Labor Notes: September 2012

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) “has experienced ideological swings throughout its existence depending on the party in the White House,” writes the lawyer who represented Boeing in its recent NLRB case over a new plant in South Carolina. “But the degree of change and the willingness to ignore statutory language and judicial precedents is unique to the current administration.” For example, last fall the NLRB “reversed decades of precedent to allow unions to organize ‘micro’ bargaining units” such as the recently certified bargaining unit “consisting of the women’s shoe departments on the third and fifth floors of Bergdorf Goodman’s store in New York City.”

The Louisiana Association of Educators, a teachers’ union, is fighting furiously against the state’s new voucher law. It had its lawyer send threatening letters to private and parochial schools warning it would sue any school that accepted state funds. Attorney Brian Blackwell demanded that every private or parochial school either quickly send letters to him and to the Louisiana Department of Education refusing the funds, or “we will have no alternative but to institute litigation.”

Government schools in Highland Park, Michigan, have added financial collapse to educational failure. Only 22 percent of the district’s third-graders could pass state reading exams in the last school year, and that was the good news. A mere 10 percent of the same students could pass state math exams, while years more time in the system made students even worse: The percentage of high schoolers who passed reading was half that of third graders, and 0 (yes, zero) percent of high schoolers passed in math. Quite a return on investment for the $16,508 the district spent per student the same year, a sum that was more than $7,000 above the state average. Meanwhile, the district achieved an $11.3 million deficit over and above its $18.9 million budget. In desperation, and much to the chagrin of its teachers’ unions, Highland Park has decided to outsource all of its schools to Leona Group LLC, a private, for-profit charter school company. Although this company typically receives far less per-pupil funding than government-run schools enjoy, students in 19 of the 22 Michigan schools Leona already runs meet state standards.

The city of San Bernardino recently joined its fellow California city of Stockton in declaring bankruptcy, thanks to a deficit of $45 million on a $130 million budget that left it unable to pay vendors or city workers. Its biggest creditors, workers and retirees, “have been unwilling to renegotiate contracts and benefits,” observes the Wall Street Journal editorial page. This intransigence has led to the city’s bankruptcy, even though it has slashed its workforce by 20 percent over the last four years. The city “projects $45 million annual deficits for the next five years,” which means additional cuts to city services that “could endanger public safety and cause an exodus of residents.”

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