Thursday, October 23, 2014

On geese, gander, and going dark; or, why some of the links on this blog don't seem to work anymore

In a recent post, I explained why I had briefly taken my blog offline and why I put it back online.  I say this now because in this post I am about to criticize the UIC United Faculty Union for doing something similar with its new website, which you can find here.

The site has a bit of an aesthetics problem, but my main criticism is that it does not have archives of older posts the UICUF had written, to which I have linked on this blog from time to time.  Whatever the intent behind the decision to make this new website, the function is to reduce transparency about the union's history.  The union had made statements on its old website, most of which, in my opinion, were reasonable for a union to make, even those with which I disagreed.  But now, with the older posts not online, it's hard to track the statements it made. 

Perhaps the intent behind this website change is indeed justifiable.  As a pseudonymous blogger, I have the luxury of setting up a blogspot account and then type away.  Mine is not the official voice of any organization with multiple members not all of whom agree with each other.  Also, I imagine a blogspot account is easier to hack into or to pirate.  When it comes into hacking into my own musings as represented in this not very widely read blog, that's a small thing.  If, however, someone were to hack into the union's website, that would be a bad thing.  Also, there's a lot I don't know about running a website.  Perhaps for the sake of functionality, that type of website is best practices.  Maybe there's something about the code or whatever that makes the website better.

I did send an email to the union, and their response was polite and open to discussing my dissension, and I very much appreciate the interaction.  Their response was further proof that whatever my disagreements with the union, they are willing at least to treat people who disagree cordially.  That's smart unionizing.  But the response left a little to be desired and didn't explain much.  It was basically this:  the union wants a more useful and better looking website.

I seem to recall, back when the last website was created, around January 2014 (maybe?  I don't recall), reading a statement on that site suggesting that there had been an older site the union had used.  I don't know if older posts were imported to that new site or not. 

Finally, kudos to one thing I've found on this website.  The union has posted the "minutes" on that site from its last meeting.  I didn't go to the meeting, so I don't know how faithfully those "minutes" represent what went on.  And the "minutes" seem actually more like a report from the union to its members and not minutes per se.  But that is a good thing to make public.  And the union deserves credit for that.

Monday, October 13, 2014

My unsolicited advice to the UICUF: shy away from electoral politics

The UIC United Faculty Union proposes to hold a meeting of members this week.  I won't be going, mostly because I think it would be wrong to go and be privy to a members-only conversation when it is not clear that I am a member.  But I have some thoughts about one of its proposed items of discussion:  "Should the UICUF engage in electoral politics."  (This item is listed on a public facebook feed.  One doesn't even need to "like" the union on facebook to read it.  Therefore, I do not feel as if I am disclosing anything confidential.)  By "engage in electoral politics," I assume the union means, "choose to endorse specific candidates or ballot measures."  I urge the union not to do so.

My argument is both practical and principled. 

Practical:  Union endorsements either don't work, or work very poorly and can have unexpected and bad (for the union) consequences.  While any glad-handing politician may be eager to rack up all the endorsements possible, I suspect very few minds are changed when a union, or other organization, endorses a candidate.  I won't deny the possibility altogether that minds are changed, but I doubt whether people are waiting for what the UICUF's position on, say, Rauner vs. Quinn before making a decision.  Also, and perhaps more important, a UICUF endorsement will probably alienate two groups of people in the union:  those who support the non-endorsed candidate and those of a contrarian nature who may support the endorsed candidate, but resent what they see as "the union telling me who to vote for."

Principled:  The members of the union's bargaining unit are required to give money to it.  If they do not wish to be a member of the union and thereby pay dues voluntarily, they are required to pay them anyway, with only minimal provisions for opting out.  The money is taken from their paycheck.  If the union "engages electoral politics," the members of its bargaining unit are being compelled to endorse speech they may not agree with.  I admit that my case is stronger if the union actually funds advertisements for or against a candidate, while what is at issue is probably something like a press release that costs almost no money and simply says, "the UICUF endorses x candidate for y office."  But the union does claim to speak for the interests of its members and the members of its bargaining unit, and political endorsements are usually at least one step removed from a determination of what those interests are and how best to pursue them.

Of course, the $100 billion elephant in the room is what to do about the state's outstanding pension obligations, and a smaller, but still sizeable, elephant is the prospect that the state might further cut funds to higher education.  And it seems (to me) very clear that if one candidate is elected governor, the hits against public employee pensions and funding to higher ed are likely to be less severe than if the other candidate wins.  What could be more relevant to the people the union claims to represent than the fate of their pensions and the funding for their jobs?  Why can't that fact justify at least endorsing a gubernatorial candidate?

My answer is twofold.  First, I cannot deny those are probably the most important and most discussed issues at play in this election.  But I ask people to keep in mind that there are many reasons to support or oppose either of the major candidates.  We don't vote for party platforms.  We vote for people.  And we vote given the likely outcome of who will control the statehouse.  And sometimes we weight our interests differently.  To one person, the possibility of a tax increase may be more ominous than the possibility of a cut in education funding. To yet another, a cut in education funding is regrettable, but to be preferred if the money saved goes, for example, to health care or to food stamps or to other ways to help people who are less well off.

Second, we can have good faith disagreement on the appropriate approach to addressing some of these problems.  Take pension reform.  One person might very well conclude that 90 percent of a loaf from any pension reform that is likely to be enacted is better than the half a loaf, or the quarter loaf, that a non-reformed system could bring about in 10 years, assuming the most dire predictions of pro-reformers are realized. 

Those types of issues are not easily addressed in a union meeting or in an up-down vote on any given candidate.  The union should keep that in mind and its leaders and voting members should exercise caution before entering those waters.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Blog backup

A while ago, shortly after my last post in which I explained I may not be in the union after all, shut down my blog.  I did so largely for self-interested reasons.  A reader of the blog inquired about what my intentions to it were, and that inquiry got me thinking about some of my stated policies, particularly my first post, in which I promised in part to do the following:
I will keep post-hoc editing of my posts to a minimum, and I will try to be as clear as possible about what I've edited.  In other words, once I've written a post, I would like readers to be confident that what I've said is there to stay.  I may, from time to time, tweak the formatting, especially in the beginning as I try navigate the in's and out's of the blogger templates.  In exceptional circumstances, I may delete a post, but even then I pledge to announce such deletion and explain the reasons for it. 
So I put the posts back up, but until now have written nothing more.

I have now decided to reopen comments and to recommence blogging, at least occasionally.  My original fears--that continuing to blog might harm my own interests--stemmed from my own realization that I might very well be outside of the bargaining unit.  I believed that should the university realize I had gone out with the union during its two-day strike back in February--even though I did so in full belief and in good faith that I was in the bargaining unit--it could fire me.

I have decided that the risk is probably very minimal and that regardless the risk is worth it.  I also believe that the doings of a union that represents public employees are matters of public concern.  That does not mean the union has no prerogative to deliberate privately, but it does mean that I, as a private citizen, can comment upon the union's actions and its public statements.  I realize that recently, the U of I system has taken actions that call into question its commitment to respecting the private speech of its employees.  But I believe everything I have said on this blog so far falls into realm of bona fide political speech.  And I'll also point out that I never visit this blog while at work and have never logged into this blog account or email from work or from a workplace computer.

So, the blog is back up.