Friday, April 25, 2008

Germs on the Side

Like many of you, I tend to spend at least some of my week eating lunch at my desk. It's quick and easy, and -- when the weather's lousy or the workload's heavy-- it makes a lot of sense. In fact, some of my colleagues know it's time for them to head out to lunch by listening for my crinkling brown paper bag.

But research makes me think it's smarter -- certainly healthier -- to head out to Ruby Tuesday's or the local diner come noontime.

According to a report in USA Weekend, there's 400 times more bacteria on the top of a desk than on a toilet seat (I can hear all those thirsty dogs laughing at us now). One factor for this distasteful revelation: More and more of us are spending increasing amounts of time at our workspace. And, cleaning personnel usually won't sanitize our desks, considering them personal space.

Here are some tips if you still plan to eat at your desk: Clean the desktop, phone and computer keyboard and mouse every day. Also, avoid water fountains, as viruses and bacteria love the moist, spit-laden environment.

Meanwhile, doctors and lawyers appear to have the cleanest and safest work environments while teachers harbor up to 20 times more bacteria per square inch than workers in other professions.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day

On this Earth Day, I am very proud of Schenectady's commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and the steps it's taken to becoming more environmentally responsible. But it's not just Schenectady -- cities and towns across the nation, actually across the globe, have stepped up to lead the fight against global warming.

According to our friends at Yahoo, here are the top 10 green-friendly U.S. cities:

The Top Ten Greenest US Cities
The SustainLane 2006 US city rankings of the 50 largest cities is the nation's most complete report card on urban sustainability. The rankings explain how people's quality of life and city economic and management preparedness are likely to fare in the face of an uncertain future.

Portland, OR - 85.08
San Francisco - 81.82
Seattle - 79.64
Chicago - 70.64
Oakland - 69.18
New York City - 68.20
Boston - 68.18
Philadelphia - 67.28
Denver - 66.72
Minneapolis - 66.60

For more, check out

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Quieting Quirini? Never!!

I admit it: Sometimes it was uncomfortable sitting at my City Council desk every other Monday evening, waiting to be bashed, basted and bullied by a wide assortment of local residents who exercised their right to do just that. It seems the "privilege of the floor" segments of the Schenectady City Council meetings are just about everyone's favorite blood sport -- to watch and to participate -- and, well, some speakers can make you squirm; at least on the inside.

But there was one semi-regular who was always welcome by me and my colleagues. Helen Quirini was -- and still is, from time to time -- one of the most thoughtful, respectful and respected citizens to grace the City Council chamber. When Helen makes her way to the microphone, you know she had something important to say and you had better listen. She may be there to take you to task -- though she's generous with compliments and encouragement as well -- but she does so in a manner that makes you think and consider -- or, maybe reconsider -- your position.

While Helen speaks on many different issues vital to our community, she is and will always be known first as a unionist who, whether in-service or retired, stands up for working people. Helen Quirini has had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many Schenectady families and we are all indebted.

The always-capable Sara Foss featured Helen in today's Sunday Gazette. It's a good piece of writing but no writer -- not Sara and certainly not me -- does Helen justice. Still, give it a read:

Longtime Labor Activist Keeps on with GE Fight

By Sara Foss
Sunday Gazette

SCHENECTADY — The General Electric workers trickled out of the factory Thursday and headed toward the island in front of the company’s sprawling Schenectady campus, where they joined the aging retirees who have rallied here for years. Holding signs that say “COLA NOW” and “Current Guaranteed Minimum Pensions,” the group marched slowly in a circle.

In the midst of the mostly male group was a short, white-haired woman who walks with a cane and wears a hearing aid; a poster that reads “GE — Bring Good Things to Pensioners — Please” hangs around her neck. The woman is 88-year-old Helen Quirini, and this was the 28th year she had organized the annual protest held at the Edison Avenue entrance to General Electric.
Quirini, who retired from General Electric in 1980 after working in the factory for decades, is a longtime labor activist who wears two hats: She is president of the retiree council for IUE-CWA Local 301, the union that represents workers at the GE plant in Schenectady, and also co-founded the GE Justice Fund, which coordinates 15 GE retiree councils throughout the country.

The fight continues
On Wednesday, Quirini will make her annual pilgrimage to GE’s annual shareholders’ meeting, to be held this year in Erie, Pa. There she will continue her fight for higher pensions for GE retirees; specifically, she’d like retirees to receive routine cost-of-living adjustments to their pensions, so their pensions can stay even with inflation, and the guaranteed minimum pension benefit of $34 per month per year of service.

“We have no cost of living,” Quirini said. “From the day you retire to then on in, you’re losing money.” She notes that retirees die ever year, and that the cost of a guaranteed minimum pension will diminish over time.

Last November, General Electric announced the first monthly pension increase in seven years, and retirees saw their monthly checks increase between 10 percent and 20 percent. After the increase, Quirini’s pension jumped from $736 a month to $866 a month, but she said a new retiree would receive more than $1,000 a month. About 15,000 GE retirees live in the Capital Region.

Union leaders described Quirini, who lives in Rotterdam, as fearless and persistent.

“She’s a great advocate for retirees,” said Bob Santamoor, chairman of the IUE-CWA conference board and the union’s lead negotiator. “She was one of the first women in the shop pushing for equal wages, and she’s never stopped pushing.”

“She seems to have more energy than most of us do,” said Local 301 president Jose Fernandez. “She’s respected by everyone. As a woman, she had to go through a lot of fights [at GE] to establish herself.”

From the beginning
Quirini started working at GE in 1939, at the age of 21. One of the first women hired by the company, she quickly discovered that women didn’t earn the same amount of money as men, even though they did the same work. Blacks, she learned, also suffered discrimination. For both groups, it was impossible to advance to top managerial positions.

Eventually, Quirini joined Local 301 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, becoming a shop steward and a board member. (In 1954, Local 301 workers voted to be represented by the International Union of Electrical Workers.) She held a variety of different jobs; when she retired, she was a production follower.

Quirini views her union work as a continuation of her fight against inequality. “I have all my life fought against discrimination,” she said, during an interview in her Rotterdam home. “I suffered as a woman at GE. As a woman you couldn’t go higher than a certain rate.”

Staying hopeful
Quirini has served as chair of the retirees council since 1982, and acknowledges that she’s growing a little fatigued. “We’re getting tired of demonstrating against the company, and we’re not getting very far,” she said.

But it’s not a fight she plans to quit, unless she gets what she wants.

“This is our 28th annual demonstration,” Quirini said. “You’d think the company would say hey and settle. I’m hopeful. … If I wasn’t hopeful, I wouldn’t have demonstrations.”

Not everyone shares Quirini’s hope.

“It’s a very tough fight, and one I don’t know if we can ever win,” Santamoor said. “To Helen’s credit, she organizes this every year. If you don’t keep asking for something, you’re never going to get it.”

General Electric’s pension fund is about $55.5 billion, and the retirees estimate that it has a $17 billion surplus. The fund has been funded solely by GE workers for about two decades and only pays employees hired before 2003.

“They’re just sitting on this big fund,” Quirini said. “It’s greed. Our capitalist system, to operate, is going to have to share with the people. People in power don’t give a damn about the little people.”

General Electric did not return a call for comment.

Santamoor said he worries about what will happen after Quirini dies.

“Who’s going to take over and continue this fight?” Santamoor said. “It’s becoming harder and harder to get retirees organized. Every year the numbers become smaller. Many people die off.”
At the rally on Thursday, Quirini watched the GE workers walk toward the island to join the retirees after punching for lunch, a smile on her face.

“You see the guys coming out from the shop?” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful? Many of my retirees can’t walk.”

“I’ve said that as long as there is breath in my body, I will fight any injustice,” Quirini said. “I don’t believe in the word never.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stealing Time

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I find blogging on a regular basis -- really the only way to blog -- is a challenge. Not because I don't enjoy it; I do. But there's always something else, something seemingly more pressing, to do.

We live in a busy world. Work, kids, friends -- yes, even blogging -- demand our time and attention. My blogging guru, Drew McLellan, a marketing expert from Iowa, recently posted some suggestions about how he manages to find extra time ... in some of the strangest places:

Things have been a little busy lately. We just launched a huge campaign for a client (had to go from creative concept to on the air in 34 days), I've had this little thing called Blogger Social going on and then there's Age of Conversation '08.

Many of you have e-mailed or tweeted, wondering how I've been juggling it all. Truth is ... like all of you, sometimes I think I can't possibly shoehorn one more thought into the day. But somehow, we all do.

Time is the scarce commodity today. I think it goes beyond the new, leaner organizational structure. Much of the blame should be aimed at our pagers, phones, PDAs, and people "buzzing" into our day and not only taking up time but also continually breaking our ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

Even when things aren't so crazy (when is that again?), sometimes we need to carve out some time to think, write, be creative or power through a project. Here are some thoughts for shutting down the buzz so you can concentrate:

Plane ride for one. One of the best things about flying is that no one can reach you. Peace and quiet. So turn off all electronic devices and close the "cabin" door and just work in solitude. If you explain what you're doing in advance, no one will begrudge you a little alone time.

Play hide n' seek. Why is it that when you are feeling absolutely under the gun, your co-worker has a weekend she just has to tell you about? If you have a colleague who's out or a vacant conference room, these make for great hiding places. When you're not where you belong, people assume you're just not around.

Get out. It's difficult to be strategic or creative when you are sitting in the same place, looking at the same wall, day after day. When you have big picture planning to do, grab your team and get out of the office. Find a coffee shop, park, or other haunt that you can just escape the daily grind and let your mind run free.

As marketers, we're forced to be creative on demand. Sometimes you have to give yourself a little edge to get the job done.

Check out Drew's blog at It's always a good read, even if you're not in the communications/marketing field.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taking a Bite of the Big Apple

My job has brought me to Manhattan for much of this week; hence, few new posts. It's a lot of work during the day and a lot of fun at night. This city truly has some of the best restaurants in the world and places to go, people to see at all hours. Talk about sensory overload!

The highlight so far? Gerald Clayton -- a young, jazz pianist appearing late nights at "Dizzy's" at Lincoln Center. Dizzy's is a remarkable room, with great acoustics and a breathtaking view of Central Park. And, speaking of breathtaking: Clayton just might be the second coming of Bill Evans. Playing with a stand-up bass and drums, his set was short but his abilities seemed to have no end.

Gerald Clayton ... remember that name jazz fans!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brewster Out

My wife and I just returned from another weekend in one of our very favorite places on earth -- Cazenovia, New York. It's a picturesque, historic village on Route 20, just west of Syracuse.We've been visiting there a few times a year for most of our nearly 30-year marriage; long weekends to refresh ourselves and enjoy the small-town charm.

From the very beginning, our Cazenovia destination was the beautiful and hospitable Brewster Inn, standing stately on the shores of Cazenovia Lake and just a short walk from the village's restaurants, shops and churches.

Not that we left the grounds of the Brewster all that often. We quite literally fell in love with the Inn and it certainly didn't hurt that it can boast one of the very best high-end restaurants in the Northeast.

So, when our youngest son, Tim, came home from a college fair at Schenectady High School three years ago and said he was interested in Cazenovia College, we were encouraging. Very encouraging. Visions of frequent Brewster visits for "Parents Weekends," spring baseball (Tim's a pitcher for the Wildcats these days) and other school functions immediately came to mind. Sure, Cazenovia College's academic reputation, financial package and impressive faculty-to-student ratio were factors in choosing a Caz education but the prospect of more time at the Brewster Inn was what sold us!

Tim's probably a bit sick of his parents popping in and finding excuses, as we've taken full advantage of the locale. Two hours away and we were in our upstate heaven. Oh yeah, we got to visit our son too.

We always make sure to see our son play baseball as often as possible and, as soon as the Cazenovia College schedule is out, we make plans and book accomodations whenever and wherever it makes sense. Of course, if the Brewster had a room available, that was our first choice.

But, unfortunately, that's past tense. The Caz games for an early-spring weekend were snowed out last March (upstate New York baseball seasons are notoriously short, as you might expect). I reluctantly called the Brewster to cancel my reservations. It was a Tuesday. We were supposed to arrive on a Saturday. "Can't do it," the friendly young desk clerk said. Brewster Inn policy requires a one-week cancellation notice, otherwise there's a penalty of one's night's stay -- in this case, more than $200.

OK. May I speak to the manager/owner, who always pleasantly acknowledged our stay either as we checked in or as we waited for our table in the restaurant? I was told he'd call. He didn't.

I wrote a letter to the owner, suggesting that as a long-time customer -- someone who had, over the years, brought along guests and who had recommended the Brewster Inn and restaurant to dozens of friends and colleagues -- the penalty might be forgiven. After all, we were being victimized by the weather; we would be back soon and often, I promised, but that particular weekend no longer worked.

Still, no response. Well, except for the Visa bill that arrived several weeks later displaying the charge for the room that we never used.

Clearly, a policy is a policy and it's every business owner's right to impose a policy that works best for him or her. And the money's not the issue, though it's a tall price to pay not to rent a room, even at a place as nice as the Brewster. My problem is the complete disregard and disrespect for good and loyal customers. Good business and common courtesy would have warranted a polite call or letter explaining that the Inn's policy could not be changed ... not for anyone.

"But we do hope you and your wife will continue to enjoy the Brewster Inn." Or: "Please let me buy you dessert the next time you're here."

Those would have been totally appropriate and welcome responses.

Instead, nothing. And our days as guests and diners at the Brewster Inn have come to a close. Fortunately, there are other fine establishments in Cazenovia -- the Brae Loch Inn is our new favorite -- and we still enjoy our trips to the village.

But there will always be a cloud of disappointment over those visits. A cloud that could have been vanquished with a call or letter.

Really, pretty easy. And really, pretty sad.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Short Takes ...

Work unfinished ... As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's murder -- and an opportunity to look at what he stood for -- it's makes one proud to embrace a political process that is giving us an African American and a woman as legitimate candidates for the presidency of this nation. How far have we come! Certainly, there's much more work to do to achieve the equity that we need but Dr. King must be proud as he looks down on us. ... What were they thinking? ... Those Union College football players who chose to party on the front lawn in Schenectady's Union Triangle neighborhood!? The newspapers and the City Council had the city's "grouper law" front and center and these young men made a tremendous error in judgement by going public with the fact that they are, in fact, not the good neighbors City Hall had thought them to be. Stay inside and shut up! ... Bad brew ... So sorry to read that the Night Sky Cafe on lower Union Street has closed. I had stopped by a couple times for a quick cup of coffee; I can't say I was one of the regulars on which The Daily Gazette focused in its recent coverage of the closing. But, having tried to make a go of it with my Ground Up Cafe on Upper Union Street a decade ago, I do know that it's difficult -- and frustrating -- work. But all is not lost in Schenectady's gourmet coffee biz: Ambitions on Jay Street appears to be doing a bang-up business and the Moon and River Cafe in the Stockade keeps brewing. There's no such thing as too much good coffee so here's hoping both establishments find continued success.