by Lindsay Beyerstein
How our blog got its name
Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”
Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.
It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.
Clear It With Sidney
Join us on Thursday, Sept 11 at 6pm at SEIU 32BJ (25 W. 18th St, Manhattan) for a public forum on sweat shop labor, global supply chains, and what labor can do to improve the lives of garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia.
The panel will feature New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Bangladeshi labor leader Kalpona Akter, SEIU global strategies director Jeff Hermanson, and Judy Gearhart of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). Anna Burger, former SEIU Secretary Treasurer, will moderate the panel.
This event is sponsored by the Sidney Hillman Foundation, Balcony Films, and the ILRF.
Space is limited. RSVP to alex(at)hillmanfoundation(dot)org
Protests and heavy-handed policing, are still the order of the day in Ferguson, Missouri, over a week after 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black youth, was shot to death by a police officer. In the New Republic, Hillman Prize-winner Jon Cohn argues that two things must happen to restore calm in Ferguson. Cohn argues that two things have to happen before the residents of Ferguson will be prepared to stand down.
First, Cohn says, the investigation must reach some kind of concrete result. The police have been very stingy with real information, but gratuitous about leaking potentially prejudicial information against Brown, such as a video that purports to show him shoving a convenience store clerk in the course of stealing a handful of cigars, and the news that Brown had marijuana in his system when he was shot. Second, police procedures in Ferguson need to change to reduce the chances of police brutality and racist policing in the future.
[Photo credit: Light Brigading, Creative Commons.]
Unpredictable hours create chaos in the lives of low-wage workers. Today, Jodi Kantor of the New York Times shines a spotlight on the tyranny of unpredictable hours, which affects countless working people, but which typically receives scant attention from the elite media.
Jannette Navarro is a 22-year-old Starbucks barista raising a son on her own and working towards a college degree, but her unpredictable hours are wreaking havoc on her ability to build a stable life and advance in her career:
But Ms. Navarro’s fluctuating hours, combined with her limited resources, had also turned their lives into a chronic crisis over the clock. She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy. Months after starting the job she moved out of her aunt’s home, in part because of mounting friction over the erratic schedule, which the aunt felt was also holding her family captive. Ms. Navarro’s degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes. She needed to work all she could, sometimes counting on dimes from the tip jar to make the bus fare home. If she dared ask for more stable hours, she feared, she would get fewer work hours over all.
Companies use high-tech computer scheduling to wring extra profit out of their operations by minimizing downtime, at the expense of the freedom and quality of life of their workforce. Workers are often expected to be available with little or no notice. These expectations make it difficult to schedule childcare and transportation, get an education, or plan any activity more than three days in advance.
Low-wage workers are gaining unprecedented visibility thanks to the efforts of groups like Fast Food Forward. As low-wage workers gain a stronger voice in the workplace, scheduling is sure to be a major issue.
Update: Starbucks has resolved to reform its scheduling policies in the wake of the New York Times story.
[Photo credit: Bernard Polet, Creative Commons.]
We are very proud to award this month's Sidney Award to Jay Root of the Texas Tribune for his series, Hurting for Work, an expose of the threadbare workers' compensation system in Texas. Did you know that any employer can opt out of the Texas workers' comp program and substitute unregulated private insurance or nothing at all? Read more about the broken system in my Backstory interview with Jay Root.
[Photo credit: Texas State Capitol: House of Representatives, Texas State Library, Creative Commons.
Morgue workers in Baghdad told independent journalist Rania Abouzeid that, this year, religious militias have repeatedly massacred people at sites allegedly linked to the sex trade. The largest of these killings occured last month. On July 13, thirty-two people were murdered in two apartment buildings in the Zayouna district of Baghdad:
Early on the morning of July 13th, the shot-up bodies of twenty-eight women and five men were retrieved from two apartments in a building complex Zayouna, a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. Both apartments were said to be sites of prostitution. By 10 A.M., the police had delivered the bodies to a city morgue, where they were strewn over the dirty, blood-streaked floor, one woman’s outstretched arms abutting another woman’s head, someone’s splayed legs near someone else’s torso. This is the third time this year that a group of women suspected of being prostitutes has been killed; this group was the largest to date, according to morgue workers. [New Yorker]
A shopkeeper told NBC that the shootings happened after a group of suspected militiamen in uniform entered Zayouna. The Baghdad Police say the killers left notes saying that the killings were "punishment."
The best of the week's news:
- Organic but not sustainable: The farm workers who pick produce for New York's greenmarkets work 14-hour days with no overtime, a legal holdover from the Jim Crow era.
- The man who shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride when she knocked on his door after a late night car wreck has been found guilty of her second-degree murder.
- Carla Murphy reports on young, black men growing up in the shadow of Chicago's gun crisis.
- The abortion ministry of Dr. Willie Parker, the last abortion provider in Mississippi
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Why is Kathryn Slater-Carter, the owner of a McDonald's franchise in California, joining forces with SEIU to advocate for the rights for franchisees in California? The short answer is that McDonald's is forcing franchisees to practically give food away and demanding that they take the difference out of their workers' wages, and franchisees can't refuse because McDonald's has all the legal power. SEIU and some small franchisees are backing a bill before the state legislature that could help small business owners stand up to the corporate behemoth.
[Photo: Allen, Creative Commons.]
- In a major victory for fast food organizers, the National Labor Relations Board has determined that the McDonald's corporation is a joint employer of the workers at its franchises.
- How a healthy cookbook for food stamp recipients became a massive viral hit online.
- A year after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the worst industrial disaster in history, Sidney-winner Josh Eidelson looks back and asks what has changed.
- Forensic scientists work to identify the bodies of migrants who died attempting to cross the Mexico/U.S. border.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
A court in Greece has acquitted two farmers accused of shooting 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers after they demanded 6 months of upaid wages:
Scores of migrants, many sobbing in disbelief, protested outside the court house after magistrates allowed two of the men, including the owner of the farm who had been accused of human trafficking, to walk free.
Two others, accused of aggravated assault and illegal firearms possession, were handed prison sentences of 14 years and seven months and eight years and seven months but were also freed pending appeal.
The Bangladeshis were shot at in April last year when they demanded to be remunerated for six months of unpaid work at a farm in Manolada in the southern Peloponnese. Four of the strawberry pickers were badly injured in the attack. [Guardian]
The decision has sparked outrage in Greece, Bangladesh, and around the world. Greek trade unionists, anti-ractist activists, and politicians are condemning the verdict.
[Photo credit: Shannon Kline, Creative Commons.]
This week current and retired public employees in Detroit agreed to a 4.5% cut in their pensions to help the cash-strapped city make ends meet, while the city agreed to subsidize a stadium for the Detroit Red Wings. David Sirota reports:
As U.S. states and cities grapple with budget and pension shortfalls, many are betting big on an unproven formula: Slash public employee pension benefits and public services while diverting the savings into lucrative subsidies for professional sports teams.
Detroit on Monday made itself the most prominent example of this trend. Officials in the financially devastated city announced that current and future municipal retirees had blessed a plan that will slash their pension benefits. On the same day, the billionaire owners of the Detroit Red Wings, the Ilitch family, unveiled details of an already approved taxpayer-financed stadium for the professional hockey team. [IHT]
The city claims that a new stadium will spur economic development, but stadiums have historically offered lousy returns on taxpayer investment.
[Photo credit: Jeff Powers, Creative Commons.]