Letters for February 6, 2003

Cut The Czar, too!

Re “The Budget Czar,” by Jeff Kearns ( SN&R Cover, January 23):

The perception that state employees should always have to sacrifice their pay or benefits when there is a fiscal crisis troubles me.

State employees didn’t create the fiscal crisis; our Legislature and governor have to accept responsibility for that. The last time I read any statistics, California ranked 47th in the number of state employees per capita and 35th in benefits for state employees, compared with other states.

If you think every employee in California should give up 5 percent of his or her pay to help balance the budget, that’s fair, but to suggest that only state employees give up 5 percent is unfair.

Michael Burror

Aim Czar’s ax at fat, not muscle

Re “The Budget Czar” by Jeff Kearns ( SN&R Cover, January 23):

Budget Czar, we’re impressed to see that you’ve sharpened your ax and taken aim at reducing state spending, but we’re disappointed to find that ax landing on state workers.

Sharpen your memory before you take a chop. State workers have not received a raise for three years and yet have assumed increasingly larger workloads during that time.

Thousands of state employees work mandatory overtime every day. Everywhere, state workers carry double and triple workloads. Their reward? Denied vacation requests because departments can’t function on fumes.

And you, Budget Czar, propose eliminating the 5-percent salary increase workers would receive this July? Your suggestion is cruel and demoralizing to a work force that has sacrificed so much for so little. Your proposal threatens to chase workers away from state service at a time when they’re needed most.

Sharpen your sense of fairness and consider other budget-cutting and revenue-enhancing ideas. We need to reform and enforce existing tax laws, close tax loopholes, cut costly state contracts and drop contract workers (such as registry nurses who make double what their state-worker counterparts do for performing the same work).

Don’t balance the budget on the backs of state workers; they’ve paid handsomely for the deficit already. Aim your ax at the fat, not the muscle.

Perry Kenny
president, California State Employees Association

Are you mad because union is effective?

Re “Who’s Guarding the Union?” by Jill Stewart ( SN&R Capitol punishment, January 23):

Whatever mark Stewart was trying to make with her diatribe about the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the only message that came through loud and clear is that she hates effective employee associations. Of course CCPOA uses political influence. It is one of the few effective and legal tools available to unions and associations.

Historically, whenever a union or an employee representative finds a tool or strategy that is truly effective for representing its membership, the courts or legislatures take it away. When autoworkers used sit-down strikes to gather better wages and working conditions, the courts made it illegal. When unions used secondary boycotts to further their membership’s goals, the National Labor Relations Board made them illegal.

Now one employee association, CCPOA, has used its political savvy to further its membership’s interests. Apparently, Stewart wants to take that away.

Stewart also misses the mark about the purpose of employee associations. Their purpose is to represent their members. They are not in existence to further greater social good. They are not there to represent the public.

As to who is guarding the union, CCPOA’s membership guards the union. Unions, more than any other political structure, are the epitome of democracy. In CCPOA, the leadership is elected by popular vote rather than delegate or electoral-college vote. A small group of members can effectively alter the outcome of an election. There are no lavish campaign funds expended during CCPOA’s electoral process. In what other political structure will one find these characteristics?

I have no doubt that Stewart likes to sit around with her peers and espouse the ideals of employee representation. However, she makes herself out to be a hypocrite when she begins to rant about an employee association simply because that association actually turns out to be effective.

Dana E. Manning

Stewart should guard Charles Manson

Re “Who’s Guarding the Union?” by Jill Stewart ( SN&R Capitol punishment, January 23):

Ms. Stewart’s slanderous attack against California’s correctional officers was both unjustified and ignorant of fact. Perhaps if she bothered to sit down and talk with the men and women standing watch over the likes of Charles Manson, she’d have a better understanding of the mental and physical toughness required to walk “the toughest beat in the state.”

Stewart ignorantly labels officers as “freaks of nature” despite the fact that officers are routinely subjected to physical attacks that include everything from being spit upon or having urine, feces or semen thrown in their faces, to stabbing.

Then, there are the risks posed by working with an inmate population that is ravaged by hepatitis and, in some cases, HIV. Officers routinely are forced to confront threats to their family members’ lives.

Stewart cites her lobbyist source as saying that “it would make you sick to see the $50,000 cars pealing out of San Quentin.” She’s right that it would make you sick! But what she fails to mention is that those $50,000 cars belong to the attorneys representing California’s inmate population. The San Francisco-based Prison Law Office routinely files suit on behalf of inmates in an attempt to line both their pockets and to further ensure a comfortable stay in prison for those incarcerated, all at the expense of state taxpayers.

Stewart writes, “The vast majority of states pay lower salaries than California does, in keeping with the low skill levels.” I would remind her that most states don’t have California’s high cost of living, either. In some parts of California, officers are forced to drive an hour or more because they cannot afford to live near the prison.

California’s correctional officers set the standards most other states seek to emulate. Minimum qualifications require an extensive background check, psychological testing and an interview as well as physical-fitness requirements. And although Stewart chooses to refer to correctional officers as “guards,” they are, in fact, peace officers. I seriously doubt most Californians want minimum-wage workers standing watch in the prisons.

Sources for her column represent the interests of the inmates—not the taxpayers and certainly not the victims of crime.

California’s correctional officers are a well-trained and professional core of men and women who deserve our respect and thanks.

Jim Battles

Nitrates on top of nitrates

Re “Got Cows?” by Elizabeth McCarthy ( SN&R News, January 23):

We appreciate you bringing the mega-dairy issue to the attention of your readers, but we would like to clarify one of the statements attributed to us.

The nitrate contamination of our drinking water is not yet due to runoff from the new dairy, but to local farmers’ heavy reliance on nitrate fertilizers. This is a widespread agricultural practice that pre-dates the arrival of the new dairy.

Unfortunately, existing nitrate pollution is also the environmental context into which the dairy industry now plans to insert itself. We fail to understand why Solano County’s planning commissioners were willing to approve a project that threatens further pollution of a water supply that is already spoiled.

It can’t be that they were ignorant of the existing contamination. The application for a use permit submitted to them by the Heritage Dairy owners provided ample data showing unsafe nitrate levels in the water on the property to which the dairy has moved!

Richard Cushman and Beverly Lozano

Nukes are cheap, if someone else pays for the cleanup

Re “It Glows,” by Cosmo Garvin (SN&R Cover, January 16):

Much of the waste mentioned in the article comes from nuclear reactors, a source of electricity that has been pushed for decades by energy companies as cheap. Sure, it’s cheap—if other people pay most of the costs.

If a proper, complete cost accounting is done, the enormous costs of handling, disposing of and protecting the waste over long periods of time after it has been used to heat water to drive a turbine must be included. Obviously, the Department of Health Services is spending lots of money to consider, study and hide information and to deal with public concerns about nuclear waste.

These and other costs (like the insurance the government buys to cover nuclear plants, or expensive studies to find a national site for waste, or treatment of additional cancers) are paid by society at large, not the companies who own the plants and sell the electricity.

If the amount of the money the United States has thrown at nuclear energy had instead been spent on energy conservation and efficiency and alternatives, we’d all be much better off.

Randy McClure


Re “Out of the Shadow Government” by Brian Elsasser (SN&R News, January 30):

Mark Woo-Sam was incorrectly identified as a hearing officer for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. He actually works for the Fair Employment and Housing Commission, a separate entity that conducts hearings in discrimination cases brought by the DFEH.