Good Hearts Small Stomachs

Good Hearts Small Stomachs
I work in a nonprofit -- several in the past 25 years -- and lately have experienced SEIU organizing. I was put off by what I felt was the typical half-assed AFL-CIO approach, which greatly depends on buying politicians who have a history of not staying bought, and a peculiar lack of concern for the individual worker.

Lacking in George Cothran and John Mecklin's piece ("Union Disorganizing," The Grid, Jan. 7) is the reason there is a market for unionization at nonprofits. Today, America is increasingly offering up human services to the private sec-tor, another trend paralleling the privatization of health care in general. The lower costs of nonprofits come directly out of the pockets of those working there, except for management salaries, which you dismiss as being under $100,000. At one agency I worked for, the president set up a personal side corporation, to which he paid out $35,000 a year to "consult" himself.

Why should essential human services be farmed out at subsistence wages? What person, no matter how "sensible," can survive in this town on $7 per hour? Good hearts don't necessarily indicate a concomitant anomaly of undersized stomachs. And the attendant frequent turnover of staff scarcely affords the clients better service.

Most of the nonprofits' boards of directors are wealthy, and have scant interest in paying employees any more than they pay their immigrant nannies. Fund-raising is another excuse for a party, and activism is limited to table-hopping at the club.

As long as American jobs are downsized, and our trust is to be placed either in shyster unions or corporate America, we will always be tempted by those who can only offer to maintain the status quo.

C.L. Mullins
Bernal Heights

For the Union Makes Us Strong
George Cothran and John Mecklin should reserve their vitriol for government officials and privatization advocates who uncritically exploit the moral commitment of nonprofit workers to continually "provide more services to greater numbers of people than could be helped by more expensive city employees" ("Union Disorganizing"). Their tirade against SEIU Local 790 amounts to nothing more than an argument for cutting social services, keeping nonprofit workers underpaid, and laying off city employees.

I work at a nonprofit currently organizing with Local 790. We began organizing a union because of overwork, poor wages, and lack of job security -- conditions you will find in any nonprofit. A union, we realized, is the best way to reconcile our interests as workers with the agency's commitment to social and economic justice. We have to practice what we preach.

But instead of applauding an effort such as ours, Cothran and Mecklin ridicule it as "politically weird and wrong." Is it wrong to demand decent wages and working conditions? Should we continue to bleed nonprofit workers because they "realize they are going to have to sacrifice a measure of pay and benefits to do good"?

We should ensure that nonprofit workers do not absorb the social service cuts -- the deepest in U.S. history -- by making nonprofit labor "as expensive as the union labor in city government." That is why Local 790 should be applauded, not demonized, for their efforts.

Eduardo Capulong
International Socialist Organization
San Francisco

Objective Critics? Umm...
It's no wonder nobody listens to film critics. In your "The Year in Film" issue (Jan. 7):

* Michael Sragow called both Titanic and Boogie Nights "sorry excuses for 'events,' " while Tod Booth labeled both of them his "Favorites of 1997."

* Gary Morris panned Amistad for its "bogus" rendering of the " 'African experience,' " whereas Andy Klein called the film one of the year's 10 best, specifically describing it as a "creditable examination of a historical event" (Sragow also called Amistad one of the 10 best of the year).

* Klein also put Chasing Amy on his 10-best list, while Booth labeled it one of "The Lousy" of '97.

* Sragow put Wag the Dog on his 10-best list, while Gregg Rickman denounced it for being "too-clever-by-half" and for presenting "such a tired, cynical view of human nature it becomes enervating to watch."

* And Morris, inexplicably, dubbed Starship Troopers "the best American film of the year," even though every review I read about the movie when it came out judged it middling at best, and more often as simply "poor." (A personal opinion: I agree with Morris that Troopers is an important film, but for different reasons. The film's space-operatic style undermines whatever anti-fascist theme Verhoeven may have tried to work into the film; in the end the film promotes fascism rather than denounces it.)

I realize that, as the editor, there isn't much you can do about the confusion these wildly differing opinions generate; maybe the critics themselves need to infuse a little objectivity into their work. But since the only real purpose of film criticism is to inform potential viewers so they can decide whether or not to spend their time and money on a given movie, the public suffers when the criticism provided is so inconsistent.

David Weibel
Union City

 
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