News Briefs

Reproductive rights update, Federal workers picket labor changes

Reproductive rights update

As the Texas Legislature winds down, three bills that would have undermined women's reproductive rights and limited access to health care died in the House due to lack of support for extreme provisions. Yet, two others have passed in both chambers of the legislature and are on their way to Governor Rick Perry's office.

House Bill 1212, which would have required minors to have written parental consent before receiving abortion procedures, and House Bill 16, which would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraception, are dead. ` See "Parental consent laws pass," May 5-11, 2005, "Kill bill," April 7-13, 2005`

Senate Bill 1150, which would have changed the state's current parental notification law by substituting the word "consent" for "notification," died, but was resurrected by Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford), its sponsor, as an amendment to SB 419, the Medical Examiners Board Reauthorization bill. The amendment makes it a violation of occupational code for a physician to perform an abortion without written parental consent or a court order, unless the health of the mother is at risk. SB 419 also contains a provision narrowing the third trimester abortion ban by allowing exceptions only if giving birth would jeopardize the woman's life or if the fetus has severe, irreversible brain damage.

Senate Bill 747, the Medicaid waiver, has passed in the House. The Medicaid Waiver bill would allow 500,000 additional low-income women access to health care by raising the qualifying income for family planning services from $3,300 a year to $34,873 or less annually for a family of four `"Amendment guts women's health bill," April 14-20,2005`. Unfortunately, the bill includes an amendment authored by Senator Bob Duelle (R-Greenville) excluding women eligible under the bill from receiving services from health-care providers who either "perform or promote elective abortion," or "contract or affiliate with entities" that do.

Many health-care providers in San Antonio receive Title X federal funds that require them to provide women who face unintended pregnancies with unbiased counseling on all of their legal and medical options, including abortion. Therefore, low-income women seeking health care under the Medicaid Waiver may not be able to receive family planning services from or referral to any of the eight Planned Parenthood clinics, the University Health System, Community Action Council of South Central Texas, and San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, among others.

SB 747 also contains an amendment authored by Representative Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) that requires "counseling and education on contraceptive methods emphasizing the health benefits of abstinence from sexual activity to recipients who aren't married, except for counseling and education regarding emergency contraception," regardless of age. Chisum's amendment requires doctors to withhold information from low-income women, and promotes pushing conservative values over providing professional health care.

By Susan Pagani

Federal workers picket labor changes

In April, U.S. Comptroller General David Walker told two U.S. senators that to convince Defense Department employees to embrace new labor rules, the government must remember, "communication is not just about pushing the message out."

Left to right: Protesters Yolanda Vilches, Mark Gibson, Roy Flores, Michael Covington, and Rita Spalding-Moore demonstrate outside the Federal Building in downtown San Antonio. "We need San Antonio's support," says Vilches. (Photo by Mario Ochoa)

On May 25, about two dozen Defense Department employees had a message of their own, as they picketed in front of the Federal Building on East Durango Street to protest the proposed National Security Personnel System.

The American Federation of Government Employees, representing 600,000 federal workers nationwide, charges that the proposed system will endow the Defense Department with additional powers unfair to workers. The union also claims the department hasn't clearly communicated the changes.

The NSPS would limit federal workers' collective bargaining rights, make pay increases subject to the whim of supervisors, and consolidate pay grades, also known as "pay banding." Currently, Attorneys and personnel clerks who don't participate in labor relations can join the union. NSPS would prohibit them from doing so.

Those responsible for the labor shakeup, said Rita Spalding-Moore, who works at Lackland Air Force Base, are "the weapons of mass destruction Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney."

Congress authorized the Department of Defense to draw up new, specific personnel rules, but, says the AFGE, the department hasn't provided those details. In a pamphlet distributed at the picket, the AFGE claims that the Defense Department will write the rules later, when Congressional notification and collaboration with the unions, as required by law, are no longer in effect.

Yolanda Vilches, who works in Defense Finance and Accounting Services and is president of Local 1022, disputes NSPS' methods of determining pay raises and disciplinary measures.

Under the current system, employees can appeal proposed suspensions or terminations to arbitration or to the Merit Systems Protection Board. But NSPS permits the Defense Department to decide which cases will be forwarded to the board.

Vilches said under NSPS, pay raises, once commensurate with an employees' tenure and performance, "are not automatic." And even worse, you're not allowed to challenge the decision."

Lisa Sorg

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