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July 14, 2006 | Page 12

Ignoring the real fraud
Standing up for gay rights

A fightback at Fletcher Allen

NEGOTIATIONS FOR Fletcher Allen Nurses, AFT Local 5221, are underway, with our contract set to expire on July 9. With time running out, the hospital administration keeps telling us they're "not interested" in the majority of our proposals.

The hospital's main interest appears to be getting us to give up many of the victories of our first contract. Our struggle is similar to that of most nursing unions across the country--fighting for patient safety, dealing with the nursing shortage and improving working conditions, wages and benefits.

Our struggle is also unique. To begin with, we are uniting our registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) in one contract. This is unusual due to National Labor Relations Board regulations, and it is one small step toward unifying all workers in the hospital.

The hospital continues to do all it can to divide us, just as the ruling class tries to do whatever it can to pit worker against worker. In our first contract negotiations, the hospital focused on dividing RNs and LPNs.

This time around, they seem focused on dividing nurses from other hospital workers. An example of this is that the hospital told us they'd prefer to focus on wages because then they can give us more without having to give other workers more, rather than improving our benefit package, which would improve conditions for all workers at the hospital.

The hospital does not see that for many of us, our real goal is to do whatever we can for all workers, especially those who are most oppressed. Just as we struggled in our first RN negotiations to do whatever we could to get the LPNs a fair contract, this time we are looking to the future and the continued struggle to organize all our workers.

Local 5221 is also the largest union in Vermont, and because of this, we recognize the importance of winning a good contract to help lead other unions in our state to bigger victories. We have the power and the responsibility to stand up, not just for our own rights, but for all unions and workers in Vermont.

Some see our union as one of the most radical in the state. I hope that we will live up to this image in this next week as our old contract expires.

Many of our rank-and-file nurses are ready to do whatever is necessary to maintain and build on the strengths of our first contract. I know that we will continue to unify within our rank and file so that each step of the way we will have a stronger voice for all workers.
Christina V. Neumann, Local 5221 bargaining team, Burlington, Vt.

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Ignoring the real fraud

THE CONGRESSIONAL Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report concluding people filing false claims with FEMA have received up to $1.5 billion in undeserved aid for Hurricane Katrina.

Anecdotal examples of abuse contained in the report include relief money spent on football tickets and dining at Hooters, as well as some larger scams involving tens of thousands of dollars. Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, chair of the House subcommittee that initiated the investigation, finds the fraud "shocking and appalling."

What hypocrisy! The fraud uncovered by the GAO pales in comparison to the rampant fraud perpetrated by the U.S. government.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, over the past five years, members of Congress have received over $50 million in vacations paid for by lobbyists. This figure doesn't even include the billions of dollars in bribes (aka "campaign finance") that lobbyists and corporations lavish on both Democrats and Republicans.

How many members of Congress have enjoyed Jack Abramoff's hospitality suites that included "service" of a qualitatively different nature than what's served up at Hooters?

The scale of Katrina fraud is dwarfed by the $95 billion Congress just appropriated to continue funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars--two of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated by the U.S. government.

Also ignored by the GAO report are the fates of tens of thousands of people who haven't received help, people who are scattered around the country with no prospects for employment, people stranded in "Femaville" trailer parks, people unable to return to their homes and others being evicted from their homes.

This minor fraud is a cheap political stunt to distract from the real crimes of Congress. The loss of these funds isn't what's preventing people from receiving help--our government's disgusting and twisted spending priorities are responsible for that.
Nicholas Hart, Seattle

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Standing up for gay rights

THE PEOPLE of Washington have rejected a petition drive to repeal a recently passed gay civil rights bill.

In January, by a 25 to 23 vote, the state legislature passed a law that would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people in employment, housing and lending, making Washington the 17th state to extend such rights.

Immediately after passing the law, LGBT people were once again under attack when anti-tax initiative organizer Tim Eyman and a network of conservative evangelical organizations, including the Faith & Freedom Network and the Christian Coalition, joined forces to begin a petition drive to place a referendum on the November ballot to recall the civil rights law.

Despite a well-funded and well-organized antigay propaganda campaign and a "Referendum Sunday" effort to collect signatures at churches throughout the state, organizers fell short of the required 112,440.

The failure of the referendum effort forced organizers to reconsider their alliance of convenience. The evangelicals were not impressed with Eyman's arrogant showboating, including showing up to the press conference with the results of petition drive in a Darth Vader costume.

Washington's civil rights bill quietly went into effect on June 7. The defeat of antigay bigotry in our state should send a clear message to the people of Washington that the struggle for civil rights for everyone, including marriage equality, enjoys the support of the majority of the state's population. Gay rights organizations can now look to this positive public support to reinvigorate and mobilize the fight for marriage equality.
Lonnie Lopez, Seattle

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