States are poised to spend billions on fixing infrastructure. They might want to fix the construction industry first.
Source: ZACH PATTON, Governing, November 2007

…That’s a big problem because in the aftermath of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, states are poised to make some big infrastructure investments. As that calamity made clear, many of America’s roadways, bridges and tunnels are in critical condition after decades of deferred maintenance. In some places, the needs are especially pressing. Massachusetts needs to spend $17 billion on repairs, according to one report. In Pennsylvania, the tab for bridge maintenance is $11 billion. In New Jersey, it’s more than $13.5 billion. Overall, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s infrastructure system a grade of “D,” and the group says that fixing the country’s existing problems is a job with a $1.6 trillion price tag.

As states redouble their efforts on maintenance, the trick will be to produce more successful projects such as the MacArthur Maze and fewer tarnished ones along the lines of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. It won’t be easy. Issues of cost overruns and missed deadlines have plagued construction projects for years. And transportation departments will continue to deal with a construction industry that is, in many ways, antiquated, inefficient and wasteful. Minnesota, still shaking off the shock of seeing a key transportation asset crumble into the Mississippi River, is now grappling with its replacement cost soaring toward $400 million. That’s 57 percent higher than the amount the federal government set aside for the bridge. And construction hasn’t even begun yet.

When a Bridge Falls Down

Source: Matt Sundeen, State Legislatures, October/November 2007


The catastrophic collapse of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in August sent shockwaves that reverberated well beyond the immediate vicinity of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The deteriorating condition of the country’s network of highways, bridges and rail lines is a problem that has long concerned transportation experts. For most, the bridge collapse was a call-to-action to fund overdue improvements and fix the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure. Although many federal, state and local lawmakers agree repairs are needed, what the appropriate response should be continues to be a matter for debate.

The Future of Global Unions: Is Solidarity Still Forever?

Source: Alan Howard
Fall 2007

Last November in Vienna, fifteen years after the demise of the Soviet Union and well into the third decade of corporate-driven globalization, the international trade union movement was reorganized to eliminate its debilitating cold war political divisions and to enhance coordination across industrial lines made obsolete by globalization. The founding of this new organization, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 168 million workers in 153 countries, was hailed as historic by the few dozen people who follow these things, which it may well be, though you probably missed the coverage in your local newspaper.

Earlier this year AFL-CIO president John Sweeney met with Iraqi trade unionists in Jordan (there being no place secure enough in Iraq to hold such a meeting) to support Iraqi union resistance to an array of Bush administration policies, particularly on the privatization and denationalization of the oil industry; Teamster president James Hoffa and Service Employees International Union president Andy Stern were in China with a delegation of Change to Win (CTW) unions, the group that split from the AFL-CIO, meeting with communists and capitalists to exchange views on worker rights in the global economy. In Ottawa, Steelworker president Leo Gerard announced a merger that would bring together nearly three million American, Canadian, British and Irish workers in one union, and Communication Workers president Larry Cohen was in Athens to raise the visibility of an organizing campaign aimed at the world’s largest cell phone service company, which operates in twenty-five countries on four continents.

These events reflect the realization at the highest levels of organized labor that unions have no future if they do not become truly global institutions. What is not said publicly, but known only too well, is that unions may have lost so much ground on the international playing field and have been so weakened over the past half century that they will no longer be able to provide an effective counterweight to the inequities of capitalism.

Laws of Care: The Supreme Court and Aides to Elderly People

Source: Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein
Fall 2007

“There’s no place like home”–unless you’re one of the 1.4 million home aides who assist elderly and disabled people but whom the Supreme Court last June abandoned to the feudal manors of the past. In Long Island Care at Home v. Evelyn Coke, the justices unanimously determined that the Department of Labor had the authority to place providers of home care outside the labor law. For seventy years, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has guaranteed minimum wage and overtime compensation to the nation’s workers, but somehow one of the fastest growing occupations of the twenty-first century doesn’t deserve the status and protection of formal employment.

Airline Negotiations and the New Concessionary Bargaining

Source: Gary Chaison
Journal of Labor Research
Fall 2007

The author asks whether the highly confrontational collective bargaining in the airlines is uniques to that industry or a sign of a deepening crisis in union-management relations nationally. First, airline labor relations are reviewed in the context of extremely contentious negotiations, intense industry competition, complex and fragmented bargaining structures, frequent bankruptcies, and unpredictable external shocks. Next, concessionary bargaining in the airlines is discussed, and a new and extreme form of concessionary bargaining is identified. The emergence of the new concessionary bargaining in the airlines and its spread to the automobile sector is then interpreted as the early signs of a fundamental transformation of collective bargaining. The implications of the new concessionary bargaining are then described at the workplace, company, union and societal levels.

The Clinton Administration and Labor Law: Was Comprehensive Reform Ever a Realistic Possibility?

Source: John Logan
Journal of Labor Research
Fall 2007

This article analyzes the critical obstacles in the path of labor law reform during the 1990s. It stresses the importance of the lukewarm support of the Clinton Administration for labor law reform, organized labor’s failure to frame the debate on labor law reform to its advantage and its inability to convince key Senators to support its reform agenda, and, especially, the determined opposition to reform of employer groups and their allies in Congress. The article concludes with a brief discussion of the lessons of the legislative defeats of the 1990s for the AFL-CIO’s current campaign to revise the National Labor Relations Act.

The Ossification of American Labor Law and the Decline of Self-governance in the Workplace

Source: Cynthia Estlund
Journal of Labor Research
Fall 2007

This article argues that the ineffectuality of American labor law and the shrinking scope of collective representation and collective bargaining are partly traceable to the law’s “ossification”–to its having been essentially sealed off for several decades from democratic revision and renewal and from local experimentation and innovation. The elements of this process of ossification, once assembled, make up an imposing set of barriers to innovation. The basic law has been cut off from legislative revision at the national level by Congress; from “market”-driven competition by employers; from the entrepreneurial and creative energies of private litigation; from variation at the state or local level by representative or judicial bodies; from changing constitutional doctrine; and from emerging transnational legal norms. Moreover, the National Labor Relations Board–the designated institutional vehicle for adjusting the labor laws to modern conditions–is increasingly hemmed in by the age of the text and the large body of judicial interpretations that has grown up over the years. The resulting statutory scheme is drastically out of date and out of sync with the needs of 21st century workers and labor markets.

Alternative Service Delivery: Shared Services

Source: Government Finance Officers Association, Best Practice, Approved by GFOA’s Executive Board: October 2007

Governments continue to address funding issues related to their budgets often resulting in the reduction of programs and services. In addition, governments often face an increase in service responsibilities. At the same time, residents are demanding that governments demonstrate improved efficiencies and even offer new or improved services without new taxes.

To meet these challenges, governments are becoming more and more interdependent, including cooperating to deliver services. The services most often provided collaboratively include health and human services, transit systems, airports, sewage collection, disposal of hazardous wastes, libraries, tax assessing, and title records.

Informal (handshake agreements) may include such items as sharing information or equipment, coordination of individual efforts, or joint promotion. More complex or formal agreements might include contracting with another government for service, sharing facilities, purchasing/insurance pools, merged departments, special districts, or regional planning. Shared services that might be the most difficult to achieve include mergers, annexation, or service provision transfers, especially where political support is required. Formal intergovernmental cooperation often includes written agreements among governments and may require a division of labor and/or transfer of funds.

Suburbs may be more likely to enter into shared services agreements due to the greater density of governments in a metropolitan area, proximity, and similar levels of service. Rural communities might consider shared services due to their smaller size and lack of resources. Rural areas may have more cooperative agreements between different types of governments.

In all cases, alternative service delivery that involves shared services requires governments working together to achieve shared policy objectives. Governments are encouraged to cooperate to provide their residents services they could not provide on their own or to provide their residents lower cost and/or higher quality services…..

Rewarding the Work of Individuals: A Counterintuitive Approach to Reducing Poverty and Strengthening Families

Source: The Future of Children (via MRDC)

Between the end of World War II and 1973, the share of Americans living in poverty fell by half. But since 1973 the overall poverty rate has remained largely unchanged. Why didn’t poverty continue to decline? Falling wages and increasing rates of lone parenting are the two principal explanations. Economic changes led to stagnant and declining wages at the bottom of the wage distribution, especially among men with a high school diploma or less, and demographic changes saw a near doubling of the fraction of all families with children that were headed by a single parent.

The problems of falling wages and single parenthood are intertwined. As the wages of men with a high school education or less began to tumble, the employment rates of these men also fell, and, in turn, the share who could support a family above the poverty line began to decline — and with it the professed willingness of low-income mothers and fathers to marry. Because the U.S. social welfare system is built around the needs of poor families with children — and largely excludes single adults who are poor (and disproportionately male) — it creates disincentives to work and marry for some, aggravating these larger trends. Although recent changes have reduced marriage penalties in the tax and transfer system, some do remain, particularly when both spouses in a married-couple family have similar earnings.

A strategy that used the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to supplement the earnings of all low-wage workers aged 21 to 54 who work full time — whether they have children or not and whether they marry or not — would counter three decades of wage stagnation and persistent poverty, with significant positive corollary effects on employment and parental child support. By conditioning the benefit on full-time work, by targeting individuals regardless of their family status, by keeping the existing EITC for families with children in place, and by calculating EITC eligibility on the basis of individual income (as Canadians and Europeans do) rather than joint income for tax filing purposes, this earnings-based supplement would restore equity to the American social compact while minimizing the distortion of incentives to work, marry, and bear children.

Full Report (PDF; 156 KB)

Hack, Mash & Peer: Crowdsourcing Government Transparency

Source: George Mason University, Mercatus Center, Regulatory Studies Program

In order to hold government accountable for its actions, citizens must know what those actions are, according to this paper. To that end, they must insist that government act openly and transparently to the greatest extent possible. In the Twenty- First Century, this entails making its data available online and easy to access. If government data is made available online in useful and flexible formats, citizens will be able to utilize modern Internet tools to shed light on government activities. Such tools include mashups, which highlight hidden connections between different data sets, and crowdsourcing, which makes light work of sifting through mountains of data by focusing thousands of eyes on a particular set of data.

Today, however, the state of government’s online offerings is very sad indeed. Some nominally publicly available information is not online at all, and the data that is online is often not in useful formats. Government should be encouraged to release public information online in a structured, open, and searchable manner. To the extent that government does not modernize, however, we should hope that private third parties build unofficial databases and make these available in a useful form to the public.