Cognition Issue 5

Advanced Courier - adequacy not excellence
By now you've probably heard of the unfair working conditions at Advanced Courier. If you haven't, here it goes: the few remaining bike messengers left from before teh Special T/Advanced conversion got their commission cut to 47%, the unfortunate new hirees are getting 40%! They charge 20% interest on paycheck advances, the messengers aren't even allowed inside to use the bathroom, some tags get the messengers as little as $0.79, and several people got fired in one month for questioning these practices. There are also reports of illegal harrassement from Michael Talmadge, owner of Advanced, towards certain employees. The petition from the employees that merely asked for a more detailed payout sheet so they could see how their paychek got added up was completely denied. So we, the SFBMA, and the ILWU decided to take action.
Aside from putting pressure on the owner, we have made a campaign of visiting their top clients and informing them of how poorly their delivery servie treats their messengers. We got a variety of responses ranging from a law firm that said not only would they write a letter of complaint to Advanced, but might just drop 'em - to a multi-national corporation that met us with a squad of security guards. During one of these actions the owner of Advanced tried to approach one of his employees we were talking with and was quickly told to make himself scarce by Peter Olney, an ILWU organizer, because that is illegal to do while they are talking to union organizers. The owner of Special T tried to sic a lawyer on us, and was pounded by our lawyers from the ILWU. At any rate, they're starting to feel the heat but so far haven't changed much except acting a little "friendlier" towards some of their messengers. So it's time to "advance" our methods. Not only are they treating their employees lousy, but their abominably low tag prices are helping prevent all of ours from rising. -BC


Letter to Tom Finley, DMS-RMS
Dear Tom,
Thank you for hosting the UPG meeting last Monday. While SFBMA beleives the UPG is an important issue that still needs specific attention, we feel that all parties are in danger of getting away from the larger issue of improving pay and working standards in the Messenger Industry.
The discussion at last Monday's meeting from both sides seemed to center on "how to divide the pie" rather than increasing the size of the pie. When increasing the size of the "pie" was discussed it was only with the perspective of increasing the number of clients. While we understand and do not dispute the desire of a company to gain more clients, we know that this alone will not solve messenger income problems. To service more clients more messengers will need to be hired. This means that the division of the pie issue will not go away.
The basic problem in our industry is the embarrassingly low price of tags. Solve this problem and we solve both problems of the pie. Size increases and fair division becomes easier for all. Size does matter.
SFBMA beleives that to increase tag prices - and thus improve income and standards - all parties need to be discussing all issues, not just the UPG. To move to that goal SFBMA states that the messengers themselves must be represented in the industry and that industry leaders such as DMS/RMS must take the neccessary initial bold steps toward increase of income and improvement of working standards.Regarding the issue of representation we beleive that most DMS/RMS employees desire to be represented by the ILWU and we call upon you to respond to the ILWU's letter from Peter Olney regarding this issue.
Thank you for your consideration.
Affirmed by majority of SFBMA officers and by the majority of those in attendance at our general meeting of August 20, 1998.
Sincerely,
Bok Choy, Executive Director
Howard Williams, President


Get Involved!
"Those SFBMA guys are their own little clique," my co-worker told me today. I immediately protested, but, actually, I've felt the same way myself many times... and I'm on the phreeking board of directors! So we've obviously suffered from a communication problem. People had the same criticism of CMWC '96 - that only a few central people knew what was going on - but the SFBMA can't be this way. It's our labor union, representing and affecting all messengers, and traditionally, all San Francisco messengers automatically belonged to the SFBMA.
I can confidently say that there is no elitist agenda to exclude any messengers from the SFBMA, but there is a profound lack of communication. And bringing this fact up at a meeting guarantees you get volunteered for flyering. In reality, our chosen representatives are completely overworked and overcommitted, so they have yet to acquire the superhuman powers to delegate tasks and disseminate information to everyone on the road. But you know... officers were chosen to fill the neccessary requirements to get non-profit status, not to lead us around by the nose and tell us what we should do. It's a challenge when you don't know what exactly is going on, but you can find your own projects to work on within the SFBMA or contact any of the organizers, who are more than willing to help.
What the union is trying to acheive, every one of us can benefit from. Getting the bottom feeders to raise their rates allows other companies to follow suit. Suing one company for their illegal activities - radio rental, sexual harrassment, racial discrimination, not paying overtime, illegal pay cuts, etc - will keep all the other companies on their toes. So if your name isn't Puck and you plan on being a messenger longer than week, it behooves you to help out! And unfortunately, if you wait until you get a personal gold-embossed invitation to join, you might be waiting a while... That doesn't mean your participation isn't needed!
First step is to get and SFBMA card, if you don't have one. Dues are $5 a month, and if you can't pay every month, that's not a big issue. Talk to Joel Metz, Lance Schoeder, Howard Williams or Bok Choy Matthewson. If you don't know these people, ask anyone whose butt is glued to the Wall and they'll know. Besides SFBMA cards, you also have the option of signing an ILWU card, show up at the office and ask to do so.
Attend the general meetings! Every other Thursday, 7-8:30pm (i.e. a finite amount of time). If you can't make every one, show up when you can, or ask someone who did what happenned. Or ask me for a copy of the minutes (which I guess I'll record until our lovely secretary joins us again). I'm America, I work @ Western Attorney Services, 75 Columbia, the door to the left of the main Western office, leave a note there. Also you can check out Joel's SFBMA website: http://www.messengers.org/sfbma/ for info.
Communicate with your co-workers. Every company should have one shop steward, who can stay clued into what's going on and disseminate the information to their co-workers. Jump on other companies' radios.
Visit the office. SFBMA office is second floor, 255 9th St. Howard says he'l be there most days after work; go drink a beer with him and find out what's up.
Plan a fund raiser. Anyone can do this, channel the spirit of Don King and throw together a benefit concert, an alley cat race, a raffle, cakewalk, whatever. Or print up shirts, stickers, hats ala Nosmo King. Help out with folks already planning fundraisers, such as Abdul, who is putting together an SFBMA brunch at the end of the month.
Put together flyers or hand them out for any upcoming SFBMA events. Write or draw for Cognition or Ignition or help distribute these newsletters.
Represent the SFBMA in community events. The House of Unamerican Activities wants messengers involved in "Fuck Work Day" (www.unamerican.com). Volunteers are needed for Bike Rodeo, teaching bike safety to kids. Messengers are asked to join the protest against the Marriott Hotel in solidarity with the Hotel & Restaurant Workers.
Participate in SFBMA actions, like the recent ones publicizing Advanced's mistreatment of their workers. If you think of creative guerilla tactics, proposa those at meetings.
Keep the faith!
You don't have to sacrifice much of your free time to get involved. A little bit of effort and whatever talents you have could definitely make a difference. Just realize that this really is YOUR union and be active in deciding its course and acheiving its goals. -A


Thoughts on the CWMC
In a few days Labor Day weekend will be here and many of us from SFBMA will be joining hundreds of messengers from at least four continents in Washington, DC for the Cycle Messenger World Championships (CMWC). This year promises to be another interesting event. For only the second time the CMWC is being held in the USA and for only the second time it's being held in a "small" city (less than one million persons). We all know which great city was first in both of those categories.
This year BMAs are expected to make a bigger impact than in the past. Several North American BMAs will be well represented for the first time, while BMAs with previous CMWC experience (like us) will again be there.
Proposing for host city 2000 (suceeding Zurich for 1999) will be Melbourne, Amsterdam and Denver.
An issue already being discussed is whether BMAs should form into an International Federation of Bike Messenger Associations (IFBMA). Most people I've talked to like the idea. I hope it will be discussed at future SFBMA meetings.
Another issue is what should be the purposes of our SFBMA? I beleive we should continue to pursue two major goals: one economic and one ecological. We should advocate for more income and benefits for ourselves and we should fight for a cleaner and more natural world.
Thinking of the "the worlds" and a federation of BMAs has made me consider our whole role in this global economy. Messengers who have travelled all over the world have noticed that in more and more countries once called "customary" or "poor" or both, the materialistic side of the "American Dream" has made strong footholds in their economy. Corporatism becomes stronger over democracy and faith while sinking individuals and homegrown forms of capitalism.
Meanwhile back here in the good ol' US of A, our economy has become hostage more and more to selling that wrong part of the "American Dream" overseas. So when foreing societies react negatively to mass social-economic engineering by corporatists influence (as they recently have in East Asia and Russia), it affects us - whether we like it or not. If we are not careful we will suffer another Great Depression.
Right about now you may be thinking "So what the #$!@%@#$%# does that have to do with being a messenger and #$@!#$@?" I know I've been thinking that.
I think most of us agree that we messengers do MORE than our share of walking this corporatist dinosaur and that we've BEEN walking the #@$#@%# dinosaur for a LONG time. Now if we're gonna be walking this dinosaur any longer then one thing that has got to happen to make survival POSSIBLE for our children. And that one neccessary thing is that this dinosaur MUST die. I think a slow and gradual death would be peaceful and better for all people but the more inevitable we make this dinosaur's extinction the BETTER. Early in this century, farsighted people sich as HG Wells knew the dino would EAT us if we didn't kill it first!
We messengers deserve a better standard of living while we all figure out how to kill this dinosaur. But if we gain more income i beleive we have a stronger duty to our children to clean up and change this dirty and anti-natural system.
No other people know transportation issues as well as we do... and nobody knows the Auto(mobile)cracy better than we do. - Howard Williams