Why I Won’t Join A Union

July 31, 2009 at 2:36 pm (Family Life, Politics)

I was recently invited (again) to join the union at work.  When I declined, I was asked why.  Since my answers were so intelligent and well articulated (yeah, right), the union member asked if I would mind putting it in writing.  Here’s what I gave them:

I will not join the guild for the following reasons.

The ‘service’ that the union provides is a monopoly.  A monopoly is a bad thing, when applied to the provider of goods (Standard Oil), and services (AT&T), but it is equally bad when applied to collective bargaining.

The advantages provided by a union are an inverted bell curve, with the unskilled at one end and the obsolete at the other.  Both are afforded protections that are disproportionate to their value.

Dues for membership are based on salary, with members that earn more paying a larger share.  The lowest paid employees are charged the least, while they enjoy benefits that are significantly more than they could expect doing the same work for a non-union shop.  The membership dues should be a flat fee regardless of salary.  Or to be completely fair, inverse to salary, charging more to those who benefit the most.

In the name of ‘fairness’, the wages of less valuable employees are artificially inflated, while simultaneously lowering the pay of more valuable employees.  It is immediately recognized as wasteful and wrong when the company pays more for an item from one vendor, when the same item is available for less from a different one.  The same principle applies to salaries.

The ‘fairness’ of the wages also tends to drive the most skilled (and most valuable) employees out. It wouldn’t be ‘fair’ for some employees to receive merit pay or bonuses while others didn’t, so people who are highly skilled can get more somewhere else.

My first experience with the union at <company> was during the orientation.  While I oppose unions on principle, I attended with an open mind.  That was short lived, because I had a few questions and wanted to see how a guild meeting worked.  The short answer was that the meetings were open to members only, and that I could go if I joined.  If I didn’t like what I saw at the meeting, I was still a dues paying member until the opt-out period next year.  I believe the exact words I used at that time were ‘pig in a poke’.

Twice, I have seen employees leave <company> for greener pastures simply because their salaries could not exceed the union-agreed scale.  I have been personally told by my manager that I would have received a merit pay bonus because of my performance during the virus crisis in 04, but that they did not give them out any more because the union had filed grievances every time one was put forward.  I was given a few days off with pay instead.

I had some experience with AFSCME prior to coming to <company>, and my experience with AFSCME was no better.  On several occasions, I saw first hand how damaging unions can be.  When dealing with people, there will always be an occasional ‘bad apple‘.  Most people are conscientious workers and respectful co-workers.  In a non-union shop, the ‘bad apples’ are quickly removed.  When one of the ‘bad apples‘ turns up in a union shop, it is usually difficult to remove them.  The process varies, but it inevitably wastes the time of everyone involved, and pushes more work onto the coworkers of the ‘bad apple’ while they exhaust their levels of arbitration.  If the arbitration is successful in keeping the employees job, morale in their unit will suffer.  After all, if THEY can get away with it, why can’t everyone?  One of the extreme examples of that occurred at <company>.  Our unit (bargaining unit employees only, btw) had a ‘good riddance’ party when he was finally paid enough to leave.  The cake was bitter-sweet, because that was money that could easily have been put to better use in profit sharing.

One fo the frequent reasons given for why we need to be part of the collective (union) is that employees would be mistreated if they didn’t.  They claim that weekends, sick leave and vacations, as well as bathrooms are all a product of union efforts.  While that may be true in the strictly literal sense, much more has been gained by the skill of individual workers.  There were examples of this during the dot-com boom, where companies that couldn’t afford the extreme salaries demanded got creative with their benefits.  Movie nights in company conference rooms, guaranteed work-from-home, game rooms, and gourmet cafeterias were not uncommon.  While most of those companies failed in the crash, some survived – as did their benefits.  The Google campus is a prime example.

A skilled worker will ALWAYS be able to negotiate a benefits package that better suits them than the ‘one size fits none’ type that the unions negotiate.


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Not-so-HOT lanes

March 10, 2009 at 7:36 pm (Family Life, Politics)

I commute to DC daily, so I’m interested in anything that will have an impact on my commute.  Currently, I’m a SLUG, but occasionally take the VRE or bus.

Virginia has been talking about converting the existing HOV lanes, which only busses and cars with 3 or more passengers can use, to HOT lanes which would be open to anyone with enough cash to pay the toll.

Official information can be found at virginiahotlanes.com and www.vamegaprojects.com.

The entire process seems to have been done in a less than open and honest manner, to the point that the Prince William County board of Supervisors passed a resolution requesting that VDOT or the contractor appear before them.  It’s gotten so heated that the slug-lines forum was invaded by a troll that turned out to be Shirley Ybarra, a lobbyist and former VA Secretary of Transportation.

I have problems with anyone messing with my commute, so I wrote the following letter to my two state representatives about it.

To: Sen. Charles Colgan

To: Del. Jeff Frederick

I am writing to you as a commuter from Northern Virginia who is concerned about the impact that the proposed HOT lanes on Interstate 95 and 395 will have.

Any additional capacity on 395 section of HOV lanes would only cause more delays.  The bridges into the District and streets surrounding them are already at or above capacity.  Additional cars arriving at these choke points will not help things.

According to an article in the Free Lance Star (http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2009/022009/02102009/444886) the re-striping of the lanes near the pentagon would result in lanes that are extremely narrow, and dangerous for busses to travel in at speed.  This is already an area of congestion, and would only get worse with narrower lanes.

An article in TheNewspaper (http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/24/2458.asp) said that Transurban/Fluor are expecting a level of revenue, and if any other road improvements are made that adversely affect it, Virginia would have to reimburse them for it.  This clause makes a lot of sense for them, but not for Virginia.  It would have the undesired effect of increasing the cost of necessary road improvements or halting them entirely.  Any improvements that Virginia would make to the roads near the HOT lanes, especially improvements in traffic flow, would cause fewer drivers to pay for the HOT lanes.  This would trigger the payment for their decreased revenue, effectively punishing success.

An article in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/19/AR2008071901651_pf.html) revealed that Virginia would have to pay Transurban/Fluor if the non-paying vehicles in the HOT lanes exceeded 25%.  Assuming that busses and carpools currently using the HOV lanes would remain, I have not seen any proposals for improvements that would increase the carrying capacity of the HOV/HOT lanes by 300%, which would be required to keep Virginia from paying.

Relinquishing control of the existing HOV lanes would also cause problems, because the State Police would no longer be allowed to open the lanes for all traffic in the event of an accident.  It would also extend the rush hours because the extra capacity would not become available at a set time.

I think that a much more sensible alternative would be to change the HOV-3 to HOV-4 requiring four passengers in each car, removing the exemption for hybrid vehicles, and building additional commuter parking spaces in Prince William County and south.  Every space in the main commuter lots in Prince William County is filled daily, with many people parking along the sides of roads or other unauthorized areas.  Every parking space built removes a car from the road.

The costs are quite troubling as well.  The total cost of the project is expected to be over $1.6 Billion.  Transubran/Fluor are only contributing $349 Million to it.  And for that, they get a guarantee that 75% of the traffic will be paying, the completely unregulated tolls are geared to maximize their profits, there is no fixed buyout price should Virginia decide to take posession of the roads again, and their monopoly will outlive children born before it starts.  Perhaps that is best explained by the illegal $177,000 donations that Transurban/Fluor has made to the Governor and legislators.

Other people have written about it as well:

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Chocolate Holiday

February 14, 2009 at 11:00 pm (Family Life)

Many who know me, know that I like chocolate.  Really like chocolate, especially the dark stuff.

Many also know that I’m a ‘frugalskate’.  Those two things combine quite nicely four times a year, the day after Haloween, Christmas, Valentines day, and Easter.  That’s when chocolate goes on sale.  Usually %50 off the day after, and %75 or more by the end of the week – if they have any left.

After last haloween, we had 50+ pounds of chocolate.  And I’ve been conservative in doling it out, too.

Just so that you can also participate in these chocolate holidays (or more precisely the days after), here’s some information that you might find useful.

Candy, and especially chocolate, will go bad or stale after a while.  Details can be found at CandyFavorites and CandyDishBlog.

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Bad Moon Rising, part 2 – Disjointed thoughts on the Economy

January 31, 2009 at 12:10 am (Family Life, Politics, Uncategorized)

To me, the superbowl has really never been important.  This year, as we approach the precipice of a depression, I see irony in it.  The U.S. steel industry was once the model of efficiency and quality for the world.  Now, it takes serious thought to remember why Pittsburgh’s team is called the ‘steelers’, or where the logo on their helmets came from.

Nobody seemed to be concerned that a ‘service economy’ just can’t exist stably.  It translates to ‘consumer based’ economy.  If all we do is consume goods created elsewhere, eventually the ‘elsewhere’  has collected all of our capital.  That leaves us with broke, but with lots of stuff.  It’s a bit like the star-bellied sneeches from Dr. Seus.  Except that they didn’t have jobs, apparently.  Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

Knowing what lies just around the corner for our country, I can’t help but think of Rome.  They continued to enjoy their circuses and gladiatorial holidays while their empire crumbled out from underneath them.  Our beloved government is going to try to borrow their way out of debt, which will only give us double-digit inflation for years.

And for a comparison between this depression and it’s place in U.S. history, here’s a video from itulip.


From the International Herald Tribune:

He now estimates that $2.2 trillion in new government debt will be issued this year, assuming the stimulus plan is approved.

“You either crowd out other borrowers or you print money,” Ferguson added. “There is no way you can have $2.2 trillion in borrowing without influencing interest rates or inflation in the long term.”

“This is a crisis of excessive debt, which reached 355 percent of American gross domestic product,” he said. “It cannot be solved with more debt.”

“People are not stupid,” Zedillo said. “They see the huge deficit, the huge spending, and wonder what comes next.”

To that last I would add that he is referring to economists that are NOT in the U.S.  Nobody around here seems to have gotten that far … yet.

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There’s A Bad Moon On The Rise…

January 27, 2009 at 9:04 pm (Family Life, Guns, Religion)

I’ve had this feeling that things are going to get bad. I’m not sure how bad here, but elsewhere I would expect really bad.

And it has nothing to do with our new president. The economic problems that we are running full-steam into are beyond government’s ability to fix now. They’ve been coming for quite a while, and we have been pushing the problems off into the future.   Paying one credit card bill with another, so to speak.  Well, the future is here now.

The Federal reserve is basically printing money, as the interest rate it charges is now at or nearly zero. This will have the effect of ‘flooding’ the market with money, making inflation rise sharply.  To give you an idea, here is the Federal Reserve’s own chart.  That vertical line on the right is NOW.

Combine that with China no longer buying US Treasury debt, and that sets up quite a problem. An insufficient number of treasury bills will be sold, so to sell more, we will have to promise a higher interest rate, which means that the debt of the government will increase faster. And it’s not just in the U.S. either. The Bank of England recently lowered their interest rate to the lowest it has ever been.   The value of anything drops when supplies are drastically increased, and the U.S. dollar is no different.  So, while the governments flood the economy with money, some companies realize that the value of money in the future will be much lower than it is now. If we’re lucky, we won’t have to take a wheelbarrow full of money to go grocery shopping.

The economic mess is truly a global problem, causing the government of Iceland to fail, just weeks after the state bank failed.  They’re the first.  I doubt they will be the last.  Argentina’s solution to their financial problems was to steal all the retirement savings.  We’re at least a few years away from having all our IRAs and 401Ks ‘reinvested’ in the social security ponzi scheme.

Add to that a record pace for unemployment growth, and you get a really bad scene. Tons of excess inventory will idle production worldwide as people finally realize that their spending sprees of the last ten years are over.

Food prices will rise drastically, partially due to the lowered value of the dollar. If we have another bad year for food production, prices will rise drastically.  Last year also saw the spread of more virulent forms of wheat rust, which is expected to hit the entire middle East and Asia this year.  Fresh foods, especially those grown in California, will be scarce and expensive.  Food banks, which were strained last year will fail miserably. And I’m not the only one concerned about it. Hopefully rat-farming will remain an exclusively overseas thing.

Last year also saw dramatic shortages of fertilizer. Not so much in the U.S., but overseas. And since we’re in a global market, a shortage elsewhere increases prices here, but at least the materials are still available.  But only for those that can afford them.  People will have to choose between keeping the heat on and eating.  And it has already started.

There is a general sense of unease running through people.  Munchkinwrangler and Crankyprof are two good examples.

Now, I’m not predicting a Mad-Max type scenario, but I’m not entirely ruling it out, either.  I doubt it will be a drastic crash, I expect more like a steep downward spiral.

What I will guarantee is crime, and lots of it.  The last time the economy was this bad was in the 70’s.  I wasn’t old enough to realize just how bad the economy and crime were then, but what I do remember were the movies.  Movies like ‘Mad Max’, ‘Death Wish’, and ‘Dirty Harry’.  If art imitates life (or makes it a caricature) then things don’t bode well for our immediate future.  Again, I am not alone in this thinking.

And if you have the same feeling, now would be a good time to prepare.  Non perishable food & water for a week or so would be a good start.  And since you don’t really posess anything you are unable to keep, get a gun.  A shotgun for home is a good choice, but probably not the best one.  A better choice would be a handgun with training.  You shold find a comfortable holster and wear the handgun all the time.   Most robbers won’t call and warn you, and unauthorized people or children will find it difficult to misuse if it is attached to your body.  A concealed carry permit should be next, to allow you to protect yourself and your family while away from home.  The most important thing is to practice with it, and carry it everywhere you are allowed.  It should be as comfortable as a pair of broken-in shoes.

And to any believers out there who expect to be raptured (as I do), we are promised that we will avoid GOD’s wrath poured out on the world.  We are NOT guaranteed to escape tragedies and hardships caused by man.  How much will God allow us to go through?  Look no further than the unrest after Katrina, or the Janjaweed militias.

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Stupid Dog

January 3, 2009 at 2:00 am (Family Life)

Completely unintentionally, I have the ‘last word’ on the recent incident with the annoying little drop-kick dog that lives in our house.  My Wife, my Daughter, and even my Son have already had their say about it, so now it’s my turn.

The facts are quite simple.  The Pomeranian walked over to my wife and peed on her foot. I watched him do it, and didn’t realize what he was doing until it was too late.  I then asked my wife if she wanted the big gun (.45) or the little gun (.38).  Unfortunately, she chose the camera instead.  Apparently  illustrating the story was worth leaving the pee on her foot until pictures were taken.

So, why did he do it?

The simple answer is because he is stupid.  He’s so stupid that calling him stupid is an insult to stupid.  He’s stupid enough that him peeing on my wife’s foot is really no surprise to anyone that knows him.  He’s just stupid, stupid, stupid… well, you get the idea.

He’s stupid and useless.  He might make an acceptable alarm, if he would only bark at people or animals in or near our yard, but no.  He barks when someone comes to the door, but he also barks at us when we walk upstairs.  He even barks at people walking OUT the door.  Frequently (read multiple times an hour) he barks at… nothing.  Nobody walking on the street, no critters in the yard, just – nothing.

And he’s not house broken, and never will be.  Before you try to tell me that any dog is trainable, remember that this dog is STUPID.  To house break a dog, you typically scold him when he piddles in the house, and take him outside.  Most dogs figure it out fairly quickly.  Sometimes you even have to crate the dog, and only allow him in the house after he’s gone.  But not with Dudley, because he’s stupid.   The crate trick works, because dogs won’t soil a confined area like a crate.  Most dogs, but not Dudley.  Leave him in a crate for more than an hour, and you have to take the crate outside to hose it down.

Is he unique for a Pomeranian?  I don’t know.  I’ve never seen a completely housebroken Pomeranian.  But I think it has something to do with the ‘toy’ dogs.  Their heads just aren’t big enough to hold a brain, so they run entirely on their spinal cord.

In summary, the bigger the dog, the bigger the brain; the bigger the brain, the better the dog.  Oh, and Dudley is STUPID.

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So where do I fit in?

December 12, 2008 at 7:45 pm (Family Life, Politics, Science)

I’m an efficiency nut.  Not nutty, just really interested in getting the most ‘bang for the buck’ so to speak.  As such, we’ve replaced all the lightbulbs in the house with compact fluorescent ones.  My wife can tell you how much that saved on our electric bill, but it was significant.

The next major breakthrough for lights will be LEDs.  Currently they’re very expensive, but use roughly half the power of the compact fluorescent ones.  EarthLED does make a socket compatible series of lights, and once the prices come down, they will be a very viable choice.  They also don’t suffer the warm-up time or strobe-effect that some fluorescent bulbs do.

I’m always looking at new stuff relating to efficiency.  Most things I find are only simple and inexpensive if you are building a new house.   If our energy prices go up much more, I’ll probably consider retrofitting the house with a GFX heat exchanger.   It’s a really slick device that uses the hot wastewater from the shower drain to preheat the water going to the water heater, or cold water to the shower.  Many studies have shown a significant savings of energy with it.

Now, where do I fit in?

Most people who are interested in efficiency seem to be zealots about it.   I’m not.  I drive a truck, eat meat, refuse to pay more for organic food, and think that the poor children of Southeast Asia are better off making cheap clothes that I buy at Wally-World than they would be if everyone wore only hemp clothes made locally by hand.  It’s really hard to talk to off-the-grid types who think that you should use a composting toilet and grow plants with your own urine about anything.

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NaNoWriMo 2008

October 6, 2008 at 9:23 pm (Family Life, Writing)

NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month is celebrating its 10th year this year.  I’ve signed up again, and have a sketch of an outline for this year’s book.  Just 25 days left to finish the outline, and the hardest part for me, selecting character names.

Last year was fun.  Fast paced, occasionally frantic, but fun.  My wife was happy to see my daughter and I when December finally rolled around.  Apparently we were somewhat secluded during that month.

My daughter is planning on doing it again this year, and my oldest son is going to try his hand at it.  We are trying to talk my wife into trying it this year also.

Last year’s novel, which reached 50,000 words on November 29th, has had a pathetic 5000 words added to it since then.  I haven’t given up on it, and the story really needs to be told, I just haven’t gotten around to finishing it.  One of these days…..

If you’re participating, I still recommend yWriter software (version 5 is in beta, version 4 is stable).  Since the author does NaNo also, I wouldn’t expect 5 to be stable before December.   I also still recommend Freemind for the ‘mind map’ outline.

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2nd Thessalonians 3:10

September 19, 2008 at 6:16 pm (Family Life, Politics, Religion)

It won’t come as a surprise to you, but when we go against what the Bible tells us to do, bad things happen.

We all recognize the bad things, but not always the Biblical guideline that, if followed, would have prevented it.

I give you the ‘Shameless’ family from Chester, England. Ten people, 5 of which are adults, exist entirely on welfare benefits.

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Home-made pellet trap

September 14, 2008 at 9:01 pm (Family Life, Guns)

I’ve been planning on building this all summer so that my kids will have a safe backstop for target shooting. I constructed this pellet trap out of an old computer case, some scrap 2×4, and 3/4″ plywood – mostly because that’s what I had laying around.

Please note, this pellet trap is safe for relatively slow (400 feet/second) pellets, such as would be fired from a pellet pistol or single-pump pellet rifle. This type of trap is NOT safe for use with BBs at any speed, because BBs don’t flatten when they impact, and are much more likely to bounce out.

As always, ALWAYS wear eye protection when shooting.

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