July 22, 2016

When Erin Foley attended the monthly labor meeting last week at Saint James Healthcare in Butte, she knew that there had been layoffs at Saint Vincent Healthcare in Billings

Saint Vincent is Saint James’ sister hospital.

Her source was a reposting of a news article on Facebook, she said.

Foley is the Business Agent for Teamster Local 2.  At the labor meeting she asked if Saint James would be doing the same.

The answer was no.

“Basically they addressed that they had no thoughts about laying off,” Foley said.

She noted that the Butte hospital monitors its financial situation carefully, and it keeps its work force pared down. “They keep staff minimal,” the business agent said.

She added that during the Fourth of July holiday, the hospital implemented “critical shifts.” They had to call people in to cover their staffing needs, Foley said.

The Teamsters take a proactive and cooperative approach at Saint James, Foley said.

They have allowed their members to be cross trained at Saint James, and they let their members move to other departments to fill in Teamster positions, she said. She noted that Teamsters who work in the Emergency Room at Saint James sometimes cover staffing needs on patient floors.

The Teamster Business Agent reiterated that the hospital indicated to her that they “were not, at this time, considering layoffs.”

A request for comment emailed to Saint James on July 19 remains unanswered. Two calls to the Saint Vincent media relations department remain unanswered as well, In addition, a call into the media relations department for SCL Health, the health care system sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas remains unanswered. Both Saint James and Saint Vincent are part of the SCL system.



July 19, 2016

Big Sky Connection
Suzanne Potter

HELENA, Mont. -- A major protest outside the Republican National Convention Tuesday will address anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Organizers of the Community Unity to Stop the Hate march hope to fill Cleveland's Public Square even as Montana's delegates to the convention prepare to approve the party platform - which includes a call to build a wall on the Mexican border and subject foreign nationals to intense scrutiny if they come from certain regions associated with Islamic terrorism.

"We won't accept bashing of Muslims or Syrian refugees," said Don Bryant, president of the Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network. "To close down legal channels makes it even more likely for people to come here illegally, and then we don't know who we have here."

According to Bryant, it is crucial that people from all faith communities get to know each other. All should be made to feel welcome, he said, so that those in the Muslim community will continue to work with authorities to identify potentially alienated young men such as those responsible for the terrorist attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino.

There have been several protests in Montana against the resettling of Syrian refugees in the state. Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations used humor to call for tolerance, passing out gum packaged to look like medicine and labeled "Islamophobin," a treatment for irrational fear of Muslims.

Bryant also called on RNC delegates to reject presumptive nominee Donald Trump's attitude toward Mexicans. Trump has called Mexican immigrants "rapists," and questioned a judge's ability to preside over a case based on his parents' ancestry.

"We'd like to strongly denounce these anti-Mexican comments we've heard from Donald Trump, even regarding a Mexican-American judge," Bryant said. "It's totally unacceptable."

The rally and march start at 11:45 a.m. Cleveland time - that's 9:45 a.m. in Montana.

Big Sky Connection

Suzanne Potter

June 23, 2016

MISSOULA, Mont. - Renewable energy advocates are praising Gov. Steve Bullock's new energy plan, which lays out a number of strategies to increase Montana's market for solar and wind projects. 

The governor promoted his plan Wednesday at a panel discussion at the University of Montana in Missoula before 130 local leaders, clean energy advocates and students.

Diana Maneta, executive director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, says the state's wind and solar resources still remain largely untapped but this plan is a big step in the right direction.

"Our wind resource is second best in the nation, but we're only 20th in terms of wind energy development," he points out. "And while Montana's solar market is small today, the cost of solar power has dropped by half in the last five years. So the right policies will help us to seize this enormous clean energy potential."

The governor's plan calls for a doubling of solar power by 2025, and for the creation of a state energy infrastructure authority to facilitate more renewables.

It also directs state agencies to look at putting solar on their own buildings and begin scouting public property suitable for solar arrays.

Bullock also reaffirmed his commitment to defend the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which opponents have targeted in past legislative sessions.

"Hopefully going into this next legislative session folks will consider the renewable-energy portfolio standard and other things as opportunities, not things to roll back," he stated.

The plan also calls for a reduction in energy use by ten percent by 2025 through new energy efficiency measures.

Big Sky Connection

Conservation Groups Slam Decision, Predict Appeal

Suzanne Potter

June 23, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - In a blow to the Obama administration's environmental agenda, a federal judge has struck down the Bureau of Land Management's fracking rules, saying that the president overstepped his authority.

The judge ruled late Tuesday that the agency needs permission from Congress to regulate fracking, and noted that legislators previously denied the Environmental Protection Agency the right to regulate the practice under the Clean Water Act.

Clare Lakewood, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, says that argument doesn't hold up.

"It's an outlier of a decision," she states. "Frankly, there is plenty of authority that BLM has the authority to make rules with regard to fossil fuel extraction on its land, including fracking. And we are confident this will be overturned on appeal."

The rules were already on hold after the same judge issued a preliminary injunction last year.

Several oil and gas producing states, and a Native American tribe, brought the case. They argued that the rules were unnecessary since the states already have the authority to regulate fracking.

Lakewood says the rules would have guaranteed the public more information on the chemicals used, some of which are linked to respiratory disease and cancer.

"It would require disclosure of certain of the chemicals that are used in hydraulic fracturing," she states. "That's really important because we know that a lot of the chemicals are toxic to humans and the environment."

The rules would also require all fracking wastewater be stored in above ground tanks, instead of in containment pits that have the potential to leak and contaminate groundwater.

The Department of the Interior is expected to appeal the ruling.