Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Be Happy: Join A Union

A new sociological study suggests that union membership makes people happier, and not just because union members earn higher wages. The authors, Patrick Flavin and Gregory Shufeldt, scoured the World Values survey and found that union members were more satisfied with their lives than non-members. Then they tried to figure out why:

Yet as Mr. Flavin and Mr. Shufeldt told Op-Talk in an email: “Labor union membership still has benefits, and that this is true for all union members. Simply put, if one goal of labor unions is to boost the quality of life for their members, our study provides empirical evidence that they are succeeding.”

In their study, they tease out four “pathways” by which being a union member might improve quality of life compared with not being a member: “These include having greater satisfaction with one’s experiences while working, feeling greater job security, being afforded numerous opportunities for social interaction and integration, and enhancing the participatory benefits associated with more engaged democratic citizenship.” [NYT]

So, the advantages of belonging to a union are better working conditions, more respect, enhanced security, more friends, and a voice in society. That’s enough to make anyone happier.

You can read a draft of the paper here. (.pdf)

L.A. Times Duo Wins Sidney For Exposing Brutal System That Puts Perfect Mexican Produce on U.S. Tables

Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti win the January Sidney Award for “Product of Mexico,” a multi-media package for the LA Times documenting the brutal labor practices on Mexican farms that produce fruits and vegetables for major U.S. retailers, including WalMart.

The story is the product of an 18-month investigation that took the reporters to 9 Mexican states. Marosi’s words and Bartletti’s images tell the stories of the workers who travel hundreds of miles to work on farms that grow produce for export.

Farm owners lure workers from remote villages in Mexico with promises of high wages. The workers travel hundreds of miiles from home. They arrive penniless, and they rapidly fall into debt due to high prices at the company store. They can’t leave as long as they owe money even if the wages aren’t as high as the famer promised. To compound the farm workers’ misery, they may not be able to buy enough food on their meagre wages to feed themselves and their families, who often travel with them. Marosi and Bartletti observed workers picking through garbage for extra food.

Working conditions are dangerous and accidents are a constant threat. One teenage farmworker they met had her ankle accidentally slashed by a machete.

Marosi used public records and reports to prove that produce from these farms found its way to major American retailers including WalMart.

Read our Backstory interview with Richard Marosi for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this remarkable multi-media package.

Sidney's Picks: America's Dirtiest Cops; Who's Driving This Train?

The Best of the Week’s News 

Kentucky's Jail-Less Jailers Get Paid to Do Nothing

Kentucky has 41 counties with no county jail, but the state constitution requires all counties to have an elected county jailer. So, 41 county jailers get paid, often handsomely, to do nothing. The highest earner among them pulls down $69,000 a year, but she has no office, no schedule, and no official duties of any kind.

These counties are some of the poorest in the state, but they collectively spend about $2 million dollars a year on salaries for jailers-without-porforlio and their deputies. 

[Photo credit: Grim Santo, Creative Commons.]

Happy New Year, Hillmanistas!

2015 will be a great year for socially conscious journalism. 

Remember to get your Hillman Prize entries in. The deadline for the Canadian Hillman Prize is Jan 9 and the deadline for all other Hillman Prizes is Jan 30.

Fracking and Contract Killing in North Dakota

Photo credit: 

Daniel Foster, Creative Commons

A gripping tale of greed, fracking, deregulation, and murder in North Dakota brought to us by Deborah Sontag and and Brent McDonald of the New York Times.


Sidney's Picks: Harry Potter & Hunger Games Fuel the Fight for $15

The Best of the Week’s News

  • Anti-union activists take “Right to Work” to the county level.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Last of the "Murrow Boys" Dies at 97

Richard C. Hottelet, a war correspondent who covered the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge for CBS, has died at the age of 97.

Hottelet was the last surviving member of the “Murrow Boys,” a team of correspondents originally assembled by Edward R. Murrow before the Second World War. Hottelet joined the team in 1944 to cover the invasion of Normandy. 


[Photo credit: Peter Willows/AP, Creative Commons via wikipedia.]

Tennessee Criminalizes Drug Use During Pregnancy, Tragedies Ensue

One of the first women arrested under Tennessee’s new law that criminalizes women who give birth to babies with drugs in their systems took her own life last month, Rosa Goldensohn and Rachael Levy report in the Nation:

At around midnight on November 13, Tonya Martin slipped out into the yard that separated her trailer from the one in which her grandparents live on a lot in the eastern hills of Tennessee. Just two months earlier, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department arrested Martin after she gave birth to a son. Her crime: delivering a child at Sweetwater Hospital with drugs—some kind of opioid—in his system.

Martin couldn’t shake her addiction or the depression that plagued her. The 34-year-old mother gave up the newborn for adoption. Not long after, Martin’s boyfriend found her dangling from the clothesline pole in her grandmother’s yard. He tried to resuscitate her, but it was too late. [The Nation]

The law was billed as an incentive for pregnant drug users to get treatment for their addictions before their babies were born, but because of Tennessee’s overcrowded, underfunded treatment system, many pregnant women who want help are being turned away. One woman who was denied drug treatment ultimately gave birth to her daughter in a car by the side of the road Goldensohn and Levy report. A doctor who works with pregnant addicts said that he knows some of his patients have fled the state to deliver and others have told him they’re going into hiding. 

A bill that was touted as an incentive for healthy behavior is turning into a public health nightmare for women, their babies, and the community. 

[Photo credit: Mahalie Stackpole, Creative Commons.]

Sidney's Picks: Black Lives Matter

The Best of the Week’s News

  • We missed this when it came out, but it’s a must read: Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts.
  • See photos from Geoffrey Hiller’s new book, “Daybreak in Myanmar,” a work 27 years in the making.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]