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July 18-25, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

The Mediator

On May 16 Nūz reported that Bill Monning, professor at both the Monterey College of Law and the Monterey Institute of International Studies, had joined the potential race for the 27th Assembly District seat now held by John Laird. Monning has said he will only run if Laird is termed out in 2008; that in turn depends on the fate of an effort in Sacramento to relax term limits.

Monning, who specializes in mediation, was off in Jordan for several weeks last month with his conflict resolution group Global Majority. There he used skills gained as a Fulbright Scholar and honed through years of work with (among others) the California Rural Legal Assistance and the Nobel Prize–winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War to facilitate an international conference with many of the region's disputing parties. Among them, he told Nūz, were Palestinians and Israelis who had never before talked face to face with their counterparts.

Nūz caught up with Monning soon after his return and asked about his candidacy for the Assembly seat. First up: what motivated it?

"I've been engaged in organized politics my entire adult life," he answered. "The question has always been, 'Where are my energies best directed?' The prospect of an open Assembly seat, my past work as a candidate and as a regional activist and the current issues confronting our region, state and nation converge to make this an opportune time ... to bring 30-plus years of experience as an attorney, organizer, educator, parent and husband" to the task.

Out of those 30 years, Nūz asked, what is Monning most proud of having accomplished?

"In terms of impact, my work to achieve field posting in California's agricultural fields," he said. Such postings, which tell ag workers when to leave before pesticide applications and when it's safe to return to work, were previously rare.

During the same period of time, Monning worked with state Sen. Art Torres to require farm labor contractors to learn how to identify and treat pesticide exposure emergencies as a condition of obtaining a labor contractor's license.

More recently, Monning says he's particularly proud of having helped train students in K–12, college and graduate school to resolve conflict through negotiation and mediation.

If elected, what specific issues will Monning address?

He'll confer with district residents and consult with predecessors Fred Keeley and John Laird, he says, adding that he can already see several prominent needs.

"I consider the following to be absolutely critical issues for our region and the state," Monning said. "One, health-care reform that will achieve universal coverage [specifically, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl's single-payer health care bill] and create incentives for preventive health education, good nutrition, exercise and support for proven alternative healing therapies. Two, emergency conservation measures, including water conservation and disaster preparedness. Three, expanding and enhancing the introduction of basic conflict resolution skills in California public education K–12." In addition, Monning will begin "working to stop CO² emissions and other practices that have a proven deleterious impact on the environment."

What, Nūz asked, would Bill Monning like his legacy in office to be? Just a few high points: "strong and responsive constituent services ..., maximizing opportunities and protections for California workers, small business owners and students who aspire to pursue higher education at affordable fees."

In addition, Monning would like to be known for "a sensitivity to issues of environmental racism," as well as championing conservation of environmental resources.

Monning also sees an opportunity to leverage the state of California's clout to support human rights and the environment through its business practices, a tack the state pension fund started taking years ago and which now looks prescient. Since California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, Monning says, state officeholders are "well-positioned to build healthy trading partnerships based on sound principles of environmental sustainability, labor rights and human rights protection, and raise a voice for the voiceless who suffer at the hands of those who abuse and ignore fundamental protections codified in international and domestic law."

Finally, Bill Monning would like to establish "a record of introducing and supporting legislation to expand and enhance conflict resolution training in schools and expanded reliance on mediation services as a sound alternative to court litigation."

At every step of our interviews, Monning stressed conflict resolution and mediation as central to his work. Why is that?

Monning replied: "Through the Civil Rights Coalition of Monterey County, which includes representatives from the NAACP, LULAC, ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, Central Labor Council, and others, we have convened regular meetings with the Monterey County Sheriffs Department and other law enforcement agencies to discuss protocols related to the use of taser guns, community relations, and options to use of force with mentally ill suspects." The outcome? "These dialogues have resulted in concrete reforms."

And overall, throughout his career, Bill Monning has found that "if we can get people to the table, magic can happen."

Why is this? Because "change in human relations begins when we change how we perceive each other," says Monning. "Most matters are not black and white, but shades of gray, and if we can make ourselves willing to enter the gray," dualistic perceptions can begin to break down—and possible solutions generated.

Which is quite a task, but one that Monning finds endlessly self-renewing.

"The longer I live, the older I get, and the more I do this, the more I realize that I'm just beginning."

Union Don'ts

Paul Cohen, spokesman for the Northern California Carpenters Union, says he's not sure of the specific wage gap that divides union-affiliated builders in the area and Ellison Framing, which is constructing 70 luxury apartments at 2030 N. Pacific in downtown Santa Cruz. But he does know that Ellison isn't a union shop, and he says that hurts working people.

"When you get an employer like Ellison who is winning work by cutting down wages, we think it has a big impact over time on the community as a whole," Cohen says.

To drive home the point, the Carpenters Union Local 505 in Aptos is picketing the site and displaying a giant inflatable rat to traffic on the River Street side of the project. So Nūz set out on a recent afternoon to learn more about the plight of the poor out-of-work union carpenters who were demonstrating.

Only Nūz learned that, in fact, the guys carrying the pickets aren't union members at all but day laborers hired from the nearby Lumbermen's parking lot and paid $360 a week. Nūz understands it's expensive to put real union carpenters out there and all, but this seemed a little cheesy.

The foreman on the Ellison project, who identified himself only as Jeff, was happy enough to weigh in. He conceded that union workers might have a higher wage on paper, but he expressed skepticism that the take-home pay would be much greater in the end. He said his crew members make $10–$25 an hour with 401(k) plans and medical benefits that kick in "after a few years."

"The union wages are a little bit more, but that's to cover their overhead stuff: their union dues and the ability to pay people to put up a rat and hold signs," he said.

Ouch. What Nūz wouldn't give for a simple tale of good and evil.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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