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[whitespace] Protestors WWJCD? People hold signs accusing Barry Swenson Builders of 'failing to pay wages and economic benefits established by carpenters in this area.'


Picket Fences

How do you know if people holding signs are picketing or striking? You could try asking them, of course. But what if they won't answer your questions?

Since Labor Day, listless picketers stationed in front of Barry Swenson Builder's offices on Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz have been holding signs accusing Swenson of failing to pay the "economic benefits established by carpenters in this area." When approached, their response, if any, is that they aren't allowed to speak.

"This is not a strike," explains Paul Cohen, spokesman for the Carpenter's Union Local 405. "The Carpenter's Union Local 405 is exercising its First Amendment right to let the public know that Barry Swenson fails to pay his carpenters area standard wages and benefits, and hires subcontractors who also fail to do so."

As for the "letting the public know" part, Cohen says the picketers (not all of whom are union members) are being paid by the union "way above minimum wage" to stand and hold informative signs, not engage in dialogue with the public.

Though this practice sounds odd, apparently it's not uncommon. "Labor laws are very complicated in terms of how we can do picketing," Cohen says. "The use of picket signs in this fashion is recognized by the courts as a valid way for the unions to communicate a message. The picketers are not trained in the details of what it means to say, 'We're on strike' vs. 'This is an area standards picket.' "

Union activist Nora Hochman says that since this is an "informational picket line," such a gag order isn't absurd. "I trust that the Carpenters' Union have identified the problems and seen good reason to picket a developer who makes a lot of money on the backs of low-paid workers."

As for folks at Barry Swenson Builder, vice president Jesse Nickells, who claims great sympathy with those who "work with their hands," says he's "frustrated" by the off-and-on presence of the picket line. "We don't understand why the union is doing this. It's no fun," he says, adding that Swenson pays comparable wages, though he won't say what those wages are. "We offer full benefits, including dental, and have 401k and a pension program. We've lost no staff to the union. I think it's just politics. We're a big target."

Nickells says that only 5 to 10 percent of their staff could be defined as carpenters anyway. The majority are construction workers. However, he admits that they don't have an official apprenticeship program such as the union demands in order that workers may upgrade their skills.

Cohen says that the union plans to make its presence felt until Barry Swenson "sees the error of his ways."

Bucket Brigade

Less than 5 percent of California's waters are routinely monitored by government agencies. But thanks to the noble spirit of volunteerism, the watersheds that drain into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary no longer fall into that category.

The results of the first Snapshot Day , a volunteer effort that took place last April on Earth Day and involved 120 citizens armed with thermometers, buckets and test tubes, are just in. While the results can be labeled as "generally good," 16 sites had high levels of nitrates and phosphates. Even more unsettling were the 18 watersheds that display troublingly high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

"There are two sites in Santa Cruz County that warrant special concern," says Maya Conrad of the Coastal Watershed Council, which coordinated Snapshot Day. "Lidell Creek, south of Davenport, and Aptos Creek both show high levels of fecal coliform."

According to the Center for Marine Conservation, the Snapshot Day Report is the result of the largest simultaneous water-quality monitoring effort ever in California, and all volunteers were trained in the various sampling and testing techniques before venturing into the creeks and rivers.

"A big part of our focus was in recruiting citizen volunteers, because we don't have enough staff to monitor all the rivers and creeks going into coastal areas," says Brady Phillips, spokesman for the MBNMS, adding that many of the watersheds have never been monitored.

It is hoped that Snapshot Day will be an annual event, making it possible to monitor the waters over time. Last year's efforts were funded by the Regional Water Control Board and sponsored by the Coastal Watershed Council, the Center For Marine Conservation and the MBNMS. However, funding for this year's Snapshot Day is scarce.

Not a Luddite Thang

Sick and tired of higher rents, more traffic and an increase in free-flowing hostility on the streets of Silicon Beach, the town formerly known as Santa Cruz before the dotcom economy took over? Then join Cyberselfish author Paulina Borsook, who along with Sandy Brown of the Community Action Board; Geoffrey Dunn of Community TV; Frank Brunings, local housing and redevelopment expert; Peggy Dolgenos of Cruzio; and Cliff Tillman of SEIU 415, Service Workers Union will be part of a six-member panel for a public forum titled "Community Survival in Silicon Beach--Myths and Realities of the New Economy," to be held Thursday (Jan. 11) at the Museum of Art and History

"What I want is to get people talking and thinking about the changes that have come to Santa Cruz, especially in the past five years," says Borsook. "We are in the middle of a cultural shift in terms of housing, work, and the economy, but so far we've only heard about the benefits of high-tech. Only if we can see what is going on, can we see solutions."

Fellow panelist Brown hopes the forum will "generate ideas about how diverse members of our community can work together to address our problems." Meanwhile, Dolgenos is interested in hearing what people feel are the effects of the new economy, seeing what people like and dislike, as well as providing a human side to the dotcom world."

Dunn plans to look at what will happen to Santa Cruz in the next decade from political, cultural and demographic perspectives as a result of a new economic colonization. He will also put this shift into the bigger picture by looking at "what happened to people during past periods of dislocation, such as when the Spanish dislocated the native Americans." Borsook gets this week's final word: "Formerly, this place was hotbed of wackos, for better or worse, but now the wackos are getting forced out. Santa Cruz needs its wackos."

The forum, which will be televised by Community TV, takes place from 5 to 7pm in the museum's conference room. Call 423.0900 for details or leave a message at 425 8052.

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From the January 10-17, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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