Wolf in Scribes Clothing: The SEPTA Strike and the Subterfuge of Philadelphia's Media Monopoly


Political Scientist Michael Parenti catalogued seven generalizations about the way the news media create anti-union messaging--from painting workers as greedy, to omitting the salary of management or depicting public officials (like Mayor Nutter) as neutral. Using this lens to dissect the coverage of the SEPTA strike, it becomes clear that local media like the Inquirer and Daily News have a dangerous anti-union bias, once again making the case that to build our own movement we need our own media.

Building on Nutter, FOX News, and the SEPTA Strike, it is vital that we look at the atrocious coverage of The Inquirer and in particular the work of staff writers Melissa Dribben, Jim Moran and Kia Gregory in the article Another Infuriating Day for Commuters. Basically the journalists utilized every metaphor and trick possible to make workers seem greedy and divide transit workers from other Philadelphians, explicitly taking the side of SEPTA management at a critical juncture in the contract struggle.

How was this done? Principally through using the voice of everyday Philadelphians to put forward an anti-union, pro-management message. In Michael Parenti's book, Inventing Reality: The Politics of Mass Media, he looks at seven basic generalizations of mass media's mistreatment of labor struggles. Those mistreatments are:

1) Portrayal of labors struggles as senseless, avoidable contests created by unions' unwillingness to negotiate in good faith,

2) Focus on Company wage "offers" omitting or underplaying reference to takebacks, and employee grievances, making the workers appear irrational, greedy and self-destructive

3) No coverage given to management salaries, bonuses or compensation and how they are inconsistent with concessions demanded by workers

4) Emphasis on the impact rather than the causes of strikes, laying the blame for the strike totally on the union and detailing the damage the strike does to the economy and public weal

5) Failure to consider the harm caused to the workers' interests if they were to give up the strike

6) Unwillingness or inability to cover stories of union solidarity and mutual support

7) Portrayal of the government (including the courts and police) as a neutral arbiter upholding the public interests when it is rather protecting corporate properties and bodyguarding strike-breakers.

Based on these seven generalizations let's take a look at the coverage of the strike in the story: Another Infuriating Day for Commuters. It is clear from the title that the authors are focused on the inconvenience the strike presents to commuters with no focus on the reason the strike began or the fact that 5,500 workers have been laboring for 8-9 months without a contract or job security.

However, in the fifth paragraph the fun begins as the authors use a commuter to voice the message:

The union is a monopoly... and people hate monopolies. One hundred years ago, corporations were the wolves. Now unions are the wolves.

While this is a nonsensical point because it misapprehends the point of collective bargaining, the message is clear, everyday workers are greedy, irrational and un-American. Moreover workers, some which make 28K a year, are selfish, while there is not so much as a peep on the salaries of management—who get 100% of their healthcare paid for and receive up to $195,000 per year in salary—which is almost 7x more than some SEPTA bus drivers. But why should journalists allow an inconvenient fact to get in the way of their story.

The article goes on to focus on the difficulty of commuting during the strike, tacitly painting TWU workers as the culprits. However the article ends once again voicing the concerns of another commuter that says that this is a bad economy and the union has to accept the reality of the economic crisis like everyone else and basically end the strike and accept whatever contract the noble management offers.

What this article and most of the reporting of the SEPTA strike illustrates is the anti-union bent of our local mass-media. In this article, the journalists decide not to quote one member of TWU local 234, nor offer one positive portrait of these hard working transit workers (for workers' perspectives on the strike go here), while quoting several anti-union commuters. In looking at the overall reporting of the Inquirer, Daily News, and our local TV affiliates, each of Parenti's gross anti-union generalizations have been core themes of the reporting

Make workers look greedy and irrational
Do not examine management salaries,
Avoid focusing on the cause of the strike
Attempt to make public officials like Mayor Nutter and Governor Rendell look neutral

Clearly the mass media has a vested stake in the outcome of this strike. How long are we gonna allow our media to be so explicitly anti-union. It is time we created our own media!

I hope everyone circulates Todd's blog widely

This is a great piece, Todd. I would only add that there's another contributing factor to the squeeze on government workers, i.e., the successful effort by the rich to prevent progressive taxation at all levels of government. Thus working people assume that if more revenue is needed to pay government workers decently, the burden will be on them. And unfortunately, because so many legislators are under the thumb of the rich and big business, this is largely true. Hopefully there will be a fight to make the tax code progressive, and that can unite working people behind common goals. Of course if we allow unions like TWU 234 to be crushed, there will be no one to lead that fight, along with so many others that are key to a just world.

are you saying septa workers are not paid

decently? septa workers contributions come to about 10% of their pensions. me and all the rest of the states non govt workers contribute 90% to each septa workers pension . is that fair.?

That's why they have a union.

In order to get paid decently, which they wouldn't without it. I don't know where you work ian, but if you don't get paid as well as you think you should, you ought to organize a union. In the meanwhile, you shouldn't begrudge the gains of other hard workers who have found a way to fight for what they have coming to them.

Of course, if you're management, and you get twice or three times what ordinary workers get, it is your job to squeeze the unions so that you can keep yourself on top . . . . way on top.


for this really excellent deconstruction of the Inky's coverage of the SEPTA strike.

The Great Breakdown

I think that Todd does a good job of breaking down the fact that the main stream media does not understand worker struggles. As an organizer, I take that as a given when I work on any campaign;

Since that is the present reality, social justice movements must carefully plan how we are going to get our message out. Social justice movements are largely efforts to define, defend and retake the "commons." We want to take those things that a few elites and privileged have and make them available to all of us. That fight is often the struggle to win good wages and benefits like our employers have (in the case of unions) or good transit funding (building the common or public transit through dedicated funding) or even net neutrality (defending the commons against corporate take over). The fight for the main stream airwaves should be seen no different by social justice movements.

The main stream media, the "airwaves" that most people get on their tvs and radios are, in fact; supposed to be our airwaves. Now, I'm not sure what strategic plan the union had going into this fight but if they didn't give up the fight on this front then they lost pretty badly.

I have absolutely no doubts that the union was just in what they were fighting for and in their strike. The problem is, mostly I can't figure out what it was.

Now, they seem to have won a good contract (TWU members +1), but Willie Brown was horribly smeared in the press (unions have elections so we will see how he made out, the good contract should make up for the critical public) and unions at large have taken another hit(unionism -1).

So, if the union was in the right but it looks like they were in the wrong, what happened?

I am not a reporter, but I know that our campaign (union campaign at the museum) and others like the SEIU effort to organize the guards at the Liberty Bell, have been covered fairly. Despite the difficulty of describing the complex details, in our case, sub-contracting, privitization and weird, security-guard-only labor laws, we have been able to get the basic essence of what we are doing in front of the public.

Hundreds of Philadelphians have been activated to support us because of this.

I think that this is a good chance for social justice organizers to stop and take a look at how, no pun intended, this train broke down so publicly and in a way that harmed the cause of worker justice so badly. What was the counter narrative? Why did it not get out? How can we prevent a media and Michael Nutter-lead free for all against labor the next time?

I completely agree with Fabricio

We need to look at what happened in this strike and in the messaging and try to get a better handle on how the anti-union narrative trumped TWU's narrative. This is particularly important given that we may be looking at municipal strikes and we want to both create independent coverage and push the local news sources to more fairly cover our city workers. I think it would be instructive to look at Deepa Kumar's book Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization and the UPS Strike, where she looks at why the Teamsters successfully won the battle in the media. It may also be necessary to try to do a public forum on the recent coverage of the TWU, in an effort to apply pressure to The Inky and other outlets in case there is a city worker strike.

A simple observation

that will probably get me labelled "bizarro" or something worse again but it would have made a huge difference to have made a better public case of why they felt the need to strike before they went out. For lots of average riders, what they heard was maybe a strike on some unmentioned issues during the World Series, then no strike, then suddenly the strike was on and they were struggling to find an alternative. Even a 24-hour delay where the TWU made redoubled effort to explain to the public what the issues were would have gone a long way to building public support.

Also want to point out that portraying it as a fight against the solitary figure of Nutter (who was not even a party to the negotiations) neglects the fact that there are folks on the other side who think Nutter was not "strong" enough in "facing down the unions" (despite him not even being a party). Nutter as a politician through this was no doubt riding what he felt to be "middle ground" in public opinion, as strange as that may sound to you. He also no doubt was likely more preoccupied more with how his "toughness" in relation to upcoming municipal contracts was portrayed by the media than he was with actual SEPTA contracts. Its a bigger PR problem than a single mayor who is increasingly as criticized from the right as he is from the left.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Sean, I really disagree

Sean, respectfully, I totally disagree with you when you say that the strike would have gone over better if TWU would have tried harder to communicate with the public. That is, in my opinion, untrue in two ways.

1) If they had gotten the message out, no one would have listened. No one cares about info like that until a strike is on.

2) As Willie Brown said in Ben Waxman's video interview, they had been saying a strike could come any day for over a week. We were warned.
2a) A lot of people know they threatened to strike during the World Series. The fact that they decided not to that weekend should have been warning enough that it could still come.

It all comes back to what Helen said... there will never be a time when SEPTA workers strike that people will be okay with it unless they decide to look at it from a collective perspective. In fact, the SEPTA workers will do better negotiation the more disruptive a time they choose to strike.

Anyway, great post, Todd. I put it up on Facebook and Delicious and I hope lots of people see it. You're totally right.

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

So not at least making your case to the public

before surprising the bulk of them for next day's commute? Really? Public relations is everything but especially for a public sector union where the real arbiter is ultimately the voters who elect the pols and vote to pay the bills (or not). For public sector union's its all about convincing the public they are in it together with the unions.

When the "boss" is the public, the approach has to be especially cognizant of convincing them what you are asking for is reasonable. For example, the TWU's issue of transparency in how the pension fund is managed is something taxpayers and fare-payers probably would have supported more if it was presented as a "Yeah, I do want more transparency on how my money is spent" issue.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Not quite what I'm saying...

...what I'm saying is that they did try to make the case and weren't heard.

Further, that waiting "one more day" wouldn't have made any difference because even if they did it and really begged for the public to hear them, the public still would not have.

The general public won't even make a pretense of listening until there's something really happening (a strike, not the threat of a strike).
Which takes us back to Todd's post.

They tried to make their case and were ignored, in no small part because the organs of communication weren't covering their side of it.

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

The organs of communication were in Phillies fever

Why even try to shout over that? Was the final contract any better for starting the strike 5 hours after the last Philly game ended?
The press is more often lazy than conspiratorial - for any agenda.

Flip it around. Besides ceremoniously putting the media on trial which can only be done so many times, how do you make your side of the story relevant enough to be "newsworthy" prior to going on strike? How about a communications piece aimed at folks going to the World Series about how you were not on strike yet but underlining your issues?
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

We can draw distinctions Sean.

Yes, it's true that TWU didn't engineer the strike perfectly.
Yes they could have done a better job communicating to Philadelphians.
Yes the press tends to be lazy

But we can recognize these facts and not come to the conclusion you make that the local press is benign, or that it is conspiratorial to hold them to account.

No matter how TWU handled this strike, as long as they chose to undertake a strike, they would have been crucified by the Inquirer, Daily News and our local TV affiliates. Both the Philadelphia and NY press did it in 2005 when transit workers went on strike. Why? Not simply because journalists are lazy, but because it is the role of the corporate mass media, to make sure business is running smoothly (as Herman and Chomsky documented years ago). This is especially the case when something serious is on the line. It is a lot easier for the mass media to give balanced coverage to a private janitor strike or security guard strike (not that JWJ, SEIU32BJ and PSOU don't do amazing jobs because they do) then it is for them to be balanced and fair around issues that cut to the core of our city. The transit worker strike cuts to the core as is exemplified by the fact that often times when transit workers go on strike it prompts a general strike throughout a city.

So, when sanitation workers go out or bus drivers, or nurses or air traffic controllers, the mass media show their true colors, which is to support the interests of profit/power and shine an intense light on the workers standing up for their rights. Which is precisely what happened this last week and precisely what will happen if city workers go on strike... unless we are proactive and push the Inquirer (which will set the tone) to be more honest and balanced. That can happen through public pressure or from a strong independent media, but either way if we want to learn from this situation, these are some lessons I think we need to begin to digest.

Media is a business owned by corporate interests

and yes if you want your message heard its vital to develop your your own message delivery system. The rhetoric is (cough, cough) getting a little thick in here, considering that while SEPTA may be many things - a center of profit it most definitely is not. But yes, getting your side of the story out benefits immensely from developing the capacity to produce your coverage. I agree 100% on that.

If municipal workers go on strike, there is good chance they will be on strike for a very, very long time this year because revenue projections are not exactly stellar. In fact the current budget passed by a unanimous vote from Council and barely eeked out of the state assembly after months of fighting basically only works with some sort of saving on pension costs and revenue is, as Ben Waxman points out, coming up short by $31 million since then.

PS - it must be my special day today. So many posts with my name in them. So much love.

Also FWIW I don't think I ever assume the press is "benign". I think the media is often self-serving as an institution, as are the local political class, corporate management and, for that matter, most union leadership. Everybody looks after themselves, everybody seeks to exercise power in their own way. There is no pure "outside" of the "profit/power" continuum. I just think decrying the media as biased here is about as effective as it is for the dozens of right-wingers who crowd the comments section of Philly.com complaining of what to them is the Inky's horrible "liberal bias". Those "tea party patriot" types are just chock full of grumbling about "media bias" as well. They too seem deadly convinced of the explanatory power of "media bias". Always strikes me as odd the similarity of the two tracks of criticism. Perhaps for both sides, the argument is just a tad too facile, too much of a simplification of the point that journalism is increasingly in the entertainment business and they profit best by selling the model of journalism that fits well with consuming other forms of entertainment.

MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

why would people look upon this from a collective perspective

in general working people in the private sector support other private sector unions but there is no collective perspective among private sector working people and public sector working people as whatever a public sector union can get for its members comes out of the pockets of private sector working popele. for instance i'm sick andtired that myself and all working pr sec poeple have to pay 90% of a septa workers pension when we don't have one ourselves. i've been told that there were many. many instances of street fights in the 70s when rizzo raised the wage tax 50% to pay for the deal he made with the city blue collar unions . the general public ,in my opinion , is 100% correct in not seeing any "collective perspective" between working people in the private cector and working peopel in the public sector. and that feeling was portrayed in the media coverage.

Well thats the jist of the problem

for public service workers, especially local ones, the public generally thinks people doing honest work for them deserve to be fairly compensated. But when the talk goes to "we have to beef up compensation for public service workers to compensate for obscene bonuses to Goldman Sachs executives" the voting public generally says "but Goldman Sachs execs in tony Connecticut suburbs or London do not pay for my town's trash pickup, I do" and the dialog usually breaks down right about there.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

There you go again, Sean

When did the "talk" here go to: "we have to beef up compensation for public service workers to compensate for obscene bonuses to Goldman Sachs executives". What advocate for TWU ever said that? Are you suggesting that's the only argument for public employees getting decent wages and benefits? How about this argument: Public services depend on public workers. Public workers who feel they are getting screwed, and who feel the public they serve disrespects them, may not be motivated to provide A-quality service. So we all have an interest in such workers being treated fairly. And here's another argument: Most public service workers, particularly in Philadelphia actually live in our City and are the backbone of many of our neighborhoods. If we let them down, we let down our neighborhoods and ourselves. And how about this: we should not be second-guessing the details of a union' demands, because they have the right to have them determined through collective-bargaining. If we undermine collective bargaining, we undermine the labor movement. Without a vital, strong labor movement, a major part of which is now located in the public sector, we will make no further social progress in this nation.

There are any number of other arguments to be made, none of which remotely resemble the bizarro one you just suggested is being made.

Todd's actually made that exact argument in the past

Do I have to search and link to it?

1. I think this is a great argument and I sort of resent the implication that I don't

ublic services depend on public workers. Public workers who feel they are getting screwed, and who feel the public they serve disrespects them, may not be motivated to provide A-quality service. So we all have an interest in such workers being treated fairly.

I agree.

2. Argument #2 - People with jobs who care about our neighborhoods are their backbone. Why not just leave it at that? I don't think its fair to folks who do a lot for their neighborhoods who don't work for the city to push this one too far. Working for the city is not innately more virtuous than working anywhere else.

3. Argument #3, I think I'm getting flack here for attempting to explain a public relations problem I think needs to be acknowledged. Just for giving context of where public opinion is coming from, I think there is a suggestion I'm not enough for the cause. To which I say, whatever. Count me out of the "true believers" if it makes you feel better. I offered input, feel free to choose to ignore it.

I reserve the right to second guess any decision made by any leader I don't elect myself. I recognize that a union leader's responsibility is to his membership but if you are going to take actions that impact the lives of others, in a democracy you invite them to express their opinions on that decision. Thats true for AIG executives and true for transit worker union heads. That's life in a democracy and if you really have a strong objection to that principle, I sincerely question your commitment to the democratic process. We all get to opine on decisions that effect the rest of us, end of story.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Yes, I would like you to search and link to this statement

because I haven't found anything remotely like it. As to my commitment to the democratic process, you're right, I'm a longtime follower of Oliver North because I believe the terms of labor agreements should be decided by the parties to the agreement.

And when the public owns and funds

they are indeed parties to the agreement, albeit indirectly. They are footing the bill after all.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

So, as I thought, it seems that you made up the Goldman Sachs


not Goldman-Sachs

but in a discussion of cty pensions plans he jumped immediately to talking about compensation for banking CEO's as if the two were somehow connected. The search function here sucks, frankly.

My point is you may have in general a very good point about how unions in general have increased living standards in this country historically but for every rule there are exceptions. Demanding unblinking support for every move municipal unions make does not always register with the wider public for a reason. If you want to talk honestly about public relations challenges local public sector unions face in that regard we can have a discussion but if all you want to do is demand mute, unblinking subservience to how you know whats best and whats best is to shut up and always, always back every contract point, I don't think it will be a productive discussion. I also don't think its going to register well with the wider public.

But its friendly advice, feel free to ignore it.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Sean, this is absurd

I have decided not to continue this discussion because there is nothing to be gained in arguing with you.

But please do not mischaratcterize me. I never once mentioned CEO compensation or Goldman-Sachs.

Perhaps you should ask yourself why you have to throw out falsehoods and create strawmen to make an argument

No as above not Goldman Sachs

but you did post this in a thread titled "Nutter Declares War On Our City Workers"

If we understand
Submitted by twolfson on Fri, 03/20/2009 - 7:13am.

this economic crisis for what it really is, which is not merely a problem with the housing market or derivatives (those are only symptons), and instead we see the crisis as a problem with how we have produced and distributed wealth (leading to the largest income inequality in this country since the 1920s) then it becomes clear why the challenge to unions by Nutter is incorrect. The real reason we have this economic crisis is because in the last 35 years wages for the average American worker have flat-lined, while cost of living and productivity have risen and this has weakened the "middle" class and forced a large portion of Americans into debt. Obviously then, only if you don't want to solve the real problem, massive unequal distribution of wealth, will you decide to take middle and working class municipal jobs and force that constituent to carry the weight of the budget shortfall as opposed to placing this squarely on the backs of those who should bear this burden, the wealthy.

"War" is sort of a bit much, no?

To which I responded:

I'm not going to overstate the case
Submitted by MrLuigi on Fri, 03/20/2009 - 12:52pm.

but basically at a municipal level there are not that many rich people inn Philly because a lot of them (as well as the businesses they own, as well as a lot of merely middle class they employ) have moved out to the surrounding burbs.

In terms of where the very wealthy live, its basically a matter of personal convenience and like everybody else, perception of safety and high quality service. As long as the homicides are kept well away from their doorstep, some of the truly wealthy, D.E. II is partially correct, will choose to live downtown as long as its convenient and they can enjoy being in the thick of things culturally. They will also expect a very high level of city services also, however. But in terms of the businesses they own, they will move those and often in a blink whereever they get the best deal - i.e. a location where the burden of taxes and bureaucracy is low and services high with some limited consideration for ease of access to well educated workers and a wider customer base. Increasingly these days that means not just that they move physical plants and manufacturing and even services like call centers not just out of the city but overseas to places like India and China.

Percentage wise the rich are a comparatively low number in Philadelphia, much higher in cities like New York and San Francisco where the financial services industry are a much more significant portion of the economy and they therefore have many more have more of the type of people who really benefited from that bubble in real estate and financial derivatives you describe. Those people, those industries for the most part are not here in Philly. Our regional high finance tends to be located in the burbs or the tax haven of Delaware. Vanguard and Haverford Trusts are not in the city but the Main Line, for example.

More than that neither our state nor city taxes income progressively so the idea that the city can go after the rich (who aren't here in the city in very large numbers in the first place) as opposed to the federal government (which does tax progressively) to correct for the injsutices of say AIG is inherrently flawed. Stan Shapiro thinks the city should push in the PA courts to really challenge the standard interpretation that PA's constitution bans progressive income taxes both locally and state wide. Interesting idea, not something thats going to ballance this year's Philly municipal budget. Also involves a level of support from state legislators we have not seen yet.

The overall point being that the idea that city workers can depend on a diminisining base of Philadlephia's middle class (who really carry Philly's tax burden) to correct the excesses of CEO and high finance bonuses is deeply flawed.

MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Neither Goldman Sachs nor bonuses

What's funniest about this, Sean, is that the only one who referred to either Golsman Sachs or bonuses was you. This is a very instructive example.

First, in the old thread, you create an argument which mischaracterizes what Todd said. Then, in a subsequent thread, you put what you wrote (read: a mischaracterization) in between quotation marks, and attribute your statement to someone you were disagreeing with.

And to top if off, when called on having created a strawman, you insisted that "Todd's actually made that exact argument in the past"

Please note, Sean, what I put in the quotation marks was a quote.

Yeah, I'm an awful person

I'll just go slit my wrists now. Goodbye.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Who thinks you're an awful person?

Not I. I'm just asking you to comment without creating strawmen (which you ironically just did yet again).

Nutter is at "war" with workers

because he's volunatrily or involuntarily in service of the conspiracy to promote inequality. He's part of the greater problem somehow for XYZ stance on pension costs. I misremembered the quotes but not the general theme. I think it speaks for itself on a re-read.

Perhaps you would win more arguments if you stuck to your points and made it less about me.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.


Sean, what you did above is a textbook example of a strawman. You created an argument yourself and then later attributed that argument to someone else, and then insisted that it was someone else's argument.

I mean, really, you have been, repeatedly, by more than one person, asked to acknowledge that tendency and to just cut it out. You think that it is simply a matter of people not wanting to be confronted with opinions that they disagree with. Ok, there's a way to prove your contention. Cut out the straw man, and simply post opinions, and see what happens. It can't hurt, maybe it will help.


That's classic, Sean.

I'd readily agree that Todd's origianl post title was hyperbolic, and I would quibble somewhat with the characterization you just made, but it is close enough to Todd's actual original point to show that your supposed quotation earlier in this thread is a mischaracterization of what Todd wrote earlier.

Disagree with Todd's contention as you will. Call someone, directly, on hyperbole. But stop creating arguments and attributing them to other people, let alone put them in quotes as if your characterization is something they actually said, let alone contend that it is "exactly" what they said when you're called on it.

Point taken on "exactly"

perhaps you should post two more times to really savor that victory lap.

MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Just because this hasn't gotten childish enough

Don't forget, one of SuperSean's powers is that he has a very special X-ray vision. He can see what people are saying, even when they aren't saying it.

I don't think you can make an argument without distorting

the other side. I just think you can't do it. I listed arguments that can be made in favor of "public employees getting decent wages and benefits." Now you have concluded that because you don't like at least one of those arguments, I want to:

demand mute, unblinking subservience to how you know whats best and whats best is to shut up and always, always back every contract point

It's enough. I'm gone from this. Todd's main point, with which he started this blog, remains as a valuable insight into the media approach to public sector labor disputes. Your diversions and distortions aside, nothing more really needs to be added.

So the FOP would like to end the residency requirement

Do you support them unequivocally on that, Stan? How about the white Firefighters in this thread?

The public is wrong to have an interest in the terms of employment for people that work for them?
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

There is a legal framework

for bargaining which is fine. Private unions negotiate within a legal framework as well, whether it be federal or state labor law. But that's different from getting into the fine details of wages, pensions, health care benefits, worker contribution levels for benefits, working conditions and the like. We do have an interest in these things, but we actually elect one side of the bargaining table, directly or indirectly. If they do a lousy job, we have a remedy. That's actually a greater remedy than we have if a private employer negotiates a contract and then raises prices, particularly in a monopoly industry.

Another red herring, Ian

Where do you think the contract provides that white firefighters are entitled to poison the work environment for black workers? What conceivable interpretation of anything that I said suggests to you that I think unions should be able to negotiate their way out from under the civil rights laws? Amazing.

i think you misunderstood my argument

all i was trying to say was that in some parts of the north east all the residents are city or state workers so they are obviously going to be supportive of public sector unions. in other parts of the city where cashiers ,security guards ,construction workers, brick layers etc live in the same neighborhood as bus drivers and city union workers there is no feeling of solidarity for the public sector workers coming from the private sector working residents as they realise that every increased benefit that the govt unions get is paid for by non govt working people,who don't have as good pay or benefits.and the media were right to show that. as far as rizzo goes he won re election easily because he got city union support due to the sweetheart deal he gave them but after he won reelection and raised the wage tax 50% to pay for it ,he was so unpopular he was subject to a re call drive that came close to succeeding and the city workers who got the sweetheart deal also became very unpopular once the rest of the city new they had to pay 50% higher wage tax to pay for the deal.

We know that public employee unions are unpopular

The question is how do we get out the message that in general, if not in every single case, their cause is the cause of all working people. This thread started around the question of how the major media feeds the simplistic notion that city workers, whenever they get a raise, are exploiting other working people. But the truth is different, although hardly self-evident. The truth is that whenever a union succeeds, whether public or private, it moves the wage and benefit base up, for all workers. A psychology is created of worker power, and when that's added to the reality of worker solidarity, life gets better for most people. Strong and successful public unions look out for working people not only on the job, but in the halls of political power as well. They are a major voice for enlightened health care, pension, work safety, social safety net, and increasingly, environmental policy. It's true that we pay public employee salaries, but we pay in other ways when public workers aren't treated fairly. That message doesn't get carried by the major media. We need to find ways to get it out. Because when one set of workers fights another, only the bosses win.

I think in general being strategic in our message is important

And the two worst things I said in this thread are it seems
1.) doing better outreach on their valid fiscal oversight issues on pensions by TWU before going out on strike at 3am would have helped their public perception immensely

2.) voters who express concerns about the costs of defined benefit plans they can't find anywhere in the outside world are not necessarily "anti-union" and yes the public has an interest in the terms of contracts they in fact pay for.

Unreasonable positions, both of them, apparently.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

fair is the most important word you mentioned

to fully fund a state or septa employees pension you need about an 8 % return on the pension fund every year. the stock market has done 0% over the last 11 years and bonds are now paying around 3% . thats not my fault, so how is it fair that you and me ,brick layers ,construction workers, cashiers etc are on the hook to make up the difference for higher paid govt workers ,when we are not at fault and also we already contributed to the fund . basically we have to contribute twice ,first our regular contribution to the fund ,then an extra contribution to make up for low returns on pension fund inv. isn't it more fair to give a dollar to the septa union for every dollar a septa worker contributes and let the union invest it and the results are on them?( i realise this will never happen and is totally a hypothetical argument) fairness is taking a dollar from someone and giving it to someone less fortunate. taking a dollar and giving it to someone more fortunate is anything but fair. the bosses you talk about are two sep entities. the "bosses " of govt workers are private sector workers ,the majority of which make less than their employees. the bosses of private sector employees are in many cases millionares. the two shouldn't be lumped in together. i have yet to see an example of how an increase in govt pay or benefits has led to an inc in pay or benefits in the private sector.this may have happened 50 years ago but not today.

We don't fund public pensions correctly

but that still doesn't mean it's public unions that are at fault. In a perfect world, pensions wouldn't be dependent on the ups and downs of Wall Street manipulators. Social Security isn't, although the Republicans would like otherwise. But that's the system we have. Private pension funding is also a cost to low wage workers to the extent that their cost gets wrapped into prices for goods that they pay. Every cost gets passed on in some way or other, and the poor will always struggle in this capitalist society to pay costs that benefit others. None of that justifies driving wages, pensions or other worker benefits down in either the private or public sectors. Should the concept of fixed pensions be done away with, or is it something that all workers should fight for, in any arena, public or private that they can?

It's not history that the wages and benefits of public workers benefit the rest of us, albeit it indirectly. Cutting these things in a downward economy has a deflationary impact. Cutting the power of unions hurts the drive for health care reform, for public jobs programs, and the cause of democracy in the workplace. It leaves giant corporations as the major driver of political influence. These things are not easily quantifiable, but they're important and real nonetheless.

Finally, taxes are generally regressive; the major cost of public pensions, and other expenses, should not be borne as heavily as they are by workers. But that's a subject for a different time.

Stan, that was me and thats what the union asked for

From the article:

The members of that group, the Concerned American Fire Fighters Association (CAFFA), have pushed their agenda at the union, the lawsuit said. It noted that the union's December bargaining proposal to the city included the request that "any and all quota-based hiring practices" be eliminated.

"They're using my union dues to do it," said Kenneth Greene, president of Club Valiants, the black firefighters group. "It's a slap in the face."

The president of Concerned American Fire Fighters, Mike Bresnan, said the proposal to eliminate quota-based hiring subsequently was dropped, in part because an arbitration panel has no standing to rule on the issue.

"The proposal came from the membership," he said. "It's a democratic process."

So CAFFA, the no-consent agreement group lobbied to get language about eliminating "any and all quota-based hiring practices" included in the bargaining proposal and the majority of firefighters voted for it. Doesn't make it right, in fact its terribly wrong, but the members of the union voted to prioritize getting rid of the consent degree.

Bill Gault in the story pooh-poohs the black fire-fighters complaints.

Bill Gault, president of Local 22, said the allegation that the union was racist was "completely not true." He acknowledged there was only one black janitor working for the union, but said "the ladies who work for me in the office are firefighters' wives."

So do you support that decision as emphatically as you do their refusal to accept consolidation of pension plans for new hires into the exact same plan state workers get? Do you stand in solidarity with what the union votes for in this case?

I also included the example of the FOP consistently asking to end the residency requirement.

Why can't voters and tax payers question the terms of the contract negotiations they are paying for if its OK to override these instances of what the unions specifically ask for? As the guy from CAFFA (apparently formerly known as the "Caucasian American Fire Fighters Association) points out, the majority of membership votes with them.

To be clear, I think that as tax-payer we should refuse both policies because they are forms of institutionalized discrimination masquerading as something else. We are right to refuse what the union asks for because it is negative to racial relations in the city. I think we as taxpayers should not under any circumstances subsidize discrimination. But I also think that voters and taxpayers have a right to question other contract demands as well if those demands threaten the financial health of the city.

If its OK to override contract demands for the greater good on one thing, sometimes (stress: not always but sometimes) its also going to be OK to override contract demands for the greater good for another.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

backbone of the neighborhood?

maybe in parts of ne philly where in some 4 block areas 99% of homes are owned by cops and firefighters,but in others ,like roxborough ,where i lived ,there was outright ,open hostility between private sector union guys and city union guys when rizzo raised the wage tax 50% to pay for the sweetheart deal given to city unions for their support and that hostility is still there today and was accurately reflected in the media coverage over the septa strike.no kumbiya moments between construction workers and bus drivers.

We live in an imperfect world

in which there is conflict. The fact that City workers and their middle class salaries support the stability of neighborhoods around the City doesn't mean that there won't be conflict, even among good neighbors. And Rizzo? I'm afraid he remained popular despite that particular contract, and probably would have been elected a third time despite his abysmal record if he hadn't died before the election. And that's democracy for ya'

Media Coverage

While media coverage is a problem in general for unions, with the tilt sharply critical of their cause to increase wages for employees, the Philadelphia situation is off the charts, with a far right winger like Tierney using his ownership of the Daily News & Inquirer to go after unions & other progressive institutions. You find stories planted prominently in his papers whose basic purpose is to undermine liberal elected officials or liberal institutions that, if the same facts concerned right wing elected officials or institutions, would be absent from the papers' columns.

I remember listening to the union head of SEIU about a dozen years ago on a radio station (NOTE: prior to the broadcast, I'd been critical for the union for striking). When I heard how badly the average worker was paid & how handsomely upper management did, with their golden pensions & other perks, I changed to supporting the union's position.

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