#Labor Part 2
Things in life I expect by having opinions: people having opinions that differ. Things I anticipate when using snark as part of opinion making: people responding. With #Labor, I wrote briefly about my take on whether SPOG negotiations should be fully open, and why union contract negotiations, as a rule, should be kept private. The argument against public sector union negotiations being private is an argument that has long been used by Republicans - who are hell-bent on screwing workers and ending organized Labor.
This all stemmed from my notation that both the Stranger and Seattle Weekly chose this as an issue to endorse a candidate with a (recent) history of mistreating employees who are women and from communities of color, and a history of not showing up for work that he was paid for (in order to show up for photo ops), while dumping extra responsibilities on women of color, then taking credit for their work after the fact. So, imagine my (not at all) surprise when some folks came at me.
Brett Hamil (who I'll see tonight at the Seattle Process with Brett Hamil - look into it!) started at me on Twitter with this:
Casey Jaywork (a phenomenal writer with Seattle Weekly) took issue with my snark tied into my position:
Over on Facebook, Heidi Groover (one of my favorite local journalists who I am convinced really dislikes me, for good cause, I'm sure) had this to say:
Considering my history of opinion making, I think it's pretty clear that I support disarming police officers. Generally, I also support the idea of setting up much of the response for things like racism, shooting people for no reason, etc., in the legislative branch, and have it be extra-contractual. With respect to contract negotiations themselves, I'm also very clearly on record stating that they should include the Executive and Legislative branches, as well as representatives from oversight groups and community organizations. From my conversations with Teresa Mosqueda, this is a position that she shares, and I think that is super important.
But you know who else shares this position?
So take from that what you will about consistency. The Stranger as a whole appears to be consistent (they endorsed Cary Moon), yet Groover is part of the dissent for Oliver. Seattle Weekly is #NobodyButNikkita, but uses Oliver's shared position with Mosqueda against Mosqueda in favor of the white dude. Hamil appears to be in the same boat as Seattle Weekly. These may well be end times, folks.
But turning back to Labor negotiations more generally - people have asked the question: why is it so important for public sector (or any, really) union negotiations to be kept secret? In Tukwila, the school district is moving to require public negotiations in hopes that it will provide "an incentive for both parties" to come to agreement quicker. Some would say - isn't that a good thing?
If we lived in a world where all things are equal and public coverage was unbiased and both sides received equal coverage in print, on air, and online, maybe. But we don't live in that world. In education, people regularly express more concern about school as childcare than school as an education institution for their children.
For DSHS workers (think CPS, APS, Western State Hospital), the ongoing dysfunction of departments due to lack of staffing and shitty wages and benefits for high-level degrees culminates in the public blaming the workers. It's not that the unions aren't out there trying to get the message out, but when the press (Edit: I should be clear that I mean some press, in particular larger outfits and television media) is (Edit: too often) more focused on what sells (the problems) than what we need (fixing the problems), there is a prejudice created in the minds of everyday people. In Seattle, we know that most people support significant zoning changes - yet the loudest voices are those who oppose them, backed by an editorial board at the Seattle Times (who - SHOCKER - is pretty anti-Labor).
There is also the way that negotiations work. As noted, I come at this from having been at the bargaining table during my days with Group Health. For the last 12 years, I've worked in civil litigation (except for most of 2016, when I did campaign work as a kind of sabbatical). The first rule of negotiations: the first offer is meaningless.
During my 1001 negotiations (which encompassed something like 50+ different job classifications, from Lab Assistants to Dosimitrists), the company came out with a wage offer that was garbage, a significant change to the benefit plan, and a few tweaks to continuing education for "low-skilled" workers. So we responded with a ridiculous wage demand in exchange for the benefit change, an increase to continuing education dollars for "low-skilled workers" (they wanted it cut completely), and some other tweaks to the contract (which was really long and included things like staggering of vacations during summer months - a necessary provision given some units only had two or three people working at a site).
We were able to engage in meaningful negotiations because we were in private, and able to have frank discussions without fear of repercussions. There were jokes, there was yelling, and after eight months, we had a contract. Every member of our unit saw a pay increase each year of the contract. And, at the behest of our members, we negotiated a slight change to the health care plan that would, at no point during the time of the contract, outweigh the raise for any staff member (that was what I fought hardest for, representing some of the lower paid members of the bargaining unit who wanted (a) to participate in premium share, having seen our patients facing 17%+ premium increases, but (b) not wanting to get hosed in the process).
For public sector unions, it's much the same. One of the biggest differences, however: education and training requirements for many government employees necessarily mean that their salaries are higher than the average salary of all workers (although, when directly compared with people in the private sector who do similar work, it is more common that government employees salaries and bonus potential are less). Due to that parenthetical, benefits are often better than the private sector.
So the idea of bringing these out into the public realm during negotiations: it's a lot easier for management to sell "Hey, these people, working on your taxpayer dime, are being wholly unreasonable. Their salaries are already higher than so many taxpayers, and their benefits are better, and they're just greedy!" This is how Scott Walker screwed workers in Wisconsin, and how Republicans sell Right to Work For Less laws across the country, while working to break apart public sector unions. Making apples to screwdriver comparisons, because that's easy to do and easy to understand. Avoiding nuance is super easy.
This extends beyond pay and benefits. Continuing education, for instance, is something that is contained in many union contracts, but could readily be sold that "well, for this person to do their job, there's no need for CE." But CE isn't just about doing a job - it's about improving ones' self, and affording people an opportunity to expand a skill set. Or staggering of vacations during the summer - sounds ridiculous at first impression to debate the language, but it is vital when we're talking about seniority-based systems where three people are in a specific site, and two stagger each week of summer, disallowing the third any time to take a summer week off with their kids.
In civil litigation, we call this ER 408. The public part of civil litigation is trial, and you know what's not allowed during trial: any evidence or testimony regarding settlement negotiations. There is the recognition that doing so is prejudicial, and that is why, as a general rule, the details of settlement negotiations in civil litigation are kept private until a settlement is reached. Even when that litigation is against a government entity.
I trust this answers why, broadly, I do not support public sector union negotiations going public.