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Archive for the ‘Minnesota’ Category

Christmas day is fast approaching and many are wondering if their Christmas wishes will come true. Retailers are hoping for a boost in sales, Senate Democrats are hoping to keep their act together and pass health care legislation, children are hoping they were good enough for Santa and families in Minnesota are bracing for a major winter storm and hoping it won’t totally ruin their Christmas celebrations.

For some families, a winter storm is the least of their worries. Last week  I struck up a conversation with a recently hired co-worker. He was a short fellow with an ever-present smile and eager to do his share of work. His english was broken but still good enough that we could converse. A recent immigrant to the U.S., he and his wife and many other families have relocated to Worthington from a refugee camp in Thailand where he spent the last ten years of his life. He is a native of Karen, a region in southeastern Burma bordering Thailand. His two sons are in Canada and he still has a daughter in a refuge camp in Thailand. Other family members are now in Australia. Of course our conversation turned to politics and government and he did not hesitate to show his disdain for the Burmese government and the military junta control over virtually everything. He also made sure that I understood that he was Karen, proud of it, and that there was a difference.

The Karen people have sought independence from Burma since 1949. Charges of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution have been leveled at the Burmese government, now known as the Republic of Myanmar. The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) has been documenting the plight of the Karen people for over 17 years and has a wealth of information in the form of reports, pictures and video on its website. KHRG also can be found on Facebook and Twitter. 

My Christmas wish? Health and happiness to all my family and friends, a world without war and a future where my new union brother will be able to reunite his entire family.

Kawthoolei is the name used by the Karen people for the state they wish to establish. It has several possible meanings: Flowerland, Land without Evil, and The Land Burnt Black. Whatever its meaning, I know that it is a beautiful country ravaged by war.

 Here is a video of  traditional Karen music:

Here is a video with a series of clips. Beautiful, interesting and sad.

Peace & solidarity,

CHC

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11/09/09 UPDATE: Harmon Park is safe. According to members of the Save Harmon Park group the Pipestone city council met in closed session again tonight (11/09/09) and when they came out they announced that they had taken a vote and had declined Coborn’s offer for Harmon Park.

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

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If you happen to be a Facebook user then you will know that you often get all kinds of unsolicited invitations to become a fan of someone or something or to join a cause. It is easy to do with a couple of clicks and you can then beat your chest and say, “I support the ____ CAUSE.”  Recently I received a suggestion from a FB friend that I have known for a long time. She suggested that I join the Save Harmon Park cause. My curiosity got to me so I signed up and discovered that the city of Pipestone was considering selling part of their premier city park so that it could be developed  into a Coborn’s Superstore which would include a car wash and a gas station/convenience store. Coborn’s, Inc. is a Minnesota grown corporation founded in 1921 based in St Cloud with locations in the midwest, primarily Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa.

The Pipestone County Star carried the first story, Coborn’s Superstore on the drawing board, about this development on October 7, 2009 and it was soon after that the opposition formed their group.

The Save Harmon Park group has been busy. They now have 276 members in the FB group and are using this social media tool for discussion, communication and organizing. They have contacted news organizations to get their story out, organized a petition drive which garnered 400 signatures to present to the city council, generated numerous letters to the editor and had over 100 people at a recent city council meeting to speak against the sale.

The city of Pipestione has had a rough year. Bayliner shut down its operations and Suzlon announced significant layoffs. The stagnant economy and unallotment by the Governor have also contributed to the tough situations faced by the city council. While the influx of cash from the sale of the park and future property tax collections may seem attractive now the Save Harmon Park group believes that it is short-sighted and I sympathise with them. I think it is a bit arrogant for Coborn’s to believe that the citizens of Pipestone would give up their park without question. I wonder what they were thinking when they were picking their ideal spot for a new store.

Did the conversation go like this?

 “Here is a great location” !

 “But wait, isn’t there a city park there”?

 “So what, our green will trump their green”.

For me, another reason to dislike this idea is Coborn’s political stance on health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act. They have opposed both and urged their employees to do the same in an internal memo. In a Minnesota Public Radio report, Coborn’s director of communications, Steve Gottwalt says, ” the company frequently shares information with its employees about factors affecting its business”. Steve Gottwalt also happens to have another job as a  Minnesota state representative in district 15A and  is a member of the Republican caucus.

Visit the Pipestone County Star website to keep abreast of the situation and to read the letters to the editor. Here is just one example. If you are on Facebook search Save Harmon Park.

I can’t help but think of this song.

Peace & solidarity,

 

CHC

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Town hall meetings on health care reform seem to be the hottest ticket in town these days for the media, activists, and constituents on all sides of the issue. Representative Tim Walz from Minnesota’s 1st congressional district held a town meeting on August 2oth in Mankato at the Mankato East High School. Concerned citizens from across the district traveled to Mankato from Worthington to take part as did I and two of my union brothers. Unfortunately for us, our 90 plus mile trip was marked by unavoidable delays in getting started and detours on Highway 60. We arrived  a few minutes after the doors opened but the place quickly filled to capacity. Many of the people that came to participate left but there was still a crowd of people from both sides of the issue that stayed to show support or protest. Initially, there was anger  and demands to be let into the building from the anti-reform folks but they soon realized that was not going to happen.

Teamsters Local 120 had a  good contingent of people there on the outside with signs in support of reform and of course they drew the ire of the opposition. Although they were called “union thugs” and accused of unfairly loading up the auditorium they remained calm, even engaging some of the opponents in lively but peaceful discussions. I noticed other people doing the same, each side trying to convince the other that they were right. I doubt if there were any serious conversions amongst the outside crowd.

There was one tense moment before we left when a man came walking over carrying a sign that can only be described as despicable. It was met with cheers from many of the right wing crowd and boos and groans from the supporters of health care reform. Several people confronted him and it wasn’t long before one man got very angry and emotional. Fortunately the Mankato police department had several officers on the scene and one of them walked over to observe. He did not let it escalate and escorted the man away from the crowd to calm him down. We left about 15 minutes after that but I did have an opportunity to take a number of random pictures which I have put together as a video below.

Bluestem Prairie editor, Sally Jo Sorensen, was inside at the town hall meeting and has her observations and a summary of news accounts in, CD-1: Post health care town hall meeting media roundup and CD-1: Post health care town hall meeting media roundup, part #2. She also gently nudged me to write  my observations in her post, Outside the Walz town hall: LaRouche “Obama as Hitler” sign stirs passions.

 

 

 

Peace & solidarity,

 

CHC

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Finally!

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that Al Franken is indeed the winner. Read the opinion here.  Governor Pawlenty needs to do his job now and sign the election certificate. The sooner he does that the sooner he can get back to running for president.

I have updated my side bar to reflect Senator Al Franken’s new status.

Peace & solidarity,

 

CHC

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The Marshall Independent is reporting that former Minnesota House minority leader Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall will formally announce his bid for governor on July 7.  His plans include a campaign tour throughout the state, starting with the Twin Cities and with visits to Duluth, Rochester and Mankato.

Oh, by the way, he also mentions that voters have until Tuesday to take advantage of the campaign political refund program that his best bud, Governor Pawlenty, has decided to eliminate. I wonder how that is working out for you Marty?

Peace & solidarity,

CHC

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Today at approximately 10:00 A.M. a portion of the JBS Swift plant was evacuated due to an ammonia leak. The Worthington Daily Globe was on the scene and covers the story in 40 JBS employees treated after ammonia leak.  Daily Globe photographer Brian Korthals was able to take a few pictures from the roof of  a vehicle just outside the JBS property (we watched you from the cafeteria windows).

I was one of the many evacuees who hastily left the building and fortunately was not affected by ammonia. The group of employees I was with were at the back of the property for about 35 minutes when we were told we could reenter the building through the front and proceed to the facilities cafeteria which was unaffected by the leak.  I was then able to get a better idea of what was going on because I had a good view of all the emergency vehicles that were gathered outside the front of the building. My thoughts were with the brothers and sisters who were being transported to the hospital. I hoped that they would all be ok and according to published reports most were treated and released with only a few admitted for further observation. The leak was contained and after the affected areas were cleared of the ammonia we returned to work.

UFCW Local 1161 officials were on the scene and will be actively involved in the ensuing investigation of the cause of the leak and the effectiveness of the evacuation. I have my own observations and thoughts which I will share with the Local 1161 and JBS Swift.

Ammonia leaks are serious.

They can be deadly.

Once the cause of this leak is accurately determined, it is extremely important that preventative measures be taken to prevent its recurrence. A critical look at evacuation procedures is also necessary to determine if the evacuation could have been done better. Hopefully the end result will be a safer workplace.  Of course, I am sure MNOSHA will have a role in the investigation. The state OSHA officials investigated an ammonia leak at this plant in January of 2008 which resulted in the JBS Swift receiving a citation and a nominal fine. I wrote about that incident in a previous post, JBS Swift workers evacuated. Workers were evacuated and hospitalized during that incident also and the cause of the leak was determined to be a faulty valve.

I have been involved in several evacuations over the years and once got a shot of ammonia.  My eyes, nose, throat and lungs were immediately in distress and I couldn’t get fresh air fast enough. I turned out ok (well, some may say my brain was affected). It is something I will never forget. I do not live in fear of an ammonia leak but I am acutely aware of its deadly potential. I hope I never experience another one.

Peace & solidarity,

CHC

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If you want to do a compare and contrast about card check and the secret ballot method of organizing a union in the workplace, Workday Minnesota’s recent post, Videos about the Employee Free Choice Act, offers two informative videos produced by the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service.

 

The first one shows a successful voluntary card check while the second is a grim reminder of how poorly the present system works.

 

 

 

 

 

There has been much hysteria about the Employee Free Choice Act and many in the main stream media have been too lazy to find out what works and what doesn’t work. Or, maybe they just don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

 

Corporate America has amassed a huge war chest to campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act. In an effort to get the truth out about this critical legislation the AFL-CIO has established the Turn Around America Fund. Please consider a contribution today. Help bring prosperity to all of America.

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Peace & solidarity,

CHC 

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