Report from Driver 39

By Dante DeAmicis

 This just in from the Lake Transit Economics Department: Lower Wages are good for Lake County. On September 1st we will know how many 11 to 12 dollar an hour drivers have been axed for $10.48 an hour replacement drivers. Inquiring minds want to know, “How is paying lower wages going to help Lake County?” Its simple, by making it harder for people here who have to work for a living we will be encouraging these people to leave and be replaced by bon vivants who have independent means, preferably from Napa. This follows the real estate credo: “The only good buck is a fast buck.” No doubt the Transit Authority knows where their bread is buttered and has signed on to policies that have made Lake County the booming metropolis that it is today.

 There will probably be a net increase in that high-roller EDD money pouring into the County. Since the State is struggling to stay afloat, it makes sense to the goober brain trust to get as many people on unemployment as we can while the money is still there. The strategy of replacing working people with recipients of meager unemployment checks is related to General Cornwallis’ tactic of firing cannon on his own troops during the American Revolution. Not only did it ensure a win, it cut down on food costs.

 Many non bus riders have had a hard time wrapping their mind around transit issues except when someone puts a bus stop sign in front of their house and Jesus tells them to take a hacksaw to it. The problem is that Transit Authority meetings lack the entertainment value of a Clearlake City Council meeting. News coverage about buses is a total snoozer.

 First off, taking a Paratransit guy from Washington and a Teamster guy from the Bay Area does not make them interesting just because you put them in Lake County, churning out official statements. Instead, I recommend that local media ignore the suits and focus on Operations Manager Wanda Gray and senior driver and organizer April Allen. If there’s going to be a fight, we want it to be an all local, high-powered bitch fight. Randy and Ralph look terrible on video.

 Next, since the the TA is where the big money is, the meetings have an obligation to be exciting since money is supposed to be exciting. Oh, Board Member Chuck Leonard does what he can with his rabid anti-unionism and open disgust with poor people in general. But one man can only do so much without a foil. There are two at-large seats on the Board. I certainly wouldn’t advocate replacing Chuck for the frivolous reason that he only represents the upper crust of Lake County’s day-old bakery. No, since its all about entertainment I recommend replacing the other at-large Member with a slogan chanting union goon. Someone like former union organizer Tim Williams might create some sparks with the old union buster.

 Have we forgotten anything? Oh yes, the children. There is an educational opportunity here to include them in the controversy. We just might have the local equivalent of Jeff Foxworthy’s “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” The “Are You Smarter than a Bus Rider” version would feature local elementary school kids pitted against Paratransit business wonks. These are the guys who said 2 out of 39 was “.05%.” Second guess: “Well, not even 1%, no wait, I’d like to buy an exclamation point.”

 I hope the kids don’t humiliate them too badly.

Randy’s Big Score

By Dante DeAmicis

On August 14th the Lake Transit Authority met to approve Paratransit’s plan to ramp up to full service with replacement drivers. Most of the drivers showed up to offer an alternative to this out-of-state carpetbagger’s scorched Earth program.

Like the carpetbaggers of Reconstruction, Paratransit brings no capital of their own to Lake County. They are not entrepreneurs as they simply administer programs already in place, financed by grants and a quarter cent of the local sales tax. Paratransit’s cut of this gets sucked out of Lake County and pumped into the State of Washington. The drivers’, mechanics’, and office workers’ part stays local.

The drivers realized going into the meeting that the fix was in and the Board was going to defer entirely to transit head Mark Wall. I’m certain that no one else on the Board knew precisely how to interpret the Authority’s contract with Paratransit. One public speaker said it was a lousy contract. No one on the Board disagreed.

The pleas of emotional riders and drivers touting the value of experience on our war-zone roads bounced off Mark Wall’s armored contract like marshmallow bullets. The Teamsters at this point were ready to fall back on plan “B” – binding arbitration. Assuming there is still a union after the replacement blood bath, this would put the ball in a true third party court.

Why wouldn’t Paratransit jump at this option favored by our local State legislators? After all, they have done nothing but ridicule the Union’s spread sheet skills, using innovative “Randy math” to do it. But Paratransit guards their numbers as if they were diamonds, tossing out a mysterious cost figure for the peasants to bow down to. Lake County’s educated citizens don’t pray to that mountain.

I hope the Transit Authority realizes that three of their members around the Lake are up for reelection next year. Skirting responsibility by saying “the contract made me do it” isn’t going to cut it. How can Paratransit be induced to accept binding arbitration and full disclosure of their payroll figures when their contract doesn’t say they have to? The answer is not in law. It is in politics.

I have seen how things get done when a real leader wants to get something done but officially can’t push the issue. The leader may have a conversation with another Board member first to test the waters. The leader will then attempt to catch the person to convince, as if by chance, in public. The message will appear to be friendly and casual to anyone who overhears. But at the same time, the leader is talking a very different message that is conveyed with body language, eye contact, and facial expressions.

This is how I envision things working for the buses if anyone cared. The leader catches Randy in the country club steam room and sits down casually next to him. After awhile he says “I sure hope this transit thing works out soon without any fallout I have to deal with.” Nothing else said on the subject but the body language kicks into overdrive.

What message is Randy supposed to hear with his eyes from this leader? The message, effectively delivered, is “You better end this mess now or you can take all your ill gotten gains from now until the end of your contract and enjoy them in Hell. Because you will never squeeze another dime out of this poor county as long as I am on the Board.”

That’s what a real leader would do. Do we have such a creature on the Transit Authority?

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.