SACRAMENTO, Calif.: Two labor victories

By an overwhelming majority, Sheraton Grand Hotel employees ratified a union contract on Dec. 5 that contains higher wages, a lower workload, a doubling of employer-paid health benefits over the life of the contract, and a guarantee that the contract will continue even if the hotel is sold.

Most of the hotel workers gladly signed up to support employees at other hotels in their negotiations for better contracts. There are four other unionized hotels in Sacramento where contracts have expired.

“This is the first good solid contract in any Sacramento hotel,” said Marco Hernandez, a six-year employee of the Sheraton Grand. “It’s setting the standards for the other hotels.”

Support from the workers at other hotels and casinos and from the community was crucial, he said. Besides coming out to large rallies outside the hotel and sending delegations to the Sheraton management, Sacramento unions and community organizations sent the hotel letters committing to support a boycott if it was launched.

“That would have cost them millions of dollars, so they came back to the table and made their last final offer better,” Hernandez said.

On the same day, the Sacramento City Council passed a non-binding resolution calling on the Blue Diamond Almond Growers Cooperative to recognize their employees’ union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, on the basis of a union card check.

Although some of the councilmembers said that the resolution was not pertinent to city affairs, the majority agreed with councilman Steve Cohn, who reminded them that in 1996 “the Council adopted historic measures to ensure that Blue Diamond stayed in the community.” Besides giving the company public funds, the city closed off part of the public streets to form part of the Blue Diamond campus, Cohn said.

Since then, Blue Diamond, which produces around 70 percent of the world’s almond supply, has flourished, with last year’s revenue increased by 42 percent, Cohn said.

Chicago: The right to be warm

With heat shut off to 100,000 people in the middle of winter, affordable energy proponents are pressing Gov. Rod Blagojevich to get families reconnected.

“It’s scary,” said Maria Majic, co-chair of the Affordable Power to the People campaign. “The Fire Department is reporting that 10 percent of people dying in fires lose their lives because the alternatives for keeping warm are dangerous.”

Majic said that at a recent protest at the governor’s residence, “We heard a warning from Mr. Dirk, who is 80 and whose gas is shut off, and then we learned that another 80-year-old, Ray Strow, died in a fire just one block from our center” in the Bridgeport neighborhood.

CLEVELAND: Kucinich to run for president

There are 98 weeks until voters go to the polls to elect a new U.S. president and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich plans use all 98 to turn up the heat to end the Iraq war and occupation in his bid for president. He announced his candidacy for president on Dec. 12.

In his 2004 bid for the Democratic nomination for president, Kucinich not only pounded the streets for peace, including by his advocacy of a national Peace Department, but also promoted a single-payer health care system.

WASHINGTON: Green light for police brutality

Diop Kamau, director of the national Police Complaint Center and a former Hawthorne, Calif., police detective, has found that reports of police misconduct nationwide from December 2005 through December 2006 skyrocketed by 40 percent, from 239 incidents to 336.

Kamau believes that a combination of factors, including government attacks on constitutional rights, the sanction of torture, government spying and the criminalization of young African American men, constitutes a recipe for increased police violence.

“I think that the president’s choice with regards to torture, the attack on habeas corpus, the kind of things that we’re doing overseas, I think, are actually impacting domestic police policies,” he said. “I think the green light with regards to spying and everything else, what it has done is elevated the role and the public’s regard for law enforcement to the attitude that says, ‘Those are our protectors. We need to take the gloves off and give them the room to do what they need to do.’

“Well, they’re not always fighting terrorists,” Kamau said, “and they’re not always arresting bad guys. More often than not they’re dealing with regular people for small and minor incidents. I think that as African Americans continue to be viewed and anticipated by police as violent and uncooperative, with all of this negative stereotype associated with Black youth, those are going to be the principal victims.”

Kamau calls for stronger laws regulating local police from the federal level. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has said he will use his clout to demand more police accountability.

NORTH POLE: Votes pour in for Claus ‘naughty’ list

There is still time to cast your ballot for “Grinch of the Year” courtesy of Jobs with Justice, the national coalition of labor, community, faith-based and student groups. JwJ has installed electronic voting machines with a paper trail and full verification; you can vote at

This is the sixth year for the national “naughty” election, with no restrictions on citizenship, registration or residency. Frontrunners so far include Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and Smithfield Meats Tar Heel CEO Joseph Luter III.

“I take this election to heart,” Santa Claus told a press conference. “The naughty list, with Grinch at the top, is as important as the ‘nice’ list. I check both twice. The elves, members of Toy Makers Local 12, are voting early and often. Internal polling showed that Goodyear was edging out Smithfield, but then they read the People’s Weekly World — I bought them subscriptions last year. Now the race is very close.”

For the last two years, Wal-Mart claimed the Grinch title. “Deservedly so,” said Claus.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @ Gail Ryall contributed to this week’s clips.