Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Items in the news: Three examples of labor unions behaving badly

Private sector labor unions have all-time low membership, which results from the fact that workers see a relatively low value in belonging to a union. Despite the lack of necessity for their continued efforts on the part of employees, unions nevertheless continue interceding to “improve” conditions that are already good enough for the vast majority of workers, a condition which threatens the continued existence of unions and thus threatens their leaders’ political influence and high pay levels.

The total compensation of some labor leaders places them firmly among President Barack Obama’s 1 percent of people making more than the $250,000 threshold that he believes should pay higher taxes, such as: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka – $293,750; United Food and Commercial Workers President Joseph Hansen – $361,124; National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel – $460,060; and American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee – $512,489.

In our still mostly-free country, if workers want to join a union they certainly may do so. But when you look closely, you see much union activity that does more harm than good, except for the relatively few workers that gain excessive benefits that hurt the businesses they work for and, of course, union leadership and the politicians with whom they are incestuously involved.

In one example from Thanksgiving week, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union was a party in a dispute that resulted in the closing of Hostess Brands, an 85 year-old company that made Wonder Bread, Twinkies, and 28 other products.

The company had 372 separate bargaining contracts for workers, 42 multiemployer pension plans, 5,500 separate delivery routes and a vast production system.

Hostess has had financial problems for several years and had previously gotten concessions from the 12 different unions that represent its workers, but in this last round the Bakery Workers, which represents about 5,000 employees, refused concessions, even after management said if concessions were not accepted, the company would shut down.

The union claims that vulture capitalists sucked out hundreds of millions of dollars by leveraging up the company, and that management had given itself millions in pay raises while demanding worker cuts.

Actually, Ripplewood Holdings injected $150 million in three rounds of investment as the company’s troubles grew, and lost every dollar. The raises were a tiny portion of the company’s losses of nearly $500,000,000 in two years, but Ripplewood rescinded the raises and made each executive work for a dollar per year.

Hostess paid out almost $100 million in health benefits for retirees last year, but over half of it covered workers who never had worked at Hostess. You see, the Teamsters’ “multi-employer pension plan” transfers the pension obligations of a bankrupt company to surviving rivals, speeding up the collapse of troubled companies.

Union rules designed to create more union jobs forced Hostess to run separate truck fleets for delivering bread and its sweet products. Instead of one driver delivering to each of Hostess’ thousands of customers, union rules required two, one for sweets and one for bread. Union restrictions on distribution routes made it unprofitable to serve tiny outlets, yet the union barred Hostess from using non-union distributors.

Workers were asked to take an 8 percent pay cut and pay 17 percent of their health-care costs, like most other workers do, instead of zero. In return, the union would have received 25 percent ownership of Hostess plus $100 million of debt to be paid back to the unions.

Instead, the union made a decision that closed the company, and nearly 18,500 workers will lose their jobs as the company shuts 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers, and 570 outlet stores.

And then there is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that was voted out at Aviation Safeguards at Los Angeles International Airport by company workers who wanted out of the SEIU. In response the union brought in 1,000 members who weren’t employees of the company to block entrances to the airport, inconveniencing hundreds of innocent travelers.

“We petitioned to leave the SEIU almost a year ago, and the contract ended,” Frederick McNeil of Aviation Safeguards said. “And now they’re bringing in outsiders to block travelers who are just trying to get home for the holidays. It’s ridiculous.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers organized Black Friday protests against Wal-Mart, and the National Labor Relations Board refused to respond in a timely manner to a Nov. 17 Wal-Mart petition to prohibit the protest, saying the request would be dealt with the week after Thanksgiving.

Relatively few Wal-Mart employees participated, and one protester carried a sign that said: “I’m getting paid $5.50 an hour by the union to protest Wal-Mart paying $9.50 an hour.”

In the 1920s renowned union leader Samuel Gompers was asked what organized labor wanted, and reportedly answered, “More,” a philosophy that endures today. Unions raise employee costs beyond the competitive level, increasing prices to consumers and putting negative economic pressure on businesses. If unions are to survive, they must cease being enemies of business and become partners with them, working for the mutual success of companies and their workers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The cost of Obamacare seriously threatens businesses and jobs

It is a simple concept: A business is an organization that provides products or services that it believes people need or want, and if it provides good quality at a fair price it should succeed. Some businesses are single-person entities, but most employ a few people or as many as thousands of people to perform tasks related to the production and sale of its products or services, and in return for their labor they receive agreed-upon compensation that enables them to buy things from other businesses like food, shelter, clothing and other needs and wants. It is what makes America run.

Since Leftists don’t understand the way businesses work, they view them with suspicion and not infrequently seek to punish them for doing things they must do to stay in business. They sometimes even seek to punish businesses when they don’t do things the Left thinks they should do, but which have no business-related function.

When you combine the Left’s abysmal understanding of business operations with its compulsion for government solutions to every perceived problem, and add in the habit of implementing solutions without fully considering the repercussions, the stage is set for mass chaos.

Case in point: The ominous effects of Obamacare on employers, particularly small businesses, have been discussed since healthcare reform was just a poisonous glimmer in the Leftist mind. But despite the ample economic reasons for why this healthcare reform was a bad idea, the Left still doesn’t get it: Obamacare raises operating costs for businesses that implement the plan, and when costs rise, businesses must raise prices and/or cut expenses to offset the increase. Higher prices discourage customers, who either find a better price from a competitor or just buy less of that product or service. Both put businesses at risk.

But the Left freaks out when companies opt to protect their customers and themselves from the harmful effects of higher prices when they focus on the biggest expense most businesses have: employee costs.

Because the Left’s solutions are poorly thought out, they fail the common sense test and therefore fail to persuade people to accept them on their merits. The Left then resorts to forcing its ideas on us. Barack Obama’s manic effort to replace traditional energy with “green” energy is a prime example of an idea that people rejected because they saw that it couldn’t work. Nevertheless, the Obama administration declared war on coal and oil production to force us to use inadequate wind and solar energy because they arrogantly believe they know what is best for the rest of us.

Since Obamacare increases health insurance costs, often doubling them, businesses have to decide how to offset those costs. They can cut expenses, raise prices, or some combination of the two. Those who can’t justify increasing prices and can’t cut enough other expenses must look at employment expense, and reduce full-time staff below the threshold level through staff reductions and/or reduce full-time employees to part-time hours. Even companies that decide not to implement Obamacare must pay a $2,000 per employee penalty.

But despite the fact that rising employee costs are the problem, the Leftists reject staff and hour reductions as unfair; believing the money to cover the enormous costs of Obamacare will simply appear out of thin air. Thus, when the Papa John’s pizza chain said it must raise prices or reduce employee hours to get expenses under control, the Left suggested boycotting Papa John’s: To convince the company to do nothing about increased employee expenses, the Lefties propose that people buy their pizza from a competitor. Only the Left would react to an employer trying to stay in business by boycotting it.

Other chains also are boycott targets for the same reason: Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s, and Applebee’s.

Obamacare’s anti-business and job-killing requirements are not the only reason the Left proposes a boycott; a business that doesn’t spend its money according to Leftist dogma also may be attacked.

A self-identified liberal website urges liberals to “bring these people down,” referring to a list of “fast food joints” that the website owner dislikes because of how they use their own money: Chick-fil-A, Cinnabon, White Castle, Waffle House, A&W, KFC, Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, IHOP, Arby's, Chili's, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Hardee's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, Wendy's, and Outback Steakhouse.

All of these businesses deserve our support, and at least one organization supports businesses targeted by the Left’s loony idea. Rebooting America organized a Papa John’s Appreciation Day last week.

One employer who owns about 100 restaurants nationwide decided to pass on the costs to his customers along with reducing employee hours. He plans to put a 5 percent surcharge into effect to help offset the increased cost of health insurance and also to help customers see the harmful unintended or unadvertised effects of foolish, ill-considered policies like Obamacare.
In order to fix a healthcare problem that required only a little tweaking, our intrepid Leftist government instead tried to revamp an entire economic system and created a myriad of other serious problems. What’s really scary is that the worst is likely yet to come.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Peace Through Strength Needed

Commentary by Julianne Jilinski
Nearly 70 years ago, my father piloted a B-17 over Europe and dropped bombs on strategic German targets. They included airfields, oil refineries, factories, and bridges. The goal, shared by all Americans, was to win World War II. After completing more than 30 missions, he returned home safely, but many of his colleagues gave their lives to defend the cause of freedom.
Today freedom is still under assault. In many countries, American ideals and interests are being attacked. In Iran, scientists are laboring on a nuclear weapon capable of wiping Israel off the map and possibly attacking Europe and the United States.
Yet, despite being the world’s only superpower, the United States seems impotent and unable to act. The president and his administration are reluctant to use the word “terrorists” to describe the people who killed four American diplomats in Benghazi.
This is not the America that my father knew and that the Greatest Generation defended. In the past four years, our nation’s strength and standing in the world has been sapped by Obama administration policies that “lead from behind,” put elections before national security, and ignore the words of George Washington who said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace."
Rather than focusing on the nation’s national security, politicians are using our military as a pawn in a dangerous game of chicken over the deficit. If Congress doesn’t stop the so-called sequestration, nearly $500 billion will be cut from the Defense Department during the next 10 years. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called the cuts “a disaster,” warning that, “we cannot maintain a strong defense for this country if sequester is allowed to happen.”
The nation’s defense also could be hampered by the administration’s energy policies, which have wasted taxpayers’ money on green energy programs instead of encouraging a steady supply of crude oil, a commodity that is critically important for our military preparedness. 
During his first term, Obama and his administration imposed a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and issued a five-year drilling plan that will keep 85 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf off-limits to energy development. They promulgated new layers of regulations that make drilling more costly and time-consuming and directed several agencies to consider new federal rules on hydraulic fracturing, despite the fact that the time-tested production technique already is heavily regulated by the states.
The president also gave billions of dollars to Brazil to help it drill for offshore oil, saying he hoped the United States would become one of Brazil’s best customers. And in a move that can only be described as pandering to his political base, Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline which could have delivered 830,000 barrels of secure Canadian oil to U.S. refineries.
More recently, the administration has failed to grant a waiver that could reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol blended into gasoline. As West Virginia poultry and beef farmers can attest, the ethanol fuel mandate has pushed corn prices over $9 a bushel, sharply raised feed costs, and is pushing up food prices.
These counterproductive defense and energy policies are hurting families and the economy, reducing our national security, and emboldening our enemies. They should be reversed and America should reassert its leadership.
By removing the threat of defense cuts, the U.S. military could resume its plans to maintain our national security.
By encouraging the production and distribution of U.S. and Canadian oil, our energy security and our economy would be improved. Analysts at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie estimate that policies encouraging drilling and approving the Keystone pipeline could generate 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.
By granting the ethanol waiver, West Virginia farmers could get some relief from high feed costs, and consumers could see their dollars go farther.
These actions could make America stronger at home and abroad. Restoring America’s might and global leadership should be a high priority for the next president.  I will vote for the candidate who believes in peace through strength.
Julianne Jilinski is a retired government contractor who lives in Mathias, W.Va.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Observations on the 2012 election: odds and ends, and this and that

***** A major factor in this election was demographics. Depending upon your gender, your race, your age and whether you are married or not, that largely determined how you voted.

***** The candidate of hope and change in 2008 won an ugly, vicious victory in 2012.

***** Again, questions arise about the fairness or appropriateness of the Electoral College System for choosing the president and vice president. In 2000: George Bush got 50,456,002 votes for 47.87 percent of the total ballots cast. Al Gore got 50,999,897 votes for 48.38 percent of the vote, and won the popular vote by 543,895 votes, a half-point more than Mr. Bush received, but Mr. Bush won the Electoral vote 271 to 266. This year: Barack Obama got 61,718,420 votes for 51 percent of total ballots cast. Mitt Romney got 58,513,463 votes for 48.0 percent of total votes. Mr. Obama received 2,989,629 more votes than Mr. Romney, or 3 percent more votes, but received 332 electoral votes to Mr. Romney’s 206, a difference of 126 Electoral votes, or 62 percent.

***** During the campaign Republican U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock made controversial statements about rape, which led to their defeat, In Massachusetts, however, Democrat Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, despite her feeble and unsubstantiated claims of Native American heritage so she could qualify as a minority, was rewarded with a victory over her liberal Republican opponent.

***** According to exit polls about 50 percent of the voters who voted for Barack Obama said, indeed, it was still George Bush's fault.
***** Some 3 million Republicans reportedly did not vote in this election. There were also conservatives, libertarians and independents that voted for a third party candidate, or did not vote at all. They said things like, “Romney wasn’t conservative enough,” or “wasn’t libertarian enough,” and, “you know, anyone who’s not perfect doesn’t get my vote!” Each of those people who did not vote for Romney helped re-elect Barack Obama. Maybe they will be happy with the result.

***** Three days after the election Mr. Obama’s Interior Department shut down 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West originally slated for oil shale development.

***** By last Friday morning the Obama administration had posted 165 new regulations and notifications on its website.

***** Celebrating Barack Obama’s reelection and anticipating increases in taxes and fees on businesses from his policies, the Dow Jones Industrial Average immediately dropped 313 points on Wednesday and another 121 points on Thursday, losing 2.4 percent from Tuesday’s close to Friday’s close. Some 40 large companies announced staff cutbacks and closures to counteract increased costs, while other businesses cut back employee hours to part-time to avoid the huge expenses headed their way.

***** An actual “texting” conversation between two Obama-ites (punctuation and upper case added):
Obama-ite #1: “What is Obama’s last name?”
Obama-ite #2: “Obama is his last name. His first name is Brock.”
Obama-ite #1: “So his name is Brock Obama.”
Obama-ite #2: “Yep.”
Should people who don’t even know the president’s name be allowed to vote?

***** The most potent political force in the United States is not a political party, a political coalition, or a super PAC, it is the corrupt mainstream media. Its reporting was heavily biased against Mitt Romney, it has yet to adequately report on the deadly Benghazi scandal, shirked its responsibility to investigate Fast and Furious, and has virtually ignored the continued suffering of tens of thousands of people affected by the super storm that hit the northeast two full weeks ago. The mainstream media believe and dutifully repeat every word uttered by Barack Obama, and once he made his appearance after the storm, they assumed all problems were solved. These now-thoroughly discredited outlets should be required to register as components of the Democrat Party.

***** In his second term, Barack Obama will inherit a failing economy from … himself.

***** Three days after the election, President Obama said, “on Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach." The results show that 51 of every 100 Americans voted for Mr. Obama and his ideas, but 49 voted for someone else and do not support his approach. There is no a mandate to do anything in that result.

***** Many of us recognize that things in America have not improved in four years and in some ways have actually gotten worse. If the president has a mandate, here it is:
  • Put your ideological goals in the desk drawer and start addressing the country’s problems
  • You were elected to serve all the United States and all its citizens; stop playing favorites and pandering to your favored constituencies
  • Start reducing the national debt you increased by $5 trillion
  • Stop spending 40 percent more than the country collects in revenue
  • Stop killing American jobs
  • Stop obstructing and punishing job creators
  • Stop obstructing domestic energy development
  • Admit that radical Muslims are terrorists and start treating them as our enemy

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Responses to Hurricane Sandy are disasters in their own right

The huge storm formed by Hurricane Sandy and associated meteorological elements reminds us just how much we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. The death toll is now more than 110 and may go higher. Thousands have seen their homes destroyed, 131 homes in one New York City neighborhood were destroyed by fire, and thousands more homes received heavy storm damage. Thousands are still without electricity, and while there is gasoline at filling stations, most of them don’t have power to run the pumps, so gas lines are usually hours long. Multitudes have no place to stay, no food, water, or clothing, and it is cold there.
As they always do, the police, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel performed at heroic levels, however, millions of people were gravely affected, and major relief efforts are plainly inadequate, not unlike the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, failed to pre-stage ample amounts of bottled water and other supplies nearby prior to the storm, as it proclaimed it would do on its website as part of its “lean forward” strategy, despite several days of advanced warning of the coming catastrophe. Days later, Staten Island residents were pleading for food and water, and while thousands try to survive cold temperatures without electricity and necessities, generators that could provide power sit idle in parking lots.
And inadequate preparation has been compounded by foolish thinking.
According to Politico, “When President Barack Obama urged Americans under siege from Hurricane Sandy to stay inside and keep watch on for the latest, he left out something pretty important — where to turn if the electricity goes out,” and FEMA “told the public via Twitter to use texts and social media outlets to stay informed.”
Power company workers from Decatur Utilities drove hours from Alabama to lend a hand in New Jersey restoring electricity to the thousands who desperately needed it, only to be told by the local power company workers union they weren’t welcome unless they signed a union agreement.
As reported on the Fox Business Channel website, “Officials from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers presented Alabama-based Decatur Utilities with documents that “required our folks to affiliate with the union,” according to Ray Hardin, general manager of Decatur Utilities. “That was something that we could not agree to. It was our understanding, and still is, that it was a requirement for us to work in that area.”
Ed Hill, international president of the IBEW, told Fox Business later in an emailed statement: "It is the policy of this union and the companies we represent to welcome assistance during major natural disasters -- regardless of union status." Oooops! Apparently, someone didn’t get that message.

And then there’s New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who thought it was a good idea to go ahead with the New York City Marathon that was scheduled for Sunday, only a few days after the storm hit. The mayor drew a parallel between 2001 and 2012, saying "Rudy (Guiliani) made the right decision" holding the 2001 race after 9/11. However, that race was held weeks after that tragedy, while the super storm occurred just days before this year's marathon.

The marathon course winds through five New York boroughs, some of which still are obstructed by the destruction caused by the storm, and the idea of holding the event when so many are still suffering so greatly really set some people off. “All the water and blankets and food that are given to these runners can be better utilized for those who lost everything and to shelters," one outraged resident stated. Before the mayor finally gave in to common sense, storm victims who had taken rooms in hotels and motels were unceremoniously ousted for marathon participants who had reserved rooms for the race.
Rep. Michael Grimm, who represents Staten Island and Brooklyn, sharply criticized Mayor Bloomberg for his initial decision to hold the race as planned. “We’re still pulling bodies out of the water and the mayor is worried about marathon runners and returning to life as normal,” Mr. Grimm said. “The Verrazano Bridge should be used for getting fuel and food in to Staten Island, not getting runners out. Police resources would be best allocated to prevent looting and in rescue and recovery operations.”
A good bit of the problem is that people are focused on the wrong things. New York’s mayor thought it was more important to show the world that New York was returning to normal than helping the tens of thousands of his constituents who are having trouble surviving return to normal.
Hotel managers thought it was more important to honor the reservations of marathon participants than to rent rooms to storm victims whose homes were destroyed or unlivable and need a warm place to sleep.
The New York Road Runners organization that puts on the NYC Marathon couldn’t see the suffering of victims of “recent extreme weather conditions” because its vision of the marathon blocked out everything else.
And FEMA still is beset with red tape, inefficiency and performance issues so prevalent in federal bureaucracies.