Disenfranchisement and Paratransit Services

By Driver Number 39

You don’t have to be a political pundit to know that our right to vote is under continuous attack by the forces of wealth and power. In the past the profoundly privileged relied on scaring the middle class and drumming up any class conflict except against theirs. Even the lower middle class bought the bill of goods about killing the goose that might lay a golden egg for their children.

As successive slices off the middle class have been dumped into the ranks of the working poor with fewer and fewer opportunities on the horizon for their children’s education and “American Dream” type jobs, this pitch does not sell as well.

Since the disillusioned and discouraged clearly outnumber the Top 1%, the Top 5%, and are on the way to over running and outvoting the whole top quintile, the only solution, short of a fascist coup, is to throw every legal barrier imaginable between them and the ballot box. Even outside the scramble for electoral representation the same drive to squelch the democratic process can be found, using many of the same tools of disenfranchisement.

This development was made clear locally at the NLRB hearing between Paratransit Services and the union representing the bus drivers. The main issue was an upcoming election for Paratransit employees whether to decertify the union or not. The Union was pushing for a mail in ballot and Paratransit’s attorney was arguing for an on site election. What’s the difference you say?

Paratransit has more direct access to the many replacement drivers they have recently hired. Those recent hires are still grateful to be working and have not had time to become soured by some of Paratransit’s Dickensonian behaviors, such as not wanting to give drivers time off to attend a wife’s funeral. Meanwhile, the Union has been effectively quarantined away from the replacement drivers as far as introducing them to what the Union has to offer. Although the replaced drivers are still technically Paratransit employees and can vote on Union decertification, showing up to a specific place for them during a short time period is more difficult.

The combination of a strike and lockout has left many drivers stretched thin. Some have increased their hours at second jobs. Others have job interviews out of the area that they have to be available for. More and more are taking temporary jobs to make ends meet. That is my situation.

The Paratransit attorney made the absurd argument that if striking bus drivers found it convenient to picket the bus yard and follow buses to do bus stop pickets they shouldn’t have any trouble making it to a specific location to vote. What’s so absurd about the attorney’s remark? Think about it. Hint: This was a strike followed by a lockout. Give up? Paratransit is referring to activities during the strike which were reduced to a token presence for part of the lockout then disappeared altogether. The current lockout period is when drivers have started to hurt otherwise they would not have given up the strike. Therefore, Paratransit’s reasons for opposing the mail ballot during the lockout are irrelevant.

Only the most naïve would believe that each side’s attorneys are making arguments for purely technical reasons to rack up billable hours. It’s clear that each side believes their preference will give their client at least a slight advantage or they would not be arguing the point. It was decided by the NLRB judge at the meeting that each side would be submitting their written arguments to the NLRB District Director who will make a decision next week.

Going back to my situation will take the Union’s attorney’s argument out of the realm of pure theory. As soon as Paratransit stopped talking to me in any meaningful way I filed for unemployment and began looking for my replacement job. I spent time and money to activate my guard card through Universal Protection and waited. The only post that came up was the hard to fill Calpine site. The turnover is huge due to accessibility problems that destroy cars and suck gasoline. The West side is nearly impossible to reach by bus/bike combo. In one week’s efforts to reach the East and West sides of Calpine I have had days that ran from 14 to 16 hours. I consider this a temporary job since I have no idea how I will get to work when 16% grade roads start getting snow bound. The Paratransit attorney refuses to consider this impediment to on site elections.

The movement to destroy meaningful representation in this Country progresses through a series of measures that seem reasonable on the surface. But the intent and the effect is to reduce suffrage for lower income, disabled, marginalized, and people without fixed residences.

It all starts locally with people who still have jobs with at least some representation. If companies such as Paratransit Services can implement election conditions that will trim off just a few percentage points of the “wrong” voters it could translate into total control for them and another slide backwards for more Lake County workers.

Press Democrat 4th Estate Sale

by Dante DeAmicis

The obit for the dead tree media read, “Lake County Transit Workers Call Off Strike” by Glenda Anderson, August 15, 2013. My name is Dante DeAmicis. I have been substituting for Herb Gura’s Law Show for the last two weeks. My two main topics have been the local transit strike and the lack of critical media at the local level.

The Press Democrat’s article on the end of the transit strike has provided me with an excellent example of the latter issue. A critical reporter would have asked chief operating officer Christie Scheffer, why is service not being restored on the next day? I doubt you would have gotten a meaningful answer from Paratransit Services.

A critical reporter would have then sought another knowledgeable source and learned that Paratransit’s emergency plan, approved by Lake County Transit Authority, called for resuming full service in two phases. Paratransit was short two replacement drivers from their hasty training program, requiring them to take back the two senior Union drivers to implement Phase 1.

Full service could have been resumed immediately by simply declaring the emergency plan now null and void. All slots remaining in Phase 2 to restore service could have been filled by the old drivers immediately. Instead, Paratransit was allowed to pretend that the emergency was ongoing and continue to train every replacement employee that made it through the door. This was done for reasons that had nothing to do with getting the buses running at full strength. This could have been done the next day if they simply acknowledged that the strike was over. I repeat: Every single bus route run that did not operate after August 16th was 100% due to Paratransit malfeasance.

Finally, a critical reporter would then have asked for examples of the “variety of issues” that Paratransit was working out over the 5-day legal maximum. A good redirect might be “What situations are those 5 days meant for and is Paratransit using that grace period for those reasons?” If the same question was then asked of the Union drivers, the Press Democrat’s ace reporter would have heard that Paratransit is misusing an unneeded reorganizational period to shoot as many wounded and strip as many dead as time allows.

Here’s some illuminating analogies to illustrate how ridiculous Paratransit’s unquestioned statements look to a critical person:

* If someone was qualified to give First Aid to an accident victim and a doctor arrived soon after, would the First Aid responder be justified in not letting the responding doctor take over because they have started First Aid?

 * Say a mudslide completely closed a freeway and the highway department temporarily allowed traffic to detour around the slide on a nearby creek bottom. Should the highway department allow this practice after the slide is cleared because off road yahoos prefer to tear up the waterway?

 * And lastly, pay attention to this one, what if a developer with government contracts was told a new heritage oak ordinance was taking effect in 5 days, and he used those 5 days to hire 30 day laborers in town with chain saws to cut down every big tree on properties he controlled? Should the local government give the waste maker more of the people’s money? `

Once again, I thank the Press Democrat for providing a shining example of why community radio and local activist blogs are the survivors of and successors to our late great newspapers.

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.