November 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

November 2012

Fast Food Forward: Times Square Rally Photos

Some 200 fast food workers walked off the job at restaurants around New York City on Thursday as part of the largest-ever drive to organize this industry. Fast Food Forward, the umbrella group behind yesterday’s action, is a joint effort by unions, community groups, religious leaders, and other concerned citizens. 

I’d estimate that the Times Square rally drew about 200-300 people at its peak, but that’s a very rough estimate. 

The workers are demanding a raise to $15.00 an hour, an end to retaliation for organizing, and respect on the job. The median wage for fast food workers in New York City is about $9 an hour, but many in this sector are scraping by on the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Hence the catchphrase of yesterday’s action: “Can’t survive on $7.25.”

Scenes from Fast Food Forward’s rally in Times Square. (Click thumbnails to view full-sized images.) 

A speaker addresses the crowd outside McDonald’s in Times Square. 

Strike rats! 

[Photo credits: Lindsay Beyerstein, all rights reserved.]

#Sidney's Picks: Fast Food Forward Edition

Today’s edition of Sidney’s Picks is all about yesterday’s fast food walkouts in New York City.

  • “Can fast food workers ever be unionized? Here, in New York, today, a lot of fast food workers decided to skip the theory and proceed directly to the “Fuck you, pay me” phase of the process,” writes Hamilton Nolan of Gawker.
  • 200 workers from dozens of fast food restaurants around New York City walked off the job yesterday to demand higher wages, and the right to organize without retaliation. The walkout, organized by Fast Food Forward, was product of the largest organizing drive in the fast food industry. 
  • Sarah Jaffe delves into the economics of fast food jobs.
  • How the Wal-Mart strike inspired New York’s fast food workers. 


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

"Can't Survive on $7.25": NYC Fast Food Workers Walk Out

This morning, fast food workers in New York City walked off the job to demand higher wages and the right to unionize, Josh Eidelson reports:

At 6:30 this morning, New York City fast food workers walked off the job, launching a rare strike against a nearly union-free industry. Organizers expect workers at dozens of stores to join the one-day strike, a bold challenge to an industry whose low wages, limited hours and precarious employment typify a growing portion of the U.S. economy.

New York City workers are organizing at McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Papa John’s. Organizers expect today’s strike to include workers from almost all of those chains, with the largest group coming from McDonald’s; the company did not respond to a request for comment. [Salon]

A spokesman for New York Communities for Change told Eidelson that today’s action represents “the biggest organizing campaign that’s happened in the fast food industry.” Over the past few months, forty full-time organizers have been reaching to fast food workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and other quick serve restaurants in the city.  

They have their work cut out for them. The fast food industry is vehemently anti-union. 

JoseCerillo, a 79-year-old who cleans tables and floors at a New York McDonald’s, told Salon he was suspended by the company on Monday after signing up co-workers on the campaign petition. According to Cerillo, management said the punishment was for violating a “no solicitation” policy. “They feel threatened because I’m organizing,” said Cerillo (he was interviewed in Spanish). He said he circulated the petition during break times and outside of work. [Salon]

A rally for the strikers is scheduled for 4pm this afternoon in Times Square.

[Photo credit: Patrick Q, Creative Commons.]

Mismatched Socks Are a Crime and I Am a Criminal


In Meridian, Mississippi, kids with juvenile records are getting arrested for wearing the wrong color socks:

In Meridian, when schools want to discipline children, they do much more than just send them to the principal’s office. They call the police, who show up to arrest children who are as young as 10 years old. Arrests, the Department of Justice says, happen automatically, regardless of whether the police officer knows exactly what kind of offense the child has committed or whether that offense is even worthy of an arrest. The police department’s policy is to arrest all children referred to the agency.

Once those children are in the juvenile justice system, they are denied basic constitutional rights. They are handcuffed and incarcerated for days without any hearing and subsequently warehoused without understanding their alleged probation violations. [Colorlines]

The Department of Justice is suing Meridian for violating the constitutional rights of young offenders. Good thing, too. The city is feeding the school-to-prison pipeline by treating troubled kids as second-class citizens whose every misstep becomes a police issue, even when they’re not breaking the law.

[Photo credit: Rikomatic, Creative Commons. Interestingly, this image was created for something the photographer calls “Mismatched Sock Solidarity Day.”]

New Study Lifts Curtain on Domestic Work

Domestic workers labor behind closed doors, and sometimes off the books. As a result, basic facts about their circumstances are shrouded in mystery. Who are they? How much do they earn? What are their working conditions like? A report released today offers the first detailed statistical profile of America’s domestic workforce, Steven Greenhouse reports. 

The report, co-authored by a professor and an advocate for domestic workers, is based on interviews with 2,086 workers in 14 major metropolitan areas. Like 800,000 other domestic workers in America, the interview subjects were paid directly by the families they worked for, not by outside agencies. Interviews were conducted in 9 languages and respondents hailed from 71 different countries. 

The median wage for domestic workers $11 an hour for nannies and $10 an hour for caregivers and housekeepers. Nannies who were citizens had a higher median wage than their undocumented counterparts. Live-in domestic workers earned far less than those living outside the home. Domestic workers are not covered by federal minimum wage laws. 

Fringe benefits were almost non-existent. Sixty-five percent of the workers said they had no health insurance; just 4% said they were insured through their employer. 

Data like these will help legislators craft better laws to protect domestic workers. 

Faded Glory: Walmart Goods Found in Smoldering Ruins of Bangladeshi Factory

A fire in a Bangladeshi clothing factory killed over 100 people on Saturday. The blaze started on the ground floor of a multistory warehouse that lacked adequate fire exits. This is the deadliest factory fire in the nation’s history. 

An local pro-labor NGO furnished The Nation with photographs of what they say are Walmart goods amid the smoldering ruins of the factory. Josh Eidelson reports:

[P]hotos taken after the fire taken the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, provided to The Nation by the International Labor Rights Forum, show clothing with Walmart’s exclusive Faded Glory label. 

Click here to see the full-sized photos. 

[Photo credit: BCWS, via The Nation.]

#Sidney's Picks: Walmart "Black Friday" Strike Edition

Walmart workers vowed to strike or protest at over 1000 stores nationwide this Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. This week on Sidney’s Picks we bring you the coverage of the strike and commentary on this historic action. 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons]

Walmart Holds "Captive Audience" Meetings Ahead of Black Friday Strike

As the clock ticks down to Black Friday, Walmart workers allege that management has been subjecting them to captive audience meetings and other forms of intimidation in a bid to discourage them from striking. OUR Walmart, the worker’s association organizing the strike, complained to the National Labor Relations Board, Josh Eidelson reports: 

Today, OUR Walmart filed the latest of dozens of National Labor Relations Board charges against Walmart. The charge, announced this evening, alleges that Walmart’s national headquarters has “told store-level management to threaten workers with termination, discipline, and/or a lawsuit if they strike or engage in other concerted job actions on Black Friday” and that managers in cities including San Leandro, California, Fairfield, Connecticut, and Dallas have done exactly that. It also alleges that Walmart Vice President of Communications David Tovar “threatened employees” with his statements. OUR Walmart says it is seeking “immediate intervention” to remedy the alleged crimes. In an e-mailed statement, American Rights at Work Research Director Erin Johansson said, “Walmart appears to be issuing serious threats to employees to stop them from exercising their rights under law.” [The Nation]

Walmart denies holding captive audience meetings, but Christopher Bentley Owen, an overnight Walmart stocker in Tulsa, told the Nation that management held a captive audience meeting on Monday during which the highest ranking manager read a script warning workers not to strike on Black Friday. 

Captive audience meetings are legal, but management is barred from making certain kinds of threats.

Friday’s strike is expected to be the highest profile event in a series of job actions at Walmart stores across the country. David Bacon of Truthout accompanied some Walmart workers on a walkout in San Leandro, California. A group of current and former Walmart associates marched into the store and arranged flowers near the break room in remembrance of Enrique, a fellow associate who had recently died. After setting up their tribute, they went outside for a brief rally attended by unionized nurses, longshoremen, warehouse workers, and machinists. Community activists also turned out to show their support. 

Three on-duty Walmart associates clocked out to participate in the action. After the rally, the group escorted two of them back to the break room, to make sure their supervisors would let them punch back in. They were allowed to go back to work. 

[Photo credit: Supporters escort Walmart associates back to the break room to punch in after the rally. David Bacon for Truthout.]

"Crime After Crime" Inspires Domestic Violence Legislation in New Jersey

Yoav Potash’s Hillman Prize-winning documentary Crime After Crime tells the story of Debbie Peagler, a woman who served over 20 years in prison for the murder of her husband and later won her freedom using a California law that allows battered women who strike back against their abusers to petition a court to re-open their cases if evidence of that abuse was overlooked. Peagler’s husband had forced her into prostitution as a teenager and beat her throughout their marriage. 

After seeing the Crime After Crime, 16-year-old Micaela Mangot decided that her home state of New Jersey needed its own version of Debbie’s Law. She invited her state senator Loretta Weinberg to a screening of the film. The senator was so moved by Debbie’s story and Micaela’s activism that she drafted a version of Debbie’s Law for New Jersey. If the bill becomes law, it will be the second of its kind in the nation. 

Sandy Relief Effort Exposes Class Divisions

Legions of New Yorkers are rolling up their sleeves and doing their best to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Some efforts are better received than others, owing in part to an astonishing lack of common sense by certain well meaning volunteers. Bethany Yarrow and her friends thought it would be appropriate to bring a lactation consultant proselytize to happily bottle feeding moms in the Rockaways who just wanted some diapers. Their problem wasn’t how they fed their babies, their problem was that their homes were damaged by a friggin’ hurricane:

As she gave out diapers and cases of infant formula to storm victims, Bethany Yarrow, 41, a folk singer from Williamsburg who has been volunteering with other parents from the private school her children attend, said she was shocked by the many poor mothers in the Arverne section of the Rockaways who did not breast feed. The group, she said, was working on bringing in a lactation consultant.

“So that it’s not just ‘Here are some diapers and then go back to your misery,’ ” she said. [NYC]     

These lactivists are worse than the Scientologists who pop up in disaster areas like mushrooms with their bright orange t-shirts and their “free massages.” (They aren’t really free…)

Nevertheless, some of the volunteers are winning over the locals with their willingness to pitch in and help residents do things they actually need help with, like demolishing damaged structures and hauling away the debris:

Jimmy Brady, 35, a New York firefighter who lived next door, was prying up carpet alongside the visitors. “If there is any way you want to get accepted to a family or a community, it is to help,” he said. “I’ve heard it from the hardest locals, that these guys are unbelievable. They get out with their little fedoras and they just start helping.” [NYT]

C’mon lactivists, if the guys in tiny fedoras can figure this out, you can too. 

[Photo credit: ma neeks, Creative Commons.]