San Buno Leaders Support $1.6 Billion Penalty for PG&E in Explosion and Records Case

San Bruno officials announced today they support a proposed increased $1.6 billion penalty and fine for PG&E Co. for a fatal 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno and record-keeping violations.

The proposed larger punishment was announced March 13 by the California Public Utilities Commission’s new president, Michael Picker.

A previous proposal issued by two PUC administrative law judges in September recommended a $1.4 billion penalty and fine. Picker’s proposal would allocate the penalty money differently, devoting more to safety improvements rather than the state’s general fund.

The commission is currently due to consider the proposals at its April 9 meeting in San Francisco, although the case could be postponed.

Eight people died in San Bruno and 66 others were injured on Sept. 9, 2010, in an explosion and fire that followed the rupture of a high-pressure PG&E natural gas pipeline that had a defective seam weld and was incorrectly listed in the utility’s records as seamless.

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane applauded the strengthened penalty proposal at a news conference outside the PUC’s headquarters in San Francisco.

“While PG&E can never undo this terrible tragedy, or bring back the innocent lives lost, we believe this historic penalty sends the right message that gross negligence, corruption and profits-over-safety will no longer be tolerated,” Ruane said.

The mayor said Picker’s proposal to devote more of the funds to pipeline safety “is a key distinction we strongly support.”

City officials also submitted written comments to the commission this morning supporting Picker’s penalty plan.

City Manager Connie Jackson said the comment document was submitted to the PUC electronically, but said that because the agency was closed for Cesar Chavez Day, San Bruno’s lawyers will check on Wednesday to make sure the filing was recorded.

Wednesday is the deadline for interested parties to submit comments on the proposal by Picker, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in December to replace retiring commission President Michael Peevey.

The two alternate PUC proposals were issued in a coordinated case that combines three investigations into the San Bruno explosion, PG&E record-keeping practices and its pipeline operations in locations with high population density.

Picker’s plan would have the utility’s shareholders pay for $850 million in pipeline safety improvements, a $300 million fine allocated to the state’s general fund, a $400 million bill credit for PG&E customers and $50 million for other improvements.

The proposal by administrative law judges Mark Wetzell and Amy Yip-Kikugawa would include the $400 million bill credit, the $50 million for previously identified improvements and a $950 million fine payable to the state’s general fund.

While supporting the proposed larger penalty, San Bruno officials said in their filing today that they also want the appointment of an independent monitor, the establishment of a pipeline safety trust and reimbursement for the city’s legal fees.

The proposals will be considered by four of the commission’s five members at the April 9 meeting. Commissioner Michel Florio recused himself from the case in October after emails came to light that allegedly showed him engage in back-channel communications with PG&E officials.

Peevey, who announced his retirement in October, and his then-chief of staff were also alleged to have participated in improper private communications with PG&E officials on regulatory matters.

In September, PG&E fired three executives who participated in the email exchanges.

United Farm Workers Union Express Support of Farm Workers Contracts in Ca. and Mexico.

United Farm Workers of America President Arturo Rodriguez and members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors gathered with dozens of farm workers employed by Central Valley grower Gerawan Farming to celebrate the birthday of civil rights activist Cesar Chavez this afternoon in San Francisco and to demand that their employer obey California law and respect workers’ contracts.

Rodriguez has led the United Farm Workers of America, which was founded by Cesar Chavez in 1962, since Chavez’ death in 1993.

According to Rodriguez, Gerawan workers have a contract and said that Gerawan Farming must implement it. He said the UFW, “will keep fighting for that contract” until it is in place.

Supervisors David Campos, John Avalos and Jane Kim spoke with the farm workers outside City Hall this afternoon and told them that the City of San Francisco, along with the state of California, is taking a stand for the rights of farm workers everywhere.

The board of supervisors voted unanimously today on a resolution supporting Gerawan farm workers, their right to be represented by the United Farm Workers and urging Gerawan Farming to implement the terms of their contract.

“We know when we come to San Francisco we won’t be alone,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said today that California has led the way and must continue to lead the way in improving working conditions for agriculture workers.

Ofelia Reyes, a 46-year-old fruit picker who lives in Fresno, came to the rally today to shed light on injustices and demand Gerawan Farming to honor the contract.

Reyes said she has worked at Gerawan Farming for 14 years and is a single mother raising five children.

Reyes, who picks and cleans produce for Gerawan Farming from April to November each year, said she is not allowed to work during the pruning season because she is female.

“Yes, I am upset,” Reyes said through a translator. She explained that pruning is an easy job that she is more than willing to do, but that her company won’t let her.

Reyes said that because she is unable to work during the winter pruning season for Gerawan, she went to another company to pick oranges during the winter.

Rodriguez said today that it’s important to note that female farm workers in the U.S. are still facing gender discrimination and sexual harassment and that the UFW is committed to protecting them.

Rodriguez said he, and the UFW, stand in solidarity not only with Gerawan farm workers and their struggles, but also with produce pickers who are making “between $7 and $8 a day” in Baja California, Mexico who have gone on strike to demand fairer wages.

He said that while the strike in Mexico is not yet impacting produce prices in the U.S., the prices could certainly rise if it continues.

Supervisor Kim said it’s important to remember that American consumers rely on farm workers both in California and in Mexico for their food and should not take them for granted.

“They give us a healthy life and we need to give them a healthy life,” Kim said. “$7 to $8 a day, that is basically slavery.”

However, Fresno-based Gerawan Farming, a family-owned company which grows Prima-brand apricots, nectarines, peaches and grapes, prides itself on offering farm workers the industry’s highest wages.

Gerawan, which has been in operation since 1938 and now employs roughly 5,000 people, offers a base pay of $11 per hour to workers, according to its website.

Dan Gerawan, co-owner of Gerawan Farming, said in a video posted on the company’s website that while Gerawan agricultural workers voted in favor of representation by the UFW in 1990, the UFW participated in one bargaining session and then “disappeared” for 20 years.

California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board certified the UFW as the exclusive bargaining representative of Gerawan workers in 1992.

According to Dan Gerawan, the UFW resurfaced in 2012 demanding bargaining sessions begin again and requiring employees to pay 3 percent of their wages in union dues or else be fired.

Gerawan said the UFW asked California’s ALRB to create and impose a contract between Gerawan Farming and its employees.

According to Gerawan, the company’s employees attempted to decertify UFW and were allowed by the ALRB to hold an election, but said since the November 2013 election, the ALRB has not allowed the votes to be counted.

According to the ALRB, both the UFW and Gerawan Farming “allege that misconduct occurred that affected the results of the election.”

While both blamed the other of misconduct, Gerawan also alleged that the ALRB’s regional staff “mishandled the election.”

UFW officials say that the contract, issued in 2013 by a neutral mediator and approved by the state, is valid and must be implemented.

On its website Gerawan Farming said, “The next step is to release the ballots, count the votes, and determine if our employees want union representation. The ALRB must get out of the way and allow that democratic process to occur.”

Sylvia Torres-Guillen, the ALRB’s general counsel, issued a complaint in September 2014 alleging that Gerawan committed unfair labor practices, “Unlawfully Undermined the UFW’s Status as the Bargaining Agent” and supported the decertification efforts.

According to the UFW, Gerawan “is avoiding millions of dollars in pay increases and other benefits by refusing to honor the union contract.”

Police Searching for Man who Assaulted Taxi Driver with a Padlock

Police are looking for a male suspect who assaulted a taxi driver
with a padlock early Tuesday morning outside San Francisco’s Civic Center
BART station, a police spokeswoman said today.

The 34-year-old taxi driver pulled over to drop off a male passenger at the BART station at the intersection of Seventh and Market streets when the passenger struck him multiple times with a metal padlock, according to San Francisco police spokeswoman Officer Grace Gatpandan.

A video of the assault was recorded on the cab’s dashboard camera and uploaded onto YouTube today by the victim’s friend, Gatpandan said.

The taxi driver’s friend notes that the suspect mentioned to the driver that he lives within 10 blocks of the Fruitvale BART station.

The assault occurred at about 12:05 a.m. and police arrived at the scene shortly afterward. Before officers arrived, the suspect fled from the vehicle and headed into the BART station.

BART police were notified but the suspect was not located. Police are reviewing BART surveillance cameras for information on the suspect.

Gatpandan said the suspect, described as a light-skinned man in his early to mid 20s, was last seen wearing a light-colored T-shirt and blue jeans. He is described as standing 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighing about 145 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

The victim, who was struck by the padlock at least two times, was treated by paramedics at the scene and released, Gatpandan said.

Anyone with any information about the identity of the suspect is encouraged to contact police at (415) 553-0123 or may text an anonymous tip to 847411 with “SFPD” followed by the message.

News Roundup Via Bay City News