Category Archives: Labor

Abood today

I got a question from WDIO today on the case which guts public employee unions. I returned one email reaction. Then I returned a second email with additional comments.

Email from WDIO:

Hey, Harry!

Just checking if you want to weigh in with your thoughts on the Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME ruling. I’m trying to get all the CD08 candidates in our story on the Web.

Let me know if you can pass along a statement.



This decision threatens to eviscerate public employee unions by treating even legitimate negotiation expenses as speech. It violates fair play and past compromises and demonstrates that the Republican Party has succeeded in making the Supreme Court a partisan branch of the federal government. 


BTW my father was the president of the Mankato State college faculty union and taught contract negotiation in their business school. I wrote about it once in the Reader. It has a pretty accurate prediction in it.


My Dad was a life long Republican.

At Hibbing last night

My computer just died so I am composing this on my cell phone. I hate doing this.

I attended a fascinating debate in Hibbing last night at which all the congressional candidates sans one appeared. Trump’s toadie.

From what people told me afterward I made an impression…a good one.

Two people caught my attention. One was a former union man who spent 3 years taking his corrupt union to court in a court system weighted heavily Democrat and pro union. We both patted each other on the back for our valiant if fruitless battles.

The other was a Hibbing teacher who had taken my father’s contract law class and who told me my Dad was beloved in the business school. If it wasn’t for my dead computer I would write more. HOWEVER. Check out my next post. It’s about Abood…….

And my friend sent me this story as well. And if anyone wonders….

…I would absolutely join the union rather than simply pay “fair share.”

On the other hand I can understand how the teacher’s union ran afoul of the new Republican Party forty years ago when it took such a pro choice stand with the dues of a lot of pro life teachers. I say that as someone who is about as pro choice as anyone I’ve ever met as my category on “abortion” makes clear.

By the way here are a couple of the comments I got at yesterday’s Labor Day picnic.

“Why didn’t you sell Central High to the charter school?”

“I don’t think teachers should be on school boards.”

As to the latter matter I simply said state law gives them the right. Its up to the voters to decide if there is a conflict of interest worthy of denying teachers that right. It would take a brave soul to vote against contract increases for your teaching colleagues.

That hotel cleaner you didn’t tip

“Maybe she wipes your child’s face at day care. Maybe he mops the floors at your church. Maybe she makes the beds in the hotel you stay at. Maybe he trims your shrubbery and mows your lawn. Maybe she lifts your elderly aunt in and out of her wheelchair each day at the nursing home.”

My wise school board colleague, Alanna Oswald, shared a column on what it means to be poor with the rest of us. It rings true to her. I recommend it. Here’s another sample:

“But today all that was about to change. She had landed a new job — still minimum wage, but this time with dental coverage. She sat in the waiting room, praying that today would be the day the pain finally stopped for good.

The dentist called Nicole into the exam room, poked and prodded a bit, and listed some treatment options. Nicole crossed her fingers.

But then he stood up and shut her file abruptly, not even trying to hide his disdain. “Look, there are plenty of things we could do,” he said frostily, hand on the doorknob. “But if you’re just going to let everything go to hell like this, there’s really no point.”

And the door clicked shut behind him.”

Some organizations are too big for apologies

Including, of course, the Duluth School Board that promised so much with the Red Plan, took so much and then so much more and delivered so much less than promised.

Of course, the School Board signed on to the Civility Projects pledge which urgently requests apologies for screw ups. There is just no way an organization will do such a thing. The Organization as currently constituted will be composed of folks who feel that since they weren’t part of the organization at the time a mistake was committed it would be hypocritical to apologize since they would be putting words into the mouths of the people who really should apologize.

Ah, but individuals. That’s different. That’s one of the pleasing things about Walter Mondale’s acknowledgement that Ronald Reagan was really a mensch that I included a couple of posts back.

Among the organizations that ought to apologize for its ham handed mean spiritedness is the local AFL-CIO which “banned Don Ness for Life” from paying a call on their Paul Wellstone Hall at the Labor Temple. Hell, they ought to ban all the union workers at the Radisson’s restaurant as well because, as Mayor Ness points out, they had to cross the informational picket line out front to get to their union jobs first.

But while the local head of the union makes himself scarce Craig Olson, President of the Building Trades Council doubles down and sticks up for the decision. That’s the wrap up from today’s story in the Trib.

I’m still curious to know if Rachel Loeffler-Kemp was part of that unanimous vote to embarrass Mayor Ness.

Well, the Mayor has close to 5,000 likes in Facebook in regards to this unforced error by the Unions. Why apologize when you can just let this blow over? Festering always makes things better than an apology which

Mayor Ness banned for life

From the Labor World by way of Perfect Duluth Day. Mayor Ness is forbidden to enter the Labor Temple’s Wellstone Hall for life based on a unanimous vote of unions in Duluth. He crossed a picket line to attend a Rotary Meeting.

What I’d like to know is whether I should be banned for life too because I bought a couple dozen Rotary Roses.

Alan Netland rules the unions with an iron hand. I’d be wary of the candidates he’s endorsed if you care about our schools.

Some Valentines Day Miscellaney

As of 6:58 this morning my website had a stupendous number of hits. It was 7,143. That is better than three times the average number of hits per day on my blog but what makes it truly amazing is that it was not an entire day’s worth of activity. It was only based on visits from midnight to just before 7 AM. I won’t get today’s full statistics until about ten o’clock tomorrow.

If I had any doubt about whether my vigorous posting drives traffic these hits pretty well make the case. It wans when I go silent and waxes strong when I have something to say. That’s good because I will have little to say for next week’s school break. Shortly after I get back I might even have a functioning website set up to take donations for the Johnston Defense fund. I’ve already paid for the website’s domain name. Good, Art’s attorneys don’t work for free not even for the defense of our First Amendment Rights.

My last big post of the day is the one before this. Its already written in rough draft but it should be polished up. Before I work on it I have a couple small items I’d like to share of no great concern to the Art Johnston Saga. They are:

One -Officer Brad Wick won the highest award that can be bestowed on public safety officers at the White House. Twenty years ago Officer Wick was assigned to my children’s school Chester Park and I saw him often during those years when he paid it a call.

Two – I’ve particularly been enjoying the Bygones session since the beginning of the year. I moved to Duluth forty years ago in late August after my marriage. I subscribed to the Tribune within days and so lately every bygones section contains the local news I first read as I became familiar with my new home. A couple days ago there was one that described how the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld that state’s ban on public employee strikes. The Bygones story reports that this decision will have no impact on a planned strike by Superior, Wisconsin teachers that is set to begin the following week.

Teachers in Minnesota were strike happy by this time when I moved to Duluth to teach in Proctor. I mentioned in an earlier post how today’s Education Minnesota (our only teacher’s union) was then two separate competing unions. The laws in Minnesota had been changed in about 1971 to permit teachers to strike and by the time I began teaching the unions were really going to town. Minnesota’s strike mania must have bled over to Superior but Wisconsin hadn’t cleared the way yet legally. I guess the Superior teachers weren’t going to let that stop them.

Those who wonder at Governor Walker’s virulent anti-public employ stance should remember that there has always been a more stubborn conservative streak in that state and it has continued to the present.

Why was Rosie left out?

Another letter in the DNT today from one school board member endorsed Nancy Nilsen, an architect of the Red Plan, and Annie Harala. I would have thought the endorsements might have been an act of solidarity with women candidates but for the absence of a similar endorsement for Rosie Loeffler-Kemp.

I mentioned in the previous post that the spouse of an AFSCME member was a candidate for the School Board. I also mentioned that I strongly supported one of AFSCME’s endorsed candidates. That candidate is Rosie Loeffler-Kemp.

I can not deny Rosie’s deep and long standing involvement in our Schools. I know of no one with more such experience. Furthermore, her involvement has been acknowledged by her peers throughout the state when they elected her for three years to be the President of the State Parent Teacher’s Organization.

I find it curious that she was not included in the letter writer’s endorsement. Continue reading

Virgil Swings and the ball disappears over the park…

… and I’ve been looking for the ball outside the stadium in the parking lot.

Virgil Swing is an old editor for the Duluth News Tribune. Retired now he offers practical editorials for the Little DNT called the Budgeteer which is published each saturday. He offered up a lot of information about the school board elections last Weekend but, Alas, they are nowhere to be found on the DNT’s website.

I’ll mention just one of his cautions, and it was one that Liam strongly objected to, that employees, union members and/or organizers, were not necessarily the most suitable candidates for a job on the School Board.

First, let me state for the record that any voter has a right to run for any political office in a jurisdiction which they have lived in for the requisite period of residency.

Second, let me state firmly that in my experience very few of us like to make our friends mad and most of us know our friends have egos that are easily bruised – like when they are not given the salary raises they feel they deserve.

The School Board and the City Council are the negotiators for the voter’s in contract talks with their unions. When they serve two masters, union and citizens, they will be strongly tempted to side first with friends. If their friends and colleagues are in the union they will be hard pressed to deny their friends better pay and benefits. And….. they sure as hell will want to avoid a strike and also make every parent, who has to find someone to take care of their children, mad.

I fault the public employees for crossing this line more than the teacher’s union. Continue reading


Yesterday was a busy day on many fronts. I kept tabs on the print shop that is printing up my first fund raising letter and the shop that will mail it out. If all goes well it will hit the post office by Friday. Then I put in an order for a lawnsign with some pros who have made signs for me in the past and for Let Duluth Vote in the past. I sent them my simple graphic with orders to spiff it up. It looks sharp and while I’m not all that eager to start fussing over keeping them up after windstorms and mischief I might have them delivered in a week or so. A few might even go up before the Primary election. Liam has already found me 25 or so locations from his phone calling on my behalf.

The most serious political activity of the day however related to the promise I would have to break to the DFT (Duluth Federation of Teachers). I’d called in to say I would participate in their screening of candidates. I’ve probably screened before them ten times including both school board and legislative campaigns. I’ve filed, although not always run, for the School Board on seven previous occasions.

I was going to attend a strictly family birthday party for my grandson but the need to be at the party and not the screening was turned on its head the night before: The letter I wrote to the DFT explains just how as well as offers my reasons for the DFT to endorse me, something they have never seen fit to to previously. Of necessity I included the OP ED piece that would be appearing in the next day’s Duluth News Tribune for the screeners to consider. No one left a message with my phone after the screening so I presume I’ve once again drawn a blank from the DFT. That’s a shame, if its true, but pretty typical.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it:| Continue reading

Will Teacher Tenure changes in Minnesota spark a Walker-like reaction?

This story’s headline in the Strib had me wondering.

I don’t think so. It only effects one, albeit the largest, public employee union. It is good to the younger half of that union. It also gives financially hard pressed school districts the chance to shed their most expensive senior teachers. Also, it comes after decades of public criticism pointed at teacher tenure.

In the case of Duluth this could be something of a godsend. A district desperate to bring down class size and with no prospects for any new money could shed senior teachers at will no matter how experienced or talented. The DFT under Frank Wanner has sucked up so much of the fiscal oxygen that the District has little choice but go draconian on the senior teachers it can ill afford.

I have mixed feelings about tenure. Its supposed to put some spine in teachers to do the right thing but I’ve seen little actual exercise of it in terms of Duluth teachers speaking truth to power in the face of the Red Plan and or Keith Dixon. That inclines me to think it would be no great loss should Mark Dayton sign the bill. I note that a number of DFL Senators voted to scrap tenure protection.

I haven’t followed this closely enough to know what’s likely to happen. I’m frankly fascinated. This may be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Paying your dues

My Buddy sent me this last week. I’ve only just now read it. It comes from a huge horse’s ass Andrew Breitbart. That said it is an important and as far as I can see journalisticly neutral appraisal of the politics of public employee union dues.

Here’s my take.

A. Public employees with enough seniority have very secure jobs.

B. As private sector unions have fallen on hard times over the past four decades of increasing “Right-to-work” labor laws the revenue from public employee’s union dues have become indispensable to the union movement as a whole.

C. The many rights won for all workers by unions in the 1940’s and 50’s have made union protection far less important in the eyes of workers with the result that many workers have adopted as anti union viewpoint as their fire breathing right-to-work fire employers.

D. Many of the protections that existed up until the Reagan ERA for workers are beginning to erode. The best example of this is medical coverage. This is just fine by a new Republican Party which has purged itself of moderate politicians who were comfortable with America’s less expansive version of Europe’s “cradle to grave” protection.

E. Today a right-to-work (and right to starve) GOP is faced with a public that has begun to notice that America has become a land of haves (Mitt Romneys) and have nots (the 99 percent)

F. Having done its best to put black drug sellers in prison and fence out Mexicans and cling to pale “european” skin the GOP is desperate to keep the Public employee Unions from raising money that could be used to challenge Republicans. They are probably right that unions grossly abuse their power to raise political funds from union members. There is a very big BUT in this assertion.

G. Here’s the BUT. The GOP inclined Supreme Court justices have givencCorporations an unlimited First Amendment right to spend money on politics as copiously as they wish. This threatens to turn American politics into a very unlevel playing field based on the 19th century premise that a corporation has Constitutionally guaranteed citizenship rights.

H. I think an equally persuasive argument could be made that corporations should have to allow their stockholders to withold political donations that they have not agreed to just as union members should have the right to deny their dues to be spent for political purposes to which they object.

I. If my point of view becomes law then both right wing business and left wing labor could find themselves muzzled. That would be OK by me.

This Chinese Life

Speaking of nations with which we’ve had on again – off again relations there was a mesmerizing 45 minute long story about China today on the great radio program This American Life.

For those Republicans who are convinced that labor organizations are only a menace the story will be a cold splash of water in the face. Same for Steve Jobs worshipers.

We could do worse than have an American President that can speak Mandarin even if he inexplicably uses it in a Republican Debate.

The Walker Experiment vs. Democracy

Of all the news in the Trib today I think this was the most important to educators. (Once again, its not on the DNT’s website. Maybe they are charged to put AP stories in their own site)

What’s happening in Wisconsin is a grand experiment in control of public sector unions. The law which the 19th century leaning Republicans passed is a “Right to Work” lobbyist’s dream and a pretty wet one at that. In one fell swoop Republicans have eviscerated public employee union’s political power.

Before the law passed, WEAC had about 98,000 members and was one of the most powerful unions in the state, contributing millions to Democratic causes. Lobbying reports show the union spent $2.5 million lobbying lawmakers in 2009 and 2010, more money than any other group.

This summer, the union reported spending $500,000 in support of Democratic candidates in recall elections, and in August announced 42 workers had been laid off as a result of the law. Earlier this month, unions representing about 50,000 public workers opted not to go through with recertification, citing the fees and the lack of bargaining power beyond wages even if the elections succeeded.

My gut instinct tells me that this is overreach Continue reading

Thud Dead, Thud Dead

On Labor day one twit wrote a simplistic editorial for the DNT saying in effect that Labor Unions made people lazy. My first thought was of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which hundreds of seamstresses died because the emergency exits were all chained by management to keep workers from taking non productive breaks. Maybe this seven minute video will give a more accurate summary.

Virgil’s swing…

…is not a miss. Only his Budgeteer column is missing from the DNT’s online site. That’s too bad.

He points out that the public employee union is pushing hard for City Council candidates. Once seated the councilors will determine how much union members are paid. At a time of diminishing Government services this is troubling.

Coincidentally I got a call a week ago from a surveyer not identifying himself asking me if I had decided upon any city council candidates. When I identified the one I Considering the source the suggestion might have cost both candidates votes from our household.

Like Mr. Swing I have no use for Wisconsin Governor Walker’s heavy handedness. That doesn’t mean that public employee’s political power is not excessive. It is, and it will probably continue to cripple Duluth.

Happy Labor Day!

JCI – the Unions best friend

I don’t know how much JCI spends to scrub its google results to hide unpleasant stories and I haven’t googled them for a long time but this story popped up just now. Duluth’s trade unions best pal, JCI, probably doesn’t much like them.

One paragraph:

Mexico’s dominant labor federations are made up of such unions, and have long accepted the notion that pay increases must be minimized in order to enhance Mexico’s “competitiveness,” leaving workers further and further behind the rate of inflation.