10/14/2002

 

The Square, Labor, and Voting

 

I have several topics this time. First, there will be an all day (8 to 5) get together on the courthouse square on Saturday the 26th of the Prescott Union for Peace and Justice. This is their second annual event. This is an amalgam of people whose primary concern at this point is what they see as an unnecessary move toward war with Iraq. If youíre concerned too, come down and meet some wonderful, like-minded people. There will be music and dancers and just hanging out on the square, a little getting to know one another, some interesting speakers, and then thereíll be me.

 

The PUPJ has quite a range of people looking for peaceful and equitable solutions to problems big and small, and can provide an outlet for you to get involved and express your concern about major issues such as war with Iraq. Also many of the members are involved in local issues and you may find a connection to some issue youíre interested in that way as well.

 

The second topic is current labor issues, relating to both the dock workers and the new security agency. The dock workers case has not been presented very well in the mainstream press. There are bits and pieces of information that come out, but not a very informative picture.

 

First, it is those who run the ports, the PMA, that have shut out the workers. The issue that started this is not that workers are resistant to new technology which would speed up the flow of goods, as some articles would leave you thinking. The problem is that the PMA is using the introduction of new technology to transfer jobs from current dock workers, who have made the docks their lifeís work, to others who have nothing to do with the docks and can be gotten cheap.

 

For much of the work in question, the PMA is contractually committed to give it to the dock workers, but theyíre trying to work around those commitments. Some examples: Some of the new technology would allow clerical entry of what is coming in and going out to be farmed out to low-wage data entry pools in other places, perhaps even out of the country. Because the PMA is committed by contract to using the dock workers as long as cargo is under their control, they set up paper companies they hand the cargo off to, and then state they donít have to use the dock workers because the cargo is out of the PMAís hands. There is a clause that cargo that comprises just one bill of lading (generally small loads) can be handled by other workers as a way to give some flexibility in moving the cargo. The PMA takes advantage of this by combining many loads into one bill and then claiming the exemption. The workers simply donít want work that is theirs by contract to be taken away through legalastic slight-of-hand.

 

A related problem exists in the debate over whether the new ďHomelandĒ security department should be exempt from federal employment guidelines. The Executive Branch already has the authority to move federal employees around as necessary in time of need. What the White House is trying to do is to gut protection of workers. The federal employment system definitely has its flaws. Fine. Letís fix them. Donít just throw all the regulations out and leave the workers legally naked. Those regulations are in place to protect federal workers from all sorts of games that can be played with employees in a big organization. Just ask anyone from Enron or WorldCom.

 

Finally, just something to keep in mind as voting day in November approaches: you donít have to vote on every issue and office. If you donít know who should be elected to some minor office, leave that section blank. Of course itís preferable to be an informed voter, but if youíre not sure about some ballot measure, then donít vote on it just to be filling out the ballot. And if you think none of the candidates for a given office are acceptable, then put in a write-in candidate or ďnone of the aboveĒ. When you just donít vote, politicians think youíre apathetic and they can ignore you. When there are a large number of votes for third parties and write-ins, it puts pressure on the politicians to take stands and implement policies that will attract those voters next time. They know if they donít, another party or candidate might.