Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

Our Crumbling Federal Public Defender System

Rachel Monroe investigates the crumbling federal public defender system for Al Jazeera America. As Sam Stein reported in his Sidney-winning coverage of sequestration, the federal public defender system is rapidly become a casualty of the across-the-board budget cuts imposed by Congress in the name of deficit reduction. The constitutional rights of defendants are suffering as a result. 


[Photo credit: Sal Falko, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: The Best of the Week's News

The Best of the Week’s News


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Two Jobs, No Home in NYC

In New York City, more people are punching the clock at work and going home to homeless shelters, the Times reports:

On many days, Alpha Manzueta gets off from one job at 7 a.m., only to start her second at noon. In between she goes to a place she’s called home for the last three years — a homeless shelter.

“I feel stuck,” said Ms. Manzueta, 37, who has a 2 ½-year-old daughter and who, on a recent Wednesday, looked crisp in her security guard uniform, waving traffic away from the curb at Kennedy International Airport. “You try, you try and you try and you’re getting nowhere. I’m still in the shelter.”

Fifty thousand people live in New York City’s shelter system. The working residents are predominantly female, working low-wage jobs in security, home health care,  and retail. Their plight is a dramatic illustration of the widening gap between wages and rents in New York City. 

Build Bridges, Not Fortresses: Bruce Raynor and Andy Stern on Fortress Unionism

Rich Yeselson’s essay “Fortress Unionism” has generated intense debate about the future of the American labor movement. Yeselson argues that an aggressive organizing strategy is futile as long as the working class remains apathetic. He recommends that unions focus on existing areas of strength until the working class is once again ready to organize en masse.  

As longtime International Presidents of national unions, we were moved to respond to Yeselson. Our essay, “Build Bridges, Not Fortresses,” appears in the latest issue of Democracy. Labor can’t afford to wait for a golden historical moment. Instead, we propose five things unions can do right now to lift more workers into the middle class:

  • Invest union pension funds strategically to create jobs
  • Advance pro-worker legislation 
  • Make alliances with willing employers to create union jobs 
  • Push for reforms to enable unions to provide staffing and other services to corporations without a collective bargaining agreement
  • Consider new forms of membership and participation for workers

Let the discussion continue, it matters. 


-Bruce Raynor and Andrew L. Stern


[Photo credit: Sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge, davidyuweb, Creative Commons.]

And the Number of U.S. Bridges at Serious Risk of Collapse Is...

Remember how that bridge collapsed in Washington State back in May, dumping drivers into the Skagit River, and severing Interstate 5? How many bridges in the United States would you guess are at serious risk of a similar collapse? 7,795, according to a review by the Associated Press, including the Brooklyn Bridge:

An Associated Press analysis of 607,380 bridges in the most recent federal National Bridge Inventory showed that 65,605 were classified as ‘‘structurally deficient’’ and 20,808 as ‘‘fracture critical.’’ Of those, 7,795 were both — a combination of red flags that experts say indicate significant disrepair and similar risk of collapse.

A bridge is deemed fracture critical when it doesn’t have redundant protections and is at risk of collapse if a single, vital component fails. A bridge is structurally deficient when it is in need of rehabilitation or replacement because at least one major component of the span has advanced deterioration or other problems that lead inspectors to deem its condition poor or worse.

Engineers say the bridges are safe. And despite the ominous sounding classifications, officials say that even bridges that are structurally deficient or fracture critical are not about to collapse.

Each day, over 29 million drivers cross bridges that are both fracture critical and structurally deficient. They are found in all 50 states. Many of these bridges have spans with sufficiency ratings less than the Skagit River bridge. A bridge that scores less than 50 out 100 points for sufficiency may be eligible for federal funds for repairs. The AP found 400 bridges with sufficiency rating of less than 10, and “[t]he Brooklyn Bridge was among the worst.”


[Photo credit: ravi, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Internet Kid-Swapping, Minimum Wage, Strippers, and the Affordable Care Act

The Best of the Week’s News:

  • All five installments of Reuters’ groundbreaking investigation of the unsupervised “re-homing” of unwanted adopted children over the internet are now online. 


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

"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.]