NORTHAMPTON, Mass.: More cities reject Patriot Act

The grassroots movement to defend democratic rights and reject the Patriot Act now represents 25.5 million Americans as Bisbee, Ariz., Robbinsdale, Minn., and Urbana, N.Y. all declared their respective municipalities “civil liberties safe zones.”

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), based here, launched the campaign to pass resolutions in local, county and state governments in November 2001, just after Congress passed the Bush administration’s Patriot Act. About 200 cities have now gone on record against the Act.

“This movement of cities, towns, and states passing resolutions against the Patriot Act and certain executive orders has helped educate people across the country about threats to their libraries and has encouraged Congress to propose fixes,” said BORDC Director Nancy Albanian.

PHILADELPHIA: Going to court to defend free speech

Bill Neel, a retired Pittsburgh steelworker, decided to protest President Bush’s economic policies during his visit on Labor Day, 2002. Police forced Neel onto a remote baseball diamond. “I could see people behind the fence (around the diamond), with their faces up against it and their hands on the wire,” Neel recalled. “It looked more like a concentration camp than a free-speech area to me, so I said, ‘I’m not going in there.’” Police cuffed and arrested Neel.

A year later, the American Civil Liberties Union is going into federal court here, challenging a Secret Service policy that quarantines protesters against the administration.

The suit cites 17 separate incidents where “protesters are moved further away from the location of the official and/or the event, allowing people who express views that support the government to remain closer.”

Paul Wolf, an Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) Police assistant supervisor in charge of the 2002 presidential visit, said that the Secret Service ordered local police to “pen protesters in.” The suit does not challenge the responsibility of the Secret Service to protect the president.

BESSEMER, Ala.: Jury rules against coal operator

In the largest award in its history, a Bessemer jury fined Black Warrior Minerals $20 million in the death of Jimmie Bogue.

Bogue died in July 2002, when a trailer carrying 46 tons of coal separated from the cab, slamming into Bogue’s Chevy Tahoe, then struck a church van, injuring two people. The truck was 2 tons over the legal limit.

Testimony showed that the driver took a back road to avoid scales on the interstate and was traveling 70 mph in a 35 mph zone.

“The coal companies have to be held responsible for overloading these trucks, said plaintiff attorney Ralph “Buddy” Hornsby. “I think this verdict will send a message.”

Overweight, speeding and unsafe coal trucks are major issues in West Virginia and Kentucky.

PHILADELPHIA: Auto, steel workers unite for clean air

In January 2001, auto workers at the TRW plant in Mount Vernon, Ohio, were admitted to the local hospital’s intensive care unit with lung disease. By November of that year, 107 were placed on medical restrictions and 37 suffered long-term disability.

More than 1 million workers who make cars, farm equipment, aircraft and other metal products work with metalworking fluids that cause severe respiratory ailments. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that metalworking fluids can cause cancer of the larynx, rectum, pancreas, skin, scrotum and bladder. Since 1971, medical evidence has shown that current standards regulating metalworking fluids are insufficient.

The United Auto Workers union (UAW) and the United Steelworkers union (USWA) are suing Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to reduce workplace exposure to these deadly fluids.

“This is an egregious example of a public rulemaking process that has been obstructed by backroom industry lobbying,” said USWA President Leo Gerard. “It is way past time for OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to stand up to the industry lobbyists who don’t care how many workers suffer from exposure to metalworking fluids.”

“Workers and their unions have spoken out about the hazards of exposure to metalworking fluids; so have scientists and the Standards Advisory Committee,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. “We’re going to pursue every available remedy on behalf of the men and women who are being exposed – unnecessarily – to hazardous chemicals in the workplace.”

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Roberta Wood contributed to this week’s clips.