No, College Athletes Don’t Need to Unionize

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern’s football players have the right to unionize. While I personally view unions as entities to help workers receive collective bargaining rights and better pay, there are situations where unions are impractical. The arguments made by the football players is that students have to abide by a very strict code in order to remain on the team, without fair benefits. Additionally, the students pointed directly to the fact that the NCAA does not have a very effective policy when it comes to injuries sustained by athletes during competition.

            The first point seems to be false though. These student athletes are correct when they say there are codes and protocols they follow which regular students are not subjected to. However, many of these student athletes from Division I and II schools are given scholarships, which will only be maintained with the voluntary participation in the sport by the student athletes. Yes, these student athletes put multiple hours into their sport, but they also receive a scholarship for their efforts. Many of these programs offer more than scholarships though.  Even Division III athletes can receive perks, such as paid meals during competition, free items such as bags, clothes, or competition shoes. So to say that student athletes, at any level, do not receive benefits for their commitment to the sport is an exaggerated point. I run track at a D3 school, and even yet I still have managed to receive free stuff, despite the fact that I’m not in one of the more revenue making sports. In more powerful collegiate programs, student athletes also can receive special consideration for dorms, class choices and work schedules.

            The second point, however, is one which must be addressed. The NCAA’s current rules on sports injuries is that every athlete must have health insurance, but the schools get to decide how much they will pay towards any injury sustained during a sport. Many colleges and universities do the honorable thing anyways, doing their best to pay for treatment for their student athletes to recover fully. But some places just aren’t as kind, and many other institutions will stop footing the bill once the student-athlete has left the institution, even if the injuries are still present. The NCAA needs to change their policy, to hold institutions more responsible when their competitors get injured, there is not a doubt in my mind. The issue is whether a union at one university be able to challenge the NCAA effectively? As the ruling currently stands, it would leave Northwestern’s football team the right to challenge the institution or the NCAA directly. Perhaps, if a student union challenged just one institution, it would be more effective, I can’t say with certainty. But there would be no basis for the institution to pay for injuries due to NCAA rules. Which leads back to where we started, saying that a union at one school most likely could not challenge the NCAA alone.

            Beyond the realm of college sports though, this ruling has a negative impact on unions. I’ll go as far to say that this decision trivializes unions in the public realm, and hurts their already sliding perception in society. Many individuals already are skeptics that unions just ruin business, and that the ideal way they would work is never implemented. If we allow college athletes to unionize, with all of the perks they already are given to play their sport, I am skeptical how many people would say unions really fight for the worker, and just aren’t “union bosses” who pick on businesses and institutions. Student athletes are attending great institutions, receiving an education, a place to live, and meal plans. Comparing these individuals to someone who is struggling to make a decent wage in order to pay for their children’s education, their place to live, and their meals just isn’t being intellectually honest with ourselves. Yes, they both are working in exchange for something, but an average union worker needs to interact with third parties in order to get all of those living expenses, as opposed to a student athlete who just needs to interact with the institution he or she attends.

            Let me be clear that I sympathize with student athletes everywhere who have been victims of sports injuries and are struggling to get their institutions to help with the burden of medical costs. The real issue here is the poorly written rules in the NCAA handbook, with such a vague statement only requiring student athletes to have health care coverage.  The rules which the NCAA operates under must be rewritten, without a doubt in my mind. However, a union at each institution seems to be an extreme method to achieve change. Until the rules are rewritten, I believe that legally any institution will have the upper hand against a lawsuit brought by an injured student athlete. To achieve change, I would suggest we place scrutiny on the NCAA and their lax rules and bring them to public criticism. I worry that student athlete unions will just give unions a lot of negative press, hurting the people who need them most: the workers. Unions aren’t bad, but in this case I question if they would accomplish anything meaningful or just become a hassle in the already complicated realm of college athletics. Hopefully in the near future, when I go to the checkout line at Walmart, it will be my cashier who is in a union, not myself.

Until next time,

Peter

http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2012/02/college_athletes_rights_ncaa_r.html

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/northwestern-football-players-union-105080.html

Advertisements

The CPC Budget Part 1 – The Jobs Provisions

Well let’s get right into it. I’d like to start off by examining the first two portions of the Better Off Budget, respectively detailing jobs and the recent budget cuts. I’m linking the actual budget document below which is provided straight from the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ website. It details each of the major policies put forward by the budget and provides the actuarial details that went into the budget, long run projections, and the portions seeing a functional increase in appropriations.

Summary (Short-Form): http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/uploads/Better%20Off%20Budget%202%20Pager.pdf

Full Document: http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/uploads/The%20Better%20Off%20Budget.pdf

Before we get started, I’d like to note that the comprehensive nature of this budget means that it is as much of a policy manifesto as it is a financial statement. That’s the reason I’m going to go through it section by section and the reason this series will take as long as it will.

The Jobs Provisions

Note that there is a $10.10 minimum wage provision in the budget however this specific policy will be reserved for a different article since it needs one all to itself. Recent efforts to create a $10.10 minimum wage in Connecticut prove that the issue is alive and well and the longer the wage goes without rising, the more likely it is that there will be a pertinent article on this blog in the future. 

Now, one of the first things readers will notice is a massive increase in attention to job training programs. Absent any other efforts, I’m fully supportive of increases in employer training programs if only because studies have shown that workers who remain unemployed for long periods of time do indeed see deterioration in their performance, morale, skill set, etc. However, the criticism is that it would be far more efficient just to give these workers jobs and train them as they go. If these workers just go through the training programs with no jobs at the end to show for it, then ultimately all you’ve done is slow down the inevitable decline in their work skills because nothing was done to address the underlying problem of low demand. The workers you train might possess comparative advantages in finding marginal jobs in the short run, but then all you’ve really done is swap these workers in the jobs pool with less skilled workers ultimately leaving the job availability situation the same. 

The next subsection they discuss is infrastructure with what they term an $820 billion down payment in infrastructure spending. They aren’t very clear in the descriptor paragraphs so if one were to scroll down to page 14 on the full document, you’d notice that the functional increases in spending chart documents Fiscal Years 2015-2024 so I’m assuming all spending notations in the budget are in ten year increments. That means their spending increase in infrastructure isn’t nearly enough. The American Society of Civil Engineers noted the necessity of $3.6 Trillion just by 2020. In pure nominal spending terms, $820 billion doesn’t come close to spending what is needed to bring our infrastructure to passable grades. Again however, compared to what we are getting now, it’s still preferable.

This next part is probably one of the better ones. The budget provides for $95 billion in grants to states. During the recession, the federal government ramped up stimulus spending but most states had no choice but to either curb their spending or slash it due to the number of balanced budget requirements on their books. So the states actually counteracted the effects of federal stimulus to a degree by reducing spending and laying off workers. The Recovery Act included grants to states but those have largely been phased out now. The return to this type of aid in the Better Off Budget is a policy we’ll need almost in perpetuity until the following happen (individually or a combination): we return towards something resembling full employment, we stop putting so much pressure on states to meet certain requirements or fund programs like medicaid that should honestly be managed at the federal level since they are funded at that level. I can’t however say anything right now about how adequate $95 billion in aid will be towards easing pressure on the states. 

Finally, this last section is my preferred method of dealing with the jobs situation. It takes a direct hiring approach whereby the government simply hires workers for various purposes: teaching, public works, filling government positions that had been emptied out from cuts, etc. This was the New Deal’s original strategy and would go a long way towards permanently resolving our abysmal labor force participation rate than would simply training workers to look for jobs that aren’t out there. Now, obviously the budget doesn’t allocate anywhere near the amount necessary for full employment (and its questionable whether that much should be allocated) but it bases its numbers off of Representative Jan Schakowsky’s (D) Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, a piece of legislation I’ll save analysis on for a future post. 

For now at least, I’m ending my analysis of the jobs section by saying this. The stuff in here is good but like most legislation it doesn’t go far enough to achieving the kind of meaningful effect its drafters hope it will. What makes this budget significant however is that it goes further than any of the recent budgets, Congresses, or Presidents have been willing to go and that makes it worth voting for over anything else out there. I have the distinct suspicion that this theme will pervade the rest of the budgetary sections. We’ll have to see if I’m wrong. 

Chirag 

The CPC Budget Part 0 – Quick Overview

Dear Readers,

It’s absolutely wonderful to be back writing for Roosevelt Talk. I’d also like to welcome you all to our newest series which will spend a couple blog posts pouring through the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s (CPC’s) newest budget, the Better Off Budget. Before I start the main part of the series, I wanted to give you all an overview of the kinds of things we’ll be covering as well as some background information. 

Each year, the CPC releases its own budget to add its voice to the chorus. Unfortunately, it’s also ignored each and every year. The media generally focus on the plans released by the President and House Republicans, most notable of whom is the House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan (R). Ever since 2010, Ryan has released a series of budget plans, the most notable of which was his infamous Path to Prosperity, that have come to symbolize the Congressional Republican’s vision should they gain control of Congress and the Presidency in the near future. It was in these budgets that Ryan proposed a massive tax reform overhaul that would have drastically slashed rates and combined them into two separate brackets. It was also where he outlined his extremely controversial plan to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system. Note that Republicans would dispute that characterization and instead tried the euphemism, “premium support.” You tell me if they sound different. Besides those two, it included the draconian cuts to social welfare programs that earned Paul criticism and fame as the Republican’s go-to budget wonk. 

On the opposite side, stands President Obama. His budget plans have been fairly generic in the sense that they haven’t changed much since he took office. His initial budgets were based largely around the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.The reason I don’t focus on the President nearly as much as Ryan or the CPC is simply because his subsequent proposals have not called for any radical changes from what he started with. They incorporated and produced minor appropriation changes to his major legislative initiatives (successful or not) such as Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, the payroll tax cut, the Buffet Rule, defense cuts, the sequester, etc. 

The one thing I will note about the President, and this is true of D.C. in a larger sense, is that his focus following 2010 shifted from stimulating the economy to retrenching spending and curbing the deficits. In a global sense, the same thing was occurring with austerity fever in Europe. We in the United States haven’t had it nearly as bad and our efforts were termed “austerity-lite” by the Economist until the sequester took an even bigger whack at the budget in 2013.  

It’s this shift that has to change. The budget deficit dropped at its fastest rate since World War II following the sequester but the American economy clearly isn’t in any sort of healthy state. Labor force participation is pitifully low compared to statistics from “better” times. Banks and companies are still sitting on mountains of capital to pay off old debts accrued during boom times and consumers are still not willing to spend enough to bring us back into a full swing recovery because they’re stuck with housing, medical, credit card, and student loan debts. Larry Summers took one look at the situation and termed it secular stagnation. None of the budgets put forward by the President, not to mention the House Republicans, come anywhere close to addressing these problems. 

As the writer behind the CPC series, I will admit I have my fiscal preferences. The United States Federal Government is the only entity that can spend in this economy whilst consumers and private enterprises are occupied with savings. Retrenching spending, especially on programs that already received lackluster attention for the past decade, will only make things worse. Tax hikes won’t do us much good either. The deficit can only be fixed in the context of a good economy. Otherwise its the government’s responsibility to be the “spender of last resort.” 

There I said it. That viewpoint is the reason the CPC’s budget intrigued me as much as it did. I will use this series to analyze the Better Off Budget’s policy alternatives. Full disclosure: I have my doubts and I fully understand that the current political climate means the budget is certainly DOA (dead on arrival). But it’s worth exploring don’t you think? 

I think so too. Now, that I’ve given you the context, I’ll be able to dive straight into the details next time. Till then!

Chirag 

America’s Inadequate Tracking System

WE ARE BACK! Our hiatus has finally ended and I’m happy to present one of our newest regular writers, Peter. Peter’s a colleague at the Roosevelt Campus Chapter and a fellow freshman at Hendrix this year. He’s kicking off a weekly series of articles he’ll be writing with the one below on tracking in American education policy. I hope you enjoy his work and find it as engaging as I do! 

– Chirag

America’s Inadequate Tracking System

Many individuals have taken the stance that the American tracking system in public Education is a flawed evaluation process which must stop. Tracking is an evaluation system where test scores and grades are compiled annually by teachers and guidance counselors to help students succeed in school. The intent behind the practice is that students will be guided into coursework which will fit their academic needs, and thereby will utilize their skills and talents to their maximum potential, making every student succeed based on their strengths.

Yet, the system is failing in almost every regard. Tracking simply is a compilation of test scores, without any real deliberation between the counselors and the teachers. Sometimes, the counselors are just administrative positions, who engage infrequently with their students. Honestly, the tracking shows a few standardized test scores and a GPA, but nothing about the actual student’s progress or interests is included. I was blessed to have parents as teachers, who in addition to excellent teachers and counselors, were able to help guide me through my academic career to make decisions to expand my knowledge, follow my interests, and refine my skills.

Some schools, such as New Trier high school in Winnetka, Illinois, have done an excellent job tracking students at all levels. Using a five level class structure, they require students to engage with their guidance counselors to discuss their academic interests and struggles, and are given suggestions based on test scores on what classes to take next year. The process prepares students by pairing them with the appropriate challenges in school, without leaving anyone overwhelmed or underwhelmed. As a whole, New Trier is ranked one of the best public schools in the nation.

Other nations have adopted a more engaging tracking system, where the evaluations are less standardized and require more student-counselor interaction. Finland is widely viewed as a nation with one of the best Education systems in the entire world. A major component of their success comes from the mentoring program they have. In Finland, every student is assigned a guidance counselor, who will interact regularly to discuss the interests of the student. Not just simply what is interesting and what is mundane in the classroom, but just simply what fascinates the student in life, and what leaves the student bored. This complex tracking system relies very little on test scores, since Finland rarely does standardized tests, but requires more collaboration between counselors and teachers, along with interaction between counselors and students. The Finnish system leaves almost all students prepared for post-secondary life, whether they attend college, trade school, or community college.

I see benefits through a tracking system. However, many of these benefits only reveal themselves through collaboration and interaction amongst counselors, teachers and students. Any tracking system minus the human component will just struggle to adequately serve every student. Unfortunately, America’s Education system has adopted this incomplete tracking model. Schools like New Trier have demonstrated that the model can be adjusted to be more effective and benefit more students. The improvements may be costly, I will concede that. But by tracking students in a more effective way, we will see student achievement exponentially increase, and these gains will benefit our nation as a whole. These benefits outweigh any cost, and government at all levels should find places in their budgets to cut in order to pay for these changes to the tracking system. The student achievement will allow the United States’ economy to expand, and the additional influx of revenue will be a great return on the investment of each level of government. So why are we waiting?  Let’s take the outline of tracking and finally fill it in with substance in order to greatly improve the quality of America’s Education system and see the benefits of a system which is meant to cater to all students.

Just something to think about,

Peter

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

http://www.newtrier.k12.il.us/uploadedfiles/files/content/New_Trier_Web_Site/Administration/Communications/Publications/guidebook.pdf pages 8-13

Our Temporary Hiatus

Dear Beloved Readers, 

As you’ve likely noticed, we’ve had a hiatus in blog posts this past week. It isn’t without reason. Hendrix College has spring break next week and as a result the campus is locked in last-minute academic overdrive. Even clubs and planned events have had to cut back hours due to the glut of exams, projects, and papers that managed to cram into our schedules. I can however promise you all that we’ll be back the moment this week finishes with fresh forays into the policy world. Also, Spring Allocation season is about to kick in for student organization funding and the Roosevelt Institute looks to improve upon its current projects next year. Hopefully that will include funding for an improved blog experience, among other things of course. For now, dear readers, I must depart. Hold fast to your vigilance and hope for a new dawn is fast approaching!

Your Humble Servant, 

Chirag 

Looking Up Immigrants Is a For Profit Business

Note. The article below was originally published by our very own, Jill Nguyen, in a blog post for Young People For (http://youngpeoplefor.org/blog/posts/133117) . Jill is a 2013 YP4 Fellow and we’re extremely proud of her for getting this article published and to have it featured in our blog. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I did!

Chirag 

Looking Up Immigrants Is a For Profit Business

By Jill Nguyen – March 11th, 2014 – 12:38 pm

My friend Micajah Cooper could not believe what he saw and heard during his visit to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA in mid-February. Micajah, a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia, visited the detention center through his school’s Undocumented Student Alliance and El Refugio, a ministry serving visitors of Stewart detainees and providing humanitarian visits to detainees who don’t have family members that can visit them. When describing conditions at the Detention Center, he said:

The living situation is horrible, and many immigrants – documented and undocumented – were denied their rights to appeal and to a lawyer because they were not considered a citizen for protection under the Sixth Amendment.  From the stories gathered from the detainees themselves, the staff of Stewart refused to listen to one detainee’s appeal to retract his solitary confinement even though he had a reliable witness and evidence to refute its premises, simply because he did not speak English and ultimately because they did not care.”

Stewart Detention Center is just one of over a hundred private detention centers across the country that works with our government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to lock up prisoners for a profit. It is among the largest such centers in the United States and is owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – one of the three largest private detention and correction facility corporations in the country. In 2012 alone, CCA brought in $1.7 billion in revenue, roughly one fourth of which came from contracts with ICE and the federal Bureau of Prisons to detain immigrants living in the United States in for-profit prisons. Sickeningly enough, in the United States the majority of detainees are housed in for-profit institutions. In fact, between 2002 and 2010, the number of detainees held in private detention centers increased by 206%. Additionally, the cost to detain an immigrant in these types of institutions is about $164/person/day. Compared with community-based supervision programs that are more effective and cheaper (many as low as$15/person/day), one can’t help but wonder why we pour so many resources into such a costly, ineffective, and inhumane system.                                   

As the ICE’s budget grows bigger every year and more immigrants are detained, more money is flowing into these corporate pockets. But money is also flowing in another direction: from prison corporations to Washington, D.C. Indeed, the three biggest for-profit prison corporations, including CCA, spent roughly $45 million in the past decade to influence state and federal policymakers. Speaker John Boehner, while criticizing the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill and delaying any effort on a House bill, pocketed $63,000 in total from these private detention groups. Senator John McCain of Arizona received $71,000 during his presidential campaign after dropping his support of a bill that would reduce detention. This is yet another example of why the vast amount of money in our political and electoral system is undermining our democracy.

We live in a country where big corporations benefit from the mass incarceration of people of color and immigrants while neglecting human rights violations. Thousands of immigrant detainees are held in non-criminal custody each year and treated like criminals in the process. Innocent children, seniors, pregnant women, human trafficking victims, sexual violence survivors, and more have gone through these facilities, stripping them of their dignity and ripping families apart. It’s time for our lawmakers to stop dining on corporate money and figure out a bipartisan solution to our broken immigration and detention systems.

The Postal Crisis Part 2 – The Banking Solution

As you will remember, I wrote an article last week describing how the Post Office’s financial situation is largely self-imposed and reversible. However, just getting rid of the constraint that I described would provide a temporary reprieve since it’s fairly clear that electronic communication will increasingly cut into postal profits in the future. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) put out a list of potential new services the USPS could provide including granting hunting or fishing licenses, notarization services, and better online integration. However, beyond even these ideas lies an even more innovative proposition: the Postal Bank, an idea put forward by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

A Postal Savings System (PSS) is not a new idea. The United States utilized such a service between 1910 and 1966 whereby the USPS accepted deposits and then redeposited them back into local banks; the scheme was then financed through interest income. Savings peaked around World War II and their subsequent decline resulted in Congress repealing the PSS in 1966; unclaimed deposits were then held in trust and claims were honored till about 1985.

However, there is reason to believe that there would be demand for an idea today. A white paper published by the USPS’ Inspector General found that 68 million Americans don’t have accessed to even the most basic of banking services and are forced to spend nearly ten percent of their income for cash services from things like payday lenders thereby resulting in a $89 billion drain from the economy. To give you an idea of the differences in interest that the average person would pay, the payday lenders and other immediate cash services charge interest rates approaching 100% and over but the PSS back in the day actually paid back 2% interest on deposits.

In terms of hard numbers, this would save those Americans almost $2000 a year through at least three basic services: savings, debit cards, and simple loans. The Post Office would also stand to gain $8.9 billion in much needed profits.

What are the downsides then? Well the National Journal put out a critique of the proposal which basically rested on two basic premises: quality of service and competition for banks. For competition, it’s a non-argument. If banks wanted to provide services to those 68 million, they could easily start now but they aren’t. In fact, their failure to do so only made the 2008 financial crisis even harder on the working poor since many of them had already been in the clutches of predatory lenders for much of the previous decade. It’s a niche that the private banking industry has refused to dirty it’s hands with. If they refuse to fix the problem, then it opens up an obvious market share for the Post Office to capitalize on especially considering that it has 56 years of experience in such things even before the start of the digital age. The second argument against the idea is the service quality.Nearly every argument against the USPS’ service quality is based on anecdotal tales and horror stories. While certainly true individually speaking, do you ever hear about the countless cases the USPS gets right every single day? Of course you don’t; they’re not news worthy. Let’s also not forget that Congress has been useless in appropriating the resources necessary for the USPS to even begin addressing the holes in its system.

At the end of the day, if we want a functioning Postal Service that’s financially independent, then we have to give it the tools and resources to do the job. Either that, or we absorb the USPS back into the government as an agency or we privatize it completely. One thing’s absolutely clear: leaving it in financial limbo does our economy, postal workers, and our credibility absolutely no good. 

Chirag

Sources:

History of the PSS:

http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/postal-savings-system.pdf

Office of the Inspector General (USPS) White Paper:

http://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2014/rarc-wp-14-007.pdf

Think Progress Article:

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/02/03/3239261/elizabeth-warren-post-office-financial-services/ 

New Republic Article:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116374/postal-service-banking-how-usps-can-save-itself-and-help-poor 

National Journal Article: 

http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/your-post-office-now-wants-to-be-your-bank-20140209