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
Sweeping anti-union legislation was signed into law today in Michigan, despite vocal opposition from organized labor in the state capital. As Sarah Cobarrubius reports for Working In These Times, opponents of the new laws are already talking about ways to repeal them:
Union organizers, however, say the legislation can still be undone. There are four methods under Michigan state law through which a proposal can be placed on the ballot. While a legislative referendum cannot be used to challenge right-to-work, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan reveals that citizens could still launch a statutory initiative, though this requires more signatures. In order to do this, organizers would have to file petitions containing signatures of registered voters equal to at least eight percent of the votes cast in the last election for governor. Even if the legislature rejects the initiative, it would go on the ballot for 2014 general election.
[Photo credit: Peoplesworld, Creative Commons.]
- The Michigan House passed so-called "right to work" legislation on Thursday and the governor says he'll sign the bill after it passes the GOP-controlled state senate.
- The Michigan bill has a carve-out for police and firefighters' unions, which have traditionally supported the Republicans.
- Echoes of the Triangle Fire: Managers blocked exits before a blaze killed 112 garment workers in Bangladesh.
- 2012 Hillman Prize-winner Seth Freed Wessler reports on the labor struggles of fast food workers for Colorlines.
- On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times published a compassionate and informative profile of a woman living with a rare and debilitating condition known as persistent genital arousal disorder. Tragically, the subject took her own life.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Michigan is poised to enact sweeping anti-union legislation, a bill that would transform the state from a historical stronghold of American labor to a so-called "right-to-work state" where union membership is optional even in unionized workplaces. President Obama spoke out against the proposed legislation today:
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — President Barack Obama has repeated his opposition to right-to-work laws as the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature moved toward adopting the union-curbing measure.
The Michigan House voted Thursday to approve a bill barring unions from collecting mandatory fees from non-members. The Senate also took up the bill, and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder endorsed it Thursday.
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich says Obama has long opposed right to work laws, "and he continues to oppose them now.
Marcy Wheeler, a native Michigander and political blogger, has more on the battle for union rights in her home state.
Brian Palmer of Slate answers the question on every New Yorker's mind in the wake of the murder of Ki Suk Han: What should you do if you get pushed onto the subway tracks?
Now that's what we call public service journalism.
Like the Colonel's 11 secret herbs and spices, the recipe for the fracking fluid known as EXP- F0173-11 is closely guarded. The manufacturer maintains that it doesn't have to disclose certain secret ingredients that give EXP- F0173-11 the great taste and extreme viscosity* that frackers know and love.
A new Texas law requires drilling companies to say exactly which chemicals they are injecting into the ground in persuit of natural gas, but the law has a huge loophole:
Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August, according to their chemical- disclosure reports. Data from the documents were compiled by Pivot Upstream Group, a Houston-based firm that studies the energy industry, and analyzed by Bloomberg News. Nationwide, companies withheld one out of every five chemicals they used in fracking, a separate examination of a broader database shows.
Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms, said Lon Burnam, a Democratic state representative and a co-author of the law. [Bloomberg]
Companies can get the exemption just by asserting that an ingredient is a trade secret. There's no independent oversight mechanism to make sure they're exempting chemicals in good faith.
*Or whatever it is that makes EXP- F0173-11 a favorite for discerning frackers. That's probably a secret, too.
[Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon, Creative Commons.]
Some 200 fast food workers walked off the job at restaurants around New York City on Thursday as part of the largest-ever drive to organize this industry. Fast Food Forward, the umbrella group behind yesterday's action, is a joint effort by unions, community groups, religious leaders, and other concerned citizens.
I'd estimate that the Times Square rally drew about 200-300 people at its peak, but that's a very rough estimate.
The workers are demanding a raise to $15.00 an hour, an end to retaliation for organizing, and respect on the job. The median wage for fast food workers in New York City is about $9 an hour, but many in this sector are scraping by on the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Hence the catchphrase of yesterday's action: "Can't survive on $7.25."
Scenes from Fast Food Forward's rally in Times Square. (Click thumbnails to view full-sized images.)
A speaker addresses the crowd outside McDonald's in Times Square.
[Photo credits: Lindsay Beyerstein, all rights reserved.]
Today's edition of Sidney's Picks is all about yesterday's fast food walkouts in New York City.
- "Can fast food workers ever be unionized? Here, in New York, today, a lot of fast food workers decided to skip the theory and proceed directly to the "Fuck you, pay me" phase of the process," writes Hamilton Nolan of Gawker.
- 200 workers from dozens of fast food restaurants around New York City walked off the job yesterday to demand higher wages, and the right to organize without retaliation. The walkout, organized by Fast Food Forward, was product of the largest organizing drive in the fast food industry.
- Sarah Jaffe delves into the economics of fast food jobs.
- How the Wal-Mart strike inspired New York's fast food workers.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
This morning, fast food workers in New York City walked off the job to demand higher wages and the right to unionize, Josh Eidelson reports:
At 6:30 this morning, New York City fast food workers walked off the job, launching a rare strike against a nearly union-free industry. Organizers expect workers at dozens of stores to join the one-day strike, a bold challenge to an industry whose low wages, limited hours and precarious employment typify a growing portion of the U.S. economy.
New York City workers are organizing at McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Papa John’s. Organizers expect today’s strike to include workers from almost all of those chains, with the largest group coming from McDonald’s; the company did not respond to a request for comment. [Salon]
A spokesman for New York Communities for Change told Eidelson that today's action represents "the biggest organizing campaign that’s happened in the fast food industry.” Over the past few months, forty full-time organizers have been reaching to fast food workers at McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, and other quick serve restaurants in the city.
They have their work cut out for them. The fast food industry is vehemently anti-union.
JoseCerillo, a 79-year-old who cleans tables and floors at a New York McDonald’s, told Salon he was suspended by the company on Monday after signing up co-workers on the campaign petition. According to Cerillo, management said the punishment was for violating a “no solicitation” policy. “They feel threatened because I’m organizing,” said Cerillo (he was interviewed in Spanish). He said he circulated the petition during break times and outside of work. [Salon]
A rally for the strikers is scheduled for 4pm this afternoon in Times Square.
[Photo credit: Patrick Q, Creative Commons.]
In Meridian, Mississippi, kids with juvenile records are getting arrested for wearing the wrong color socks:
In Meridian, when schools want to discipline children, they do much more than just send them to the principal’s office. They call the police, who show up to arrest children who are as young as 10 years old. Arrests, the Department of Justice says, happen automatically, regardless of whether the police officer knows exactly what kind of offense the child has committed or whether that offense is even worthy of an arrest. The police department’s policy is to arrest all children referred to the agency.
Once those children are in the juvenile justice system, they are denied basic constitutional rights. They are handcuffed and incarcerated for days without any hearing and subsequently warehoused without understanding their alleged probation violations. [Colorlines]
The Department of Justice is suing Meridian for violating the constitutional rights of young offenders. Good thing, too. The city is feeding the school-to-prison pipeline by treating troubled kids as second-class citizens whose every misstep becomes a police issue, even when they're not breaking the law.
[Photo credit: Rikomatic, Creative Commons. Interestingly, this image was created for something the photographer calls "Mismatched Sock Solidarity Day."]
Domestic workers labor behind closed doors, and sometimes off the books. As a result, basic facts about their circumstances are shrouded in mystery. Who are they? How much do they earn? What are their working conditions like? A report released today offers the first detailed statistical profile of America's domestic workforce, Steven Greenhouse reports.
The report, co-authored by a professor and an advocate for domestic workers, is based on interviews with 2,086 workers in 14 major metropolitan areas. Like 800,000 other domestic workers in America, the interview subjects were paid directly by the families they worked for, not by outside agencies. Interviews were conducted in 9 languages and respondents hailed from 71 different countries.
The median wage for domestic workers $11 an hour for nannies and $10 an hour for caregivers and housekeepers. Nannies who were citizens had a higher median wage than their undocumented counterparts. Live-in domestic workers earned far less than those living outside the home. Domestic workers are not covered by federal minimum wage laws.
Fringe benefits were almost non-existent. Sixty-five percent of the workers said they had no health insurance; just 4% said they were insured through their employer.
Data like these will help legislators craft better laws to protect domestic workers.