NEW YORK: March for patient care

Fighting off driving rain, thousands of health care workers from around the state jammed the streets surrounding Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s Manhattan office March 15 to protest proposed cuts of $1 billion from the state budget for hospitals, staff and Medicaid.

Members of the Service Employees Union, SEIU/1199, linked arms with hospital administrators, managers and transit workers to halt the deadly budget ax. “They say cut back, we say fight back!” angry workers chanted.

Spitzer, a Democrat, was elected in a landslide in November calling for universal health care.

Lucia Willis, a nurse at St. James Health Care Center in Suffolk County, said, “Having cuts like this would affect patient care. It would affect staff and supplies. They should be going after pharmaceutical companies. It’s absurd. We’re just trying to make life better for people.”

Paulette Forbes, an X-ray technologist at Brooklyn’s Brookdale Hospital, told workers the cuts would be fatal for some. “No one should have to choose between their life and health care,” she said. “We must preserve our life support.”

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint joined labor leaders from around the state in vowing full support from the country’s largest labor movement.

During the previous administration, united pressure forced then-Gov. Pataki to withdraw proposed health care cuts.

HAZLETON, Pa.: Trial over rights of undocumented

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued the city of Hazleton on behalf of immigrant workers to prevent Mayor Lou Barletta from running undocumented workers out of town.

Barletta had pushed the City Council to enact laws fining companies for hiring undocumented workers and finding landlords for renting to them. But a federal court blocked implementation pending a trial. Opening arguments were presented March 12.

Grants from corporate right-wing foundations like the Mountain States Legal Foundation are helping to foot legal bills for the city’s attack on immigrants. Hazleton has hired Kris Kobach, former adviser on immigration policy to ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft, to represent the city.

ACLU attorney Vic Walzcak said he believes the evidence will show that undocumented immigrants have not created a crime wave, that they are not bankrupting the schools and the health care system, and that Barletta has exaggerated the city’s problems with undocumented residents.

Both sides have vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Around the country, 26 towns have enacted laws similar to Hazleton’s.

OMAHA, Neb.: Court sets back women’s rights

In a 2-1 decision, a federal appeals court ruled that the Union Pacific Railroad can include Viagra in the corporation’s prescription drug coverage but can omit birth control pills. Its decision overturned a lower court ruling that the drug plan discriminated against women.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a shameful ruling that limits access to birth control,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. “It all started when Union Pacific, the largest railroad in North America, made a reprehensible decision to cover Viagra and deny coverage for birth control.”

Planned Parenthood represented women railroad workers, who make up about 1,500 of the Union Pacific’s 50,000 workforce.

The two judges backing the corporation were appointed by Republican administrations.

Five U.S. senators and 25 members of the House of Representatives had filed a “friend of the court” brief backing the women workers.

Planned Parenthood vowed to step up efforts for the Prevention First Act, which would expand reproductive health services, increase access to family planning and bar corporations from denying prescription coverage for birth control. For information, visit

CINCINNATI: Firm fined for hiring death squads

After a lengthy U.S. Justice Department investigation, Chiquita Brands has agreed to pay a $25 million fine for hiring a terrorist group to “protect” its Colombia banana plantations. Court documents said top Chiquita officers paid $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

Federal prosecutors said Chiquita began making payments to the AUC after a 1997 meeting and then hid the expenditures in the corporate books. They said that by September 2000, senior Chiquita executives knew the corporation was paying the AUC, and that it was a violent paramilitary organization. Chiquita’s lawyers blew the whistle on the scheme.

The U.S. government designated the AUC a terrorist organization in 2001 because it committed some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and is responsible for much of the country’s cocaine exports.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @ Sam Delgado contributed to this week’s clips.