Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chicago Union Operators Strike Comes to an End

After nearly three weeks without setting foot on a jobsite for any reason other than to picket, the Operators have reached an agreement with MARBA.  Tentatively speaking anyway.  According to Local 150:
Tonight, after more than 9 hours of negotiations, a tentative agreement was reached between Local 150 and the Mid America Regional Bargaining Association (MARBA). The agreement calls for 3.25 percent annual increases for three years on the District 1, 2 and 3 Heavy Highway and Underground and Building Agreements.

Ratification is scheduled for this Wednesday.
The Operators have been leading the charge in this strike, and, as they usually do, the Laborers are likely to follow.  Let's get back to work!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mel Gibson vs. Blagojevich

Mel Gibson, meet Rod Blagojevich.  The phone call match made in heaven, brought to you by Roe & Roeper at WLS.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chicago Union Operators & Laborers Strike Continues

On June 30th, the Chicago area's Union Operators and Laborers went on strike, after working for a month without a contract in place.  Those of us in the business of managing projects staffed by union companies found ourselves in a "hurry up and wait" situation.  Progress on active projects all over the city has stopped, with few notable exceptions.  The expansion at Children's Memorial Hospital continues, as the hospital has agreed to pay the workers what they are asking for, in order to keep the project moving.  Other projects continue as well, notably Ogden School on the City's north side.  Such projects are either fully or in part funded by federal monies, which precludes them from be affected by the local strike.

When the strike began on June 30th, I opined that
The timing of the strike leaves me with the slim hope that this is a strong-arm "let's wreck the 4th of July weekend" kind of move. The news from Crain's, however, leaves me with a feeling of mild dread that this may linger for some time.
News shortly after the strike began was that the unions and the negotiating entity for contractors, the Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association, or MARBA, would be going back to the negotiating table on July 7th, with additional meetings scheduled, if necessary, for the 9th and the 12th.  This strengthened my hope that the differences would be resolved shortly.
The negotiating days of the 7th, 9th and 12th have come and gone, with both parties still at stalemate.  News on the negotiations is slim, with updates available at the Operators Union website, Local 150.  Local 150 is, in fact, controlling the narrative of these negotiations, while MARBA remains silent.  After negotiations have gone on with no resolution, James M. Sweeney, President-Business Manager for Local 150, released the following statement
“The Unions and employers did not reach an agreement tonight, and we are tremendously disappointed at the employers’ lack of urgency, refusing to meet with us until Monday, July 19th. Once again, we made ourselves available around the clock, and the employers are stalling. They do not seem to understand that there are workers and contractors whose survival hinges upon these negotiations.

“It is becoming more apparent that MARBA’s intent is likely not only to starve out our members, but also to starve out the smaller contractors within their own ranks. Many of the contractors who have assigned their bargaining rights to MARBA are very small businesses, and delaying negotiations for another week puts those contractors’ survival in jeopardy.

“Local 150 will continue to provide for our members during this strike. Local 150’s Food Bank provides boxes of food for 1,000 families a week and we have subsidized COBRA payments for 1,200 families who have lost their healthcare coverage. Our International Union has pledged its financial backing to support striking members and their families. If the employers think they are going to starve out Local 150, they are sorely mistaken. We will continue to provide for our members as we always have until the employers.
“We are not negotiating for wages, but to protect our healthcare and benefits. Despite the fact that benefit actuaries gave employer representatives the very same cost figures that we have for our funds last Friday, the employers’ latest proposal still would not cover costs, and would require significant reductions in wages or benefits. MARBA says that they are not looking to make cuts, but that is exactly what their proposal would do.
“Local 150 has committed $150 million of our own money to make up the gap in our funds caused by a nearly 40 percent reduction in hours worked. We are asking the employers to share the burden with us. All of these funds are jointly administered by labor and management, so the employers have a responsibility to maintain the health of these funds as well.

“Local 150 and other area Unions have reached contract settlements over the past few weeks for significantly more than what Local 150 is asking for here, and far more than what is being offered by employers, often with little or nothing going to wages. MARBA claims that our proposals are not realistic, but these types of packages have very recently been agreed upon in, Peoria, the Quad Cities, Northwest Indiana and throughout the construction industry in Northern Illinois.

“If the employers do not believe that we understand the current economy, we invite them to come hand out boxes of food to our members one night. Our members have been hit as hard as anyone by this recession, but we will not give away everything we have bargained for because the employers don’t want to negotiate with us.”

Further, according to People's World Blog, Local 150 is controlling the narrative with both talk radio and the newspapers in Chicago.
Ed Maher, spokesman for Local 150 told Chicago Public Radio that union members want to get back to work as soon as possible.

"But they don't want to do it at the cost of 30 years worth of bargaining," he said. "No body likes this strike. A strike is never a first option. But we're certainly not going to give up our health care without a fight, and certainly not to an organization that isn't willing to negotiate with us."
MARBA, on the other hand, appears entirely oblivious of the existence of any form of media.  They have not had spokespeople on the radio, or interviewing with newspapers.  The only correspondence I've come across from them is again at People's World Blog:
MARBA representatives say they are not seeking to reduce wages and are surprised that the workers would strike during the midst of an unstable economy. The construction companies argue that funds are tight because of the economic downturn.
After significant initial public bafflement and outrage at this strike, MARBA is beginning to lose ground in the court of public opinion.  The two parties don't appear to be significantly far off from reaching an agreement, but if MARBA continues to allow Local 150 to control 100% of the public narrative, it seems as if MARBA will lose more than just a bit of the bargaining position this current economy has afforded them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Security and Rationality

I was reading this post a little while ago and it got me thinking about security as a general concept. You see, at least twice this summer I have been locked out of an apartment I was staying at. First was my parent's place in the suburbs (low crime) and second was my brother's in the city (moderate crime). Both situations were caused by a simple lapse in attention and both were equally solved by a simple application of attention and rational thought. Said application took the form of a plastic credit card. The ability to 'card into' a locked door was one I picked up during my first freshman year in college when being locked out of one's dorm was not only embarrassing and a hassle, but would cost $35 the first time and escalate from there. The skill took all of 5 minutes to learn and changed the way I thought about our society's illusionary grasp of security and safety.

I say illusory because we don't really think about how secure our homes or offices really are. We lock our doors at night in good faith that a few cm of steel inside a wooden frame will protect us and our stuff from anyone who might try to harm either. However when we are locked out we call a locksmith who comes to our homes and bypasses that piece of steel in a matter of minutes. Many of us don't make the connection that the lock is simply a psychological and time deterrent. Because the simple fact is that no matter how good the lock or how secure the code, someone with sufficient skills and time will be able to break it.

Similar thoughts occur to me on airplanes (which is why I don't like to fly much). That no matter how secure the pilot's door is, someone with sufficient motive and planning has no need to even see the pilots to decide the plane's course. One simply starts killing passengers and flight crew while leaving the intercom open. "mr pilot, i have 75 bullets, you have 33 passengers. lets go to cuba. ok now 74 and 32. 73 and 31. i can go all day, its pretty hard to miss in here." Eventually the pilot will submit rather than feel responsible for the deaths of his entire manifest.

But I'm straying. The point is that if someone has sufficient motivation, time and skills, they can get through just about any defense you might erect - be it physical or digital. Now how this applies to Blizzard trying to create a social network and farm free marketing data can be pretty easily guessed at by anyone familiar with any online discussion anywhere. The idea that people can actually find you and that there are repercussions to what one says and does on the internet is a generally foreign concept to most online denizens, but foreign as it may be it can and has happened. The issue seems to be that Blizzard has simply made the trick of finding a face to fit the online avatar all that much easier.

Of course my initial reaction to the news was the same as most people. A mix between 'wow, good thing I don't use those forums' and 'well shit, this is going to end well'. However I have since realized that I was falling for my own BS. Just like when I lock my door at night, I was assuming before this all happened that my Identity was separate from my avatar on a game that I PAY FOR WITH A CREDIT CARD. In fact the majority of people who play any Blizzard game pay for it with a credit card that has not only their real identity linked to it, but their home address! To think that 'flamers' and 'trolls' have not had possible access to your ID before now is to ignore the locksmith next door. To worry that they have easier access to your ID now is to miss the point. The internet is not a nice place, nor is the world. If you are flamed you can either flame back or turn the other cheek. One escalates into things like this, the other ends the argument.

I hate to again be playing devil's advocate but fretting over blizzard's latest marketing ploy and trying to reverse it will not make you more safe or more anonymous. There is no such thing as an anonymous individual in our society and there has not been for decades. No matter how 'off the grid' you live or how many smurf accounts you use behind however many proxies you can still be found. The greatest hacker that ever lived was arrested, and so was Ted Kaczynski.

If you are obnoxious enough online, someone will take the time to find you in real life. your identity is not secure, neither is your house, nor your plane. So just take the risk and act like an adult. Chances are no one will do anything terrible to you, and if they do they were going to regardless of your precautions, it would just take them longer and they'd be more pissed at you by the time they got to you.

And i'm not even going to touch the fact that a social network based on a game that has built-in hatred and rivalry at its CORE is just about the worst idea since someone hired a Motown band to preform at the Clan's annual national rally.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A View from Grant Park

I maintain (politics aside) that Chicago is the greatest city in the world to be in, in the summer.  I joke with my friends from time to time that summers here are the drug that makes the winters here worth it.  We just need to hold out for that one more fix of summer, and everything will be OK.  A view like this after a few hours of Steve Miller holding down the fort at the Taste of Chicago only serves to back me up.

God says hello.