A San Francisco carjacking that targeted a California public employee and ended in a police shooting caught Paulina Vasquez's attention two years ago.
It was what Vasquez, an SEIU Local 1000 steward for California Lottery sales representatives, feared would happen after the department decided to put the State of California seal on their vans.
The department added the stickers to the plain white vans six years ago despite protests from workers who were concerned about their safety. Now the union is trying to get the stickers removed.
"It would be a shame if a tragedy were to occur that could have been prevented," said Vasquez, of Modesto.
She sent a report detailing workers' safety concerns and a rash of recent incidents to lottery executives, including the department's new director, Alva Johnson, on Nov. 15.
The report cites seven specific instances of attacks on sales reps or their vehicles, and lists categories of lesser abuses that Vasquez said have become more frequent since the seals were added to the vans, including harassment, throwing things at the vehicles and spitting on them.
Vasquez said she hasn't heard back from lottery brass.
"The lottery is aware of the concern and is looking into the matter," Lottery spokesman Russ Lopez said in an email.
The disagreement dates back to the lottery's proposal in 2012 to wrap state cars in marketing materials. Department leaders wanted to boost the profile of the lottery, where revenues have risen to about $7 billion from about $3 billion a decade ago.
In addition to a marketing boost, managers said they wanted to discourage employees misusing the vans by marking them as state vehicles, according to union representatives who met with management to discuss the proposal in 2013.
SEIU representatives persuaded the department to use the decals instead of the wraparound advertising, but Vasquez and other sales representatives say the signs still put them in danger by making them an easy mark for thieves and a target for harassment at the liquor stores, bars and gas stations they visit during work.
"It just puts you in such a spotlight," said Charlotte Belasco, 58, of San Diego.
Belasco said she retired last year from her sales representative job. She had planned to work until she was 60 but said she retired early over safety fears and concerns with what she views as poor management.
The complaint over the logos is the latest effort by lottery employees to improve what they view as deteriorating working conditions.
The lottery has been the subject of several audits and investigations since employees alleged misconduct among senior executives last year in an anonymous letter to former Gov. Jerry Brown.
The state Justice Department has launched an investigation at the department, and the State Controller's Office has identified inappropriate spending on travel. Past director Hugo Lopez resigned in June and a top sales manager was fired.
Once in a Shell parking lot, a "mentally unstable" man "became irate about anti-government issues" after seeing the seal on her vehicle, Belasco said.
She said one man urinated on the van and another licked its window while she was sitting inside. While the sales reps are sometimes identified by the armloads of "scratcher" tickets they carry in and out of buildings, Belasco believes the seals attract extra attention for no good reason.
Vasquez doesn't have hard data showing a rise in incidents, but she said she keeps track of complaints she receives from drivers and collects police reports on the incidents. She now receives complaints at least once a month, often twice, where she used to see one approximately every other month. There are about 200 Lottery sales reps around the state.
The seals attract a lot of anti-government sentiment from people who don't know what the drivers' jobs are, Vasquez said.
"If you're a man, they think you're law enforcement; if you're a woman, they think you're social services," she said.
Some people see the scratchers — which are deactivated when they're not in a store — and think the drivers have money in the car, which they don't, she said.
Her report documents thieves breaking van windows and stealing phones, laptops, state credit cards and other items. It mentions acts of vandalism such as a man spraying graffiti on a van.
In a November incident in Rancho Cordova, a man approached a van waving a long knife and screaming anti-government slurs, according to the report.
People have thrown coffee on the vans, put dog poop on them, put gum under the handles, rammed shopping carts against them and spit on them, among other attacks, according to the report.
"The incidents have been escalating," Vasquez said. "Our previous management was very dismissive and remiss. We got nowhere with them. We're very hopeful that our new director will take this seriously."