Archive for the ‘worthington’ 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,


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After a day of  zipping around the packing house on my forklift, moving pork to its intended destination, I like to come home and relax and then see what Ollie Ox has to say at A Bluestem Prairie. Today I was a little shocked and saddened to read that Bluestem Prairie will be on hiatus until June 1. In a short post Sally Jo Sorensen announced:


“After posting at this blog for 2 years, 8 months, we’re feeling the need to spruce up the joint. Bluestem will be shuttered after today until June 1, when the blog will return as a venue for nonfiction essays…”

I and many others across the 1st District will miss her vigilant updates on  Congressman Tim Walz and her extensive recaps of the political news in the district. Sally also has kept an eye on the MSM and was not hesitant to remind them to get the facts straight.

This fall I had the privilege to meet the one and only Ollie OX at the annual Turkey Day celebration in Worthington and was honored to be her ‘union goon’ for the day. Although the vultures were circling overhead, we did manage to have some good discussion about blogging and politics.

We look forward to reading her new stuff on June 1 and hope she still has time for birding and gardening.

Cheap Trick says it all…

Peace & solidarity,


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death trap alley

“Pray for me, I drive Highway 60”.

That is the slogan of the Southwest Minnesota Highway 60 Action Corporation that was organized in 1960. The groups purpose back then, as it is today, was to promote the improvement of Minnesota TH 60. They are still praying and waiting 48 years later. Last Thursday, July 24, 380 people gathered in Windom to share their experiences about traveling on Highway 60 and to urge Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) officials to complete the 4-lane expansion.

MNDOT Commissioner Thomas K. Sorel got an earful as about 25 of the 380 in attendance were able to speak over the course of the two and a half hour meeting. Worthington Daily Globe reporter Julie Buntjer covered the event and led her story with this:

One by one they walked to the microphone, sat down and shared their death-defying experiences on a stretch of Minnesota 60 that not once, not twice, but three times changes from two-lane to four-lane traffic between Windom and St. James.  

From an aunt, friend and cousin who shared their stories of 28-year-old Jamie Torkelson, killed in a head-on collision on the highway on May 6, 2005, to retired school bus drivers, business people, truck drivers and city and county leaders — they pleaded with newly-appointed transportation commissioner Thomas Sorel and MnDOT officials to find the money to complete the four-lane expansion.

The Cottonwood County Citizen also covered the event: Highway 60 meeting attracts 380 to Windom Community Center.

Two area lawmakers and state transportation commissioner Thomas Sorel left Windom with a stronger sense of Highway 60’s flaws and the public’s resolve after last night’s meeting at the Windom Community Center.More than 380 people were on hand, several of them were there specifically to provide testimony on the dangers of the controversial highway. One after another, residents testified about cases where motorists became confused by the highway’s mixture of two-lane and four-lane stretches. Most stories ended with someone in the wrong lane and a “near miss,” injuries, or a fatality.


The room fell dead silent following two different stories regarding close calls involving school buses full of students.


Lawmakers, such as Sen. Jim Vickerman and Rep. Rod Hamilton expressed frustration that MnDOT leaders have failed to comply with a bill the state’s lawmakers approved this past spring - a bill that requires all of Highway 60 to be completed. Read the rest here.  



Rahn Larson, editor of the Cottonwood County Citizen, questions the power and decision making of the officials at MNDOT in his editorial: MnDot vs. lawmakers?  Larson asks:

Can a state agency simply refuse to enact an order passed by the Minnesota Legislature?

He then goes on to list a number of facts that proves the intent of the legislature to finish Highway 60 and then has this to say:

OK, so the bill was approved and the legislative intent was confirmed and even stressed to MnDOT leaders at least twice. So the real question is this: “Who is calling the shots for Minnesota - the legislature, or department heads for the various departments?


State Senator Jim Vickerman (DFL) and Representative Rod Hamilton (GOP) were both at this meeting in Windom but missing in action was Representative Doug Magnus (GOP). Of course it was probably a wise decision on his part to stay away from such a large gathering since he supported Governor Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the transportation legislation. Fortunately the legislature was able to overide that veto.

In the coming week we will probably find out if Governor Pawlenty will be chosen as McCain’s running mate. He will probably bring along his veto pen. We will also remember the collapse of the I35W bridge. Our infrasturcture needs our obvious and urgent and we could use some real leadership on this issue. Unfortunately we have not received that from the Governor or Representative Magnus.

The Worthington Daily Globe has this compelling audio of Hillary Mathis speaking of her cousin’s tragic death on Highway 60.

(click the arrow)



Peace & solidarity,




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A little over three weeks ago, ICE was in Worthington, Minnesota to conduct an “enforcement action”. The February 28th edition of the Worthington Daily Globe reported:

“Immigration officials were closed-mouthed Wednesday about what they were doing in Worthington, but did say they were conducting an enforcement operation targeting specific individuals in the area… “

In a recent conversation with a friend and coworker of mine I found out that “targeting specific individuals” must mean that if you don’t look like you just came off the farm and are not saying ” you betcha” a lot, it must mean that you are undocumented. He had went to pick up some items from a local retail store and was leaving the store when two men approached him and asked for his identification. Being a good union brother that respects but likes to challenge authority, he asked them who the hell they were and did not produce any ID. They replied that they were with Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) and again asked for his identification. He asked for identification from them and they finally produced it. After verifying their id’s my friend offered them his driver’s license. The ICE agents apparently were not satisfied with that and asked to see his Green Card. Well, after telling them that he did not have a Green Card because he is a citizen, they took his drivers license to a van where they have all their secret Homeland Security electronic gizmo’s and checked it out. Returning a few minutes later they told him he was free to go. Before leaving he asked why he was stopped and was told ” he didn’t need to know”.

I often hear people say that if you are here legally that you do not have anything to fear from the government. Fortunately for my coworker, the verification process worked this time. If their data was inaccurate or incomplete what would have happened? What is disturbing is that he was chosen at random because he did not fit the profile of a SW Minnesota native. ICE officials say they do not randomly pick up people. Apparently the agents in the field did not get the memo.

Here is a video of Jim Carrey (a native Canadian who is also now a U. S. citizen) doing a parody of Vanilla Ice.

Peace & solidarity,

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Sunday I wrote about Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and the unrest in her office. I also offered a message to the AG. Today I am not surprised but certainly distressed that the AG has put assistant attorney general Amy Lawler on administrative leave. Once again, Eric Black at MinnPost.com has the story. MPR’s Tim Pugmire also reported on the Lawler administrative leave. The audio is here. Pugmire reports:

Swanson sent a packet of information to DFL Legislative leaders this week insisting that state law prevents attorneys in her office from unionizing. She also claimed union organizers have been using a common tactic to stir the pot as their campaign falters.”

Sounds like she has been reading the union busters handbook instead of the text of the Employee Free Choice Act. If the Minnesota law needs to be changed then she should be advocating for that change to allow her staff to freely make their own choice and should not be standing in the way.

While many people are probably not following these events real close or don’t really care, I must confess that I have a certain fondness for the Office of the Attorney General and what they have done in the past to make my life safer. If you have read some of my earlier posts you would know that I work in the meat packing industry. In the mid 90’s MNOSHA came to Worthington to do a wall to wall inspection at the Swift & Co. plant where I work. After a thorough inspection the company was cited for numerous safety violations, many of them serious. Of course the company challenged these citations and was prepared to fight it in court. I won’t bore you with many details but the Attorney General’s office was able to reach a settlement agreement with Swift & Co. (now JBS Swift). The settlement agreement allowed MNOSHA and the AG’s office to monitor abatement progress over a three year time period. As the head of the union safety committee at the time I had the privilege to work with a number of assistant AG’s. They were persistent. They were efficient. They were professional. They were not intimidated by the highly paid and arrogant corporate lawyers who would try anything to get out of compliance with the law. My workplace was made much safer and the corporate attitude on safety turned around because of the efforts of the Attorney General’s office and MNOSHA. The unions efforts alone could not have accomplished that and thousands of workers have benefited.

I am grateful.


Peace & solidarity,






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Area newspapers are reporting positive reaction to the passage of the transportation bill. In Rep. Seifert’s hometown, Rae Kruger of the Marshall Independent reports that county commissioners are pleased that money will be available for county and township roads. Lyon County commissioner Bob Fenske had this to say:

Fenske takes issue with opponents, including legislators, who say a gas tax will not generate that much money in general, and so it won’t do much for rural counties.“It is a significant amount that will come to the county,” Fenske said.

The Worthington Daily Globe headline: Reaction to transpostation bill is positive. Nobles County engineer had a few comments and here is an excerpt:

Schnieder said now that a transportation package has been completed, every township in Nobles County will get money as a result.

“It goes a long way to hold down property taxes for township boards,” he said. “They’re experiencing the same things we are — increased costs for fuel and construction, bridge replacements (and maintenance).”

The Daily globe also opines about the tactics the Minnesota GOP is using on the members of their party who voted in favor of addressing our infrastructure needs. In Party Presure Pressures, the dilemma facing Rep. Rod Hamilton(R) is discussed. Here is the last paragraph from the Daily Globe editorial:

It should trouble all of us when parties attempt to hold elected officials hostage, thereby making it increasingly difficult for them to do the job they’re supposed to be doing — serving the people who elected them. Why do we elect representatives in the first place, then?

Peace & solidarity,


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More water woes!

GW released his 2009 budget today and one of the casualties was the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. News reports from KELOTV and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader state that the LCRWS will receive nothing, nada, zilch in the Bush 2009 budget. When completed, Lewis & Clark will provide safe, reliable drinking water to over 300,000 people in the tri-state area. Members in southwest Minnesota include Luverne, Worthington, Rock County Rural Water, and Linclon-Pipestone Rural Water. The project has been backed by 1st CD Rep. Tim Walz, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Norm Coleman and Governor Tim Pawlenty.

I am waiting to see what the reaction from our elected officials in Minnesota will be.

For more budget info go to A Bluestem Prairie for some informative links on other casualties of the Bush budget.

Peace & solidarity


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Well, not only is the bridge bad but the water under it leaves a lot to be desired. A few weeks ago I received the Rock River Watershed TMDL Newsletter from the Rock County Land Management office. In the newsletter it says, “Pollution is threatening the Rock River“. It goes on to offer an overview of the problem, lists a project summary, and announces an open house for the public to learn more and discuss possible solutions. Read it here: rock-river-tmdl.pdf

Back in 1994 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) gave notice that the Rock river was polluted with fecal coliform bacteria at the Minnesota/Iowa border. In 2002 the MPCA said it was also impaired for turbidity. During two open house meetings in Luverne and Edgerton the public was informed of the water cleanup project and given an opportunity to ask questions and provide input. According to the January 26 edition of the Worthington Daily Globe, Work begins to improve Rock River watershed, approximately 70 people were in attendance at the Luverne meeting to listen to the presentation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Water Resouces Center of Mankato. Another 60 people attended the meeting in Edgerton. The goal of the water quality project is to seek public input and finalize a written plan to clean up the river. Hopefully once this plan is completed there will be financial assistance to assist with the cleanup.

My local newspaper, the Rock County Star-Herald, also covered the meeting in Luverne. In ‘River cleanup process started’ the issue is covered in depth and editor Lori Ehde had these observations:

The Rock River is polluted, and some local livestock producers are afraid fingers are pointing at them.That was the tone of a public meeting Thursday, Jan. 24, that drew nearly 70 people to the Rock County Human Services building to discuss the state’s “impaired” label on the Rock River. The point of Thursday’s meeting was to provide information to the public and to seek public participation in order to garner state and federal dollars for river cleanup.But many at the meeting seemed worried the end result will mean more government restrictions on their livestock operations, and some discussion questioned the validity of the river’s “impaired” status.

The rest of the article is available in their online edition but you will have to give up most of a fifty dollar bill to view it.

In the same issue on the opinion page the Star Herald editorial headline was, The point isn’t who is to blame; the point should be how to clean up the river. Here are a few excerpts from the editorial:

Rock County farmers have long been leaders in soil and water conservation and in lobbying for development of agriculture as a renewable fuel.

and this

What was disappointing to the casual observer was that many of these vocal farmers Thursday night were the same ones who lobbied so aggressively for ethanol and wind subsidies in the name of improving the environment. It begs the question: does the environment matter only when a government check (or an ethanol plant dividend) is attached to the cause?

I have to agree with the Star-Herald that the emphasis should be on cleaning up the river. Certainly we have waited long enough. Rock County farmer Gene “Pucky” Sandager was one of those not sold on the idea and was quoted in the Daily Globe saying: “Take it a little slow, make sure we’re doing the right thing before we go off on a rampage,”  Well, it has been known as early as 1994 of the fecal coliform problem and in 2002 the turbidity issue was identified. Local officials have been working with state and federal personnel since 2006. It is now 2008 and the final report is still a work in progress. Hardly going off on a rampage.

Peace & solidarity,


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According to the published report in the Worthington Daily Globe, Ammonia leak sends JBS Swift workers to hospital, 25 workers were sent to Worthington Regional Hospital and 9 workers were transported to Sanford Luverne Community Hospital. The ammonia leak apparently occurred a little before 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night. Normally I would have first hand information on this because JBS Swift is where I work but since I took a vacation day today I had to read about it in the paper.

Hopefully the workers exposed to the ammonia will not have any long term health problems. An ammonia leak  is serious and can be very deadly if immediate action is not taken to evacuate anyone who could be exposed. Many years ago (I’ve been there 23 years) I had the experience of being involved in an ammonia leak at the Swift plant. I did not require any medical treatment but remember vividly the burning sensation in my eyes and throat as I was momentarily exposed to a blast of leaking ammonia. The employees were also evacuated during that leak.

MNOSHA has been been informed of the incident according to JBS Swift human resources manager, Jenny Anderson-Martinez, but is unsure if they will make a visit to investigate. I hope they do come and investigate and review the company’s Process Safety Management (PSM) program. The federal OSHA website says this about the PSM standard:

Unexpected releases of toxic, reactive, or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals have been reported for many years in various industries that use chemicals with such properties. Regardless of the industry that uses these highly hazardous chemicals, there is a potential for an accidental release any time they are not properly controlled, creating the possibility of disaster.

To help ensure safe and healthful workplaces, OSHA has issued the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals standard (29 CFR 1910.119), which contains requirements for the management of hazards associated with processes using highly hazardous chemicals.

Since JBS Swift uses huge amounts of ammonia as a refrigerant they must comply with the PSM standard. This standard is meant to protect the workers and the surrounding community since an accidental release could drift into populated areas. There are miles of piping and hundreds of valves in the system at JBS Swift so it requires constant monitoring, preventive maintenance,  training and updating. You can not be too vigilant with this system because the potential for disaster is so high if there is a major failure. Again, I hope MNOSHA makes a visit to do a hands on investigation so that we have complete answers to what caused this leak and what steps are being taken to prevent another incident. I certainly be asking a lot of questions.

Peace & solidarity


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This afternoon Pioneer Public TV aired a production from Okabena Media about George Dayton, founder of the Dayton Department store, and the grand Victorian mansion he built in Worthington, Minnesota. The 30 minute video, directed by Ray Lowry, has a lot of historical information about George Dayton (great grandfather of former Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton) and his role in the development of the city of Worthington. Basically a slide-show with a narrative, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more pictures of the Dayton house, however the information presented was good and gives a look at the struggles of the pioneers on prairie.

Like many residents of southwest Minnesota, I remember the home as the Cashel Nursing Home. Ruth Cashel owned and operated the home and I remember meeting her when I worked in Worthington at a former job. My impression of her is of a strong, independent, feisty woman. She was a frequent letter writer to the local newspaper and wasn’t afraid to voice an unpopular opinion. Her husband, John Cashel, was a Minnesota state senator.

You can view the video online at Okabena Media by clicking on the films link. The Historic Dayton House has a website which has a history of the house and its residents and you can also take a virtual tour. More information of Ruth Cashel  is on the site as well as other residents of the home.

Historic Worthington, Inc., the non-profit organization that restored and preserved the home, deserves hearty congratulations for making this piece of history available to the public.

Peace & solidarity,


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