Mulch

Light-Rail Off Tracks
In blocking the contract for a $136 million light-rail train system at San Francisco International Airport, S.F. Superior Court Judge William Cahill made the city's Human Rights Commission (HRC) director the final authority over affirmative action in municipal contracts. In his opinion, Cahill parried City Attorney Louise Renne for interpreting city law in a way that could revive the " 'old boy network' where there was insensitivity to" minority- and women-owned businesses.

Renne had stubbornly clung to the position that major city departments could overrule the HRC director (see "Affirmative Action Derailed," Feb. 5). Cahill wrote that it "would result in there being as many [affirmative action] ordinances as the city has departments."

Cahill's Feb. 10 ruling nullifies the contract awarded to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America late last year. It also affects hundreds of millions of dollars in city contracts. As for the light-rail contract, the city now must turn to the only other bidder for the work, ABB Daimler-Benz Transportation, which bid $155 million.

-- C.F.

Kaiser's Nursing Pains
Labor negotiations between the California Nurses Association (CNA) and Kaiser Permanente have stalled on the issue of wages, including linking nurses' compensation to the nonprofit HMO's performance. The outcome will affect more than 7,000 nurses who are now without a contract.

Kaiser last Thursday said it would not go back to the table without a federal mediator. It has also made provisions for its doctors to have privileges at other hospitals in the event of a strike; the nurses haven't ruled one out.

Kaiser is calling for pay cuts for 40 percent of its nurses and a wage freeze for the rest. Nurses could earn incentive raises of up to 2 percent, based on meeting business-side goals for patient satisfaction, membership growth, and per-patient treatment costs.

CNA rejects the incentive-pay plan and argues that nurses should have a greater say in decision-making, especially when it comes to staffing levels.

The HMO says the moves are needed to avoid losing ground in a cutthroat marketplace. But CNA argues that Kaiser is strong enough to set its own pace.

-- L.D.

United's Rough Domestic-Partners Flight
Last Monday's Board of Supervisors approval of a stop-gap agreement between United Airlines and the city over the domestic-partner benefits ordinance shows just how difficult enforcing the new law will be (see "In Sickness and in Health?" Jan. 8). Starting in June, city contractors will be required to offer domestic partners the same benefits as married employees. United has to conform in order to expand operations at SFO. Rather than lose the carrier's business, the supes agreed that the airline needed more time -- two years. And that's for a multinational with extensive in-house lawyers and accountants.

-- P.O.

Nuke the Eucs
Come summer, when the debate heats up again over eucalyptus logging around the bay, a new argument can be made in favor of wielding the ax: The Australian transplants seem to be bird-killers. Winter-flowering eucs are a fatal temptation for certain feathered natives, according to ornithologist Rich Stallcup, writing in a recent issue of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory Newsletter. The birds bury their beaks up to their nostrils in the tasty blossoms. That clogs their nasal passages, and they suffocate. Reason enough for those gum trees to be chopped.

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