Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do I Know The Way To San Jose?

For the past 15 or so years, the Taxation Section of the State Bar of California holds an annual educational meeting, either in the Bay Area or San Diego. While the Bay Area venue is typically downtown San Francisco on two of those occasions, the meeting was held in San Jose, once hastily moved without a lot of advance notice. Now if you're going to hold a convention type event in the Bay Area, why would you choose San Jose (no offense intended, but what is there to do in San Jose?) over San Francisco. The choice of San Jose was never explained, but I eventually figured it out. On both occasions there were actual or threatened labor actions against San Francisco hotels by union hotel workers, involving possible boycotts of those hotels. Now between you and me, I doubt if many tax attorneys are passionate in their support of hotel workers against the hotels, or for that matter, if they particularly care about the issues being disputed. So why was the meeting chased off to San Jose? Because the State Bar of California is an appendage of the government of the state of California, and as such cannot afford to make waves with organized labor, which is highly influential in this state.

So I just received my notice of this year's California tax bar meeting, and to my surprise (and chagrin, since whether it's held in San Francisco or San Jose, I stay in San Francisco because Mrs. Chandavkl loves to explore the City when I'm at the meeting), I find this November's meeting is being held in San Jose. Now I didn't know that the San Francisco hotel workers and hotels were fighting again, but I assumed something must be afoot. This was confirmed when I walked by the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco earlier this month and heard a crowd of chanting demonstrators yelling something like "If you go in, you're not our friend." A subsequent Google search confirmed indeed that there is another San Francisco hotel boycott in progress. The hotel workers are angling for a pay increase, somewhat baffling given the state of the economy, particularly in a tourist driven economy like San Francisco's. The rationale of the union's leader is that hotel occupancy is up significantly from the depths of the financial meltdown, so the hotel workers should share in this bonanza. Except that in the same time period, while hotel occupancy in San Francisco is up, room rates have declined so much to more than offset the higher occupancy, meaning that gross hotel revenues are even lower than ever. Indeed, even some members of the labor movement don't understand this one, and the head of the hotel workers union is facing some internal flack over his position.

So do I know the way to San Jose? Yup, 45 miles each way from and to San Francisco, each day of the meeting.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bureaucratic Idiocy Isn't Limited To The Public Sector

While there is no match for the government when it comes to inefficiency and operational chaos, private industry is not free from this. Once upon a time we had a certificate of deposit at Countrywide Bank. Then Countrywide Bank went down the drain and was acquired by Bank of America. If one drew a bell curve showing the interest rates paid by financial institutions, Bank of America and Countrywide would be at the opposite ends of the spectrum. So naturally, when our former Countrywide, now Bank of America CD matured, we opted to close the account in the seven day grace period. Except that Bank of America told Mrs. Chandavkl they were not authorized to close it. They told her she had to go back to New Hampshire where she opened the account. Of course this didn't make any sense as we had opened the account in Pasadena, not New Hampshire.

So even though I was in San Francisco, it was my turn to get them to pay off. Unlike the purely retail branch Mrs. Chandavkl went to, I went to a banking center on New Montgomery St., where I was directed to the Personal Banking department, with a row of stately desks manned by equally stately personal bankers. I explained the situation to Miss Shi, and she started punching in my information. Nothing came up on her computer. She explained that the Countrywide system would not be integrated with the Bank of America system until 2012, so she had no access to my account and that she couldn't help me. That kind of explained the New Hampshire comment, as the former Countrywide accounts had been relegated somewhere back east for administrative purposes. However, that didn't make me any more understanding. "You mean I can't withdraw my own money from Bank of America? So this is like Hotel California?" "What do you mean?" Miss Shi asked. "Don't you know the song 'Hotel California"? "Yes," she replied. "Well, you can check out any time but you can never leave. So you can deposit money in this bank, but you can't take it out." This embarrased her so she consulted with one of the other personal bankers, who told her to call the customer service center. They directed her how to execute the transaction, but I was probably there nearly an hour before I got everything taken care of.

Of course I'm familiar with issues of post-merger integration and I know that it takes banks a good amount of time to mesh their systems. But it's been three years since Bank of America acquired Countrywide, so they should have integrated by now. Also it's not like an out of state acquistion where you can just walk into your old bank branch that now has a different name. Obviously the sooner we totally disassociate ourselves with Bank of America, the better.