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
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.
A fire in a Bangladeshi clothing factory killed over 100 people on Saturday. The blaze started on the ground floor of a multistory warehouse that lacked adequate fire exits. This is the deadliest factory fire in the nation's history.
An local pro-labor NGO furnished The Nation with photographs of what they say are Walmart goods amid the smoldering ruins of the factory. Josh Eidelson reports:
[P]hotos taken after the fire taken the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, provided to The Nation by the International Labor Rights Forum, show clothing with Walmart’s exclusive Faded Glory label.
Click here to see the full-sized photos.
[Photo credit: BCWS, via The Nation.]
Walmart workers vowed to strike or protest at over 1000 stores nationwide this Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. This week on Sidney's Picks we bring you the coverage of the strike and commentary on this historic action.
- Josh Eidelson is live-blogging the strike for The Nation.
- Think we have to choose between cheap tube socks and fair wages? Think again. A report by the policy shop Demos shows that the nation's retailers could boost the salaries of their lowest-paid full-time employees to $25,000 a year, lifting 700,000 people out of poverty, by raising prices just 1%.
- Robert Reich of the American Prospect on why you shouldn't shop at low-wage, non-union, litigious Walmart.
- How big box retail has reshaped our economy for the worse.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons]
As the clock ticks down to Black Friday, Walmart workers allege that management has been subjecting them to captive audience meetings and other forms of intimidation in a bid to discourage them from striking. OUR Walmart, the worker's association organizing the strike, complained to the National Labor Relations Board, Josh Eidelson reports:
Today, OUR Walmart filed the latest of dozens of National Labor Relations Board charges against Walmart. The charge, announced this evening, alleges that Walmart's national headquarters has "told store-level management to threaten workers with termination, discipline, and/or a lawsuit if they strike or engage in other concerted job actions on Black Friday" and that managers in cities including San Leandro, California, Fairfield, Connecticut, and Dallas have done exactly that. It also alleges that Walmart Vice President of Communications David Tovar "threatened employees" with his statements. OUR Walmart says it is seeking "immediate intervention" to remedy the alleged crimes. In an e-mailed statement, American Rights at Work Research Director Erin Johansson said, "Walmart appears to be issuing serious threats to employees to stop them from exercising their rights under law." [The Nation]
Walmart denies holding captive audience meetings, but Christopher Bentley Owen, an overnight Walmart stocker in Tulsa, told the Nation that management held a captive audience meeting on Monday during which the highest ranking manager read a script warning workers not to strike on Black Friday.
Captive audience meetings are legal, but management is barred from making certain kinds of threats.
Friday's strike is expected to be the highest profile event in a series of job actions at Walmart stores across the country. David Bacon of Truthout accompanied some Walmart workers on a walkout in San Leandro, California. A group of current and former Walmart associates marched into the store and arranged flowers near the break room in remembrance of Enrique, a fellow associate who had recently died. After setting up their tribute, they went outside for a brief rally attended by unionized nurses, longshoremen, warehouse workers, and machinists. Community activists also turned out to show their support.
Three on-duty Walmart associates clocked out to participate in the action. After the rally, the group escorted two of them back to the break room, to make sure their supervisors would let them punch back in. They were allowed to go back to work.
[Photo credit: Supporters escort Walmart associates back to the break room to punch in after the rally. David Bacon for Truthout.]
Yoav Potash's Hillman Prize-winning documentary Crime After Crime tells the story of Debbie Peagler, a woman who served over 20 years in prison for the murder of her husband and later won her freedom using a California law that allows battered women who strike back against their abusers to petition a court to re-open their cases if evidence of that abuse was overlooked. Peagler's husband had forced her into prostitution as a teenager and beat her throughout their marriage.
After seeing the Crime After Crime, 16-year-old Micaela Mangot decided that her home state of New Jersey needed its own version of Debbie's Law. She invited her state senator Loretta Weinberg to a screening of the film. The senator was so moved by Debbie's story and Micaela's activism that she drafted a version of Debbie's Law for New Jersey. If the bill becomes law, it will be the second of its kind in the nation.
Legions of New Yorkers are rolling up their sleeves and doing their best to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Some efforts are better received than others, owing in part to an astonishing lack of common sense by certain well meaning volunteers. Bethany Yarrow and her friends thought it would be appropriate to bring a lactation consultant proselytize to happily bottle feeding moms in the Rockaways who just wanted some diapers. Their problem wasn't how they fed their babies, their problem was that their homes were damaged by a friggin' hurricane:
As she gave out diapers and cases of infant formula to storm victims, Bethany Yarrow, 41, a folk singer from Williamsburg who has been volunteering with other parents from the private school her children attend, said she was shocked by the many poor mothers in the Arverne section of the Rockaways who did not breast feed. The group, she said, was working on bringing in a lactation consultant.
“So that it’s not just ‘Here are some diapers and then go back to your misery,’ ” she said. [NYC]
These lactivists are worse than the Scientologists who pop up in disaster areas like mushrooms with their bright orange t-shirts and their "free massages." (They aren't really free...)
Nevertheless, some of the volunteers are winning over the locals with their willingness to pitch in and help residents do things they actually need help with, like demolishing damaged structures and hauling away the debris:
Jimmy Brady, 35, a New York firefighter who lived next door, was prying up carpet alongside the visitors. “If there is any way you want to get accepted to a family or a community, it is to help,” he said. “I’ve heard it from the hardest locals, that these guys are unbelievable. They get out with their little fedoras and they just start helping.” [NYT]
C'mon lactivists, if the guys in tiny fedoras can figure this out, you can too.
[Photo credit: ma neeks, Creative Commons.]
Asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton replied, "That's where the money is." There's probably a corollary that applies to drug addicts running halfway houses in Florida.
Almost anyone can house recovering addicts at public expense in the state of Flordia, and according to the Tampa Bay Times, the darndest people get in on the action.
Convicted felon Troy Anthony Charles opened a halfway house to support his own drug habit. He's currently charged with murder for shooting a resident in the head. And that's not all:
• Several houses are run by felons with serious criminal records, including robbery, sexual assault and drug trafficking.One operator was permanently barred from a federal housing program because of improper billing, yet started a new halfway house that is getting thousands of dollars from the same program.
• Residents of some halfway houses say drug abuse is rampant, and records show at least three people have overdosed and died at unregulated homes. Though such deaths are not unusual among recovering addicts, they underscore the need for oversight, experts say.
• One halfway house that touted "sober living'' bused recovering alcoholics to sell beer at Raymond James Stadium. Another required residents to get their prescriptions filled at a pharmacy in a store plastered with neon beer signs. [Tampa Bay Times]
Halfway houses can cash residents' paychecks to cover their rent and kick them out at a moment's notice. One resident found herself out on the street with her kids after she refused go to her house leader's church.
[Photo credit: Chris Yarzab, Creative Commons.]
- The charge that unions killed Hostess is as fake as the "creme" center of a Twinkie.
- Why haven't any new mine safety regulations come out of the Upper Big Branch disaster?
- Marie Hald wins College Photographer of the Year for her photo essay on the daily life of Bonnie Cleo Anderson, a Danish sex worker who plies her trade legally to support her family.
- Ashlyn Blocker is a 12-year-old girl with congenital insensitivity to pain, that might sound convenient, but as Justin Heckert reports, without pain as a guide, even the simplest task becomes a high-stakes obstacle course.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
What does it mean to be poor in the richest nation on earth? Jina Moore explores this question in her Sidney Award-winning Christian Science Monitor story, Below The Line: Poverty In America. Moore juxtaposes official poverty statistics and academic constructs with the stories of real people. Full-time daycare attendant Linda Criswell has to take fruit from the snack bowl at work because she can't afford to buy her own, but her income wouldn't necessarily qualify her for food stamps or Medicaid.
How we measure poverty reveals a lot about our values. Is poverty an absolute measure of material deprivation, or is it something more complicated? Moore and I explore these questions in this month's Backstory.
[Photo credit: Nicola Moore.]
Walmart workers and their allies are making history with their highly assymetrical fight for justice and dignity at work. A nationwide strike planned for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, may be their most audacious action yet. Kathleen Miles of Huffington Post reports on this highly unorthodox, totally 21st Century campaign:
Labor organizers are working with social action nonprofit Engage Network as well as corporate watchdog nonprofit Corporate Action Network to pull off what they are calling a "viral" -- meaning national and spreading online -- strike.
Walmart workers interested in joining the day of action are directed to this website, either to find a store near them with an organized strike or to "adopt an event" at a store near them.
Brian Young, cofounder of the Corporate Action Network, said on a conference call coordinated by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Thursday, that organizers cannot cover the roughly 4,000 Walmarts across the country, but enabling self-appointed leaders online has widened and decentralized the campaign.
The organizers have even set up a web page where supporters can pledge to "sponsor" striking workers. They've already raised over $20,000 to offset the lost wages of Black Friday strikers with grocery gift cards.
[Photo credit: Black Friday 2009 at Walmart; laurieofindy, Creative Commons.]