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Negotiation, Wisconsin & Elaine

25 Feb

A Brief Primer on Negotiation in the Form of a Parable: 

A samaritan is walking down the road.  A man approaches and draws his sword, saying “I want to kill you.”

Startled, the samaritan says, “Please, don’t.  Here, take this pouch of gold.”

The man says, “No, I want to kill you.”

The Samaritan says, “Please, I beg you, take my sandals as well.”

“No, I want to kill you.”

“For the love of God take my cloak too, it is all I have, and let me live.”

The man kills the samaritan.

OK.  One person here is negotiating.  The other is a Republican Governor from Wisconsin.

So as various state governments attempt to deny collective bargaining rights to their employees, I’m reading in the New York Times about a woman named Elaine.  Elaine  works at a Dollar Store in Columbus, Ohio and she feels the public employee unions in her state, battling for their right to negotiate, are “getting a little bit out of control.”

Now if anybody needs a union, it would certainly be Elaine.  But, setting that aside, I still cannot get my head around her logic. 

If I have this right, she is dismissing the employees’ right to negotiate, and in addition feels that their desire to maintain this hard won right, is “a little out of control.”  I guess that means they should stop their protest, give up a significant say in their lives, and accept their employer’s terms without question. 

We’ve seen this world.  Hell, Elaine’s living in it as we speak.  And of course, she’s being encouraged, by the Koch brothers and others, to believe that public employee unions, having managed to maintain a weak grasp on the standard of living that was once the norm for the American working class, are now somehow cheating her by failing to have been downwardly mobile enough over the last thirty years. 

But still, is this the world she wants? 

Unions, like all human institutions, are fallible.  They can be shortsighted, they can be corrupt, they can fail to represent the interests of their members.  But a union, in it’s purest form, is a beautiful thing.  It is a group of people saying,”My work has value, and, if I band together with others, we can have a say in how we are compensated for that work.” 

Why would any working person have a problem with this?  Why would they not find this inspiring?  Why isn’t Elaine busily trying to organize her fellow cashiers at the Dollar Store? 

Well, she’d be fired, to start with.  And she’s probably exhausted from trying to make ends meet on minimum wage. 

But I’m betting she also has a problem with the phrase: “My work has value.”  She probably doesn’t believe it.  Why would she?  She’s not hearing it anywhere.  Not in the news, not on T.V. or in movies, certainly not from her employer.  She is, in fact, almost invisible; a background player in a world where the wealthy have value, and those less so should best keep quiet and be thankful for those good Dollar Store jobs. 

Elaine, I am sure, negotiates a very difficult life , and to her the pay and benefits of a teacher or a bus driver must seem outrageously generous.  Imagine.  Food on the table, a roof over your head, healthcare for the family. What are these people getting so uppity about?  They’re living the dream. 

Only it’s not a dream.  It’s the way it should be.  For everybody.  And you get there by forming unions and negotiating. 

As a small caveat, let me add a couple points:

Public employee unions did not cause the current financial crisis.

Nor did Elaine.

And I have nothing against fiscal austerity.  I practice it every day. 

So in honor of the Republicans and their much vaunted adherence to this practice, may I suggest a new slogan:


If you have a problem with the wording, I am willing to negotiate.



‘Next Round’s On Me

20 Aug

I love English pubs.  There are few places I’d rather be.  In a really good pub, where television, video games and loud music have been banned, you will find that rare and wonderful combination of solitude and companionship; a place where people can talk.  Such a simple thing, I know, but quietly joyous when found.  On those rare occasions when I find myself in such a pub, I tend to order a pint or two of extra special bitter, a strong English ale whose gentle carbonation and fine hoppy flavor seems to lift me out of time only to gently drop me smack in the middle of the moment.

I am almost always in need of such a drink.

Having started Playing In The City With Trains a little over a month ago, I’m surprised to find that I need another blog. 

Growing out of the birth of my daughter Hallie and the discovery of her Down’s Syndrome, Playing In The City With Trains has quickly become a wonderfully cathartic meditation on family, friends and life in New York City.  But having taken on a personality of it’s own, I feel a little constrained about using the space to write about anything contentious, cranky or the least bit rude… anything, in short, that might offend someone.  Such topics are, however, the bread and butter of a good pub conversation.  So, on this page I thought I might create my own little pub where things are a little looser and the talk a little more free.

Come on in.  It’s early afternoon and the sun is slanting through the window.  Things are quiet, the barman (a big blustery man of a certain age) is both funny and attentive and the company is very good.  Pull up a chair, the next rounds on me.  If you haven’t tried it, may I suggest a pint of extra special bitter?  It’s delicious.