Archive for Saturday, February 26, 2011

A look at how labor laws work in Kansas

February 26, 2011


Collective bargaining

Here’s how collective bargaining works for public employees in Kansas, according to a Kansas University law professor. Teachers are treated under a different section of the law but undergo a similar bargaining process.

• First, it’s not called “collective bargaining” in the statute. The employee and employer may “meet and confer” to enter into a “memorandum of agreement.”

• No strikes or lockouts are allowed for public employees in Kansas, so whenever there’s an impasse in negotiations, it’s resolved through a combination of mediation and fact-finding.

• If negotiations aren’t completed by a determined deadline in the law, and mediation hasn’t resolved the issue, an independent fact-finder is appointed.

• The fact-finder issues an independent recommendation, and if the parties can’t agree to that, then the dispute is resolved by the Legislature or other governing body involved. That, in essence, makes the ultimate decision rest with the employer, giving employees an extra incentive to strike a deal before it gets that far.

Teachers in Wisconsin continue to express their anger over being stripped of their collective bargaining powers.

Kansas University distinguished law professor Elinor Schroeder studies labor laws and is paying attention to what’s happening in Wisconsin.

While not familiar with that state’s laws, Schroeder guessed that Wisconsin would be friendlier to unions, given that Wisconsin was the first state to adopt collective bargaining, and because it was a more liberal state than Kansas.

Also, Kansas is a right-to-work state, meaning that it’s illegal to require that a person pay union dues and fees as a condition of employment. Wisconsin has no such restrictions.

In Kansas, when negotiations between teachers and school boards break down, mediators and fact-finders are called in, but their recommendations aren’t binding. School boards have the ultimate choice in whether to accept or reject those recommendations.

Iowa, for example, has a stronger law for unions, said David Schauner, general counsel for the Kansas National Education Association. That law requires school administrators and teachers to submit their last, best offers to a mediator. That independent third party then makes a recommendation that’s binding for both sides.

Schauner said that while the KNEA wasn’t completely happy with the structure of the labor laws in Kansas, he’d probably give them a “seven, maybe a seven and a half,” on a scale from one to 10, with a 10 being the best law.

“These parties will be in a working relationship with one another indefinitely, so bargaining ought to be like problem-solving,” he said.

As is the case in Wisconsin, workers can get pretty upset when collective bargaining rights are curtailed, Schroeder said.

In addition to using the collective negotiating power to get better wages, benefits, working conditions and other concessions, studies show that the most important thing unions do for employees is that it gives them a say.

“It gives them a way to express their voice against the power of the employer,” Schroeder said.

It’s hard, she said, to stand up as an individual, for fear of repercussions.

Could what’s happening in Wisconsin happen in Kansas? Unions are sometimes an easy target for conservative lawmakers, Schroeder said.

“Hopefully it wouldn’t happen, but it’s conceivable,” Schroeder said.


somebodynew 6 years, 9 months ago

"Could what’s happening in Wisconsin happen in Kansas?"

Heck, it has already started.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Taxpayers have the power to elect folks who agree with their perspective, and will enact legislation that they like.

If legislators just raise taxes indefinitely, they will have to deal with the reaction of voters.

Jimo 6 years, 9 months ago

"Unfortunately, the "employer" (read taxpayer) has no power in the employee/employer relationship."

How so? By what magical Spiderman-like abilities do public unions have any power other than the power of persuasion. Rather, despite the fantastical claim reprinted above, all power lies with the taxpayer (so long as they pay attention, a presumed prerequisite in a democracy).

Public unions have no power to strike. They have no power to do more than make demands. And the "employer's" representative -- the gov't -- has the unrestricted power to say: "no."

As multiple state Governors have politely remarked when asked about the radical Wisconsin Governor's approach, they've sat down, worked out the solution their budget needs, and the union has agreed to changes.

Jimo 6 years, 9 months ago

Indeed. Hardly the image of terrorists holding a gun to the head of taxpayer hostages that some of these loons seem to believe.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

Imagine a situation where the United Auto Workers union (UAW) sits down with (say) GM. But the union does not like the negotiating team GM has sent. So they substitute a group more of their own liking to negotiate on behalf of GM. What will be the likely result? A deal more to the liking of the UAW. Well that's what happens when public employee unions sit opposite Democrats. Because those Democrats receive large cash contributions from the union, because they can rely on the union to get out their members to vote, call and rally, the Democrats are indebted to the unions. Deals made under those circumstances are not made with Democrats representing the people. Rather they are made specifically with the interests of the unions and their own self-interest in mind. That's how Wisconsin got into a situation where a collective bargaining agreement was so out of whack with what the private sector would get (the less than 1% pension contribution). Fast forward to the present, the Wisconsin governor wants to severely limit the ability of unions to negotiate. While this may seem like an over-reaction, it may be just a recognition of the fact that at some time in the future, Democrats will gain power again and will revert to their history of giving unions more than they deserve (again, because they will owe their election to the efforts of the union). I have no problem with the collective bargaining process in the private sector. But it doesn't work in the public sector. And stating that government represents the people is just wrong.

Jimo 6 years, 9 months ago

Imagine a situation where the Wall Street Banks sit down with (say) the banking regulators. But the Wall Street Banks do not like the regulatory team the regulators have sent. So they substitute a group more of their own liking to regulate on behalf of the people of the United States. What will be the likely result? A deal more to the liking of the Wall Street Banks. Well that's what happens when the Koch Bros., et al, sit opposite Republicans. Because those Republicans receive large cash contributions from the various billionaires, because they can rely on their corporations to get out their checkbooks to bribe politicians, astroturf and rally, the Republicans are indebted to the Wall Street Banks, corporations, and sundry billionaires. Deals made under those circumstances are not made with Republicans representing the people. Rather they are made specifically with the interests of the fatcats and their own self-interest in mind. That's how the U.S. got into a situation where tax revenues are lower than at any time since 1950, causing a massive budget deficit, but the only topic on the table is how much spending can be sliced off the backs of the poor and middle class while sending massive welfare tax rebates to plutocrats.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 8 months ago

Much of what you say is true and I agree with it. Republicans have been in bed with big money and big corporations for a long time. Deals made between them should be looked at with great skepticism. I've said as much in several previous posts. That said, I stand by my above comment. Deals made between unions and Democrats should be deplored with equal vigor as the deals made between Republicans and big money.

Jimo 6 years, 8 months ago

That said, unions have maybe a hundred million or two to spend to pay as bribes to politicians. Corporations have as much money as it takes.

Example: Koch Bros. were looking at $1 - 20 BILLION in lowered profits if Democratic carbon legislation passed last year. You don't have to be genius at economics to figure that it is rational for them to spend up to that amount (which they have --- and more!) in bribes to keep it from passing. In the end, the Kochs spent about $100M -- a bargain!

Besides, last I checked, my neighbor down the street (AFL-CIO) can't create a global financial collapse. Massive financial panics, in contrast, are routine, predictable, and preventable (with adequate regulation).

Besides, unions have to report the source of every dollar they spend (it comes from Charlie and Phil and Marylou and your Uncle Bob). Corporations' sources are secret, mysterious, sometimes foreign, and ultimately unaccountable.

So no .... "equal" vigor isn't appropriate at all. Not by a mile.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

"It’s hard, she said, to stand up as an individual, for fear of repercussions."

Exactly-- this is what Republicans want, and why they dislike unions so much. In their strictly hierarchical view of employment situations, employees should be seen, and not heard, and employers should be mini-dictators not required to offer anything like collaborative opportunities to their subordinates. Wages, benefits and working conditions should be determined solely by the employer, and they should be able to fire any employee, at any time, for any or no cause.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

It absolutely matters that Wall St. got those bailouts, and continued to reward those at the top with large bonuses, while laying off hundreds of thousands of people.

Those who created the mess are actually benefiting from it, while those who didn't are suffering.

The situation is absurd.

imastinker 6 years, 9 months ago

The mess was created by policies from the clinton and bush administrations. Giving homes to people that can't afford them is a disaster. The stock market was due for a correction, and was made much worse by the foreclosures and job losses and loss of consumer spending that followed the housing crash.

The government needs to stop meddling with the markets in this way. Unfortunately, as long as the interest rate is where it is and the government owns 90% of home loans, it will continue. Obama will own some of this mess if he doesn't do something abut it too.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

" Giving homes to people that can't afford them is a disaster. "

Actually, this was not government policy. Quite the contrary.

Almost all of the liar loans were originated by private lenders, and it was they who offered loans to people they knew couldn't repay. But they knew they wouldn't be holding onto these loans, but would be packaging these up into securities that would be falsely labeled as AAA by the corrupt ratings agencies, and sold to unsuspecting investors. They got to take their commissions and run.

And they made lots of loans to otherwise qualified buyers in which they passed over government loan programs that had much stricter requirements but better rates in favor of loans with really bad terms that these people couldn't repay, simply because the people writing the loans could make more money off of them.

As much as you want to make this economic collapse strictly about the government, the facts are that it was really caused by massive greed and corruption in the private sector, while the government looked the other way (thanks to both Republicans and Democrats.)

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

That's my understanding as well, and the results of the investigation that was just completed.

I do wonder a couple of things, though - how can people get loans they won't be able to pay back - why don't they know that?

And, how can these investors buy sub-prime mortgage backed securities, and really believe they deserve such high ratings? Isn't it obvious that the backing mortgages are risky?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

I think many institutional investors (pension funds, etc.) merely saw the AAA rating, and investigated no further.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

Then they got what they deserved, if that's true, in my opinion.

madameX 6 years, 9 months ago

In answer to your second question, as I understand it the high ratings were based in part on the assumption that, say, 2% of the loans would default but that the other 98% would not, therefore the profit on the other 98% would make up for the loss on the 2%. So the inherent riskiness of mortgages was acknowledged by factoring in a default rate, but said default rate was stupidly underestimated. And I have no idea why that is, because it should have been glaringly obvious to anyone with any level of common sense that sub-prime mortgages aren't called "sub-prime" for nothing.

In answer to your first question, I know that some of types of loans that ended in default were developed in the first place to serve (and profit from) borrowers who don't fit the "20% down payment, worked at the same job making the same salary for the past 10 years" mold that prime mortgages are meant for, but can, in fact make the payments. For example, when I bought my house, I knew that I would be able to make the payments because they were about the same as the rent I'd been paying for the past few years, so barring some major catastrophe I'd be good. But my financial picture did not fit the classic "prime borrower" mold. So I ended up with a so-called subprime mortgage

(which I refinanced as soon as I could)

(a re-fi that was made possible in part because I and Mr. X met the qualifications for a loan that went towards our lender's community reinvestment act quota)

So I suspect what happened in the Great Mortgage Disaster of the Late '00's was that lenders went from originating sub-prime loans for slightly risky but still likely to pay, non-traditional borrowers to getting way too lax and not looking very closely at all at who they were lending to, for the reasons cited above (they'd be selling the loans off as securities anyway, defaults wouldn't be their problem, etc.)

As for the borrowers who should have known the wouldn't be able to pay the loans back, well, plenty of people in this country are really not responsible with their finances. It's not a very nice thing to say, but that's about the best explanation I've been able to come up with.

drich 6 years, 9 months ago

You provide no source for you statistics. Maybe you should do some homework before you spout your uniformed opinion. Check this out:

Look at the link, notice that it is based on actual data.

dontsheep 6 years, 9 months ago

50 states...50 planned protests today.

Hey LJW...could you do a story summarizing state worker benefits in KS vs the average private sector. I read yesterday that in NJ...some town's police officers have 60-70% of their salary as fringe benefits. They are paid a shift differential for day shift, they get their b-day as a paid holiday, pay nothing for health benefits, etc.

I'd like to see what those who are (and will be) protesting currently have.

I can't help but get the impression that in some ways, many of the protesters in WI could be compared to a spoiled kid, already bribed by their parents, now coming back asking for more after Dad loses his job and while the family is looking at foreclosure.

seriouscat 6 years, 9 months ago

"I can't help but get the impression that in some ways, many of the protesters in WI could be compared to a spoiled kid, already bribed by their parents, now coming back asking for more after Dad loses his job and while the family is looking at foreclosure. "

Hmmm, funny how that is precisely what the anti-union spin masters want you to believe. But how closely have you really looked at the issue?

From Forbes magazine:

The Wisconsin Lie Exposed – Taxpayers Actually Contribute Nothing To Public Employee Pensions

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to “contribute more” to their pension and health insurance plans. Accepting Gov. Walker’ s assertions as fact, and failing to check, creates the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not. Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin’ s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

Johnston goes on to point out that Governor Walker has gotten away with this false narrative because journalists have failed to look closely at how employee pension plans work and have simply accepted the Governor’s word for it.

Because of this, those who wish the unions ill have been able to seize on that narrative to score points by running ads and spreading the word that state employees pay next to nothing for their pensions and that it is all a big taxpayer give-away.

brewmaster 6 years, 9 months ago

The labor laws in Kansas are dictated by Koch Industries.

Jimo 6 years, 9 months ago

The labor laws in Kansas were almost precisely as the are now before anyone heard of Koch Industries (including the Kochs).

brewmaster 6 years, 8 months ago

The Right-to-Work law in Kansas was enacted in 1958 with various amendments added through the present day. Fred Koch and Koch Industries influenced Kansas politics decades before 1958.

werekoala 6 years, 9 months ago

"In the public sector, the "employer" (read politician) has no such interest; he can just continue to raise taxes to pay for whatever bad contract he agrees to."

Where do you get this nonsense? Do y'all just sit around repeating it to each other until it takes on the aura of truth? Marginal tax rates are the lowest since before the Great Depression. And if there's ANYTHING the past two years have shown, its that the one thing that IS off the table is tax increases.

We would rather let infrastructure crumble, take health care away from sick kids in poverty, and turn our backs on veterans than ask our beloved billionaires for a single dime more!

Honestly, y'all sound like battered wives. "If we can just cut his taxes enough, he'll stop hurting me" sorry ladies, he's moved on to China. That's what he wants now. If you really want him back, you're gonna have to be as sexy as she is. You know, lose all the weighty workers rights you put on over the last century. Quit nagging at him when he makes a mess of the environment. And stop asking him to be a better provider!

Maybe then he'll take you back....

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 9 months ago

I love watching so-called conservatives complain about high salaries.

These are the same folks who are outraged whenever it is suggested corporate bonuses and salaries are out of control.

Talk about living in a fantasy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

Shock Doctrine-- Paul Krugman, excerpt

"What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.

And then there’s this: “Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).”

What’s that about? The state of Wisconsin owns a number of plants supplying heating, cooling, and electricity to state-run facilities (like the University of Wisconsin). The language in the budget bill would, in effect, let the governor privatize any or all of these facilities at whim. Not only that, he could sell them, without taking bids, to anyone he chooses. And note that any such sale would, by definition, be “considered to be in the public interest.”

If this sounds to you like a perfect setup for cronyism and profiteering — remember those missing billions in Iraq? — you’re not alone. Indeed, there are enough suspicious minds out there that Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire brothers who are playing such a large role in Mr. Walker’s anti-union push, felt compelled to issue a denial that it’s interested in purchasing any of those power plants. Are you reassured?"

The Koch brothers have major investments in the power industry in Wisconsin.

Is it any wonder they were compelled to buy a governor there?

weeslicket 6 years, 9 months ago

whacky whacking whackety whacks whacked whacks whackedly

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

Actually, they just want to get paid for doing their jobs.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 9 months ago

KUrolls has the government unions confused with the folks who are really after taxpayer money.

I would suggest a quick perusal of the lobbyist rolls. Add up the number of unions with lobbyists and compare it to, you know, all the rest.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 9 months ago

Prove it. Or, you know, tell little stories. You seem to be good as saying whatever comes to mind as if it were fact.

Jimo 6 years, 9 months ago

Probably the single most confused item out of this whole topic is the idea that wages are one thing and benefits are another. In fact, they're no more different than measuring a water right by volume or by flow rate.

This is true for all workers and all employers - private or public. If the cost of health care insurance goes rapidly up then other costs (wages) will have to be limited. If you refuse to pay retirement benefits, workers will demand more pay. Break these balances and good workers will look for work elsewhere, or employers will be priced out of hiring more workers (or go out of business, if private).

In fact, pension benefits allow the employer to defer payment (which is probably why employers tend to over-promise this type of benefit). But regardless whether private or public, the taxpayer ends up subsidizing too-big promises. If public, the taxpayer pays more taxes. If private, the company files for bankruptcy, and shifts its pension liability off to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (taxpayer guaranteed). While future pension liability should be rigorously analyzed and disclosed, limiting liability is no panacea: workers just demand more wages instead.

Indeed, the lessen for unions is clear: demand present cash in hand so it can be banked by the employees and shy away from deferred compensation that may never come. Once the economy returns to full vigor, expect to see a lot of wage inflation.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 8 months ago

That's an interesting concept, wages and benefits are really all the same thing. Your suggestion that workers should just get the money in advance and forego the benefits, Hmmm, just thinking here, but are you saying we eliminate all sick leave, vacation, holidays, etc. and just get a higher hourly wage? Workers would then have to work 40 hours every week, never taking a day off. Is that realistic? Wouldn't it be probable that workers would then just not show up for work on Christmas Day, their anniversary or whatever days they choose? It sounds like a prescription for abuse. Whether public or private sector, I'm not sure how a business/government could operate under those circumstances. And as a society what would we do with people who choose not to save for retirement or pay for health care. Having already been paid for those things, will we then put them out on the street? If not, wouldn't that encourage abuse? I don't know, looks like swiss cheese to me.

Jimo 6 years, 8 months ago

Not sure why you're off on such a tangent.

As to .. what would we do with people who "choose" not to save for retirement ..... well, they end up on Medicaid, which the taxpayer pays for.

Strange - pension recipient don't have that problem. They're "forced" to save - with money they never see until later. You don't have to be a socialist to recognize article headlines in the Wall Street Journal trumpeting "For Babyboomers, 401(k) Prove to be Bust: Transition from pensions to self-saving called disastrous by experts".

It's hilarious actually: because gov't - and corporations - is too cheap to fund pensions, workers run out of money in their old age and end up on gov't welfare. Retirees don't have money to spend and so pay no taxes (while the wealthy retirees avoid taxes by paying tax accountants). No doubt Repubs will complain about gov't spending then too! It's just a feedback loop of GOP faith in misinformation.

werekoala 6 years, 9 months ago

You would think people would want those responsible for ensuring that government responsibilities are met fairly and efficiently to be some of the best and the brightest. Instead, it seems the modern GOP will only be happy when the people responsible for purifying our water, policing our streets, and protecting consumers are people who can't get a job flipping burgers.

I suppose millionaires can afford bottled water and private security so they really don't care. But the rest of us should be very concerned about the effects of rhetoric and policies designed to neuter our public institutions.

The Tea Party's biggest myopia is thinking that their corporate leaders have an "everyone but you" clause in their dogma. They aren't just coming after poor black people & illegal immigrants. Yes, they are coming after your benefits. Yes, they will happily pollute your neighborhoods and water down your kids' education. But the rich are ever happy to divide & conquer those of us who work for a living.

usnsnp 6 years, 9 months ago

I question to government workers have a benifit that they do not pay taxes. As far as I know all government workers pay Federal, State, Local, Property and Sales taxes just like everyone else. So they are taxpayers.

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure you understand what "intern" means.

Jimo 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure you know what "taxpayers" or "pay" or "money" is. It's obvious you don't understand how economies operate (it all just magic to you, isn't it?).

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 8 months ago

So government workers are slaves? Got it.

Jimo 6 years, 8 months ago

I thought they were rich? Or something like that. (Made more sense in the original Polish.)

yankeevet 6 years, 9 months ago

He who writes the checks; make the rules; union or no union............and if u dont like the pay; just go away...........................Shakespere..

Jimo 6 years, 8 months ago

One of the most elemental of all human rights is the right to belong to a free trade union.

Jimo 6 years, 8 months ago

I doubt the Polish Communist Party could have said it better than you have. Congrats Comrade!

ksriver2010 6 years, 8 months ago

"Also, Kansas is a right-to-work state, meaning that it’s illegal to require that a person pay union dues and fees as a condition of employment. Wisconsin has no such restrictions."

That's no restriction. That's the opposite of a restriction. I don't have to join a union to work at a place that has a union. And union dues won't be taken automatically out of my paycheck.

Its true that it a right to belong to a union. It is also a right to NOT belong to a union.

somebodynew 6 years, 8 months ago

But isn't it nice to have the choice ??? But then if the Gov't can take all the powers of a union away (collective bargaining) I guess you can just beg the masters for whatever they will give you.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.