September 2013 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

September 2013

"Unions: Not Just for Middle-Aged White Guys Anymore"

Hillman Judge Harold Meyerson on the future of the AFL-CIO and Sidney Hillman’s legacy of organizing workers whom others considered unorganizable:

During the floor debate yesterday on a resolution expanding the AFL-CIO’s commitment to take the workers excluded from labor law’s protections into its ranks—domestic workers, taxi drivers, day laborers, and the like—one delegate to the union’s quadrennial convention likened the proceedings to the 1935 AFL convention, when a sizable group of unionists wanted the Federation to expand its ranks to include factory workers. The more conservative Federation leaders, including its president, William Green, believed that unions should represent only workers in skilled trades—carpenters, masons, plumbers, and so on. But John L. Lewis of the Mine Workers and Sidney Hillman of the Clothing Workers believed that there were millions of factory workers who would flock to unions if given the chance. [Prospect]

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Sidney:

Lewis and Hillman’s motion to organize factory workers was put to a vote and lost. They were not happy. Indeed, Lewis decked Big Bill Hutchinson, the president of the Carpenters, and stormed out—to form the CIO, a labor organization pledged to organize factory workers and that organized millions of them over the next couple of years.

The AFL-CIO is revisiting many of the same issues the AFL tackled in 1935, when immigrants, workers of color, and women sought to join a predominantly white, male union movement. The good news is that in 2013, the AFL-CIO is welcoming these workers with open arms. The survival of the labor movement demands it.

Sidney would be proud. 


[Photo credit: Joseph_a, Creative Commons.]

Sam Stein Wins September Sidney for Dogged Coverage of Sequestration

This month’s Sidney winner is Sam Stein of Huffington Post, who is recognized for his dogged coverage of sequestration and its impact on vital federal programs, including the public defender program, health care, scientific research, and educational programs like Head Start. 

When Congress was unable to agree on targeted cuts to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, sequestration imposed billions of dollars of across-the-board cuts on the federal government. Sequestration will strip over $100 billion in funding in 2013, and $1.2 by 2021.

Read my interview with Stein on The Backstory.

Can I Have Your Baby?: The Internet "Rehoming" Racket

You can find anything through Yahoo these days, even a free kid. Or, at any rate, you could until Reuters exposed a Yahoo message board where fed up adoptive parents and adoption hopefuls were simply swapping kids amongst themselves with no oversight from social workers or the courts. The board was part of a larger trend known as “rehoming,” which is takes its name from pet rescue programs.

Many of the “rehomed” kids are overseas adoptees whose parents don’t want them anymore. To learn more about the grim phenomenon of human trafficking in the guise of international adoption, check out Kathryn Joyce’s new book, “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.”

"Left With Nothing"

Poor residents of the District of Columbia are losing their homes over tiny tax debts, the Washington Post in an important multi-part investigative series. One 76-year-old veteran lost his $197,000 home over an unpaid $134 tax lien. If a debt goes unpaid for a year, the district sells off the debt to third parties. A recent change in the rules allows these third-party debt buyers to tack on huge fees and court costs to the initial amount overdue. When the homeowner can’t pay the outrageous fees, the lien-buyer seizes the home. Nearly 200 homes have been lost this way since 2005 and debt-buyers are poised to take another 1200. One out of three of the 200 foreclosed homes had a lien debt of less than $1000. 

[Photo credit: Elycefeliz, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: JP Morgan Anti-Bribery Program Under Bribery Investigation

The best of the week’s news:


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Police Brutality Goes Unpunished in Houston

In six years, the citizens of Houston lodged 588 complaints of police brutality, all but 4 were dismissed. Emily DePrang of the Texas Observer investigates.


[Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons.]

What's Killing Poor White Women?


Crystal Wilson was just 38 years old when shed died in her sleep in Cave City, Arkansas last spring. Sidney-winner Monica Potts uses Wilson’s story as a prism through which to examine one of the most pressing public health mysteries of our time. Life expectacy is rising in the United States, almost across the board. The execeptions are poor white women, who are actually losing ground:

Everything about Crystal’s life was ordinary, except for her death. She is one of a demographic—white women who don’t graduate from high school—whose life expectancy has declined dramatically over the past 18 years. These women can now expect to die five years earlier than the generation before them. It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. Throughout history, technological and scientific innovation have put death off longer and longer, but the benefits of those advances have not been shared equally, especially across the race and class divides that characterize 21st–century America. Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them. [Prospect]

A poor white woman’s life expectancy has fallen from nearly 79 to 73, which suggests that more women in this demographic are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. A five-year drop in life expectancy over the course of 20 years is alarming for both its size and its speed. Potts argues that white women in certain communities are chronically starved for education, opportunity, and social support. 


[Photo credit: Zach Stern, Creative Commons.]