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
Walmart workers in several stores walked off the job in protest today. This is the first multi-store strike in the retailer's 50-year history:
Today, for the first time in Walmart’s fifty-year history, workers at multiple stores are out on strike. Minutes ago, dozens of workers at Southern California stores launched a one-day work stoppage in protest of alleged retaliation against their attempts to organize. In a few hours, they’ll join supporters for a mass rally outside a Pico Rivera, CA store. This is the latest – and most dramatic – of the recent escalations in the decades-long struggle between organized labor and the largest private employer in the world.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m scared…” Pico Rivera Walmart employee Evelin Cruz told Salon yesterday about her decision to join today’s strike. “But I think the time has come, so they take notice that these associates are tired of all the issues in the stores, all the management retaliating against you.” Rivera, a department manager, said her store is chronically understaffed: “They expect the work to be done, without having the people to do the job.” [Salon]
As Josh Eidelson of Salon explains, this is a risky move because the workers do not yet belong to a union. Even so, federal labor law protects the right of non-union workers to walk off the job to protest the conditions of their employment. The workers can't be fired for striking. What's less clear is whether the company could bring in scabs to replace the if the strike continues.
Eidelson interviewed historian Nelson Lichtenstein, the author of a book on unions and Walmart, and a past winner of the Hillman Foundation's Sol Stetin Award. Lichtenstein predicts that, if the strike gains momentum, the company will be constrained more by PR concerns than by the letter of the labor law.
Today's action is organized by OUR Walmart, an employee organization supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers.
[Photo credit: A demonstration against Walmart's labor practices taken earlier this month, peoplesworld, Creative Commons.]
California governor Jerry Brown struck a blow for heat-related death this week, vetoing legislation that could have saved the lives of farm workers:
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Two farm worker safety bills that target growers and labor contractors, subjecting them to lawsuits, criminal charges and stiff penalties have been vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.
SB 2346 would have allowed farm workers to enforce the state's heat regulations themselves by suing employers who fail more than twice to comply with mandatory shade and drinking water requirements.
AB 2676 would have made it a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by jail and fines of up to $200,000 if appropriate water or shade are not provided.
Employers could also pay restitution of up to $1 million to the worker's family. [23ABC News]
Activists brought a sheep to the capitol on Tuesday to drive home the message that livestock have more protections in California than farm workers.
Brown also vetoed legislation to make domestic workers eligible for overtime pay.
[Photo credit: Ambersky235, Creative Commons.]
Some disappointing news out of Sacramento. Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed the domestic workers bill of rights:
Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday announced that he had vetoed legislation that would have provided overtime pay, meal breaks and other labor protections to an estimated 200,000 caregivers, nannies and house cleaners in California.
Brown called their work a "noble endeavor" and said they deserve fair pay and safe working conditions.
But the Democratic governor said the bill "raises a number of unanswered questions," prompting him to reject the measure. It was among dozens of bills he acted on in the final hours before his midnight deadline to consider bills sent to him this fall by the Legislature. [CBS]
Amongst other things, the law would have given domestic workers the right to compensation if their meal breaks and rest periods were interrupted. The California Chamber of Commerce argued that paying workers for infringements on their time off, in the words of CBS, "impractical at best and dangerous at worst." Dangerous, how? In the eyes of the Chamber, workers who expect to be paid for their time are dangerous. Who knows what they might expect next?
Women and people of color have always been the backbone of America's domestic workforce. Domestic workers have historically been excluded from protections that other workers take for granted.
Household workers were deliberately excluded from the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 in a bid to win the support of Southern lawmakers. California's proposed law is the product of a national movement dedicated to reversing these longstanding inequities.
New York is the first and only state with a domestic workers rights law. The law went into effect in 2010 and, so far, the Empire State has not sunk in to the sea.
“Protecting the basic labor rights of workers who care for kids and elders and sick people isn’t that complicated. This is a real setback for racial and economic justice,” said Rinku Sen, president of the Allied Research Center.
[Photo credit: Steve Rhodes, Creative Commons.]
Here's a prose poem from Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post to start your week. A koan from corporate America:
I am a private-equity fund manager.
I am the misunderstood superhero of American capitalism, single-handedly creating wealth and prosperity despite all the obstacles put in my way by employees, government and the media.
I am a job creator and I am entitled.
I am entitled to fire any worker who tries to organize a union. I am entitled to break any existing union by moving, or threatening to move, operations to a union-hostile environment.
I am entitled to a duty of care and loyalty from employees and investors who are owed no such duty in return.
I am entitled to operate my business free of all government regulations other than those written or approved by my industry. [...]
Read the whole thing. If you have a break room at work, consider tacking it up on the bulletin board. Stealthily...
[Photo credit: mlmdotcom, Creative Commons.]
- Public employees' strikes, like the Chicago teachers strike, get lots of media attention, but they're surprisingly rare. Melissa Maynard of Stateline explains why.
- Super-Predators, 'Wilding', and the Central Park Five: Thoughts on rape, racism, media, and the Central Park Jogger case. (via Post Bourgie)
- Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to turn over millions of acres of public land for private profit, writes Tim Egan in the New York Times.
- More than 100,000 aging lifers are expected to die in prison in the coming years, James Ridgeway of Mother Jones reports on the medical and moral costs of keeping them locked up.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Adele Stan, one of our favorite right-wing watchers, has a new story about Ralph Reed's latest piece of agitprop, coming soon to a conservative relative's cell phone:
Intent on making good on his post-2008 election promise to "never get out-hustled on the ground again," Ralph Reed, who leads the right-wing Faith and Freedom Coalition, this week unveiled the organization's ostensibly "non-partisan" presidential election voter guide, which will be inserted into church bulletins throughout the nine battleground states in which the November election will be won or lost.
In his Christian education, though, apparently Reed never learned that it's a sin to tell a lie. His voter guide contains three big ones, in its characterizations of President Barack Obama's positions on Medicare, environmental regulation and abortion. [AlterNet]
Reed's voter guide claims that Obama favors Medicare cuts, a non-existent "cap-and-tax" policy, and government-funded abortions. It's never too early to start rehearsing your talking points for Thanksgiving dinner, so get over there and check out the goods on Ralph's voter guide.
A deadly fire in a Pakistani factory has galvanized a new worker's rights movement. On September 22, over 70 trade union federations, union locals, leftist parties, youth groups, human rights organizations, and concerned citizens resolved to demand justice for the victims and work together to improve safety in the workplace.
Nasir Mansoor, the Deputy Director of the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan is a founding member of the new group. He writes:
The representatives decided to form the "Workers Right Movement (WRM)" to launch a movement for the implementation of labor laws, compensation to the families of the deceased workers, compensation for the injured and for other workers who lost their livelihoods due to the fire, closure of the factory, and the arrest of factory owners and confiscation of their assets and bank accounts.
To press for these demands, plans for a large worker rights rally at Regal Chawk at 4pm on Saturday, September 29, were announced. [LINAC]
We'll keep you posted on the new movement's progress.
[Image credit: nasirjumani2008, Creative Commons.]
The electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn said that it had closed its plant in the Chinese city of Taiyuan on Monday after a riot. The compoany claimed that a fight broke out in an employee dormitory on Sunday. State-run media say that 5,000 riot police were called in to restore order.
Tech reporter Liau Yun Qing of ZDNet summarizes a Chinese language report on the riot:
Local news site Sohu Finance said the riot involved Foxconn employees and security guards. While the actual reason for the riot was unknown, rumors suggest it started because a security guard had beat up an employee which caused the dissatisfaction of other employees, the news site said.
The Taiyuan factory makes the iPhone 5. Earlier this month, a journalist from the Shanghai Evening Post infiltrated the factory to see how the world's hottest gadget gets made. You can read an English translation of his expose at MIC Gadget.
Foxconn claims that the fracas was confinded to the dormitory and that no production equipment was damaged. So far, the mainstream English-language media are only telling Foxconn's side of the story. This imbalance might reflect pro-corporate bias. But it's also difficult for the mainstream press to get the workers' perspective on short notice. The workers are on lockdown.
None of the mainstream accounts I've read have commented on this information asymmetry. So far, I've seen no evidence that the reporters are demanding access to workers, which they should be doing.
The alternative gadget press, which claims to have sources inside the plant, is telling a very different story. MIC Gadget's exclusive report, supplemented by cell phone pictures from the scene, contradicts the official story. There are no pictures of damage to the production line, but MIC Gadget's sources on the scene say that iPhone production equipment was damaged during riot. The site also reports that local gangsters showed up to join the melee after being contacted by workers inside.
Foxconn's stock fell 3% on Monday, which suggests the markets aren't buying the company's assurances that the riot won't delay production of the iPhone 5.
Foxconn has become synonymous with harsh working conditions for electronics workers. At least 14 Foxconn workers committed suicide in 2010. The company has since raised wages and installed nets to catch jumpers. In 2012, workers threatened mass suicide to protest working conditions.
Shortly after the mass suicide threat, the chairman of Foxconn's parent company, Hon Hai, invited a zoo director to instruct his general managers on animal control techniques, which he hoped they would apply to the workforce:
“Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache,” Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou said.
The Taiyuan plant has already seen smaller labor disturbances this year. Many workers have complained bitterly about harsh treatment by company security guards. Apple is already scrambling to get the iPhone 5 to consumers. If this unrest causes further delays, it may send a message that a dissatisfied workforce is a false economy.
[Photo credit: Methodshop, Creative Commons.]
- Paul Krugman on Mitt Romney's contempt for workers: "Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no."
- With poverty at a 10-year high, income disparities in New York now rival those seen in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- An industry-funded monitoring group, Social Accountability International, certified that a Karachi factory was safe before a blaze swept through the plant, killing hundreds of workers.
- An Iranian woman beat the crap out of a meddlesome cleric who told her to cover up better. “You, cover your eyes,” she shot back, ignoring his warnings. One thing led to another and the cleric soon found himself on the ground, being kicked.
- Rick Ayers of the Huffington Post raves for Frank Bardacke's Hillman Prize-winning biography of Cesar Chavez, Trampling Out the Vintage.
- New York State's sex ed curricula are riddled with inaccurate and prejudiced information about sex, gender, and health, RH Reality Check reports. Not only that some of the illustrations of the reproductive system appear to have been drawn by Todd Akin with a pen in his mouth:
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Chicago wash owners are casually stealing millions from their workers, according to a new study:
CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago car wash workers are trying to organize a union and are the subject of new research that finds their employers routinely steal from them.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports new research by a University of Illinois at Chicago professor suggests car washes in Chicago are ripping off their mostly immigrant workers to the tune of $2.5 million a year.
“These violations are the norm. These are not bad apples,” said UIC professor Robert Bruno.
A third of Chicago's car wash workers have been robbed this way. It's the de facto industry standard. Wage theft happens at 70% of Chicago car washes.
Owners regularly hold back tips and overtime pay. Most of the city's car wash workers live in poverty despite working much more than full time.
Car wash workers in New York report similar abuses.
[Photo credit: Daviddag, Creative Commons.]