Rules for Republicans on the 'hearings war' - Must Read Alaska
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Rules for Republicans on the ‘hearings war’

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Art Chance

WITH APOLOGIES TO SAUL ALINSKY

By ART CHANCE
SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR

Over the last decade or so, Republicans have acquired some awareness of Saul Alinsky and his 1971 book, “Rules for Radicals.”

I read “Rules” when it first came out because I was a right-out-of-college, long-haired, dope-smoking, FM-radio-listening liberal in those days.  A few semesters of Life 101 dissuaded me of most of my college education and I tucked old Saul away in the recesses of memory.

There was still enough of my leftist education in me that I could ally myself with organized labor in the Seventies.  I knew and worked around and sometimes with all the major labor leaders of the era. They were often venal and avaricious, but they were loyal and patriotic Americans. When Jimmy Carter wanted to ship grain to the Soviet Union, the AFL-CIO refused to load the ships.

I spent the summer and fall of 1980 assigned by the AFL-CIO to Sen. Mike Gravel’s re-election campaign. That did it for me.   I realized that I’d gotten far enough up the ladder in organized labor to get myself in serious trouble, but not far enough up to get myself out of that trouble. Armed with the courage of my connections, I struck out into the private sector to make some money.

Fast forward a few years and was in Juneau, recently divorced and with custody of a teen-aged daughter. I needed a steady job with benefits in town and the State was looking for a labor relations analyst.

I was a bad fit, but they hired me. I was a hard-living Laborer’s union brawler, and the State’s labor relations staff were a bunch of prissy Juneau bureaucrats, mostly out of the State’s personnel system, and some who’d come over from the Alaska Public Employees Association. Plus, I was from Anchorage and that is good for being hated in Juneau. My resignation got written several times, but they couldn’t bring themselves to fire me and I couldn’t bring myself to quit.

In those days we were all in our 30s or early 40s and the labor arbitrators, mediators, and administrative law judges were in their 60s and 70s; they’d been corporate general counsels, law professors, judges, and the like. They’d gone to Harvard and Yale and such, and if you couldn’t keep up with the literary, and sometimes Biblical, allusions in their rulings and decisions, you got no respect. You learned to win by making your argument by allusion and in the footnotes; your adversary never knew what happened to him.

It was a fairly collegial world; we could pound our chests at each other all day and then join our adversary and the trier of fact at the bar for an after action analysis at the end of the day.  I loved my work in those days; I went to the State Office Building snack bar at lunch, got my sandwich and Coke and sat at the table in the office reading Hardin’s “The Developing Labor Law” or Elkouri’s “How Arbitration Works.”  If you live something, you get good at it.

Fast forward another 10 years: that world was all but gone. The largest group of State employees was now represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and their head was joined at the hip with President Bill Clinton.

They don’t do labor relations, they do guerilla theater. Those leather-bound hornbooks, treatises, and reporters in my office are gathering dust.

I returned to the Executive Branch from the Legislature in 1999 and one of the first things I did was buy a copy of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” for every member of my professional staff.   I had a member of my staff digest it into what was essentially a playbook.  I put out a directive to all the human relations and labor relations staff in the departments that Labor Relations was calling the plays now and they were to take no action against the union mau-mauing supervisors or doing their guerilla theater act unless it was coordinated with labor relations.

Labor relations was no longer a matter of law and contract; it was just political posturing and we put all the books away and put a lot of wear on our copies of “Rules.”   Collective bargaining had simply become politics by other means.

Some conservatives/Republicans posit that we should adopt Alinsky tactics and use them against the left. The short answer is that generally you can’t; it is really hard to get a bunch of middle-aged, middle class Republicans to go to a bean dinner before a public hearing so they can stage a “fart-in.”

The appropriate response to an Alinsky-ite attack is to ignore it. If you ignore them, they’ll keep doing ever crazier things trying to get you to do something stupid and preferably violent. All the while as they do crazy things, they shed supporters.   At some point they do something indefensibly crazy and you smash them like bugs. It just takes patience and discipline.

As the Finance Committee’s recent budget road show unfolded and the naifs with AFP organized Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s tour, I thought of writing a piece on this, but I decided it was better to just let it play out; let the hearings get mobbed by the unions.

This is not a game Republicans can win; you aren’t going to get people with real jobs to turn out for the “hearings;” that’s the whole idea.

Let them have their echo chamber hearings; we won the election.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • As usual, sound analysis. People who have real jobs have limited time listen to presentations. People who will show to protest are making a rational decision to use their time to protect their jobs.

    I will be there to show support – plus the entertainment value. Way interesting than opera. Great beer is a plus.

  • It’s always interesting to listen to fellows like Art, who once were the political enemy on the Left, but through maturation and epiphany came out of the dark side. Was it rebirth or metamorphosis?

    • Mostly it was just overcoming brainwashing and group think. There are basically two kinds of people in my generational cohort (b. 1949): those who went straight from school to government, the non-profits, the media, or arts and entertainment and those who went out into the private sector. If you went to government and the like, you could keep the same stupid ideas you had sitting cross-legged on the floor smoking dope in a college dorm room in 1969. If you went to the real world, you got mugged by reality very quickly and most of the stupidity got left by the wayside.

      I started college in 1967 in Georgia, not exactly a hotbed of liberalism, but in the Humanities even then most of my professors were leftists. The conservative ones were traditional New Deal liberals and some of them, especially in the social sciences were outright, open communists. Show me a psychology professor who believed in Skinner’s behaviorism in that time and I’ll show you somebody who has fantasies of riding through the countryside in an armored train accompanied by a brigade of Cossacks seeking out all the guys who got the pretty girl. Pasternak had communism right in Dr. Zhivago.

  • Thanks for being so brutally honest, Art. We love your contributions.

  • “Let them have their echo chamber hearings; we won the election.”
    That’s the bottom line! Ordinary working people don’t have time for legislative hearings. That’s why we elect representatives. Hopefully every one of the turncoat Republicans in the State House will be defeated in the primary election next year.

  • It is hard to sift through all the rhetoric in search of the truth. Sadly, truth seems to have different definitions these days, depending on who is the smoothest speaker.
    If only Mr. Chance had an apprentice….

  • Art, I did you one better. When I was the head of Firefighters Local 188, Richmond, CA in the 1970s, I took a couple of classes at UC’s Institute of Labor Relations — the name has been changed. The lecturer was the economist for the ILWU, Barry something or other. For one class, we had Sammy Kagel talk to us about Med-Arb. Both guys were interesting, especially Sammy. I suspect that I appreciated Sammy more than my classmates because I had been a Teamster and worked with and around Longshoremen at the Encinal Terminals in Alameda and on the docks of San Francisco, particularly Pier 17 Pacific Far East Lines which was then owned by Consolidated Freightways. Some of the students from both industry and unions were in awe of Sam. But the standard response of a firefighter was and likely is, “Yah, yer great. But can you fight fire?” Thanks for a good memory.

    • I appeared before Kagel a few times, did OK. Like most CA arbitrators you had to make sure he understood you actually wanted a hearing and a decision rather than just a show. Good to talk with another member of the brotherhood.

  • Art, After 40 years of doing labor relations policy, negotiations and adjudication with AT&T, the Alaska Railroad and the University of Alaska, I have come to the rather disappointing and frustrating conclusion that nobody really cares about efficiency and accountability. Most fundamentally, the first and second levels of supervision are up through the ranks people how just want to go along to get along. They really don’t give a damn! During negotiations the likes of you and I fought doggedly for management rights only to see that hard fought language ignored. For example, at the university we negotiated away the absurd legal trust language whereby every two weeks the university contributed $5.54 per employee to this invisible trust. The new labor relations manager allowed that language to reappear in the current agreement. Probably not a surprise in that the university’s labor relations manager was once the business manager for APEA. So, it’s not a surprise that Alaska state labor relations organizations continue to embrace the labor unions instead of negotiating contracts that protect management rights.

    • I don’t disagree with you philosophically, Don, but look at it from their perspective. If you’re a first or second level supervisor, you’re not getting any further if you cause any upset. If you get a Republican Administration and you work to help them carry out their objectives, if a Democrat succeeds them, your name is on the hit list. If you’re lucky you just get an office with no windows and a seat that flushes. Since the merit system doesn’t apply to Democrats, you’ll probably just get fired and the lapdog media will tell the People what a good thing that was.

      If you’re a labor relations professional, the same thing applies to you. When Knowles appointed Mark Boyer as Commissioner of Administration the fat slob waddled into our office, told us he’d campaigned with the unions for the position, and that he’d promised them that he would fire us all and replace us with people acceptable to the unions. We were classified, merit system employees. I told the SOB to let me know how that turned out and walked away. Those were brave words, but I’m not stupid so I arranged going to work for the Legislature and made the SOB’s misery my mission. I lived to be in charge of labor relations for the State after they ran him off and set out to methodically undo everything he’d done.

      That said, just who would hire me to do a labor relations program today? I’m the only person in Alaska who has ever even seen conflict and confrontation between the State and its unions. A union shill runs a hit on me for saying bad words to bad people and the Dunleavy Administration runs away screaming. I’m pouring another glass of wine, making some popcorn, and sitting back to watch the show.

      • Hilarious AND true. Glad you are here with us, Art. The administration couldn’t handle your truth. You would have been soooo stifled, it would have been torturous (if not for you, for us).
        .
        And, thanks for giving us a sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, another liberal can see the light and jump the fence.

    • In case you didn’t know, Mark Boyer is now in the pot trade in WA state.

      • Seems like all of the old Lefties end up in the pot trade. It’s their dead end.

  • Amen!

  • Why do the Heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? Psa 2:1

  • Art, thanks for the response. Although there’s not much difference in effect, I apologize for calling the Institute for Industrial Relations, the Institute for Labor Relations. In its classes, one learned how management and labor positions were developed and presented.

    Firefighters Local 188 was successful, e.g. we got more take-home pay than the San Francisco firefighters across the bay. But our success was based on always providing members of the city council objective reasons for our positions. We could point to protecting equivalent assessed values of comparable cities, e.g. Torrance, CA (about the same assessed value and population but physically a lot smaller). We could point to exposure to more hazards than any known fire department west of the Mississippi, viz. Richmond not only had an active waterfront but two plants (Chevron and Stauffer) that produced organic phosphates, and Richmond was transected by 2 major freeways. Things like that were to a degree quantifiable; thus they were difficult if not impossible to counter. But there was no doubt that Local 188 was politically active and its reach expanded beyond Richmond. We firefighters recognized that we were in a market and wanted to justify our cost. But the local was invariably dedicated to increasing the size of the pie and not about fighting over the size of the pieces. Other than that, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, and the local rag hated us, so we must have been doing something right.

    I recognize that doing labor relations for the state is more than negotiating contracts. I assume that there is much to do with grievances and like things on the execution phase of contracts. Fortunately, firefighters have few grievances that rise above department level. Social pressure (sanctions) is strong within a group that spends 24-hours together. When I served, the department was all male. I guess that with the introduction of women (our Local would not have fought about female firefighters provided female candidates were tested and dealt with the same as males) there might have been some problems that we extend beyond the capacity of the department to deal with them. But I would bet that over time, a fire department would produce few problems for such a city or state personnel (human resources) department.

    BTW, I get a kick out of the name “Human Resources.” I still remember the words of Admiral Grace Hopper, “You manage things, you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership.” But I’m not sure that leadership can be taught.

    • One of State Labor Relations’ strengths historically has been the fact that it does everything related to collective bargaining except actually represent the State in court. The professional staff is assigned to a department or group of departments so they can develop strong knowledge of the structure and processes of the client department(s). As long as we could keep experienced staff, no lawyer whose knowledge of a matter came from a few witness interviews and reading a case file was a threat. We might get beaten on facts, but we wouldn’t get beaten because of the adversary being more skilled.

      The State LR staff that worked there during the concessionary times in the Cowper and Hickel Administrations have gone on to head the State’s labor relations and personnel functions, the court system’s HR function, the University’s LR function, the Juneau LR/HR function, Ketchikan’s HR/LR function, Chugach Electric’s LR function, UA President Jim Johnsen was a veteran of that period, and there are probably some I don’t know about. That’s not a bad track record for a group of people that the Knowles Administration promised the unions they would fire.

      “Leadership,” especially leadership by white, heterosexual males is out of fashion these days.

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