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  • Unions = Jobs

    by Randall Garton on February 10, 2011

    America needs stronger unions… This piquant idea recently occurred to a New York Times business writer as he contemplated the economic question of the day: Where are all the jobs? It’s the question on everyone’s minds. Most economic reports indicate that the economy—at least the corporate profit and Wall Street side of it—is recovering slowly. Profits are soaring and U.S. GDP is up, but job creation remains sluggish, at best.

    So what do unions have to do with it? Before exploring that issue, let’s review why job creation—or it’s lack—is worrying people who are paid to worry about the economy. According to a recent National Journal article, "The Great Recession wiped out what amounts to every U.S. job created in the 21st Century. But even if the recession had never happened the United States would have entered 2010 with 15 million fewer jobs than economists say it should have."

    The article adds that, while the period 2001-2008 witnessed "solid growth" in GDP and corporate profits and a low unemployment rate, job creation was far lower than at any time since World War II.

    What happened?

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  • Are Public Employee Unions To Blame For States' Budget Crises?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on February 9, 2011

    A disturbing number of people are blaming public sector unions for states’ current budget crises (also here, here and here). Their basic argument is that unions have seriously exacerbated budget shortfalls because a significant proportion of state spending is tied up in employee compensation, and unions, via collective bargaining, increase salaries and benefits.  As a result, so the line goes, unions have created unsustainable expenses for state governments in a time of declining or still-recovering revenues.

    Needless to say, the relationship between unions and state revenue/spending is complex.  The claim that unions are responsible for state budget gaps (or at least for larger gaps) is therefore extremely difficult to examine, especially during a fiscal crisis. Nevertheless, we can take a quick, modestly rigorous look. 

    There are 30 states that provide collective bargaining rights for state employees, virtually all of them via state laws. One way to evaluate the merit of the accusations above is to see whether states that allow collective bargaining have more severe budget problems than those that do not.

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  • Name: Egyptian ... Address: Tahrir Square

    by Kamal Abbas on February 8, 2011

    Our guest author today, writing from Cairo, is Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of Egypt’s Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS), who last year accepted the AFL-CIO’s 2009 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award on behalf of Egypt’s independent labor movement. The article is reprinted, with permission.

    Now, I am proud to be Egyptian. I can sit in the evening among my children and grandchildren and tell them the story of the revolution; the story of boys and girls who refused the injustice and tyranny under which we have lived for years and years. I will tell them the story of Mohamed and Boulis [Peter]: the two boys who stood one against the other, each of whom hates and wants to destroy the other ... I will tell them how Boulis and Mohamed stood shoulder to shoulder confronting tyranny. I will tell them how Muslims protected churches against the violence of the regime’s thugs and how Christians guarded Muslims while they performed their prayers in Tahrir [Liberation] Square.

    I will tell them that I have no explanation except that this infamous regime made us reveal our worst part. I will tell my children and grandchildren how thousands, or rather tens of thousands, including young and very beautiful girls demonstrated and that those beautiful girls were not harassed. I will tell them that young males used to listen to the speeches of young females and received orders from them to keep order during the sit-in.

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  • Egypt In Crisis: Independent Unions Emerge As Leaders

    by Heba F. El-Shazli on February 7, 2011

    Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli, regional program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity.  Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own. This is the first of several posts on events in Egypt.

    January 25, 2011 was the beginning of a peoples’ revolt in Egypt, a revolt whose outcome is still unclear. What is clear is that, after a smothering 30-year rule, Egyptians have broken the stifling collar of oppression to demonstrate for democracy and freedom. Also at issue are the corruption, high unemployment rates, inflation, and low minimum wages that impoverish even the hardest working, most educated people.

    All of this has become fairly well known to Americans over recent days. What is far less known is the role of the small, repressed independent Egyptian labor movement in keeping Egyptian hopes and spirits alive. On January 30, in the middle of Tahrir Square, those workers and their representatives announced the formation of the new "Independent Egyptian Trade Union Federation."

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  • School-Based Early Childhood Education Program Yields High Economic Benefits

    by Burnie Bond on February 4, 2011

    Each dollar spent on a high-quality early childhood program in the Chicago Public Schools yields $4 to $11 in benefits to the economy, according to a new cost-benefit analysis.  (Full disclosure: Barbara Bowman, Chicago’s Chief Early Childhood Education Officer, who oversees the program, was a key advisor on our early childhood education report.)

    According to a press release from the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of the federally funded Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPC) by surveying former students and their parents, and analyzing students’ education, employment, criminal justice and child welfare records for the participants through age 26. Since the program was first established in 1967, researchers have been able to follow the effects of the intervention over time. Their work includes a previous study, which found that “children who had been enrolled in CPCs were more likely to go to college, get a full-time job and have health insurance. The same students were less likely to go to prison and less likely to suffer from depressive symptoms."

    "Our findings provide strong evidence that sustained high-quality early childhood programs can contribute to well-being for individuals and society," said Arthur Reynolds, director of the Chicago Longitudinal Study and co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota. "The large-scale CPC program has one of the highest economic returns of any social program for young people. As public institutions are being pressed to cut costs, our findings suggest that increasing access to high-quality programs starting in preschool and continuing into the early grades is an efficient use of public resources."

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  • A Quality-Based Look At Seniority-Based Layoffs

    by Matthew Di Carlo on February 4, 2011

    ** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post

    Eliminating seniority-based layoffs is a policy idea that is making the rounds these days, with proponents making special appeals to cash-strapped states and districts desperately looking for ways to save money while minimizing decreases in the quality of services.  Mayors, editorial boards, and others have joined in the chorus.

    There’s a few existing high-quality simulations that compare seniority-based layoffs with one alternative – laying off based on teachers’ value-added scores (most recently, one analysis of Washington State and another using data from New York City; both are worth reading).  Unsurprisingly, the simulations show that the two policies would not lay off the same teachers, and that the seniority-based layoffs would save less money for the same number of dismissals (since the least experienced teachers are paid less).  In addition, the teachers laid off based on seniority have lower average value-added scores than those laid off based on those value-added scores (as would inevitably be the case).

    Based in part on these and other analyses, critics have a pretty solid argument on the surface: Seniority makes us “fire good teachers” simply because they don’t have enough experience, and we can fire fewer teachers if we use “quality” instead of seniority. 

    To be clear: I think that there is a sound case for exploring alternatives to seniority-based layoffs, but many of the recent arguments for so-called “quality-based” layoffs have been so simplistic and reactionary that they may actually serve to deter serious conversations about how to change these practices.

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  • Ready, Disclaim, Fire

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 31, 2011

    Earlier today, newly-elected Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released his "Citizens’ Guide to Michigan’s Economic Health." The general purpose was to provide an easy-to-understand presentation of the state’s finances, and to encourage local governments to do the same. These are of course laudable goals, but one of the report’s major findings, also mentioned in the governor’s press release, was a familiar one:

    Average annual compensation of state employees (including salary, wages, and benefits) was over twice the average annual compensation of private sector workers in 2009.
    As might be expected, many reporters and editors dutifully ran this outrage-inspiring finding as a headline (also here and here), even before the report was officially released: State workers make twice as much as private sector workers. Governor Snyder rolled out the report as part of his presentation to the Business Leaders for Michigan Summit, in which he spoke about the state’s fiscal situation.

    I’ve already discussed how these gross comparisons of public and private sector workers – whether nationally or in a single state – are invalid. That is, they compare two completely different groups of workers: Public employees, who are mostly professionals, and private sector workers, many of whom work in lower-wage, lower-skill jobs. But this time, you don’t need to take my word for it. After featuring the “twice as much” finding in a header and pull-out quote, the governor’s report says it directly:

    However, this analysis does not compare private and public sector employees with similar jobs, years of experience, or education.
    Let me translate that for you. It means: This comparison is meaningless.
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  • The Unbearable Sadness Of Being Anti-Labor

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 31, 2011

    I recently came across this article (published last year) by Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner about the relationship between President Obama and labor unions, and I was struck by one of its sentences, which refers to the now-stalled Employee Free Choice Act. The sentence is simple enough:

    Union leaders believe that with card check they could vastly increase their dues income.
    This kind of statement is neither uncommon nor particularly inflammatory. But it speaks volumes. It is simultaneously remarkable and pedestrian, a window into the premises of an anti-union viewpoint.

    In a limited sense, it is of course true. Unions do want to expand their membership. A larger membership brings more influence and benefits for existing members (as well as other workers), and dues income is one of the tools necessary for accomplishing these goals.

    But the implication of the sentence - that unions and their leaders are only out for more money - illustrates how some people who maintain an anti-labor perspective, with its focus on economic self-interest, seem largely unable or unwilling to acknowledge what it means to be a part of something bigger than one's own interests, and to employ collective means toward collective ends.

    And that is sad.

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  • Schools As Battlegrounds

    by Randall Garton on January 27, 2011

    We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut the heads off your children and shall set fire to your daughter

    - Letter to Afghani teacher from Taliban insurgents

    These threats, in a letter from Taliban insurgents to an Afghani teacher, are emblematic of the deteriorating situation for teachers and students in many parts of the world. Between March and October 2010, for example, 20 schools in Afghanistan were attacked using explosives or arson, and insurgents killed 126 Afghani students.

    These and other atrocities were documented by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a new "school battleground" report, which was released as part of the organization’s annual human rights survey summarizing conditions in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.

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  • Overcoming The Democratic Recession

    by Arch Puddington on January 26, 2011

    Our guest authors today are Arch Puddington, (director of research) and David J. Kramer (executive director) of Freedom House, a bipartisan organization founded in 1941 by Wendell Willkie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others.  It has worked tirelessly over the intervening decades to promote democratic values both at home and abroad. It is best known for its annual Freedom in the World survey, which analyzes the state of political freedom and civil liberties. In 2010, it published The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World, a survey of union and workers rights, and a global map of labor rights, with support from the Albert Shanker Institute. Along with the Shanker Institute, Freedom House is also a cosponsor of DemocracyWeb, a resource for history, civics and comparative government education.  Antonia Cortese, secretary treasurer of the Shanker Institute, also serves on the Freedom House Board of Trustees.

    As we enter a new decade, the evidence is fast mounting that global freedom is under the most intense pressure it has faced in many years. According to the most recent report issued by Freedom House, 2010 marked the fifth consecutive year of a worldwide democracy recession. During that period, democracy has suffered setbacks in every region of the world.  All of the political institutions that are crucial to democratic governance—including elections, press freedom, rule of law, minority rights—have suffered setbacks.

    The palpable lack of confidence among democracies in their own system of government, driven in part by the global economic crisis that has affected market economies more severely than authoritarian ones, partly explains these trends.  Recently, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, western pundits are raising questions about the efficacy of democratic systems.

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