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Sheen and Heard: I'm not the president but I play one on TV.

Public Eye

Ready, Aim, Fire

A heartless corporation trying to do what's best for the bottom line may conceivably be tempted not to follow a lot of pesky feel-good workers' rights laws and regulations all the time. But what about a public agency? The Housing Authority of Santa Clara County acted a bit like somebody from the fat-cutting private sector when it laid off about 20 employees without giving the legally required 30-day notice or evidence of the need for layoffs, according to workers' representatives, who think that's not at all cool. The Service Employees International Union Local 715 filed an unfair practice charge with California's Public Employment Relations Board on March 10 claiming that "as a direct and immediate consequence of the employer's failure and refusal to meet and bargain in good faith with Local 715, 15 bargaining-unit employees were unlawfully laid off." Union attorney Vincent Harrington Jr. says the housing authority paid its employees 30 days' severance, but "it's not sufficient to pay in lieu of notice." Harrington also says the public agency defied the employees' right to know why they were being fired and trampled on the customary procedure for firing people, for instance, by ignoring seniority. Among the canned employees is Gloria Olson, a 20-year agency vet who earned satisfactory evaluations for her work as an administrative clerk. Last year, she scored an average of 3.6 out of 5 points on her annual performance review for things like showing up on time and doing her job well. "The housing authority is setting a dangerous precedent for other public agencies," Local 715 spokesbloke Andrew Hagelshaw says. In the Housing Authority's defense, on the other hand, the self-described "national leader in affordable housing development" promises nothing on its website about leadership in the workers' rights arena. HACSC chief Alex Sanchez, who has until March 27 to respond to the complaint with a position paper, didn't return Eye's call by presstime.

Count This

The San Jose Mercury News issued a blow-by-blow account of the Saturday, March 15, peace rally in San Francheesy. But as newspapers very, very occasionally do, the Merc missed a few blows. Ever thoughtful, Eye is here to fill in the holes. First, actor and pop Martin Sheen gave the keynote speech after the protest landed in Jefferson Park. Second, he sucked, especially compared to the fantastic Cynthia Mckinney, a former Georgia congresswoman and staunch critic of G.W. Bush's war policy, who took a different route from Sheen by not delivering an overly dramatic poetry-slam-style peace prayer and, thus, outspoke the rest on Saturday. Third on the list of things the daily failed to highlight was the criticism directed specifically at the Merc. For instance, one guy was walking around with a sign on his back that said, "Mercury News: I'm just here to be undercounted." His cryptic message alluded to the charge levied earlier this year by advocacy group If Americans Knew that the Merc underreports Palestinian deaths. Granted, this attack came from an organization that just popped up, not an established media-criticism outfit with tested methodology or big-name academics. But the Merc-hating group swears to Eye that some Stanford professor intends to further investigate local newspaper bias in Middle East coverage. They wouldn't say which professor, though.

Pinko Journalism

In other news, David Cohen, top cheese at Silicon Valley Community Newspapers and a former co-owner of Metro, is sitting in his office on The Alameda right now shaking his head in disbelief. What's the dealio? Well, Cohen, whose company publishes San Jose's Willow Glen Resident, feels that rival the Willow Glen Times, published by William Bellou, is trying to steal his paper's thunder. But it's screwing that up so badly that Cohen doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. On Sunday, March 16, while flipping through the competition, Cohen spotted a classified ad that looks just like one in his paper. Just like, except for one thing: instead of promising advertisers "maximum exposure ... in one or more of our community papers," as the Resident does, the Times says that an ad in its pages "gets you maximum exposure in seven communists!" Eye's calls to the Times went unanswered.

D'ough!

Counterfeit money can fool some of the people some of the time. So, why not try to spend it if you've got it? Well, there's no reason not to. At least that's the conclusion Santa Clara resident Robert Mann came to after getting passed a fake $10 bill in December. Mann isn't completely sure where he received the faux bill that ended up in his wallet, but when he tried to use it later that day at a McDonald's, he met up with an eagle-eyed clerk who informed him that the bill wasn't real. So, Mann headed over to the U.S. Secret Service office in San Jose's Federal Building to turn it in for a bona fide one. But the agent he spoke with there told him the Secret Service isn't in the business of buying up cheap copies. "It's my opinion," Mann tells Eye, "that besides being a little stingy, it's counterproductive. Most people would not turn in a $10 bill if they know they're going to lose it." Eye visited Secret Service agent in charge Christopher T. Von Holt to put Mann's question to him. "It's not feasible," he explains to Eye, to reimburse everyone who comes in with fake money. More people would start slapping together counterfeit bills on their laptops and bringing them in for the real thing, he counters. Von Holt says poor Mann is an innocent victim. Most of the money the Secret Service collects, however, comes from banks, police and merchants. Interestingly, as one might imagine, computers revolutionized counterfeiting, Von Holt notes. In the last four years, Catch Me If You Can types have graduated from an old dependence on $10,000 offset printing press machines to the freedom of personal computers and inkjet printers. More interestingly to Eye, the U.S. Secret Service lobby in downtown San Jose sports framed photos of the White House through the seasons, the presidents who've lived there and outdated copies of Better Homes and Gardens, featuring "ideas for cozy, comfy decorating."


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From the March 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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