Dog Bites

Protracted Contracting
Though some employees of the Chronicle and Examiner feted the first anniversary this month of 1994's 11-day newspaper strike, two key unions -- the drivers and the pressmen -- were in no mood to pop the cork. Representing more than 900 workers, the two unions have still not signed contracts with the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, the business arm created by the dailies' joint operating agreement.

Union leaders contested terms of the contracts as substantially different from what they were promised during negotiations. According to Andy Cirkelis, secretary/treasurer of the Teamster drivers, the agency eliminated more than 90 jobs immediately after the strike and has not negotiated in good faith since. And Mark Arata, president of the pressmen's union, claims that work rules imposed in the absence of a contract amount to harassment, often resulting in disciplinary actions that he sees as retaliatory.

Last winter both unions took their complaints to the National Labor Relations Board; they were followed by the agency, which filed its own charges. Now, while both sides wait for the labor board in D.C. to decide who wronged whom, union drivers and pressmen continue without raises and under working conditions they deem unacceptable. Arata claims the use of nonunion supervisors and the presence of consultants from King & Ballow, the union-busting law firm the agency hired two years ago, make the union nervous: "There's no trust as long as they're around," Arata avers.

Cirkelis surmises that the issue will not be resolved in the labyrinths of the judicial system. "In the long run, the solution has to be found here and not in Washington," Cirkelis says, adding that "[t]here are positive, credible people in [the agency] who are as unhappy about this as we are." Still, he doesn't show any sign of caving in: "We surprised the agency by showing that even though we are small unions, we can sustain our determination -- we're going to the mat."

A Streetcar Named Desperation
His karmic sag in the polls must weigh like cement overshoes. But Frank Jordan, always the solid pol, will never be faulted for failing to prop up his congenitally happy face for the election season photo ops. He's confident of re-election and -- hey, it's a free country! -- he has every right to be.

Still, hubris never could stop metaphors of sinking fortune from dribbling into public view.

Exhibit A: Thursday, Nov. 16, circa 10 a.m., in the environs of Third Street and Folsom. Rolling unsubtly amid the smog-drizzled traffic -- like Mr. Rogers' toy trolley painted into the monochrome cityscape about the Moscone Convention Center -- was a green streetcar, plastered with "Re-Elect Frank Jordan" placards and blasting marching-band music through mounted bullhorns.

The merrily bedecked tram was notorious not only for its visual and aural gratings, but for the absence of any passengers save the driver. I guess Frank couldn't (or wouldn't) give away a free ride, even for loyalists, even as far as Market Street. (Or is it possible his campaign is more loathed than Muni? God's teeth, what a thought!)

Though the hour was late enough for commuting passers-by to have caffeinated away any morning crankiness, something less than good cheer greeted this Disneyland-ish apparition.

From a loft near the corner of Welsh and Fourth, one rumpled somnambulist was heard yelling through his window: "Hey, shut up!" Meanwhile, a pedestrian, begrinched at the sight of Frank's happy camp-car, simply groused: "Oh fuck."

By John Sullivan, Jorge Aquino

 
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