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Management & Labor: A Marriage Made In Mendo

We didn't expect John Sakowicz's “County labor-management” show on KZYX last Friday morning to live up to the hype Sakowicz posted on the AVA's website early last week. Because?

Because public radio in Mendocino County is lob ball all the way. Adult give-and-take on local matters is unknown, probably because there are very few adults associated with the enterprise, which is why the only time you hear any energy out of the place is when they're gearing up for a "boogie." A boogie, by the way, is a social event characterized by bad music played at top decibel as skeletal old stoners hurl themselves around up front like a bunch of spastics.

Sako is a smart guy who can talk, but he's got to bland himself down if he expects air time at Public Radio, Mendocino.

We were right about what we'd hear.

Sako's management-labor hour didn't even make it half way to low expectations. There was one smart call. The rest of the show was…

According to Sako's pre-show press release we were getting a serious discussion of an important local issue.

“We will be joined by SEIU Local 1021 leadership, Louise ‘Weezer’ Gonyo, chapter president, and Dave Eberly, chapter executive board member, along with SEIU political organizer, Paul Kaplan. And County CEO Carmel Angelo.” …

Sako's hype rolled on.

“Times are tough for public workers. In the last few years, Mendocino County has trimmed over 400 jobs from its payroll. Remaining workers had to take a 10% cut in salaries. Last year's salary negotiations between SEIU and the County Board of Supervisors was marked by conflict and allegations of bad faith during labor contract negotiations. As Mendocino County enters its new fiscal year, many questions remain unanswered. … Does the County truly consider its workforce to be its most valued asset? What is the county's compensation philosophy, and does its compensation philosophy include market competitiveness and workforce stability as its goals?"

This is where we are in the country where a hundred years ago a labor guy walked into US Steel and shot the owner, defining for all time the essence of labor-management reality.

Sako would have had everyone in Mendocino County listening if he'd stated the situation more forcefully, say, "Is SEIU even a labor union in any traditional sense of the term, and if the County is broke why does this Carmel Angelo person keep spending money on so-called consultants and new bureaucrats?"

Few real issues even got mentioned, and when they did they were buried in the usual KZYX-Mendolib blather-blizzard of abstractions like “sustainability,” “labor and management working together to solve problems,” which flabbed on into the County's well-worn funding difficulties (over which neither the union nor management has much control), employee attrition, the pros and cons of using extra help, increasing workloads on fewer employees, the possible impact of Obamacare (nobody really knows), and "transparency," a fashionable term favored by professional obfuscators and jive merchants that pretends everyone wants the truth when no one does.

Then we got into the coma-inducing soporifics of “we have to live within our means,” “healing the organization,” increased benefit costs, the possible impact of Jerry Brown's tax proposal initiative on the November ballot (bad, if it fails), “a level playing field,” trust, accountability, objectivity, financial stability, and, of course, “communication,” public-private partnerships…

As everyone silently screamed for the torture to end, Sakowicz contradicted his own press release with the announcement, “I don't want to talk about last year — except that the contract negotiations were a nightmare,” adding that it cost money because of “outside attorneys, outside negotiators, you name it — today is a new day! We go forward!”

We do? After you, kemo sabe.

CEO Angelo didn't add much to the clarity of the conversation, saying things like, “The true answer to the county's sustainability is that we will know that in the next few years.”

Sako may have redeemed the otherwise dreary hour when he suddenly veered into the rhetorically surreal. “Think of this show as — do you remember the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after apartheid? This is what this show is! We are going to get to the bottom of stuff so we can all, like, forgive each other and know what the truth is and forget the lies and the rumors and move on, you know, in good faith, and with real facts!”

A female caller miraculously broke through the happy blab with a sensible statement reflecting the true state of County affairs: “Hello. I am married to a county worker and I thought it would be a good time to hear a little bit about that side of the story. County workers are demoralized. Communication from management down to the line workers is nonexistent. Rumors and paranoia are rampant. Tons of County workers are out on stress leave because they can't take it anymore. Now they want to privatize mental health services, which is basically just trying to get rid of that population and wash their hands of it. It just makes me sick to my stomach. My spouse has worked for the County now for 11 years and is making less than $50,000 a year. I suggest that upper management go for six months on minimum wage and watch their savings disappear and their credit card bills getting higher and higher. Then they would have a better understanding of the situation of the people who are really doing the work, who are really serving the community and are dealing with people on a daily basis.”

CEO Angelo replied, “I had a lot of difficulty hearing her. Could you please, if she has a question, would you please repeat it?”

Sakowicz, the alchemist: “Sure. Listener, why don't you just rephrase your comment as a question? … Okay, she's gone. So I will ask everyone here around the table, what can we do to improve employee morale?”

Which wasn't even close to the caller's point.

Angelo, immediately non-responsive: “The number one thing we can do to improve employee morale is communication. My office is the first to say that we have not communicated enough. Our goal is to do that. And with the aid of Weezer [Louise Gonyo, local union president] and Paul [Kaplan, union rep] and everyone helping us with that I think will make a tremendous difference if we can develop the communication pathways, bidirectional, front-line staff up to administration.”

Communication pathways.

Please, you're killing reality, murdering truth, slaughtering language. Major felonies are being committed here!

Louise ‘Weezer’ Gonyo replied by spraying the airwaves with rapid-fire clichés.

“I think the first step is open lines of communication and then transparency with the county budget. Working together to come up with a solution. What we have now is demoralized workers, workers who are out on stress leave which is very very unfortunate and very expensive and we need to stop that flow. We need to stop that hemorrhage in this County and we need to come back together.”

Dave Eberly is County computer specialist, member of the union negotiating team and seemingly on-task.

“One of the biggest problems is how we manage the workload. And we are going to be bringing some proposals to Carmel about that.”

All the way to Monterey County?

Oh, that Carmel, the Ukiah Carmel you're all on a cozy first name basis with. The Boss. Miz Slippery.

And what about the caller’s suggestion that management share more in the sacrifice?

Not a peep from the lions of labor.

The clichés were flying so fast and furious it was hard to focus, but at some point in the tedium, Paul Kaplan of SEIU stated:

“We need to come up with a plan with the County management to make our employees whole again, to get back that 10% and bring them back up to today's standard of living as opposed to living 15-plus years in the past because that is an unsustainable place to be.”

So you took 12% a year later?

"Make our employees whole?"

Here you go, Kaplan, and for all of you out there in Radio Land and County government seeking to be whole again, this is for all of you forever on the trail of transparency, looking to heal, questing for public-private partnerships! we dedicate, "You Make Me Feel Brand New!" Take it away, Stylistics: "I'll never have the words, my love…"

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