Leaders of the AFL-CIO warned Wal-Mart to respect the rights of workers or working families will turn away from the giant retailer's doors. Wal-Mart threatened to close down its meat departments nationwide after meat workers at a Jacksonville, Texas, "supercenter" voted to unionize last month. On March 16, meat and seafood employees at a Normal, Ill., supercenter filed a petition for a union representation election. This came one day after the National Labor Relations Board ordered an election for meat and seafood workers at the Palestine, Texas, store and three days after workers at the Ocala, Fla., store filed for election. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, UFCW President Doug Dority and Roman Catholic Msgr. George Higgins joined 200 marchers March 13 in Tyler, Texas, to protest Wal-Mart's attempts to bust the union.
UFCW also has allied with urban-sprawl opponents and unionized supermarket rivals to persuade the city of Tucson, the state of California, and Clark County, Nev. (where Las Vegas is located), to pass ''anti-big-box'' laws aimed at banning supercenter stores that combine general merchandise and groceries (see the March 13 Business Week). For more information, visit www.ufcw.org or www.walmartyrs.com or phone the UFCW at 800-551-4010.
Meanwhile, Public Citizen and the Government Accountability Project warned consumers not to buy packaged meat from Wal-Mart once the store begins to test-market irradiated meat because food irradiation has not been proven safe and because it merely masks contamination. Public Citizen said Wal-Mart and other grocers should warn consumers of the dangers of irradiated meat with labels that state that irradiation does not kill all bacteria, that it destroys important vitamins and enzymes, and that it leads to the formation of potentially carcinogenic chemicals in food. Wal-Mart reportedly will be selling the meat at premium prices. At the same time the USDA is reducing its regulatory role and making consumers more dependent on industry for food safety. See www.citizen.org.
The $123 billion tax-cut/minimum-wage plan approved by the US House would give upper-income taxpayers $11 in tax breaks over the next decade for every dollar in increased wages paid to low-wage workers, Citizens for Tax Justice and the Economic Policy Institute report. Almost all the tax cuts (91.4%) would go to the best-off tenth of all taxpayers. In fact, the top 1 percent of all taxpayers, those making more than $319,000 a year, would get almost three-quarters of the tax reductions. Their average annual tax cut under the plan would be $6,128 each (in 1999 dollars). That compares to only a $4 average tax cut for the bottom 60 percent. While the tax bill's permanent tax cuts grow to $17.6 billion by 2010, the effect of the minimum wage proposals will be totally eroded by inflation after 2006. "It's ridiculous that a minimum wage bill supposedly designed to aid low-wage workers would actually give its biggest benefits to the highest-income people in the country," said Citizens for Tax Justice director Robert S. McIntyre. The GOP plan would boost the minimum wage by $1 over three years, which would provide an $11.2 billion gain to these workers over ten years -- $3.8 billion less than the Bonior-Kennedy proposal's two-year implementation plan, which would produce a total of $15 billion in higher wages. See www.ctj.org or call 800-374-4844
GAS PRICE BLUES. Gasoline prices are "soaring," with spot regular unleaded prices ranging from $1.39 per gallon in Austin to $2 or more per gallon on the West Coast in mid-March, but even Republican demagogues had to admit that rolling back the federal gasoline tax by 4.3 cents per gallon would do nothing but sideline highway projects in various congressional districts -- and probably enable oil companies to raise their prices another four and a half cents. Meanwhile, Warren Brown of the Washington Post notes that US residents continue to get a better break at the pump than consumers in the rest of developed world. The federal Energy Information Administration reports that our Canadian neighbors are paying the US equivalent of $4.50 a gallon, while Belgian consumers pay $3.72 a gallon, French $3.94, Germans $3.63, Italians $3.84, Dutch $4.22, and Britons $4.61, as of March 6. In Japan, as of Jan. 31, gas cost $3.45 per gallon.
Brown noted that those higher foreign pump prices stem more from taxes than they do from oil supply manipulations, as governments in Europe and Japan believe the best way to control fuel consumption is to price it accordingly, and to use the resulting revenue to build mass transit systems for people who either don't want to, or can't afford to, drive in the first place. Meanwhile, the total average fuel consumption for all passenger cars and light trucks (which includes vans and SUVs) in the US was down to 20.1 mpg in 1999, the same as it was in 1979, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The best year for fuel economy in this country was 1987, when the total fleet average was 26.2 mpg.
SPY PIX FOR SALE. Need high-resolution satellite photos of the world's military bases -- or other secluded sites that have piqued your interest? The Boston Globe reported March 16 that the Federation of American Scientists, an arms control organization, has begun purchasing photos from commercial satellites that show details down to a yard across of chemical, biological, and nuclear facilities around the world. So far, it has analyzed and released pictures of sites in North Korea and Pakistan. Next it hopes to buy pictures of sites in India, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and the so-called Area 51 in Nevada, a top-secret US military base. The photos cost a minimum of $1,000 per order for US sites, $2,000 for foreign sites. The Pakistan pictures confirmed the existence of a heavy-water facility to produce plutonium and revealed a larger-than-expected military facility. Pictures of India's nuclear sites have been delayed because of cloud cover. Pictures of North Korea's Rodong base, the country's lone site for launching long-range missiles, and one of the excuses for the continued US military buildup, showed what seemed to be a primitive rural site with only small patches of paved roads, little security and no rail link. ''It's remarkably modest,'' said John Pike, an analyst for the Federation. ''The facility we see today in North Korea for missile testing is not consistent with what would be a more rigorous, robust training program.'' The photographs are viewable on the Federation's Web site, www.fas.org.
OIL ROYALTIES RESET. Taxpayers, schoolchildren and the environment will benefit from new Minerals Management Service (MMS) oil valuation rules that require oil production corporations to pay their fair share, the US Public Interest Research Groups reported. Effective June 1, the largest oil companies must stop underpaying by at least $66 million a year the royalties they owe the American public for drilling on public lands. Revenues collected from the royalties will go to environmental programs, the federal treasury, and to state governments, many of which use the money to fund public education.
Oil companies are required by law to pay a royalty for drilling on public lands, but the largest oil companies have evaded paying their fair share by setting the price of the oil below market value. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) drafted an oil valuation rule to stop this practice in 1996, but Congress blocked this rule five separate times through "riders" attached to spending bills.
The last of the riders, attached to the fiscal year 2000 Omnibus Appropriations bill, prohibited the MMS from finalizing the rules until March 15, 2000, at which date the MMS laid down the law. The oil companies donated more than $16 million to congressional candidates from 1993 to 1998, with Sen. Kay B. Hutchison (R-Texas), the top Senate recipient of oil money with $1.2 million during that time. Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) was the sixth highest Senate recipient, receiving $186,289. Both of those senators were instrumental in delaying the new oil royalty rules.
GM FEELS THE HEAT. General Motors has joined a growing list of major corporations that have dropped out of the Global Climate Coalition, the industry-supported group that has spent millions to promote the minority view that fears of global warming are groundless. The auto manufacturer, which was the target of a relentless campaign by activists, joins other dropouts such as DaimlerChrysler, BP/Amoco, Shell Oil and Ford Motor company. ExxonMobil remains one of the few major entrenched supporters of the group, according to TomPaine.com. "Withdrawing from the GCC is a first and very important step for General Motors," stated the Sierra Club. "The biggest single step to curbing global warming is making vehicles go further on a gallon of gas."
TWO MORE FREED IN SEATTLE. A municipal court judge in Seattle on March 16 dismissed charges of obstructing a public officer against Cheri Honkala of Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia and Ward Morehouse with the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy and the Council on International and Public Affairs in New York. "We want to thank all of you for the letters of support and other intentions as moral support in this difficult and trying struggle," Morehouse said in an email to supporters.
TERMINIX BACKS DOWN FROM CRITIC. Terminix Corporation and its corporate affiliates have abandoned a lawsuit they filed last year aiming to shut down a Web site featuring comments from disgruntled Terminix customers. The voluntary dismissal of the case is a triumph for the consumer's right to criticize corporations on the World Wide Web, said Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney who defended the Californian who launched the Web site. In October, Terminix, the well-known pest control company, along with its parent corporation, ServiceMaster, and several ServiceMaster subsidiaries, sued Carla Virga, a secretary from Yuba City, Calif.
Terminix filed the suit in federal court in Memphis, Terminix's hometown, seeking damages and a preliminary injunction against Virga, who had created a Web site that criticized Terminix because its inspectors had failed to find problems with a house that she had purchased. The Web site grew into a general forum for consumer criticism of Terminix. An earlier lawsuit against Virga for defamation was thrown out of a state court in California as meritless. In early December, Virga moved to dismiss the federal lawsuit because it violated her free speech rights and asked for an injunction labeling Terminix a "nuisance litigant" and requiring it to provide special justifications before suing her again in the future.
Levy credited the victory in part to the substantial media attention that Terminix's lawsuit attracted, which in turn led to a number of complaints on investor bulletin boards about the lawsuit. A recent court filing from Terminix complained bitterly about the adverse publicity that the lawsuit had received and about the unexpectedly strong legal defense that Virga had been able to mount.
CIA HONORS FIRED AGENT. The highest-ranking CIA official fired in a 1995 scandal for failing to inform Congress about human rights abuses in Guatemala was to be awarded one of the CIA's highest honors, the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, at a closed ceremony in March, the Washington Post reported. Terry R. Ward, 62, former chief of the Latin American Division, was to receive the prestigious award for "exceptional achievements" during a 30-year covert career despite his dismissal for failing to report on CIA ties to a Guatemalan colonel linked to two murders in the early 1990s. "I'm not surprised," said Jennifer Harbury, an American lawyer who triggered the CIA scandal by waging a hunger strike outside the White House in the fall of 1994. Harbury wanted the CIA and other agencies to reveal what they knew about the 1992 death of her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Guatemalan leftist guerrilla. "The CIA is living down to its reputation in giving this award," Harbury said. "And they weren't acting in good faith [five years ago] when they said they were cleaning up their act. Obviously, they didn't mean what they said."
BLACK RADICAL CONFERENCE's National Organizing Conference will take place June 23-25 at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. The onference will consolidate the BRC as a coalition of organizations and individuals committed to building a movement for freedom and justice for blacks in North America. It also will prepare the groundwork for the 2nd Congress of the BRC in June 2001. For More information write Black Radical Congress, P.O. Box 490365, Atlanta, GA 30349; phone 313-438-3114; web site www.blackradicalcongress.org
PRISON LABOR. In prisons across the country, more than 80,000 inmates now hold traditional jobs, working for governments or private companies and earning 25 cents to $7 an hour doing everything from telemarketing to the manufacturing of computer circuit boards and furniture, the New York Times reported March 19. Private sector programs, which exist in 36 states and employ 3,500, have doubled in size since 1995 and resulted in complaints that they have taken jobs from outside contractors. The federal program, which employs 21,000 inmates and has $600 million in annual sales, is seeking to expand. But opponents say inmate labor is both a potential human rights abuse and a threat to workers outside prison walls. Most big companies like AT&T and Microsoft who hired inmates in the 1990s backed away after the arrangements were exposed, but others, like the retailer Target, still use suppliers that employ prisoners. Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Florida, has offered a bill that would allow federal prisons to hire out their inmates, while a competing bill from Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., could cause the federal program to scale back by forcing it to compete with private companies for the government contracts it now fills.