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Marching to Their Own Drum: SEIU bargaining team member Jim Heaney and an unidentified drummer demonstrate how to hold the line for wages.


Can We Talk?

Reached by cell at the airport Sunday night, as she was boarding a plane in the hopes of reaching Pittsburgh in time to say goodbye to her ailing mother, Councilmember Emily Reilly confirmed that she's withdrawing her formal support of the local minimum wage initiative--at least until there's been a more complete community process. To that end, Reilly is hosting a March 30 community conversation at the Santa Cruz Police Department.

Reilly's withdrawal of support follows that of fellow Councilmember Ed Porter and reduces to two--Tim Fitzmaurice and Tony Madrigal--those councilmembers who still publicly support the initiative, which seeks to raise the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour within city limits by January 2007.

Reilly, who often talks about the need to get as many people as possible included in the process, says so far her support for this initiative had not reflected an inclusionary ethic.

"I've been so excited about the possible results, that I ignored the kind of process I believe in," wrote Reilly in an email to initiative supporters, who included Nora Hochman, Bernice Bolton and Jane Weed-Pomerantz.

Acknowledging that recently she's been acting as if she were stuck in regard to the minimum wage issue, Reilly said it was her mother who helped point out that this was not in fact the case.

"She said, 'I can understand how you got yourself in this position. You still have a choice, however, and if you stay on this path, you are choosing to be a hypocrite rather than be unpopular or look stupid.'"

Initiative supporters are currently circulating petitions in an effort to gather the 3,388 signatures required to qualify the measure for the November ballot. But while Reilly says she and husband Robert Nahas embrace the idea of raising the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour at Emily's Bakery, the zebra-decorated business they own on Mission Street, she also adds, "I don't presume to know what is best for other businesses."

Stressing that the March 30 conversation is not a city-sponsored event nor is it meant to design a final, perfect resolution, Reilly says she's "confident we can find a way to listen to all sides of this issue with an open heart and make a decision that will indeed take a step toward ending poverty in Santa Cruz."

Local resident Hina Pendle facilitates the March 30 conversation, 7-9:30pm, at the Community Room, Santa Cruz Police Station, Center and Laurel streets; 831.662.2232.

Gimme Some Respect

Crossing the bridge over the rain-swollen San Lorenzo River on St. Patrick's Day, Nüz could already hear chants and cheers coming from outside the county building, where purple-T-shirted SEIU workers were getting down to the "Whip it to me (respect, just a little bit)!" refrain of Aretha Franklin's famous hit, which was blasting away in the parking lot during SEIU's March 17 walkout.

"We're ready to go back to the table," said SEIU bargaining team member and county building inspector Jim Heaney. "We'll continue actions as necessary so we can maintain employees. There's a huge danger that our county will become a training ground."

Referring to a study of eight comparable counties that union officials say puts Santa Cruz "dead last in health care and dead last in retirement," Heaney noted that county workers took a 4.3 percent pay cut in July.

"We're holding the line on wages, so people won't go shopping their skills elsewhere," said Heaney.

Heaney stressed that the walkout was not connected to SEIU's national attempt at restructuring, in which 35 public service unions are merging into five.

"Santa Cruz is full of very independent people," said Heaney. "So, there's a natural tendency to say I don't want to be consolidated. But from the point of view of a union activist, this gives us the benefit of more resources and a big pool of experience."

Meanwhile, local resident and UC-Berkeley sociology professor Paul Johnston, responding to Nüz's March 15 "Strike Out" about the abrupt canning of SEIU Local 415 executive director Cliff Tillman, said he has never expressed interest in working with Local 415 since Tillman was hired. "And I'm not interested now," said Johnston, claiming that he was "nothing but supportive and helpful" during the eight years Tillman was with the union.

Stressing that he's not speaking for SEIU workers and that he's no longer with the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, Johnston, who describes himself as "a delegate for the teacher's union, UC-AFT," says he wholeheartedly supports the SEIU-organized walkout.

"The county has unanticipated revenues in terms of economic income and state refunds, including a one-time $5 million rebate," claims Johnston, who likens this struggle to a 2002 battle in which the county pleaded poverty--until the union got an independent audit. "The difference between what the union wants and what the county is offering is only half a million dollars."

Tour D'Afrique

For over 20 years, the award-winning Frans Lanting has photographed Africa's wildlife, people and environmental issues for National Geographic and other publications. Now, he's offering to take locals on a grand tour that covers 10-12 countries--from the comfort of the Rio Theatre (1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz). "It puts Africa in a bigger perspective," says Lanting of his March 25 shows, which incorporate his work with that of his National Geographic colleagues and include videography by his wife, Chris Eckstrom. "We start in the savannahs of East Africa, go through the forest of the Congo basin, across the Great Rift through arid Nambia, along South Africa's Mediterranean-like coast and into the Kalahari desert, through South Africa, Botswana," says Lanting of the tour, which culminates in a spectacular wildlife sanctuary in a remote part of Zambia. Join him on Saturday, at 3 or 7pm. Get tickets from the Santa Cruz Box Office, 307 Church St.; 831.420.5260.

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From the March 22-28, 2006 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2006 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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