Steeling a contract: After battling for some two-and-a-half years, workers at Oroville Hospital are set to vote on a tentative contract later this month that union negotiators say is maybe not all they were hoping for, but is still “good for a first-time contract.”

When 600 of the hospital’s technical, business office, clinic and service workers first voted to join the United Steel Worker Health Care Workers local 9600 two years ago, there were complaints of low pay, poor working conditions leading to shoddy patient care and problems with health benefits. Once negotiations began, however, there was little word on conditions in the hospital, as the union agreed with hospital management not to talk with the media until a contract was ratified.

That situation was frustrating to union spokeswoman Sandy Harper, who this week said she hoped and expected the rank-and-file would approve the contract.

“I’ve never seen so many people doing the happy dance as they’re pushing wheelchairs down the hall,” Harper said.

And the fur flies: After dropping out of Chico State to work full-time for PETA, 20-year-old Ian Blessing has a huge win under his faux-leather belt: getting J. Crew to stop selling fur.

The clothing retailer on Nov. 30 agreed to “never reintroduce” fur and pulled rabbit, minx, fox and coyote products from shelves after an 11-week campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that included appearances by Lady Heather Mills McCartney (Paul’s wife) and nude protestors.

The animal-rights group engages in guerrilla-style marketing, pressuring its targets with media blitzes and high-profile campaigns. In the case of J. Crew, Blessing said, “a lot of their fur came from China, where we found literally the worst abuses of animals on fur farms.” Also, “last year, they told us they didn’t have any plans to sell fur. We, in turn, told people they should shop at J. Crew.”

As an assistant campaigner, Blessing travels the country coordinating demonstrations and protests. The former liberal arts major, who started Chico Students for Animal Rights while at Chico State, said he has no immediate plans to go back to school, because he’s learning so much though his work with PETA.

Water on the brain: The Butte County Board of Supervisors has apparently chosen a new water commissioner, but nobody will say who it is until next week, when the contract is to be finalized. Enviros are hoping it won’t be anyone too connected with the state’s DWR or any water districts (see Guest Comment, page 6) but it’s hard to envision where else a qualified candidate (at least in the eyes of the board) will come from.

The job pays $108,000 a year and will give the new commissioner an unprecedented opportunity to shape the county’s water policy for years to come.

It’s not a gas: Here are your choices this winter: Freeze your ass off or pay through the nose.

PG&E is warning customers to expect natural gas prices this December to be 25 percent higher than they were a year ago. That brings customers’ average gas bills from $88.10 to $110.55 for the month—and remember, that’s not even counting electric.

The company blames the increase, which is less than the 40- to 70-percent hike industry experts predicted, on a fragile market in the United States, along with hurricanes’ impacts to the energy infrastructure.

PG&E is offering 20-percent rebates to customers who can use 10 percent less gas than they did from January through March last year.