especially when they act as power-mad as some corporations have been known to do. I wish unions were bastions of perfection. I wish all were more welcoming of minorities. But for some workers, unions are the only thing that helps them be treated humanely — which seems a low bar, doesn’t it.

      I agree with Duncan about where problems typically lie. Managers in many companies are seldom trained for the task. As a first-time manager decades ago, the only training I got was actually anti-union training.

      So when Chris talks about unions, I feel like I should just pat him on the head and say, “There, there. You’ll feel better in the morning when your head clears.”

      • Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

        Bobo…as someone who does a whole lot of work with safety in organizations from oil and gas, mining, and manufacturing to nuclear and law enforcement, I am rarely considered someone casual about safety.

        However, safety issues raised by unions (especially during negotiations) are way too often used as leverage for another issue (e.g., higher pay, more benefits) rather than actual safety concerns. Take a look at some union negotiations, and you will be shocked at how willing folks are willing to give up these “deep concerns about the safety conditions” when the company is willing to toss additional pay/benefits their direction.

        If you are expecting unions to address workplace safety and illnesses in 2015, you may be waiting an awfully long time. I don’t believe companies and executives are necessarily going to address those issues either. This is where I’m very OK with smart government regulations.

      • Bobo Amerigo says:

        HT, your experiences may be more recent than mine, but I don’t believe they are universal.

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        “Take a look at some union negotiations, and you will be shocked at how willing folks are willing to give up these “deep concerns about the safety conditions” when the company is willing to toss additional pay/benefits their direction.”

        That’s kind of to be expected though, and doesn’t mean the safety concerns aren’t “real”. Risk must be properly compensated for.

        I’m a commercial diver by trade, and much of my work entails depths of 150 ft or more, where lots of bad things can happen.

        If my company wants me to do a deep dive, or a haz mat dive, I’m willing to do so for a price. And anything below that price I will not.

        It doesn’t mean the safety concerns aren’t real. Its that I expect to be paid more for more dangerous jobs. I don’t think this is unusual.

      • goplifer says:

        Hey by the way, and off topic (sort of), how did you get into that business?

        One of the subjects that interests me is the seeming abundance of well-paying blue-collar or semi-blue collar jobs that require high levels of skill or training. It seems like the career path to those jobs is very difficult to navigate. Curious how you got into your role.

    • 1mime says:

      Great response, Sassy. We’ve watched changes to workmen’s comp laws that have left workers without jobs or health benefits, and much more. Where problems exist in unions, fix THESE, but it is unreasonable and unfair to take away the only tool workers have. I don’t disagree that there is racism in the Democratic party – which does have White people in its mix. And we all know that racism is alive and well within the White population. It is more obvious in the Republican Party because they cloak it in religious overtones and “capitalism/welfare” conflict. But, I believe in my heart that the reason the majority of Black people vote for Democrats is because they know, of the two parties, who best understands their needs and works for their relief. It’s that simple.

  7. johngalt says:

    Certainly the Democrat-union alliance has done no favors for minorities, but the Republicans have no hope of getting the urban black vote. None. Jeb Bush might talk about an aspirational culture, but it is all talk. In doing so, it is actually more insidiously racist than anything the Democrats are doing. If you promote the idea that anyone can make it in America, then anyone who hasn’t is what? Lazy? Incapable? Stupid?

    The GOP fails to acknowledge the historical reasons that black communities lack the capital needed to climb the rungs. Republicans from mainstream to extreme do everything they can to remove any helping hand available to minority communities. Their only policy on schools is vouchers, which are expressly designed to help their suburban base (not too many top-flight private schools in minority neighborhoods). At the same time, they choke off money to “failing” public schools. The GOP’s favorite tough-on-crime policies disproportionately hit urban minority communities, and so an unconscionable number of black men are incarcerated (and then white politicians bemoan the breakdown of the family). Governors get out their checkbooks to help auto plants relocate to rural or suburban areas, but won’t lift a finger to encourage a grocery chain to open in a poorer neighborhood. Policies that explicitly lead to voter suppression are held up as a means to combat a non-existent problem. Alabama recently passed a voter ID law, then proceeded to close the driver’s license offices in eight of the 10 most heavily African-American counties in the state (the other two were in Montgomery and Birmingham, and you can’t very well close the DMV in the state capital).

    Black communities might be getting a raw deal from Democrats but it pales in comparison to what they’re getting from the GOP. This will not change in the foreseeable (meaning decades) future.

    • 1mime says:

      That was a telling chronicle of why the GOP won’t be attracting many new Black voters to the party, JG. To which sad, long list I’d add: making family planning expensive, inaccessible and immoral. There are many ways to “trap” people into poverty; welfare exploitation is certainly one, but if you look at major initiatives to help the poor, don’t look to the Republicans. I am not in agreement with the premise that Democrats’ programs for the poor fostered racism. In fact, I believe that these programs actually indicate an awareness that simply isn’t part of the Republican psyche. Racism is a problem in America, but Democrats deal with it more honestly than Republicans who actually want no part of trying to understand or deal with the socio-economic problems that beset poor and middle class people.

      • johngalt says:

        Lack of health care access is definitely a problem, 1mime. No argument there.

        Chris has written about the inefficiencies of the social welfare system and the perverse disincentives it can sometimes offer. These do not help promote people getting out of poverty. As for the racism problem, I think the Democrats talk a good game and pass a lot of well-meaning legislation but when push comes to shove, they have not adequately confronted it amongst their institutional supports, such as the unions Chris mentions.

      • 1mime says:

        JG, I am not inferring that racism doesn’t exist within Democratic ranks, but the illustration Lifer used is principally within unions, which membership has declined to approximately 11% in the corporate sector. Welfare has its problems but it has been aided and abetted by Republicans over history as well. Until we offer the vast majority of people who want to work, livable wages, affordable healthcare, and quality, affordable educations that are accessible, the cycle of poverty will continue. You can’t criticize mothers on welfare while making it impossible to plan for pregnancies, not to mention the very real issue (as Lifer mentioned) of having a safe environment for child care so that women can work. It’s a quagmire but on whole, I believe Democrats care more and do more to help all races and classes than do the Republicans – by choice.

      • Titanium Dragon says:

        I actually think affirmative action has promoted racism. If you make it so that only the most qualified whites get in, but less qualified blacks get in, then all of the least qualified people in an organization with affirmative action will be black. This results in the natural reinforcement of racism against blacks, because from the viewpoint of their peers, all of the least competent people in their schools or professions will be black.

        It also results in casting aspersions on the actual genuine achievements of any black person who gets there via actual ability, as everyone is forever suspicious they only got hired/chosen because they’re a member of the minority group.

      • 1mime says:

        I have seen affirmative action work both positively and negatively, and frankly, have mixed feelings about it. Like most socially driven programs, I do believe that they need to be monitored and changed/deleted if their usefulness is no longer necessary. It is also true that affirmative action could be very important and necessary in one situation/state/institution, but not needed in others. Guess that’s the point of having it, right? SCOTUS will re-hear the UT case this year so we’ll see if the more conservative direction of the court will bear on AA.

      • duncancairncross says:

        My “take” on affirmative action
        Here (NZ) we have a problem with the last century of repression of the Maori people
        – Nothing like as bad as your African Americans – the Maori would NOT have put up with that!

        We can’t fix the things that were done – the victims are long dead

        Affirmative action ON RACIST GROUNDS simply makes the problem worse and reinforces prejudice on the part of the white majority

        What we should be doing is – Affirmative action on the grounds of WEALTH

        We should have the extra funds, positions, available to anybody who is poor
        (or their family is )

        We do this (a little bit) here, but we also do the racist thing which IMHO is counterproductive

      • 1mime says:

        Not sure about the NZ time zone thing, but, did you get to watch the Democratic debate, and, if so, what were your impressions (or did you sleep through it like some others here)?

      • duncancairncross says:

        I just read the post debate articles – sounds like Hillary did well and Bernie did not hurt himself

        I like both of them although I’m a good bit to the left of Bernie
        Hillary would be a good candidate for our right wing party (National)

        I do question their ages and why there are no better younger candidates
        They are both past pension age and neither would be considered “fit enough” for the job of Prime Minister here
        Out of our 38 prime ministers only 2 were older than Hilary and none would have been as old as Bernie
        8 out of the last 10 were in their 40’s

        POTUS (if its done right) is a tough job, Obama was in his 40’s and it has put decades on him

      • 1mime says:

        I think the job of being President in the U.S. is incredibly demanding. All of the Presidents left office looking much older than their real age. That said, there is something to be said for having a little “age” to offer. The members of the House’ Freedom Congress all fit that “fortyish” profile and they seem to me to be like spoiled bullies. NZ is more segregated than the U.S. in terms of world involvement, not to mention size and complexity. A little gravitas and maturity along with lots of pragmatism would make me very happy. Boring works after the tumultuous political strains we have and are still witnessing on our system of governance.

        I like Bernie’s ideas and am delighted that his crowds have been so large. It legitimatizes his message and gets his ideas more traction in the press.

      • duncancairncross says:

        A little age is a good thing
        I’m nearly 60 and I do not have the energy I had a decade ago
        Bernie is what 74? – 75 by the time he would become POTUS?

        I’m sorry but a fit strong 40 or 50 year old is what you need for that post
        Surely in a population of 300 million you have some qualified people in the prime of life?

      • 1mime says:

        You know, Duncan, the sad thing is it’s not easy to get good people who want to run. If you’re in it for the right reasons, you just don’t fit into today’s politics. Frankly, I don’t blame smart, successful 40/50 year olds for sticking with their business careers. Why mess up their lives for this?

        I know some good people are out there but the crowd of 40-50 year olds that have come through the Tea Party ranks are real disappointments to me. Dems haven’t done as good a job of developing a bull pen of strong candidates, and this is hurting them. They are a much older party. The TP types are Very self-absorbed and very focused on destruction of government. I’d like to see more women run for office as they are more collegial and likely to compromise for the sake of the whole.

        NZ is a long way away, but keep your eyes peeled (-:

  8. 1mime says:

    A reminder to all to watch the first Democratic Debate tomorrow night (Tuesday) , on CNN, at 7:30 central time. Check your own listings to confirm time but don’t miss it. Hope we have some good feedback in the blog. One thing I bet we will see is a more substantive debate. Given all the buzz about the potential of Ted Cruz as the GOP Presidental nominee, it is more important than ever that you know more about your options. If the Dems had someone of Cruz’ ilk (and I mean that exactly like it sounds), I would consider voting Republican.

  9. Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

    A good chunk of my work is spend analyzing hiring practices and adverse impact with respect to one group or another, and the only group slightly less likely than union representatives to want to talk about adverse impact in hiring are GOP members.

    “Why can’t companies (or unions) just hire who they want to hire?”
    “It is not the government’s business to tell people who to hire”
    “You are just taking the job from a qualified white guy to give it to a woman/minority (which always assumes the white guy is always more qualified than anyone else)”

    Heck, the conservative libertarians will go all the way to argue it is a violation of “free association” if we make it illegal for companies to refuse to hire certain folks.

    Trade/Craft unions are historically over-represented with Whites (and males), and in many areas of the country, actually do work against the interests of potential new minority (or women) union members.

    With that said, there is a shortfall of qualified journey-level electricians, instrument techs, and mechanics right now (and it is going to get worse before it gets better). Some of the smarter (and less corrupt) union leadership are trying to make inroads into high school and junior college vocational programs to being that training. Sure, it is self-interest in keeping the unions viable (and I have no doubt there that it is requiring sometime of a begrudged attempt in minority communities), but a journey-level craft worker is going to make a very decent middle-class salary.

    Trade/craft unions are a whole different (if equally corrupt) deal than public sector unions. Public sector unions often have great minority representation in the ranks, but it does not mean they are working for the best interests of minority communities.

  10. texan5142 says:

    How do you square this post and Jebs bullshit rant with the fact that the majority of welfare recipients are white and republicans from southern states.

  11. Martin says:

    You certainly made a step in the right direction, but I think you still fail to recognize the most basic premise of the issue. Since the Republican Revolution under Newt Gingrich in 1994 the GOP got what it asked for. The GOP won.

    Now after 20 years of striving for pure-form capitalism and trickle down economics, our political and economic system is failing an increasing percentage of our population, disproportionally blacks and hispanics, but more and more whites.

    The coming decades will further transform our world. Computers and autonomous machines will take over more and more of our work. This is not just unqualified repetitive work, but qualified work often done by specialists. Jeb Bush’s quote above is cynical at best, expressed by a bigot and hypocrite blind to the realities around him.

    The Democrats exploit the ignorance of the GOP to accept basic realities of this world. We live in a fact-free zone. To point the finger at the Democrats then not only makes no sense, but it is outright stupid. It only amplifies the traction Democrats already have.

    Trickle down economics has failed, not just in this country but everywhere it was tried. The poor already work hard with many having two jobs to make ends meet. Trade unions are the only way how workers have any chance to negotiate anything.

    Who’s problem is it when larger and larger parts of the population fall through the cracks? Are all those who cannot find work to support their families simply lazy? At what point are we going to reach a tipping point and who’s problem is it then?

    Even with broad access to affordable world-class education, something we get further and further away from, it is no longer thinkable that everyone will be able to earn a living based on hard work. That model from the 20th century will have to be adapted in a fundamental way to work for the 21st century.

    We have to change the way we think about work, quality of live, and how we distribute wealth. This might sound socialist to you, but I would argue that the concept of socialism itself is so 20th century. This is about how we create prosperity for us as a nation and compete in a world of artificial intelligence, robots, genetics, the Internet of things, and a transformation to renewable energy.

    We have always been a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, but our political thinking is now among the most antiquated in the world. We got to leave old habits behind and rethink our basic concepts and values if we are to reverse the prevailing trend of loosing out.

    I believe that we are at a point where the Republican Revolution of 1994 needs to be succeeded by a revolution of reality based politics, where our discourse and our decisions are guided by facts and science. Whatever political block or party can pull this off will be the winner and I see the Democrats much closer to this goal.

  12. goplifer says:

    Important thing to understand: This isn’t about unions as a general concept or about their capacity to be a socially useful force. This is about power and institutions.

    When an institution enjoys unquestioned loyalty and inordinate power, it will become corrupt. That institution can be a union or a hospital or a church or a freakin’ orphanage. Once it moves beyond accountability it will cause harm.

    We don’t need to eliminate unions. We need to stop treating them as unmitigated good and subject them to real accountability. And in most northern states, that means repealing a whole battery of laws that place unions beyond accountability.

    What’s happening right now is probably the death of the last great union firewall in the US. Illinois has been almost literally bankrupted by the political power of unions. Voters here are so disgusted with the very literal price they are paying that they are willing to vote for Republicans.

    Ten years ago some reform emerging from inside the Democratic Party might have corrected the imbalance, realigned unions, and preserved the institution going forward. That window has probably closed. The writing is on the wall. Once union clout is broken in Illinois, New York won’t be far behind.

    • 1mime says:

      If the “union” issue is just a pivot point to your greater concern, that of which political party is or can better serve Black voters, I don’t think you were clear. Republican leadership has clearly demonstrated their lack of concern for working people, which is the class the vast majority of Black people belong to. They see that through the income divide, police injustice, voter suppression and other social slights and they have good reason not to trust Republicans. I can’t speak to racial relations within unions, but that, to me, is a small part of the much bigger topic – who has Black peoples’ backs? Legislatively, they can see which party understands their needs. As to whether they are being taken for granted by Democrats…I’m not sure I agree with that either. It is true that Black people overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Maybe Republicans ought to dig deeper into that fact and see if their actions are part of the reason.

      I thought this post dealt more with the issue of which party better meets Black needs. If I misunderstood that, I’ll get off this tack. There is a very good reason Blacks align with Democrats, just like more women align with Democrats, and more gays align with Democrats. You think maybe it could be more than institutions and really about values and tolerance? I don’t see the GOP growing in sensitivity in these areas; instead, they are becoming more selective in their sense of social justice. It’s all about capitalism – I, Me, My. If growing the party with more Black membership is your goal, you have a very hard road ahead.

    • 1mime says:

      “When an institution enjoys unquestioned loyalty and inordinate power, it will become corrupt. That institution can be a union or a hospital or a church or a freakin’ orphanage. Once it moves beyond accountability it will cause harm.”

      Sounds like the good old hard right of the GOP being described. Hasn’t it moved beyond accountability? Threatening to sink the federal debt does it for me. These “principled” FC members are all about “their” demands. What’s the difference between the FC and unions? Corruption at any level is wrong. When it impacts kids, it’s doubly wrong. I don’t condone that nor should anyone else. BUT, and this is a big but, what is happening in the U.S. is exactly what Martin expressed above. Everyday people are hurting, they are angry, and it’s about basic stuff: feeding their families, health coverage, jobs. The “inordinate power” that the elite capitalists in the U.S. are exercising is playing out on many stages. Union power is just one, and it may be really bad in some specific cities, but they are no worse than those who are using their elected positions to advance themselves and their benefactors. Oddly, they may be more honest in their corruptness.

    • duncancairncross says:

      Sorry Chris
      .”Illinois has been almost literally bankrupted by the political power of unions.”
      Is nonsense
      What has “almost bankrupted Illinois” is the simple fact that the corporate body (management NOT UNION) did not pay the correct amount of money into a pension fund to cover their contractual obligations
      If you have a worker who as a result of his work becomes entitled to a pension you SHOULD pay money to cover that future requirement when the worker performs the work

      This is a legal requirement in most other countries

    • Martin says:

      The simple fact is that unions have been declining steadily over the last at least 20 years. How can something that has been in constant decline suddenly bubble up as a major issue? Are we in a fact-free zone again where people point fingers at bubbles in the air?

      I am all in favor of reducing teacher’s unions power to hold tenure if you at the same time yell for higher pay. I don’t get it why my children have to be taught by people who, for whatever reason, agree to work under these conditions and in a system where they often have to bring basic supplies on their own and paid for with their own money. That is what is broken in this country. The GOP has to stop to always take and instead learn to also give, not because this attracts voters, but because this creates balance.

  13. More nonsense about
    “It is practicably impossible to remove a poor performing employee”
    Total nonsense
    Here (NZ) and in most of the world ALL employees have effectively “Tenure” and there are lots of strong unions
    What that means is that an administrator MUST use the correct procedure to get shot of duffers
    They can’t simply say “you are sacked”

    Guess what? – You can easily sack a poor performing employee
    You just need to do your job correctly

    What you have in the USA is a bunch of lousy administrators being cry babies about having to actually do some work if they want shot of somebody

    • goplifer says:


      With all due respect, the situation in some parts of the US (not everywhere) is a great deal more dire than you would believe. In places like New York and Chicago it is so difficult and expensive to fire terrible teachers that we just continue to pay them. In fact, we have built entire processes around dealing with useless public employees whom we must continue to pay, but we cannot allow to do their jobs for fear of their impact.

      Big city school districts have places they put them. They used to be called “rubber rooms.” They continue to draw pay, but at least no children are subjected to them. The practice has changed somewhat, but the problem hasn’t been resolved.





      Everyone knows about this, but it continues. Why? Because “union’s protect the middle class” or some nonsense like that. We cannot deliver effective public services to the people who most desperately need it because families in those school districts lack the political influence to demand it.

      It’s a complicated business related to the fragmented nature of American school districts. Basically, this only happens massive school districts and you only find those in central cities where old-fashioned patronage politics from the 19th century remain dominant. Still, it is not a laughing matter. People suffer for it. And those people are the folks with the least money and political power in our system.

      • 1mime says:

        Those people suffer….

        Yes, and those who are most hurt are the children. How many big city union situations fit the mold you are describing, Lifer? Teacher unions exist all over the United States and I don’t hear this kind of story except from Chicago and maybe L.A., CA. Are there more?

      • goplifer says:

        Go anywhere that school districts and municipalities are forced via legislation to reach a contract with a public employee union and you’ll see the same thing. The power gap is smaller in places with smaller school districts or police departments, but the basic problem will still be found. You won’t see as much reporting about the problem from places like Rochester or Hartford or Cleveland just because they don’t get as much attention, but it’s just as bad.

      • Griffin says:

        A couple thoughts. While Teacher Unions are part of the problem there is an increasing shortage of teachers due to a combination of poor pay and disillusionment with their jobs, so schools are more reluctant to lose teachers they’ve had for awhile. Even bad teachers are “reliably bad” and at least have some experience and schools don’t know if the person they replaced them with might be even worse and score lower on standardized testing. Speaking of which using standarized testing has been horrible and left teachers with little flexibility and made their jobs notably dull, exasperating the shortage and resulting in less funding for aloready poor schools. So if teachers unions are challenged without any compensation that could worsen the problem of having too few teachers.

        Also I think this strategy might be of limited use to Republicans in only a handful of states. Illinois is a bit unique in its overt corruption and the utter lack of ideals behind their politicians, probably the result of never having to compete for power except inside the patronage engine that is the Illinois Democratic Party. Some other places might be like New Jersey are pretty bad but Illinois is probably the most extreme example of this I don’t think challening the model will hurt the Dems as much in other states, even ones that rely on this model to a lesser extent.

        While this may be off topic and might be considered a “radical” solution to the lack of job opportunities for black Americans but what do you think of Post-Keynesian/MMT ideas for full employment that would have a job guarentee for everyone by having the government be an “employer of last resort”? It’s not a perfect solution but it would allow black Americans to be much less reliant on the mercy of some trade unions.

      • goplifer says:

        “there is an increasing shortage of teachers due to a combination of poor pay and disillusionment with their jobs”

        Hmmmm. Is there even a remote possibility that a union bureaucracy that enforces mediocrity and has militantly suppressed any effort to reward quality might, just might, in the smallest possible way, have turned that profession into boring drudgery?

        If we could evaluate and reward teachers just like we do in every other critical profession, is there a chance we might have avoided the whole ‘teach to the test’ craze?

        Those tests are the only alternative anyone has yet devised to ensure that classrooms meet some minimal educational standard since we are systematically barred from doing it in any other way. Teachers unions are the NRA of education. They have stood in the way of any form of intelligent reform of the profession for 40 years. Now they are facing a monumental backlash.

        Honestly, it has reached the point where an overall collapse of the system may be the only credible way out. No one in the profession is willing to budge.

        And no, I don’t think that government should be handing out BS jobs that don’t do anything. I would much rather solve the problem with a minimum income.

      • 1mime says:

        Lifer, the situations you are describing are horrible, but, that is not the way it is everywhere. We live in a very strong public school district, there are unions, and there is never any negative news. IL and NY and possibly others may have bad situations, but there are some good teacher unions out there. Please don’t paint all with the same brush. There are good teachers who deserve our support and their unions are helping them, not punishing them.

      • duncancairncross says:

        Having been a “manager” in industry for several decades I am strongly of the opinion that while there are “bad employees” they are very very rare –
        However “bad manager’s” are common and they tend to blame their employees

        If a department is not performing I would go straight to the management, – it is their JOB to keep their department running

        Schools are run by “Administrators” who seem to be mostly failed PE teachers

        You talk about “bad teachers” – what about “bad administrators”?
        In my experience 80+% of the problems will be directly down to the “admin” (non union) and about another 15% down to them not mentoring their employees correctly

        Unions DO NOT stop competent managers from sacking people – they merely insist that the correct procedure is used
        If the incompetent manager (administrator) does not know the correct procedure then it is NOT the union’s place to train him/her

        I can see how a culture of managerial incompetence and helplessness could develop in a large organisation
        But that IS NOT the union’s problem

      • duncancairncross says:

        The reason for this is NOT the union
        It is the “administration” – management being unwilling to actually do their job
        Not all of them but it only takes a small number of senior people who are unwilling to do the “nasty” part of their jobs to gum the process up for everybody

        If bad teachers are being fobbed off with makework it is because their managers are to slack to do a proper job

      • 1mime says:

        I was a school board member for four years and we did have occasions where we needed to fire teachers and it could be difficult. The unions did come into the picture but did not dominate the decision. They provided legal counsel and guidance. Usually, when things got to this point, our lawyers and our board and staff had really prepared and it was definitely “for cause” and it was provable. Only once while I was a Board member did we have to reinstate a teacher we had terminated and that left a really bad taste in my mouth. She came from a very wealthy family and we got a very unfriendly ruling on a key point of our case. Generally, our board was on pretty good terms with all the unions – bus drivers were the toughest in LA.

        A greater problem was how to deal with marginal teachers – those who hadn’t done anything illegal or outside policy but were just very poor teachers or lazy. If this happened in a school that had a strong principal, we had more support in writing them up, but we always made sure they got help first. If help didn’t bring progress, then we pursued other action. It was not easy to fire someone but we had to do so for the sake of not only the kids but the other teachers who were working hard and deserved effective colleagues.

        Unfunded pension plans are a huge problem in the U.S. – from corporations down to municipal governments. (I won’t even touch the federal budget’s issues, but they are real.) Major financial issues are coming down the pike with police, fire fighters, teachers and the corporate sector (who one would think would be the most responsible – go figure).There is so much noise coming from conservatives about the budget that you’d think that the federal budget was the only one in arrears. I shudder to think what the aggregate amount would be if someone had access to all the unfunded obligations…Scary!

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi 1mime
        “It was not easy to fire someone but we had to do so”
        Exactly how it should be – difficult but doable

        IMHO if you had a lot of problems with poor/lazy teachers then there was something in the “system” that was wrong
        You probably needed an engineer to do a review of the tasks and the system
        (training, supervision, rotation…)

        I say an engineer because in my experience all other managers have a distressing tendency to jump straight into the “blame the worker” mindset

        Unfunded pensions
        As far as I understand it the USA has the “fund it from the getgo” requirements that other countries have BUT your lobbyists have carved out yawning exemptions under the theory that

        “we are the managers in charge we should do what we think is right rather than what some accountant somewhere tells us to do”

        The federal pension scheme (Social Security) is actually in very good shape – the USA as a whole is not going to suddenly change size the way a company can
        And if it did you would have bigger problems than pensions

      • Creigh says:

        Mime, as a school board member, which would you say is a larger problem: firing bad teachers or recruiting and retaining good ones?

      • 1mime says:

        Great question, Creigh, if we could separate it out a little more….”firing bad teachers or recruiting….(OR) retaining good ones?

        Recruiting is easiest if the system is a quality one (not inner city teaching disadvantaged, poor kids); firing “outright” is hard but by this point, documentation usually is sufficient to move the individual out (if they either can’t or refuse to be helped). In my view, retention is the hardest because people lose enthusiasm, heart and patience.

        I have seen very difficult teaching environments (poor, disadvantaged, majority Black with high percentage of special needs) that have great teaching staff primarily because of the principal. If they are strong instructional and personal leaders, generally they will be able to gain parental support and system assistance (compensatory instructional materials, etc). These situations can be tremendously rewarding and these teachers will work their buns off and stay for very long times. In my opinion, the principal of a school makes the biggest difference in any school’s success. Individual teachers can be exceptional, but for a school-wide excellence, the principal is key.

    • Titanium Dragon says:

      The problem is “doing your job correctly” is very complicated and in most cases actually involves a half dozen or more people doing their jobs correctly.

      Imagine, for a moment, you are a manager who wants to fire an incompetent employee for the state. You now have:

      The manager
      An HR director
      The union rep
      The state’s lawyer

      Minimum, involved. That’s four people. If any of them screw up, it can mean a lawsuit. And often does.

      If everyone does their job well, yes, it works fine. But it isn’t just the manager who has to do their job well; if you have an incompetent HR director, or lawyer, or the union rep is a jerk, it can be a big problem.

      • Yes – it is difficult to fire somebody – as it should be
        First in my decades in industry I have seen very very few poor workers
        And most of those have been down to their managers

        Firing somebody is expensive – for the company and the worker – it should not be done lightly

  14. Rob Ambrose says:

    I posit that there’s a fundamental difference between public and private sector unions. Private unions still DO serve the role as defender of the working class. It is no coincidence that the share of national income that goes to the middle class moves almost lockstep with union membership.

    The issues that Chris brings up (that unions have a built in systemic racism) is probably true. That in no way negates the fact that as unions go, so go the middle class.

    The fact that unions can and do protect corrupt cops and bad teachers and have had racist practices is reason to enact laws designed to end that. Its not a reason to do away with unions.

    Think about it: unions are the workers representative in labor negotiations. The billion dollar companies are hiring the best negotatiters possible. Only by pooling their resources can the common worker hope to match the expertise of the companies. Without unions, negotiating your contract is like facing a murder charge with the local drunken public defender that hasn’t won a case in a decade. With a well funded union, its like having Johnnie Cochrane.

    • Titanium Dragon says:

      The main problem with police unions is that, in principle, there’s a good reason for them to exist – they can protect cops from being fired by crooked managers and look out for the safety needs of the police. The police just aren’t that elite of a group; it isn’t that hard to replace a police officer. They’re pretty interchangeable in the end.

      In practice, though, they generate the same problems of corruption that they’re meant to protect against.

  15. 1mime says:

    Lifer, most of your criticism of how Democrats (mis) treat Black people appears driven by your animus for “unions”. Never having lived in a big city like Chicago, nor anywhere in the North, my experience and observations about racism are different than yours and not nearly as harsh. In the South, the history of Black people has been primarily one of menial labor and perceived inferiority – especially among white males. White women needed Black women to help them raise large families and assist with domestic chores. Thus, theirs was frequently a more cooperative and congenial relationship. White women were poorly educated but their schooling far exceeded that of Black people’s, whose inferior buildings, instructional materials and funding provided limited opportunity. I can recall as a child when our “maid” would not be able to come to work for mother as she was needed to help bring in the crops. She would return to help us when she was no longer needed in the fields. That was then.

    Once the oil and gas industry emerged as a driving economic force in the south, politics began changing as well. This is when I began to understand how badly Black people were being treated. It seemed to me more of a vocational, geographic factor in the south rather than union-driven reasons that impacted Black and White relationships.

    While Black people have been and still are being used by politicians mainly for their votes, I would have to trust the way Black people vote today as an indicator of their deepest feelings of trust between the two parties. That could change but it will have to be earned. The narrow and privileged Republican message Black people hear and witness isn’t ringing true. It doesn’t engender greater trust or confidence in the GOP as a better alternative than the Democratic Party. Frankly, I understand exactly where they’re coming from.

  16. TheMeansAreTheEnd says:

    Yes, the status quo must be changed inside the Democratic Party. This is why many of us prefer Bernie Sanders to any Democratic insider, or any Republican, period.

    It’s true that unions sometimes shield their members from accountability. All but one police union (the majority black union in Ferguson) that I’ve heard of have supported their members, no matter how egregious their abuses. Although few unions have as much power as police unions, which also often support Republicans, so their abuses are not necessarily a problem with Democrats.

    But unions also shield their members from arbitrary actions by managers and employers, including governments. Stating that “Unions provide workers with higher incomes and job security” is stating part of why unions started and why workers will always need them. Then there is the issue of worker safety. Government regulations can help to make work safer and terms of work more humane (when the regulations aren’t evaded), but government can’t do it all and should not try.

    The aggressive union busting by so many Republican politicians has fundamentally been about profit for individuals, not about benefit to workers or even to taxpayers. To be part of a solution to problems with unions, Republicans need to put ordinary people ahead of the rich, which means protecting workers instead of making it easier to exploit them. Until that happens, I’ll mistrust any Republican argument that teachers unions (for example) are too powerful.

    • Ryan Ashfyre says:

      No institution is completely insulated from corruption. Just look at what happened to the House of Representatives when Republicans took it over in 2010 and gerrymandered themselves into near invincibility. Because of that power, we’ve been lurching from idiotic crisis to crisis with virtually no end in sight.

      I’m a liberal myself, but I do believe Chris is absolutely right about holding unions accountable to the people that they’re supposed to represent. Unfortunately, our educational system is in near complete disarray and needs a massive overhaul. We all want to protect teachers’ rights and give them the freedom they need to do the best job they can, but no amount of posturing on unions’ part is going to change the reality that we all have to face or have our children suffer unnecessarily as a result.

      Unfortunately, efforts like Scott Walker’s are near completely at odds with what needs to be done. Unions need accountability and reform, not blatant attacks obviously meant to try and weaken them politically.

      • 1mime says:

        Scott Walker bludgeoned the unions and coyly divided the groups by picking on a couple and leaving the others out, dividing neighbor against neighbor. That is hardly the way to build con-census, but Walker was re-elected so his tactics and goals were well received by a narrow majority. He is not someone I respect as a leader.

  17. Griffin says:

    This might be an issue a lot of liberals can back as well. I actually, saw a liberal talk show also rail against police unions and calling them “lunatics” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCIX76N3Y-s). However if power is devolved from teacher unions and so on I think it should be done cautiously because I have heard it’s not uncommon for more highly ranked bureaucrats to fire teachers for purely political reasons (usually they were teachers who didn’t like each other and one got promoted) and their jobs were only saved because of the union, so it can be a catch-22 under some circumstances.

    • Ryan Ashfyre says:

      I agree that reforming unions should be done cautiously, but at least we can agree that it SHOULD be done. Our educational system, quite frankly, sucks compared to the rest of the world and it’s gotten to the point that a near complete overhaul looks like the way to go, and the last thing a parent or guardian should have to worry about are endless streams of bureaucracy and the suffocating power of any one group, whether they be unions or whatever else, when it comes to educating their children.

      Think about it. Aside from the bare basics, can you really remember much of anything about what you learned up through High School? I certainly can’t. Just how much time and effort could be said to have been wasted teaching me all those things that will never be put to use?

      Personally, I think we need a structural reformation of the system that focuses on making education both fun and by far more hands-on, similar in scope to the focus on apprenticeship programs that Hillary Clinton has endorsed, but more broad based and spanning across all educational levels, not just the higher ones.

      With respect to making education fun, the first step is to stop teaching to the test. Tests should, IMO, only be a means by which to measure a student’s progress and nothing more. Furthermore, we need more competition in our schools, and not just between fellow students in the same class. In that spirit, I’d like to see an online system like the kind that Mathletics utilizes, only with obviously broad scope with respect to all relevant subjects and giving our children the freedom and choice to choose what they want to study at any given period, with careful regulation and appropriate timelines to see that, when all’s said and done, they’ve engaged the necessary material and learned what they needed to.

      I believe that when someone has the freedom to choose what they want to study on their own terms, their focus increases substantially and they’ll have a much easier time retaining that information. I know that was the case with me.

      Secondly, I firmly believe that in order to achieve a child’s maximum potential, they need a constant influx of new experiences that go far beyond the classroom. Increasing funding for the arts and the like is a splendid idea, but that is only the beginning.

      If we could have a system that consistently required our children to try something new, say, every month or two, and tie it to their educational requirements, I believe that would not only stimulate their minds, it could give them a fresh insight into things that they want to do with their lives that they may not have thought of otherwise.

      And in order to encourage such innovation, we could do things like giving specific tax incentives to companies and the like that agreed to do help in this endeavor. The opportunities would be effectively limitless and I think it would garner a great deal of respect and admiration from parents as well.

      • duncancairncross says:

        Hi Ryan

        American Schools
        Accepting that there is a problem with the US school system,
        What do you guys do differently to the rest of us?

        First – Sport
        We all play sports at school but you do it in an almost professional manner
        A big game – between big schools with a long history of rivalry might have as many as 80 spectators
        The Rugby team do get a bit of respect – a tiny bit
        In the USA you have – “Jocks” – even at Glasgow University we had 10,000 Scots – but no “Jocks”
        The Rugby coach is well respected, but is not considered nearly as important (or well paid) as any of the actual teachers
        (In most cases he/she is a teacher as well)
        Schools and colleges are for learning NOT sports
        IMHO the US emphasis on sports is a major negative in your education system

        Second – curricula and preparation
        I have done a fair amount of training, preparation is 90% of the work
        We have a National Curriculum
        This means that a whole lot of the preparation can be shared and then distributed to the teachers, they can add their part but the core is there ready for them to use
        I don’t understand how a teacher can spend 30 hours a week teaching unless they can use a shared curriculum and lesson materials

        Third – Choice
        Kids are NOT adults – when I went to Uni I was (just) old enough to be able to choose what to do, when to study
        I was NOT ready for that before then – a significant number of my peers were not ready then and failed

        When I was working in the USA I helped the local High School
        (We won the World Solar Car Championship (Of American) two years running)
        I was horrified to find that most of my kids did not know Algebra
        They had “chosen” not to “do algebra” because it was difficult
        Choice is OK for which sports you want or what type of musical instrument
        Kids should NOT be choosing not to do “difficult” subjects

        Unions???? I really don’t see them as a problem

      • Ryan Ashfyre says:

        Well, first of all, we’ll simply have to agree to disagree on the issue of sports. Certainly, there is a great deal of corruption and undue influence on students that needs to be dealt with swiftly and decisively, however the idea that we should dislodge ourselves from it entirely is throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water.

        Secondly, your response with respect to teachers actually reveals one of the core problems in our educational system today in that teachers are burdened with too much responsibility with respect to their students’ performance. That’s precisely why we need to stop teaching to the test and start making education a cooperative effort between teachers and students, not focusing simply on teachers in and of themselves and having them shoulder the weight for all their students’ performances.

        We need shared responsibility distributed equally between teachers and students and a system that promotes progress rather than just meting out predetermined standards that determine whether one passes or fails. That’s a recipe for frustration and a lack of confidence.

        Thirdly, please don’t misunderstand me. I wasn’t implying that students had the option of simply NOT choosing to learn a given material. What I was trying to say was is that amidst a grouping of subjects that would need to be learned, students could have the freedom to choose which subjects they wanted to learn at their own pace. So long as they completed the required material as a whole by a given time, they could proceed more or less on their own.

        Furthermore, it seems to me that it would only be natural that students would pair off into groupings on their own and try to tackle a given subject that some might be having difficulty with. In addition, if the material were presented via an online system, as I believe it should, it would be more than possible to have other educators and even students from across the nation tune in to help out, and there would be a variety of methods by which to go about this, whether by direct video link, posted notes and/or helpful hints, etc.

      • 1mime says:

        Good discussion tho I’m sure Lifer would prefer we stick with unions (-:

        On sports, I didn’t get the impression that Duncan was advocating for eliminating sports, only not allowing it to dominate academics – with which I totally concur. Our stadiums are college quality and the taxes on property owners (many of whom no longer have children in school or have their children in private schools) to bond these behemoths reduces available financial capacity for other instructional needs. The point is – academics – first and adequately; sports second. There are many lessons to be learned in group sports but there are many great experiences in drama, music, art, math, science. Few school districts have the means to maintain buildings, pay instructional and support staff well, fund glamorous football stadiums, AND, have top notch science labs, etc. If they do, their citizenry are paying through the nose in property taxes. Those areas which don’t have the luxury of a strong local funding base end up with inferior educational opportunities and the children lose as do staff who work in poor environments.

        I agree with Duncan that quality and performance are driven from the top down generally. Of course most teachers are self-motivated to do excellent work, but not all. Those who don’t do the work should be warned then released; those who do the work should be recognized and rewarded. Very often it is the coaches who are promoted up to administrative positions. Their zeal for sports doesn’t always translate into excellence as administrators leaving teachers and principals without the support and leadership they need. Give me a strong principal over an an administrator any day. They will set the tone for the school and their faculty and students.

        In most progressive public school districts, students must adhere to core curricula but also have elective choices. What I feel our district lacks is quality vocational education that is relevant to available jobs, which is probably due to the prevalence of upper income families but this is important and neglected as a valid, strong curricula choice.

        One last time, unions I have dealt with have been reasonable and helpful. We involved them directly in areas of decision-making and planning as possible and couldn’t have passed bond elections without their help. I have found that when people are involved in shaping their work environment they have more ownership and perform better and more happily. Management can be too top-heavy and dictatorial as well as ignorant of the working conditions their people were laboring under. That’s when trouble brews. That is what gave rise to unions in the first place. There are still work environments where unions are needed and desirable and probably places where unions have outlived their purpose.

        Pensions – That is a big problem in the U.S. because management – vis a vis – governance has either agreed to more than is affordable or because they didn’t manage their day to day finances thus pushing pensionobligations off. There is also the very real problem of tax payers who refuse to increase taxes for even legitimate reasons (much like our GOP friends in Congress) yet are faced with burgeoning obligations with growth, pension and other benefits to fund, transportation needs, etc., and there just isn’t enough money. Taxes should be appropriately sized, targeted, and utilized but when communities (and the U.S.) grow, and circumstances and world events demand, it can cost more to operate government and the only place government can go is taxes or cut services. The question is, “whose”? It is almost always services for the poor and elderly who are targeted and that is wrong.

  18. flypusher says:

    “….in essence Democrats in the Legislature used the state’s day care program for low-income families as a hostage to ensure black legislators’ support for the union bill.”

    A bit off your main point, but this is yet another reason why the practice of putting unrelated riders on bills (at any level of gov’t) needs to be killed and needs to stay forever dead. If the subject is unions, that is the only thing that bill should address. Not day care, not transportation funding, not education, not anything except unions.

    Sounds like a pick your poison for Black people. Who’s worse, the people who openly say vile racist things (go to any on-line comments section dominated by conservatives and see for yourself), or the more subtle racism of inaction (being smart enough to not say that crap in public, but failing to demand your political allies play fair)? Tough call.

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