Union Public Policy Class

Solving the World's Problems One Bulldog at a Time

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

I’m ranting, I know, but I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time.

When I go to buy coffee, I am faced with a decision of whether or not to buy coffee that is “fair trade.” If I all I did was read the label and maybe the explanation next to it, I would assume that fair trade coffee must be something that is good! I love fairness, I love trading, I love coffee. Surely that means that fair trade coffee is the best option! The description next to it says that the coffee makes sure farmers are paid a decent wage and that the coffee is ethically produced. What better situation could there be? The coffee tastes better than other brands and its also helping to make people’s lives better! Unfortunately, I have found that fair trade coffee is a part of a growing epidemic in our nation of “slacktivism” getting in to way of truly valuable action.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood: I don’t mind that a farmer is getting better paid, in most situations that is a very good thing, but think about the economic impact of fair trade: the one farmer in the region who is able to get a sweet deal with Starbucks is now in a position to sell coffee at above-market price, and thus run his competitors out of business. This also causes the farmer to overproduce the coffee, which can have even more devastating effects on the local and global markets. But my point in this post is not necessarily to make the case against fair trade coffee; my point is to point my finger at my generation and at myself for giving in to cheap actions that sooth my conscience so that I do not have to thoughtfully consider the real world.
Foreign charity is an excellent example. Westerners love to buy new clothes, yet we are also aware that people in other parts of the world are unable to afford constantly buying new clothes. Our solution, more often than not, is to donate or to facilitate the donation of extra clothes to impoverished nations. What is the result? Local clothing markets are completely destroyed, local clothes sellers are put out of business, and our consciences feel better. Another great example is the peace corp. and even some short term missions. We feel amazing about ourselves if we can spend a week in another nation and build someone a house. We ignore the fact that sometimes a house hastily built by teenagers is both unsafe and unhelpful. We ignore the fact that many times hosting a group of Americans for a week costs more money than whatever benefit is gained from having someone host a VBS for you. Charity is a good thing, helping people is a good thing, but not all things that call themselves charity are beneficial, and not every act that is done out of kindness is necessarily helpful. Why do we continue to do these things? My theory is that we understand that living in our world often is done at the expense of others, but instead of taking the effort to find real, lasting solutions we want to do a token action that makes us feel better.

My point in writing this is not to condemn my generation, but rather to entreat us all (myself definitely included) to think carefully about why we are doing something and whether or not it is really helpful. Absolutely do not stop attempting to help people, but don’t be satisfied by a token action that is only done to make you feel better about yourself! Maybe instead of raising awareness with a Facebook status you should take half an hour of your day to pray for the problem. Maybe instead of buying a pair of shoes that donates a poorly made shoe to someone overseas you should begin researching the cause of poverty around the world and taking the long-term steps necessary to fight it. Maybe instead of tagging along with a missions group to an interesting location you could research and find a ministry that actually needs labor or money donations. I’m as guilty as anyone of “slacktivism,” maybe instead of blogging about it I should seek out the token actions I take to deaden my conscience instead of looking for real solutions.

One addendum, it isn’t fair, but my biggest frustration about this issue has come from the “Kony 2012” movement. Seriously people? Calling for the US to invade a nation to stop an atrocity that both sides have committed, to mediate a problem that is in full recession, and to kill or apprehend someone who has left that country? Do some research before you start protesting. Furthermore, why that of all issues? I want the warlord brought to justice as much as the next guy, but there are many evil men in the world doing horrible things. Why pick this one?


Tonight… We Are Hungry, Mr. Obama

I found an article this week about how the Obama administration went toe to toe against some school children – and lost. These kids from a Kansas high school made this parody video in response to the Obama administration’s changes to the National School Lunch Program. The changes cut portion sizes, regulated fat and salt content, and created difficulty for school lunch staff in designing meals for students. One school lunch lady said in the article that she had to stop serving her own students peanut butter and jelly sandwiches some days because the bread put her over the federal government’s grain limit. It also said under the original rules, which went into effect at the beginning of the school year, schools couldn’t serve spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread because it includes too many grains. A grilled chicken sandwich with a side order of celery sticks and a bit of peanut butter for dipping was also forbidden because it made for too many servings of protein. The federal grain limit? Too much protein? Really?

However, I’m torn on this issue. I know America is facing a growing problem with adolescent obesity, and the new school lunch regulations required calorie limits and servings of vegetables that students may not get otherwise. On the other hand, sometimes a school lunch is all a child gets and those children need more calories to sustain them past the bus ride home. Also, as the video suggests, many students participate in after school activities, such as sports teams. In order to play their best, they need more calories during the day than some of their peers.

I just thought this video was an awesome way to gain national attention, and I’m proud of the students for making enough of an impression to get the USDA to relax on some of their school lunch requirements.

End of Year Reflection

Now that I am a Junior I can safely say that I have mastered typical college practices such as essay test and pulling an “all nighter” to finish a paper. As a Junior I generally know what to expect from my classes and professors.

When I got the email from Dr. Baker about wanting to structure this class in a new way I thought that meant he would teach and we would be expected to respond and be engaging, more that usual.

I was right but I didn’t foresee the challenges that this class would hold.

We are required to be engaging in class but we, the students, had to become the experts. I don’t know about the rest of the class, okay I know how Spicer feels, but this class was a challenge for me.

Sadly, during my college experience there have not been many opportunities to practice my public speaking. Since I am never nervous about standing up in front of people and presenting I considered myself a good public speaker. This class has like, made me realize that like, there is like more to like public speaking than like being like nervous.

After taking this class I now see public speaking more in the terms of communicating a message and presenting information in a way that is easy to follow. Your audience doesn’t want to hear what you are saying rather they want to understand the information.

Visual aid is also important when giving such long presentations like the ones we did in this class. Although they are widely used, text heavy power points are boring and reading off of them makes your audience sleepy. Also in the realm of visual aid, looking at a Prezi presentation is nauseating when the text moves in and out of focus.    

Besides the presentation aspect, this class challenged me through the topics I presented. All of our topics were so broad and detailed that after reading countless articles we had to sift through the material and determine what information is actually important. That part was so frustrating to me because no matter how much material I decided to include, there were always parts that got left out.

Another reason this class was so different from any of my other classes was that after each presentation my classmates would openly critique my presentation. This was more nerve racking that receiving a grade from a professor. As much as I hated the open critique it did help me grow as a student and it was good to see my same presentation through different perspectives. In my opinion, having open discussion after the presentation actually helped us learn more than if Dr. Baker had just lectured because we all have different backgrounds and political standings. Looking back on the semester I am glad that I took this class despite its challenges. 

Finally the blog, oh the blog. Why was it so hard to blog? So for all my fellow classmates needing to make another comment on the blog, I hope this post makes that as easy as possible.


More on Unions

This summer I worked as a business intern at SAM’s club in Jackson. Part of my internship required me to learn all of the Wal-Mart company’s values given my Sam Walton. I was impressed with the company values and how diligent the Wal-Mart corporation was in training and enforcing these values. Every day at our morning meetings the general manager of the club would review the managers and associates with lessons from Sam Walton’s definition of culture. In addition to refreshers at meetings, all associates, myself included, are required to do several training courses before ever working an actual shift.  In my short time there, I could tell that these values were well know among the workers at SAM’s. In addition to a culture of excellence, Wal-Mart has in place several ways for the associates to voice their opinion through programs such as the Open Door Policy or Grass Roots.

The general manager Jackson SAM’s got his start in retail through Kroger. When I asked him why he left Kroger and came to the Wal-Mart side of retail his reason was unions. After dealing with the Kroger unions for several years and the inability to be efficient at work the general manager of Jackson SAM’s left Kroger in frustration.

I was surprised to see Wal-Mart workers advocating for Wal-Mart to unionized because in my experience Wal-Mart/SAM’s was a good company to work for. I got payed for being an intern and I had a lot of individual attention from the club’s managers. I realized that my case may be different than in other club’s, but I saw conscience efforts to make the associated to feel important and needed.

I decided to do some research to find out why these Wal-Mart employees wanted a union. My research found that although the advocates for unions are present, the majority of the push for unions does not reside with Wal-Mart associates. Most of the action towards unions was from actual labor unions trying to gain support from existing employees. Since the employees would be losing the push for Wal-Mart to become unionized didn’t stand.

During this push for unions, David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, addressed the issue by showing that adapting a union would hurt the Wal-Mart associates.

“The fact is our wages and benefits typically exceed those provided by the majority of our competition,” Mr. Tovar added. “As a result, our associates have concluded time and again that they are better off with the pay, benefits package and opportunities for advancement provided by Wal-Mart and have chosen to reject unions.”

So why would labor unions attack Wal-Mart? Probably because Wal-Mart is rocking and everyone knows it. What I mean is that attacking such a large and successful company like Wal-Mart with vague accusations like “Wal-Mart doesn’t respect workers” is a good way for the unions to push their political agenda and get some press that makes unions look appealing, but it looks like they don’t stand a chance!


Royal… Fetus?


As we all know, Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton are expecting their first child, who will be third in line for the British crown when born (considering it’s a boy… which is a different story for another blog post). All of Great Britain and the rest of the Western world are brimming with excitement over the news of this new baby. Yes, that’s right, William and Kate have a baby. Even though Kate is not very far along, the glob of cells growing inside of her is characterized by the term “baby,” even though for many mothers who are just as far along, the politically correct term is “fetus.”

This raises an interesting conversation about the nature of personhood. Is Will and Kate’s child characterized as a child because it’s royal? Or is it simply because the child is wanted — not only by its parents but by an entire country? There is simply no difference between the Royal 10-week old collection of cells and the 10-week old collection of cells aborted by a doctor in a clinic except for the fact that one was wanted and the other was not.

Denny Burke, associate professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, wrote a blog about this curiosity, saying, “Most people have not pondered the fact that their language about the unborn is shaped less by the personhood of the unborn than by whether or not the baby is wanted. Is there any other class of people whose personhood depends solely on whether or not they are wanted?… In this case, the way we speak of the unborn reveals whether or not we view them as a part of the human community with an unalienable right to life.”

Oddly enough, even those who call the Royal baby a fetus have personified it — on Twitter. Yes, that’s right the @RoyalFetus has a Twitter page with over 15,000 followers and is updating the world periodically about its status. Now why would a fetus (who isn’t a person, remember) be having thoughts and communicating with its Twitter followers? The double standard of personhood for the commoners vs. personhood for the royal and/or personhood for wanted babies vs. unwanted fetuses truly breaks my heart. If Kate Middleton’s child is characterized as a baby, shouldn’t that be a courtesy we extend to every child at that stage of development?

Also this blog holds an interesting position on the situation, discussing how if the British monarchy were to truly become a modern monarchy, it must begin to respect women’s reproductive rights and health decisions. Definitely worth the read, I’d say, even if you disagree.

On the Gay Marriage Question and the Law

I submit the following . . .



Solving Gay Marriage Once and For All?

Today it was announced that the Supreme Court will hear a combination of the Prop 8 case and the DOMA case at the same time.  This means that the court will likely solve the federal gay marriage question once and for all.  They will either decide that states can or cannot define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.  If the court decides that states cannot define marriage, then gay marriage will effectively need to become legal nationwide.  If the court decides that states can define marriage, then the debate will still be on a state-by-state basis, but never again will it be a federal issue.  I, for one, am glad.  Machiavelli taught that if you must do something evil, it is better to get it all done with in once fell swoop than to stretch the actions out over a long period of time.  Maybe it will be better for the nation to just get this issue out of the way.  Of course, I hope that the Court affirms the right of states to define marriage.  

Syrias Trouble in the Middle East

Yesterday Syria used white phosphorus against a rebel position and a large battle took place in Lebanon, not in Syria.  Yesterday NATO finished putting up anti-missile defenses along the border; today in an apparent response, Russia provided so-called “Iskander” missiles that cannot be shot down by missile defenses to Syria.  This is significant because Russia was expected to perhaps back down from its pro-Syria stance after it surfaced that Syria has prepared some of its Sarin gas for use in bombs and has (as of yesterday) loaded those chemicals onto bombs.  You should all be watching Syria very closely, this just gets worse.  

Furthermore, today 30 Syrian rebel groups gathered together and formed a council that excluded Jihadist groups.  This will help to facilitate the trade of arms from European nations, because France has announced an intent to provide weapons to Syrian rebels, bending EU authorization.  

This conflict is getting crazier by the day.  40,000 people have already died, and many hundreds of thousands have fled the country.  Where this will end, I have no idea, but if Syria ends up gassing a rebel city, there will almost certainly have to be a response from the US or US allies.  

Teachers’ Unions

So, in response to the question of public unions, I wanted to discuss how the teachers’ union worked and if these unions are successful or stifle progress. On the pro union side, there are several different functions that the teachers’ union performs. It is there to protect teachers from “iron fisted rulers.” This is the idea that is central to all unions. That the boss is oppressive and his or her power must be checked, and that the union serves and the checking power against this administrator. The unions also try to entice better teachers to teach at low performing schools, to bargain for higher wages and more benefits, to keep tenure for teachers, implement teacher peer review programs to keep teachers from falling off in ability after gaining tenure, push for new curriculum, and a host of other functions.

There are problems with the unions though. The first being that tenure allows for more poor performing teachers will not lose their job due to seniority to a more competent teacher who is younger. Also, the union has pushed for an across the board salary system that is based again on seniority and degrees attained not on merit. Many teachers whose lives revolve around teaching and are excellent at their jobs make less than money than their colleagues simply due to the fact that the teacher does not have a high enough degree. However, this happens in almost every job place. The last point of contention is the ineffectiveness of the use of union dues. This hatred is especially true in states like Wisconsin where a teacher can be forced to be into the union. The funny thing about this debate is that it often takes place amongst teachers. There are some who do not believe that the union and want them to be dissolved. However, these teachers get attacked by coworkers and others for reaping benefits and then wanting to cut these benefits for others. It is like the social security debate. How can someone who gained something from a policy measure vote against it for others? My mom is in this category. She always complains about the union, but she felt like she had to join due to the attacks by others teachers against her. I am not saying she was right in joining, but I do want to point out that the mob rules mentality also has a big factor in unions. I hope this is what you wanted Dr. Baker.

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