MACON, Ga.: Tobacco merger to destroy 14,000 jobs

It was not the famous “tobacco settlement” where cigarette corporations are paying billions of dollars to states to cover smoking-related health care costs that forced the closure of the Brown and Williamson (B&W) cigarette plant here, the largest in central Georgia. It is the merger with R.J. Reynolds. The merger was announced Oct. 27. The plant closure will increase profits by $500 million a year, according to B&W projections.

When Rickey Crawford’s boss called him at home to tell him of the plant’s closing in 18-20 months, he fell silent. “I was stunned. I didn’t say a word for about five minutes,” Crawford said. “I thought this plant would never close.” B&W has been in Macon for 27 years.

Initially, 2,100 families will lose their jobs at the sprawling complex, but Bill Riall, an economist with the Economic Development Institute at Georgia Tech, estimates “that the loss would ultimately produce a total job loss of about 14,000 in the state.” B&W pays $11 million a year in state and local taxes and fees. The average worker is paid $26 an hour making 80 billion cigarettes a year, half of which are exported to Japan and other countries.

In 2000, Georgia gave the plant a $2 million a year tax break.

MIAMI: U.S. gov’t prosecuting Greenpeace

For the first time in history, an entire organization is being criminally prosecuted for the actions of two of its members. “The government’s action is unprecedented – prosecuting an entire organization for the expressive activities of its supporters,” said John Passacantando, executive director of the 250,000-member organization. “Nonviolent, civil protest – an essential tradition from colonial times to the modern civil rights movement – may become yet another casualty of John Ashcroft’s attack on civil liberties.”

The case stems from a Greenpeace protest to halt illegal logging of mahogany, an officially endangered species. Activists boarded a ship, allegedly carrying the valuable wood, off the coast of Miami in April 2002. Two environmentalists who boarded the ship and 12 others in support vessels were arrested. Before their arrest, two Greenpeace members raised a banner, “President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging,” on the ship. For their actions, the Department of Justice is prosecuting the entire organization. They will appear in court this month.

CHEYENNE, Wyo.: FedEx guilty of sexual harassment

In a mixed decision, a jury found, after two days of deliberations, Federal Express guilty of sexual harassment, and ordered the company to pay a Wyoming woman $10,000 in compensatory damages. However, it did not award her lost wages, benefits or medical expenses.

For 26 months Rebecca Phillips endured constant verbal abuse from co-workers and supervisors. In her lawsuit, she said co-workers routinely imitated and acted out sexual activities in her presence. When she complained, supervisors told her to “toughen up” and “quit whining.” Management issued a warning to her co-workers, but took no action to create a safe working environment. Phillips said other women and minority workers were also subject to abuse.

MILWAUKEE, Wis.: Methodists protest Cuba travel restrictions

Citing recent congressional action that would ease travel restrictions to Cuba, over 500 Methodists signed a petition presented to Sen. Herb Kohl on Nov. 3. The Wisconsin senator is a member of the conference committee which is brokering legislation to be sent to President Bush. The petition urges Kohl to resist efforts by House Republicans to maintain current restrictions on travel to Cuba. “We are disturbed at reports that the clear majority will of both houses of Congress may be subverted by a small minority with the backing of the House leadership,” said Paul Kinsley and Dollora Greene-Evans, members of the Central Methodist Church. Maintaining current restrictions, charged Kinsley and Greene-Evans, “(would) subvert our own cherished democratic process, in an attempt to deny our right to travel as free people.”

In 1999, six members of Central Methodist went to Cuba to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their sister church. Two African Americans were part of the delegation and were subsequently fined under current laws regulating Cuban travel by Americans. No white members were fined at the time. Members of the church took this racist action public and now Kinsley, who is white, is also facing penalties.

National Clips are compiled by
Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Art Heitzer and
Leon Oboler contributed to this week’s clips.