October 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

October 2012

Is the Labor Movement on the Upswing?

Is organized labor beginning its resurgence after years in decline? Blogger Street Heat of Talking Union thinks so:

Since my last post, we have witnessed a series of events that can only be seen as vindication of those of us who have rejected the notion that the death of the labor movement is a foregone conclusion. Also vindicated is the perspective that labor must begin strategically targeting and organizing in such a way that can shift the balance of power in whole markets in order to win.

SH argues that the Chicago teachers strike, Unite Here’s bid to organize the Station Casinos empire in Las Vegas, and OurWalMart’s game-changing strikes in California are examples of labor’s renewed energy, creativity, and transformative power. 

[Photo Credit: Hillman Prize-winner Tom Morello performs at a rally for Walmart workers, OurWalmart.]

#Sidney's Picks: Walmart Sued By Temps; Hyatt Housekeepers Tracked with iPods; Compounding Pharmacies Probed

  • Walmart is being sued by temporary workers who say the retailer forced them to arrive for work early, stay late, and work through lunch in violation of wage and hour laws.
  • Housekeepers at Hyatt hotels have filed a complaint with the NLRB about the digital tracking system their employer uses to monitor their productivity. Each cleaner carries an iPod touch that tells her which room to clean. To add insult to injury, the software’s signature graphic is a tail-wagging pooch. “We do run around like dogs, but still, we’re not dogs,” said cleaner Cathy Youngblood.
  • The FDA tried to investigate compounding pharmacies before tainted steroids infected hundreds of people with meningitis, but lobbyists for the compounding pharmacy industry stonewalled FDA investigators. 
  • Past Sidney winner Duff Wilson and reporting partner Adam Kerlin continue Reuters’ coverage of the obesity crisis, exposing how the food and beverage industry pays for seats at the global health policy table.

[Photo credit: Wandermule, Creative Commons.]

Working Sick, Touching Food, Fearing for Their Jobs

Queens restaurant workers Rocio Loyola and Celina Alvarez each log more than 70 hours a week, prepping food. They work in sickness and in health, because, like many New Yorkers, have no paid sick days:

Now and then Ms. Loyola, 35, wears down and the chill of flu runs through her body, and she vomits in the employees’ bathroom. And, she says, her boss shakes his head and warns: You go home, you’re fired.

As for Ms. Alvarez, 48, some months ago her heart throbbed, her arms and chest heavy with ache.

On her single day off she walked into a clinic, and a doctor listened through his stethoscope and told her: Your heart is in bad shape. He checked her into the hospital.

A few days later, she was discharged and walked 15 blocks to beg her employer for her job back. She said he was disgusted: You’re old and you’re sick. With that, she said, he sent her back to chop in a basement filled with two inches of gray water. [NYT]

Between 700,000 and 1.2 million New Yorkers have no paid time off for illness. City Council has discussed proposals to mandate sick leave for all businesses with more than five employees, but so far, no laws have been passed. That’s partly because City Hall has been fighting dirty:

Compromise is no option. When the leaders of Chambers of Commerce in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn sounded dangerously amenable to a deal, the mayor’s top aides set straight these weak-kneed sorts.

When more than 100 owners of small businesses signed a petition urging the City Council to pass sick-days legislation, some sharp-eyed fellow working against the bill happened to notice that a few of these owners had city tax liens.

Voilà! The New York Post published an article proclaiming: “They want more government mandates but can’t even pay their taxes.” [NYT]

Mayor Bloomberg was so concerned about the heart health of New Yorkers that he banned toxic transfats. Yet, he’s not willing to take action to protect workers like Ms. Alvarez and Ms. Loyola, or the customers who eat the food they prepare. 

[Photo credit: Jpellgen, Creative Commons.]

What's With all the Sports Lockouts?

Why are so many professional sports leagues locked out this year? Dave Zirin of The Nation explains:

I’m sure this must seem like a wild coincidence: four lockouts in fourteen months, affecting three of the four major professional sports leagues of this country. What are the odds? Actually, they’re very good. This is not merely a case of four sets of labor negotiations that have tragically broken down. This is a conscious, industry-wide strategy. A law firm called Proskauer Rose is now representing management in all four major men’s sports leagues, the first time in history one firm has been hired to play such a unified role. In practice, this has meant that in four sets of negotiations with four very different economic issues at play, we get the same results: lockouts and a stack of union complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. It’s been great for owners and awful for players, fans, stadium workers and tax payers.

Proskauer Rose partner Howard Ganz represents the NBA and Major League Baseball, and fellow-partner Bob Batterman has led negotiations for the NFL and the NHL. As Sports Business Daily reported,“Batterman and Ganz provide advice on strategy, as well as on issues that can emerge during talks, such as the legality of using replacement players.”

He continues: “Perhaps it’s time we start viewing sports leagues less like family fun and more along the lines of highly scrutinized institutions such as BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil.” Perhaps? That’s the understatement of the year. It’s high time we subjected sports leagues to the same scrutiny as other multi-billion-dollar enterprises.

Who Created the Voter Fraud Myth?

<—-This Guy: Hans von Spakovsky 

A former Bush administration official, Hans von Spakovsky, has done more than anyone to promulgate the myth widespread voter fraud of the sort that could be prevented by voter I.D. laws and other restrictive measures that would also discourage the poor and minorities from voting. Jane Mayer reports on the Heritage Foundation fellow’s dark electoral arts for the New Yorker

[Photo credit: Wikipedia.]

#Sidney's Picks: Unions, DOMA & "Bum Hunts"


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Politicking, Free Speech, and Social Media at Koch Industries

Koch Industries has become a byword for outsized corporate campaign contributions and right wing activism. As Mike Elk reports for In These Times, the politicking doesn’t stop at the workplace door. Forty-five thousand employees of Georgia Pacific, a Koch subsidiary, received a mailer listing Koch’s slate of endorsed candidates, starting with Mitt Romney. 

Corporate campaign spending is often justified as free speech. Unfortunately, Georgia Pacific does not extend the same consideration to its employees, even in their off hours. According to the company’s draconian new social media policy, which is currently the subject of an NLRB complaint, workers can be fired if they post anything that might reflect badly on Georgia Pacific. Some Georgia Pacific workers in Oregon posed for a photo with a Democratic state senate candidate outside their union hall, with a Georgia Pacific sign in the background. The candidate’s name did not appear in the Koch mailer. Now they’re worried they’ll be fired under the new social media policy if the image finds its way online. 

Elk shared a 2011 Sidney Award for an investigation of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Foxconn Admits it Had 14-Year-Old "Interns"

Looks like the unpaid internship scam has gone global. Electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn admits that it discovered underage “interns” working in its factory:

 BEIJING (AP) — Electronics manufacturer Foxconn said Tuesday it found underage interns as young as 14 working at one of its factories in China. Foxconn Technology Group said the interns were found by a company investigation at its factory in the eastern city of Yantai and were sent back to their schools. China’s minimum legal working age is 16. Foxconn, owned by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., is best known as the manufacturer of Apple Inc.’s iPhone but said the Yantai factory had no connection with its work for Apple.

The labor rights group China Labor Watch said in a statement that Foxconn was remiss for not verifying the ages of its interns.

Local authorities have long been accused of colluding with Foxconn to steer cheap labor to the factories. The fact that the underage interns came in through a “vocational program” run by a local school adds weight to these suspicions. 


Mitt Romney: Taker

Mitt Romney acts as if his 15 years at Bain Capital give him free market cred, but as David Stockman points out in Newsweek, Bain’s business model was corporate welfare:

Bain Capital is a product of the Great Deformation. It has garnered fabulous winnings through leveraged speculation in financial markets that have been perverted and deformed by decades of money printing and Wall Street coddling by the Fed. So Bain’s billions of profits were not rewards for capitalist creation; they were mainly windfalls collected from gambling in markets that were rigged to rise.


Except Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better.

Romney’s business was leveraged buyouts. These buyouts don’t create wealth, they exploit a rigged system where speculators can borrow money cheaply and reap the capital gains at low tax rates. They pick the taxpayer’s pocket while siphoning the assets of failing businesses to the 1%. 

As Andrew Sullivan notes, “Mitt Romney is as much a creature of the corporate welfare state as anyone out of their luck is a creature of the actual welfare state.”

#Sidney's Picks: Food Inspections; NHL Lockout; and Joel Klein's Fabulism

  • Thirty-three people died of listeria from tainted cantaloupes last year after a private for-profit inspection company awarded the source farm the highest safety grade. Most of America’s food supply is vetted by private inspectors, who operate without federal standards.
  • An in-house commentator for the LA Kings, one of the finest hockey journalists of his generation, was forced out of his job by the National Hockey League for interviewing a representative of the NHL Players’ Association during the lockout. 
  • Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the NYC Department of Education and a tireless promoter of standardized testing, embellished the memoir he used to bolster his claims that teachers can single-handedly lift children out of poverty, Richard Rothstein reports in the American Prospect.
  • As iPhone 5 sales surge, assembly workers are protesting their working conditions. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Li Qiang of China Labor Watch.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]