Software Nerd

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unions: Card-check

A recent post at SparkASynapse got me writing about unions. Though unions have declined in the U.S., they are still a serious and on-going threat: airline unions, autos, and the union I really despise: the public-teachers union (NEA) . (Every time someone tries to introduce even a small measure like "Charter schools", the NEA launches a strong campaign to retain the status quo.)

A while ago, Gus van Horn blogged about auto-unions. He quoted an article that said "GM pays $31.35 an hour. Toyota pays $27 an hour. Not such a big difference. But--thanks in part to union work rules that prevent the thousands of little changes that boost productivity--it takes GM, on average, 34.3 hours to build a car, while it takes Toyota only 27.9 hours."

Actually, the hourly wage is not all that GM pays. Past union contracts have them paying much more in terms of benefits, pensions and retirement health-care. According to another article, "The wages and benefits package for U.S. hourly workers at Ford equaled $70.50 in 2006, up from $64.90 in 2005. More than half of the labor cost is related to benefit expenses, including health care. " The bottom line here is that a worker costs Ford about $140,000 a year, while a worker in a U.S. plant run by Toyota, costs the latter $100,000 each year. Throw in restrictive union-rules and the really amazing thing is how the US "big-three" auto companies aren't already in bankruptcy.

The auto unions have seen the writing on the wall. They know they have to give in now, while the entity they feed off still has life. For instance, they have started to sign deals that allow different wage rates for newer employees. There is also some speculation that they might agree to certain cuts in retirement health-care. I've blogged about this before; so, let's leave the auto-unions be.

A more important question is: have we learned from all this, and are we moving away from unions? Unions have been on the decline. The primary cause of this decline is that workers no longer want them. If 50% of Walmart workers vote for a union, they will get one; but, they do not vote that way. Obviously, at least to this extent, the workers have the correct politics. That's the good news.

The bad news is that some legislators want to change the voting rules. They want to remove the requirement for a secret ballot. They want to replace this with some type of public "vote". This is referred to as "card check". Under a card-check system, a union organizer can go around and get the signatures of employees who want a union. If organizers collect signatures of over 50% of the workers, they will get the union -- no secret ballot required.

Ever met a union thug organizer?

Yes, workers should be able to stand up for what they think is right. However, if that argument holds water, why do we have secret ballots for anything?

What's the main reason offered by politicians who are for this bill? They say that when some workers start to spread the word about unions, companies fire them, and are able to get away with it, since they aren't unionized yet. In truth, this is not the norm, but even if it were, any Objectivist would see why it's important to keep the current system in place.

The real reason unions want to abolish secret ballots is that they know that while many workers are against unions, those workers do not have the philosophical arguments for their stand. When encountered by a persistent union organizer, spewing socialist theory at them, they often nod, express sympathy for the cause, and and go on with their life. Later, in the secrecy of the voting booth, they go with their real view and keep the unions out. Unions want the bully session to end with some type of signature that can be used just like a vote.

Write to your congressman and tell him to uphold secret ballots for unions. [The bill passed the house and was rejected 51-48 by the senate. Tell your congressman not to try again.]

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Socialized Healthcare = One big HMO

Most people have a negative view of HMOs. So, I wonder if (inter alia) the anti-socialized health care message can be bolstered by explaining that it'll end up with the government running one huge HMO.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Theories of Childhood

Thanks to Brad for recommending "Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, & Vygotsky" by Carol Garhart Mooney. This 100-page book is an extremely brief summary of five theorists on childhood.

The comments on Dewey were interesting, because the author claims that some of the extreme progressive ideas are misinterpretations, and not what he meant. It raises the issue of reading originals versus trusting secondary sources. The author does not try to defend the authenticity of her interpretation, that's not the focus of the book. Instead, she simply states her interpretation and runs with it.

The author paints a positive picture of Dewey, as a reactionary against traditional, rote learning, calling for a focus on the child's interests and on making learning fun. She claims that Dewey did not say that kids should be allowed to do anything that was fun. Rather, she says, he encouraged specific teaching goals, but wanted them to be taught in a way that interests the child. She gives an example of painting class, where progressive teachers will leave children to their own "creativity", allowing and even encouraging them to do whatever they feel like: paint any objects, in any shapes, any colors, without any purpose except "expressing" themselves. Mooney claims this is a misinterpretation of Dewey, and that he never intended lessons to lack a pedagogical end.

Was that really what Dewey wanted? It's impossible to know, unless one reads more. Was he really rasing valid objections to the established ways without offering new methods, thus leading to him being misinterpreted as wanting to throw out the good with the bad? Or, is Mooney putting lipstick on a pig? Of course it is not enough to say traditional teaching is bad, it is also insufficient to say that one must use the child's interests, but still achieve pedagogical goals; that begs the question: what are those goals.

It's telling that Mooney does not mention any such positives in her summary of Dewey; but then, this book is a very condensed summary, by design.

Overall, it was fairly informative.