March 2013 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

March 2013

#Sidney's Picks: Freelancers Union; Herbalife; Paid Sick Days


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Sucks to Be You, Wal-Mart...

What if there was a Wal-Mart and nobody came? That’s basically what’s happening right now. Wal-Mart stores are in disarray because the nation’s largest retailer can’t find employees to stock its cavernous new dens of commerce:

It’s not as though the merchandise isn’t there. It’s piling up in aisles and in the back of stores because Wal-Mart doesn’t have enough bodies to restock the shelves, according to interviews with store workers. In the past five years, the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to filings and the company’s website. In the same period, its total U.S. workforce, which includes Sam’s Club employees, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million U.S. workers. [Bloomberg]

I wonder why nobody wants to work at Wal-Mart? Hmmm.

Costco don’t seem to have any trouble attracting qualified employees and turning huge profits while raising its minimum wage:

“At Costco, we know that paying employees good wages makes good sense for business,” Jelinik said in a statement last week. “Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty. We support efforts to increase the federal minimum wage.” [HuffPo]

[Photo credit: racineur, Creative Commons.]


Robocall Scoop Sparks Call for Sweeping Reform of Canadian Elections Law

Canada’s top election official is calling for sweeping changes to the country’s elections law to make sure that voter-suppressing robocalls, like the ones uncovered by Canadian Hillman Prize-winners Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor, never happen again:

OTTAWA — Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand wants Parliament to overhaul Canada’s elections law to prevent deceptive telephone calls by adding stiffer penalties and giving new powers to investigators.

In a recommendation aimed directly at the calls received in Guelph, Ont., on the 2011 election day, Mayrand says Parliament should close a loophole in the Criminal Code and make it illegal to impersonate an Elections Canada official. He advises maximum penalties on conviction of violators of $250,000 in fines and five years in jail.

Read the rest in the Ottawa Citizen.

Wal-Mart Sues UFCW Over Strikes

Seemingly determined to lose friends and alienate people, the nation’s largest retailer is suing the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Our Wal-Mart over last year’s strikes in Florida: 

Wal-Mart Stores Inc has sued a major grocery workers union and others who have protested at its Florida stores, the latest salvo in its legal fight to stop “disruptive” rallies in and around its stores by groups seeking better pay and working conditions.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc has sued a major grocery workers union and others who have protested at its Florida stores, the latest salvo in its legal fight to stop “disruptive” rallies in and around its stores by groups seeking better pay and working conditions. [Reuters]

The store alleges that activists trespassed on Wal-Mart property during rallies.


[Photo credit: matteson.norman, Creative Commons.]

Grifterology: 6 Ways to Avoid the Broken Bottle Scam

At the Hillman Foundation, we’re all about shedding light on society’s ills. Usually we hail journalists exposing white collar criminals. But today we bring you a fun piece by Justin Peters of Slate exposing a more down-market racket known as the “broken bottle scam.” In this con game, the conman bumps into the mark and starts yelling about how the mark broke his expensive bottle, or his glasses, or something else. The mark is intimidated and shamed into coughing up cash on the spot.

My favorite tip for avoiding the mark’s fate:

Extend the encounter. Here’s an interesting example of how to deal with a scammer: “Nair (Naim) Jabbar had two pairs of broken eyeglasses in a bag when cops arrested him last month. The ex-con bumped into his latest victim on W. 53rd St. and Fifth Ave., court records show. ‘You broke my glasses! You own me $125!’ Jabbar, 41, yelled. But when his victim asked him to come back to his office to figure out a solution, Jabbar slunk off, court papers said.” This strategy makes sense, and is perhaps something to consider. Who doesn’t hate going up to offices?

[Photo credit: Funkyeah, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Trans Issues; Iraq War Anniversary; Ta-Nehisi's Close Call

  • “Born This Way?”: Beth Schwartzapfel explores the most controversial issue in transgender medicine today for the American Prospect.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

2013 Canadian Hillman Prize Photos

More photos of the 2013 Canadian Hillman Prize ceremony at the Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto, Ontario.

Photos by James Yigitoz.

2013 Canadian Hillman Prize Recap

Toronto, Ontario.

The Sidney Hillman Foundation honored excellence in Canadian journalism in service of the common good at its annual Canadian Hillman Prize ceremony, Tuesday.

Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen and Stephen Maher of Postmedia News shared the 2013 prize for their expose of vote-suppressing robocalls by Conservative Party operatives during the 2011 Canadian federal election.

Katie DeRosa of the Times Colonist and Elizabeth Stolte of the Edmonton Journal received honorable mentions. DeRosa was recognized for an investigation of Canadian refugee policy. Stolte was recognized for a data-driven investigation that found that over 10,000 First Nations children on reservations in Alberta were not registered or attending school.

Click here to learn more about our winners, read their prize-winning stories, and peruse the shortlist for this year’s prize.

Many thanks to our distinguished Canadian judges: Jim Stanford, Bronwyn Drainie, and Brian Topp.

[Photo credit: Left to right, Stephen Maher, Jim Stanford, Glen McGregor.]

Fear in the Fields: Farm Workers Face Sexual Harassment


Carolina Martínez came to the United States to work in the fields, hoping to earn enough to build a house in her native Mexico. The crossing was harrowing and the work was hard, to add to her burden, Martínez faced continual sexual harrassment with no recourse:

The work was hard. During planting and harvest seasons she might work 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week. But she had expected that. What she hadn’t expected was the near-constant sexual harassment on the job. The crew leader would, she says, “touch women in a sexual way… touch women on their asses.” When Martínez threatened to report him, he’d warn, “They’ll get rid of you. And if you do go to the boss, I’ll call Immigration.”

So she didn’t tell the boss. And she didn’t tell her husband either, afraid he’d be so angry that he’d pick a fight and they’d both get fired—or worse, deported. “Women have to tolerate this in silence,” she says. “Because if you talk to the owners and you lose your job, then what? Many times during lunch, I cried. I felt I was alone.” The harassment continued every day for seven months. [In These Times]

Farm workers aren’t the only female migrants who face harrassment on the job. Women who work in meat and poultry processing plants also report high rates of harassment, Joseph Sorrentino reports.

To would-be abusers, undocumented migrant women may seem like the perfect victims, targets they can mistreat without fear of repercussions. The women may not speak English, they are far from their support systems, and they are reluctant to go to the police because they are out of status.

Sorrentino’s reporting was supported by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.



#Sidney's Picks: Safari Junkets, Sketchy Science, and the Triangle Fire

  • What do hate groups think of Jennifer Lawrence? Vice investigates.
  • On March 25, 1911, a fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village, killing 146 people in 18 minutes. The fire galvanized a movement for workers’ rights and workplace safety that continues today. Join Workers United, the New York Fire Department and New York public school children to commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the Triangle Fire: Wednesday, March 20, 12:00-1:00 at the corner of Washington Place & Greene St.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]