SEATTLE: Profits vs. jobs, environment

Patrick Grennen, a 31-year veteran tankerman, was working alone transferring 23,700 barrels of oil to a 248-foot barge for Foss Maritime Company in December 2003. The amount was 300 barrels short of requiring two workers to do the job. The result, says an inquiry convened by the state Legislature, was the worst oil spill on Puget Sound in recent memory. Oil destroyed shellfish beds six miles away.

Grennen, member of the Inlandboatman’s Union, a division of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, testified that the companies have been increasing profits by cutting back jobs that require two sets of eyes and hands. “Acceptable risk” is the mantra of the industry, Grennen said. Tankermen often spend up to 15 hours on deck operating a complicated set of pipes and valves regulating the flow of thousands of gallons of fuel.

Union business agent Stuart Downer testified that increased staffing levels not only protect family income but also the ecology. Nonunion companies are on the rise, he said, representing a threat to family income and the environment.

A report from the inquiry is expected soon.

AUGUSTA, Maine: Handicapped, caregivers fight for justice

The state Legislature’s Appropriations Committee staff had to set up an additional 800 chairs and the committee had to split into two groups when over 1,500 handicapped residents, their families and support staff protested budget cuts to MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The Bush administration cut federal funding to Medicaid, leaving Maine with a $127 million hole in the state budget.

Cuts mean residents like Amber Pratt, who suffers brain damage, would have to move out of her family’s home to a facility in Rhode Island for rehabilitation and care.

The budget is still under debate.

LANSING, Mich.: Governor outlaws outsourcing

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed two executive orders on March 22 barring the state from doing business with companies that would do the work in foreign countries and forcing companies currently under contract with the state to reveal who is doing the work and where it is being done.

Since 2000, about 300,000 Michigan workers have lost their jobs, 170,000 in manufacturing. Although the governor offered tax breaks to Electrolux, where workers make refrigerators, the company is moving 2,700 jobs to Mexico in 2005, where the wages are $1.57 an hour.

The Republican-dominated state Legislature has only served up more tax cuts to corporations to answer the jobs crisis.

CINCINNATI: Feds make parents surrender kids for health care

“A civilized society should not do this,” thundered Michael Hogan, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health. “We must stop trading custody for care. It’s terrible!”

An investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer blew the lid off a silent scandal whereby federal regulations are requiring families to surrender their child in return for getting access to $1,000 payments toward their child’s psychiatric care. The report estimated that in the last three years, 1,800 severely ill children around the state had to leave their families and enter the state’s foster care program because the biological families could not longer afford mental health care.

Christy Mathews’ husband is laid off. Care for her daughter Lauren, who suffers from bi-polar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, costs thousands of dollars per month. The cost includes 16 medications over four years and eight hospitalizations. “My child has a mom and dad,” Mathews said. “Why should I put her in foster care to treat her illness?”

NEW YORK: Outcry wins battle for women’s dignity

Virgin Atlantic Airways did not want the world to know that they planned to install urinals shaped like women’s mouths in their Kennedy Airport Clubhouse. The National Organization for Women (NOW) found out and put the word out.

After receiving an “alarming” number of complaints, Virgin Vice President John Riordan called NOW to announce that the installation had been cancelled and that regular urinals would be used. He also apologized.

In thanking activists and women’s rights supporters for protesting this dehumanization of women, NOW President Kim Gandy noted that the decision is limited to Kennedy. “We hope that they do not intend to put these degrading fixtures in countries where women are less likely to stand up for themselves.” So, supporters of women’s dignity, pay attention.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696@aol.com).
Barbara Russum contributed to this week’s clips.

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