Monday, December 13, 2004

Advocacy Journalism Again

I have previously written about advocacy journalism, a term often used as a slur against commentators with a perceived liberal bias. I showed how this is often a black kettle, a charge that would be more true if applied to the person making it. Failing to investigate vote fraud in 2000 and 2004, leaving unanswered 9/11 questions unasked, and fueling war fever over a fake threat - this corporate media approach, clearly manipulating the public into believing an unreal reality - this is advocacy journalism.

My intention is not just to redefine advocacy journalism, but also to reclaim the phrase and set an example for embodying it. The GuvWurld blog has been largely, though not exclusively, devoted to promoting peaceful revolution via the No Confidence Movement. With the blog increasingly recognized as a legitimate form of journalism, its potential value is realized by bloggers using their medium explicitly for the education and social organizing involved in the pursuit of broad-based political change. Publicly stated goals separate advocacy journalists from those with a mere bias; an advocacy journalist is successful to the extent that such goals are achieved.

When I presented the No Confidence Resolution to the Eureka City Council last Tuesday, a man named Logan Dake also addressed the Council. I was stunned by Logan's situation and approached him to learn more. Based just on his brief testimony, I told Logan I wanted to help him, and to do so specifically by telling his story as an advocacy journalist. The goal is to get his job back and stop the City of Eureka from throwing away a lot of money on lawsuits they will likely lose.

Logan's story starts back in 1986, working part-time for the City of Eureka doing seasonal maintenance work. He tended to the grounds and facilities at public parks, ball fields and cemeteries. "I wanted to mow the ball fields," Logan told me last Thursday as we met at the Eureka library. There was a lead maintenance position Logan coveted and it looked like it would be a while before the position would open up.

By 1996 Logan was frustrated waiting for advancement. He left the employ of the City and drove a truck for four years. In 2000, he was hired back by the City, an act Logan called "very rare." He attributes his welcome back to his positive prior track record, and that he had been somewhat groomed as the replacement for the retiring Sylvester Barnes. Logan showed me a signed offer letter detailing terms of his new position. There was no mention of drug testing.

Logan is a properly accredited medical marijuana patient by virtue of local Humboldt County and the State of California law. In 1989 Logan injured his rotator cuff while working for the City. For a time, he received disability and he ultimately had surgery. Years later and suffering from arthritis, Logan's doctor approved his marijuana use as a counterbalance to percodan - by alternating weeks he keeps from becoming dependent on either.

Logan presented me with performance evaluations rating him "highly competent." There were no disciplinary actions on his record. It would seem his private life and medical condition were not impacting his job, nor was anyone making an issue about it. Then Logan was abruptly terminated on August 10, 2004. This is where the story smacks of injustice and calls for the journalist as advocate.

A new City requirement, not made known to Logan when he signed up for his job, called for obtaining a class B DOT license. Part of getting this license is passing a drug test. Upon learning of this, Logan informed his superiors about his pot use. He was instructed to take his drug test anyway. Upon failing, Logan was let go from his job with the City.

There are two really big kicks in the gut still to come. First, as I saw in a publicly available City "memorandum of understanding," Sylvester Barnes had been granted a waiver from obtaining his class B DOT license on the medical grounds that his high blood pressure would prevent him from passing the physical. Logan was treated differently.

Also consider this procedural irony. In obtaining a class B DOT license, the drug test is supposed to be given at the end, not the beginning of the licensing sequence. The failed drug test that cost Logan his job was incorrectly administered at the start. He has met the rest of the requirements and obtained the license, without a job at which to use it.

The Labor Commission has assigned Logan case #99-09970. Apparently they only press cases when the grounds for a suit are really strong. Logan met with a deputy commissioner who gave him a standard off-the-counter form saying:
Laws enforced by the Labor Commissioner that specifically prohibit discrimination and retaliation against employees and job applicants are:
    (1) Labor Code Section 96(k)
For loss of wages as the result of a failure to hire, or demotion, suspension, or discharge from employment because of engaging in lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer's premises
Likewise, the CA Department of Fair Employment and Housing has taken an interest in Logan's case, scheduling him for an interview on 12/14. On both fronts it would seem the City of Eureka will be defending untenable positions. Destined to waste taxpayer money, the better option is for the City to restore Logan's job, with back pay, and to craft a policy that acknowledges an exception for medical marijuana users otherwise required to take drug tests.



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