There’s at least one very good reason why those of us who live in southern Utah should keep an eye on what Karen Mayne is doing, even though this Democratic Utah Senator represents the West Salt Lake Valley and not us. We should pay attention because she’s taking on the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. It’s about time.
Before we get to Mayne’s most recent charge, let’s consider her background. Karen Mayne is the widow of Sen. Ed Mayne, a life-long advocate for labor and the underprivileged. Ed Mayne was elected four times to the Legislature and came within a week of completing his fourth term when he succumbed to lung cancer. He was also the president of the Utah AFL-CIO for 30 years. His roots and his heart were with the workers among us.
Karen and Ed made representation of his district a team effort. She often represented him at one event while he attended another. She listened to his constituents and was a faithful messenger in taking their concerns and complaints back to him. She attended legislative sessions and was well versed in his work at the State House. After Ed’s death in 2007, Karen was appointed to serve in 2008 and has been elected to her own terms since then. It is fair to say she has some legislative chops. She’s going to need them.
What we know about Karen Mayne is this: she shares her husband’s concern about the conditions of workers. It appears that it is this concern that has fired her up to confront the Utah DABC.
In April of this year, Mayne stood before the Liquor Commission, waving a fistful of email complaints she had received from current and retired DABC employees. Most alarming, she told the commission, were the charges of managers spying on and bullying the workers, 80 percent of whom are part-time. She also condemned the practice of dealing with manager turnover by assigning those remaining to more than one store to oversee. However, to be fair, some of these decisions were made necessary by the shortfall of $500,000 which had been cut from the DABC budget by this year’s legislature.
The DABC, you may remember, hasn’t been faring well in the news lately. The agency’s annual audit, released in May of this year, highlighted a number of the issues Mayne discussed, as well as a lack of adequate data entry, insufficient training of managers and employees, and an inventory control system which made it nearly impossible for store managers to respond to customer requests.
On July 20, the DABC attempted to respond to some of Mayne’s charges and the concerns of the auditors by announcing across-the-board pay raises for its employees. Managers were to begin making $15.25 an hour, assistant managers $12.25 an hour, and sales clerks $10.25 an hour. While Mayne praised the attempt, she felt it was both long overdue and didn’t go far enough.
Then in early August, the retirement of the DABC deputy director, Tom Zdunich, was announced. Though the agency claimed that Zdunich’s departure was not brought on by the pressure of Mayne and the audit, the announcement thrilled some employees nonetheless. It was reported in one online blog that employees in one warehouse held an impromptu champagne party when they heard the news. Were Mayne’s accusations responsible, or was this merely a coincidence?
And recently, Mayne entered the fray again. On Aug. 12, she unveiled proposed legislation that would set the annual state budget of the DABC at 13 percent of gross liquor store revenue. Presently the agency receives somewhere between 11 and 12 percent of revenue.
If that level of funding were approved in the current fiscal year, it would add at least $3 million to the DABC coffers, Mayne said.
Mayne sees the advantage of the proposed legislation as lending stability to the DABC. Under current law, the agency is required to return all profits to the state. In turn, the Legislature sets the DABC budget on an annual basis. With more stable and predictable resources, the DABC could begin to manage in a fashion responsive to the needs of employees, customers and ultimately the state, according to the Senator from West Valley.
There will be some pushback, to be sure. Expect it to come mainly from those advocates and lobbyists who represent the beneficiaries of the current system. This year, the profits went to fund school lunches and public safety, both of which will be tough opponents if push comes to shove.
Mayne wasn’t finished when she announced the proposed change in funding for the DABC, however. She is also proposing an advocate’s position to address concerns of employees, customers and liquor vendors in an atmosphere free from fear of retribution.
Karen Mayne is onto something, and it is time for the state of Utah to take heed. If the State of Utah feels compelled to continue to control liquor sales, those in charge need to see that it is done right. Don’t hamstring the employees with inadequate wages, overextended management and inadequate tools to do the job competently. This is a money-making enterprise for Utah, and it deserves to be supported as such. There are important programs that depend on its survival.
And what’s more, it is time for the State of Utah to face facts. Utah is not only home to an increasing number of people who like to drink alcohol, but it is also something of a Mecca for tourists, again, many of whom like to drink alcohol. The battle is over. Alcohol drinkers prevailed.
So either accept that fact and begin to do business in a way that is both efficient and fair, or get out of the business altogether. Because Karen Mayne is watching you. And that is why we will be watching her.