by Keith Barber

New Greensboro redistricting plan passes muster with citizen group

During a marathon eight-and-a-half-hour meeting and after two public hearings, the Greensboro City Council approved a new redistricting plan that moves about 5,500 residents and reduces the population variance to 3.4 percent. The new plan moves a precinct that includes the Four Season Town Centre from District 5 to District 1, and a precinct near the intersection of Benjamin Parkway and Bryan Boulevard from District 3 to District 4, while also swapping voters on the eastern fringe to reunite split precincts. The plan, which was submitted by District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade, passed 7-2, with District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy- Small expressing angry opposition. An earlier plan that was widely considered to be gerrymandered and that was submitted by District 4 Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw was discarded after the council voted to reconsider.

Democracy at Home, a group that coordinated opposition to the Rakestraw plan, expressed measured support for the new plan adopted by the city council in a press release last week.

“The community can be comforted in the fact that this plan does not appear to be retrogressive,” the statement reads. “According to our legal partners at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the key factors for determining if a plan is retrogressive is a decrease in the black voting age population (BVAP), not the total black population.

The Wade plan reportedly slightly increases black voting age population in District 1 while slightly decreasing it in District 2. — JG

Reynolds american stockholders defeat human rights proposal for farmworkers

Reynolds American stockholders resoundingly defeated a proposal to create human rights protocols that would apply to tobacco farmworkers during the company’s annual shareholders meeting on May 6, but Daniel Delen, the company’s president and CEO, announced two new initiatives to address human rights issues in the company’s supply chain. Delen said the company is expanding its farm safety program and will use an independent third party to monitor working conditions on farms where their product is grown. Also, Delen announced the company will participate in a council of stakeholders that includes representatives from Oxfam and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, or FLOC. A stakeholder council on farm labor issues has been proposed by a joint report by Oxfam and FLOC on human rights abuses in the state’s tobacco industry.

A summary released May 5 states that a quarter of tobacco farmworkers report being paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour; most workers interviewed suffer regularly from symptoms of green tobacco sickness; and nearly all workers reported substandard living conditions in employer-provided housing, according to the AFL-CIO blog.

Justin Flores, a field organizer for FLOC, invited Reynolds board members to come out to the tobacco fields and see the conditions for themselves during the May 6 shareholders meeting. The board declined his invitation.

In response to shareholder concerns, Delen outlined Reynolds American’s position on farm labor issues, including a statement that the company continues to work within the protocols established by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to help ensure safe working conditions on the farms with which the company contracts. — KTB

Winston-forsyth utility commission hikes water rates

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Utility Commission approved an 8 percent increase in water rates and 9 percent increase in sewer rates on Monday. The changes will take effect Oct. 1. According to Utilities Director David Saunders, Winston-Salem will still have the lowest rates of the largest cities statewide, with an average bimonthly bill of $60.31. Greensboro averages $79.90.

According to a press release, Winston-Salem also has the “lowest cumulative increase in rates over the past six years” but reminds residents that, “as usage increases, so does the cost of water.” Residents who use less water are rewarded through lower billing rates. — EG