Lake County Transit Strike – The Big Issue

by Dante DeAmicis

They say that if you don’t get the big things in first, you won’t get them in at all.  Wage step increases are the big issue for both the transit drivers and company management.

Previous contracts, in Lake County and elsewhere, have had annual step increases per year of service in addition to any cost of living increases received.  But that was then and this is now.  As a result of my short transit survey I learned that agencies that used to have annual pay-step increases are reducing the number of steps.  The operative word here is “reducing.”

The philosophy behind step increases is that you retain people long enough to become experienced while not paying them more until they are more experienced. This future promise also attracts stable people who want to settle down and raise families in one community with one employer.  As an extra bonus, steps also pull in a few people from out of the area who already have some experience but who have to start at the beginning wage.  Such a deal for management.

Realistically, this “Why not the best?” practice may no longer be possible in a burned out economy, even though the Wall Street perpetrators have gone back out to play.  But we are not a basket case yet.  Second best is still an option.  Other agencies admitted they recently reduced the number of steps but they exist at longer intervals.  Their organizations still value experience and will pay as much as possible for it.

Our current corporate management for Lake County transit places no value on experience whatsoever.  The previous managing company did but this company does not. They have the outlook of a contractor who could be gone with the next contract.  An experienced crew of drivers that will remain after they are history benefits the community but does not add any feathers to their nest.

The incentives of a company who are tunnel-visioned on a contract expiration date could be over ruled by the Lake County transit agency who sees the big picture and takes a longer view.  Rather than leave all driver contract details to the contracted company, Lake Transit could specify certain minimums they want to see in labor contracts that affect the stability of the agency.

People in the real world know that annual pay steps are a fond memory.  This does not mean some pay steps cannot still serve Lake County’s best interests, replacing and holding on to as many levels as possible.  Someone who wants to take a leadership role might suggest looking at how many steps and at which anniversaries will deliver the most experience bang for the buck.

It may make sense politically for a transit agency to assume a mantel of neutrality. But when their contracted company pursues a scorched earth, line in the sand policy because it serves their narrow interests for a short period then political leadership needs to put neutrality on the back burner for awhile.

Personally, I’m not all that interested in step raises.  I planned to drive for 3 years and retire.  A fixed wage of “10 something” is fine for a poor, older person with no family to support.  The question that I’m asking Lake County transit leaders is  “Am I a major recruitment focus or should a function that our compromised residents depend on be served by a broader base of employees?”

Lake County Transit Follies

Percentages, Paratransit, and Jethro Bodine

by Dante DeAmicis

 Jethro Bodine on the old Beverly Hillbillies TV show used to regularly brag “I’m a graduate of the 5th grade.” The running joke of course was that graduating from the 5th grade is no kind of education at all. Don’t be so sure.

 After the 5th grade a student is ready to dive into percentages according to the core curriculum. However, this basic operation can still be daunting to the director of a transit company. In a written response to Teamsters Local 665 Randy Grove wrote “Only 2 employees are over the 10 – year point (with Laidlaw seniority)…..Two out of 39 = .05% . Not even 1%!!” OK, now I’m scared. I hope most people are too, after reading this underlined, double exclamation pointed math rebuttal by Randy Grove.

 NEWS FLASH!! Two out of 39 is closer to 5% not .05%. Lest one think I’m making a big deal about an errant decimal point creeping in, he emphasizes “Not even 1%!!” Time to trade in a few “!!!!” for some math lessons Randy.

 The cost of the Union demands is about a hundred grand according to the Union and a half mil by Paratransit math!! I haven’t seen the algorithm from either party that would settle the matter. But I would be a little suspicious of this organization’s strained relationship with numbers.

 Since Paratransit has such difficulty with percentages I would like to offer my services as a non striking, locked-out employee. One legitimate point Paratransit makes is that you can’t compare the wages of small counties with large counties, implying that Lake is a small county. So what counties should we be comparing Lake County to? How close is close for comparison? That discussion follows.

 I obtained the population ranking of California’s 58 counties. Lake is number 40. Looking at the two counties ranking above (Yuba – 39, Mendocino – 38) and below (Tehama – 41, Tuolumne – 42) Lake County would be a good start. But the percentage difference of the two counties greater than Lake (35.8%) is more than the gap below Lake (14.4%). So we have to drop down 3 counties to get the same range below as above. The new additions are San Benito – 43, Calaveras – 44, and Siskiyou – 45.

 Now its time to get on the phone and call these places about their starting wages for transit drivers. The other issues can wait for another article.

 Yuba is actually combined with Sutter County as a transit agency. The person would only say “around 10 dollars.”

 Mendocino is the highest paid of the 7 agencies I surveyed – $14.28 per hour.

 The San Benito person had no idea what the starting pay was because they contracted with MV. Another call and I found out that MV was negotiating but its “10 something” now.

 Tehama was a Paratransit Services operation and I got a very frosty “We don’t give out that kind of information” after I told the speaker I was a driver from Lake. Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide. More information means better understanding between people.

 Tuolumne got me a “$13 a few cents either way.”

 Calaveras was the most interesting. They start at an even 10 but jump to $12.60 after 1 year.

 Siskiyou was the only competitor for the high water mark at $14.14 per hour.

 Because some of the numbers were soft and Calaveras had that weird structure that was hard to shoehorn in, I could not get an average. I did come up with a reasonable way to make up something for Tehama. Nationally, areas that are all rural and include the poorest areas in the country pay an average of $10.27 per hour for transit drivers. Another web site said Tehama paid 2% above average. (There’s those darn percentages again.) This gives us (Surprise) $10.48 per hour, the same starting pay for Lake drivers.

 I’m going to make a judgment call and say Calaveras’s huge jump after the first year is more significant than the 48 cents they were shy of my fictitious Tehama number. This makes Calaveras the median out of the 7 agencies I compared Lake Transit to. If this massaged median were Gospel, Lake’s first year people would start a little lower than now, at $10 per hour. Then everyone would bump up to $12.60 per hour with no further pay steps. Ah, equality.

 To be fair, the Union negotiator could also use a little brushing up on percentages. Even though they were mostly concerned with putting back the old step raises and other issues they left the two tenths of 1% difference between what was asked and what was offered on the table. This comes to between 2 and 2.5 cents per hour. Not an issue worth arguing about let alone striking over. But the public just sees the two bigger percentage numbers without realizing the difference wouldn’t be significant in a third world nation. The Union should have pulled this distracting demand off the table.

An Evening at the Archive

Libraries tend to have an image problem. They are dominated by books which move too slow in the Hi Def Digital Age. The information superhighway of the internet only has a few pull out rest stops at libraries on the way to serious destinations.

One library is different. The Internet Archive at Funston and Clement in SF is attempting to store the worlds media in digital form. They want to be thought of as the Alexandrian Library 2.0… Alexandrian Library – The Sequel… The Revenge of the Alexandrian Library.

 The “Evening at the Archive” reception, tour, and lecture on May 31, 2013 was a bibliophile’s banquet. But I also felt like a digital media pilgrim to a high tech media Mecca. In a merging of the traditional with cutting edge, all the machines and racks of blinking lights are housed in the pew studded Christ Scientist Church building bought 3 years ago.

 This is not some obscure geek project. There are 40 employees at the Funston headquarters and 100 people worldwide, downloading, scanning, and converting their little hearts out.

 The Archive has a room in the Library of Congress and a presence in 30 other libraries. There is a back up digital library on the East Coast in case California falls into the ocean and partial back ups in Holland and Alexandria – site of the original repository of world knowledge.

 After hard copy is digitized it gets put to sleep in rows of climate controlled cargo containers in Richmond, CA. I can relate since my library is in a cargo container. I should point out that hard copy includes old movies and 78 rpm records. This part of the Archive operation suggests more of the railroad car community of Fahrenheit 451 than the ancient Library of Alexandria.

 So, is anyone using this public data dump now? Yup, three million users per day, and for good reason. They may have started with books but they expanded 5 years age to dozens of worldwide TV channels, public access video, plus whatever digital movies or old VHS tapes people want to send them. Four PEG channels automatically upload all their video content to Archive.Org, including the public access powerhouse – Humboldt Access, right in our backyard. John Hauser is the developer for the Humboldt Access link of the project.

 The word “archive” may suggest dust and cobwebs blanketing seldom retrieved copies of the Harvard Classics and the Best of the Beverly Hillbillies, but remember, they are a legally recognized library which means they can copy new stuff and “lend out” (download) one user at a time for each copy that they buy.

 For the most part, new videos are uploaded by producers using the “creative commons” form of ownership – 10 million videos from You Tube alone. Copyright experts on staff troll for public domain content and identify it as such. People can directly upload their videos to Archive.Org. This is a great option for localities whose public access channels have vaporized their internet upload capability for political reasons.

 Those of us who are not techies got a little dazed by some of the specialized jargon. Words like “petalbytes”, “metadata”, “H264 format”, and “Frictionless downloads using torrents” (Wha…Who) rolled off tongues as easily as “Have a nice day.”

 For those who can handle the gritty details one of the Power Point lectures is on “http://goo.gl/PNGmQ”. Another location for the full strength version of the day can be found on the Community Media Archive wiki at “http://goo.gl/Wx5m8”. Knock yourself out.

 Even though a lot was over my head in the lectures my attention was riveted by a display at the reception. There, behind the cheese cubes and strawberries, was a huge banner made up of hundreds of video thumbnails. The clips were extracted from a high drama project released on October 11, 2001. This was the 911 project. The Archive realized the importance of 911 as a historical event immediately and began sampling everything on TV, including foreign channels, every 10 minutes for the first 24 hours on September 11, 2001. Downloading international news continued at the Archive for the next 7 days. Check out this accomplishment at “www.archive.org/details/911”.

 The First Amendment Foundation was critically involved in this release somehow even though they expected swift and severe retaliation. They survived and the Archive established themselves as the library on steroids. After the Patriot Act, librarians across the Country stood up against a government who demanded all records of who checked out what books. Less inspiring were cowardly local officials, such as in Lake County, who crippled public assess stations for showing too many 911 videos on no more authority than secret e-mails.

 The 911 project was instrumental in revealing how media opportunists used video from a 1990’s Palestinian celebration to show Palestinians dancing in the street after 911 to drum up hatred. This is why we need video feeds into a library and not just books. That is also why only principled people should be managing public access stations.

 Information is a weapon in the battle for truth and justice. A few whistle blowers like Ellsberg and Snowden have direct access to information. The rest of us need the arsenal of Archive.Org. Cruise their site or give them a call at 415-561-6767.

Lake County Transit Strike Follies Day 1

DSCN0148Thrown Under the Bus

by Dante DeAmicis

 Two weeks ago I finished my training to be a Lake Transit bus driver. Unfortunately, I started in the middle of a drawn out labor dispute. Because I tend to procrastinate I never sent in paperwork to join our union. The result was I was out of the loop as far as strike matters were concerned.

 I knew there was a Sunday strike meeting but it wasn’t on my calendar. I did have my next weeks schedule so I figured I could go about my business since I had no union connections yet. No one contacted me from Teamsters Union 665 or Paratransit Services previous to Monday, the first day of the strike and my new schedule.

 I thought to myself, I need to contact the other 3 members of my “graduating class” since we were all on a 90 day probation and yours truly would be the first person replaced as a driver. But I found that the ways of labor conflict are mysterious.

 I was to “deadhead” the early Route 4 to Lakeport, which means starting my paperwork around 5 a.m. But I need my coffee and nothing is open before 5 so I bicycled to the bus yard early to score some free coffee in the break room.

 A car was in the yard with its parking lights on. “Security for the strike” I thought. Sure enough, someone got out and shined a bright light light in my face as they asked the who and what questions. A phone call to the operations manager followed.

 The upshot was I had to resign from a union I had not joined in order to work. My job today, or part of it, was given to someone who had officially resigned. It appeared that I would be required by Paratransit to join the union so I could resign from it – shades of Gilbert and Sullivan.

 Meanwhile, the corporate rep cum security guard ended his flashlight dual with my bike headlamp (I was losing anyway) as he assured me that if I called back after 8 they would find something for me to do. As far as today was concerned, if I did not have proof that I resigned from a union that I had never joined I would have to leave the site. I was locked out but only for a day.

 Actually, half the Route 4’s weren’t covered, including my early run. This communication glitch resulted in some of Lakeport to Clearlake, or other substitute runs, not being covered. I wonder if the rest of my class had a similar experience.