September 2014 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

September 2014

Three Jobs at Dunkin' Donuts, One Tragic Death

Maria Fernandez worked three near-minimum wage jobs at Dunkin’ Donuts in Northern New Jersey. Like many low-wage workers, she spent a lot of time shuttling between jobs, dozing in her car between shifts. On Aug 25, Fernandez settled in for a nap in the parking lot outside one of her jobs and never woke up. A gas can in her trunk had spilled and the fumes suffocated her as she slept. She was 32. 

Sleep deprivation is a major social problem in the United States at large, and low-income Americans are especially hard-hit. Half of people in households with incomes below $30,000/yr report sleeping less than 6 hours a night. Lack of sleep increases the risk of accidents and exacerbates many chronic health problems.


[Photo credit: Jeepersmedia, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: LA Hotel Workers Win Their Fight for Fifteen!

The Best of the Week’s News 

  • The government of Canada must release information about an electric chair used to torture students at a residential school in the 20th century.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Protip: Tips are No Substitute for Living Wages

Former First Lady of California, Maria Shriver decided to stick up for the beleaguered housekeeping staff at the nation’s hotels…by launching a campaign encouraging hotel patrons to tip housekeeping. The campaign is called “The Envelope, Please.”

Of course you should tip! But it’s hardly a prescription for economic justice.

The pro-tip campaign seems especially tone deaf at a time when hotel workers in Los Angeles are gearing up to fight for a $15/hr living wage. 

Barbara Ehrenreich of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project takes Shriver to task for her tepid attempt to help the help:

But she chose to take a strangely sideways, almost timid, approach. Instead of getting the hotel’s CEO on the phone and inquiring politely why housekeepers aren’t paid a living wage – which is something that I imagine a centi-millionaire world-class celebrity could easily do – she launched a campaign to get hotels to encourage their guests to leave tips in their rooms. All the hotel has to do is place an appropriately labeled “gratitude envelope” on the bedside table. The initiative, called “The Envelope Please,” drew immediate support from the Marriott hotel chain, which employs about 20,000 housekeepers in North America.

A little solidarity from a woman of Shriver’s wealth and influence would go a lot farther than a guilt trip for freeloading hotel guests.


[Photo Credit: Kevin Dooley, Creative Commons.]

People's Climate March Draws Hundreds of Thousands

Up to 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City on Sunday for the People’s Climate March, making it the largest environmental protest in history. The march brought together indigenous peoples, organized labor, and many other constituencies, in addition to more traditional environmental activists. 

On Sep 23, world leaders will gather at the United Nations for an emergency summit on climate change. The People’s March is a plea for action on soaring temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and the deadly human cost of global warming. If carbon emissions aren’t controlled we can expect climate change to fuel droughts, floods, and other natural disasters that will kill or displace untold numbers of people in the years to come. 

Democracy Now! has extensive coverage of the event.

[Photo: southbendvoice, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Trains, Death, & The Scots

The best of the week’s news

  • Who voted “Yes”?: Crunching the numbers on the Scottish referendum on independence.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Toronto Star Uncovers Defective Drug Trials

An investigation by the Toronto Star uncovered numerous serious ethical and/or scientific problems with medical trials conducted by Canadian researchers, according to a report published Tuesday:

In 2012, a top Toronto cancer researcher failed to report a respiratory tract infection, severe vomiting and other adverse events.

A clinical trial run by an Alberta doctor reported that patients responded more favourably to the treatment than they actually did.

A Toronto hospital’s chief of medical staff ran a clinical trial of autistic children on a powerful antipsychotic, and he did not report side-effects suffered by four of the children.

And numerous doctors across the country failed to tell participants that one of the goals of the clinical trial was to test the safety of the drug they were taking. [The Star]

The investigation found that eight Canadian doctors had been flagged repeatedly by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for deficient research, including one Alberta cancer researcher who had been cited three times. 


[Photo credit: chesbayprogram, Creative Commons.]

Your Shirt Off Their Backs: Video and Photos

Video from “Your Shirt Off Their Backs,” last Thursday’s panel on sweatshops, labor, and the global economy, is now available! Watch highlights from the event, shot and produced by Marc Bussanich of LaborPress. (Click the frame-shaped button on the bottom right corner of the video to watch in full-screen mode.)

Marc’s write-up of the event is available here.

View a slideshow of the event, featuring panelists New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Judy Gearhart of the International Labor Rights Forum, Jeff Hermanson of Workers United/SEIU; and moderator Anna Burger. Photos by Marc Bussanich and Andrew Hill of the NYS Comptroller’s Office.  

#Sidney's Picks: The Fight for 15; Louisiana's Disappearing Boot; Felonious Fashions

The Best of the Week’s News

  • An in-depth portrait of fast food’s Fight For 15 campaign in the New Yorker.
  • Drop that snakeskin stiletto! Clothing made from endangered species is seized en route to Fashion Week. (sound plays automatically)
  • Severely injured children are less likely to survive their injuries if they are taken to trauma centers that specialize in adult care, rather than pediatric trauma.
  • Check out the photos from last night’s Your Shirt Off Their Backs panel discussion on sweatshops, labor, and the global economy. Thanks to our distinguished panelists and moderator, our hosts at 32BJ Headquarters, and everyone who came out to the event. We’ll be adding more photos next week, so be sure to check back to see them all. 

Tonight: Your Shirt Off Their Backs, Public Forum on Sweatshops and the Labor Movement

Join us tonight, Thursday the 11th, in Manhattan for “Your Shirt Off Their Backs,” a public forum on sweatshops, the labor movement, and the struggles of workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia. 

Post and Courier Wins Sidney Award for Expose of Domestic Violence in South Carolina

The Post and Courier wins the September Sidney Award for “Till Death Do Us Part,” an investigative multimedia series examining South Carolina’s domestic homicide crisis. This week also marks the twentieth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, which was signed into law on Sep 13, 1994. The issue of domestic violence has been making national headlines this week, since Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely from the NFL after video surfaced showing him knocking out his future wife in a hotel elevator. 

Getting back to the Post and Courier, more than 300 women have been killed by men in South Carolina in the past decade. At the time the series was published, the state had the highest rate of male-on-female murder in the country. An 8-month investigation by Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff found sexism and guns were to blame for a death rate more than twice the national average.

Read my Backstory interview with Doug Pardue and Glenn Smith and learn about the making of this remarkable and highly influential piece of journalism. After “Till Death Do Us Part” ran, the speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives announced a special panel to help craft new domestic violence legislation for the next session.