SMITHERS, W.Va.: Coal miners picket for health care

Members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) from Ohio and Kentucky converged here Oct. 21 to walk the picket line with their brothers and sisters at the Cannelton mine. The West Virginia miners are defying a bankruptcy judge and demanding restoration of health care benefits.

“This is not just about what happened at Cannelton, this is not about West Virginia or Kentucky or Ohio,” UMWA President Cecil Roberts told miners and their families. “This is about public policy in America!”

Horizon Resources, owner of the Cannelton mine and several others in Kentucky and Ohio, went into bankruptcy court in 2002. The judge trashed the union contract, destroying health care and pension benefits for 5,000 miners. Horizon then sold its mines to pay off creditors. A.T. Massey bought the Cannelton mine and has vowed to re-open the mine in early 2005 with nonunion workers.

“Come January or February,” said Roberts, “there are going to be people trying to come to work here and I’m going to be sitting in the middle of the road. If [A.T Massey CEO] Don Blankenship thinks he’s going to scab these mines, we’ll have coal miners in here from everywhere.”

The looming issue, said Roberts, is a national fight to reform the bankruptcy laws to protect workers’ interests.

FRANKFORT, Ky.: Teachers save their health care

A special session of the state Legislature approved a health insurance plan Oct. 19 for 229,000 public school workers, state workers, retirees and their dependents, which keeps all their benefits and existing co-pays intact. The action prompted teachers to cancel their strike scheduled for Oct. 27.

Despite state law barring teachers from striking, the Kentucky Education Association took a strike vote and set the date for the walkout to save their health care from Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s ax. The union staged an impressive “Day of Action” on Sept. 27 to press their demands, closing schools in 23 districts across the state.

“I think it should be noted that the real focus should be on those who brought us to this day, and that’s the teachers that stood up, took a strong position that forced us to come in here and do what had to be done,” said state Sen. Gerald Neal (D) of Louisville.

“The Legislature, in a bipartisan, history-making fashion, restored benefits, reduced out-of-pocket expenses and helped in redesigning the process,” said Kentucky teachers union President Frances Steenbergen. “They heard our message and they responded.”

WASHINGTON: Anti-Patriot Act resolutions dwarf Act itself

On Oct. 25, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) sent George W. Bush a binder containing ordinances and resolutions from 355 townships, municipalities, cities, and counties, and four states, representing 55 million residents protesting and challenging the USA Patriot Act, which Bush rammed through Congress on October 25, 2001. The binder, with over 400 pages, is triple the size of the Act itself, according to Nancy Talanian, BORDC director.

“One in five U.S. residents now live in communities, counties or states with resolutions condemning parts of the USA Patriot Act and other measures which affect their rights and liberties, making this one of the largest mass movements in U.S. history,” she said.

Talanian continued, “We all want to be safe from terrorism, but the government has failed to convince most Americans that we’ll be safer if we give up our freedom of speech, our privacy and our right to due process of law.”

LAS VEGAS, Nev.: Early voting signals huge turnout

Going into the second and final week of early voting, more than 168,000 Nevadans had cast ballots in major counties, and Democrats held the lead in turnout. Early voting began Oct. 16 and lasts until Oct. 30.

After the first three days of early voting, Democrats held a 2,104 vote lead in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, a union town. Clark County, encompassing Las Vegas, accounted for about 143,000 of the early voters, with Democrats making up 45 percent and Republicans 41 percent of the balloting total in the county, according to an Associated Press report.

Although Democrats in Clark County have a registration margin of 57,000, Sean Smith, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, said, “We (Democrats) don’t traditionally vote early. Our internal polling showed that we would do better with voters on Election Day, so we think this is a very good start for us.”

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (