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
Why are so many professional sports leagues locked out this year? Dave Zirin of The Nation explains:
I’m sure this must seem like a wild coincidence: four lockouts in fourteen months, affecting three of the four major professional sports leagues of this country. What are the odds? Actually, they’re very good. This is not merely a case of four sets of labor negotiations that have tragically broken down. This is a conscious, industry-wide strategy. A law firm called Proskauer Rose is now representing management in all four major men’s sports leagues, the first time in history one firm has been hired to play such a unified role. In practice, this has meant that in four sets of negotiations with four very different economic issues at play, we get the same results: lockouts and a stack of union complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. It’s been great for owners and awful for players, fans, stadium workers and tax payers.
Proskauer Rose partner Howard Ganz represents the NBA and Major League Baseball, and fellow-partner Bob Batterman has led negotiations for the NFL and the NHL. As Sports Business Daily reported,“Batterman and Ganz provide advice on strategy, as well as on issues that can emerge during talks, such as the legality of using replacement players.”
He continues: "Perhaps it’s time we start viewing sports leagues less like family fun and more along the lines of highly scrutinized institutions such as BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil." Perhaps? That's the understatement of the year. It's high time we subjected sports leagues to the same scrutiny as other multi-billion-dollar enterprises.
<----This Guy: Hans von Spakovsky
A former Bush administration official, Hans von Spakovsky, has done more than anyone to promulgate the myth widespread voter fraud of the sort that could be prevented by voter I.D. laws and other restrictive measures that would also discourage the poor and minorities from voting. Jane Mayer reports on the Heritage Foundation fellow's dark electoral arts for the New Yorker.
[Photo credit: Wikipedia.]
- Hillman Prize-winner Tim Noah argues that the best way to reverse rising income inequality is to revive the labor movement.
- Hot & Crusty bakery workers rally to keep their union.
- Archaeologists are scanning the grounds of a shuttered Florida school for juvenile delinquents, hoping to locate the bodies of boys who were beaten to death at the school over the years.
- A federal court strikes down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act. What does this mean for marriage equality?
- A recruiter for the Arizona National Guard is accused of leading "bum hunts" in which homeless people were shot with paintball guns.
- A powerful story from YNet News about a special battered women's facility in Israel that provides both shelter and legal assistance for observant Jews.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Koch Industries has become a byword for outsized corporate campaign contributions and right wing activism. As Mike Elk reports for In These Times, the politicking doesn't stop at the workplace door. Forty-five thousand employees of Georgia Pacific, a Koch subsidiary, received a mailer listing Koch's slate of endorsed candidates, starting with Mitt Romney.
Corporate campaign spending is often justified as free speech. Unfortunately, Georgia Pacific does not extend the same consideration to its employees, even in their off hours. According to the company's draconian new social media policy, which is currently the subject of an NLRB complaint, workers can be fired if they post anything that might reflect badly on Georgia Pacific. Some Georgia Pacific workers in Oregon posed for a photo with a Democratic state senate candidate outside their union hall, with a Georgia Pacific sign in the background. The candidate's name did not appear in the Koch mailer. Now they're worried they'll be fired under the new social media policy if the image finds its way online.
Elk shared a 2011 Sidney Award for an investigation of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Looks like the unpaid internship scam has gone global. Electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn admits that it discovered underage "interns" working in its factory:
BEIJING (AP) — Electronics manufacturer Foxconn said Tuesday it found underage interns as young as 14 working at one of its factories in China. Foxconn Technology Group said the interns were found by a company investigation at its factory in the eastern city of Yantai and were sent back to their schools. China's minimum legal working age is 16. Foxconn, owned by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., is best known as the manufacturer of Apple Inc.'s iPhone but said the Yantai factory had no connection with its work for Apple.
The labor rights group China Labor Watch said in a statement that Foxconn was remiss for not verifying the ages of its interns.
Local authorities have long been accused of colluding with Foxconn to steer cheap labor to the factories. The fact that the underage interns came in through a "vocational program" run by a local school adds weight to these suspicions.
Mitt Romney acts as if his 15 years at Bain Capital give him free market cred, but as David Stockman points out in Newsweek, Bain's business model was corporate welfare:
Bain Capital is a product of the Great Deformation. It has garnered fabulous winnings through leveraged speculation in financial markets that have been perverted and deformed by decades of money printing and Wall Street coddling by the Fed. So Bain’s billions of profits were not rewards for capitalist creation; they were mainly windfalls collected from gambling in markets that were rigged to rise.
Except Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better.
Romney's business was leveraged buyouts. These buyouts don't create wealth, they exploit a rigged system where speculators can borrow money cheaply and reap the capital gains at low tax rates. They pick the taxpayer's pocket while siphoning the assets of failing businesses to the 1%.
As Andrew Sullivan notes, "Mitt Romney is as much a creature of the corporate welfare state as anyone out of their luck is a creature of the actual welfare state."
- Thirty-three people died of listeria from tainted cantaloupes last year after a private for-profit inspection company awarded the source farm the highest safety grade. Most of America's food supply is vetted by private inspectors, who operate without federal standards.
- An in-house commentator for the LA Kings, one of the finest hockey journalists of his generation, was forced out of his job by the National Hockey League for interviewing a representative of the NHL Players' Association during the lockout.
- Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the NYC Department of Education and a tireless promoter of standardized testing, embellished the memoir he used to bolster his claims that teachers can single-handedly lift children out of poverty, Richard Rothstein reports in the American Prospect.
- As iPhone 5 sales surge, assembly workers are protesting their working conditions. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Li Qiang of China Labor Watch.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
Striking workers at Walmart have upped the ante, threatening to disrupt Black Friday sales with leafleting and flash mobs, Josh Eidelson reports
One day after Walmart employees in twelve states launched a major strike, today workers issued an ultimatum to the retail giant: Stop retaliating against workers trying to organize, or the year’s most important shopping day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, will see the biggest disruptions yet. The announcement comes as 200 workers – some of them currently striking – have converged in the Walmart’s Bentonville, Arkansas hometown outside the company’s annual investors meeting. It offers a new potential challenge to Walmart, and a new test for OUR Walmart, the labor-backed organization that’s pulled off the first two multi-store U.S. strikes in Walmart history. [Salon]
The Black Friday ultimatum is an innovative tactic by a weaker adversary against a much stronger opponent. The strikers, who are not represented by a union, are threatening not only to disrupt one of the most lucrative days of Walmart's year, but to draw negative publicity during an event that has become a tradition integral to Walmart's brand.
[Photo credit: Inside a Walmart, by Tobin Black.]
Sasha Chavkin, Anna Maria Barry-Jester, and Ronnie Greene of the Center for Public Integrity for Mystery in the Fields, a multi-part investigation into an international public health crisis.
A new kind of kidney disease is and killing thousands of people on multiple continents. The victims are primarily young men, typically farm workers who toil in extreme heat. They are sugarcane cutters in Central America, rice farmers in India, and coconut harvesters in Sri Lanka. They are the breadwinners of their families. When fathers die of the disease, their teen sons are forced into the fields, only to succumb themselves within a few years.
Nobody knows what causes the disease, dubbed CKDu for "chronic kidney disease of unidentified origin," but its incidence has tripled since the 1990s. Experts suspect that a deadly combination of pesticides and dehydration are to blame, but powerful agribusiness interests are pushing hard to discredit that explanation.
Read my interview with Sasha Chavkin in The Backstory.
- Democracy Now! and Huffington Post on yesterday's one-day walkout at Walmart, the first multi-store strike in the retailer's 50-year history.
- A 28-year-old woman paralyzed by a brain tumor asked to be taken off life support, but her parents went to court to keep her alive. The parents lost, but later released a video purporting to show that woman had changed her mind. Kudos to Erica Pearson of the New York Daily News for breaking the story yesterday with a piece that nailed the ethical issues at stake.
- Unemployment fell to 7.9%, its lowest level since January 2009.
- A compounding pharmacy sold thousands of vials of medicine tainted with meningitis bacteria. Experts wonder why this obscure mom and pop shop was ever allowed to mix up drugs for spinal injection.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]