Triple-Time Loser

The Bird rips the Republic and throws the book at West Phoenix

The hell with whistle-blowing! The Bird is squawking loud and clear on behalf of workers who toil on the printing presses at Phoenix Newspapers (the company responsible for inking the Arizona Republic), who are being forced to work triple shifts -- or else. That's almost 24 hours straight, folks. And while this snooty sparrow has no problem staying up all night provided there's lots of high-octane java involved, it can't imagine working around fast-moving machinery and thousand-pound reams of paper with no sleep.

But that's exactly what's expected of these poor printing-press slobs, according to Dave Halal, who works at the plant. Halal says that anyone refusing to work the triple shift is in deep bird doo; Halal tells The Bird that when he refused to work three shifts in a row, he was written up and fined $88. Hello!

So where's Halal's union in all this? Getting fired up for a fight? Nahhh. They're the ones fining him. Apparently, the local chapter of the Graphic Communications International Union is too busy watching out for its corporate interests to protect its members. What's more, Halal says, this sort of abuse is built into the contract created by his union.

"Contractually, we have to cover jobs, even if it entails working triple shifts," Halal confided to The Bird. "If you don't, you're in violation of your contract."

The Bird left several messages for Phoenix Newspapers, as well as the local chapter of the GCIU, with no return call. No surprise there -- the union leader was probably busy coming up with more ways to fine people for not agreeing to slavery.

Meantime, Halal is going to bat for himself. After he was fined three times for refusing to work a triple shift, he filed a claim with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. Halal discovered an OSHA provision that says that when there's an eminent threat in the workplace, a person is within his rights to refuse work. OSHA representative Jesus Madea confirms Halal's story and says his agency is currently conducting an investigation into the whole mess. And Madea corroborates a claim that the union is the one giving Halal and his co-workers a royal screwing. "The union has a contract with the Arizona Republic and they basically set the [employee work] schedule," Madea told The Bird. "So the union is the one perusing his case."

Now, this cynical chirper knows the days of worker solidarity have gone the way of the dodo, but a union protecting a company over the interests of its members? Sick!

"That's the real problem," Halal says. "The company is against me, and the union is against me."

The Bird thinks it's time for Halal to, as the saying goes, peddle his papers elsewhere.

If You Call This Living

Here's the latest scoop on local living conditions: "Where to live in Phoenix?" is no longer just a lament for newcomers horrified by our empty downtown and profusion of soulless neighborhoods. It's also a brand-new book.

And not just any book. In a candid conversation with this feathered flyer, Nexzus Publishing's own Andrew Waite (he's the publisher) and Scott C. Seckel (the "senior writer," which probably means he's really old but can modify nouns) explained that they hope their new tome, titled Where to Live in Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun, will be no less than the New Times of the paperback guidebook industry. You know what they're talking about: a publication that's ruthlessly honest, relentlessly cheeky, and slowly taking over the entire world, one city at a time.

The Phoenix book, as it turns out, is the first in a planned series to be published in the U.S. (The very first installation in the "Where to . . ." collection was focused on Auckland, which might explain why Nexzus, a local company, lists a New Zealand publisher as its partner on the project.) Waite says that he and his publishing people saw a clear need: While cities like Phoenix are crowded with new residents, we're a bit lacking in the Lonely Planet-style writing that provides the real find-the-best-neighborhood dirt. Which is, after all, what newbies really need, and not another cheesy city mag.

"This book is designed to keep people from making mistakes," Waite explains. "There's a huge readership of potential homeowners trying to figure out what's going on. We want to help them avoid a house in the wrong neighborhood, or one in an undesirable neighborhood."

The problem is that, like most cities, Phoenix has an entire industry devoted to selling naive out-of-towners on the wrong neighborhood. (They're called Realtors.) How better to keep all those transplants from snatching up good stuff than to sell them on the coolness of, say, Buckeye?

Sure enough, Seckel confirms, the publisher has registered a few complaints.

One of them, Seckel says, came from Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot, who was none too pleased with the write-up given to West Phoenix. (Simplot did not return calls for comment. Surprise!)

"I think he felt it was unfair," Seckel says, sounding a little less than sheepish. "Well, I drove to every single area we wrote about. I had to see what it looked like on the ground. With West Phoenix, I said, 'Oh my God,' and sped home."

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