There were so many issues crying out for comment this week that I have decided to channel my late friend Patrick Scully, the former journalist and Democratic political operative in Connecticut and Massachusetts, who authored the popular insiders’ blog, the Hanging Shad.
When Scully had too many issues on his mind and could not settle on one, he would simply title his post “Apropos of nothing.” It was invariably a collection of topics too numerous to cover in-depth in a single column. Scully died last September but his memory will live on in this column in the form of an occasional lineup of nonsequiturs:
Labor Stoppage at Stop & Shop
In my neck of the woods — and indeed through much of southern New England — the talk of the town has been the still-unresolved labor stoppage at Stop & Shop supermarkets.
The response among the public has been overwhelming support for the workers, which is to be expected. After all, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the company’s parent, a giant Dutch conglomerate named Ahold Delhaize, which the union representing the workers says had more than $2 billion in profits last year and received a U.S. tax cut of $225 million in 2017.
Ahold made a lot of money last year, but the more pertinent question is how did the Stop & Shop unit perform? I can’t seem to find those numbers, but it has been reported that Stop & Shop is Ahold’s “largest brand.”
There have been reports on social media of striking workers hurling abuse at customers trying to enter the North Canaan store. Many observers insist they will always take the side of labor and that it’s patently wrong to cross a picket line. My take is that it is unwise to reflexively support one side over the other when it comes to labor matters.
After all, some unions are militant and some corporations are more benign than others. Read David Halberstam’s “The Reckoning” to see how overreaching unions can contribute to the decline of an entire industry.
Still, we will see many more Stop & Shops in the coming years. Workers and their supporters complain loudly about the company’s aggressive use of self-checkout registers and the robot named Marty who patrols the aisles looking for spills and other hazards.
Up until a few years ago, retail had been the one sector that seemed immune to automation. Not anymore. From touch screen kiosks at fast-food restaurants to the ease of ordering from Amazon, brick-and-mortar retailers realize there are very tough times ahead and, like Ahold, they will need to prepare for the worst. It would be nice, however, if they were more humane in battening down the hatches than Ahold is.
Candid Camera Host Offers His Take On Tolls
Speaking of automation, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page loves to take shots at Connecticut, where many of its readers reside in Fairfield County’s hedge-fund land and routinely suffer the effrontery of huge tax increases and budget deficits as far as the eye can see.
Peter Funt, the writer and host of Candid Camera, penned a piece last week entitled “Toll Roads Tax The Poor.” Not only does Funt argue that tolls are a regressive form of taxation, which is objectively true, but the ease of digital toll collection is seductive to lawmakers such as those in the General Assembly who see the effortless flow of dollars unmolested by human toll collectors and their defined-benefit pensions and lifetime healthcare.
A lesson for Stop & Shop workers: the private sector isn’t the only employer looking to obsolete your job through automation. The government might seem like your friend, but it wants to make lots of money, too. To wit, the tollbooth-free MassPike.
Rowland: The Charges Were ‘Trumped Up’
Fresh from his second stint in a federal prison, ex-Gov. John G. Rowland made an appearance earlier this month on WNHH, a community radio station affiliated with the New Haven Independent. Rowland waxed philosophical on the hot topic of criminal justice reform. That would have been fine in and of itself. After all, who knows more about it than a public official who’s served time twice?
But in his interview with Babz Rawls-Ivy and Jeff Grant, Rowland eventually wallowed in self-pity about his second conviction, claiming that the charges were “trumped up” and were little more than retribution on the part of prosecutors who thought his first sentence was too light. You’d be hard pressed to find much remorse in his words. This from a man who was once a tough-on-crime 1990s governor. How sad.
Disclosure: I’ve met the man a couple of times and was a guest on his WTIC radio show several times, including a pair of in-studio appearance of two hours apiece. I found him quite charming and I think the feeling was mutual. Our bromance ended when he was named a co-conspirator in a campaign finance scheme, left the mic at WTIC, and was eventually taken into custody by the feds. Now, if Ray Dunaway would only return my calls …
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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