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Archive for April, 2008

Letter to the Governor and the general public about life at UNM

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 28, 2008

April 28, 2008

I see where things are going, and I’m not real happy about it, but they’re going to go where they go. I’m right in the middle of negotiations with my union local and the University. We’re not a typical sort of trade union; hell, most jobs in the USA aren’t trades anymore. Most jobs are turning into service jobs of one kind or another. A lot of our people are administrative assistants, (which is the new title for secretaries everywhere), or advisers or other desk jockeys. We live and work in a college town with a military base and a weapons lab and a big University. Even Enron has a chip plant nearby. The Sandia (Watermelon) and Manzano (Apple) Mountains are full of nuclear missiles. The anti-war people keep trying to get the city council to force the government to admit that the missiles are there, and that they are a target and hazard that we should be prepared for. There is the hope that we can get rid of those someday.

Our local is at the University.  Education is our mission, and every department has a mission statement, just like the corporations and their imitators all over the country. Useless things, mission statements. Hardly anyone reads ‘em, and they don’t reflect anything except the way the grossly overpaid administrators felt the day of the retreat when they wrote ‘em.

We do our jobs. We put up with asinine supervisors and managers who have or are working on their business degrees, and hope to make something more of themselves. They squeeze staff, push ‘em around, and then move on to their next position, a step up somewhere, with a fuller resume, and a recommendation or two. We remain here, and try to keep our jobs. Myself, I work in a DNA research lab, mostly running robot-like machines that manipulate DNA. It’s a living. I’m the President of the local, for the last four years, and I’m really tired of negotiations. We’ve done well for the staff here. We have to lobby the State every year for our raises, insurance and health benefits, because they control the purse strings. Negotiations are entirely dependent on what was appropriated before we even set negotiation ground rules, but we go through the motions anyway. We dick around with the contract every year, trying to improve on protections for staff, and make management more accountable. Sometimes we win a little, sometimes it’s a draw. But, every year the contract gets a little better, and we lose more members.

Everyone we represent by law isn’t a member, and they don’t have to be, to be protected by the contract or get the raise we negotiate. In fact, it’s rare that there’s much difference between the benefits of being a dues-paying member and a free rider. Usually, for staff we cover, it’s a clean shot at a certain raise percentage, while people outside of our representation get whatever their supervisors decide out of what funds are available, which can vary quite a bit.

So, one of our members has a problem with the way she was treated. She was getting pushed around and we fought back. She got the promotion she deserved, but a lousy performance review. These reviews don’t mean a whole lot, but it bothers people because they worry about the reviews being used against them. In this member’s case, she is being retaliated against for fighting for herself. She didn’t like her review, but we can respond to ratings and comments with our own comments before signing the damn things. I told her to go ahead and sign hers, and make all the comments she wanted. Her bosses sent the thing to the personnel department, excuse me, Human Resources department, and they sent it back because it was incomplete.

This is damn boring stuff, ain’t it?

Anywho, once it came back, the review was changed, comments were added, and then it was sent back to be put in her permanent record, and all of this after it had already been signed. Illegal, and even against University policy. Human Resources did nothing, and just assumed that the correct version is in this woman’s file, even though she told them it wasn’t. It seems a small matter. However, a contract is a contract, and just as our union contract has the force of law behind it, so does any other contract made in this country, or at least it used to. When you sign a document, it doesn’t get changed afterwards, or it’s no longer an accurate or legal document. Everything is on our side in this. Today, a group of three union officers went to HR to see the personnel files and were refused. HR has a 24-hour rule about access, and they didn’t know that, so they were pissed off. So far, they are no repercussions to the small-scale confrontation, but, like I said earlier, I have a bad sense about where this is going. We have already made it clear this could be a legal matter. The union officers, who are also the negotiating team, are pissed off, and HR is wanting to meet. Meanwhile we have to meet the same people in negotiations in a couple more days.

I’m so tired of all this. Important rights are at stake, but someone is going to lose a job here, maybe even me. I’m so tired of my job, and I seem to have few reasons to even stay around here. I wanted to retire in a few years, and try writing, or part-time work at least. Getting divorced took away my chance at retirement. It wasn’t my idea, but my ex got the house. I get to keep my retirement income if I ever retire, but it won’t be enough to buy a house, and I’m too old to take out a long-term mortgage anyway. My retirement income won’t even be enough to afford a nice place to live, so at the moment, I have no idea what kind of future to look for.

It’s so easy to push people around, even at what the right-wing nuts like to call a liberal university. There are good people here, and good ideas, but the place is being run as a business, and the management of the University see our union as an outside business muscling in on their territory. There is certainly a territorial fight over turf involved in negotiations every year. We feel like we win a little, but then we hear of managers pushing people around, telling them to quit if they don’t like it, and getting rid of people who actually understand how the ever-changing rules and regulations work. We have a new financial system that took years to put into place and tweak, and it forces people to conform to it, instead of being just a useful tool. The bureaucratic mind loves it, since they expect everything to fit under its umbrella, but there’s always something we can’t do, or must do because of the accounting software structure. Most of the admin assistants have been turned into part-time accountants, and are given purchasing cards that spell the end of their jobs if lost or not properly accounted for, even if no wrong doing occurs. It’s a funny place.

Our Governor gets to appoint the Regents, a medieval nomenclature for the political appointees who run this place. He ran for President of the United States. He knows a lot about international politics and is a skilled negotiator, but, really, he does not know what goes on at this university, except that tuition for students has to keep going up.

03/13/09 UPDATE: UNM’s faculty voted no confidence in UNM President Schmidly, Executive Vice President David Harris, and President of the Board of Regents Jamie Koch.  We’re still waiting to see what happens, as a new audit was also requested, but Governor Richardson visited campus and met with faculty.  Shortly afterwards, Jamie Koch stepped down as President of the Board.    Our Legislature is still in session, so we have yet to see if they will confirm Koch’s seat on the Board.  They still need to confirm the new President of the Board.  Meanwhile, the Board of Regents can’t meet, and UNM seems no worse for that.  Harris needs to go too.

Posted in Life, My Life, Random Thoughts, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

THE DAY I TURNED 50: Dad, a Cat, & Death

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 15, 2008


I awoke on my birthday
The day I turned 50
Cat asleep under the bed
I saw my father
Standing in the corner
Next to the open closet
I was surprised.
He was years dead.
I called to him
Asked him how he’d been
What he’d been doing
He smiled at me
The old superior smirk
He didn’t speak
Moved away quickly
Watching me watching him
Passing by.

I woke up again
Staring at the empty corner
The open closet door.
Under the bed the cat stirred.

I dreamt one morning
I held my cat on my lap
He’s dead too
Died that same month
The month I turned 50
I felt his purring weight
Knew he was dead
Two feet under
I spoke softly to him
Glad to see him
Felt the muscles rippling
Under striped orange fur.
He spoke to me
Said he was fine
The only thing was
He wished he’d lived
In the rain forest.
I didn’t think this strange
Even though his eyes
His eyes were blind
At least he had eyes now
They’d disappeared that day
That day he slept
On the bathroom floor
Trying to get up
His eyes were gunked shut
I tried to clean those eyes
But they were gone.
He went back to sleep
I held him felt him
Stroked him missed him.

He used to be my father’s cat.

Posted in family, Life, My Life, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Motorcycles and Old Trucks Are Like Cream and Sugar

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 10, 2008



I ride my bike to work every day, or, I should say, I used to ride it every day until it wouldn’t start anymore. I jumped it from a car battery – wouldn’t turn over. I checked fuses, charged the battery, checked the fuel line, and the spark plugs. Everything seems good, but it won’t start; it just grinds and wears the battery down, even the jumper battery. I replaced the starter solenoid – no luck. I jumped the solenoid across the terminals and the bike still just grinds, over and over, but real fast. Now it seems the starter button is dead too. I finally give up. I decide to take it to the best repairman in town. I have to schedule an appointment, and they squeeze me in as a favor, since I want to ride in the Ride-for-Kids that benefits pediatric brain tumor research and treatment and provides scholarships for the kids too. My step daughter went with me last year, and after all she went through with her brain tumor, I really look forward to her company.

I had to find a vehicle to get the bike to the cycle shop, as the shop doesn’t have a tow truck. My friend Mark always has his good old Dodge, and after helping him build his house, he always lets me borrow it anytime I need it. He’s like that anyway. He’d lend anyone anything, even money, although his newest wife ameliorates that a bit, I think. I called him from work, left a message on his cell phone, and I wasn’t expecting a quick reply, as he’s often busy or traveling. Amazingly, he called back in 20 minutes or so, from his plane. He had just turned his phone back on and got my message. Good timing. He was off to speak somewhere. I told him what I needed, and he apologized for being out of town, and that the truck was not available – it was at the airport. I was prepared to go get it, pay for it, and put it back before he returned until he said, “But! There is another option!” (He often speaks in exclamation points, and loudly, as he is hard of hearing these days.) He said he had just bought another old truck, a ’59 Ford. It was in the field behind his house. “It’s a little tricky,” he said. I might have to spray the carburetor in order to get it to start. He had a can of spray on the seat, and the key was in the ignition. 1959 ford

So, OK, I come home after work, eat dinner, and head over to his place. I unlock his gate with the hidden key, park my car and lock it inside his fenced yard. It had been raining heavily the day before. The field is muddy. I traipse though the sticky mud. I close the truck’s tailgate, noting that the bed is outlined in leftover manure, so I know what he uses it for. It doesn’t start right off. I spray the air intake, several short bursts, as it says on the can. I try again – it fires right up! It is a very old looking, beat-up truck. However, it has all its windows, and they aren’t even cracked, which is damn good, because I can’t get stopped for anything, as the truck isn’t registered yet. The seat is high. It is narrower than the original, and welded in place in the center of the floor, so I can’t move it up, and it’s a long reach to the pedels. It reminds me a lot of the ’51 Dodge-post-office-parcel-post truck I used to drive. In the darkness, I can’t tell how many speeds it has. The lights come on, but go off if I turn the knob too far. I don’t have instrument lights, which is why I can’t tell right off how many gears the truck has. I thought it had four gears, but I can’t find fourth by feel. I put it in the gear where 1st was in my ’51, and head out, shifting into what I think are second and third. At the first stop the engine revs really high. I hit the gas and it dies. I spray the intake again, and it restarts. Off I go down the road. Playing with the light switch, I notice that I can get the instrument lights on, but it’s a delicate balance between having all lights, having only headlights, or having only instrument lights.

At every stop the engine races like the timing must be way the hell up, or the carburetor wildly adjusted to keep it running. It takes a while to understand the damn thing. I finally get a rhythm going for stopping: push the clutch in- holding it with my left foot – then tapping the gas before braking. I make it home in one piece, without the engine dying again.

In the morning I move the truck around (after spraying the air intake). I notice that I have put the truck in second gear, where I thought first was. It is the simple H pattern, but my tired brain and bad memory forgot all about that. I think it starts alright in second because it revs so fast. I slide a board from a small grassy hillock onto the bed. The bike is heavy at 550 pounds, so pushing it up a ramp isn’t going to be easy. I push the bike up onto the grass and run it towards the truck, but a neighbor stops to help and we push it on fairly easily. I’m wired on coffee, because I thought it would be a major effort by myself. I tie the bike down, noticing, in the light of day, all the colors. One door is a turquoise green, a fender is pink. The roof of the cab is painted white with black, zebra-like stripes. The rest of the truck is a faded pale blue, where it isn’t rusted through. The moistened manure smells really fine. I’m surprised my neighbors didn’t torch it the minute they saw it in the parking lot.

The truck fires right up this time and runs much the same, except after a few miles there is a popping noise from the accelerator, and it is suddenly unstuck, and I don’t have to hit it anymore to get it unstuck. Linkage? Anyway, it runs fine, but I try not to stop with the bike in the back. When I see the sign for the motorcycle shop, it is beautiful. I have never been so happy to arrive there. It takes three of us to get the bike down, and I abandon it there. Carl, the best bike mechanic in the world, chats a bit. I tell him how I am hoping to take my step daughter on the Ride-For-Kids in ten days, and how happy I am that she is healthy again. Carl tells me about his wife Teresa, who had three surgeries on her ovaries, and how one operation left her bleeding internally, but she is much better now. His mother has also been operated on, and had her hips replaced. It is early in the shop. No one else has come in yet, and he is relaxed and calm. Later, people will be lined up, and the phone will not stop ringing all day. It rings now once, and he picks it up, but it is a fax coming in. I tell him how busy I am these days, with little time to work on the bike, and he tells me how busy his life is. He is in his church choir, and also plays drums for the church’s band, so he is often practicing. My step-daughter is in a similar sort of church herself. I am not religious, thank god.

A couple men show up outside the door, so I head out. I notice the CD on the truck seat. It is my Honda Magna 1993-1997 manual. I run it back inside to give to Carl, but he has already gone back into the shop. The men are explaining what they need to Carl’s substitute helper. I don’t know her, but with Teresa out, someone has to be up front to order parts and help customers. I hear her tell them that the earliest possible day she can fit them in is a month and ten days away! I am a very, very lucky man.

What kind of life would I have without motorcycles and old trucks?  It would be like drinking black coffee all the time just for the caffeine, without enjoying the drink.

Coffee in a white cup served on a saucer with stirring spoon.

That’s a cup of coffee.

Posted in coffee, family, humor, Life, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, Writing | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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