Saturday, May 11, 2013

GUEST POST: Councilmember Phil Andrews on Union Protest of MoCo Democrats // PLUS: George Leventhal & Others Weigh In

Tonight is the Montgomery County Democratic Party's annual spring fundraiser, the source of a planned picket line from various labor unions in the area. Below Maryland Juice provides a final round of commentary on the controversy from various MoCo and Maryland politicos:

JUICE #1: GUEST POST FROM COUNCILMEMBER PHIL ANDREWS - Statement by Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews on the boycott of the Democratic Spring Ball led by the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO
PHIL ANDREWS: It's no surprise that the Fraternal Order of Police is unhappy with the County Council (unanimous vote in favor), the County Executive, the County's Democratic Party (precinct officials voted 109-14 in favor), and the voters of Montgomery County (58 percent voted in favor, a margin of more than 60,000 votes). All supported eliminating the requirement in law that the Chief of Montgomery County Police bargain the effects of the exercise of all management decisions with the Fraternal Order of Police. No other County union has "effects bargaining" in law and the County Council was wise not to extend effects bargaining beyond its initial mistake in the 1980s of including it in the police collective bargaining law. As the chair of the Council's Public Safety Committee since 2000, my experience is that the effects bargaining provision prevented our County's police department from implementing policies in a timely manner to better protect both the public and police officers. The FOP disagrees and that is their right.

What is notable about the statements of those Democratic elected officials who say they will boycott the Montgomery County Democratic Spring Ball on May 11, as called for by the Washington Metropolitan AFL-CIO, is that none of the elected officials even attempt to defend the effects bargaining requirement that the County Council and the voters eliminated. Their statements essentially say, "If organized labor is against it, the Democratic Party should not be for it." That's what this boycott is about. Veto power. The public will be disturbed that so many elected public officials who are Democrats appear willing to cede the Democratic Party's independence to organized labor.

It's easy to understand why unions want a veto over public policy positions of the Democratic Party, but for elected officials, central committee members, and precinct officials to do so would be an abdication of responsibility to the people we represent -- the public. Public officials should support the positions of unions when they further the public interest (such as living wages which I led the battle for on the County Council, health care coverage, and workplace safety), and oppose the positions of unions when they conflict with the public interest (such as effects bargaining). If adhering to this approach costs the Democratic Party money from unions, that's the price of doing the right thing for the people we represent.

JUICE #2: COUNCILMEMBER GEORGE LEVENTHAL'S EMAIL BLAST ON THE MCDCC PROTEST - George Leventhal sent the following message to his email subscribers regarding the planned labor protest:
GEORGE LEVENTHAL: Dear Friends, I will be attending the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s (MCDCC) Spring Ball on Saturday, May 11. Several unions and some elected officials have announced they will boycott this event. I was MCDCC chairman from 1996 to 2001, and I know how hard the staff and precinct volunteers work to ensure a strong Democratic presence in Montgomery County. I have attended this event every year for 26 years, and I will not be swayed by the protest demonstration.

While I will attend the ball because my relationship with the county Democratic Party is a key part of my history, we should not dismiss out of the hand the protestors’ concerns as petulant. It is the job of leaders to listen to all sides, and try to bring people together.

Union members are understandably frustrated by an unprecedented fusillade of decisions that weakened their economic position and affected their family incomes. While some of these decisions were necessary in the midst of a deep recession, others may have appeared like political opportunism, egged on by The Washington Post editorial page. In 2010 and 2011, County Executive Leggett and the County Council restructured arbitration rules, revised disability benefits, abrogated contracts, increased health insurance and retirement premiums, repealed effects bargaining and some councilmembers even tried to prevent firefighters from raising money for muscular dystrophy research. In 2012, the council hired an attorney at public expense to purge the effects bargaining referendum from the ballot and County Executive Leggett used public funds to campaign against the referendum. To the unions, this barrage of anti-union legislation appeared like an overreach. While some political blowback should be expected, the unions are overreaching in response. They have the right to mount a protest but no right to decide for others who may attend the event.

Presidential historian Richard Neustadt relays an important story about the 1952 transition between Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower: "He'll sit here," Truman remarked (tapping his desk for emphasis), "and he'll say, 'Do this! Do that!' And nothing will happen. Poor Ike-it won't be a bit like the Army. He'll find it very frustrating."

An executive can issue orders, but can only achieve his or her goals by inspiring his or her workforce and earning its loyalty, and our county has an excellent workforce. These are the bus drivers, social workers, police officers and firefighters upon whose service we rely, and whose wages have stagnated. Over the last three years, these people gave up on average about $30,000 through pay freezes, larger contributions to health and retirement plans, and furloughs. The County also eliminated more than 10 percent of the workforce. These sacrifices saved $469 million over those four years, and they continue to save the County $154 million annually.

That’s why I thought it was reasonable to vote for new contracts for county employees that do not amount to double-digit increases in a single year, as has been misconstrued. After four years without raises, the contracts call for a 3.25% cost-of-living adjustment, step increases of 3.5% for eligible employees, and small retroactive step increases for police officers and career fire fighters. The total cost in 2014 is $32 million, still a $122 million savings to the county in that year alone.

The county makes budget decisions year by year. If economic circumstances worsen, when we examine the 2015 budget, we can make adjustments. I don’t feel that a social worker making $53,000 is undeserving of a raise amounting to $75 a week, or that a police officer doesn’t earn his or her $3,600 increase. These are the people who dutifully serve the residents of this county.

Labor and its allies are not only protesting anti-union decisions. Union leaders have told me that the protest is also against an unwarranted tax giveaway approved by the state legislature for Lockheed Martin and special expedited rezoning to allow a Walmart in Aspen Hill. Young Democrats are protesting longtime officeholders who treat their seats as an entitlement. They are unhappy about a sense that the party that they know and love is drifting from its principles. The elected officials who make these decisions do so in good conscience, pursuing their own vision of the public interest. But these same elected officials are accountable to the people who campaigned and voted for them, and the political blowback is not surprising.

With time, cooler heads will prevail. In the meantime, let’s all respect each other’s point of view, not draw lines in the sand over whether or not to attend a social event on Saturday night.

Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you in any way.


JUICE #3: MARYLAND YOUNG DEMOCRATS PRESIDENT JOINS LABOR PROTEST -  The MoCo & Prince George's Young Dems previously announced support of the labor protest tonight, and now the statewide Young Democrats are weighing in with the following press release:
YOUNG DEMOCRATS OF MARYLAND: YDM President to join MoCo Picket Line Tomorrow - One of my most vivid memories as a kid was waking up early some mornings to join my dad on his bus route. He was a school bus driver and on the days childcare fell through, I was with him on the bus…big Joe and Little Joe. Those days helped developed my passion for education even before I was in school myself. Those mornings also helped introduce me to the labor movement. It was because of his union contract that my parents knew if babysitting didn’t work out I could ride the bus with dad. It was because of his contract my family had good health benefits. It was because of his contract that college was always within reach for me if I did my part. Labor has been a key foundation of my family and my life personally. It fundamentally is why I am a Democrat.

This weekend I hoped to join my friends and fellow young democrats to honor the President of the Montgomery County Young Democrats, Dave Kunes for all his hard work at the MCCDCC Spring Ball. He has done an outstanding job not only with MCYD but the entire Montgomery County Young Democrats. However news that the AFL-CIO has established a picket line of the event makes that impossible. The first lesson I learned from labor is to never cross a picket line, and it is a lesson I’ll honor this weekend.

The Democratic Party is a big tent but one of the strongest pillars holding that tent up is the labor movement and an unyielding belief in the right to collectively bargain. So instead of dressing up in a nice suit and going to a dinner party, I’ll have my marching shoes on standing with the men and women who help keep our community moving forward.

-Rev. Joseph Lynn Kitchen Jr.
President - Young Democrats of Maryland

JUICE #4: MORE ELECTED DEMOCRATS JOIN LABOR PROTEST OF MCDCC -  The latest AFL-CIO Metro Council newsletter highlights additional elected Democrats who are joining the labor protest of the MCDCC:
AFL-CIO: Local 1994's Renne reports that the local has lined up live music, food and refreshments for the 5:30p picket, which continues to generate support, with UFCW Local 400 on board, as well as Maryland delegates Kumar Barve, Bonnie Cullison, Sheila Hixson, Shane Robinson, Luiz Simmons and Craig Zucker joining the boycott yesterday.

JUICE #5: DEMOCRATIC PRECINCT OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON MCDCC PROTEST -Emily Koechlin, a Democratic Precinct Official in Montgomery County has provided Maryland Juice with the following letter she sent to some of her friends who are leading the protest of the MCDCC Ball:
EMILY KOECHLIN: This situation has me very, very, distressed.

I have served as a precinct official with the Montgomery County Democrats for over ten years. I am one of the precinct officials who voted to recommend a YES vote on Question B in last November’s election. 109 out of 123 of us precinct officials present at the ballot initiatives meeting voted to endorse a YES on Question B.

I strongly support Labor.  I am very concerned that collective bargaining has been weakened in so many ways throughout the US. However, at the precinct meeting last fall where we precinct officials voted for our positions on ballot initiatives, no proponents of the Police Union position demonstrated that supporting Question B would weaken Organized Labor. I did not walk into that meeting planning to vote against Labor’s position. However, once I heard the arguments pro and con, I voted in support of Question B because I felt I could not do otherwise. Montgomery County Police Chief Manger, as well as other police officials who testified, presented us with very strong, reasonable, arguments in favor of their position. Officials speaking for Labor provided us with pretty much no reason at all to support theirs.

109 out of 123 of us voted to endorse a YES on Question B. 109 out of 123 is 89%. Do you really think that 89% of your Democratic Party grassroots activists are anti-labor and that 89% of us want to “gut collective bargaining?”

Perhaps there were some very good reasons to vote NO on Question B. I would have loved to have heard them.  However, no one testifying against the ballot initiative presented any such arguments. I would have been delighted to have voted to support Labor. However, I am not willing to show blind loyalty to anyone, even family or close friends.

I wish so much that those who are planning to carry anti-MCDCC signs and join the picket line Saturday night had been present to see what really happened at that meeting. In my opinion this action drives a wedge between organizations that all support the hardworking people in our County, our State and our Country. I want to keep unions strong (or make them strong again) in Maryland and in the US, but I think that this approach will not help in this effort, but rather turn people against unions.

Emily Koechlin
Takoma Park


No comments:

Post a Comment