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Archive for January 7, 2012

Governor Walker and PATCO

Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda

In order to understand the debate over collective bargaining in Wisconsin last year, it is helpful to consider the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or PATCO, a labor union that represented U.S. air traffic controllers from 1968 until 1981.

With the rise of aviation as a profession after World War II, highly specialized work of managing air traffic evolved using radar and communications technology originating in the military. In developing a process to manage U.S. aerospace, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hired mostly white, ex-military men to manage aircraft traffic in U.S. skies. Because of federal law, air traffic controllers were restricted from collective bargaining on compensation, and specifically prohibited, as government employees, from using strikes as a labor negotiating tactic. They partnered with attorney F. Lee Bailey to organize PATCO and used sick outs and work slowdowns, to negotiate those terms they could with the government.

On the verge of a breakthrough in 1981, PATCO was in negotiations with the administration over compensation. Ronald Reagan had secured PATCO’s endorsement during the 1980 election campaign, and was willing to consider collective bargaining on compensation, even though it was legally restricted. PATCO members and leadership misunderstood how far the administration was willing to go in the negotiations, called a strike and President Reagan fired all of the striking air traffic controllers without hesitation for an illegal strike. The union was decertified in 1981.

So what’s the connection to Wisconsin and Governor Scott Walker?

In his book Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers and the Strike that Changed America, author Joseph A. McCartin quoted Governor Walker on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011, the night before he introduced a bill to decimate public sector bargaining rights in the Wisconsin legislature.

“You know this may seem melodramatic,” Walker said. “But thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan…had one of the most defining moments of his political career, not just of his presidency, when he fired the air traffic controllers.” According to McCartin, Walker held up a photo of Reagan, said it was time to follow Reagan’s example, saying “I’m not negotiating. This is our moment. This is our time to change history.”

Here is where Governor Walker has it wrong.

Walker seeks to strip collective bargaining rights to balance his budget. When Reagan fired the striking PATCO members, he did so at great cost. Attorney fees for the government were more than a third of a million dollars, but the real cost was more than a billion dollars to retrain workers, a billion dollars per month in lost revenues for the airlines in the aftermath of the firing and the untold cost of compromising public safety, in the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 on Jan. 13, 1982, killing 78 people. When Walker claims his action was to balance the budget, he is repeating a Republican talking point that rose from Reagan’s action and not dealing with the reality of the value of public sector employees, and the true cost of replacing them. (See note 1).

We live in a time when if we hear an idea we like, we rush to believe in its efficacy. More simply, if the corporate media is reporting something, there must be something to it. If one thing came out of the PATCO strike, it was the idea that any employee, even one with highly specialized knowledge, can be replaced. What is not mentioned, or considered often enough by politicians, is that there is a high cost to hire replacement workers, one not measured in budget line items for salary and benefits. Failure to look at the big picture is a primary grievance many of us who live in the real world have with our government.

Note 1: For a detailed explanation of the investigation of the contributing factors to the crash of Air Florida Flight 90, See McCartin, Collision Course, page 326. McCartin explains that the air traffic controller level of experience was a contributing cause of the accident.

While The Media Focused On The Clown Car In Iowa

Americans are amazing. They love their sporting events. And they can turn darn near anything into a sporting event. If there are two bugs crawling in the same direction, an American boy will sit and watch to see which one gets to a certain point first.

Such is much of the fascination with the presidential selection system that has evolved over the years. It has changed from a convention, one race, one time race to a now six to eight month long series of races, horse races if you will, that our media focuses on almost to the exclusion of everything else. Even news that should affect issues in the races is often ignored. And here in Iowa where we are in the middle of the very first race, we often hear little else that happens in the world.

Here are a couple of things that happened in the past couple weeks that may be of major importance in evaluating a president.

First : Weather
First off it is quite warm in Iowa. Quite, quite warm for December and January. With most of the hottest years on record coming in the past two decades  it is very scary to think what this trend means. For one thing, some scientists have indicated that we are nearing or may have passed some irreversible tipping points. And remember the whole world has weather and many places in the world have had incredible hot temperatures.

I have read some opinions recently that the mild winter will have consequences for our food crops, especially organics. While the non-organics can still add nitrogen the natural process is dependent on snow and cold. And for all crops the insects that attack them are usually mitigated by winter. Without winter to kill off the bugs, plus the migration of new bugs may have consequences next fall. Remember also that Iowa is the least diverse farming culture in the world with most of our crops being either corn or soybeans.

Second: Heating fuels
We still do have to deal with winter cold in the US. Our conventional ways of heating in this country are becoming much more dangerous and expensive while we do little to transform our country to renewable energies and smart delivery systems.

– While we no longer use coal in our homes, it is of course our main source of electricity. I think most folks know just how serious a polluter coal is. Plus the methods for extraction are a ecological disaster along with being quite dangerous.

– Oil has been the background cause for our buildup of a huge military if not the cause for wars itself. Plus pollution is a major concern. And now there are many indications that oil is running out

– Natural gas. Many looked at NG as the savior that would lease us some time to transition from the oil based economy. But the extraction method currently in favor has become a major source of concern. Last week an earthquake in Youngstown, Ohio of all places highlighted at least one of the major problems with the fracking method for getting NG. Destroying the ground we live on is a heck of a price to pay for heat

– Nuclear power has many problems. One of the huge red flags to me is that no insurance company will insure a nuclear power plant. That should tell you all you need to know about nuclear power. But if you need more convincing, look at Fukishima.

So what does that leave? Well, it leaves the answer that most other advanced countries are pursuing with vigor. That is some combination of solar / wind / renewable fuel. The evidence is in and the answer is about as plain as the noses on our collective faces. While America continues to be held hostage by the fossil fuel industries, other countries are workin hard to free themselves from the chains that being beholden to one industry can cause.

While the goal of freeing our country from the dependency of fossil fuels is in itself admirable, creating this infrastructure would create thousands possibly millions of jobs. So even the side effects of creating a new energy infrastructure will pay huge dividends. The commerce created by the investment in this new infrastructure would be incredible. My guess is that it would be many times that of the Eisenhower Interstate system.

And if we do not do this, we will slowly slide into the role of the sick man of the western world. We will be sitting by while other countries capture the benefits of lower cost, more easily controlled energy sources.