Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

"Unions: Not Just for Middle-Aged White Guys Anymore"

Hillman Judge Harold Meyerson on the future of the AFL-CIO and Sidney Hillman’s legacy of organizing workers whom others considered unorganizable:

During the floor debate yesterday on a resolution expanding the AFL-CIO’s commitment to take the workers excluded from labor law’s protections into its ranks—domestic workers, taxi drivers, day laborers, and the like—one delegate to the union’s quadrennial convention likened the proceedings to the 1935 AFL convention, when a sizable group of unionists wanted the Federation to expand its ranks to include factory workers. The more conservative Federation leaders, including its president, William Green, believed that unions should represent only workers in skilled trades—carpenters, masons, plumbers, and so on. But John L. Lewis of the Mine Workers and Sidney Hillman of the Clothing Workers believed that there were millions of factory workers who would flock to unions if given the chance. [Prospect]

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Sidney:

Lewis and Hillman’s motion to organize factory workers was put to a vote and lost. They were not happy. Indeed, Lewis decked Big Bill Hutchinson, the president of the Carpenters, and stormed out—to form the CIO, a labor organization pledged to organize factory workers and that organized millions of them over the next couple of years.

The AFL-CIO is revisiting many of the same issues the AFL tackled in 1935, when immigrants, workers of color, and women sought to join a predominantly white, male union movement. The good news is that in 2013, the AFL-CIO is welcoming these workers with open arms. The survival of the labor movement demands it.

Sidney would be proud. 


[Photo credit: Joseph_a, Creative Commons.]

Sam Stein Wins September Sidney for Dogged Coverage of Sequestration

This month’s Sidney winner is Sam Stein of Huffington Post, who is recognized for his dogged coverage of sequestration and its impact on vital federal programs, including the public defender program, health care, scientific research, and educational programs like Head Start. 

When Congress was unable to agree on targeted cuts to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, sequestration imposed billions of dollars of across-the-board cuts on the federal government. Sequestration will strip over $100 billion in funding in 2013, and $1.2 by 2021.

Read my interview with Stein on The Backstory.

Can I Have Your Baby?: The Internet "Rehoming" Racket

You can find anything through Yahoo these days, even a free kid. Or, at any rate, you could until Reuters exposed a Yahoo message board where fed up adoptive parents and adoption hopefuls were simply swapping kids amongst themselves with no oversight from social workers or the courts. The board was part of a larger trend known as “rehoming,” which is takes its name from pet rescue programs.

Many of the “rehomed” kids are overseas adoptees whose parents don’t want them anymore. To learn more about the grim phenomenon of human trafficking in the guise of international adoption, check out Kathryn Joyce’s new book, “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.”

"Left With Nothing"

Poor residents of the District of Columbia are losing their homes over tiny tax debts, the Washington Post in an important multi-part investigative series. One 76-year-old veteran lost his $197,000 home over an unpaid $134 tax lien. If a debt goes unpaid for a year, the district sells off the debt to third parties. A recent change in the rules allows these third-party debt buyers to tack on huge fees and court costs to the initial amount overdue. When the homeowner can’t pay the outrageous fees, the lien-buyer seizes the home. Nearly 200 homes have been lost this way since 2005 and debt-buyers are poised to take another 1200. One out of three of the 200 foreclosed homes had a lien debt of less than $1000. 

[Photo credit: Elycefeliz, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: JP Morgan Anti-Bribery Program Under Bribery Investigation

The best of the week’s news:


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Police Brutality Goes Unpunished in Houston

In six years, the citizens of Houston lodged 588 complaints of police brutality, all but 4 were dismissed. Emily DePrang of the Texas Observer investigates.


[Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, Creative Commons.]

What's Killing Poor White Women?


Crystal Wilson was just 38 years old when shed died in her sleep in Cave City, Arkansas last spring. Sidney-winner Monica Potts uses Wilson’s story as a prism through which to examine one of the most pressing public health mysteries of our time. Life expectacy is rising in the United States, almost across the board. The execeptions are poor white women, who are actually losing ground:

Everything about Crystal’s life was ordinary, except for her death. She is one of a demographic—white women who don’t graduate from high school—whose life expectancy has declined dramatically over the past 18 years. These women can now expect to die five years earlier than the generation before them. It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. Throughout history, technological and scientific innovation have put death off longer and longer, but the benefits of those advances have not been shared equally, especially across the race and class divides that characterize 21st–century America. Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them. [Prospect]

A poor white woman’s life expectancy has fallen from nearly 79 to 73, which suggests that more women in this demographic are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. A five-year drop in life expectancy over the course of 20 years is alarming for both its size and its speed. Potts argues that white women in certain communities are chronically starved for education, opportunity, and social support. 


[Photo credit: Zach Stern, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Fast Food Strike Wave; Sweetheart Deal at FIT; Racial Justice

  • From voting rights to the school-to-prison pipeline, ProPublica compiles a reading list on racial justice for this week’s anniversary of the March on Washington.
  • Patronage alert: The husband of the Ohio governor’s chief of staff, a longtime foe of teachers’ unions, has been appointed to expand school privatization.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Today: Biggest Fast Food Strike Ever

Fast food workers in over 50 U.S. cities will walk off the job today to demand a living wage of $15/hr, and Sidney-winning journalist Josh Eidelson is all over this story.

Abortion by Telemedicine Under Fire in Iowa

Illustration: Telemedicine equipment at a trade show. Telemedicine is a burgeoning field that delivers all kinds of health care, from radiology to psychiatry, not just abortions.

Anti-abortion activists in Iowa are trying to ban abortion by telemedicine in their state based on spurious concerns about patient safety. The Iowa Board of Medicine is holding a hearing today to air public comments on the proposed rule change. Since 2008, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has offered abortions by telemedicine and a study by Ibis Reproductive Health found that women who were guided through the pill abortion over video conference were as safe and as satisfied with their care as women who arranged their pill abortions in a face-to-face meeting with a doctor. 

Telemedicine makes early abortions available to the many women in rural Iowa who live far from an abortion clinic. This means that women can get the procedure done earlier, which makes it safer.

Here’s how it works: The patient gets a physical exam and an ultrasound at a clinic near her home. A doctor in another city reads the ultrasound and interviews the woman over a secure video conference line. If the doctor decides that she’s a candidate for a pill abortion, and the woman confirms that she wants to terminate her pregnancy, she is offered pills that will begin the abortion process. 

Anti-abortion activists falsely imply that telemedical clients are being sent home with no medical backup. All pill abortions, telemedical and face-to-face, unfold primarily at home. The patient takes the first set of pills at the clinic, and more medication several hours later. Like all pill abortion patients, telemed clients are sent home with instructions to come back to the clinic or go to the ER if they have complications, and all patients are scheduled for a follow-up appointment to confirm that the abortion was successful. The only difference with telemedicine is that the doctor who prescribed the pills is not physically present. That doesn’t mean the woman lacks access to a physician if she needs one. 

Once again, anti-choicers are raising spurious concerns about women’s health to restrict women’s right to choose. 

[Photo credit: Andy G. Creative Commons.]