Houston workers demand justice

WASHINGTON – A committee of the California State Senate has demanded that Kenneth Lay and other Enron officials be brought to California to stand trial for contempt for refusing to testify before a California Senate Committee investigating “manipulation of the energy market.”

The committee also demanded that Enron turn over documents dealing with its roe in causing the state’s power shortage last summer. If the contempt citation is approved, Enron could face fines of $1 million each day they refuse to turn over documents.

State Sen. Wes Chesboro (D-Arcata) said Enron displayed “contempt” in three ways: conspiring to drive up energy prices, hiding its imploding financial condition from investors such as the California Pension Fund and refusing to appear when a subpoena was issued by the legislature.

Chesboro said these Enron officials should go to jail. “Three strikes and you’re out,” he said.

“I seriously doubt that Enron will ever send us anything more than a picture postcard from the Cayman Islands,” said state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach). Enron hid millions in profits in an estimated 900 dummy companies in the Cayman Islands and other secret offshore havens.

Earlier, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Enron’s hidden wealth should be confiscated and sent back to California to compensate for an estimated $8.9 billion in overcharges inposed on California ratepayers.

Meanwhile, Karen Nussbaum, head of the AFL-CIO Women’s Department, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of Operation Push, joined angry Enron workers in a Houston press conference to demand that the bankrupt energy trading company pay full severance benefits in the company’s collapse. The Feb. 13 press conference, held in Houston’s Antioch Church took place the day after former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay refused to testify before a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Debra Johnson, once a senior administrative assistant in Enron’s Human Resources Division and a member of the Enron Employees Committee (EEC), also attended the press conference.

“I was aware that Mr. Lay would take the Fifth Amendment because he didn’t want to incriminate himself with inside information he had passed on,” Johnson told the World. “I was a bit angry at his opening statement. He said he was saddened, but he never said he was sorry.”

Johnson said Lay owes the employees of Enron an apology. “The executives paid themselves but they left us with nothing,” she said, adding that she is two months behind on her utility bills and has been forced to apply for food stamps to feed herself and two young grandchildren she is raising. Her son is enrolled at Hampton University in Virginia and may be forced to drop out.

“I never thought I would be forced to wait in a welfare line for food stamps. But I am,” she said. “I don’t have health insurance. If I get sick, I’ll have to wait in the welfare healthcare line. They may leave you to die since you don’t have health insurance.”

Johnson expressed anger that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have invoked “executive privilege,” concealing their collaboration with Lay and other oil and gas executives in Cheney’s Energy Policy Task Force. “Bush and Cheney are all tied in with this energy business together,” she said. “One won’t tell on the other. If Lay didn’t have something to hide, he would testify.”

The EEC, she said, is “working for reform, to insure that it doesn’t happen again, that other workers don’t have to go through what we have been through.”