News Briefs

Yes and no to CAFTA, CPS proposed coal plant hearing begins, PGA deal in doubt, City suspends SEIU members

Lamar says yes, labor says no to CAFTA

Labor and elected leaders packed the Communication Workers of America Local 6143 Wednesday morning to rally opposition to the controversial Central American Free Trade Agreement, which is modeled after the 11-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. If enacted, CAFTA would legalize trade liberalization between the United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

"CAFTA is the bad brother of NAFTA," said Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO executive vice president and former San Antonio organizer, during the press conference. "It's a crime what NAFTA has done to people like to you and me, and CAFTA is going to do the same thing for the same reasons."

More than 200,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Texas since June 1998, but CAFTA could be a way to reverse that trend, according to U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), who, in his address to the San Antonio Free Trade Alliance on May 9, said that the agreement would strengthen the San Antonio job market and economy by allowing the forthcoming Toyota plant and Texas' electronic industries to export their goods duty-free.

"I don't understand how congressmen are in favor of this or on the fence on this," said Becky Moeller, who lives in Smith's district and was in attendance Wednesday. "If you make 5 dollars and a nickel a day, I don't know how you can buy a computer or a Toyota."

Reynaldo Federico Gonzalez of the Insurance and Bank Workers Federation in Guatemala says he has a warrant out for his arrest in his native country for participating in demonstrations against CAFTA. He was a panelist Wednesday as part of the "CAFTA- We don't Hafta" tour, which ended its nationwide, week-long run in San Antonio.

"Our government will use the aberrations of the police to suppress movements," said Gonzalez through a translator. "It is truly life-threatening to form a union in Guatemala."

CAFTA, which was drafted in 2004 and signed by all five of the Latin-American countries, has been aggressively backed by the Bush Administration but has not yet been brought before Congress, though a vote could occur as early as this month. Texas representatives Smith and Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, have already pledged their support for the agreement. U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio) said via telephone during the rally that he has not yet decided his vote.

— Heather Holmes

Hearing on proposed CPS coal plant begins

How far-reaching are the effects of a 600-foot coal plant stack spewing 130 pounds of mercury into the air each year? Last week, during a preliminary hearing on City Public Service's proposed 750-megawatt coal-fired power plant, Judge Cassandra Church determined that people, organizations, and cities within a 20-mile radius potentially would be affected.

The decision to grant party status to people who live 20 miles from the proposed plant is a significant victory for environmental rights activists. CPS sought to exclude people who lived farther than one mile from the plant from party status, which is standard in these types of hearings. Church's decision could have bearing on a proposed CPS coal-firing plant in Risel, Texas, nine miles east of Waco.

The hearing took place in a cramped lecture hall at UTSA's 1604 campus, where environmental organizations and more than 80 individuals requested party status, voicing concern over the potential health issues associated with the pollution caused by coal-burning plants, including asthma, mercury poisoning, heart and lung disease, and cancer, as well as environmental contamination. The proposed plant will emit 6 million tons of carbon dioxide - a major contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming - per year.

Judge Church determined that Public Citizen and Austin-based SEED Coalition, each representing the interests of its San Antonio members, as well as the Jefferson Heights Neighborhood Association and the City of China Grove, could be party to the case. Smart Growth San Antonio is expected to be admitted pending paperwork.

Judge Church denied party status for Environmental Defense, a national advocate of environmental rights, because the city comptroller's records list the national advocate of environmental rights as a research and education organization in Texas. The group is expected to appeal the decision.

Judge Church has not set a date for the contested case hearing.

Susan Pagani

PGA deal in doubt

Concerned citizens and activists held a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Monday as a last-minute response to news out of Austin that the latest PGA proposal showed signs of dying in the House. If passed, the proposal would create a special taxing district in North Bexar County to raise money for a PGA Tour golf course to be built over the Edward's Aquifer Recharge Zone.

"Again and again, we have told the City and the State that the people do not want them to create a special taxing district for out-of-town developers, and they've refused to listen," said activist Jon Thompson. "It's a bad business decision to pollute your drinking water. We have too many people concerned with the short-term money."

Proponents of the bill say the golf resort would bring tourism and therefore money and jobs to San Antonio. But it would exempt the developers from property taxes, short-changing the City's coffers.

The initial PGA proposal in 2001 included a provision for a special taxing district but the measure was thrown out after heavy opposition from residents. However, because of what critics claim were "backroom deals, " the Senate approved a new bill, in which a 29-year non-annexation agreement and the option for a taxing district appear in place of the original taxing district.

"City Council told `the people` their votes don't count," said Rosa Rosales, national vice president for the Southwest for Blue Light, during the press conference. "We're not going to take those backroom deals that come at the expense of the people."

The bill met opposition in the House when Representative Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) raised a point of order on a technical error. He temporarily removed the bill Sunday, allowing time for him to speak with the bill's sponsor, Representative Robert Puente (D-San Antonio). If Burnam raises his point again, the bill will not be allowed to pass this session. The results were not known at press time. Check for an update.

— Heather Holmes

City suspends SEIU members

Interim City Manager J. Rolando Bono sent a letter dated February 28 apprising City employees of their rights when participating in a constitutionally protected, democratic process. The "rules" forbid managing a local political campaign, distributing campaign literature, or writing letters or articles for public consideration of a particular candidate.

Bono cites the City Charter: "These rules are designed to protect City employees from the political pressure, to prohibit the use of public employees or City resources for political purposes, and to avoid any appearance of bias or favoritism in carrying out public policy."

Rose Araujo-Murray, a 911 police dispatcher, allowed her photo to be printed on a brochure published by Service Employees International Union, which counts City employees as members. The brochure quotes mayoral candidate Phil Hardberger's interview with Current Arts Editor Elaine Wolff, in which Hardberger said "My feeling is that if you cut out 10 percent of the people who work for the City, you would never miss them and you'd have a lot more money for art and potholes."

Murray responded with a statement about her work as a 911 operator who handles between 150 to 350 emergency calls a day, many, she says, from women who are being battered as they speak into the telephone. "The faster emergency personnel get to the scene, the safer San Antonio families are ... that's why I'm concerned about the comments Phil Hardberger made about his plans to cut 10 percent of City employees."

City Manager Bono reportedly has suspended Murray and two other workers for participating in the election, their membership in SEIU, and the fact that SEIU and the local firefighters union have endorsed Julián Castro for mayor.

Bono's disciplinary action begs the question: Is he a Hardberger supporter?

Michael Cary


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