When we arranged with the local tree experts and altogether good people at Trees Unlimited to fell about a half dozen large ponderosas on our property and have them trucked to a mill, we scheduled the work to be done on Friday the 13th, disregarding all the silly supersitions about that date.
It turned out to be an unlucky date for us, though.
They had to cancel the job due to a work slowdown at the container ports on the West Coast. The mills can’t ship any more lumber to these ports (for the Chinese market, among others), because of a labor-management dispute between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the ports’ management (the Pacific Maritime Association).
And we can’t have the trees just felled and remain on the ground until the dispute is resolved. That could be weeks, or even months. By that time, the trees would no longer be marketable.
The work slowdown affects many more industries besides our local tree people.
It’d be interesting to know the full impact of the slowdown on Nevada County’s economy. We know that it’s affecting a lot of tree work here in addition to our own.
In the meantime, there’s no doubt that the slowdown is affecting businesses in neighboring California counties:
On Friday, the California Assembly Republican Caucus issued a press release begging the union and the port management to quickly resolve their dispute, calling attention to the harm already being done to California’s agricultural economy:
“The ongoing West Coast port labor dispute is having a devastating impact on our economy. Farmers and ranchers in particular are having a tough time shipping perishable food to customers worldwide. It is unacceptable that California’s economy is essentially being held hostage to a labor dispute,” said Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, of Modesto. “I am calling for action from President Obama and the federal government to intervene and secure a resolution so we can get our ports fully operating again.”
“Farmers, small business owners, retailers, truckers, consumers and nearly every Californian are being impacted by this ongoing dispute that has brought our ports to a virtual standstill,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus). “I call upon both sides to come together to resolve this dispute without delay. President Obama and the federal government must also use every power at their discretion to bring the parties together to reach a settlement.”
“As we speak, precious fruits and vegetables are rotting in shipping containers that are bottlenecked at our West Coast ports,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Porterville). “Our Central Valley has already been hit hard by the ongoing drought. The agricultural products our communities managed to produce despite the lack of water have been thrown to the wayside due to this disruptive labor dispute. We cannot allow these exports to sit for one day longer.”
The labor dispute at the West Coast ports has waged on for nine months. On Wednesday, it was announced that port operations will be suspended for four days as a result of the current labor dispute. According to one estimate, it could cost the country $2.1 billion per day if the ports shut down entirely for 10 days. Worse, congestion at West Coast ports could cost retailers as much as $7 billion this year alone.
According to the following business report, the President could force a cooling-off period under Taft-Hartley if the slowdown were to become a full-fledged strike or a complete lockout. In the meantime, the daily dollar cost of the slowdown is probably in the billions nationwide.
By Don Pelton
I had a slightly melancholy experience this morning. I ran across a webpage describing all my old high school teachers and what became of them. I graduated in 1959. I was especially interested to know about the one teacher — an English teacher — whom I have spoken of ever since as among the three greatest teachers of my life. His name was James Gray.
The quality I most remember was his contagious love for his subject, a contagion which infected many of his students. Delight always seemed to be bubbling just beneath the surface with him, as if he had discovered the secret of the universe, and it was pretty damn funny, and he knew that you were just gonna have to find it out for yourself.
He liked to use us as experimental subjects. From time to time, he’d play different sorts of music — classical, pop, jazz — while we wrote essays in class. Then we’d read the essays and talk about how the music might have affected the quality of the writing.
I was happy to learn that, after his stint as a high school teacher, he went on to become a Senior Lecturer in Education at UC Berkeley, and also founded the National Writing Project, “an influential and highly regarded educational reform network.” His work lives on.
When I noticed that he died only a few years ago (at age 78) I realized that although I told scores of people over my lifetime that he was a great teacher, and why he was a great teacher, I never told him.
So, if any of the teachers you loved are still out there, tell them!
Here’s an excerpt from his memoir of his early years taking the writing workshop on the road:
Our first invitation was for a workshop at San Francisco’s Polytechnic High School. The principal invited me to bring some teachers who had participated in the first summer’s program to talk to the English department. I handpicked a strong group: Cap Lavin, BAWP’s codirector; Miles Myers, a highly regarded Oakland high school teacher; and Flossie Lewis, a teacher at San Francisco’s esteemed Lowell High School. Poly was not esteemed at the time. The papers regularly carried stories of faculty unrest and political and social tension on the campus. We weren’t really surprised to find graffiti-filled halls. One inscription shouted at us, “Black is Beautiful; Yellow is Mellow; White is Shit.” The teachers were waiting for us. I introduced my colleagues and began describing what the Bay Area Writing Project was all about. Suddenly, I was hit in the face by a paper wad thrown by some guy sitting in the second row. I ignored it and plowed ahead. Another paper wad. I was dumbfounded. Here we were, excited by this first invitation and the start, we hoped, of a long line of such invitations, and things were out of control. I reasoned that the situation could only get better, so I continued on. Another paper wad! Miles jumped out of his seat, went to the board, and began charting out some plan or model when someone else in the room shouted out: “Miles, go on back to Oakland where you belong!” Cap and Flossie were agitated. Cap, who suffered from angina, popped a nitroglycerin pill; Flossie was close to tears. Nothing made sense. The paper wad thrower shouted: “Gimmie some pencils! If you want to help us, give us some pencils; we can always use pencils.” The workshop was clearly over, and the four of us left the room.
We went across the street to a bar and tried to figure out what had happened. It should not have happened—not with the group I put together. All three of the teachers were well known and even revered in San Francisco. Cap was raised in San Francisco, where he had become a basketball legend. Miles was the senior vice president of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the founder and editor of California Teacher, the CFT newspaper these teachers would have read in this strong union town. And Flossie Lewis was one of their own—one of the best-known, most-respected, and feistiest English teachers in town. It was beyond understanding why we’d been treated that way. The following week, one of the teachers called me. It seemed that the principal, a very unpopular actingprincipal who was at war with the faculty, had told teachers to show up for this workshop or else! The teachers showed up, not only to keep their files clean of reprimands, but also to get even by keeping this program from succeeding. They had nothing against us. They didn’t know me. They did know Cap and Miles and Flossie, and they liked all of them. But they hated that acting principal.
That afternoon, we learned something about how to conduct a Bay Area Writing Project workshop and how not to. We vowed never again to have anything to do with mandated programs. Our workshops for teachers would from then on always be voluntary. If teachers didn’t want to attend a Bay Area Writing Project workshop, they didn’t have to, and we would make this very clear to teachers and administrators.
Economist Ross Ashcroft (in this 4-minute video) correctly points out that the most important warning sign of an impending crash is the level of private (household and business) debt as a percentage of GDP. In this view, he is in complete accord with Professor Steve Keen, one of the few economists to correctly predict the last big meltdown.
By Robert Reich
Reprinted with permission of the author, from his blog at http://robertreich.org
How would you like to live in an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots’ owners?
Meanwhile, human beings do the work that’s unpredictable – odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours – and patch together barely enough to live on.
Brace yourself. This is the economy we’re now barreling toward.
They’re Mechanical Turks.
The euphemism is the “share” economy. A more accurate term would be the “share-the-scraps” economy.
New software technologies are allowing almost any job to be divided up into discrete tasks that can be parceled out to workers when they’re needed, with pay determined by demand for that particular job at that particular moment.
Customers and workers are matched online. Workers are rated on quality and reliability.
The big money goes to the corporations that own the software. The scraps go to the on-demand workers.
Consider Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk.” Amazon calls it “a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence.”
In reality, it’s an Internet job board offering minimal pay for mindlessly-boring bite-sized chores. Computers can’t do them because they require some minimal judgment, so human beings do them for peanuts — say, writing a product description, for $3; or choosing the best of several photographs, for 30 cents; or deciphering handwriting, for 50 cents.
Amazon takes a healthy cut of every transaction.
This is the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, free-lancers, and consultants.
It was a way to shift risks and uncertainties onto the workers – work that might entail more hours than planned for, or was more stressful than expected.
And a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours, and working conditions. And that enabled employees to join together to bargain for better pay and benefits.
The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.
In effect, on-demand work is a reversion to the piece work of the nineteenth century – when workers had no power and no legal rights, took all the risks, and worked all hours for almost nothing.
Uber drivers use their own cars, take out their own insurance, work as many hours as they want or can – and pay Uber a fat percent. Worker safety? Social Security? Uber says it’s not the employer so it’s not responsible.
Amazon’s Mechanical Turks work for pennies, literally. Minimum wage? Time-and-a half for overtime? Amazon says it just connects buyers and sellers so it’s not responsible.
Defenders of on-demand work emphasize its flexibility. Workers can put in whatever time they want, work around their schedules, fill in the downtime in their calendars.
“People are monetizing their own downtime,” Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s business school, told the New York Times.
But this argument confuses “downtime” with the time people normally reserve for the rest of their lives.
There are still only twenty-four hours in a day. When “downtime” is turned into work time, and that work time is unpredictable and low-paid, what happens to personal relationships? Family? One’s own health?
But how many of them would be happier with a good-paying job offering regular hours?
An opportunity to make some extra bucks can seem mighty attractive in an economy whose median wage has been stagnant for thirty years and almost all of whose economic gains have been going to the top.
That doesn’t make the opportunity a great deal. It only shows how bad a deal most working people have otherwise been getting.
Defenders also point out that as on-demand work continues to grow, on-demand workers are joining together in guild-like groups to buy insurance and other benefits.
But, notably, they aren’t using their bargaining power to get a larger share of the income they pull in, or steadier hours. That would be a union – something that Uber, Amazon, and other on-demand companies don’t want.
Some economists laud on-demand work as a means of utilizing people more efficiently.
But the biggest economic challenge we face isn’t using people more efficiently. It’s allocating work and the gains from work more decently.
On this measure, the share-the-scraps economy is hurtling us backwards.
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, and On Demand.
OK, we had some “fun” this morning. We got an automated call from 866-419-5000 on our Magic Jack home phone (an Internet phone). I did a quick Google search for that number (since I was sitting at my computer when the phone rang) and — to add some extra confusion to the morning — the search results included complaints about spam and nuisance calls from that number.
But listening to the message, I heard this:
“This is the Nevada County Emergency Call Center. Stay inside your residence. There is a subject shooting a rifle in your area.“
I walked around and looked out all the windows in the growing pre-dawn light. I saw nothing. Heard nothing. Very quiet.
I called 911 and the answering operator said, “Disregard that call. It was a computer glitch. The message was meant for the Kingvale area. Gotta go, I’ve got more calls to answer.” (I could hear the phone ringing off the hook in the background).
About a half hour after all that, we got another automated call from the same emergency service with the same caution about staying inside, but referring to a shooting in the Truckee area!
I hope this emergency system doesn’t turn out to be a modern day version of crying wolf.