Thursday, July 17, 2003
SEIU May Walk Out on County
Social workers and mental health employees employed by the County of Monterey voted last week to authorize a strike if no resolution comes to fruition by Thursday, July 17.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 535 members met on July 14 to refine strike logistics for its 400 members. A strike date has not yet been determined.
On July 17, a state mediator will intervene in ongoing discussions about increased health insurance premiums with the County.
"We promised the state mediators that we will give him one day," says senior field representative Wren Bradley. "We won't strike before Thursday. If we see movement on Thursday, then he may need to go to the Board of Supervisors. If we see nothing on Thursday, we're not waiting for the board meeting."
Union members complain that health insurance premiums have increased for workers, but not administrators. Under the new premium, a single employee will have to pay $103 a month (compared to the current $33) and a family will pay $374 (compared to $216). These rates increase if an employee wants vision or dental insurance.
"The second leading cause of bankruptcy in this country is health care," Bradley says. "Our members are one paycheck away from a bankruptcy if they don't have their kids on a plan."
The number one cause of bankruptcy remains divorce, she said.
On July 22 at 9:30am, SEIU Local 535 members and families will rally for health care justice at the Board of Supervisors Chambers in Salinas unless they strike before then. [JL]
Farmworkers Win One
Approximately 120 farmworkers will split $250,000 this week. The money is a settlement for severance pay after a farm in Watsonville closed its doors four years ago.
The severance pay--which will vary from $250 to $6,500 per worker--comes as a result of a long negotiation period between the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1096, the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and Watsonville's C&V Farms.
"In April '99, we were notified by C&V Farms that they would not be in business anymore," says Pete Maturino, the president of Local 1096. Maturino says the company violated state labor laws because it did not meet with the union and the employees prior to shutting down.
UFCW represents about 3,500 farmworkers, ag processing employees, drivers, and lab technicians statewide. More than 2,000 of those workers live in Monterey County. [JL]
Chipper New Chamber
"It's a great day in Carmel; this is Beth," a friendly woman says by way of answering the phone of Carmel's new Chamber of Commerce. Beth quickly honors my request and transfers me to Brenda Roncarati, former head of the Carmel Business Association (CBA), which has just morphed into the Carmel Chamber of Commerce.
The Carmel Chamber includes member businesses in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, and Big Sur. Roncarati, who is now executive director of the Chamber, says that the change is mostly in name only.
"We aren't changing any of our missions or projects," she says. "We've always had very similar goals to what a Chamber of Commerce does."
Some of the Chamber's projects include producing a yearly guide to Carmel that is distributed to San Francisco, operating a visitors' center, providing direct referrals to businesses and services, and running an information kiosk on Ocean Avenue. In past years, the CBA also coordinated the destination marketing program for the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, although Roncarati says that she is not sure if they will continue to do so.
Roncarati says that membership growth in the past six months is "unprecedented." She believes that a strong outreach program has brought in members, who are attracted to perks like crime bulletins warning businesses of bad check writers. Roncarati also says that given a poor economy, business owners are joining together to get as much marketing as possible.
"People are struggling and have to be smart and have as many people working for them as they can," she says.
The Carmel Chamber belongs to the Western Association of Chamber Executives, but at this point, is not accredited by the US Chamber of Commerce, a national organization that lobbies for business interests.
"That's like a Chamber for Chambers," Roncarati explains. "They have certain criteria and sometimes they match local Chambers and sometimes they don't. We'll have to determine whether it's a match for us. Most chambers around here don't belong." [BW]
CSUMB Lauded as New Educational Model
Cal State University--Monterey Bay (CSUMB) silenced skeptics of its unique (some say eccentric) educational program by becoming officially recognized as an institution of higher learning.
Accreditation is the final step for a university to become acknowledged on paper as a legitimate institution. CSUMB has been seeking accreditation since its inception in 1994.
Now, after several years of intense evaluation, the state accreditation team announced the honor on July 15.
Current and future alumni no longer have to sweat over credits transferring or financial aid going through because CSUMB is now legit.
CSUMB's education philosophy includes "outcomes-based" programs, which require all students to learn certain skills before graduating, as well as interdisciplinary majors that combine several different fields.
With a liberal program and a campus on an abandoned military base, CSUMB opened with high hopes but has faced staunch criticism.
Critics thought the university wouldn't succeed with such an unorthodox curriculum, but the accreditation team actually praised its innovations.
CSUMB "is on the verge of becoming a national model," said Ralph Wolff, director of the accreditation team. Wolff's report highlighted the unique elements of CSUMB like its outcomes-based education and community involvement.
"This accreditation decision represents for CSUMB an affirmation of our academic model, the quality of our curriculum and the quality of our faculty," said Diane Cordero de Noriega, vice president of CSUMB. [ZS]