John Clower

April 6, 2008

Local Visteon workers were handed a nasty surprise last fall.

The plant in Bedford is scheduled to close by the end of June 2008. In an "effects bargaining session," Visteon management and IUE-CWA Local 907 crafted language they thought would ensure that laid-off workers would receive state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits immediately after the plant closing. The language was based on language used for more than a decade in other plant closures in Indiana.

To their chagrin, they learned that the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), headed by Commissioner Teresa L. Voors, a Mitch Daniels appointee, had begun "interpreting" effects-bargaining language in a way that departed from past practice.

At issue in the Visteon case were retention bonus payments workers had received from the company as a condition for not quitting before the plant closes. DWD wanted to delay UI payments by the number of months equal to the retention bonus divided by the monthly UI payment a worker would be due.

December 5, 2007

"Hasta la vista, baby!" The Bush administration has announced it will return in March with a revised plan to pair Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidance letters with Social Security Administration (SSA) no-match letters.

This past August, the administration issued a new DHS rule apparently intended to flush out undocumented immigrants. The rule directed SSA to add a letter from DHS to the envelopes containing the no-match letters SSA sends employers informing them about alleged discrepancies between their employee records and SSA's database.

The DHS letter would have warned employers to expect a stiff fine if they did not fire within 90 days any worker who couldn't resolve the data discrepancy. Up to now, no-match letters have been purely informational, with no penalty attached for failure to resolve discrepancies.

March 11, 2007

Oolitic wasn't where they'd planned to go. But in the summer of 1980, geologist Unni Rowell was fairly new to Bloomington. With her two daughters in town for a visit, she thought an excursion to see the impressive limestone quarries in Lawrence County would be fun.

So they drove toward Bedford on a Sunday morning, saw the exit to Oolitic and decided spontaneously to check out the active quarry there.

Downtown Oolitic was nearly deserted, except for a friendly young man who approached to ask if he could help. Learning of their interest, he gave the three fair-haired, fair-skinned women an impromptu, well-informed tour and historical overview of the quarry.

"As we got ready to leave," Unni recalls, "I said, 'Oolitic looks like a very nice town.' The young man pulled himself up, poised and proud, and said, 'Do you know why it's a nice town? There ain't no niggers here.'"

July 30, 2006

Indiana politics is widely viewed as the "epicenter" in this year's battle to control the U.S. House, "with three seats fully in play," as noted in a recent issue of the Howey Political Report.

The races in Congressional Districts 8 and 9 have looked like toss-ups for months now. Then a poll in mid-July by national polling firm Cooper and Secrest Associates showed 2d District Congressman Chris Chocola trailing his Democratic challenger by 10 points, stoking Democratic fantasies of a clean sweep in November.

Similarly, Republican control of the Indiana House is in jeopardy, especially given the surprising decisions in July by incumbents Ralph Ayres (R-Chesterton) and Andy Thomas (R-Brazil) to jump ship. The need to shore up those two fairly reliable Republican seats has sent the state party scrambling and obliged it to pull campaign staff and money away from close races around the state.

March 26, 2006

A big fat "F" stares back from the grade card Indiana received in the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) "State of the States 2004" report.

The report surveyed state legislation affecting the welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. A generic anti-bullying law for public schools went into effect in Indiana in 2005, too late to bump up the state's failing grade.

Against this background of state-level inattention to gay and transgender students, Monroe County Community School Corp. (MCCSC) distinguished itself last October. The MCCSC board voted unanimously to add "sexual orientation" to corporation-wide nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies protecting students and employees.

January 18, 2006

Rhea Murray, the mother of a gay son in Seymour, embarked on what looked like a quixotic project in the mid-1990s. She resolved to organize a Seymour chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). She asked the national PFLAG office for advice.

"They suggested I seek support from my local human-rights commission," Murray recounts. "We didn't have one! They suggested I approach some liberal local churches. We didn't have any!"

Nor were there up-to-date materials on homosexuality in the local public library.

"It seemed like an impossible task," Murray recalls. "There were no models to go by. Most people in my community were isolated from the wider world, and most gay people and their families were isolated from one another."

October 30, 2005

The unsigned e-mail was sent from a pseudonymous Yahoo account to Paula's professional Web site. "You're fucking sick," it said. "Your life is fucking messed up . . . You shouldn't be teaching anyone's children."

Somehow, the writer had found out that Paula, who chairs the accounting department at an Indiana business college, is a transsexual woman.

She traced the message back to another account, which belonged to a student she'd been tutoring. Soon thereafter, the student's father lodged a formal complaint with Paula's boss, impugning her professional competence.

September 4, 2005

It's manna from heaven for the local tourism bureau. Four times in two years, free national publicity has fallen into the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau's lap in connection with its gay tourism initiative.

First came a couple of references in national newspapers in December 2003. That set off a TV comedy-show feeding frenzy, culminating in Saturday Night Live's satirical take on the bureau's motto "Come Out and Play."

Second was the release of Bill Condon's award-winning biopic Kinsey last November. In an interview with Bay Windows Online, Rob DeCleene, the bureau's services manager, spoke of Kinsey as a turning point and potentially the single most galvanizing influence on gay tourism in Bloomington.

Most recent were an Out Traveler article and an OUT&ABOUT Travel Award, announced August 15 by online media company PlanetOut.

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