June 26, 2008

California High Speed Rail

Here's a page that has some very cool conceptual animations of the proposed California High Speed Rail system. I think we are certainly ripe for this as a state. Gas is becoming ridiculously expensive and airlines are cutting back on flights and increasing fares due to fuel prices. I think it's definitely an idea whose time is long overdue.

June 25, 2008

Not Just Gas Prices

I had a meeting with the business agent from my local, one of the other shop stewards and the company lawyer where I work. We were discussing the issue of our health and welfare fund and how to keep it in the black. By August the reserve that is used to cover the cost of our healthcare subscription will have run out. In order to maintain coverage we can do one of two things: pay the $350 a month increase out of our own pocket or go to a plan with less coverage and only pay $240 more a month. Pick your poison.

My personal preference is to maintain the higher level of coverage. It's a big hit on the wallet, yes. At this stage of life it's essential. When I was younger I would always complain of how much of our raise we would divert to the health and welfare fund. I rarely got so much as a cold. "I want that money in my pocket", I would say. The old-timers that were near retirement were bitterly opposed to keeping the raise and accepting less coverage. Twenty years later, I understand why.

One of the main reasons I declined the job offer I received from the Union Pacific Railroad back in May '08 was the costs related health care coverage. They talked about $20 doctor co-pays and $10 prescriptions. That alone would have a huge impact on my wage. I would have been taking a pay cut if I was hired and on top of that I would have the huge increase in helthcare costs. The math didn't figure in my favor. It would have been a real hardship to have accepted the job and left my current one.

I don't know the exact number of contractual raises where we have diverted most or all of it to the health and welfare fund but I can say it's been most of the raises in the last four years. The membership meetings that we have when we vote on whether to divert funds or not are always contentious. The young guys only think about the paycheck. Not that us old-timers don't, it's just that the young guys are not thinking about the benefits of the incredibly good healthcare coverage we have. Our business agent said that the only group in the local to still be on Plan 1A (the cadillac plan) is Young's Market Co. Young's is a statewide operation, essentially a monopoly on liquor distribution.

The bottom line is I'm going to have to hope that the other old-timers here will show up to the membership meeting and opt to keep the current plan. Personally, I'm willing to bear that extra cost because I believe that the plan with lesser coverage, in the long run, would lead to much higher out of pocket expenses. I would love to be proven wrong!

On a happier note....gas just went down four cents a gallon to $4.45 yesterday!

June 24, 2008

Pretty cool little video entry into an Ikea commercial contest.

A Country of Rocket Scientists!

I was beginning to wonder when a group of really intelligent people were going to surface and stake their claim as the most advanced civilization on the planet. The Netherlands can finally make that claim. My hat is off to Petra Faile for a stunning display of knowledge in the fields of tectonic plate movement and paleontology!

June 10, 2008

Hockey Fans Aren't Like Other Fans

Hired For My Dream Job

Well, sort of.

(edit 7/22/08) The title link takes you to an article by a fellow blogger, railfan, photographer and general rabel rouser that has been in the same situation regarding jobs.

For roughly the last 10 months I have rekindled my interest in all things railroads. Around February I had actually put in an application at the Union Pacific Railroad website. There were openings for "Train Crew Service" in Watsonville, Milpitas and Oakland. I had applied for all three to see what would transpire. I received an invitation to a reading comprehension test in April. I took the test scoring eighty five percent. It was a twenty question test to be completed in thirty minutes. Essentially you read from the freight handlers manual and then chose the appropriate answer. It was an interesting experience since this was a completely foreign area of knowledge for me.

A couple of weeks after I took the test I received an invitation to a hiring session at the Santa Cruz/Scott's Valley Hilton. They gave the lowdown on what the job was all about. Even though I had applied for specific locations, the job actually was a position in the Roseville service area. The geographic points of this service area stretched from Klamath at the Oregon border on the north side down to San Luis Obispo in the south and east to Winnemucca, Nevada. Once your training was over after about 8 weeks, you "mark up". You then bid with your seniority on open positions. Since you have little to no seniority, you may wind up bidding on a slot in Winnemucca, Nevada. You have 48 hours to report (on your own dime, I might add) to the location and find a place to stay. Admittedly, our HR rep doing the information session said a lot of folks sleep in their cars when they first arrive at their new location. However, there is a caveat. You could be on the way to this Winnemucca location and your cell phone could ring. It's the Crewmaster telling you you've been bumped off your newlty aquired position. Time to find a new job to bid on. You find an open shift in Bakersfield. Nine hours into your drive to get there, your phone rings again. Guess what? You've been bumped again. The process starts over. To top things off, you haven't even worked yet so you are not getting paid for any of this. The example is a worst case scenario but it could happen.

There is also a chance that once your training is over you could be furloughed because there are no open positions available. Accarding to the HR rep, thirty percent of the Union Pacific workforce is retiring in the next five years. That would seem to be good odds for moving up in seniority rather quickly. That doesn't mean that the service area you apply for has openings already. They may be hiring to prepare for future retirements.

The discussion also involved benefits. They spoke of co-pays for medical and prescriptions. Currently mine are infinitesmal compared to the described benefits of UP. The kicker was the vacation accrual. After two years you get a week. Nothing out of the ordinary. Four years, two weeks. Nine years, three weeks. Seventeen years for four weeks. Last but not least, twenty-five years years before you get five weeks. This may sound like a good deal to some. To me it was the straw that broke the camels back. I thought long and hard about taking a pay cut. I figured I could do it. I thought about the co-pays for doctor visits and prescriptions. That would hurt a lot. The vacation schedule put a nail in the coffin of my dream job. With the inconvieniences and disruptions in your life and that of your family, the adjustment I would have to make to accept my dream job offer was more than I could handle.

At least I can say I got hired for my dream job! I'll have to keep my part-time "job" as a foamer for now!

June 09, 2008

Lawsuits Are The Answer

It always amazes me that when trouble strikes the first on the scene are the lawyers. We wonder why goods and services are so expensive. The million dollar scalding cup of coffee incident at McDonald's is a good example.

This article on CalTrain having found some hairline cracks near the wheel assemblies of their passenger cars amazes me. The fourth sentence of the article talks about CalTrain officials "looking into their legal options after the flaws were discovered". Talk of a lawsuit is thrown around before any mention of discussions with the manufacturer of the equipment. The assumption is there was negligence involved in these cracks appearing in the wheel assemblies? Any reputable manufacturer would be anxious to correct a problem with their equipment to maintain their customers' satisfaction.

My hope is that the politicians running The Peninsula Joint Powers Board are not looking to help bridge the gap in their upcoming 2009 budget shortfall. They are politicians so I'm not holding my breath.