2006-05-05 / Columnists

The Progressive

Praise And Thanks
By John Paul Culotta

Every Friday night, one right-wing radio commentator ends his broadcast with praise and thanks for the men and women of our armed forces, police and fire departments, and emergency medical workers.

This praise and gratitude is deserved. Often the same people who voice this praise and thanks are not willing to demonstrate their gratitude in a meaningful way. Many military families are receiving financial assistance, for example, food stamps. The present Bush dynasty's administration wishes to slash benefits for veterans of previous foreign wars.

People all over this planet considered the police and fire personnel in our city heroes after September 11, 2001. Despite this praise, the men and women who we call the finest and bravest found their negotiations for a decent contract stalled by a city administration that was unwilling to settle in a timely manner. Patrick Lynch, the head of the PBA, along with many other public employee union leaders, has called for a change in the Taylor Law. Under the Taylor Law, a New York State law, public employees are forbidden from striking. At the same time, there is no incentive in the law to enforce good faith bargaining by our city, state, and local entities. There is no binding arbitration provision for state employees. The law gives the employer an unfair advantage. Some employees wait years before a contract is settled after the previous contract expires. This is not the way to demonstrate praise and thanks.

Many baby boomers are now finding their years of service to major corporations are being rewarded by cuts in their pensions and retiree health benefits. Corporations made a commitment to their employees and social contract guaranteed labor peace for decades. Now, corporations are claiming in order to survive in the changed economic climate caused by globalization they must renege on the promises of deferred compensation that were made to their former employees.

This practice is criminal when one considers the lucrative retirement benefits given to executives of the same corporations. The average chief executive of a Standard & Poor's 500 company made $11.75 million in total compensation- wages and benefits -last year according to the Corporate Library. According to the Washington Times of April 7, 2006: "Executive compensation is an increasingly sensitive issue within the labor movement as workers in the auto industry struggle to hold on to jobs and benefits, and while workers in the troubled airline industry are subject to wage and benefit cuts either to stave off bankruptcy or to help carriers emerge from bankruptcy." The heads of large corporations such as AT&T, United Health Group Inc, IBM, Exxon, and Pfizer have retirement pensions of $4 million to $6.5 million according to the article.

The right-wing radio commentator, in his zeal to praise some workers, forgets to remind his listeners to show gratitude to this city's transit workers who go to the front lines of the war against terrorism. Subway mass transit stops and buses, as we all know, are the prime targets of international terrorists- remember London, Paris, and Madrid. Recently, the transit workers went on an "illegal" strike because their contract expired. It would appear that their punishment would be to break the financial solvency of the union that bargains for the workers. Unsafe working conditions appear to a secondary issue for the society we live in.

Our commentator forgets to show gratitude to the coal miners who risk body and limb to obtain an alternative fuel for this nation. On April 10, 2006 two miners were killed because of another industrial accident in West Virginia. Coal mines are often not unionized places of employment.

Our commentator forgets to give thanks and praise to the migrant farm worker. Our dinner tables have vegetables and fruits because of their labor.

He also forgets the nurses who work double shifts because of short staffing. When nurses and their unions had legislation in California passed to resolve the short staffing of hospitals and nursing homes, the movement to remove the Governor began. Gray Davis, the Governor signed the legislation. Corporate and health care leaders did not want a worker friendly governor in Sacramento.

Why doesn't the commentator mention the social worker who works dangerous assignments in understaffed child or adult abuse agencies? Why doesn't he mention foster care workers who care for abused and neglected children? Why doesn't he mention the home health aides who work diligently caring for our ill and aged and are grossly underpaid? Why doesn't he mention sanitation workers who are often injured on the job? Why doesn't he mention the teachers who do teach and care about their charges? Why doesn't he mention the correction officers? These people that are in the front lines of our social and economic struggles, work in the public sector and deserve a decent standard living, and not attacks on the organizations that represent them. Lip service does not demonstrate praise and gratitude. Social justice does. It is appropriate to reform the Taylor Law to make public sector bargaining fair and just.

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