To date, fracking (high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing) has been kept at bay in New York State and the Delaware River Basin but the issue is being re-opened: the “DRBC issued a news release on January 8, 2018 announcing that the period for written comment on proposed regulations regarding hydraulic fracturing activities in the basin has been extended from Feb. 28 to March 30, 2018 and that additional public hearings also have been scheduled in February and March.”
When American voters have strong feelings about a politician, they award a nickname. Understand the nickname and you’ll understand what its popular sentiment portends.
When American voters have strong feelings about a politician, they award a nickname. Understand the nickname and you’ll understand what its popular sentiment portends.
In 1860, Americans may have known with facts and figures that Abraham Lincoln was a savvy politician who often subscribed to the ends justifying the means, but “Honest Abe,” with his way-tall physical stature, slow, considered speech, common humor, quiet, ironic smile, worn face and haunted eyes, was above cynical politics. The pain of a genuinely good man was clear to anyone with eyes, or so the winning narrative went.
When Andrew Jackson (“Old Hickory”) faced off in 1824 against John Quincy Adams (“Old Man Eloquent” or “The Madman from Massachusetts”), the Electoral College handed Adams the Presidency even though Jackson had earned more popular votes. During that 1824 election boondoggle, the slaveholding South had tagged Adams with the “Madman” label because it hated his Abolitionist stance with all its cotton-stuffed heart. Four years later, The South and its stalwart warrior, Old Hickory, sent the Madman packing and had their revenge against “a corrupt system where elite insiders pursued their own interests without heeding the will of the people.”
In 1956, when “Ike” Eisenhower and Progressive Adlai “Egghead” Stevenson vied for the US Presidency, huge swaths of our old, pre-WWII American culture were crumbling before an onslaught of rising expectations. Women were loath to trade in their rivets for aprons. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Boycott, Brown v Board of Education, Beatniks, Jazz and (holy talismans forfend!) Elvis combined to scare the living bejesus out of whites, conservative religious institutions, men, old political hacks and many other guardians of the old America. In 1956, Ike — the General who’d saved us from Hitler, whose feet were solidly on no-nonsense ground — successfully defended the status quo from the Egghead’s Progressive winds of change, but the bells had been rung. In 1960, the New World of Camelot was born.
To my point that nicknames reflect the passions of the time and may be an election bellwether, the dearth of them in 2016 seems strange and notable. The best Hillary’s supporters have come up with is “Her,” as in “I’m With Her” and of course, she won’t use the ones assigned by her opponents. “The Donald” is fine for a mogul-playboy but doesn’t resound on the political stage. Cruz’ depiction of himself as “TrusTED” hasn’t gained traction the way Trump’s moniker for him, “Lyin’ Ted,” has. And Kasich? Well, Kasich is Kasich.
Into the 2016 nickname desert has come “Bernie,” a Vermont Senator with rolled up sleeves, one new suit, unbridled hair and large, emphatic gestures. The Senator’s impatience with old models is familiar ground for young “Berners.” They grew up with The Wild Things of Maurice Sendak, another curmudgeon who trusted them to understand the power of dreams and uncomfortable truths. “Bernie” is a name for Brooklyn and The Rust Belt. It belongs in a union hall, at a night school lectern and on picket lines. Its lack of adornment feels comfortable on the tongues of people whose jobs have disappeared overseas, of students crippled with debt and of the impoverished who are more likely to do jail time than college time.
In truth, I don’t know what it all means for November but I do know that today’s political parties should learn what nicknames say about the future in a way that Stephen Douglas, John Q Adams, Ike’s Republicans and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’ Democratic National Committee haven’t.
(Disclaimer: I can’t swear that my Berniephilia hasn’t informed the “tone” of this post.)
On Monday April 18, forty or so Upper Delaware River Basin residents met at the Callicoon Youth Center pavilion for a community potluck dinner and to await the arrival of Bess Path, Chef Deanna and Chrys Countryman. The three Walk About Water women had trekked (see the map!) from the Neversink River to the Delaware for 10 heartfelt reasons:
(Many thanks to all who organized the Walk About Water community potluck in Callicoon. It was a wonderful evening. And especial thanks to Marci MacLean for offering her photos to Breathing. This is what loving a place and taking joy in it looked like in our River town on April 18, 2011.)
The Walk About Water website announced, “ON APRIL 17TH THROUGH 23,2011, five women will walk 90 miles from the Neversink Reservoir, NY to Salt Springs State Park, PA. We will carry a hand crafted “AMPHORA” of clean water taken from Buttermilk Falls in the Catskill Mountains to a place where water is endangered. WALK ABOUT WATER is a grassroots initiative to raise awareness of the sacredness of our water and our land. We will send this water around the world to other endangered lands, as a simple act of solidarity.”
On Monday April 18, forty or so Upper Delaware River Basin residents met at the Callicoon Youth Center pavilion for a community potluck dinner and to await the arrival of Bess Path, Chef Deanna and Chrys Countryman. The three Walk About Water women had trekked (see the map!) from the Neversink River to the Delaware for 10 heartfelt reasons:
Chef Denna,Chrys Countryman, Bess Path
Guardians~Frank and Francena
More than a year ago, I published Breathing’s first article about a storm brewing at our local public radio station, WJFF. Since then, mostly inchoate rumblings of discontent have leaked from behind the station’s doors. The rumblings became decidedly more focused, however when WJFF’s Programming Committee released its proposed changes to the current weekend program schedule. According to one volunteer, “…it’s relevant to know that the shows that moved to prime or repeat time slots are all shows — exception of one — hosted by Board of Trustees [BOT] members, spouses of BOT members, PC [Programming Committee] members or station staff. This schedule was sent to the [WJFF Volunteer] listserv as a “done deal,” then came an outcry [and] PC chairman Brinton said there would be a comment period and the schedule is [now] on hold.”
(January 18th, Breathing emailed Mr. Clark and Mr. Van Benschoten a list of questions and requests, appended at the end of this column. As of January 20th, I’ve had no response. However, included below is a forwarded email I received this evening from the Programming Committee. It outlines their plan for proceeding.)
Following the Programming Committee’s (PC) release of its proposed new weekend schedule for WJFF, some of the station’s volunteers began organizing in earnest. Among them are those who believe the new schedule was created to reward “management-friendly” volunteers and to punish those who’ve spoken against management practices. At the January 17, 2011 Programming Committee meeting, John Webber displayed graphics which substantiated volunteers’ worries that the Programming Committee used a system of rewards and reprisals to create the new weekend lineup. Indeed, when Mr. Webber and other volunteers compared the proposed schedule to the current one, one volunteer whose program was shortened and moved to a later slot stated, “Your graphic’s clear and represents questionable relationships between management and volunteers.”
Volunteer Jason Dole asked, “Why change the programming?” and other members of the audience echoed him, “On the basis of what data, what survey results, what information did you decide changes should be made? And what those changes should be?”
Brinton Baker, Chair of the PC attempted to clarify his committee’s thinking and procedures, “We decided to be proactive and start with the weekend schedule. We attended some webinars and believed we could improve our lineup. The webinars with Ginny Berson of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) underscored three guiding principles: (1) the business of public radio is programming; (2) programming exists to serve the community; and (3) programming creates audiences and audience size begins with programming choices.”
PC member Julia Greenberg added, “The schedule has to be dynamic which means no single on-air volunteer owns a time slot. Generally, a consensus was reached that the weekend programming could be better, more dynamic.”
“But,” asked several audience members, “how did you decide which shows would be lengthened, which shortened, which moved to different time slots and which canceled altogether?”
“We sent out 200 surveys,” said Chairperson Baker, “and received back 100.”
“Who received the surveys?” asked the audience.
Baker replied, “We sent surveys to WJFF members who’d donated to the station at least twenty times.”
When the audience was polled, at least half raised their hands to indicate they’d donated the requisite twenty times. Of that number, however, only three people actually received the survey. Two –– of whom one is a member of WJFF’s Board of Trustees — represented a single household. The third recipient, Martin Springetti, is a new member of the station’s Community Advisory Board (CAB). As Mr. Springetti looked around the room, he said, “I wish we would survey anyone who’s donated forty dollars or more.”
A need for clarification was on Padma Dyvine’s mind. After studying the proposed changes, she said, “It sounds like you’re making changes to the schedule for the sake of making changes and because you think some volunteers have had shows too long. On what basis did you decide?”
Although no coherent answer was forthcoming from the PC members, Mr. Webber, who’d compiled the comparative graphics of the old schedule and the proposed changes, said, “It looks like favoritism.”
Programming Committee member, Julia Greenberg, responded, “We can’t ignore John’s statistics. Some structural changes are needed. We must address potential conflict issues between on-air volunteers and our committee.”
“How much influence did the station’s management wield in the process?” asked long-time volunteer and station supporter, Jonathan Mernit.
“It was a group process,” responded Mr. Baker. “I chaired the meetings and led the discussions. [Station Manager] Winston Clark and [President of the Board of Trustees (BOT)], Steve Van Benschoten were present. And we were aware of the survey results.”
Although there was a general hue and cry that Community Voices, Classics for Voice and the station’s monthly Open House — all locally-produced shows — were missing from the proposed schedule, according to statements by audience members and letters received from the community-at-large, the two most contentious changes involved moving Angela Page’s “Folk Plus” and Jesse Ballew’s “Jambalaya” from their earlier slots on Saturdays to later and shorter Sunday times. Despite their recognition of Ms. Page’s stature in the world of Folk music, several representatives of the entertainment industry expressed worry that the changes would harm both the shows and their businesses. They referenced the fact that Angela and Jesse frequently shine spotlights on musicians scheduled to play locally. They believe a Sunday spotlight wouldn’t help our local Saturday evening music scene. “Plus,” said Ms. Page, “I was told all shows would be reduced to one hour. That’s not what you’re proposing in the new schedule. Even though you did cut Folk Plus by fifty percent.”
Leaving the controversy surrounding her own program behind, Ms. Page stated the PC’s process was deeply flawed. In a seeming endorsement of Maureen Neville’s comment that, “This is a public radio station. You’ve made the most programming changes in twenty years and the public wasn’t even informed,” Ms. Page offered her own concerns about the station’s decision-making processes:
- The public is not properly informed of meetings and upcoming policy changes. “I asked three times that a Public Service Announcement be made about this meeting and there was none!”
- “Ginny Berson said in her Webinar that stations, ‘Must know their target audience. Must find out who’s listening,’ but your research was poor and you still haven’t identified a target audience. You still don’t know who’s listening. I gave you great research sites and you didn’t follow through.”
When Breathing Is Political asked for a list of media where WJFF meetings are advertised, I was told, “On-air at WJFF and on our website.” In September 2010 and again at the January 17, 2011 PC meeting, Breathing and others suggested that meeting notices be sent to all local media. Chairperson Baker admitted he was at a loss as to how to distribute such notices and Ms. Greenberg said, “We’re media! We can do it!” (Public Service Announcements are free and can be submitted online. ( WJFF Bylaws)
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting — which provides much-needed funding to our small station — has addressed the gnarly issue of Open Meetings by citing to Section 396(k)(4) of the Federal Communications Act:
“Funds may not be distributed pursuant to this subsection to the Public Broadcasting Service or National Public Radio (or any successor organization), or to the licensee or permittee of any public broadcast station, unless the governing body of any such organization, any committee of such governing body, or any advisory body of any such organization, holds open meetings preceded by reasonable notice to the public.
In its summary of what “reasonable compliance” entails, the CPB requires that the public be apprised of meeting particulars “at least one week (7 days) in advance of the scheduled date of an open meeting” and further requires that:
1. Notice is placed in the “Legal Notices” or the radio and television schedules section of a local newspaper in general circulation in the station’s coverage area; or, notice is available through a recorded announcement that is accessible on the station’s phone system; or, notice is available through an announcement that is accessible on the station’s Web page; and
2. Notice is communicated by letter, e-mail, fax, phone, or in person to any individuals who have specifically requested to be notified; and
3. The station makes on-air announcements on at least three consecutive days once during each calendar quarter that explain the station’s open meeting policy and provide information about how the public can obtain information regarding specific dates, times, and locations.
According to the CPB, the rules governing public notice and access pertain to all manner of public meetings whether they be telephonic, via the internet or in-person: “However, these alternative meeting formats must still meet the other statutory requirements such as providing reasonable notice and allowing the public to attend, which in the case of an alternative meeting format would mean the ability to listen, observe, or participate.”
In a prepared statement, Martin Springetti, a new member of the Community Advisory Board (CAB), addressed what some of WJFF’s volunteers have come to believe is the silencing of the Advisory Board. (“Winston” refers to Winston Clark, WJFF’s Station Manager and “Steve refers to Steve Van Benschoten, President of WJFF’s governing body, the Board of Trustees) :
“One of the great strengths of WJFF is our live locally produced programming. Midmorning on Saturday is prime listening time for many of our supporters. It makes sense to have live locally produced programming at that time rather than syndicated programs that are readily available on other public radio stations.
I am a current member of the all new Community Advisory Board. Last October 5th we had our first and only meeting. The agenda was set by Winston and Steve, the meeting was run by them. The proposed programming changes were never mentioned. I think the station missed a great opportunity to get input from the community before the changes were announced.
Last summer this survey was circulated among some select supporters. It reads: WJFF WEEKEND PROGRAMMING SURVEY. This shows that programming changes were being considered way before the October CAB meeting. The Community Advisory Board has been left out of the loop. If you were to embrace and engage the CAB instead of trying to marginalize us, you might find that we could be a great asset to the station.
I joined the Community Advisory Board because I want to help and support our station, not to get into arguments about whether we are meeting minimum requirements of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
My question is: Why was the Community Advisory Board not asked for input or in anyway involved in the proposed programming changes?
Although the Programming Committee said it “regretted” its exclusion of the CAB from its programming deliberations, according to Article IV of the WJFF Bylaws:
1. The Community Advisory Board (CAB) will implement the requirements for a CAB set out in the relevant CPB [Corporation for Public Broadcasting] and FCC [Federal Communications Commission]regulations. In particular, the primary purpose of the CAB is to advise the BoT [Board of Trustees] on how the corporation serves the educational and cultural needs of its coverage area.
3. The CAB consists of members representing, as far as possible, the diverse needs and interests of the communities served.
And also according to WJFF’s By-Laws (Article V, p. 10),
The [Program] Committee’s responsibilities include all matters relating to on-air and online programming, including maintaining the quality of existing shows; assessing and overseeing the development of on-air skills of volunteers; assessing and approving new shows (local and syndicated); scheduling programs; and identifying areas where programming needs strengthening and working to fulfil these needs.
A logical inference can be drawn from the By-Laws that the Board of Trustees is dependent on the Community Advisory Board for advice in meeting “the educational and cultural needs of its coverage area.” Equally, the PC requires the Advisory Board’s input when “identifying areas where programming needs strengthening and working to fulfil these needs.”
But what does the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) say concerning the presence, importance and function of a CAB? CPB has listed its compliance standards for public radio stations to follow and warned that CPB “may not distribute any of its funds to any community-licensed public broadcasting station that does not have an advisory board which meets the requirements of the law.”
In essence, the CPB requires each public radio station to establish a “community advisory board that will:
- be independent of the radio station’s governing body“;
- meet at regular intervals;
- “be reasonably representative of the diverse needs and interests of the communities served by the station;
- establish and follow its own schedule and agenda, within the scope of the community advisory board’s statutory or delegated authority;
- review the programming goals established by the station;
- review the community service provided by the stations;
- review the impact on the community of the significant policy decisions rendered by the station; and
- advise the governing board of the station whether the programming and other significant policies of the station are meeting the specialized educational and cultural needs of the communities served by the station. The advisory board may make recommendations to the governing board to meet those specialized needs.”
When a couple of audience members supported the PC’s request that comments be restricted to issues of programming, Barbara Gref addressed the PC, “Since the CAB was not part of your deliberations, I suggest you put any decision on hold till you’ve had a chance to meet with the CAB and make sure the CAB is involved. I hear your regret that they weren’t included but I’d like to see you make it happen.”
When another audience member said, “The CAB needs to take responsibility, too,” a former CAB member retorted, “The CAB wasn’t even notified of proposed changes. How could they ask for information they couldn’t possibly know about?”
Sonja Hedlund, host of Ballads and Banjos, told the Programming Committee, “At the first meeting, you asked if we had ideas for changes and I said then that two hours is too long for a show. And I disagree with the advice you got from the Webinar. I do my program to organize this community! I think you should be asking, ‘What shows are we missing?’ instead of sitting back and waiting for someone to come forward with ideas. By reducing the two hour shows, you can make more room for new programs. More youth programs. We’ve heard over and over again that we need more local news and it’s not on the schedule.”
An underwriter in the audience said, “I’m upset that hosts weren’t given the consideration they deserve.” And an eighteen-year supporter of the station chimed in, “The car I donated to the station? I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known this was going on. When I complained to someone about things happening at the station — I won’t mention the person’s name — I was told, ‘You’ll learn to love the changes.’ I felt dismissed after eighteen years of donating!”
WJFF’s management, on-air volunteers, PC and CAB members (both former and current) are at odds over some pretty hefty fundaments of democracy:
- The right to broach lawful opinions without fear of retaliation
- A fair, open and inclusive decision-making process
- A community’s participation in the workings of its public media
- Equal access to programming opportunities by the diverse communities within the station’s coverage area
But as the January 17th meeting wore on, I began to wonder about something not nearly so highfalutin’: incompetence.
- How is it that Programming Committee members weren’t aware that meetings must be properly announced?
- How is it that the PC didn’t know how to distribute Public Service Announcements of their meetings?
- How is it that the PC didn’t know that the Advisory Board must be permitted to advise?
- How is that the listener comment line was “dis-established?”
- How is it that no coherent response was on offer when the PC was asked, “Why did you inaugurate these programming changes? On what research did you base your decisions?”
- How is that only three audience members at the January 17th meeting received the bungled survey?
- How is it that neither the Board of Trustees nor the Programming Committee anticipated that their un-researched proposals would cause a brouhaha? (Especially in light of Committee Member Greenberg’s agreement that the schedule should be reviewed for conflicts of interests?)
- And how is it that neither the BoT nor the Programming Committee identified the station’s target audience before proposing program changes?
There are reports from current and former volunteers that an uneasy — some say hostile — atmosphere is growing at the station. Rumors abound of volunteers being told by management, “You need the station more than we need you,” and “Don’t talk about our dirty laundry on the listserv.” Many of our longest-serving volunteers have said in an open meeting that favoritism and retaliation were at the root of the new scheduling proposal. There have been managerial decisions that resulted in apparent breaches of law. Is there potential for those actions to jeopardize the station’s CPB funding? Only the CPB can say for certain, but managerial decisions vis a vis the CPB-mandated CAB have raised serious questions of community representation and inclusiveness.
I’ve emailed Steve Van Benschoten (President of the Board of Trustees) and Station Manager, Winston Clark asking for, among other things, manuals used by the station to train its volunteers and board members. I’ve also asked how many volunteers and/or employees have left the station in the past two years and in the previous five. And of those who’ve left, I’ve asked how many complained about or cited to either management or the atmosphere at the station. I’ve also asked who received the 200 surveys and how recipients were chosen.
My original article about WJFF provided some history of the station and a very partial record of its troubles a year ago. I talked about the enormous community effort that gave birth twenty-plus years ago to, “The Best Little Radio Station by a Dam Site!” Crucial to that endeavor were community leaders like Chuck and Andrea Henley-Heyn. For me, the most surreal moment during the Programming Committee meeting came when Andrea suggested ideas for improving station structures and processes and the Chair of the Programming Committee asked her who she was.
Answer, Mr. Baker: “Andrea is the volunteer who has continued over the years since Maris’ passing to create a loving home for her Calendar at WJFF. And according to your own WJFF website, ‘…has been a member of WJFF since before it went on air…'”
And finally, the on-air fund drives aren’t fun anymore; just a few well-scripted voices with all the juice squeezed out. (Even as controlling as WAMC’s Alan Shartock is rumored to be, his fund drives are frequently exercises in giddy chaos.) Until this moment, I haven’t referred to an elephant in the room: one of our most successful Station Managers, Christine Ahern. She and fund drives were chocolate sauce on ice cream. How many times did we listen, mouths agape during a gaff-filled morning late in the fund drive? And the laughter! It was like listening to children play. Nevertheless, I was often reminded that she knew every inch and corner of the station and the rules that regulated it. But more, she was a deft manager of people and knew not only the communities in WJFF’s coverage area but much of their history. Under her ten years of leadership, the station grew in range, volunteerism and loyal listeners. Perhaps she spoiled us. She was on a mission to make WJFF and its community a watchword in Public Radio. Perhaps it’s foolish to expect one person to do what Christine did. Perhaps the fair thing would be to divide the position of Station Manager into its parts.
Perhaps We, The Public should be regular attendees at Board of Trustee and Committee meetings.
At the very least, the sense of fun, family, and service to the community-at-large must be restored.
Emailed to WJFF’s President of the Board of Trustees and its Station Manager:
Dear Steve, Winston and John:
In preparing to publish an editorial about recent events at WJFF, these questions sprang to mind:
1. How many volunteers and/or employees have left the station in the past 2 years? Of those, how many complained about or cited to either management or the atmosphere at the station?
2. How many volunteers and/or employees left the station in the previous 5 years? Of those,
how many complained about or cited to either management or the atmosphere at the station?
3. Does WJFF have a training manual for new volunteers?
4. Does WJFF have a training manual for new board members? (All and any of the boards)
5. What training is provided to new board members?
6. Does training of new board members include FCC, CPB and station rules and regulations concerning the new members’ functions on the board? Does it include information concerning Open Meeting legislation?
7. Does WJFF maintain a record of complaints made by volunteers against WJFF management.
8. Does WJFF maintain a record of its response to any such complaints by volunteers or employees.
9. Does WJFF have a written policy concerning the advertisement/announcement of its public meetings?
10. When was the last time WJFF sent announcements of its public meetings to media venues other than WJFF?
11. On what bases were the former members of the CAB not asked to continue their service to the station?
12. On what bases were the former members of the CAB replaced by new members?
13. Who participated in the “disbanding” of the former CAB and its replacement by new members?
14. How was the public notified that a new CAB was being engendered?
15. Through what means was the public asked for its input in establishing the new CAB?
I plan to publish the editorial in the next few days and am asking you to make available:
digital copies of any such training manuals and your volunteer training schedule.
a copy of the survey that was reportedly sent to members who’ve donated at least 20 times.
a record substantiating that 200 surveys were sent
substantiation that WJFF has a record of members who’ve donated 20 times.
WJFF’s policy on informing the public of upcoming & public meetings
As a member of your WJFF signal area, I have lots of question concerning recent events at the station. I am asking these questions in order to write as balanced an editorial as possible. As always, once the editorial is published, I will send you the link and you will have every opportunity to comment or even write an opposing & unedited piece.
May 1st was International Workers’ Day. Some call it “The Real Labor Day.”
In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) called on workers to strike any business that refused to abide by an 8-hour workday. According to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, (1995, p. 264) on May 1, 1886,
“350,000 workers in 11,562 establishments all over the country went out on strike. In Chicago, 40,000 struck and 45,000 were granted a shorter working day to prevent them from striking. Every railroad in Chicago stopped running and most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed. The stockyards were closed down.”
In 1880, The United States’ population was approximately 50 million and Chicago’s was 500,000. According to the 1880 Census Compendium Part II, there were 2.8 million men, women and children working in the nation’s 254,000 manufacturing facilities. Using Zinn’s figures then, approximately 13% of US workers went out on strike May 1, 1886.
Imagine if, in 2009, 13% of the US’ 140 million “documented” workers had struck for universal health care and a living wage. Go ahead. Imagine 18 million workers thronging the streets, hand-in-hand, to advocate for themselves, their children and the future of this nation.
In 1983, the year my oldest son was born, we were in the middle of another “economic downturn.” A gallon of gas cost $1.25, a Dodge Ram truck cost $5700 and the average monthly rent was $335. Cleaning toilets and pushing a lawnmower earned me $10 an hour. (When I saved enough to buy my father’s old riding mower, I was able to ask $15 an hour for larger properties.)
Seventeen years later, after the boom times of the 1990’s, most of us freelance “domestic workers” could make $15-20 an hour. Around that same time, our counterparts in New York City were being paid in the $25-30 range.
In July 2009 — the costs of most everything having doubled since 1983 — the US minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour.
This past May 1st, I worked and was glad for it though I know Grandma and Grandpa were rolling in their graves. (May 1st was the date my family eschewed labor for history; the day we remembered Samuel Gompers, the AFL and the perfidy of police officers who helped smother labor’s demands for living wages, humane working conditions and equal pay regardless of gender and race.)
On May 1, 2010, I informed a prospective employer that “I’d have to charge $20 an hour to clean his house” and cited to the round-trip travel time, cost of products, gas, fuel oil, rent, etc.
The weighty pause on the other end of the phone and the aghast rejoinder took me by surprise, “We won’t pay that. We don’t pay more than $15 an hour in the City.”
“That’s interesting,” said I. “A few years ago, the going rate for housekeepers in the City was nearer $25-30 an hour.”
“Not anymore,” came the smug-sounding reply.
There are times when my naivete is unforgivable.
I asked another “City dweller” — a member of a white collar union and gas drilling opponent — what the going rate for domestic services is in her neighborhood. “Ten dollars an hour,” she answered. “But that’s because we have so many ‘illegals.'”
“‘Illegals? You mean ‘undocumented workers?'”
So for those of you who oppose gas drilling and own homes in the City as well as in our rural Pennsylvania and New York communities, remember this simple action + action = results equation:
When you pay less than subsistence wages to the “undocumented human” who has to buy groceries and pay rent in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Long Island,
YOU DRIVE DOWN the wages of the person struggling beside you in Callicoon, Milanville and Honesdale and
YOU ENSURE MORE WORKERS WILL SIGN LEASES IN HOPES OF WINNING THE GAS LOTTERY.
When I raised this issue of wage depression with friends who live both rurally and in the City, I was told their ability to share the wealth is constrained by their loss of retirement funds; that their “disposable” income has been drastically reduced by cutbacks in their businesses and occupations.
I understand. My bank account plunged right beside yours and Sullivan County’s real unemployment figure is nearer 20% than the officially cited 10.9%
So given that we’re all in greatly reduced circumstances, here’s my deal: I’ll reduce my housekeeping charges by $5 to $15 an hour if you’ll promise to increase my counterpart’s wage in the City to a $15 cash rate.
If you can still afford to hire domestic help, for your own sake, pay them a living wage. Otherwise, whose disposable income will keep you in business?
I saved money during the 1983 downturn. I paid the hospital and obstetrician cash for their services.
The son born to me in 1983 was admitted to the New York State Bar last week. If he was born today, I doubt he’d ever see the inside of a law school.
Breathing is Political because our personal political, economic and social decisions influence the growth of a child in our neighbor’s womb. A child’s life depends, in large part, on the health of the mother and on the parents’ ability to provide nutritious meals, books, ideas, a secure home and a realistic dream for the future.
For all workers, the breadth of that dream and its attainability depend on you and me caring about equitable treatment for all. It does NOT depend on any one of us short-changing another simply because we can.
As for union workers who de-value the work and lives of others’, as I write this, America’s teachers’ unions are the new target of labor reforms. If the rest of us are busy scrabbling for each spare nickle, when will we have leisure to come to your defense?
Before Sullivan County Legislator, Dr. David Sager, (District 1) took the podium at his press conference this afternoon, he arranged a pair of yellow and blue campaign signs on either side of the podium. The signs proclaimed, “Sager for State Senate. No nonsense. Honest Leadership.”
Literally, the announcement may change the face of NYS Senate District 42.
Not only did Sager announced his intention to challenge long-time incumbent Republican John Bonacic, but he will do it as a Democrat.
Sullivan County Democratic Chair, Steve Wilkinson, introduced Dr. Sager and welcomed Delaware County’s Democratic Chairwoman Cindy Lockrow-Schimmerling and various other Democratic Party notables.
“I’d like to address the large elephant in the room,” Mr. Wilkinson began. “David is changing his political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. This is not an opportunistic change but a a philosophical change,” Mr. Wilkinson continued to loud applause. “To borrow from Winston Churchill, ‘There’s nothing wrong with change as long as it’s in the right direction.’ Democrats wholeheartedly welcome David to the Democratic Party. For too long the New York State Senate has been the log jam to realizing change in New York. It has been mired in its own personal politics.”
Obviously, it was not just any elephant Mr. Wilkinson was talking about. Dr. Sager has held his Sullivan County Legislative seat as a Republican. In order for him to face Bonacic as a Democrat in a General Election, he must get the nod from the Democratic Chairs of the four counties which comprise District 42: Sullivan, Ulster, Delaware and a piece of Orange.
Ulster County Legislator, Susan Zimet (D, District 10) campaigned against John Bonacic in 2006. Although her effort fell short by roughly 12,000 votes, it was a strong showing against the then-16-year incumbent. (Bonacic first became a member of the New York State Assembly in 1990 and has served in the NYS Senate since 1998.) Zimet’s 2006 campaign website is still up and available for viewing here.
Dr. Sager’s opening remarks perhaps signaled the tone he hopes to strike during the upcoming campaign. “During the course of my service on the Sullivan County Legislature, I have been honest and passionate. I have not been afraid of issues that were unpopular or complex. If you liked me as a Republican, you will like me even more as a Democrat. I will contuinue to champion fair and just causes and it won’t matter to me if an idea is Republican or Democratic as long as it’s a good idea. After years of consideration, I have changed my party enrollment and have done so in good conscience. I still stand for fiscally responsible and accountable government but my social views have evolved and are more in concert with core Democratic Party values.”
Taking on some who have criticized him for verbal gaffs, Sager said, smiling at The Times-Herald Record’s reporter, “I have a reputation for having a salty tongue — per The Times-Herald Record. I will continue to be candid and fight for what’s right. I will put the people first. Our state government is broken…and our current State Senator is a long-time part of the problem. Unfunded state mandates have crippled local governments and placed the burden on local taxpayers.”
“State Senator Bonacic advocates for unfettered gas drilling. I want a society and government that asks at what price do we support industrial development that is potentially lethal to us all. At what point do we say no to large corporations who put their profits first? Gas drilling must be safe, legal, economically beneficial to all and subject to local controls. We must take a hard look at a comprehensive Environmental Protection Agency study of gas drilling. We must support the Englebright bill which will institute a drilling moratorium in New York State until 120 days after the EPA releases the results of its study. It’s a simple, sensible bill. We can wait for the science. We have a responsibility to provide safe drinking water to our children and families…. Safe drinking water is a right not a privilege. Senator Bonacic has been misguided [about gas drilling] while I have been demanding a rational approach. There must be a return to local control. ‘Drill, baby, drill’ is a slogan not a policy.”
At a recent County Legislature meeting, Dr. Sager said that the drilling issue should not pit farmers against non-farmers. “It’s not an agricultural issue. It’s about the industrialization of New York.”
“We must ask, ‘Will the growth we advocate be sustainable? How will New York State and District 42 grow?’ The 42nd District is in the process of becoming an important economic link to New York City — an important link to a sustainable lifestyle — industrially, personally and agriculturally.”
On other topics, Dr. Sager reminded the audience, “I have sponsored sweeping and meaningful ethics reform for Sullivan County and I will be at the head of it in New York State.”
“I will champion property tax reform and will be joining Sullivan County Treasurer, Ira Cohen, in continuing to review tax exempt policies. Large tracts of land and living complexes end up off the tax rolls. People cannot continue to vacation in the 42nd district for free.”
“I will fight for our schools, teachers and students so students can afford the college education they need and I’m determined to ensure our region has the infrastructure it will need to benefit small businesses.”
“I’m going to need your help. We need people who passionately support our cause. We need volunteers who will go door-to-door. Please contact us at: email@example.com until we get our website up and running which will be very soon.”
After his prepared remarks, Breathing asked Dr. Sager what he had to say about local drilling issues and ethics reform.
“The county is in the process, because of my fierce prodding, of completely re-doing our ethics policy. As to drilling, I have not taken an anti approach but there has been a general and blind pursuit of drilling without a necessary analysis of the science. DEC’s [NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] employees have said the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Study is seriously flawed and no local official should be questioning that statement.”
Dr. Sager was also asked how changing his political party affiliation will affect his status with the Sullivan County Legislature. “I’ve got a great working relationship with Jonathan [Rouis] and Woody [Elwin Wood]. I intend to caucus as a Democrat.”
A member of the public asked, “Are you going to support green technology that will help us avoid dependence on Middle East oil?” and Dr. Sager reiterated, “I want to turn the 42nd District into an area that promotes green technology. It’s how we’re going to grow our area.”
When Breathing asked a Sager supporter about the candidate’s “salty tongue” remark, the long-time patient of “Dr. Dave” said, “Does he step in it sometimes? Yeah. He’s a passionate guy. He’s not always smooth but that’s why I like him. He does his homework and doesn’t have a lot of patience for political games.”
For information on the amounts of money NYS Senator Bonacic has raised in the past, comprehensive postings have been made available FROM PROJECT VOTE SMART and FROM THE DAILY KOS. Dr. Sager should hold on to his hat because both sites have published campaign war chest figures for the Senator in the $700,000 range.
At comment #9 under “Update: Seismic Thumping in Wayne County,” (an article notifying readers that the thumpers had turned away from The River Road) “Regret” wrote, “But hope has to be based on reason.”
I understand Regret’s pessimism about the state of drilling in Wayne County. I know the history of the US in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, South America, and any other region of the world where humans have built lives above oil fields.
I know how many acres the Northern Wayne Property Owners say they’ve leased.
I know our own laws and Supreme Court decisions often provide only apparent protections.
I know we’re in deep trouble and it doesn’t matter much to me whether the threats to our livelihoods, land, food sources and water come from powerful drilling companies or powerful agribusiness factory farms and our collusive government that provides relief and friendly supports to all of them.
But there is hope in the work of our people!
There’s hope in Pennsylvania. Cabot was shut down in Pennsylvania because a few families would not stop telling their stories.
There’s hope in large news outlets beginning to tell the stories of contamination and evacuations caused by drilling.
There’s hope in the large landowners who’ve refused to sign.
There’s hope in the landowners who’ve signed but who pray to their Gods that a Moratorium will come to Pennsylvania and New York and that the gas companies will lose.
There’s hope in the landowners who, despite being marooned between large leased parcels, continue to refuse to take the money.
There’s hope in award-winning documentaries like Josh Fox’ Gasland whose national audience is growing at incredible rates.
There’s hope in the work of loved ones in Wayne County who spend every single moment of their waking days thinking and working on ways to stop these takings of our rights to enjoy our properties, our rights to drink our water, our rights to eat food that isn’t filled with hormones — hormones that are changing the chemical composition of our childrens’ bodies. And when those loved ones in Wayne County sleep — which is a bare few hours a night — their sleep is invaded by clouds — dark and seemingly impenetrable clouds.
There’s hope in the numbers of people who’ve begun to read and write about the looming drills.
There’s hope when a group of people get together and create The Watershed Post.
I have hope in my loved ones get up each morning to the nightmare and continue to help organize residents on The River Road.
There’s hope when women stand up alone and say, “NOT ON MY LAND!” and the thumper trucks turn away.
I’m going this morning to a meeting with incredibly bright, creative and determined people who will not give up.
There’s a party planned this evening for people who will celebrate that we are all still together.
There are legal fights still to be fought and Damascus Citizens has organized an heroic team on that front. DONATE TIME AND MONEY TO THOSE EFFORTS!
There are PA legislators who’ve decided to sacrifice their political careers — who are being joined by others — to slow down this raging locomotive.
There are people who love the river working within the National Park Service to protect the River from this degradation.
There IS hope.
Contact landowners who are resisting the landsmen. (See Breathing’s coverage of the DRBC – hearing in Matamoras, PA)
Contact landowners whose leases are due for renewal.
Write the National Park Service. Tell them to find the research we need to stop the despoiling of our Basin. Let them know they’re not alone!
Tell NY State Senator John Bonacic his political career will not be saved by the landowners who leased. Even those in NY who lease for fear of being compulsorily integrated will vote against him.
There’s hope in the NY Assembly thanks to Bills being co-sponsored or supported by Aileen Gunther. TELL HER YOU SUPPORT HER SO SHE KNOWS SHE’S NOT ALONE!
Organize large public vigils as near the Wayne County test wells as you can get.
As Lula Lovegood told Harry Potter, “I think he [Voldemort] wants you to believe you’re alone.”
But it isn’t true.
I got almost five hours sleep last night — more than I’ve had in weeks — and I’m not alone. I’m ready.
On March 3, 2010, The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) Buffalo, NY office issued a press release stating it was “…seeking a federal court order to force an egg processor, Deb-El Food Products, to rehire seven fired union supporters and begin contract negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union.”*
This is big news for Sullivan County, NY where few workers know what the “NLRB” is and even fewer have asked the independent federal agency to ensure a Collective Bargaining vote is conducted fairly and equitably in their workplace.
In 1935, the U.S. Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169) which established the National Labor Relations Board. (NLRB) In deciding its action was necessary, Congress said, among many other things, “The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry and by preventing the stabilization of competitive wage rates and working conditions within and between industries.” (Italics added for emphasis.)
- to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices, whether committed by labor organizations or employers, and;
- to establish whether or not certain groups of employees desire labor organization representation for collective-bargaining purposes, and if so, which union.
In the current Deb-El case, the NLRB investigated the company’s actions and found it had illegally interfered with its employees’ right to debate and establish a Collective Bargaining Unit.
More, Deb-El employees have alleged the company, in its efforts to block a union vote, committed violent and inhumane acts such as:
- beating an employee with a tire iron;
- forcing an employee to eat broken egg material off the floor; and
- denying employees access to bathroom facilities
On Monday, March 22, 2010, several Hudson Valley advocacy groups held a press conference at the Sullivan County Government Center in support of employees at Deb-El who risked much to join UFCW Local 342.
Milan Bhatt, Executive Director of The Workers Rights Law Center, which advocates for low wage workers and is based in Kingston, NY, welcomed the press and public and stated, “…the Center stood in strong support of the right of Deb-El workers to bargain collectively.”
The Rural and Migrant Ministry, which has a broad and inclusive mission of service to rural families, youth and workers, was represented by Ruth Faircloth who said, “One million people of faith feel that our men and women in food production have the right to be treated decently. Our Ministry is deeply disturbed by testimony and reports… that Deb-El punished its workers for attempting to organize. We support the NLRB in its efforts to right these wrongs. Workers cannot organize in an atmosphere of violence.”
Eric Monroe of the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission and the NAACP reaffirmed “the right of any worker to earn a decent wage” as did Eileen Weil, another member of the Commission who spoke on behalf of Sullivan Peace & Justice.
An NLRB Hearing convened right after the press conference to consider, according to the gathered organizations, “…reinstatement of [terminated] workers, awards of back pay and a bargaining order requiring Deb-El to recognize UFCW Local 342 as the representative of workers. On December 30th 2009, the Regional Director for the NLRB’s Region 3 Office in Buffalo ruled in favor of the workers and issued an extensive complaint outlining Deb El Foods’ misconduct.”
Despite NLRB having already ruled in favor of the workers, this current hearing and subsequent appeals by Deb-El could extend for months.**
Workers who have questions concerning workplace practices, rights to organize and other issues that impact the heart of families and their communities, are encouraged to contact any of the organizations linked in this article.
* In explaining its action, The NLRB stated, “The petition filed today in federal district court argues that action is urgently needed. ‘Unless injunctive relief is immediately obtained, it is anticipated that Respondent will continue its unlawful conduct…with the result that employees will continue to be deprived of their fundamental right to organize for purposes of collective bargaining.’ A majority of the Thompsonville facility’s workers signed cards in mid-May seeking a union election. In the weeks before the late June election date, according to the petition, the employer’s agents allegedly engaged in a sustained effort to discourage union support, threatening employees with dismissal and loss of benefits, telling them a union vote would be futile, and asking employees to sign an anti-union petition. One employee was allegedly asked to take a cell phone picture of his ballot. Seven union supporters were fired. In the end, 18 employees cast ballots for the union and 21 voted against it. In response to charges filed by the union ((3-CA-27215) and after a thorough investigation, the region found that the alleged pre-election misconduct made a legitimate vote impossible, even if rerun. Accordingly, the Region is asking that the injunctive relief require that the Respondent bargain with the Union. The petition for injunctive relief was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”
** As a nurse-paralegal who has worked on employment discrimination and retaliation complaints filed in The Southern District of New York, I have also represented the Plaintiffs (workers) in their attendant disability and unemployment claims. One thing is always true in such cases: time is on the side of the employer. Companies have the resources to sustain months and even years of hearings, decisions, appeals and trials. Without community supports, the same can never be said for employees — even after, as in the Deb-El case, hearings have resulted in findings favorable to those workers.
Sullivan County’s unemployment rate rose to 10.3% in January 2010. Some workforce development estimates have placed that figure nearer to 20% when it includes unemployed and under-employed workers no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. The overall rate in NY State is 9.4%. Of New York’s 62 counties, Sullivan’s unemployment rate is ranked amongst the highest at 43. Bronx County is ranked at the bottom with a rate of 14.1%.
Historically, as too many unemployed workers compete for too few jobs, wages have been driven downward and working conditions have worsened. As wages have fallen, so has the ability of workers to support local economies. As Congress opined in establishing the National Labor Relations Act and Board, collective bargaining is essential to ensuring against ensuing economic depressions — like our current one.
Often, when my unemployed state threatens my spirit, I bake bread. Enormous swelling mounds of sourdough or pumpernickel. The yeast, the texture, the molasses remind me that wealth depends on the right ingredients, a practiced touch and a will to create something good. At least, that’s the hope.
Yesterday — a damp, gray day — as I wrestled with 15 cups of white flour, 6 cups of wheat and 10 cups of rye, an elderly man knocked on my door.
“Do you own a German Short Hair?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” I replied, wiping flour down the front of my pants and sweater. “A what?”
“A German Short Hair,” he answered. “The Town received a complaint about a German Short Hair dog running loose at this address.”
He leaned a bit heavily against the door frame and when I opened the door wide, he favored his knees crossing the threshold. After too short a visit, he realized he’d been given wrong information and turned stiffly, prepared to visit the rest of the houses in the neighborhood.
“I don’t envy you your job,” I apologized. No matter my own state of affairs, it was an honest statement.
“It’s the bottom of the pits,” he nodded. “I’m 75 years old. My wife and sister are home with Alzheimer’s. I take care of them and this is how I stretch my monthly check. You play the cards you’re dealt, right? What else is there to do?”
As I watched him pick his way through the snow — on to the next house — my own knees gave out and I crouched there on the back stoop, overwhelmed by hatred and impotent fury.
How many more groups can we join on Facebook that demand Congress give up its health care?
How many more petitions can we sign demanding a legitimate jobs bill for America’s workers?
How many more of our families must supplement their meals with dog food?
How many more of our children must graduate high school as functional illiterates?
How many more years must we spend more to incarcerate our youth than to educate them?
How much more will America’s workers swallow before we call a national strike?
How many more corporate bailouts will we suffer before we pitch our tents and outrage on the National Mall?
More frequently than I like to admit, I’m struck dumb and inert by the evil that steals through the halls of Congress. By leaders who toss pennies to the working poor and billions to their cronies in crime.
I don’t know what to do. I and countless others send out resumes day after day. We circle and circle possible jobs in the paper. We scroll through endless job search engines.
Each morning we swallow the mounting sense of hopelessness and smile unconvincingly at our children. They’ve never been through this before. They take their cues from us.
Tomorrow, I’ll get back to work with Mary and Bernie Handler, Bruce Ferguson and Victoria Lesser as we prepare for Mayor Tillman’s visit to Callicoon this Saturday.
Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful for the water we’re delivering to Dimock, Pennsylvania.
Tomorrow, I’ll work to rid myself of futile rage.
Tonight, I’ll curl in on myself, grieving for a nation that’s lost its way; that cares little for its elders, its youth and its workers.