Paul Ryan As VP Pick: Why Both the Left and the Right are Cheering

One cannot underestimate the value of a vice presidential nominee during election season.  With a shrewd vice presidential pick, a candidate can effectively mask his or her flaws and fill crucial gaps in public opinion.  And with the Republican nominee still eliciting a lukewarm response from his own base, his VP pick couldn’t be more important.

Mitt Romney with Rep. Ryan.  Photo Courtesy: Christian Science Monitor

Paul Ryan has been in the spotlight long before his name was floated around in conjunction with Romney’s.  Elected as a to the House at age 28, he represents conservative politics in every respect–from abortion to foreign policy, from the size of government to alternative energy.  His consistent voting record helps mask that of Romney, often noted as contradictory and “flip-flopping” on the most black-and-white issues, like access to abortion.  In addition to Ryan’s voting record, his image and rhetoric are those of a conservative with no doubts of his views.  With these, he gives Romney the respect, and possibly the votes, of more hard-core conservatives.  Representative Ryan also counters Romney’s image of a profit-driven businessman with his own resume: a lifetime of public service, whether working behind the scenes for others or holding public office himself.  He is seen as a generally honest man who strives to better his country in ways he deems necessary.  Another voting constituency Romney has had trouble with, the conservative base, appreciates these attributes, and will likely judge Romney in a more forgiving way with Ryan on the ticket next to him.

But one would be foolish to disregard the numerous faults of Mr. Ryan.  It takes an electorally ignorant person to view Ryan’s plan to privatize social security as a plus; one of the most historically significant swing-states, Florida, also has the highest number of residents who are seniors.  And in a country where 79% of voters believe that “social security has been good for the country” and 84% of seniors believe that calling social security “a failure” is inaccurate, this poses a major problem1.  While Ryan’s image as a clear conservative is helpful in some respects, it sets Romney back in others.  By choosing Ryan as his running mate, Romney has made a conscious decision to try to win over conservatives, rather than independents, who tend to have more liberal views on social issues especially2.  Representative Ryan is unlikely to aid Romney in winning votes in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin because Wisconsin has historically voted for Democrats in presidential elections, and with the recent reawakening of the labor fight there, Ryan’s 7% rating by the AFL-CIO does not give him the working class support Romney desperately needs.  Finally, on a superficial yet relevant note, Mr. Ryan’s Roman Catholic faith only widens the gap between Mormon Romney and evangelical voters.

Paul Ryan is a divisive character.  In choosing him as his running mate, Romney has certainly isolated some voting blocs, while improving his image with typical conservative ones.

So while both sides claim this pick as a victory, one should keep an eye on the opinions of those who truly matter–the voters.

 

 

Sources

  1. http://www.pollingreport.com/social.htm
  2. http://www.pollwatchdaily.com/2011/05/07/305/

Con Edison Shuts Out Workers

Saturday July 14th, 2012 NY, NY

On July 1st­­ 2012, after yet another fruitless negotiation session between Consolidated Edison and union representatives, the company decided to lock out all 8,500 union workers.  Two weeks later, the workers are still locked out and 5,000 managers with little training have temporarily replaced them.  The battle began over the 4-year union contract, which was up for renewal.  Con Edison wanted to make changes to the contract that the union was not fond of; reducing medical care and changing pensions to a cash balance plan are the two that seemed to have the most workers up in arms.

Many news outlets have omitted this story from the news cycle completely, and those that do cover it do not do so in any meaningful detail.  If only out of my own curiosity, I went down to talk to some of the union members on “picket duty” in New York yesterday and learned a great deal.

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The immediate concern of the union at this point is that a deal on the contract be reached that does not compromise the beliefs of the union and the needs of its members.  This would preferably be done soon, as they are not being paid at the moment.  Many members have already applied for part-time jobs because of this.  The two main problems with the contract that the union has are the cutbacks in health care and the change in the pension plan.  The reason why a Con Ed worker would need solid health care became even more apparent through explanations of the incredibly heavy uniforms that must be worn in the summer, which often lead to “sweat pouring out of the rubber gloves”, and the lack of insulation these uniforms offer in the winter.  And, of course, the job of a Con Ed field worker can be dangerous.  Said one man, “Everything we work on is live–this way, we don’t need to take a whole block out [of power] to do a small repair”.  While this certainly provides convenience for Con Edison customers, it does increase the risk of electrocution for the workers.  Concerning the pensions, the previous contract had a traditional pension plan that Con Ed now wanted to change to a cash balance pension plan.  The difference between the two is described as such by the United States Department of Labor:

Traditional defined benefit plans define an employee’s benefit as a series of monthly payments for life to begin at retirement, but cash balance plans define the benefit in terms of a stated account balance. These accounts are often referred to as “hypothetical accounts” because they do not reflect actual contributions to an account or actual gains and losses allocable to the account.

(For more information on cash balance plans, here is the link to the Department of Labor’s FAQ page: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/FAQs/faq_consumer_cashbalanceplans.html )

As to any animosity towards the company, one man said, “I don’t blame them [Con Ed].  This is a business making business decisions.”  He went on to say that he did not think the decision to cut health care was one made out of malice, but rather frugality.  However, he noted “the company has been bragging about $11 million profits*…and we want to be fairly compensated for our work.  It’d be nice if we could get reasonable compensation [for such] a dangerous job.”  And speaking of a dangerous job, how are 5,000 management workers going to do the work of 8,500 union employees?  Not very well, the same man said.  “First of all, if these guys ever had any training at all, it was years ago.  Con Ed has management, many of whom are older, doing 6-day shifts.  [Their being out of practice] will significantly impede their ability to perform.”  He described in detail the amount of time and work it takes to train one union employee to work in the field.  In most cases, the training process takes years and is done through a graduated system.  But the training Con Edison has given to these 5,000 management workers?  “It’s a crash course, for the most part.”  Taking a step back from his explanation, the man looked up.  “The company is playing it a little on the dangerous side regarding management.”

When it came to updates on the story, one worker said, “we’re as much in the dark as the public is” (the union’s website did note that as of today, Saturday the 14th, Con Edison has agreed to reinstate health insurance retroactive to July 1st, when the workers were first locked out).  Because of the lack of media coverage on the shut out, the union does want to make one thing clear: this is a shut out by Con Edison, not a union-led strike.  And as much fun as the 16 hours a week on “picket duty” may seem to those who are not part of the Local 1-2 Utility Worker’s Union, that same man summed up his own feelings nicely: “I just hate being here.  We’re not getting paid.”

Despite its obvious importance to New Yorkers in the days before an incoming heat wave, this story also has significance in the politics of modern labor.  In 2011 only 6.9%1 of private-sector unions were unionized, as opposed to 35% in the mid 1950s2.  And while public-sector unionization has increased, one cannot ignore the recent increase in political support for Right to Work laws (laws that make it very difficult for unions to exist), like Scott Walker’s infamous SB 11 in Wisconsin.

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States with Right To Work Laws in effect (either by way of legislation or the state constitution)

Where does this comparatively small labor fight fit in?  The main take-away from this shut out is lack of media attention to the issue.  Surprisingly, even local news has not been investigating much into the matter, although many New Yorkers may find themselves out of power as the heat rises.  Lack of coverage of small disputes like this one helps to keep unions hidden from the public view.   And in a country where labor is not on the mind of the everyday American, bills like Wisconsin’s SB 11 are much more easily developed, passed, and set into motion.

News media have a responsibility to inform the public on information that affects them, and with the modern implications that disputes like this have, I strongly suggest they start investigating.

Sources:

1. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/opinion/a-civil-right-to-unionize.html

*The following sources reference a $1-1.1 billion profit for Consolidated Edison (2011):

http://mycrains.crainsnewyork.com/blogs/greg-david-on-ny/2012/07/is-con-eds-1b-profit-a-sign-of-greed-no-way/

http://www.lohud.com/article/20120704/NEWS/307040055/Con-Ed-workers-call-bosses-greedy-1-200-without-power-Armonk