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[whitespace] Strikers
Vowel Movement: SEIU workers struck Monday after negotiations with the county broke down.


Purple Daze

It was a war zone outside the Santa Cruz County building on Sept. 16, as 2,000 workers from 22 departments went on strike for the first time in Santa Cruz history.

"There's a big picket line at the landfill, they'll be no garbage today. This looks like a movement," announced a representative of the Service Employees International Union to a sea of workers wearing purple SEIU sweatshirts and bearing placards announcing, "Parity Now," "High Paid Management, Low Paid Workers," "United We Bargain, Divided We Beg."

An anonymity-seeking SEIU member who's worked for the county for 23 years said, "Each time the package has been just a little inadequate, but now it's below average for all nine counties, while management has given themselves pay raises. We're just trying to come up to times. We're not asking for anything over and above that, even though this is the most expensive place to live."

The strike was called after negotiations between the county and SEIU Local 415 broke down on the weekend, with workers contracts expiring on a fateful Friday the 13th.

SEIU reps say that after negotiating for three months, the county stonewalled 95 percent of their proposals, which led the union to hire budget analyst Dr. Peter Donohue to investigate the county's overall financial condition.

"We found that the county has accumulated $206 million in unrestricted funds, and that health and human services are being defunded, while money is put aside for capital improvements," Donohue told a worked-up crowd.

All of which means what, exactly?

"That the county is well run and in good financial condition, and has the resources to provide its workers with parity and services--if it only so chooses," Donohue told Nüz.

Asked if the county was simply putting money away for a rainy day, Donohue said, "Saving money is prudent, but not if you end up saying you can't afford to buy your kids lunch."

SEIU Local 415's organizing director Cliff Tillman told Nüz that mediation is on the way, "but we're not agreed upon it. We need parity now."

According to Tillman, the budget analysis showed how the county sets its priorities. "I'm not saying the utility tax repeal didn't have an impact, or that they didn't have to make cuts. They did lose $11 million from losing the tax, but they could have made those cuts elsewhere," Tillman said.

Asked if the SEIU's action could be used as proof the county did not need the utility tax and could further Measure P, the effort to repeal the utility tax at the city level, Tillman said he hoped not.

"Measure P is different. Not that I have a crystal ball of the city's finances, but cutting its utility tax will have a huge impact. It's not fair to compare the county's and the city's utility tax situations."

Meanwhile, county officials, while refuting the SEIU's claims, said they are ready for a state mediator.

Begging the Question

Panhandlers on Pacific Avenue are now pretending to be percussionists and drummers, a situation that reminds Nüz of how Ohlone Indians once pretended to be Mexicans to reduce the level of discrimination they faced.

Just as the Ohlones' strategy worked in the short term, yet caused serious problems for descendants trying to trace their Indian heritage, so this clutching at kazoos by panhandlers does not bode well for the future of begging.

As Paul Brindel of the Community Action Board put it, "This is a police nightmare. And what are we saying? That it's OK to be a street performer, but not a traditional beggar? What if that beggar starts singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner'? Who decides whether that's art?"

While Brindel believes the council isn't trying to harm anyone--"They are responding to outrageous behavior that needs to be dealt with, but they are not getting the results they intended"--he's concerned that those truly in need not be harmed by the ordinances.

To show how many homeless people depend on panhandling, CAB analyzed the United Way's Homeless Census 2000, which Brindel calls "the most recent and solid scientific survey of the homeless we have to work with."

The survey showed that, countywide, 11 percent of homeless respondents got their daily living through panhandling, which means 350 homeless people at one time, and 940 per year. In the city, figures were 15 percent, meaning 191 people at one time, or 500 per year.

(The council has delayed enforcing ordinances that regulate street musicians and political tablers until Jan, 15, 2003.)


Three good pieces of news in the war against the war on drugs.

First, Wo/Men's Alliance For Medical Marijuana founders Valerie and Michael Corral are headed for court to try and get the medicine and their computer returned, says Ben Rice, the couple's attorney.

"Even though the DEA haven't filed any charges, we can still go to court and demand that our property be returned," says Rice, who is currently putting together two teams of lawyers--criminal defense experts and civil experts.

"We're exploring what our options are, but this looks like a an ideal case. It doesn't have the problems involved with cannabis buyers' clubs in which money is involved." Rice said.

Second, Mike Honda's office called to say that the congressmember became a cosponsor of H.R. 2592, a.k.a. the States' Right to Medical Marijuana Act--four days after the DEA raid.

Come Jan. 1, 2003, Honda will cease to be the congressmember for the Corrals, since the area where their farm is located was tacked during redistricting in "wag the dog" style onto the region currently represented by Anna Eshoo, (D-Palo Alto), which brings us to our third piece of good cheer for medical marijuana. The congresswoman, who is running for re-election this fall, also signed up as a cosponsor of H.R. 2592-- in her case, one week after the DEA's raid.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the September 18-25, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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