Pam Drake, director of the Lakeshore Business Improvement District, was in her office last week when she ran afoul of Waste Management’s signature gatherers.
She went outside to see for herself when she heard there were petitioners at Trader Joe’s and setting up tables around the Lakeshore and Lake Merritt area.
“They had signs saying that the petition was to lower garbage rates, and people were go going up and signing,” she said.
“If you said no or argued, they ran after you, harassed you or took a picture of you,” she said. They followed one woman, Drake said, photographing the woman’s license plate. Numerous people said they were followed, harassed or intimidated.
“I said to someone who was signing the petition, ‘Don’t sign, because they’re lying to you,” Drake said. Several signature gatherers responded: “No, you’re a liar!” She said.
“They told me to go away three times. I said, ‘You get to put your table here, and I get to stand here,’ and then one man came up and pushed me away,” which is assault, she said.
The signature gatherers had their petitions clipped together so Drake could not read the text, and she had to argue with them for a while to actually read the petition, she said.
Drake’s experiences on Lakeshore Avenue are typical of what residents have been reporting all over the city. A number of residents having been arguing with the signature gatherers, who reportedly are being paid $2 a signature or up to $6 per signer on the three related petitions.
In charge of the operation is political consultant Larry Tramutola, paid by Waste Management to run its campaign.
Some residents, infuriated by Tramutola’s and Waste Management’s tactics, have been circulating their own flyers and gone online to use social media to respond to what they consider a corporate disinformation campaign.
“We are taking our case to the streets of Oakland,” wrote Barry Skolnick, area vice president of Northern California-Nevada Waste Management in an email memo dated Sept. 2.
Preying on racial and anti-immigrant hostilities, one petitioner asked, “Do you know that CWS is owned by someone from Vietnam?” Another petitioner told a man in front of the Oakland YMCA that he should sign to support Waste Management, an American owned company, instead of CWS, which was owned by people who are Chinese.
Responding to Waste Management, CWS began to put people out on Oakland streets last Saturday, said Claude Everhart, who is handling communications for CWS.
“We got 100 people out (Wednesday), he said. “ At a lot of places, when we show up, they leave. We are getting out with leaflets and signs, and we’re asking people to check out our website: www.truthaboutoaklandtrash.com.”
“They’re trying to do a shock and awe campaign on us. This is like an old-time union fight in Chicago. They’re hiring thugs to take away people’s democratic rights,” Everhart said.
“We’re hearing that people are finding Waste Management’s representatives shameful and disgusting, and they’re (angry) that people would try to insult their intelligence,” he said.
“If people have already signed, they’re asking us more and more how they can take their names off the petition,” Everhart said, adding that CWS is circulating a form on the streets and on its website that people can sign and return to the city if they want to take their names off the petition.
When asked about petitioners’ lies and bullying, Tramutola, Waste Management’s political strategist, denied that he had told anyone to misrepresent the petition or create signs saying that the petition would reduce trash rates.
“If (we have) knowledge of someone not being accurate, we have taken action to correct that,” he said. “All we can do is correct any incident where that might have taken place.”
“Truth in some ways is in the eye of beholder, but to say that anyone out there is wrong is not right either, Tramutola said. “We believe that the facts speak to themselves.”
“If anyone put garbage at risk, it is City Council,” he said. “They ignored their staff recommendations. “The simple fact is that City Council has rushed the agreement through without public attention, and the process needs to be slowed down.”
Councilmembers accused staff of biasing reports and recommendations to favor Waste Management. Rather than being rushed, the contract was negotiated and discussed at City Council and at the Council Public Works committee many times.
Before they lost the contract, Waste Management criticized the process for taking too long.