Archive for Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Letter: Civics lesson

March 6, 2013


To the editor:

It’s ironic that a “Celebrate Freedom Week” bill (HB 2280) passed the Kansas House last week. The bill requires, among other things, that public schools offer additional lessons about constitutional rights.  

HB 2280 was sponsored by 30 representatives. Twenty-eight of these legislators also voted in favor of HB 2023, which includes the following language: “It shall be a prohibited practice for a public employee organization to endorse candidates, or spend any of its income … to engage in political activities.”

Rather unimaginatively disguised as “paycheck protection,” HB 2023 simply legislates away a sizable chunk of First Amendment rights for targeted groups of people. If anyone needs a lesson about the Bill of Rights, it is the 68 Republicans in the Kansas House who voted in favor of HB 2023.

I’m a science teacher by trade but I think this civics lesson is simple enough, so here goes. House GOP, listen up: The rights of free speech, press, assembly and petitioning of the government do not come with a footnote excluding public employees or groups of public employees. The U.S. Supreme Court agrees. In “Citizens United,” the court ruled that corporations — including labor unions — may spend their own money for political activities.

Passing frivolous laws with catchy names may be cheap catharsis for hypocrites, but as a celebration of freedom, it’s shameful and pathetic. If lawmakers wish to celebrate freedom, they must lead by example. True freedom fighters stand against efforts to silence and disenfranchise any group of citizens.


Richard Heckler 5 years ago

" HB 2023, which includes the following language: “It shall be a prohibited practice for a public employee organization to endorse candidates, or spend any of its income … to engage in political activities.” Rather unimaginatively disguised as “paycheck protection"

This bill and anything labeled as Right to Work are steps taken toward NOT paycheck protection but instead lower wages and zero benefits.

The rt wing believes that workers want to work for less money. That makes these thinkers the Rt Wing Libertarian Neocon Fundamentalist Tea Party for Economic Terrorism...... very very far removed from the fiscally responsible republican thinkers.

handlon 5 years ago

Well said Mr. Reber. Thank you!

Dan Eyler 5 years ago

I don't support public unions. No issues with private sector unions however. But the thought of a government employee providing funding to its union through payroll deductions before the funds even hit the employee's checking account is shoudn't be allowed. These funds are then used to directly influence legislation and the direct elections of candidates that supports the views of public unions is unacceptable. To get around this only requires a government employee write a check to their union after their money is deposited, just as I would do for a candidate or organization of my choice and hope for the best. In all reality the single issue that the public unions are concerned about is that individuals belonging to these public unions won't write that check. The public unions would much prefer to have it withdrawn from the unions members pay long before it is deposited to the employees checking account which assures a constant flow of cash for their cause. The unions clearly understand that convincing the government employee to write that check isn't going to come easy. Funny how often good intentions compete with new tires, doctors bills, groceries and such. The cash for the unions is still there, they just have to provide enough value to the government employee that convinces the teacher to write that check. According to those like the author of this letter, it should be a slam dunk.

jafs 5 years ago

None of that applies in KS.

We're a right to work state, so union membership is entirely voluntary. In addition, the portion of dues that goes towards political activism can be withheld by the employee if they want to do so.

And, the bill in question prohibits unions from engaging in political activity regardless of how the money's been collected.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

That was a lot of words just to say that you agree with petty for pettiness's sake.

jonas_opines 5 years ago

Come not between the faithful and their unexamined talking points.

Paul R Getto 5 years ago

1st Amendment rights go away when one serves the public? I think not.

KSManimal 5 years ago

"I don't support public unions."

That is your choice, but the 1st Amendment doesn't have a footnote saying it only applies to people that kansasfaithful agrees with.

"But the thought of a government employee providing funding to its union through payroll deductions before the funds even hit the employee's checking account is shoudn't be allowed."

Why not? Does pay not belong to the employee until or unless it goes into a bank? What if someone gets paid in cash? Is that money not their own?

"These funds are then used to directly influence legislation and the direct elections of candidates that supports the views of public unions is unacceptable."

Aside from your horrible sentence structure, let's examine what you're trying to say.... If you aren't in fact just attacking public employees and trying to suppress their free speech; then you would also prohibit paycheck deductions for United Way, Coventry Health Care of Kansas, BCBS of Kansas, and a myriad of financial and investment companies who handle employee annuities, HSA's, HRA's, and even KPERS - because ALL of those entities use money to lobby for their own interests....and the state shouldn't be in the business of deducting money from paychecks for groups that lobby, right? just hate public employees and you want to suppress their ability to participate in politics. Shameless double-standard, right there Mr. kansasfaithful - you've done a great job of illustrating the point of this LTE.

jonas_opines 5 years ago

Oh, hahaha.

Suppression of rights to petition and lobby the govt. < words on a license plate

This is what 4 posters actually believe. Apparently.

voevoda 5 years ago

By what logic, rockchalkk1977, is Mr. Reber, a Lawrence resident, responsible for a decision about what words are permitted on Washington DC license plates? Illogical vituperation simply undermines your credibility, rockchalk1977.

JohnBrown 5 years ago

Wow. License plates. Wow....................gee.......................................gosh

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Some government employees get to organize. The Military is still without representation - and take it in the ear regularly. I wonder why??

scaramouchepart2 5 years ago

Don't look now, but your constitutional rights are being REVOKED! As corporations become people we become slave labor. The state is ringing the constitutional trigger right and left. If you want to keep your fundamental rights you must speak up before you no longer have that right.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Well let me restate my point. - If I can not have a union why the heqq do you get to have one?

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Because it is against the law. Kind of a kin to what the legislature is trying to do with this bill. So instead of being jealous of what I actually do not have why don't you help us get the union protection you enjoy.

If the benefits are so generous why are you not in? My benefits are so fantastic that I am on my wife's medical (better than mine) and her teacher pension is about 10% more than my military pension.

Like so many liberals (thankfully not all) anything military draws your ire - why not actually learn something about what you are writing about.

notaubermime 5 years ago

Or the converse: if unions are allowed to some public employees, why are they not allowed for the armed forces?

sciencegeek 5 years ago

I find it interesting how so many people think that public employees should work under conditions that would never fly in the private sector. Private unions may negotiate any number of items, but public bargaining units, with far less ability to influence anything than their private counterparts--those are bad. Somehow, if you work for the public, it's okay that you have to buy your own office supplies, work in sick buildings because OSHA rules don't apply, have your salary made available to the public, have weaker workers' compensation protection, aren't allowed to accept as much as a keychain from vendors (while politicos get wined and dined ad nauseum), and go for years (at least 7 for state employees) without a raise.

Instead of the slightest empathy, let alone support, the too-common response is "Then get a job somewhere else." Oh, yeah? Then who's going to arrest the bad guys, teach the kids, put out the fires, fix the roads, pick up the trash, treat the water, fight the wars, stock the lakes, treat the sewage, and all the other things required to make life possible in this state?

notaubermime 5 years ago

If the employee is good at what they do, knows the job, and promotes an efficient workplace, then the sentiment you express is a foolish one.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

There were three ifs in your comment. If he/she was all three I doubt they would need a union

notaubermime 5 years ago

I am glad that you are able to count.

There is one very large assumption in yours.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

Just observing that quality is its own reward. Why does the better performer have to carry the slacker?

notaubermime 5 years ago

Depends on how you view unions, I guess. Personally, I see the function of unions as being one where better performers with weak bargaining positions band together to strengthen their bargaining capabilities.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

I agree with that notion as long as we do not (the government) bias the process. I was thinking more of union involvement in evaluations where they essentially neuter them to what amounts to protecting the weaker performers.

notaubermime 5 years ago

I would agree with that. I think that a lack of balance in labor negotiations is never good, whether that is skewed towards employers or skewed towards union employees. I personally think that unions are being foolish when they aim to protect weaker performers in the workplace. Weak performers undercut the quantity and quality of work that can be done and that affects everyone's bottom line. Bad co-workers put everyone's job at risk.

That said, we also live at a time when corporate profits (especially in large corporations) are increasingly going to the salaries of CEOs and upper management rather than being shared proportionally throughout the company.

KSManimal 5 years ago

"There were three ifs in your comment. If he/she was all three I doubt they would need a union"

To say that good workers don't need unions is like saying law-abiding citizens don't need due process rights or protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Why not revoke those from the bill of rights? After all,...unless you're a criminal, you have nothing to worry about...right?

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Your comment brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend several years ago. We were discussing whether or not we would allow a police office to look in the trunk of our car if asked during a police stop. I thought about it for a moment, remembered what was in my trunk (a spare tire, a jack, a folded up baby stroller) and said I'd have no problem with it. My friend was adamant, under no conditions short of a search warrant would he let the police look in his trunk.

So which of us was right? Neither? Both? Really, it's just a difference of opinion.

Do good workers need unions? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your point of view.

jafs 5 years ago

It's a matter of choice whether individuals let police search without warrants.

But, it's clear to me that we all benefit from the protections in the bill of rights, in that they protect us from overreaching on the part of the state, which is very powerful.

Would you really be comfortable removing those protections?

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Just because we can say something doesn't mean we should say that thing. And just because we can have unions doesn't mean we should have unions.

Then again, there are times when that thing needs to be said and that union needs to exist. When those times are, is open for debate.

jafs 5 years ago

Not answering the question, I see.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Which protections? The Bill of Rights? Certainly not. Limiting the rights of private sector unions? No. Limiting the rights of public sector unions? Maybe, it depends how you define that. I believe those employees have the right to organize themselves in any way they choose. I also believe it is well within the state's power to choose not to negotiate with those organizations (think air traffic controllers). And I believe the state has the authority to ban strikes by essential employees.

jafs 5 years ago

Why not?

You don't seem to "need them", since you have nothing to hide.

That's your argument, isn't it?

Limiting the rights of public sector unions violates constitutional rights of assembly, speech and petition, as far as I can tell. Not sure about strikes.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Sorry, Jafs, I don't understand your question, why not? Why not what? I don't need them since I have nothing to hide? Again, I don't know what you're asking.

I didn't say anyone's right to assemble should be limited. Form any union you choose. But just because you form a union doesn't obligate the other side to negotiate with you. Your right to assemble doesn't trump their right to not assemble with you.

jafs 5 years ago

Oh lord.

You used the example of letting police officers search your vehicle without a warrant because you had nothing to hide, which suggests that you don't "need" 4th amendment protections because you're not a criminal.

Then you said you oppose removing 4th amendment protections. So I asked why, since you seem to feel that you don't need them, and they just protect criminals.

I agree that there's no obligation on the part of employers to negotiate with unions - that's why there's no real need to limit them in the way the right seems to want to do these days.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

You're missing my point. yes we have freedoms. Yes I believe the freedoms should be kept in place. But that doesn't mean I have to exercise those freedoms every day, in every instance. I said that just because I can say something doesn't mean I should say something. That's not a call for the elimination of freedom of speech. The two are not mutually exclusive. I can let the police search my car if I choose. And you may choose otherwise. Just because we have that right doesn't mean I must live my life as you live yours. We are still free to make different choices.

Too often in politics, when one side says they are acting on principle, the other side says they are disingenuous. Five minutes later, their positions reverse. The practical reality of today's party politics is that big business has become an arm of the Republicans and unions have become an arm of the Democrats. If the right (Read: Republicans) are fighting unions, it's nothing more than a fight by proxy against the left (Democrats). It's the mirror image of the Democrats' fight against big business. It's nothing more, nothing less than part of our political process.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

I am confused. I certainly have a right to freedom of association - to join a union. I do not as far as I can fathom have a right to strike if I work for the government - unless the government allows it. At least that was the argument as to why we in the military could not organize.

So perhaps I have not made myself clear or perhaps you are on a hignh horse that I am not challenging

All my union comments are confined to government unions - like the NEA - oh wait a minute they are a professional society like the NSPE who were blocked by the courts from organizing even in a commercial world.

What did Gates say "Life is not fair"!!!!

handlon 5 years ago

Kansasfaithful is embarrassing.

Dan Eyler 5 years ago

kansasfaithful has big shoulders, and clearly has others attempting to explain the facts. Everyone wants a bang for their buck. We freely write checks to the organizations we like because we think they will do some good. The public sector unions should have no worry about their members writing a check each payday? I imagine we will are going to find out soon enough. But you will get no argument from me regarding from those who will soon have to make that decision.

jafs 5 years ago

Read up on the issue before commenting further if you want to make informed comments, please.

I and others have furnished accurate information that shows your concerns are unfounded, and that you underestimate the effect of this bill.

jonas_opines 5 years ago

"(IF) you want to make informed comments"

Well, there's the problem right there.

Paul R Getto 5 years ago

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose,"

With this bunch of "small government" types we will continue losing.

Mike Ford 5 years ago

gotta love kansas going back a century to fool it's simple citizens.....

jafs 5 years ago


You only have that freedom to make that choice because of the 4th amendment, without which you wouldn't have a choice.

Similarly, if people have the choice to belong to a union, and choose not to make that choice, fine. But it's clear that the right is trying to eliminate them in a variety of ways (and has largely succeeded).

Since there's no obligation on the part of employers to bargain with unions, and employers can fire people "at will" in KS, there's really no need to try to get rid of them, as far as I can tell, except that they generally provide better wages and working conditions (historically) for labor.

Also, if people stop exercising their freedoms (read: rights), there's a real danger that the state will overreach, even though they're theoretically prohibited. For example, you let the police search your car without a warrant, and they "find" evidence that wasn't previously there.

Our courts have bent and weakened 4th amendment protections way out of shape, much too far for my comfort, already, with "exigent circumstances" and "warrantless" searches routinely upheld, even by the SC, in ways that seem completely inconsistent with the founders' intent.

I saw an interesting lecture by a defense attorney, in which he said categorically that talking to the police without a lawyer will never do you any good, and often do you harm, if you're brought in for questioning. Obviously, he has an incentive to say that, but a police officer he brought into the conversation agreed with it. That's a good example of how not asserting your rights may harm you, even if you're innocent.

He provided a number of very reasonable sounding examples and scenarios showing how that happens.

And, people who don't have much contact with law enforcement, etc., like generally law abiding citizens, may think it's perfectly fine to do it, since they haven't done anything wrong. Did you know that police are allowed to routinely lie to suspects, and threaten them in ways that aren't realistic?

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

You're not connecting the dots that I've drawn for you. Yes, the Republicans are making union membership a little more difficult. But as I said, big business and Republicans have become synonymous while unions and Democrats have become the same. What the Republicans in this state, and in a few others, are doing is making life difficult for the Democratic base. That's nothing more than party politics. Mitch McConnell wants to make Obama a one term president. Obama says his goal is to return the House to Democratic control. It's all part of the political games being played by both parties at all levels of government. It's amplified here, with the Republicans holding such a large advantage. But it's still the same game. Or are you equally critical when in solidly blue states big business are being taxed and regulated to the point where they too say they are being treated unfairly?

jafs 5 years ago

That's a huge understatement - if you look at union membership, and what's happened to it, unions are almost extinct these days.

I am more sympathetic to labor than management, generally speaking, because of my understanding of how labor has been mistreated over the years, and of the historical evidence that average salaries have stagnated, while salaries of those at the top have skyrocketed.

Did you know that the top 1% have about 40% of the wealth in this country?

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Yes, I know that the top 1% in this country control a vast amount of wealth. I've mentioned this in the past, but I personally come from humble beginnings. As a child, we weren't desperately poor, but getting close. I'd estimate we were in the bottom 25%. Now, my family and I are doing pretty good. Not wealthy, but comfortable. I'd say I'm in the top 25%. While wages have stagnated for years now, I've been able to leapfrog over half the population. The thing is this, what I did and how I did it is not that extraordinary. I truly believe that anyone could do it. I did it by taking the chance and opening our own "mom and pop" business. As such, many of my experiences are similar to those of business and I understand where they are coming from. But remember, Jafs, my beginnings were in social services, just like your wife. I could have continued there and stagnated. That's what happens when you work for someone else, you put yourself at their mercy. Sure, you may be comforted by that steady check that comes in every two weeks, the exact same dollar amount. You get weekends off, holidays and vacation. You work 40 hours, no more, no less. You take no chance. No chance that the business will fail because of what you did or didn't do. But your rewards are stagnation. Our country was built on an entrepreneurial spirit that has also stagnated. While unions advocate for 40 hour work weeks, paid holidays and vacations, all the rest, a side effect is they are advocating for stagnation. It's an unintended consequence, but it is a consequence.

I'm all for workers quitting their nice safe jobs and going out there in the competitive marketplace and finding their own path. Some will succeed, some not. Those that do not will learn from their failure and succeed the next time. But for those who choose not to, for those who choose the safety of their unions, the safety of working for someone else, your reward is stagnation. It's a bad trade, in my opinion.

jafs 5 years ago

Glad you've been successful.

But, that doesn't address the obvious glaring wealth disparity in this country, and the fact that average salaries for workers have stagnated, with many folks actually having less purchasing power due to inflation than years ago, while money has been traveling to the top in obscene amounts.

Your small business bears little resemblance to "big business", I'd wager.

Unions never advocated for stagnation, they advocated for worker safety, just compensation, etc. The decline of unions in this country dovetails quite nicely with the stagnation in wages, fewer benefits, etc.

Your story is laudable, but not everybody is cut out to be an entrepreneur. I think that those who work for others should be adequately compensated and treated well - after all, all of those entrepreneurs can't possibly succeed without employees.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Here's the thing, Jafs. If you tell me that those who have accumulated their wealth did so in some illegal manner, I would support whatever legal means necessary to confiscate that wealth and prosecute the offenders. If however, you're not saying that, then your stat. about 1% owning 40% of the wealth is just a couple of numbers. It doesn't explain anything.

There has been much discussion about the problems of wealth distribution. Along with the disproportionate amount of wealth comes a disproportionate amount of taxes paid. And as you know, I've advocated for tax increases on the wealthy. (Of course, I also advocated tax increases on everyone).

I didn't say unions advocated for stagnation. What I said was that it was an unintended consequence of what they did advocate for. What they did advocate for was good, but without taking into account the unintended consequences, you're painting an incomplete picture. I'm not saying unions are bad. I'd characterize my opinion as being 51% pro-union. But that leaves a 49% that needs to be addressed. Not swept under the rug.

jafs 5 years ago


It explains that over the last 30-40 years, wealth has become increasingly concentrated at the top, while those at the bottom and middle are suffering. CEO salaries are now about 300-500x average salaries, compared with about 30-50x average salaries in the '50's.

Legal/illegal aren't the only distinctions to be made here.

As unions have declined in number and strength, average Americans have seen their incomes and purchasing power stagnate and decline, as those at the top have made out like bandits. Those two things are clearly linked, in my view, and show an inverse relationship, rather than the one you portray.

Did you know that most Americans, when polled, greatly underestimate the disparity in wealth in this country, and think that it should be even more evenly distributed than they think it is?

I'm glad to address whatever problems there are with unions, but I don't think that "stagnation" is their fault at all. In fact, I'd say that unions protect against the kind of wage/benefit stagnation/decline I've been discussing, and it's a direct result of the decline of unions.

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

"Did you know that when most Americans, when polled ... " I suspect when polled, most Americans cannot name the three branches of government. I suspect that when polled, most Americans don't know who the representative in Congress is. I suspect that when polled, most Americans know or care very little about what goes on in both the areas of politics or economics. It's a sad truth. But it is the truth.

Then again, most Americans don't know about or care about what has become a complicated international marketplace. Whether unionized or not, if workers demand an income so high that companies can go overseas and get the same goods produced at substantially lower costs, they will. That might not have been the intent of the workers making those demands, but that is the unintended consequence. Both sides will play the public relations game. Workers will make claims that they're just asking for a living wage. Companies will say they're just providing the American consumer with the products they want at a lower cost. But the result is the same, the jobs are overseas.

I'm not a big fan of CEOs making so much, compared to the average worker. But what I would be less of a fan of is having the government come in and say they couldn't do that. That government intrusion would be more onerous to me. It's the role of the shareholders in those various companies to impose those restrictions. And with 50% of the population invested in the market, they have the power to do that. That they haven't is another indication of their total apathy.

jafs 5 years ago

Since labor costs are astronomically lower in many other countries, American workers would have to be paid virtually pennies in order to "compete" with that - it's just not practical.

I agree there's an issue of costs of consumer goods to be considered, but as long as there's a balance, it should work out - in other words, Americans can make less money, and pay less for goods, or make more and pay more. If the goal is overall health of the economy, it's better to have more American jobs with higher wages, and higher costs of goods and services. Especially if that means that they're supporting businesses that employ Americans.

Well, we disagree on that - I'd be thrilled for the government to impose maximum salary ratios.

It may be an indication that the folks who are invested in the market have little incentive to do it, because they're not the ones suffering from the disparity. How many poor/lower middle class folks do you think are in the market in any significant sort of way?

jhawkinsf 5 years ago

Really, you want government setting wages. How much is Justin Bieber worth, compared to the band playing at the Granada tonight? You want the government determining that? You want the government saying that LeBron James can only make so much as compared to the guy riding the end of the bench? What those guys make is truly obscene, if you ask me. But less obscene than the government telling us all what they can and cannot make.

The real solution is to not buy Justin Bieber tickets and not go to Miami Heat games. But Americans have spoken, they regularly sell out. Tickets are probably scalped for much more than face value. We say we don't want the pay disparity, then we shop at Costco or Wal-Mart. We say we want jobs here, then buy goods produced in China and Bangladesh. We say this, then do that.

jafs 5 years ago

I said I'd be glad for them to set maximum salary ratios of CEO/average pay, not set all salaries.

And, I'd be ok with other things like that, like perhaps maximum wages in general. To me, the disparity between wages in this country is absurd, and not based on any sort of rational considerations.

I do neither of those things.

You're forgetting that as people make less money, they have fewer choices of where to shop - it's a downward spiral. And, as fewer and fewer companies locate here, there are fewer and fewer "American made" goods to even consider.

If more companies stayed here and employed Americans at reasonable wages, then consumers would be able to afford those goods and services, and we'd have an upward spiral. I think it was Henry Ford who said that he wanted his workers to be able to buy his cars - not a bad idea.

George Lippencott 5 years ago

I certainly have a right to freedom of association - to join a union. I do not as far as I can fathom have a right to strike if I work for the government - unless the government allows it. At least that was the argument as to why we in the military could not organize.

All my union comments are confined to government unions - like the NEA - oh wait a minute they are a professional society like the NSPE who were blocked by the courts from organizing even in a commercial world.

You have a right to organize if you work for the government and itallows you to do so and then they can limit your scope of negotiation.

In fact that applies to unions in the private sector - not directly - but because of government intervention. It is difficult for employees in a small company to form their own union - the incentive is to join something existing that might have high dues and political interests not aligned with yours.

jafs 5 years ago

I don't know about striking issues. But, certainly if that were the only issue, you could have a military union which disallowed strikes, but allowed much of the other negotiations of unions.

I think that government "allowing" unions and/or "limiting" negotiation violates the constitutional rights of assembly, speech and petition.

Nothing requires employers of any kind to negotiate with unions - they can simply decline all of their requests. That fact alone makes this attempt to limit unions unnecessary. And, in "at will" states like KS, employers can fire people at any time, without giving any reason at all, unless people have an employment contract (which most folks don't have, to my knowledge).

George Lippencott 5 years ago

The government believes that there is nothing that the military members can be allowed to negotiate in the interest of "good order and discipline". Or in the aggregate the interest of national security.

'Jafs says I think that government "allowing" unions and/or "limiting" negotiation violates the constitutional rights of assembly, speech and petition."

I don't think that the government can disallow unions (except for the military) but it can block strikes in the public interest - if they can convince the courts it is in the public interest.

They also can refuse to collect dues and they can ignore a unions demands unlss laws have been enacted to the contrary.. I believe the current fuss in Kansas is about laws that empower unions to negotiate a number of issues with local school boards - denying the local school board the ability to ignore the union or to impose work rules the union disagrees with.

Note the teacher unions in Chicago went on strike. So obviously that issue is not decided. Of course the issue in Minnesota was the scope of union rights in dealing with the government.. That seems to have devolved to some compromise but not a union shop. Frankly I have lost track.

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