I received this post in an email from a crusty old curmudgeon from Alaska who was involved in politics and labor relations up there. I’ve sent it to my representative and he gave one of the editors permission to post it here. Some of you may know him and love him (or not) but most of us agree whole heartedly with what he wrote here. I know I do:
I spent the years 1987 – 2006 representing the management of the State of Alaska in collective bargaining with the State’s unionized employees. All of that except 1997-1999 was with the executive branch in actual negotiations, grievance adjudication/arbitration, and labor board hearings. I quit the Executive Branch in ’96 because I hated Democrats and worked for the Republican-controlled Legislature in the ’97 – 99 Sessions advising them on collective bargaining matters and specifically in an attempt to substantially reform our very union-friendly collective bargaining law. Along the way I think I learned a little about dealing with Democrats and leftists/unions.
I saw two iterations of the bargaining process. In the early days most of the unions were independent employee associations. They played some politics but it was mostly aimed at making sure nobody challenged their legal existence and at making sure the Legislature would approve contracts they negotiated with the Executive Branch. The unions might try to pick your pocket from time to time but they understood that the Employer had interests and you had to respect the Employers’ interests if you wanted to work. They were burdened by their legal duty of fair representation and would sometimes defend an indefensible employee, but you could usually work with them about a poorly performing or misbehaving employee.
That all changed for the bulk of our employees in 1988 when our largest group became an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO (AFSCME – they’re the ones with the green shirts) and our employees began their transition to the storm trooper wing of the Democrat Party, often pursuing National agenda rather than local issues and often forsaking the interests of the employees for political positions or advantages.
If you were wondering what happened to the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) of the ’60s look no further than the leadership and operative level, especially National staff, of the big public employee unions like SEIU and AFSCME. The Democrat Administration realized only too late that the earth had moved beneath their feet as they had stood by and let AFSCME replace the local independent association as the representative of the bulk of our employees.
While Gov. Cowper had been elected with a lot of public employee union support, he hadn’t been supported by and didn’t know the players of this union, AFSCME. They sent their DC heavies out to bargain an initial agreement with us and they gave us a great big dose of Beltway arrogance and we responded by making their misery our mission. We on the LR staff, as well as most of the Administration, were Boomers in our forties. We learned quickly that to deal with these people we needed to stow most of our knowledge of labor law and practice and take a quick refresher in the Marxist/Maoist/Trotskyite tactics of the ’60s. With AFSCME’s arrival, bargaining simply became politics and political theater by other means. Throw in the communist radical view that the “revolution is its own morality” and you had people almost impossible to deal with.
They would lie when the truth was better having the same view as the Muslims that lying to an infidel, or the employer, was not only a right but a duty. You could not bargain in good faith with these people!
I never in the last ten years or so of my career saw a serious written proposal. They’d do a press release with a bunch of pie in the sky objectives. They might make an initial proposal that has all sorts of insane things in it calculated to make their most radical members happy and to be immediately and forcefully rejected by the employer. Since they wouldn’t seriously bargain and did all their “bargaining” in the media – while accusing you of bargaining in the media – you had to bargain with yourself as you kept going back to them with new, always compromised, positions trying to come up with something they’d accept. Problem was, every time you moved towards them trying to get something they’d accept, they’d take it as a sign of weakness and up the ante. Sound familiar?
How many times I’ve had to say to a Republican principal that our objective wasn’t to “get an agreement,” our objective was to secure our objectives; they needed the agreement, we didn’t – it is a fundamental lesson lost on most of those nice guy officeholders. If you’re some nice guy from Middle America who thinks that the purpose of negotiation is to arrive at an agreement you can both stand, you’re screwed in dealing with these people; they don’t really want a deal, they want the process of screwing with you and making you look bad. The only time they’ll actually make a deal is if they’re about to suffer some real pain at your hands. If you don’t have the means to inflict real pain on them, economic, political, or physical, if necessary, you can’t achieve your objectives in bargaining with the modern union-trained leftist political operative – that would be most Democrat officeholders and operatives.
If you have an eye to the polls and the media, you can’t win; if you’re not roundly hated, you’re not doing your job. You just have to have your big conflicts early enough in the Administration or the Legislature that you can achieve your objective and then do your political damage control. It is almost too late; the battle should have been provoked when the Left was reeling from their losses in the ’10 election but a pitched battle now, even one that provoked a government shutdown or a faked default would get an agreement and give time to attempt repair.
The fundamental lesson is that you CANNOT WIN the political and media battle so you must win the war. Comrade Obama will recognize a labor relations term of art: NFW, it’s an emphatic way of saying No … Way. That’s what he needs to hear and he will only understand it in those terms. You don’t even offer him the opportunity to accept your deal with a little lipstick on the pig so he can tell his people he got something. Tell him you’re going to cut up his credit card and you don’t care what he does after you do it. Then when SHTF time comes there will be a lot of bleating and wailing but in some quiet, dark place a deal can be hammered out and each side can go tell their constituents how they saved the World, but you won’t get a deal unless you make it clear that it is SHTF time and you brought your raincoat.
Rush Limbaugh and Erick Erickson have been right; the House leadership has been played because they acted like the Middle American business people that they are and tried to bargain a settlement with people who didn’t want one – that’s what the leadership can’t comprehend, and what all too many other Republican officeholders around the Country can’t comprehend.
You don’t deal with these people like a customer or like somebody you want to buy a piece of real estate from or settle a lawsuit with. Unfortunately, that kind of bargaining is the only kind most Republicans understand. When they think of negotiating, they think of “Getting to Yes,” while their opponent is reading Saul Alinsky and thinking of furthering the revolutionary cause of bringing about “fundamental transformation.”