SACRAMENTO, Calif.: Living wage victory

Workers employed by private companies that receive Sacramento city money will ring in the New Year with a raise. On Dec. 9, the City Council in a 6-2 vote established a living wage of at least $9 an hour if the company provides health coverage and $10.50 an hour if health coverage is absent. The law provides for raises of 50 cents per year until 2006.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) led the three-year campaign to raise the wages of the low paid workers.

“This is a great day,” said Chris Jones, Sacramento ACORN chairman, adding that this victory is “just the beginning” of local efforts to improve wages.

The law applies to companies with at least 25 workers. Nonprofits with less than 100 workers are exempt as are emergency services, professional service contracts and student interns.

BERKELEY, Calif.: First Black law school dean

On July 1, 2004, Harvard law professor Christopher Edley will become Dean of Berkeley’s Law School. He is the first African American to lead a major U.S. law school.

Edley is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and served in the Clinton administration where he was the architect of the “Mend it, don’t end it” policy defending and advancing affirmative action. Edley is the author of the book, “Not All Black and White: Affirmative Action, Race and American Values.”

SPRING HILL, Tenn.: Saturn contract a mixed bag

Members of United Auto Workers Local 1853 at the General Motors Saturn manufacturing complex here approved a new four-year contract Dec. 14 by an overwhelming margin of 2,953-317.

The agreement raises wages retroactively from September to bring Saturn workers in line with the rest of the industry. It provides a performance bonus in the second year, a 2 percent raise in the third year and 3 percent the year thereafter. But Saturn workers may face layoffs for the first time. The union and company agreed to enter into the umbrella agreement covering autoworkers in the rest of GM.

“We’re in a position that we either adapt or die,” said Mike Herron, chairman of Local 1853.

Saturn UAW workers in Michigan and Ohio are covered by separate contracts.

ATLANTA: No room at the inn

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin established a commission to study and make recommendations to address the homeless family crisis in this city, one of the country’s fastest growing in the U.S. A one-day count found 6,956 men, women and children living on Atlanta’s streets.

Anita Beaty, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless who, disputed the commission’s initial count, places the figure at 23,000-40,000 people.

A Pathways Community Network report found that 75 percent of the homeless in Atlanta lived in the area before losing their home. Eighteen percent are women and 11 percent are children.

CONCORD, N.H.: State to buy drugs from Canada

Gov. Craig Benson, a Republican, defied the Bush Food and Drug Administration by announcing Dec. 10 that the state is setting up a plan to import prescription drugs from Canada to save taxpayer dollars.

“The FDA and the drug companies have been spreading this notion that it is unsafe, but I have a different take,” Benson said. “We have a lot of people who are not taking prescription drugs because they cannot afford them. I think there’s a liability for sitting still.”

Springfield, Mass., currently buys prescriptions from Canada, saving the city an estimated $4 million to $9 million a year. Other states and cities are exploring a similar course.

NORTH POLE: Members of Elves Local 1 on overtime

Members of Elves Local 1, working under their new three-year agreement which included a full family health care package, prescription drug, eye care, dental and mental, with only a $3 co-pay, are working around the clock to met the Dec. 25 deadline.

“We don’t work for cookies,” said Local 1 President Evelyn Frankenhouser. “The Clauses were tough, but we came together, stayed together and we won! We are bringing that same solidarity to the toy and gift benches. We are going to make it.”

“Hey, we’re elves, not reindeer,” Frankenhouser declared. “We’re on the ‘net.’ Just go to:, or to see what union elves can do!”

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (
Julia Lutsky and Barbara Russum contributed to this week’s clips.