Tuesday, October 15, 2019

It's All Happening at the Zoo.... Not!

First, Marshall Ramsey somehow managed to offend a few people in a cartoon about the Jackson Zoo yesterday:

Some readers did not take too kindly to his artistic and editorial efforts.

 Second, Justin Vicory  reported in the Clarion-Ledger that zoo employees lost their health insurance and worker's compensation when they became "consultants":

The city has stepped in to hire the workers, a relief to many who were uncertain of the future. 

But now, another concern is front and center. 

The city's transition in management companies for the Jackson Zoo has left zoo employees, many who have worked there for dozens of years, without benefits or legal recourse in the event they are injured on the job.

Instead of being employees, all of the zoo workers are treated as "consultants" under independent contractor agreements with the city. The new arrangement went into effect Oct. 1 and is meant as a stop-gap measure until the city can reach an agreement with a new zoological management group....

 Records show 20 zoo workers signed "consultant service's" agreements with the city. Each contract spells out the expected work of the "consultant" and how much the city will pay them per hour, not to exceed 40 hours. The individual contracts spell out, for example, the pay of the zookeepers, which is between $12 and $12.50 an hour...

 However, since the workers are now independent contractors, they will no longer have benefits such as insurance, paid time off or retirement funds offered as part of their jobs. ...

The new contracts also include a disclaimer of any city liability in the event the contractor is injured while on the job, a potential problem for the zoo's eight zookeepers and animal supervisor, who deal with the animals daily.
Zoo workers are expected to regain full employee status under ZoOceanarium Group, but that could be a while since the company still has to obtain a federal license before they can exhibit animals, which could take several months....
Councilman Melvin Priester Jr., also an attorney, expressed some concern with the new contracts when city attorney James Anderson introduced the topic at a recent City Council meeting. 

"I have a number of concerns with this. I don’t think it's permissible for us to do this. I don't see how legally we can do a pure consulting agreement with, you know, a custodian, or a security officer or a train operator," Priester said.
Anderson said the legal department had reviewed state attorney general opinions and policy at the Department of Finance & Administration in choosing the worker contracts. His office concluded there is "a very broad view" of what kind of workers can be classified as consultants.  

Anderson said the workers are "specifically" being titled as consultants due to the specialized nature of the work at the zoo.

Labor and employment attorney Steve Cupp takes another view.

Cupp said the city can legally put zoo workers on a consultant basis on the short-term, "as a way to bridge the gap between contracts," but could face problems with federal labor laws if the contract period turns into several months.
He said it's unusual to take the independent contractor route when the city is expecting workers to perform the exact same duties as they did before with the same pay and no benefits. Rest of article.

Kingfish note: Closed zoo, no contract, no license, and plenty of egg on the faces of those in Jackson government.  A far cry when Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba thundered as Zeus  when he promised to kick out the Jackson Zoological Society 18 months ago when it voted to move the zoo.  Well, Zeus made a rather interesting comment in the article: 

 Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba lays the blame for zoo workers not having benefits at the feet of JZS, which he said is no longer fiscally solvent, and therefore responsible for the welfare of the workers, even though the city ended its contract with the nonprofit on Oct. 1.

Oh really? I've had it and am going to say something.  The former JZS employees do not lack employees because JZS is insolvent.  The city is the one that terminated the lease.  The city could have kicked out the Zooceanarium proposal since it has no USDA license and awarded the contract to JZS but chose not to do so.  If the lease was renewed, then JZS would have had part of its annual city appropriation and thus could have paid the employees their salaries and benefits.  Period.  However, Zeus has no need for simple economics or the truth.

It was the city who created part of this problem. The city issued an RFP for zoo management proposals.  The RFP did not include a requirement for USDA Class C licenses.    The JZS lease expired a year ago.  The city couldn't get its act together in issuing an RFP so it extended the lease by 90 days.  It couldn't score the proposals in a timely manner so it extended the lease another 90 days.  The lease was extended another 180 days as the city just couldn't seem to get around to negotiating a contract with Zooceanarium.

The state of limbo doomed what little remained of zoo finances.  Contributions and memberships went over the cliff.  Major fundraisers disappeared due to the withdrawal of traditional sponsors.  Attendance fell from 101,000 in 2017 to 73,000 in 2018 to 48,000 in 2019.  The lack of a license was not an issue until yours truly confronted city attorneys about it at a September meeting.  The same yours truly that discovered the misuse of state bond funds and reported it to the state.  But of course, it's all the Society's fault.  It must be so.  Zeus has spoken.

PS) One last thought.  I wonder how this screw the workers theme plays with his union brothers.  You know, the ones the Mayor marched with up at the Nissan plant.  Solidarity, anyone?


Anonymous said...

Very disappointed by the closing. Any suggestions for a location where spies like me can make drops and exchanges without being noticed?

Anonymous said...

Please educate me. What's offensive about the cartoon? The truth hurts?

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, Zooceanarium has NO EXPERIENCE operating zoos in the United States and I doubt they do in Dubai either despite BabyChok's boasts to the contrary. If Zooceanarium was actually operating zoos then they'd already have a license and if they truly had the institutional knowledge about operating zoos they would have, at the least, understood in advance that a license was required.

Hell, there isn't even a contract with Zooceanarium.

Anonymous said...

I think the only question is will it take 30, 60, or 90 days for the city to sell all of the animals.

Anonymous said...

Sad. But I'm afraid this may come to reality. The C-L story painted a grim outlook for the $12-$12.50 per hour zoo keepers being able to survive without benefits. They can't last forever on slave wages and Baby Choke ddoesn't seem to care or have a plan if these workers with their special knowledge of care and feeding depart. And, no, don't look for this "for profit" new management to aquire the permits anytime soon. This is going to b a public elations disaster.

Anonymous said...

The Zoo workers are in a tough spot. They're obviously hardworking, loyal and devoted to the animals and could find a job anywhere at the same or better pay in this economy. Who pays if one of them get mauled, bitten or otherwise injured on the job? I guess the have COBRA insurance but that runs out eventually. Who from the city could run down there and manage the place if half of them left? "Hey Billy, call down to the road department and send down a few guys to fill in. Don't leave any gates unlocked".

Anonymous said...

In this case, the city's incompetence is serendipitous - perfect timing to close the zoo permanently, find homes for the animals and focus on the core business of the city.

Cynical Sam said...

IRS rules prevail, and according to those rules I seriously doubt that they can legally be classified as contractors.

KF, take a look here: www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p15a.pdf

Cynical Sam said...

Notice that the wheels/tires are missing from the car in the cartoon? That is an accurate image of W. Jackson.

Anonymous said...

I would like a new ford pickup truck but can't afford it so I'm not buying a new Ford pickup truck. Same difference. The people that cant afford their water and electric bills cant help pay for a f*78ing zoo. Every business has a life span.

Anonymous said...

And the toilet that is Jackson swirling around again. So sad.

Anonymous said...

Zoo should have been moved to better area.

Anonymous said...

City "Administration" will handle this like they did the Public Library issue.

Anonymous said...

The reason the zoo isn't working is a simple three part answer.

#1-It's in a part of Jackson that continues to get worse every year. It's always discovering a new part of 'rock bottom.'
#2-The city isn't really trying anything like: an alternative entrance to the zoo, bulldozer therapy on the area around the zoo, or even paving the existing roads.
#3-City politicians are pandering to the residents of the city. Blame everyone else but themselves.

There's probably not enough money to move the zoo and KF has many times shown how an alternative route to the Zoo is viable-one in which you avoid all the bad crap.

But its seemingly all over now. I really doubt zookeeper is a 'hot' job market--the workers might be stuck here. It was probably a nice job a few years ago..

Anonymous said...

On the topic of workers comp insurance, if those "consultants" only work for them, show up and are told what to do by the zoo, and don't do any other zoological work, they will have a leg to stand on(literally and figuratively) if they are injured on the job. People think they can get around having to pay workers comp on their 1099 independent contractors until they sue for damages and people start looking into it. If they only work for you and you tell them how to go about their daily operations, they are your employee. Ask the state WC commission.

*all those in the construction business should take note.

Anonymous said...

Where is Humane Society, SPCA, PETA, etc.? This is horrible.

Anonymous said...

Another loss for the Magnolia State. When will the bleeding end?

Anonymous said...

So I wonder which dummy in City Hall approved the selection of this sketchy firm? BabyChok? Music Man Blaine? Parks and Wreck? Regardless, since the City isn’t interested in the most sensible solution - moving the zoo out of the war zone (because white folks would enjoy going again, I guess?), closing it altogether would be the best move.

Anonymous said...

I dont think the tires are supposed to be missing. Judging by the size that the wheel wells are drawn, I would assume the tires are tiny to exaggerate how treacherous the potholes are in Jackson.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when incompetent people who couldn't run a small business attempt to run a city.

We need the public works deficit to finally push the city into bankruptcy. That is the best outcome not only for Jackson, but also for the surrounding area that rises and falls together with the city. The court-appointed administrator will run the place better than this. Anything is better than this.

Anonymous said...

If one of these former Jackson Zoo employees should file for Unemployment Benefits, ( no matter the specific reason) . . . it will be very interesting to see how the State Employment Security Agency reacts to their revised status as "contract workers".

State/Federal laws, rules & regs are pretty cut and dry about what qualifies as contract labor/consultants.

A zoo employee doesn't meet such criteria.

But I doubt Zeus and his legal "dream team" even thought about that aspect.

Anonymous said...

How is the Hattiesburg Zoo doing? Why not donate the animals to them?

Kingfish said...

Read the comments at the Faceboook link.

Anonymous said...

The Facebook comments are really something else.

Gist- “All is well only temporary shut down. if they need insurance i’ll sell it to them. jackson has a zoo?”

Anonymous said...

The level of incompetence in Jackson is incredible. Shad White should produce an audit plus projections indicating future revenues vs. expenses. I would expect that the results would show that Jackson is technically insolvent without enormous tax increases.

Speed Coach said...

It must be great to be chased around the tiger cage, screaming, "But I'm just a consulllllltaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnttttt!!!!!"

ZUBer Human Resources Dept: "You say you lost an arm to a tiger attack. According to our records, just as in Uber "drivers", you aren't really an employee, so you'll have to sew that back on yourself or pay out of pocket. But we sincerely hope you are able to return to an exciting and rewarding career in an environment where people from every background can thrive. Let's make ZUber a better company—for our consultants and our customers. Have a ZUber Day!!!! And, next time, run in a serpentine fashion."

Anonymous said...

Kingfish is on some sort of Zoo-Board so we only get the tidbits of whatever he wants us to see. The place is doomed. Admit it, give away the animals and move on. We need another soup kitchen on that end of Capitol Street anyway.

Anonymous said...

Zoos are for kids. Kids are not safe at the Jackson Zoo. Close the zoo permanently and move the animals to a place where they can be exhibited humanely.

Anonymous said...

Many different points here to talk about all the party's failures:

1) the zoo employees/contractors are eligible for COBRA benefits, if they should so choose. Granted, they would have to pay for it, just as any other laid off employee of a firm, or a displaced worker due to bankruptcy of a firm would be entitled. And in this case, if the employees had not been laid off due to the zoo no longer having a lease, they would have been laid off due to the bankruptcy of the Society.

2) To say that this is entirely the fault of the city is just as false a narrative as Baby Chock's. The zoo society could not pay its bills for the past three or four months and the city had to bail them out. And without having misappropriated the state's bond dollars, they couldn't pay their operating bills for the last year. So the employees would have lost their benefits if the society had remained in place but the city did not bail them out (as they are probably going to do for the failing convention center as well.) So don't tell me that they would have been fine if the city had renewed the lease, because it is clear that those operating the zoo couldn't continue to pay the bills - including their salaries and benefits.

3) The new firm, zooWhover, doesn't have a license because they are issued on a site-by-site basis. To claim that they probably never had one, as said above, is not relevant, because they can't get one for this facility until the feds inspect the facility and approve it - all as has been reported in earlier posts on this site.

Don't know that they will ever get one for this site though since it needs major repairs, and nobody has the money to pay for the repairs. But that's another story - the fact that they didn't have one going into the deal isn't a problem. The fact that the city didn't realize it was going to be a problem and deal with it ahead of time is a problem and that fault lays solely at the feet of Baby Chock and his armpit, Dr. Blaine.

4) The city has no business maintaining a zoo in its current condition (both the city's condition and the zoo's condition). And moving it is not an option, and was only a pipe dream by some idiots in the society since they had no way to come up with the $75 million plus that it would take to move the zoo. Of course, they felt they could get their high-paid lobbyist Beth Clay to get them the money from taxpayers all over the state - from the legislature. But that kite would never fly - nobody in their right mind would give approval to such a ridiculous expenditure by the state.

5) These so-called contract workers would still be covered by the city's comp coverage, despite their attempt to claim differently. They would be deemed employees for purpose of the coverage no matter what legal language the eagle Anderson thinks he can incorporate into a document.

But - there is no reason that these individuals should become city employees either - the process for hiring them would be onerous to begin, and once the zooWonderland folks came into being, if they ever did, they would still be entitled to remain as a city employee if they so chose. More importantly, when the whole deal falls apart with these new folks, the employees would have to be kept on the payroll and put to work doing something else, like installing straight-piping for their neighbors who want to screw the city and all the rate-paying taxpayers.

Close the zoo. Transfer the animals to somewhere that they can be kept appropriately. Quit trying to claim that the Bold New Republic/City can maintain all its former nice features. Fix the basics first - and if that can be done (water/sewer/bridges/roads) without heading into bankruptcy, then start trying to right size the next set of cultural attractions.


Anonymous said...

Mayor Lumumba is the master of mediocrity. He talks a lot but says nothing. He gets even less accomplished. He wouldn’t survive mid level management at a Fortune 500 company. What has he accomplished? What aspect of city governance is running well? What’s his success rate for projects with outside contractors? Which projects have finished on time, on budget and in a satisfactory fashion? His law school’s graduates only pass the bar at a miserable 42% rate. Even a one L law student understands the due diligence required for the Zooquarium contract? They aren’t even accredited to perform the work. That’s pathetic. Did Jacksonians not get the gist of “The Emperors New Clothes”? He is clothed in fancy word gibberish -well intended maybe. List his successes for our city.

Anonymous said...

Marshall Ramsey always draws tiny wheels on vehicles. It’s a thing he’s done for years. His company is Tiny Wheels Media. It’s not a commentary on roads or anything else.

Anonymous said...

A third year law student could rip Jackson on IRS and Labors laws being spit on.

Anonymous said...

Some valid points have been made about the validity of contractor status for these workers. Whether they are given a work schedule, i.e., told when to show up to work, is another factor in determining if they are in fact employees. Of course, by the time this is actually litigated, it will (probably) no long be this administration's problem. (nod to Harvey Johnson).

Anonymous said...

Too bad they closed the Collins zoo behind the pink fence on Hwy 49... they would probably manage it better... lol

Anonymous said...

Why are the zoo employees being treated as second rate? They are the ONLY ones who know how to care for these animals. The right thing to do would be to put them on city payroll with benefits. Contract employees pay double FICA and no benefits. Why should they not get what the other city employees get?

City has a mess on its hands if they all leave. A nasty literal mess.

Anonymous said...

The Moose our front should have told you we are closed....

Anonymous said...

Jackson faces financial obligations it can’t meet.

The zoo is not feasible.

It’s a green thing.

Anonymous said...

My family and I have spent many a happy afternoon at the Jackson Zoo. It is just plain sad for the Zoo to be in the state it is. The two main things now are the welfare of the animals and the welfare of the loyal workers. I agree with the poster above regarding giving the animals to Hattiesburg if they can keep them and afford them. Otherwise let whatever zoo that wants, can care for, provide for, and sustain them, have them. We have lost the opportunity it seems. If the zoo is in that bad a repair and the location is not attractive to visitors, particularly non-Jacksonians, then it is best to let it go. We have not even been able to protect the animals from dog attacks in recent history. This is indicative of the city not having adequate animal control even outside the zoo. It matters not to me that licenses are issued on a case by case basis. OK, but what is preventing our City Fathers and our media from knowing where they have operated successfully. It all stinks to high heaven to me and it all stems from allowing true urban blight from nesting in the immediate area. Even Beale St. in Memphis has a large cleared area around it.

Anonymous said...

Wild dogs killed zoo animals. When the zoo is gone, what will they eat next?

Anonymous said...

Why don’t zoo workers get benefits like dog catchers and grass cutters? Are they not under direction of the city now? How about an employer law case on top of everything else we have to deal with? This is not a new concept.

Anonymous said...

I just watched the video. Besides the fact that the zoo is lost, seeing that the Catholic Diocese of Jackson supports Working Together Jackson means I won't be giving to the service appeal anymore. I can't believe they don't have better places to spend our money.

Anonymous said...

5:11 - Nobody is eligible for COBRA who did not have insurance to begin with. COBRA coverage eligibility hinges entirely on having had prior creditable coverage in the relevant time period.

But,whoever said these people are not independent contractors is correct. They do not meet that federal definition. Once again, city lawyers are asleep in the wheelhouse.

Anonymous said...

Like Obama, Lumumba is the inverse Midas, everything touched turns to garbage.

anonymous said...

They need to do a gofundme. If done right (feed the starving animals--pay the starving workers) it might even go viral with contributions coming in from all over the world. Throw in a few sad pictures and you have a winner.

Anonymous said...

If the state can confiscate a bunch of horses in Bentonia to make sure they're properly cared for, why can't they step in and make sure these animals are properly cared for? Damn everything else.

Anonymous said...

The Boat is sinking or has sunk we need to face it. Yes the city is in tough situation but anytime somebody tries to help the city leaders are afraid they might lose their power. Attempts to save the Zoo, the Airport etc. have all been seen as racist. After a while the so called "racist" Help says why bother. The Mayor is in a tough situation but has always seemed more concerned about what everyone would say nationally.

Anonymous said...

That's just a side effect of being an incompetent charlatan who was elected purely based on race instead of record.

Kingfish said...

The new firm, zooWhover, doesn't have a license because they are issued on a site-by-site basis. To claim that they probably never had one, as said above, is not relevant, because they can't get one for this facility until the feds inspect the facility and approve it - all as has been reported in earlier posts on this site.

Obviously. However, the company has no Class C license anywhere in the country. Period.

Mayor never said anything about closing zoo due to a lack of a site specific license until well, he was forced to do so.

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