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News briefs 10.02.02 

The early worm and his Bird

During the week, Tom Pethic is a substance abuse counselor on the adolescent team at the Brighton outpatient branch of Park Ridge Chemical Dependency Services. But every Sunday, from 6 to 11 a.m., you'll find him behind the microphone as host of Artistry in Jazz, one of the finest programs on the local radio dial. This month, Pethic celebrates his 20th year as a jazz DJ at WGMC (90.1 and 105.1 FM).

            Pethic's interest in jazz began at age 13, when his parents took him to the Top of the Plaza to hear the Modern Jazz Quartet and the Count Basie Orchestra. But, he says, "I was not ready to digest the music." As a teenager he started listening to Journey into Jazz with Ann Piccolo on WGMC. That led to hanging out at Foggy's Notion, the Portside Lounge, and the Stone Street Pub, where he'd hear top local players like Joe Romano, Barry Keiner, Vinnie Ruggerio, and Joe Locke.

            "That's where I truly digested jazz," says Pethic.

            He began to listen religiously to Will Moyle's jazz show on WXXI and soon found himself seeking out WGMC's Public Relations director. "I told her I would kill for my own radio show. I guess she didn't want anyone to get hurt. I was on the air in six months." The show's title came from a Stan Kenton album.

            Pethic goes beyond merely spinning discs. Every Sunday at 8 a.m. he does a segment called Reflections of a Standard, where he plays 10 versions of the same song, ending with his favorite. "It's almost like a trance, the song never ends." At 10 a.m. he welcomes a special guest DJ.

            This Saturday, October 5, Pethic celebrates 20 years by adding another show from 6 to 10 a.m. Pethic, who plays the alto saxophone, will play an hour of Charlie Parker's music every Saturday in a segment called The Early Worm Gets the Bird.

Ron Netsky

Decade of indecision

"Hell no, we won't go; the Guild is here to stay!" chanted dozens of members and supporters of Newspaper Guild Local 17, which represents Democrat & Chronicle reporters. (Some notables were on hand, too, including State Assemblymember Susan John and Rochester Labor Council head Jim Bertolone.) The September 25 rally, held in front of the Blue Cross Arena across the street from the D&C offices, telegraphed a message to corporate leaders: "Ten years without a contract" is unacceptable.

            Yes, it's been 10 years since Local 17 began what a Guild news release called "the start of its fight for survival" as a viable union. And 10 years during which Gannett, according to the release, "closed one paper entirely [the late Times-Union] and greatly reduced the staff, resources, and space devoted to news in Rochester's remaining daily newspaper."

            Still, the rally was a celebration --- of Local 17's endurance. "It's been a very odd process," says Local 17 president Steve Orr. Management, he says, put a "union-busting contract" on the table years ago. Moreover, he says, members expected management to seek decertification disbanding the union at some point. Absent an agreement, Orr says, management has largely observed the terms of the contract that expired a decade ago. But real issues remain, like pay, which Local 17 members say is too low (see the Guild website,, for national comparisons).

            Local 17's critique goes deeper than contract language. The union charges that nationwide, Gannett has sought ever-higher profit margins --- sometimes nearly 50 percent --- at workers' expense. A handout at the rally poked serious fun at this: "In between feasting on profits, Gannett executives have traveled the vast reach of their media empire, trying to break the spine of any unions that forced them to consider the public good and the well-being of workers. And they've been largely successful."

            "Frankly," says Democrat and Chronicle spokesperson Thomas Flynn, "the Guild membership should look to its own leadership" for reasons the talks have stalled. There are also some particular "sticking points," he says. He declines to specify them.

            But is Gannett a unionbuster? Flynn brings it back to the local situation; he says the Democrat and Chronicle is "autonomous" as it negotiates with Local 17.

Talking health

Management and union negotiators have come down to the wire, or beyond, at the University of Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital.

            Around 1,000 members of SEIU 1199Upstate --- medical technicians, surgical support assistants, dietary and housekeeping workers, and others --- are covered by a single labor contract with the area's largest medical center. They've been working without a contract since June 1. (The old contract has been extended while talks continue.)

            On August 13, hundreds of workers rallied outside the hospital to protest what they thought was a low-ball offer: less than one percent increases in wages and benefits over two years, according to the union. Worse, as talks drag on, the union's benefits fund gets more and more depleted, said union vice president Bruce Popper.

            The big item is health insurance, Popper and others said. SEIU members' health benefits come not from UR's self-insurance program (Aetna) but from the 1199 National Benefit Fund. Per contract, Strong pays into this fund; the union wants the UR to pay more so the fund can keep providing full family coverage without an employee contribution, as it has for years. Strong thinks differently.

            Maybe by the time you read this there'll be a breakthrough in negotiations. But on September 30, the union filed formal notice that it could call a strike, picket, or other job action in mid-October. Strong responded it would be ready with "contingency staffing plans."

            At an in-house discussion last week, union organizers and members laid their case on the table. "The hospital has put us in an untenable position," said Popper. Further delays, he said, could eventually exhaust the National Benefit Fund. "We're not going to [let them] do that," he said.

            Lillian Wright, who works in a neo-natal unit and has two kids in college, made it personal: "If they take away my [family] health care benefits, there's no way I can live the way I'm living now." Other members pointed to what they thought was a tacit agreement: full health coverage would compensate somewhat for pay averaging only around $10 an hour.

            Strong's public response has been concise. "We're beginning to make progress on the economic and non-economic issues," said spokesperson Teri D'Agostino. She declined to give details of the wage-and-benefits package Strong has put on the table. But D'Agostino disputed the union's version of history. She said, for example, that union negotiators were complaining about losses to the National Benefit Fund back before June 1.

Mad props

Governor George Pataki blew off the annual meeting of the Associated Press Association on September 26 to hang with his new homey, LL Cool J, in the Big Apple. Mr. J endorsed P. Takky that day, and the 34-year-old rapper-actor-entrepreneur said Master P. will be the recipient of the first vote he casts in his life.

            Pataki may have been trying to counter his Democratic challenger, Carl McCall, who picked up the endorsement of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs a day earlier, and who also has the support of Run-D.M.C.'s Russell Simmons. Simmons' Phat Farm clothing label will sell its Phat Classic kicks as the "Carl McCall running shoe" this month.

            Golisano's campaign has yet to announce any endorsements by hip-hop stars, but more surprisingly, Marijuana Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Leighton says he's also without rap backing. Getting rap endorsements "is not high up on the agenda," Leighton says.


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