Ballot Strategies for Pirate Party

I would like to offer some strategies to help the Pirate Party get ballot qualification in California.  Do I have any special expertise in this area? No. I just want to start the process of developing a comprehensive plan to achieve this goal. We do have a January 3rd, 2018 deadline to qualify for the June 2018 ballot. One way to start a process is to get something on the table. So here are my “Top 10” ideas for consideration and ridicule. And yes, I would be willing to work on all of them.

Become a leader among political bodies attempting to qualify for the ballot. By producing events and statements that encompass all reachers for the brass ring you will not only attract attention to the general concept of examining unheard of political groups but you will give the Pirate Party instant recognition for being bigger than themselves.

I assume every internet geek knows the value of Search Engine Optimization. If no one competent wants this thankless job we will have to pay an outsider. And everything we send out, no matter how inappropriate, should contain the Secretary of State online registration link.

Send out regular press releases and feeds responding to current events and statements by pundits. Normally these will be ignored. But there are slow news days and news stories where the writers are pressed to get “another view.” There may be occasions where we will be asked for an on air response. These should sound clear, compelling, and spontaneous. We may need to practice the spontaneous part. Pirate Party Toastmasters anyone?

Produce videos and podcasts on our core issues, preferably with people we admire and containing footage from ambushed public officials. Offer a regular “Pirate Spot” column to radio stations. Reagan did this between political gigs. Make “public input” statements at public meetings for the purpose of getting the video, with the officials and staff as your backdrop. I do this.

Make voice over parodies of public meetings. Some of these go virile. Since they are public officials in a public meeting there are no permission issues.

Create your own speakers bureau for service clubs and high school civics classes. You will gain greater acceptance if your list includes speakers from a broad spectrum of political parties and bodies. Did I mention a Pirate Party Toastmasters? Members of service clubs are usually active politically and will talk you up, for better or worse.

Parades and festivals. There are often places for tables at parades. I’ve actually seen pirate ships in parades. One or two well made floats could be shared around the State.

Sponsor contests. These generate publicity before and after the event, due to having a winner. Examples: Geo Cacheing (Treasure Hunt?), Song Parodies, and for strictly colleges only – a marathon Barnacle Bill the Sailor lyric contest. A Yale University contest racked up over 90 lyrics. Probably the least offensive entry, not the winner, will be quoted by the press.

Petition for various Ballot Initiatives (maybe two or three at a time) where you incidentally register people to vote,  casually bringing up “other” options. A ballot issue will often pull in people easier than a “Register to Vote” sign.

Sponsor Candidates Nights (if you’re not running). I did several of these. It will be a political crowd that shows up. Pirate Party organizer will be part of your intro and qualifications. Did I mention you should always have voter reg cards with you, even when you go to the John?

Now for the youth vote. You know, the people who will be dancing on our graves. Most are not registered. Sponsor a band event with local youth bands, maybe thru Pirate Punks if they’re still around. Youth bands usually work for the door, assuming a low minimum. We spring for the venue, which is often lower for non profits. At the reg table, have something to eat.

Those are my ideas. I hope I’ve inspired a flood of others. I know, it looks like thousands of hours. But that may be what it takes.

Lake Transit Chopping Block

As everyone knows a big chunk of transit money is grants. One of these grant pools is drying up this year. This particular pool has been getting smaller every year. Now the Transit Authority has to make cuts in service.

Most of these cuts will be lightly used routes and runs. Some routes are untouchable for the time being. Our contracted general manager will look at ridership on each run, how much money we have left, and what changes have to be made in the other routes to smooth over the gap. His recommendations will be made to the Transit Board and they will vote yes because they will not want to study the details.

In past meetings the General Manager and the Operations Manager noted which runs will be looked at hard for possible cuts. These tend to be routes to the hinterlands, 2 and 4A, and runs on popular routes that are too early or late to have more than one or two passengers on board. Regardless of the number of passengers, if these runs connect to an out of County route they can’t be cut. Otherwise another pool of money will disappear entirely.

There are a couple of special cases. One is that part of the 4A that runs to the Konocti Vista Casino. In addition to gamblers, people work at the Casino and there are two large communities nearby. Years ago, before the 4A was born, this was on the popular Route 4 line. Four was later diverted to Highway 29 outside Lakeport to express itself to Clearlake. If 4A is eliminated 4 will have to reroute its service back to Konocti Vista.

The other special case is the City of Clearlake for a couple reasons. Clearlake receives over have the system’s transit runs on three local routes. All three overlap in a large triangle area in the center of the City. Clearlake’s local area includes the adjacent town of Lower Lake where the High School and Lake County Social Services are located.

Lower Lake is served as an afterthought at the tail end of Route 10. This Route is primarily designed to serve Clearlake Park, a subdivision of extremely bad and narrow roads. Instead, most people go to Lower Lake on Route 12 which loops around town at the beginning of the Route before overlapping Clearlake’s center triangle with the other two local Routes. On Saturday the High School and Social Services are closed. Probably Route 12 could be closed on Saturday as well.

Since schedules take time to design they aren’t done for minor or temporary changes. There is a rumor that all the cuts that could be made without damaging service too much will be made all at once, even though this may be a little ahead of the curve money wise.

The good news is that during periods of forced change, opportunities arise to make other changes. Change requires a period of adjustment so managers who like things to run smoothly don’t change for creative purposes. Change is usually the result of more money, less money, or a new law. The route cuts and changes may reopen cost neutral options for the overlapping local routes in Clearlake. The overlaps produce ongoing transfer and route planning confusion.

Due to three routes overlapping many passengers could misuse transfers for return trips. That is why a rigid policy exists allowing transfers at only specific locations other than the beginning of the route. It is inconvenient and seems unfair to riders. If a passenger is adamant that they got on the wrong bus to begin with, drivers will usually relent and ask another driver to honor a transfer.

The service rule for Clearlake is that any local route change must all serve current stops every hour. By measuring the time allotted between all Clearlake stops on each of the three routes and adding these segments together you get the total amount of time to serve Clearlake. Currently it takes two full routes and most of a third to do the job. It would take a single bus an hour and 20 minutes to serve all Clearlake stops. Passengers would also feel thrashed after such a long local ride.

But I have made an amazing discovery. Using the time numbers and the limiting assumption I have found a cost neutral way to hit all the Clearlake stops every hour using only one route. This would eliminate all transfer problems and most trip planning difficulties in the City. This seems impossible given the hour and 20 minute drive time to travel to all stops. Guess how it could be done. Hint: All three local routes are intersecting loops.

Well Prepared for the Trump Era

When I moved to Lake County in 2002 little did I know that I was going to undergo a rigorous conditioning to living under a fascist regime. While the 2016 Election left millions of people dazed and bewildered, I looked at the horror unfolding and could only see that the Nation had caught up with Lake County reality. There are several elements to this reality. If I thought deep down most of the Trump vote was anything more than fear and ignorant rage I would not bother writing this.

I happen to like details, check facts, and I follow thru. This made me immediately suspect to the self serving paranoids that ruled the backwater of Lake County. The first thing I learned is that “the public” does not include me. A full description for “the public” in this former frontier of Napa County is “the old landed families”, the real estate industry, right wing fundamentalists, retired police, corrupt civil servants, opportunists pitching Lake County’s low development requirements to out of County interests, and small town, small minded, mean spirited Republican business men who would never survive in a dynamic market environment.

People who find themselves stuck here, but are not members of the club, are only valued if they have brought money with them that can be siphoned off by the tight knit cabal of reactionaries to keep the black heart of the past beating on. The poorer sorts who retreated here from more expensive areas are alternately vilified as the reason progress has bypassed Lake County and exploited as State and Federal grant bait. This grant money is either used to hire more do nothing cronies and unemployable relatives or used for programs that attack people in a class war that the money was supposed to help.

Those who meet in the usual gatherings for “the right kind of people” to hatch schemes for excluding or crushing “the wrong kind of people” are found even in decent localities. Only in Lake County it is all out in the open, for all to see, with neither shame or denial – just like Donald Trump. There are no cover stories, rationalizations, or excuses. The law is not important except when it benefits the right kind of people or some fancy lawyer gets involved to muck things up. Coalitions of diverse interests and future thinking are strategies for losers.

Remember, Lake County was the scene of the Dinius trial that caused a National sensation, resulting in the ouster of both the District Attorney and the Sheriff. Fast boats, corruption, and death on the water. Its only a matter of time before Clear Lake gets their big Hollywood movie. The Chamber won’t like it.

Myself, I’ve experienced numerous instances of freedom of speech and search warrant violations. But so have many other residents. Even in the 21st Century reefer madness still justifies the most absurd and egregious assaults on our civil liberties in the land of Clear Lake. In the rare instance where someone can get a lawyer, and of course win the case, the attitude is “So what. The taxpayers will pay for it.”  No actual presence of devil weed is seen as necessary. They are on a mission from God who over rides the Supreme Court.

My first experience as the subject of civic minded mob action was when I decided to produce a video parody of local politics for the public access station. I was not considered part of “the public.” The City Manager of Clearlake was outraged. When it leaked out what I was planning the former Chamber head and a right wing minister organized a howling mob of their buddies, retired policemen running for local office, businessmen, even one of the founders of Clearlake to storm the  PEG meeting to intimidate me. The Chamber guy kept saying he wanted to punch me out. I challenged him to a chess game. He declined.

After years of attacks on the station everyone was finally driven off, leaving TV8 nothing more than a government channel with some internet filler. But all three governments still use its public forum status to extort money from cable users as a fee for public access. No shame. No shame whatsoever. And why should there be? After all, they are the right kind of people taking from the wrong kind of people, like me and you. When people like Trump aren’t born rich they are called bullies or thugs. To me, Trump is just one of these Lake County goons in a better suit with bigger guns.

As someone who has made a habit of showing up to places I’m not supposed to be at and reading documents I’m not supposed to read, I understood the Trump mindset right from the beginning. I see millions wringing their hands in disbelief that the short sighted, unapologetic arrogance I experience on a local level is now on display in the Presidency for the World to see. I had hoped that after another generation of goobers had died off Lake County would finally join the civilized world. Instead I find that the Nation has decided to become Lake County. It won’t be pretty but I’ve seen it all before.

Public Access Transition

Since the late 1970’s the principle electronic public media has been channels on cable TV. But they were an option that most cable franchisers did not ask for, according to a survey by the Alliance for Community Media. From the beginning the goal has been to allow local content from the public without social or political considerations. Other alternate media included underground newspapers, low power community radio, public broadcasting tv and Pacifica Radio.

By the late 1980’s political and economic changes shifted the relevance of various alternative and public media. The financing of public broadcasting, as opposed to public access, became dominated by corporate sponsors. In the 90’s the internet gradually replaced much alternative print media. Even though video options on the internet increasingly replaced cable video the internet itself never provided much community centered media. The internet was better at dispersing media than connecting people, especially in community. Those communities that used the cable public access option still had a better source of local and public media. Cable use was declining but so was print media, which kept cable public access relevant.

From the beginning, political entities in and out of government occasionally tried to censor legal content on public access channels, which enjoy the legal status of a “designated public forum.” Over time a number of political and economic innovations sucked money away from the public sectors and transferred it to commercial entities. Local government budgets became tight and the perceived essential services were going to be fulfilled first even if other functions could survive on a pittance. At the extreme, there are several problems with this reasoning as well as a couple of solutions.

Not all public access channels were well funded. Many did not receive any general fund money or an entitled part of the cable franchise fee. Public support often consisted of free rent in an unused part of a public facility. This was the case in Lake County. TV8 was a single channel access station created by a provision in the city of Clearlake’s cable franchise. There was never any intention to turn over day to day operations to a qualified non profit. It was bounced around from one public space to another. It was financed solely by a $5400 per year Distance Learning Program fee charged to Yuba College. Even though it was never a budget burden this did not prevent the most egregious violations of civil liberties by government authorities who locked out volunteers under flimsy pretenses.

The bottom line is that there is a critical need for an independent, public, and local media if communities are going to be vibrant and inclusive. But the technology and funding are going to have to change. If public media advocates step forward to make the transition then politicians need to help the transition to the next step forward in community media. Especially since it won’t cost much.

The Alliance for Community Media has been working to make the the technical transformation of public access from a cable dependent media to internet based platforms where existing cable access channels will become “nodes” of local content. The internet is now more accessible to more people than cable tv. Many subscribers have switched to satellite tv where public access is not an option. A media platform or portal could be an upgraded blog site. The Premium version of WordPress costs $8.25 per month.

Linked videos on the public platform could be stored on YouTube, Vimeo, or Archive.org.  Each “division” of this new local media platform will have its own page on the platform. Probably these separate pages would be edited by non profits with the homepage edited by the sites overall administrator. The three public access stations in Mendocino and the one in Trinity are owned by non profits. My own non profit which is currently parked is Cache Creek Performance. I naively intended it to operateTV8. There are several low cost live streaming services that charge by the month or data use to make local media more of a real time experience.

With many production programs being usable on a good laptop, the only resource missing is space for a studio. This is where thinking outside the box is critical. Why pay rent on space that is not used most of the time? If lighting and sound equipment can be put in portable packages, a studio can be anywhere – meeting rooms, restaurant stages, coffee shops, churches, government chambers. I’ve used them all. And let’s not forget the great big outdoors. There are schools with small performance areas open to the public (Lower Lake High School) as well as non profits who might like to trade temporary shooting space for publicity.

How do you make the public aware that this is the new goto public media? First, everyone on the site needs to plug the site and everyone else on it while they still can. Second, sponsor or cosponsor events and contests. Obviously the first contest should be “The Best Name for This Platform” contest. I would be interested in sponsoring a new type of Slam Poetry competition, especially if I could get Mendocino’s Poet Laureate Michael Riedell on board. There are clubs who are always looking for speakers. We need to speak to them. When something new happens on the platform, such as its initial formation, we need to send out press releases.

What can local government do to help transition to the new public media? They can make a commitment to the future. Rather than simply let declining public access channels crash and burn a positive response would go something like: “The days of paying for centralized facilities along with technical staff are coming to an end. We will work with a broad base of media advocates by providing an insurance umbrella, offering more use of public buildings for media functions, especially for storage of valuable equipment, and establishing a jack location for existing public access channels to link to the new platform.” The future is only scary if you do not prepare for it.

Lake County Identity Crisis

Many years ago Lake County used to be part of Napa County, giving it the status of a San Francisco Bay Area county. It was hard to get to in those pre CalTrans days. Around the time that Lake County broke off, another nearby county was breaking up. This was the county of Klamath on the Coast. It was too small and poor to pay its bills, which were a lot fewer back then. The disappearing county became parts of Humboldt, Trinity, Siskyiou, and the new county of Del Norte. Counties can die when there is a good reason.

A case could be made that Lake County should be divided up between its functional neighbors for the good of the residents. After the grinding poverty the best reason for Lake to split at the Putah Creek and Cache Creek Watersheds is the fact that it doesn’t know who it is and is constantly at war with change. The exception is the chamber marketing people who throw all their cash at convincing a skeptical world that we really are part of the Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino “Wine Country.” Sure, out of county wineries are all too happy to take advantage of Lake’s lax environmental regulations for their satellite vineyards but their wineries and tasting rooms stay at home along with the jobs.

Mendocino has a second identity along with Humboldt as the “North Coast”, sometimes referred to as the “Emerald Triangle.” Mendocino generally works well and its county seat Ukiah is convenient to the North half of Lake County. Mendocino has a rim of surrounding communities that boast a strong cultural and community identity. Lake County has little of this. Lake County has a small group of mean spirited, small minded opportunists that love being big fish in a small pond. This leadership class does not see itself as public servants. Their motto is “To the victor goes the spoils.” In this oppressive climate the best and the brightest go elsewhere, if they can afford it.

But even myopic victors need an identity. And the Lake County goobertocracy has chosen the Neanderthal State of Jefferson movement as their inspiration. Its Board of Supervisors were unanimous in spite of this endorsement being in opposition to most of their constituency. After a series of devastating fires caused a billion dollars in aid to pour into beleaguered Lake, the ranting about California and support for Jefferson quietly died. No doubt the fires of secession are still burning in the goobers’ black hearts. So I’ve created a litmus test for NorCal gooberness.

In 1996 there were two interesting California State Propositions – Pot Proposition 215 and the 2/3 Tax Approval Prop 218. These were hot topics and tended to split along liberal and conservative lines. But not always. What if a county tended towards local control and personal freedom. Then they would favor both. In Northern California no county who complains about over regulation has any business voting against 215. This means no “State of Gooberstan.” People who have the can-do spirit will vote against easy taxation also. I don’t begrudge true goober supervisors voting their class war values but their votes should mirror the values of their bosses – the people.

The boundaries of this fantasized goobertopia are constantly shifting, depending on political realities. In the most optimistic version of Jefferson we get a rim of Oregon counties to the North, which has nothing to do with what our California Legislature does, to a Southern frontier of Mendocino, Lake, Yolo, El Dorado and Alpine Counties. A more realistic boundary target consists of about 13 counties, bypassing the hard sell middle Sierra region and Delta Counties. For some unfathomable reason the hard core redneck enclave still includes Mendocino and Humboldt Counties which has far more in common with those sinners in the Bay Area than with Donald Trump voters.

Looking at the 1996 results, a “no” on 215 and a “yes” on 218 says “break out the banjos, load up the squirrel shooters, and stomp the flag burners, yeah ha!” These counties include, coming down from the Oregon border, most of the central and Northeastern counties down to Sierra but not Nevada Counties.They do not include Lake or Trinity, obviously corrupted by Mendocino and Humboldt next door. News is slow getting back to Goober Headquarters. Maybe they think Goobers are the chosen people and they can ignore everyone else. But hey, Lake County Supervisors have a disconnect with the people who pay their salaries also.

Lake County was a 53 percent yes vote on 215 and a 65 yes on 218, along with six other double yes counties in the expansion zone of Greater Gooberstan. This is the hard core goober resistance movement, plus the single liberal “yes on 215, no on 218” county of Yolo. Other sympathetic counties have backed off on a Jefferson endorsement due to the embarrassing hypocrisy of biting the hand that is feeding them. Five of the seven double yes counties I would call the “non goober, local control” federation. But the other two, Humboldt and tiny Alpine, had “super” double yes majorities. I would call those two the libertarian counties.

Bottom line is Lake County is not State of Jefferson country in spite of what our grumpy, head-in-the -sand leaders want to believe. Since we are the “local control group” we should be part of the North Coast/Emerald Triangle network. I really want to join and I’ll always have regular connections in the Ukiah Valley within Mendocino. But in spite of my rustic rural sensibilities, minimal cultural and political functioning demands that my serious focus has to be on the Bay Area. I have a limited “push out” identity that I described as “The Wedge” in a blog but I am committed to identify Lake as Bay Area, in opposition to the deep denial of the Jefferson tribe and the wine country clique.

In order to intellectually identify with an area you have to have a good physical connection with your chosen homeland. Most of Lake County is poor. Buses to the North, East, or the Coast are minimal or non existent. But thanks to an amazing bus system gradually built up since 1995 we not only have four buses a day to the nearest functional city of Ukiah but Lake Transit also sends four express buses a day, six days a week to the South and the big, exciting world beyond. Here’s how it works.

Bus 3 leaves Walmart in Clearlake going to the Northernmost Napa County city of Calistoga. From here you have two choices. Our transit drivers will give you a free transfer to the Napa Vine Route 10 as far as the city of Napa. Your second option, and this is where “the world” comes in, is to pay a few bucks and get on the 29 Express (Monday thru Friday) and blow thru South of Napa. For pure fun, jump off at the Vallejo dock and take the ferry all the way to San Francisco, or stay on the 29 Express and go all the way to the North El Cerrito Bart Station. Now you are a light rail ride away from all East Bay cities, San Francisco, two international airports, the Central Valley, and Amtrack.

This month I’m going to the Napa Film Festival, a law conference in Oakland, and catching the slam poetry venue in Berkeley, all made possible by Lake Transit’s Route 3 to the Bay Area and civilization. Lake County is isolated only if someone wants to be isolated.

How Many Lower Lake Teachers Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb

 
Monday I found the Post Office closed for Columbus Day. It was not really Columbus Day but Mondays are the dumping ground for days off disguised as holidays. This is the most bogus of all phony American holidays since it celebrates the “discovery” of the West Indies. In three attempts Columbus never landed anywhere that would become part of the United States. Don’t tell the Post Office that others previously landed on our continent or they will want those holidays off too – celebrated on a Monday.

This year I’m grumpier than usual about this insult to those living in the real world. Native Americans have tried to get schools to hijack Chris’s day for Native American Day for some time. But this year it comes on the heels of a Lower Lake High School teacher’s demand that reluctant students join in worshiping the United States flag. A teacher new to Lower Lake High School decided to make all parts of this religious ritual mandatory. Those students who stayed seated were heretics and would be burned at the grade book stake. One silent protester was a Native American.

The protesting students acted much smarter than my past approach of going thru accepted channels. In 12 years of civil rights violations by local government bodies this has yielded me zero results. Leilani Thomas and another student went right to network TV and the ACLU. They didn’t waste time complaining to the administration who hired this teacher. Nor did they did they write a letter to the local “Goober Gazette.” Local media being another black hole for dealing with civil rights abuses. Within hours all national networks and a dozen internet blogs had picked up the story. I was impressed.

The Konocti Unified Schools Superintendent received an informed media assault as her first hint that something was amiss in the public relations department. The student had gone nuclear by recording the barely articulate jingoism of the teacher and we still don’t know what that teacher taught, probably “Mindless Obedience 101.” The recording of an ignorant teacher’s babbling was more serious than the civil rights violation itself, which most goose-stepping Americans were in favor of. In fact, sixty percent of the internet traffic was supporting the teacher’s action against Leilani’s silent protest.

The transcript starts out with the teacher saying, “Here’s the deal.” Then what follows is a very raw deal. The teacher sarcastically offered the student a chance to redeem herself by submitting a written argument in an “essay form” to validate her action. There’s an interesting catch. If your writing skills are poor then you have no civil rights. It sounds like the old literacy tests for blacks voting in the deep South. I know, people protest “Bad analogy. People should be literate to vote.” But petty tyrants gave whites a different test and their goober friends no test at all. I wonder what kind of civil rights essays this teacher is capable of writing – complete with legal case references.

Wait! The recording gets better, almost comical. Dissing the student’s reasoning that the flag does not conjure up warm fuzzy feelings in her for what happened to her ancestors by mobs waving it, the teacher responds, “Like why? Why, because here’s the thing; those people, those people, they’re not alive anymore. Your ancestors.” Such a profound exponent of penetrating incite and inspiring eloquence by a teacher must be defended in our public school system. Having sewed up the Donald Trump vote with this irrefutable reasoning, teacher then spoils it with an argument containing two false assumptions and one honking contradiction.

Paraphrasing: the Lower Lake Cicero explained that the flag represented the military and they “risked their lives for us.” Remember, in her previous breath this guide for the next generation trashed a student for arguments based on experiences of past generations. Now she is demanding that students stand up for generations of mostly dead military personnel. If you don’t think this is a clear contradiction then maybe you should be teaching school in Lower Lake.

I don’t know what college this credentialed embarrassment got her degree from but the flag does not represent the military. It represents this country’s civil society of which the military is subservient to, even though oddly, people in the military are on vacation from our democratically created body of laws. Their laws are called the Code of Military Justice.

The second false premise is that the military risks their lives for us. Who’s us? Were the hundreds of indigenous peoples that were mowed down and dispossessed by our military part of the teacher’s “us” group? What about the dozens of times our military went abroad in the blatant service of corporate interests (especially the banks), crushing popular movements in the process. Back home our military “ancestors” sided with ranchers against farmers and brutally suppressed the “Bonus Army” of veterans. The last time our military “risked their lives,” front and center, “for us” was the War of 1812. But what have they done “for us” lately?

The Super went into damage control mode even before she had caught up with all the facts. The traitorous students were moved to another class – probably “Watch Your Ass 101.” A one sided statement was issued that stated the teacher was being disciplined and that students don’t give up their civil rights when they enter the school grounds. This is not quite true but extra civil liberty restrictions on students must follow the Tinker Standard, a Supreme Court guideline that I’m certain the flag worshipping teacher knows nothing about.

The brushfire is still smoldering even though one school board member says the issue is over. There is still the remaining problem of a Konocti Unified High School principal and a department head that had agreed to hire this ignorant teacher after a lengthy interview. We need to look at the school administration’s bigger agenda and criteria for hiring teachers. Maybe we should look at the standards for hiring principals. This needs to be done before we vote on the local school bond in next month’s election.

Back to Columbus Day. Dump it. No we will not take away a day off from the lucky few. We will replace it with another far more important and neglected holiday. That day, which should be far more revered in our schools and respected by Americans everywhere is Bill of Rights Day – December 15th. It is recognized by Presidential Proclamations and used to be noted on calendars. Although some teachers and principals may disagree, I would trade a flag for the Bill of Rights any day of the week.

My Transit Union Goon Experience

 

Lake Transit is run by a contractor chosen by a three government “Lake Transit Authority.” That contractor then contracts with a labor union who represents the rank and file employees. On July 1 the labor contract was to expire. January 1, 2017 the contractor’s contract was to expire. The bus workers chose me to work with the negotiating committee for the labor contract.

Contractors are not like entrepreneurs. They do not have their own capital at risk. They can pack up and leave by not bidding on the next operations contract and have lost nothing. The buses, yard, equipment, and transit infrastructure are publicly owned capital. This reduces the contractor’s incentive to settle labor issues quickly. A contractor can lowball their contract bid and tell workers a raise in pay or benefits is not in their budget. Strike if you want to. We don’t care. This makes unions look ineffective.

This year is a little different. CalTrans, who has the final word on all matters transit, has put the LTA and the contractor on a strict timeline to create a new operations contract. This is due to the many contract extensions that were granted. The first speed bump date is July 11th. This is when the LTA’s draft Request For Proposals for a new operations contract must be sitting on CalTrans’ desk. To write this draft RFP all current costs must be listed, including labor. If there is a union their contract has to be put into the package but apparently is not binding on the new contractor.

I decided early on in the labor negotiations that I would only contribute my document research from CalTrans, my unique experience of going to all the LTA meetings, and quoting its general manager whenever possible. Just mentioning his name causes contractors to avert their eyes. The Union rep would keep the long formal process chugging along. Other bus workers at the table would pound on specific proposals.

After the third negotiating session it was clear nothing else was coming over from the other side of the table. Moving numbers around the columns and changing wording was not even inching us forward. Up to this point, the “progress” was the Union throwing out things from their original proposal. What was left was a few minor changes in conditions and trying to get a raise in some part of the three year contract.

The contractor was adamant that the money drivers got from the Valley Fire disaster funds was our raise for the rest of the year even though they did not pay any of it. At an earlier LTA meeting I pointed out that this infusion only covered most of the new minimum wage increase of one dollar. New drivers got an increase of 86 cents. So they were still further behind the minimum wage gain. The LTA’s manager, Mark (avert your eyes) Wall thought the difference between the minimum wage and starting driver pay should be two dollars.

So now its Tuesday morning, day 5. The Union committee decides that since the contractor wanted to wrap things up today we would oblige by giving our Best and Final Offer. Unlike three years ago when the drivers got their butts kicked, the contractor is under some pressure from the LTA to meet a deadline because the LTA is under pressure from CalTrans to move on their calendar.

So the contractor and Union committees face off across the table. The Union hasn’t budged since yesterday and says “Hey guys, how about your Best and Final offer so we can take it to our members tonight along with a strike vote.” Predictably, the contractors tensed up and asked for a brief recess. When they came back their fake smiles had vanished. Then they alternated between lecturing us as if we were naughty three year olds and accusing us of violating the National Labor Relations Act, without examples, and seemed to be on their way to charging us with crimes against humanity when we decided to break for another Union paid for lunch.

After lunch more trees had been sacrificed at the copy center. The contractor had made progress in wages that they might never pay because they would not start until after the operations contract had been awarded. Starting drivers would still start at $11.34 an hour till January First. On the First they would get $2.50, maybe. If the current contractor does not bid they won’t pay it. And a new contractor would technically have to agree to sign on to the Union agreement.

During break, the Teamster guy asked us what we thought and if the membership would vote for this contract. He thought that since the present contractor did not seem likely to put in a serious bid for themselves that this was probably the best we could get. I thought most would follow his lead but any drivers likely to quit soon, because of the mandatory six-day weeks caused by the driver shortage, probably would vote against the contract. The rest of our committee voiced concerns that the members were too tired to go out on strike. Lucky for low ball contractors, until we get too tired to drive and quit.

Sure enough, that night the members voiced their disappointment with different shortcomings of our thin work but still voted for the contractor’s meager three year contract offer which may end up back on the table with a new contractor. I wonder if the serfs felt this way – new Lord, same field to plow.

Meanwhile, the relentless march of the CalTrans procurement schedule leading to an operations contract award begins July 11 and ends with an award November 9th. The CalTrans approved RFP is released to potential bidders August 5 but I really need to see the draft that CalTrans sees July 11 so I can pitch a fit if a performance clause is not in it. An operation that is on forced six day work weeks for over a year is not fully staffed. When qualified drivers quit due to burn outs and melt downs, the money spent on training and increasing driver experience levels go down the drain.

What would such a staffing clause look like? I suggested a trigger of a three driver shortage over three months. This would be the indicator of a systemic fault. When both of these conditions exist continuously the contract should require a written explanation from the contractor of why this is an extraordinary glitch, how it is being fixed, and why they should not be fined for non performance. Mark Wall is simultaneously planning route reductions based on a grant shortfall. He doesn’t need the additional headaches from another low ball contract. I will now avert my eyes.