Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Votes for Sale in Congress

Doling out favors in exchange for votes on key legislation isn't anything new in the halls of Congress. One of the most notable examples occurred during the vote on the Medicare prescription bill several years ago, when Republican leadership in the House of Representatives allegedly offered campaign contributions to the candidate son of a congressman who was wavering on his vote. Today, it appears to have happened again; President Obama - in perhaps one of the wildest coincidences ever - nominated Scott Matheson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

What's the coincidence? Only that Matheson's brother, Jim, is a congressman from Utah - and is a wavering vote on the health care reform bill.

If anyone tries to say this is just a coincidence after Matheson decides - after what I assume will be couched as "careful consideration and listening to the views of [his] constituents" - to vote yes, I won't be able to look at them with a straight face. The country is going broke, legislation that we can't afford gets passed almost daily, and votes are getting bought and sold like stocks in a Madoff investment portfolio. Madoff got caught for his Ponzi scheme and the fact that the taking of one person's money to pay off the dividends of others was a house that collapsed around him.

When will the congressional Ponzi collapse?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Labor Boss Redux: Andy Stern and the SEIU

As a brief follow-up to my post yesterday on the effectiveness and value of union leadership, I was interested to read a story on the website for the San Francisco Bay Guardian regarding leadership elections held for SEIU Local 1021. I think the headline says it all: "SEIU Members Oust the Old Guard."

According to the story, the defeat of the entire slate of candidates put up by SEIU president Andy Stern "was a stunning repudiation of the union leadership." And Stern's candidates didn't just lose; they lost big. The article continues, "In addition, it could roil SEIU's internal politics after a turbulent year, in which Stern created divisive clashes with his own local health care workers, UNITE-HERE, and the California Nurses Association."

A separate article on the website of the Alliance for Worker Freedom also questioned the disparities in the pension funding levels of SEIU workers. According to their analysis, "In 2006, the SEIU National Industry Pension Plan, a plan for rank-and-file SEIU members covering 100,787 workers was 74.9% funded. A separate fund for employees of SEIU had 1,305 participants and was 90.6% funded. The pension fund for SEIU officers and employees had 6,595 members, and was 103.3% funded. This inequity was not always the case. In 1996, the SEIU National Industry Pension Fund had close to 110% of the funds it would need to pay all promised pensions to its workers."

Further, "The problem of poor funding is not only in the national pension plan. Research by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealed that 13 SEIU local pension plans were all less than 80% funded. Six of them were less than 65% funded. In 1996, all of them were more than 65% funded, and half were more than 80% funded. While those who were in poor shape back in 1996 are worth significant concern, the Massachusetts Service Employees Pension Fund is perhaps of greater concern. It fell from nearly 110% to 70% funded in 10 years, and the SEIU 1199 Upstate Pension Fund fell from 115% to 75% since its inception in 1999."

Pension plan security for the leadership, and pension plan shortfalls for the rank-and-file members.

So again I ask the question: are union members - in this case the SEIU - really benefitting from their leadership? The folks in San Francisco don't seem to think so, and I wonder if those who are checking their pension coverage feel they are getting the best...