Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Senate Bill 5 in Ohio Deprives Public Employees of the ability to Bargain Collectively

I read comments by Tracy Kempton on the Ohio Psychological Association listserve with interest. Actually, the more I read, the more I astonished I became. I agree that psychologists should debate important issues, especially ones on which their professional societies have taken a position. So, let me make a few points in response.

One preliminary point is important to make, however. Earlier in the discussion of Ohio Senate  Bill 5 some members wondered whether it was appropriate for OPA to voice an opinion about a political issue. This seems to miss the entire point of having an Ohio Psychological Association. Correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the main activities of OPA is to look out for the interests of psychologists as reflected in law and regulation. This is fundamentally a political purpose. This association has many political functions.

But what is a political issue? A political issue is anything that people do in terms of creating rules to live by. Rules can be imposed from the top down as they are in authoritarian forms of governance, or they can be negotiated among people who decide to share governance through some political process. One form of shared governance is democracy. Between democracy and authoritarianism there are many intermediate forms. In a complex society there are many centers of power. Once societies are complex enough to move beyond a barter economy, rules for allocating resources and wealth are generated. There is inevitably conflict once multiple interests come in to conflict in complex societies. In a capitalist economy an important source of power rests with those who accumulate capital. Capitalists use their money to induce others to perform work for them, generally for the purpose of obtaining a profit in order to increase their capital. Concentrations of money in the hands of people who have lots of it makes them incredibly powerful. At the same time, access to money is so necessary to those who need money in complex societies that people can die for lack of money. This state of affairs inevitably leads to people who have no capital but who need money to organize themselves in such a way that they can exert some counter control over the people who would otherwise make rules only with respect to the goal of accumulating more capital. What can those who work for money do? They can form associations that can take collective action in order to exert counter control. What sort of actions can be taken? I assume everybody would agree that violence is out. I also assume that everybody would agree that stamping your feet and crying is probably ineffective. Do we really need to spell this out for anybody? The work action options available to organized labor are very well known.

For most of my life I've been a student of history as well as of psychology. Perhaps not everyone is aware of the process by which European societies moved from Feudalism with labor provided via sefrdom to money economies wherein workers were paid money in exchange for labor. It isn't that toward the end of Feudalism there wasn't plenty of production. Populations increased during the early part of the 14th century in Europe and there was quite enough to eat. There was so much excess population that concentrations of people into cities occurred quite naturally, which further permitted the beginning, or rather resumption, of a money based economy in cities. This facilitated trade. Alas, with increased trade and the concentration of people in cities, the black death spread like wild fire and the population of Europe crashed, many localities experiencing mortality rates of over 50%. Guess what that did. That made labor scarce. This fact of scarce labor was ultimately the cause of the demise of serfdom in Europe. The point of this story is to indicate that when labor becomes scarce the price of labor goes up. Now, short of propagating a plague, how else can laborers in any field restrict access to labor in order to increase its value? Where there is the rule of law, and where there is democracy, workers attempt to generate rules in societies that functionally restrict labor. This process over the last few hundred years has resulted in a growing middle-class, and that has led to sufficient leisure such that there was a demand for education, and through the provision of education there has been a flowering of science and technology, productive capacity, the arts, and most of the good things of modern life. I assume that most people who read this far can see where this argument is going.

Now a few points about Tracy's specific remarks:
 Here is what Tracy wrote:
I read with interest, as I have for other issues, the debate among OPA
members regarding SB5.  What perplexes and frustrates me, though, is the
actual lack of ³debate.²  I would imagine that as psychologists, we would be
among the best at seeing both sides of an issue;  yet, when it comes to
issues like these, it appears that we do not do this very well.   My guess
(as politically uneducated as it is) is that this bill will both help and
hurt---depending on how one looks at it.  But given our state¹s financial
outlook, it is clear that something has to be done.

Thus, as I¹ve read the arguments against SB5, and then I read what SB5 is
actually targeting, I just don¹t get it.  The reasons given for the outcry,
as I compare them to the stated highlights of the bill, just don¹t seem to
add up.  Many of you complained that this bill would hurt poor people, and
public sector psychologists. But here is what the bill contains:

1. prohibit public employee strikes:  sounds like a good thing for people
who can¹t afford to stay home or hire a babysitter when their kids¹ teachers
go on strike
2. gov¹t employees will have to pay for their own pension (how could anyone
see this as bad?)
3. public employees will have to pay a greater share of their health
insurance:  again, I¹m sure all of you joke like we do in our offices, that
if a client has good insurance, he/she must be a teacher!  Isn¹t this just
public employees having to do what everyone else has done for a very long
4. limiting negotiations:  well, they can STILL negotiate wages, hours,
terms and conditions of employment, and safety features.  And don¹t forget,
people will always have the option of opposing something about their
jobs<="" at="" can="" choose="" i="" not="" there="" to="" work="">

If you take away the tools of organized labor to exert counter control there will be no counter control.

Pensions are deferred income. When workers take a job they ask about benefits. Teachers are one class of workers who have deferred part of their income in order to assure the stability of their lives while they are in the process of assuring that society retains an educated middle-class. Thus, pensions are already fully funded by the labor of workers who have agreed to work under those conditions.

Health benefits through employment are a relatively new, 20th century phenomenon. It is also true that George Washington provided health benefits to veterans of the Revolution, but that's another story. Health benefits of workers in certain jobs also represent deferred income. Here is another issue that’s worth considering, however. Teacher longevity is valued because knowledge is cumulative. The psychological literature pertaining to childhood indicates clearly that consistency among caregivers and teachers is an important factor in facilitating learning. Some ideas take a long time to clarify and refine for students, sometimes years. The children are not machines that need intermittent supervision by low skilled workers; rather, they require teachers with knowledge, confidence, and with whom they are familiar so that communication can take place in the context of reciprocal understanding. Sick teachers, teachers disfigured by disease, teachers with bad teeth and bad breath, teachers who dressed poorly, is this really the kind of  people we want to place in front of American children? Health benefits for teachers have practical value in the educational process. Has anyone ever heard of modeling?  As for public employees having good mental health benefits, do you really want crazy teachers, unstable police, or preoccupied firefighters?

I'm sure I don't need to belabor the point that negotiation without any leverage is ineffective.

Yes, people can stop working in government jobs. Still, consider how you induce people to enter burning buildings, live in the firehouses, and teach our children. How do you keep these people in their jobs? And yes, with double-digit unemployment filling those jobs for the short-term wouldn't be too hard. But I assume massive unemployment is not the objective for the long haul. Long-term thinking takes a bit of work but I suspect most people who were psychologists can do it. I would sure like to see more evidence of it.

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