FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.: Wal-Mart is hazardous to your health

As Wal-Mart stockholders streamed into their annual meeting June 2, scores of labor activists — decked out in hazmat suits, displaying health hazard signs, and standing behind yellow “crime scene” tape — “quarantined” the world’s largest corporation to prevent the spread of urban sprawl, low wages and no health care in working-class communities.

“We got our point across,” said Service Employees union Local 100 member Betsy Fowler. “We were united.”

The action was part of 27 similar demonstrations in 12 states coordinated by Jobs with Justice.

James Pitwell, a member of JwJ in Chicago, said the hazmat uniforms and dust masks “symbolize the hazard that Wal-Mart has become to the health of workers and their towns.”

JwJ Director Fred Azcarate said, “It is outrageous that the largest corporation in the world has full-time workers who are forced to enroll in Medicaid at taxpayers’ expense. The average pay for a Wal-Mart sales associate is $1,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. Company employees top Medicaid rolls in at least 16 states.”

BALTIMORE: Residents demand chromium cleanup

A grassroots movement in New Jersey forced the multinational Honeywell Corp. to pay for the cleanup of a chromium dumpsite in four years. Now their neighbors in Maryland want the same deal.

A faith-based grassroots organization, Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, is spearheading the campaign. “We deserve at least the same thing as New Jersey,” said Bishop Douglas Miles, co-chairman of BUILD. “Maryland should be demanding a cleanup for the sake of the workers who are at this terminal every day, for the sake of the people who live in the community nearby.”

BUILD aims to force Honeywell to remove millions of cubic yards of chromium from beneath the state-owned Dundalk Marine Terminal. A study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health several years ago found that workers at the terminal who breathe chromium dust double their chances of getting lung cancer. About 2,500 workers work at the terminal.

In a consent decree brokered by the courts, Maryland agreed to allow Honeywell 17 years to clean up the terminal and shift 23 percent of the cost onto Maryland taxpayers.

“Ludicrous,” said Joe Morris, leader of BUILD’s sister organization in New Jersey. Honeywell is footing the entire $400 million for the New Jersey cleanup.

BUILD is challenging the proposed agreement in court.

HARLAN COUNTY, Ky.: The cost of two miners’ lives — $360,000

Even though it took the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration nine months, the agency issued six citations against Black Mountain Resources-owned Stillhouse Mining No. 1 mine for the fatal roof fall that killed two miners last year. Under current law, each citation carries a maximum fine of $60,000.

According to MSHA spokesman Dirk Fillpot, the total of $360,000 for the company’s “reckless disregard” of proper roof maintenance is one of the highest ever levied.

On August 3, 2005, a roof collapsed on foreman Russell Cole, 39, and Brandon Wilder, 23, killing both men while they mined coal for Black Mountain.

Company Vice President Ross Kegan said Black Mountain will appeal the fines. No one said whether the roof system inside Stillhouse No. 1 is any safer nine months after the fatal collapse.

WASHINGTON: High court to hear challenge to Brown v. Board of Education

Fifty-two years ago the Supreme Court decided to end public school segregation. Brown v. the Topeka, Kan., Board of Education was a landmark democratic achievement of the civil rights movement. Since the Reagan era, however, affirmative action programs have been crippled, and now, with Bush II appointees Roberts and Alito on the bench, the Brown decision faces its stiffest challenge.

On June 5, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases where race is a factor in public school student assignments. The appeals stem from Seattle parents and a Louisville woman who say that programs taking into account race penalize white students.

“There are broad principles that are potentially at stake depending on how the court rules,” Theodore Shaw, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told Bloomberg News. He called the challenges “part of this overall continuing ideological attack aimed at any program that is aimed at doing something to ameliorate racial inequality.”

At the heart of the cases is whether school districts, in light of growing housing segregation, can take steps to promote the racial diversity of their schools.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696@aol.com).