Kojo looks back on the local impact of Dick Gregory, the legendary comedian and civil rights activist who adopted Washington as his home town.
It’s your turn to weigh in on the battles over public-sector unions raging across the country that are pitting teachers and other government workers against regular taxpayers. And are protesters protected even when they disrupt speeches by officials, as one man did at a speech by Hillary Clinton? We’d like to hear from you on protests, or anything else on your mind.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU at American University in Washington, welcome to the "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's "Your Turn." It's your turn. You can start calling right now on any issue you choose to, 800-433-8850. Go to our website, kojoshow.org, send us a tweet or an e-mail to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet at kojoshow. The number again, 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast, the NFL's "Rooney Rule" has resulted in the hiring of more African-American head coaches. Whether or not that's fair and why it's being adopted outside of professional sports is what we'll be talking about. But first, "Your Turn." 800-433-8850. It's been a bad week in D.C., last week that is.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut do you think that two weeks from now we'll still be remembering or talking about the hirings of Mayor Vincent Gray, the vehicle of council chairmen Kwame Brown or the spending on those vehicles? Do you think we'll be still thinking about it or is it going to be a week that was, well, just a week in the news and gone away? What do you think needs to be done in order for us to make that go away if you think it needs to go away? 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd the standoff continues in Wisconsin where the Democratic members of the State Senate have left town over the governor's intention. The governor's expressed intention to do away with the collective bargaining rights of public employees as he attempts to cut the budget. There was an opt-ed piece in "The Washington Post" this week.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt was saying that former D.C. schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, has contributed to the anti-public union sentiment in the country and the anti-public union, public employee union fervor, sweeping some Republican governors across the country. What fascinates me is that the public employee unions with the best retirement and pension benefits tend to be public safety, police and firefighter's unions and those in most cases can't be touched.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFor those of you who may remember in Montgomery County when there has been, continues to be ongoing controversy over the benefits for public safety employees, police and fire in particular. Police in Montgomery County who were retiring on disability in the 2008, for instance, about 60 percent of police officers who retired in Montgomery County, retired on disability and there was no distinction made at that time between whether the disability was a broken finger or a paralyzed spine.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThey got the same exact benefit but the issue we're discussing now is broader. What is your feeling about public employee unions? Should they have the right to collectively bargain? The point has been made that federal employees don't have the right to collectively bargain. 800-433-8850 is the number to call or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. It is "Your Turn."
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBad week in Washington D.C. last week, scandals over chairman Kwame Brown ordering a fully loaded Lincoln Navigator SUV then ordering a second one and ultimately deciding to return them both after some amount of public outrage that came as a result of this. It's "Your Turn." Here's an e-mail we got from Kate.
MR. KOJO NNAMDI"Many don't realize that about 10 percent of Maryland employees, some without the education or experience, to be hired onto the merit system make much more than merit system employees who do the same work. At the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, for example, a political appointee with a high school education and no experience makes $20,000 more in salary than the female merit system employee who trained him.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHis salary and benefits are over $100,000. Maryland needs term limits and true transparency if we're going to have an efficient and resilient state economy. This week we've been cheering the overthrow of leaders who have been in power for 30 years but we have some who are staying around the state to ensconce their children in state jobs.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat was one of the controversies over Mayor Gray's hiring that emerged in the news last week. That the children of prominent officials in his administration are also getting jobs in the administration. Mayor Gray making the argument that they do have the qualifications. But I'm interested, are you a member of a public employee union or do you work for the federal government in which case you can also be a member of the American Federation of Government Employees.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhat do you think about the confrontation between public employee unions and the government of Wisconsin, a confrontation that is likely to be repeated in several states around the country? What do you think, if you happen to be a federal worker who is not a member of a public employee union and there are a lot of you in this area, what do you think? If you happen to be a member of a public union do you think there could be new kinds of concessions made without giving away the right to collective bargaining?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt would appear the public employee unions will organize along the same premise as industrial unions and in the case of industrial unions, they knew exactly how much of a profit the company was making and so they could collectively bargain to make sure that some of those profits were shared with employers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou know, the NFL, the National Football League, and its employees, players are in the process of negotiations that may lead to a lockout next year or a shutdown. But in that case, they know how much those teams are making and they know how much they can demand. During a time of budget cuts in local, regional and state and city budgets should public employees be making different kinds of concessions? Let's start with Amanda, in College Park, Md. Amanda, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
AMANDAHi, I grew up in Wisconsin. I'm still technically a Wisconsin resident, but I'm student in Maryland. And I didn't vote for Governor Walker, but I think that, you know, yes, what he's seeking from the public employees in terms of pension contributions and healthcare contributions are reasonable, but he doesn't need to eliminate collective bargaining to achieve those gains.
AMANDAAnd I think that the most responsible way to balance a budget would really be to actually reduce programs. And yeah, that means laying off people, but I think that that's the most responsible way to do it, instead of changing the entire way that all public employees, not just those who bargain with the state, get their, you know, how they bargain for their jobs.
NNAMDISo you believe that things like pension benefits and disability benefits and retirements should be on the bargaining table for negotiations?
AMANDAI think it'd be, yes, I think they should be on the bargaining table for negotiations but Governor Walker wants to throw out the table altogether.
NNAMDIYes, he wants to end collective bargaining whatsoever and there are those who say, well, look, federal employees don't have collective bargaining rights. They don't seem to do that badly.
AMANDARight. And that's true, but I think that at the local level, especially when you have governments that are really trying to trim back, one of the things I'm kind of really worried about is because there's no profit motive. You can't do a straight equation between the private sector and there's nothing without collective bargaining to prohibit a local school district from saying, look it, you are our most experienced teacher and therefore one of the most expensive and we have this wonderful teacher who's only been here for five or 10 years who makes, you know, two-thirds of what you do. There's no reason for them to keep the more expensive teacher. I'm worried about those kinds of collective bargaining rights. That is what I'm most concerned.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, Amanda.
AMANDAGreat, thank you very much.
NNAMDIWe move onto Fred in Riverdale, Md. Fred, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FREDThank you, Kojo. Actually, I am very much in line with Amanda to a great extent. But where I differ is the fact that, you know, in what like Governor Walker is doing he is not really interested in just taking care of the budget deficit but I think it's a purely political thing and that is not good.
FREDBecause by trying to stifle the rights of people to bargain on a political basis I think he's doing injustice to the workers and also the people should be careful, I mean, these are just part of the gimmicks the Republicans are using to stifle the efforts less privileged people because they are interested in making big cuts for, I mean, tax cuts for the multi -- those big companies, the (unintelligible) but when it comes to helping poorer people, they go all out to do whatever they can to stifle those efforts and that's my take on it, that they are just purely playing political games.
NNAMDIIn other words, like Amanda, you believe that public employee unions will make necessary and important concessions if they are allowed to do it over the bargaining table?
FREDSure, sure. Because I mean, they, too, realize that they need to give in a little in order to help improve the economy. But when that, you know, when the bargaining chips are taken away purely on political basis they need something, you know, then they...
NNAMDIAnd what do you believe to be the political basis? The desire to simply break unions completely?
FREDYes, yes, because, you know, the fact is that so far unions have been very much in support of the Democratic Party over the years. That's known historically and so the Republicans are trying to make every effort to stifle and to get into because, like we hear of...
NNAMDIHe gets a twofer. He reduces the state budget and is able to hit one of the funding sources of his conceivable or probable Democratic opponents?
FREDYes, (unintelligible) undermining, I mean, are supporting this in order to just break the back of the union so they cannot…
NNAMDIThere is a now infamous telephone call between a prankster who pretended to be one of the Coke Brothers and the Governor of Wisconsin, in which the Governor of Wisconsin, well, apparently sticking to his principles in the minds of some people was entirely too engaging with the individual who made the telephone call. But Fred, thank you very much for your call. We move onto Brad, in College Park, Md. Brad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRADHey, Kojo. I wanted to first thank you for bringing up the question of whether public unions are different from private unions. I think that's a fundamental question that we need to answer in this debate and I haven't seen it brought up. I would like to offer a dissenting voice, I guess. I do think that public unions are different from private unions and I frame the question and I guess I think about whether this country would be okay with having a military that was unionized.
BRADAnd I don't think anyone would say, yes we should. And the reason they wouldn't is because the interests of the military obviously come second to, the interests of the military members come second to the interests of the United States. I don't think it's too far of a stretch to then say that a public servant has interests that come second to the state or the federal government for which they work.
NNAMDINow, some people would argue that it might depend on what that public servant does. I'm reminded that when Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, he was in Memphis, Tennessee, where he and others argued that the people who were picking up trash in Memphis, Tennessee who happened to be mostly black were treated very poorly and were not paid very well and had to suffer terrible working conditions and that's why he was there at that time. What leverage do you think public employees should have to improve their wages and working conditions if they happen to be very poor?
BRADWell, I think the point is if you're going to say that if public union come second to the interest of the state, then you're right, you have to have some means of driving the wages of public sector union. And I think you can make an argument that that should be done by wages in the private sector. But military members don't have terrible wages and that's because -- it's not because of largess by the federal government, it's because the federal government has to pay the military members the going wage rate in the private sector. So it's the private sector that drives the public sector wage rate. And if you can assume that, then you take away the need for collective bargaining. You're not throwing out all wages for public sector workers, you're just saying that we're going to base it on what's happening in the private sector.
NNAMDIAnd if what's -- and if that is ignored and workers who have no power on their own are simply paid miserably and live in poor and have to -- and are forced to be in poor working conditions, the public employee situation may not be market-driven in a situation like that. What alternative do they have?
BRADWell, that's only if you assume that there's no way that someone who works for a public union could work for someone in the private sector. If the private sector wage rate goes up, then you would assume that someone working in a public union, that public union members would have to be paid more or else they would…
NNAMDINo, no, I'm not thinking about union, I'm thinking about employees. And I'm thinking in particular about trash collecting...
NNAMDI...which is a municipal function as a general rule, so they really can't necessarily go work for a private trash collection company.
BRADRight. If you assume that they can't, then I think you're saying that the interest at stake is different. They're not just -- we're not just employing trash collectors to pick up the trash, we're also doing it as a jobs program. If you say that, then you have legitimate grounds for raising their wages. But if you're just looking to employ someone to pick up the trash...
BRAD...at a reasonable cost...
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you for your call. We do have to move on. Here is Mark in Silver Spring, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKYes, good afternoon, Kojo. I always enjoy your show. I have two general points, both connected by the issue of cost. One point is that the increase in the federal budget has nothing to do with union membership in the government. If anything, under the prior administration, thousands of jobs were contracted out. And trust me, given the tenor of the prior administration, it wasn't to union-laden contractors.
NNAMDIWell, when you're talking about administration, you're talking about the federal government. Here we're talking about public employees at the state and local level.
MARKWell, likewise. Well, that's the first point I wanted to make. At the local level, if anything, the union is a stabilizing force because it ensures fairness and fair wages and fair working conditions. So by getting rid of the unions, you decrease morale and think of the single mother with a kid, what is she going to do? She wants to be motivated and take care of her patients, let's assume she's a nurse. And yet by taking away her rights to protect her...
NNAMDIYou're saying that if you take away the rights of public employee unions to collectively bargain, then you...
NNAMDI...then you essentially kill those unions.
MARKYes, that's the critical point. By collectively bargaining, they ensure an efficient workplace, believe it or not.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We move on to Richard in Bethesda, Md. Richard, you're on the air, go ahead please.
RICHARDHi, Kojo. I'm retired from Montgomery County Fire Department. And I'm a union member. The issue in Wisconsin over collective bargaining is really not, as it's been said before, not about the benefit for what's at stake financially, that's already been accepted by the unions as something they wouldn't give in on. This is really an attempt by the Republicans to crush unionism in advance of next cycle directions, to reduce the power to get out to vote for Democrats and progressives.
NNAMDIAnd Richard, as a former firefighter, you had to notice that there are only two unions that are excluded from that in Wisconsin.
NNAMDIPublic safety unions, police and firefighters.
RICHARDRight. And they have told the governor politely, you know, to take a walk and that they will stand with the other employee unions. And what this is also about is about the Republicans and the very far right conservatives like the Koch Brothers, who are trying to crush the idea of fair wages. It's the unions that established the fair wages through collectively bargaining that applies to the private sector.
NNAMDIBut why do you think they're not going after the public safety unions?
RICHARDThey've made a deal. The public safety unions supported the governor in the election. So, therefore, the governor gave the safety unions a break. But those unions saw what the governor was trying to do and how it impacts collectively unions and people in unions and saw that this was not something that they could support. So that was clear. But the far right is trying to crush the idea that anyone should get fair wages. And right now, it's the public employees who have unions that have got some decent wages, fairly decent wages and benefits. And it's what we all should aspire to.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Here is Debbie in Great Falls, Va. Debbie, you're on the air, go ahead please.
DEBBIEYes, thank you. I agree 100 percent with the last caller saying that this fight is really not anything to do with wages and benefits because those concessions have already been made by the affected unions. And as he pointed out, the ones who were not targeted because they had supported the governor are backing up the other unions. I think it was very clear in the (word?) conversation with Governor Walker and he thought he was speaking with David Koch that this is a fight about union busting. And it's sort of a very right-wing effort to crush unions in general around the country. And I think that...
NNAMDIAnd you think the reason for it is, as our previous caller said, because unions tend to support Democrats?
DEBBIEI think that's part of it, but I also think that unions -- and I don't have any union family members -- but unions are a buffer for all of us to bargain for fair wages, vacation. And they're responsible for the five-day, 40-hour work week, for vacation days, for family leave. All of these things were driven by unions. If we could -- if the right wing could effectively abolish unions, then the next thing would be for employers to start asking people to work more hours for the same salaries.
NNAMDIYou think that this -- you think that that's where this is all headed?
DEBBIEI feel like that is. And it was very apparent, if you listen to that conversation between Governor Walker when he thought he was speaking with David Koch, that this is part of a much broader effort on the part of the right wing to try to put employees in a very difficult situation. A study was done and it was pointed out that the workers in the union, affected unions are paid actually less considering everything if you factor their education.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid, Debbie, I'm afraid we're running out of time very, very quickly. So, could you please kind of finish your thought?
DEBBIEWell the one other thing is that in that field, there is a sub-clause that would allow to governor to, without any bidding process, sell public utilities to whoever he wanted to. It's sort of an extra clause in the bill. And since the Koch Brothers are involved in utilities around the country, it's thought that that might have a great deal to do with why he's trying to ram this bill through also.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. I'm afraid that's all the time we have. I said earlier that federal employees do not have collective bargaining rights. Stan reminded by e-mail, "They do, it just does not include rates of pay or benefits. But it does include many other areas such as working conditions, employee rights and procedures and that most federal agencies have negotiated labor agreements with the unions that represent their workers." Thanks a lot for that e-mail, Stan. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, the NFL Rooney Rule, how it works, how it affects head coaches in the NFL and how it might be spreading outside of professional sports. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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