Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Josh Eidelson of The Nation Wins December Sidney for Coverage of Historic Walmart Strike

Josh Eidelson of The Nation has won the December Sidney Award for his outstanding coverage of the historic Black Friday strike at Walmart and the ongoing strike wave working its way through Walmart’s supply chain.

Josh was the first to report the arrest of an ex-Walmart worker organizing at his store and a scripted mandatory meeting held by Walmart managers to discourage striking, as well as the first to share photos showing Walmart goods at the site of the tragic factory fire in Bangladesh. Perhaps most important, Eidelson has brought voices of Walmart workers to the center of the conversation.

Over the Black Friday weekend, Eidelson liveblogged the protests for over 20 hours.

Read my Backstory interview with Josh to learn more about the making of his Walmart blog and the prospects for unionization at Walmart.

"Right to Work" Becomes Law in Michigan, Now What?

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.]

#Sidney's Pics: "Right to Work," Fire, Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder, and Other Miserable Things

  • 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.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Obama Speaks Out Against Anti-Union Bill in Michigan

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.

What Should You Do if You Get Pushed Onto the Subway Tracks?

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. 

One in Five Fracking Chemicals is a Secret in Texas, Despite Disclosure Law

 

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.]

Fast Food Forward: Times Square Rally Photos

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. 

Strike rats! 

[Photo credits: Lindsay Beyerstein, all rights reserved.]

#Sidney's Picks: Fast Food Forward Edition

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.]

"Can't Survive on $7.25": NYC Fast Food Workers Walk Out

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.]

Mismatched Socks Are a Crime and I Am a Criminal

 

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.”]

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