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A Knight's Ridder Tale: Ever since the big guys took over, employees at the Monterey Herald have been restive.


Paper Trail

After three and a half years without a contract, employees of the Monterey County Herald are ready to pick up their signs and march. Citing a 126-percent turnover rate, Herald employees say that since Knight Ridder took over Monterey's only daily paper in 1997, columns aren't the only things that have gotten skinnier. According to Karen Osmundson, Newspaper Guild campaign coordinator, pay checks have shriveled as well.

"Turnover is high because working conditions are so bad and wages are so low," Osmundson says. "These workers live without basic rights or job security. Management acts as if there isn't a union at all and fires at will. The only recourse is to file charges with the National Labor Review Board, and we always win those cases once we get a hearing. But it takes so long, and in the meantime people are without work. The issue is that [management] never negotiates with us about discipline. They also pay what they feel like without negotiating with the union."

After the takeover, Knight Ridder (which owns 32 dailies) fired the Herald's entire work force, many of whom had been at the paper for 20 years, hiring most workers back after asking them to go through a new application process. The union took Knight Ridder to court for failing to pay severance to the 34 terminated workers they refused to rehire--and won. But it took yet another federal court date to get Knight Ridder to actually write the checks. In the end, Knight Ridder shelled out over $2.2 million in severance pay and interest.

"There is still a lot of fear in the workplace because of all the job insecurity and fear of retaliation," Osmundson says. "Marching with signs is scary, but people are starting to stand up for themselves."

Knight Ridder spokesman Polk Laffoon, seemingly unaware of what is going right under Knight Ridder's nose, could offer no official response.

The march begins at noon, May 17, in front of the Herald building at Ryan Ranch, Monterey.

Up in Smoke

Medical marijuana patients had better exhale. Ever since 1998, when the feds sought to shut down the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative and five other medical marijuana distributors (including the Santa Cruz Buyer's Club), the legality of medical marijuana distribution has been in limbo. In a ruling announced Monday, the Supreme Court voted unanimously to uphold the Controlled Substances Act, which states that there is "no currently accepted medical use" for marijuana--even for ill patients.

The court's ruling doesn't nullify state laws allowing for medical use of the drug, but it does mean that the federal government can shut down organizations that distribute marijuana to patients, who may be forced to grow their own or turn to the black market.

How will the ruling affect the nine states that have already legalized medical marijuana?

"It won't affect us at all," says Valerie Corral, founder and director of Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a marijuana growing collective that has operated in Santa Cruz with the city government's blessing since 1993. "We'll fight to the end. I'm sorry that this has happened. It's cruel. Ideally, you look to leadership as a mentor, but obviously government is so far removed from humanity and human suffering that all they can do is react."

To date, more than 100 members of WAMM have died, using medical marijuana to ease their final days.

According to Corral, "Government can say anything, and it won't change what we know in our hearts to be true; it won't change what we've seen in the faces of our members when they're dying."

Marijuana benefits sufferers of AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and other illnesses. In February 2000, researchers in Madrid announced that THC, marijuana's active ingredient, destroyed incurable brain tumors in rats.

Solar Science

Gov. Gray Davis praised the work of hundreds of scientists and engineers at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair on May 8. But his brief words didn't touch on the energy crisis and how it relates to technology. And just in case Gray wasn't seeing the connection, Santa Cruz Greenpeace activists showed up to remind him that you can't talk about technology without talking about global warming. Standing outside the San Jose State Event Center with banners and signs, they chanted, "Governor Davis take a stand. Global Warming. What's your plan?"

Davis spokesman Roger Salizar said there isn't much the California government can do about global warming. "We're obviously very limited in the impact we can have," he said.

Last fall, Davis signed a bill that requires California to inventory all state sources of greenhouse gas emissions and investigate strategies for reductions. His electricity conservation plan allocates $105 million to promote renewable energy and clean electricity distribution projects-- a pittance compared to the billion dollars per week California spends to buy extra power from Texas, says Greenpeace activist Bill Le Bon. Le Bon argues it would be wiser for California to invest in solar energy.

"California should invest at least a billion dollars in renewables," he says.

Activist Bill Vaughan, among the protesters at the fair, suggested that California be the first state to make substantial reductions in fossil fuel use. "California can lead the world in renewable energy technology," Vaughan said.

In Santa Cruz, a City Council ordinance simplifying the solar panel permit process went into effect May 10. Before then, the city zoning code required extensive paperwork and a $600 permit fee to add solar panels to buildings. Those requirements have now been removed, says Solar Mike, a.k.a. Michael Arenson of EcoEnergies, who first proposed the change in 1999.

According to Arenson, the new ordinance will cause a substantial increase in solar energy use in the city. "Its already making a difference," he said. "People feel better about investing in solar energy."


In a sudden change of heart (coming after last week's Nüz deadline), Food and Nutrition Services has agreed to recognize unionizing child-care workers by card check. "There are still some outstanding issues we need to consider," says SEIU Local 415 organizer Nora Hochman, "but there is every indication that this will be a cooperative relationship." Four months ago, FNS didn't have any unions. Now they have two: United Transportation Union Local 23 and SEIU.

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From the May 16-23, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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