We think residents of the Turlock Irrigation District are primarily concerned about how much they pay for electricity and the cost and availability of water for farmers.
On the surface, those issues are being discussed by challengers to two TID board incumbents whose terms are up this year. But scratch a little below the surface, and we see candidacies motivated by labor issues.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 would like to gain seats on the TID board – as it did on the Merced Irrigation District board – to try to improve its chances at the bargaining table.
IBEW has been in contentious negotiations with the TID over a contract that expired in December 2011. Last fall, TID linemen staged a blue-flu type sickout, refusing to respond to calls one weekend and leaving almost 50 customers without power for the better part of two days.
The TID board responded by contracting with an outside firm, American Site Builders, to provide a full crew for transmission and distribution work. That unionized crew is guaranteed to be available for emergency responses. According to a TID official, there has not been a repeat of the blue flu since.
There is not a pattern of union-management conflict in the TID. Well over half of the 450 employees are represented by the TID Employees Association, which has an active contract. IBEW Local 1245 represents about 40 line workers and supervisors.
Joe Alamo, who is finishing up his first term on the board, is being challenged by Daniel Agundez, who is retired from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. It is shaping up as an expensive as well as heated contest.
Alamo, a Fulkerth Road dairyman, had received slightly more than $25,000 in campaign contributions as of Sept. 21, much of it coming in $1,000 chunks from fellow farmers.
Agundez has a much smaller treasury – about $4,820 as of Sept. 21, which included a $1,200 contribution to himself. Since then, he picked up a $1,500 contribution from IBEW 1245 and $1,162 from Tony Rojas, a consultant for the union.
Agundez is not only a newcomer to running for office but also a newcomer to caring about who serves in office. He was not registered to vote until Aug. 9, the deadline to file to run. (For sake of comparison, Alamo has voted in 11 of the last 14 elections.)
We have no problem with labor-friendly candidates, if they are well informed on the issues and appear able to make tough decisions. During our editorial board meeting with the candidates, it was clear that Agundez has not been following issues such as the long discussion about the TID making Tuolumne River water available to the cities for urban use.
Their disparate views were evident in their responses to our question about how they would grade the current TID leadership. Alamo said an A; Agundez said an F. We would argue that the TID has being doing pretty well and give the leadership a B.
Like Alamo, Ron Macedo was first elected to the TID board in 2009. He is being challenged by Darrel Monroe, who worked for the district for 23 years.
As a matter of principle, we have reservations about former employees serving on the elected boards of the agencies where they once worked. Too often they are friends with remaining employees and are unable to make the transition from worker to policy- and decision-maker.
In Monroe’s case, our concern is exacerbated by the fact that while he collects retirement and retiree medical benefits, he was fired from the TID on May 15, 2012, upon the recommendation of the general manager and an advisory arbitrator. Macedo was among the four directors voting for the termination.
Monroe’s resentment surfaced at a recent TID board meeting. According to a news story on the Turlock City News website, Monroe called the TID’s general manager a liar and stormed out, returning later.
As would be expected of incumbents, Alamo and Macedo are informed about the complex issues, especially regarding water supply and water rights. They’ve also shown themselves able to work effectively as part of a five-member board that doesn’t always agree but is able to collaborate.
We strongly recommend Alamo and Macedo for the TID board.