American News Service

Offshore Threats Curb Labor Unions

A rise in threats to close plants and move corporations overseas is stifling U.S. union organizing, says a federal trade study carried out by Cornell University labor experts. The report calls for new labor protections and says the offshore trend has kept wages flat, blocking U.S. workers from making real economic gains in a booming economy.

The study, contracted by the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, was conducted by Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University and a faculty member at the university's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. It was titled "Uneasy Terrain: The Impact of Capital Mobility on Workers, Wages and Union Organizing."

The study determined that international trade and investment policies, combined with ineffective labor laws, have created a climate that has emboldened employers to threaten to close their plants to avoid unionization, a practice that is illegal under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

"Employers are using the global economy to intimidate workers from organizing by putting out the threat that they plan to move their operations overseas," Bronfenbrenner said. This could be in the blatant form of a memo or speech to workers stating point-blank that if they unionize the company will close, or come in the form of more subtle intimidation, such as circulating newspaper clippings of similar plants that have closed around the country.

The researchers used surveys, personal interviews, documents and electronic databases to collect detailed information on the extent, nature and impact of plant closings threats and actual shutdowns within the U.S. private sector of the economy for more than 400 National Labor Relations Board certification union-election campaigns that took place in 1998 and 1999. The study found that overall, more than half of all employers made threats to close all or part of their plants during union organizing drives. The threat rate was significantly higher, 68 percent, in more mobile industries such as manufacturing, communication and wholesale/distribution. The threat rate in less mobile industries, like construction, health care, education and retail, was lower at 38 percent.

Only 3 percent actually carried out their threat to close or move, Bronfenbrenner noted. However, threats to close plants appear to work in stifling union drives, she said. The win rate for union campaigns at companies that threatened to close plants was 38 percent, compared with the 51 percent win rate at units where no such threats were made. This disturbing trend can be reversed or slowed, Bronfenbrenner said, if strong and enforceable labor standards are part of U.S. trade agreements, and U.S. tax laws include disincentives to discourage companies from moving their operations out of the country. The researchers also propose stiffer penalties for employers who violate U.S. labor laws during organizing campaigns.

"This economic boom won't last forever," said Bronfenbrenner. "Absent a union voice, things will begin to unravel. Wall Street celebrates the fact that wages haven't gone up in years. But if American workers aren't doing well, what good is our prosperity? And what is going to happen when things go bust?"

The Battle of the Dorm Dwellers

Greenville, S.C. (ANS) -- Imagine the reality-based TV show "Survivor," only set on a campus, not an island, and with an environmental twist. For three months, two eight-member teams, living separately but in almost identical college dorms at Furman University in South Carolina, will have their every move monitored. But unlike "Survivor," there'll be no voting off the island, no TV cameras and no million-dollar pot of gold. Instead, their every action will be gauged for its effect on those around them. And their progress will be watched by the rest of the university campus.
The results could be interesting. For example, the semester-long project starting in September could show sharp energy-consumption differences between the average college student and those living an environmentally conservative lifestyle. At the same time, Furman professors could find ways to save thousands of dollars for the university while promoting environmental consciousness on campus.

During the summer, school officials have been retrofitting a 20-year-old, 1,100-square-foot house with recycled carpets, energy-efficient windows and fluorescent lights. In September, eight environmentally conscious freshmen will take the house over and make conservation their primary concern. Just a few feet away next door, eight other students will live in an identical structure, but without either an environmental retrofit or an eye toward conservation. In short, they'll live life much as any group of average college-age dorm dwellers.

Both dorms will have flow meters so students can monitor energy and water use. The "eco-cottage" will have regular light switches so residents will be forced to turn lights off, while the other will use timers. Timers, professors at the university have found, waste money since they condition students to never turn a light switch off.
Eco-cottage dwellers will take it upon themselves to limit their water use, while in the other dorm, water will flow as residents see fit to use it.

As the semester progresses, students will read meters and determine the cost of providing energy to each house. According to Frank Powell, a science professor at the small university, the eco-cottage could show savings of at least 50 percent over the traditional dorm by the end of the first month.
The purpose of the experiment, Powell said, is twofold. First, it will give students a firsthand idea of the need for energy conservation and what each individual must do to cut back on energy demand. Secondly, the semester-long project is an economic trial that will show the university how much money could be saved if buildings were designed with energy conservation in mind.
"This will be a controlled experiment that could quickly show skeptics that if you go through the hassle of a retrofit, you're looking at saving thousands of dollars over time," Powell said.
Students in both houses will log every purchase "to see if some forethought about what you buy makes a difference in the amount of earth you use over time," Powell said.
The environmental dorm will use only recycled paper products, and each household will monitor the amount of trash it generates.
Powell predicts students in the eco-cottage will have an active social life, since their experiment is already creating a buzz. "The residents are going to be notable people on campus in the fall," Powell said. "There's going to be much greater than average traffic coming over to see what the eco-cottage is doing."
And by the fall semester in 2001, determining who gets to live in the experimental house could become a competitive process.
Powell said he expects the first reliable data to be available by early December, and that university officials will find the retrofit was well worth the money. The cost of getting the house up to environmental conservation standards was about $5,000. The money came from a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South: Local businesses and utility companies also put up money to get the project under way.
The Furman project isn't the first time students have tried to make their four-year stay at a college environmentally friendly. Students at Oregon's Willamette University, a private college of 2,200 students, took over a former fraternity house in recent years and turned it into a model for environmental living.
Members of a student environmental group at Willamette went to the campus office of residential life in 1997 and successfully pitched the idea of retrofitting the abandoned house for "green" students. Willamette's Terra House includes towel racks instead of paper towel dispensers; low-flow faucets, showers and toilets; and an intensive recycling system.
In addition, the basement of the dorm was cleared out to provide storage and operating space for the college outdoor club. Once a month, all students on campus are invited to Terra House for a letter-writing session to local legislators about specific environmental issues.
Students who want to live in Terra House go through a strict application process, where they are interviewed by the dorm residents and school officials. Costs for the project are paid part by the school and part by the students' recycling efforts.

provided for Wiretap through the National Environmental Wire for Students. (

Hemp Legalization Sparks Growth of New Industries

MONTREAL -- Now that the jokes about getting high on hemp are trailing off, Greg Herriott is happier. It means people have a better grasp of the differences between hemp and marijuana.

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Conservationists Advise Travelling Lightly

Ah, summer vacation. What could be better than a week or two at the beach or a drive across country to see relatives?

Lots, according to several groups that are reminding Americans this summer that how and where they travel can make a big difference to the environment -- and their own bottom line.

Ecotourism, or the art of traveling lightly on the earth, is growing by leaps and bounds, according to the Ecotourism Society in Bennington, VT, which gets more than 2,000 hits a week on its Web site. The approach is not simply about being environmentally sensitive but asking penetrating questions, said spokeswoman Lynnaire Sheridan.

"We are encouraging people to identify what it is they want from their experience. People can get spoon-fed an idea, but it's much more interesting to be going (somewhere) for a reason," she said.

For example, birdwatchers will travel thousands of miles just to get a glimpse of a particular bird. Unlike travelers who throw a dart at a map and head out, said Sheridan, these enthusiasts, through their research, likely gain significant insight into the local terrain, culture and even restaurants where people with similar interests congregate.

Whether traveling at home or abroad, Sheridan said, she would ask how a resort or hotel contributes to the local community, whether it's helping to protect fragile natural areas and whether it employs local people. While making a reservation, Sheridan suggested, potential guests should query the clerk about issues such as energy efficiency and whether each guest's towels and sheets are washed every day or only periodically, to save water and electricity.

Camping, house swapping and staying at a farm is even easier on the wallet and may make for a more authentic experience, conservation groups say. Meeting local people is easier at these places, and they're often willing to share inside information about things to see that are off the beaten path.

Traveling in the off-season can also net financial and cultural gains for visitors. If you travel in summer you're not going to be alone and may put pressure on popular places to overbuild, according to Co-op America, a conservation group.

Traveling out of season not only helps visitors avoid crowds but translates into cheaper airfares and accommodations and puts money in the coffers of local businesses when they most need it.

No matter how careful we are as travelers, however, we'll still be using at least some energy that generates greenhouse gases. To offset the impact, American Forests has come up with the Vacation Climate Change Calculator, which figures out how many trees a visitor should plant to offset the impact of his or her trip.

For example, a family of four that drives 1,200 miles in a minivan, stays in a family-style motel for a week and visits amusement parks with boats, horses and movies needs to plant six trees to offset the carbon dioxide it will generate.

On the other hand, four people driving 800 miles, spending two nights in a motel and camping the other nights, eating meals prepared on a propane stove and doing activities centered on canoeing, hiking and fishing need plant only three trees.

Lest all of this sound a bit taxing and contrary to the purpose of a vacation, fear not. No conservation group is saying it isn't important to recharge one's batteries and experience life outside the normal routine. But by protecting the environment at the same time, they point to the added pleasure of knowing generations to come will be able to enjoy the same experience.

Mieke H. Bomann is a staff writer for The American News Service.

Students Take on Corporate Advertising

Albuquerque, N.M. -- Kara McDermott was appalled by the advertisement for Game Boy in a children's magazine. The ad featured skeletal hands holding the electronic toy with a caption suggesting a player might be having too much fun to remember to eat.

Kara, a seventh-grader, said she was particularly offended by what she perceived as the inference that youngsters could get all the exercise they needed by sitting on the couch for hours on end, playing with a toy.

Kara, who is studying media literacy this year at Desert Ridge Middle School, entered her critique of the ad in the third annual BadAd Contest and won first prize in the middle school division.

Sponsored by the New Mexico Media Literacy Project, the contest asks students in grades five through 12 to target an advertisement they find misleading or offensive and then analyze it in a 700-word essay. More than 200 entries were received this year, according to contest coordinator Rob Williams.

"I think there's grass-roots interest afoot in the United States to do more media literacy," said Williams, a teacher who is also director of curriculum for the Literacy Project.

Kara heard about the contest through her media literacy teacher, Nan Czaja. A former advertising employee who eventually turned her back on the industry, Czaja said a light really goes on for students when they understand the techniques behind the business of selling.

"It connects right into them," she said from her classroom in Albuquerque. "They're at the age of conformity. Media literacy says, 'I can do something against the system that's harmless and saves me money.'"

Contestants were asked to identify which techniques of persuasion were used in the ad they selected, to pay attention to technical effects and to identify the story the ad was trying to tell its target audience and the marketing strategy behind it.

"It's amazing what these advertisers do to try and get into our minds," said Kara. "I'm seeing things that I never saw before." Getting children to buy things they don't need is a particularly distasteful goal of the industry, she added.

But it was the health angle that caught her attention when her younger brother first showed her the Game Boy ad, Kara said. Health care specialists have criticized these kinds of toys for robbing children of time they would otherwise spend getting exercise.

In her essay she wrote, "I've never seen a Boy Scout badge for catching a Pikachu," referring to a character in Pokemon, a popular game played on a Game Boy.

Kara will receive $100 and a book on media literacy for her efforts. In the high school division, David Brashear of San Jose, Calif., won for his essay on the Virginia Slims ad "Find Your Voice."

David, a senior at Bellarmine College Prep, said he selected the tobacco ad because it implied smoking would help young women find love and happiness when in fact it was bad for their hearts and lungs.

Like Kara, David completed the essay as an assignment for a media literacy class and said he now views advertisements in a different light. "I kind of deconstruct ads when I look at them," he said. "Before, I didn't do that.

"I think it's important because we're in contact with the media all the time and don't pay much attention to what we're watching and reading."

Contacts: Rob Williams, BadAd coordinator, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, N.M., 505-858-8870. Nan Czaja, teacher, Kara McDermott, BadAd winner, Desert Ridge Middle School, Albuquerque, N.M., 505-857-9282. David Brashear, through teacher Mike Henry, Bellarmine College Prep, San Jose, Calif., 408-294-9224.

Sobriety High

Like many young people, Becky Clark learned about high school from an older sibling. Her brother made school sound like fun, describing picnics and other adventures with his new buddies.

But Clark didn't seem destined to enjoy high school. In fact, she seemed destined for an early demise. She had been struggling with drug addiction and alcohol abuse since she was 11 years old, ending up in a girls' correctional center and spending time in a foster home. She skipped her entire freshman year of high school, unable to resist the allure of addiction.

Finally, last year, while in a treatment program, she asked to be sent to the high school her brother had attended. And Clark began attending classes at Sobriety High School, tucked away in an office plaza in the wealthy suburb of Edina, Minn.

Founded in 1989 by Ralph Neiditch and Carol Robson, Sobriety High School was designed to help students who had gone through treatment programs and returned to school, only to fall off the wagon and end up back where they had started.

Although it's not a drug and alcohol treatment program, the school provides a support system for high school-age students in recovery. There are regular group meetings to discuss sobriety, and parents are required to attend monthly meetings with school staff to discuss their children's progress. Although the school's approach isn't punitive, substance abuse is not tolerated. Students are expected to report any relapses immediately.

"They want to get well. They don't want to die," explained Judi Hanson, the school's director. Students are willing to police their peers, she said, because "they want to stay here. If they don't keep it safe, it's hypocritical."

The high school also works because the students feel a genuine connection with the other students and teachers, said Clark, 16, now a sophomore. "The school is a family and I just wanted to be a part of it," she said. "I love it. The teachers are down to earth and we call them by their first names. If something goes wrong in our lives, it affects us all."

In traditional high schools, it's rare to find freshmen and seniors eating lunch together or walking down the hall talking. However, Sobriety High School unites all its students with one common goal: to get better and stay better. During the school day, and even after hours, the school's teachers act as surrogate parents, handling more than typical teen-age troubles.

"If I have a problem at home I can call Judi or any of my teachers at home," Clark said. "We also have group meetings every day when we talk and bond with each other."

Students are recommended for the program and must complete an application process that includes an interview. Teen-agers who want to get in also have to have completed at least the primary stages of a 12-step treatment program.

The school has been so successful that there's a waiting list to get in. There are usually between four and 10 students waiting for a chance to enter Sobriety High. Because the school is small -- there are only around 40 students -- new students are admitted only if someone graduates, drops out or decides to return to a mainstream high school. Sobriety High differs from other sobriety programs because the students do not have to leave after a year of being sober. A second Sobriety High School has opened in St. Paul, Minn., serving 20 students.

More than half of the students -- 50 to 60 percent -- move on to college. Others wait a year and then enroll in college, Hanson said.

"The students that are here longer are demonstrating to the others that you can have a life and be sober and it's a happy life," Hanson said. "They are role modeling, they are showing that it's cool to have a brain and to study."

Clark said that most importantly, Sobriety High helped instill hope that she could have a fulfilling and successful life.

"I tell people that without the school, I wouldn't be sober today. The school has made me come to realize that I am OK," Clark said.

Contacts: Judi Hanson, program director, Sobriety High School, Edina, Minn., 612-831-7138; e-mail; Becky Clark, student, Sobriety High School, Blaine, Minn., 612-783-9506.

Cuban Case Throws Spotlight on Abducted Children Taken Overseas

While politicians and diplomats wade into the custody battle for Elian Gonzalez under the bright glare of publicity, thousands of American parents are being left in the dark about the fate of their own children abducted by a family member and taken overseas.More than 350,000 American children are abducted or prevented from returning home every year, and many of them end up being taken abroad. The U.S. Department of State says it is tracking 1,200 active cases of children who've been abducted by a parent and taken overseas, but other agencies involved with children say the overall figure is probably much higher.Nancy Hammer, director of the international division for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said studies show that between 10 and 20 percent of the more than 150,000 abductions intended to permanently alter custody arrangements end up with a child being taken out of the country.Unfortunately, these youngsters do not receive the same kind of attention that's being showered on Elian. Instead, Hammer said, "Parents really feel like no one is listening." For the past four months, worldwide attention has focused on the 6-year-old Cuban boy who was found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Florida. His mother drowned in an attempt to flee Cuba for the United States. The boy's U.S. relatives say returning him to the Castro dictatorship would destroy his life. His father in Cuba wants his son returned.Since 1995 the U.S. government has contracted with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to act as a case manager, both for children who are abducted and brought to the United States and for American children who've been abducted and taken abroad. American officials hoped that making the return of foreign children a priority would prod other countries into doing more to return U.S. children to their homes.It hasn't always worked, Hammer said.Only 54 countries, including the United States, have signed an international treaty that provides a legal mechanism for parents to seek their children's return and requires countries to honor each others' judicial custody decisions. And even nations that did sign the 1988 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, including Sweden, Austria and Mexico, do not always comply with the agreement, according to a State Department official who recently testified before Congress.There have been some successes. Since the treaty was ratified, more than 2,000 children have been returned to their families in the United States. The rate of return for children who've been abducted and brought illegally to this country is 90 percent. But some children's advocates fear that the politically-motivated delay in deciding the Gonzalez case may tarnish that record and bolster the arguments of nations that aren't already complying with the Hague agreement."We have so many good reasons to feel good about kids who have been wrongfully taken to the United States," said Hammer. "Then we have this 500-pound gorilla that makes it difficult to have a conversation about it."Complicating abduction cases is the fact that many of the children are from multicultural families and may have citizenship both in America and in the country where they are taken. Ultimately, the courts in the country in which they're being held decide their fate.And that presents the parents left behind with a double whammy, Hammer said. On top of the anguish of having a child snatched away, parents are forced to learn the intricacies of both the U.S. legal system and that of a foreign nation. And those are the lucky ones, the parents who know where their children are. Some parents remain in the dark for years about their children's whereabouts. Georgia Hilgeman is one such parent. Founder of the Vanished Children's Alliance, Hilgeman's 13-month-old daughter disappeared in the late 1970s while in the custody of her ex-husband. He claimed he didn't know what happened to their daughter, and for 4 1/2 years Hilgeman lived with the possibility that she might be dead. She finally located her daughter in Mexico, where she had been living with her husband's relatives. But by then, as in so many abduction cases, the child had acclimated to her new environment and thought the relatives were her parents. Having to wrench her daughter from all that she knew was excruciating, Hilgeman said. Nevertheless, after smoothing the way with a $21,000 "donation" to the Mexican government, Hilgeman brought her daughter home. Her husband was tried and went to jail. Hilgeman said the rationale behind her daughter's abduction was her ex-husband's desire for revenge. That's a common theme, she said: Power, control and revenge are the three main motives in all the abduction cases she works on. She cited another case she worked on involving an Iranian woman who had taken her two children back to Iran. She went to jail for more than four years rather than allow her American husband custody rights."It's been a nightmare," Hilgeman said. "The kids lost both parents."Some think the American legal system shares some of the blame. David Levy, president of the Children's Rights Council in Washington, D.C., said some child abductions could be prevented if judges took the parental rights of both mothers and fathers seriously."We have focused so much attention on financial child support but have ignored the parenting," Levy said. "If both parents knew they'd be actively involved in the children's lives (after divorce), there would be less incentive to want to kidnap."While guaranteed access may prevent some abductions, Hilgeman said she thinks a national database of custody orders would be a more active deterrent. Information on any child being taken out of the United States could be run through it to determine which parent had custody and whether there was a risk of abduction. "The typical motivation is about the other parent, it's not about the child," she said. Abductions tend to happen around the time of a custody hearing or separation, when emotions are running high, jealousies abound and financial issues cloud judgment. "No amount of contact or access is going to solve that problem," she said.

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