Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Grim Vindication: Autopsy Proves Miner's Black Lung Claim, Shames Company Shill

Steve Day, a 35-year veteran of the underground coal mines of West Virginia, had the worst case of black lung anyone had ever seen. But the doctor handpicked by the coal company to assess Steve’s black lung disability claim refused to acknowledge the obvious. He claimed that the huge scarred-out areas of Steve’s lungs were caused by a tuberculosis, or a fungal infection, or anything but the coal dust that Steve had been breathing every day for over three decades. So, Steve got no compensation for his crippling shortness of breath. 

Steve had to die before doctors could cut open his lungs and prove once and for all that coal dust choked him to death.

Chris Hamby, who started his Black Lung coverage at the Center for Public Integrity, continues his coverage as a staffer for Buzzfeed. The same doctor who misdagnosed Steve has been a consultant for countless other miners who have been denied black lung disability. Perhaps this story will help unseat the doctor as an expert in future cases. 

 

[Photo credit: gentlepurespace, Creative Commons. Image from a children’s book about coal mining.]

#Sidney's Picks: NLRB Rules that Facebook "Likes" Are Protected

 The Best of the Week’s News

  • The National Labor Relations Board rules that Facebook “likes” and comments constitute protected activity.
  • It’s more than an Ebola outbreak, it’s a chance for Dr. Philip Smith, father of the biocontainment unit at the University of Nebraska, to say, “I told you so.”
  • Irony alert: A report to Congress on authorized disclosures of classified information to the media is classified.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

McClatchy and ProPublica Win October Sidney for Exposing Multi-Billion Dollar Tax Scam

McClatchy and ProPublica spent a year delving into the multi-billion-dollar tax scam of misclassification in the construction industry and beyond. Read our Back Story interview with Barbara Barrett, National Editor at McClatchy, who helped oversee this mammoth undertaking.

Philly Teachers' Union Faces "the Nuclear Option" from Ed Reform Commission

The Philadelphia Education Reform Commission deployed what observers are calling “the nuclear option” on the city’s teachers’ union, cancelling their contract on Monday, unilaterally and without notice:

In a stunning move that could reshape the face of city schools, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted Monday to unilaterally cancel its teachers’ contract. The vote was unanimous.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers was given no advance word of the action — which happened at an early-morning SRC meeting called with minimal notice — and which figures to result in a legal challenge to the takeover law the SRC believes gives it the power to bypass negotiations and impose terms. [Philly.com]

According to Philly.com, the commission has no immediate plans to cut the pay of the 15,000 teachers and staff in the Philadelphia school system who belong to the union. The move is a bid to wrest control of the teacher’s benefit program from the union in order to force steep hikes in the worker’s share of health insurace. 

The Commission insists that it has the power to cancel the contract, but the teachers intend to fight the decision in court. 

 

[Photo credit: Jasper Nance, Creative Commons.]

Amazon Warehouse Workers Required to Wait in Line to Leave Work Demand to Be Paid for Their Time

Amazon warehouse workers have to spend a lot of time standing in security lines to get out of their workplace. Management has decided that its own workers are such a security threat that they must be painstakingly screened before they can be allowed to leave. Amazon workers are okay with these screenings, but they want to be paid for their time. The company that imposes the screening claims that it shouldn’t have to pay because being cleared to leave the facility is not directly related to the workers’ job! Sidney-winner Josh Eidelson reports on the upcoming Supreme Court case that will decide this issue. 

#Sidney's Picks: Poverty; an Emmy in the Family; and Oral Roberts

The Best of the Week’s News

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Climate Change Drives 35,000 Walruses to Alaska Beach

In what may be a sign of the impending apocalypse, 35,000 walruses descended on a remote Alaskan beach last month. Walruses like to congregate, but a crowd this size is unprecedented. According to Climate Progress, some conservationists believe that the walruses are coming ashore because there’s not enough sea ice for them to rest on. Unlike seals, walruses need to take breaks from swimming. Normally, they would be congregating in smaller groups on pieces of ice at sea. 

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.]

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