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Clear it with SidneyHow our blog got its name >

 
Notes on journalism for the common good
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.

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Clear It With Sidney

Thu, Jun 19, 2014

The shortlists for the PEN Literary Awards have been announced. PEN awards recognize excellence in many different kinds of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translation, and the literary essay. Finalists for the prize for outstanding essay collection include feminist writer Rebecca Solnit and cultural critic James Wolcott.

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The shortlists for the PEN Literary Awards have been announced. PEN awards recognize excellence in many different kinds of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translation, and the literary essay. Finalists for the prize for outstanding essay collection include feminist writer Rebecca Solnit and cultural critic James Wolcott.

The list for the Pen/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award includes neuroscientist Carl Hart and physician/journalist Sherri Fink. Hart is shortlisted for his book on addiction, "High Price," and Fink is shortlisted for "Five Days at Memorial," an account of tragic events at a hospital cut off from the world after Hurricane Katrina. 

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Tue, Jun 17, 2014

Kum Gang San, a popular Korean restaurant in New York City, is accused of blackmailing employees into unpaid labor with threats of deportation, Sukjong Hong reports for Gothamist:

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Kum Gang San, a popular Korean restaurant in New York City, is accused of blackmailing employees into unpaid labor with threats of deportation, Sukjong Hong reports for Gothamist:

Servers and bussers at a popular Korean restaurant say they were forced to work 18-hour shifts without overtime, attend church before work on Sundays, and "volunteer" their time picking vegetables at a farm outside the city. According to a federal lawsuit they filed against the management of the restaurant, any refusal to heed the owner's extraordinary demands resulted in humiliation, termination, and threats of blacklisting and deportation.

Former employees report that if they declined the "invitation" spend their days off as unpaid farmworkers gathering kimchi ingredients, they were expected to drop to their knees and beg their boss's forgiveness. 

In addition to being forced to attend 90-minute unpaid church services before work on Sundays, former employees say they were expected to take turns paying $150 out-of-pocket for catering after the sermon! 

The former employees aired their grievances in federal court during a civil trial that concluded on Monday. 

[Photo credit: Word to Table, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Jun 13, 2014

  • Mother of seven dies in jail, serving a 48-hour sentence to erase her kids' truancy fines

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Wed, Jun 11, 2014

Beth Schwartzapfel wins this month's Sidney Award for her expose of the United States' huge and exploited prison workforce. Some 870,000 prisoners work full time, a workforce equal to those of Vermont and Rhode Island combined. The average wage in state prison is 20 cents an hour and inmates have virtually no rights at work.  They aren't eligible for disability, OSHA doesn't protect them as carefully as workers on the outside, and they don't pay into Social Security.

We tend to think of prison jobs as rehabilitation, but Schwartzapfel found that job training programs are few and far between. The vast majority of working inmates are assigned menial jobs to keep their own facilities running. The image, above, is digitally stylized treatment of a CAD drawing by an inmate named Joshua, who works in a rare prison job program. In his spare time, Joshua designs and builds grandfather clocks, like the one partially pictured in the illustration. 

[Image credit: Illustration based on a CAD drawing by "Joshua," an inmate-worker, who in his downtime at work at the Brown Creek Metals Plant in Polkton, NC designs and builds grandfather clocks.]

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Tue, Jun 10, 2014

A widely-exported line of farmed shrimp from Thailand is fed on fishmeal made by slave labor, a six-month investigation by the Guardian has revealed:

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A widely-exported line of farmed shrimp from Thailand is fed on fishmeal made by slave labor, a six-month investigation by the Guardian has revealed:

The investigation found that the world's largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed prawns, from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves.

Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying CP Foods and other companies like it told the Guardian of horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.

CP Foods supplies shrimp (or prawns, as they are known in the UK), to grocery giants including Walmart, Costco, and Tesco. 

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Mon, Jun 9, 2014

Grocery workers in California are twice as likely as the average Californian to be unable to afford to buy food: 

One out of three grocery workers in California is receiving some type of public assistance while one in five rations the food he or she helps sell, according to a new report that laments the industry's diminishing standing as a source of stable, middle-class jobs.

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Grocery workers in California are twice as likely as the average Californian to be unable to afford to buy food: 

One out of three grocery workers in California is receiving some type of public assistance while one in five rations the food he or she helps sell, according to a new report that laments the industry's diminishing standing as a source of stable, middle-class jobs.

For a study set to be published Monday, University of California researchers interviewed 925 people who work for supermarket chains, smaller ethnic markets or in the grocery sections of big box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, making it one of the largest surveys ever done of the state's grocery industry workforce of 383,900, The San Francisco Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/SFs6AU).

The study was commissioned by a labor union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council. It found that the median wage at unionized stores fell from $19.38 in 2000 to $15.17 an hour in 2012, with workers at non-union shops earning less than $10 an hour. [AP]

This message has been brought to you buy irony and the casual cruelty of capitalism. 

 

[Photo credit: Bailey S., Creative Commons.]

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Fri, Jun 6, 2014

The Best of the Week's News

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The Best of the Week's News

  • Lives Worth Less? The Houston Police Department barely lifted a finger to solve some two dozen homicides.
  • Congressional Black Caucus divided over Wall Street.

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Mon, Jun 2, 2014

There are 870,000 inmates in the United States' prison workforce. These inmates have virtually no rights at work. Prisoners typically earn less than a dollar an hour, and most of them work at keeping their own prisons running. If all the work of running prisons were paid at minimum wage, prison wouldn't be nearly as profitable as it currently is. 

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There are 870,000 inmates in the United States' prison workforce. These inmates have virtually no rights at work. Prisoners typically earn less than a dollar an hour, and most of them work at keeping their own prisons running. If all the work of running prisons were paid at minimum wage, prison wouldn't be nearly as profitable as it currently is. 

Beth Schwartzapfel investigates the demi-monde of the nation's incarcerated workforce for the American Prospect:

Despite decades’ worth of talk about reform—of giving prisoners the skills and resources they need to build a life after prison—the vast majority of these workers, almost 700,000, still do “institutional maintenance” work like Hazen’s. They mop cellblock floors, prepare and serve food in the dining hall, mow the lawns, file papers in the warden’s office, and launder millions of tons of uniforms and bed linens. Compensation varies from state to state and facility to facility, but the median wage in state and federal prisons is 20 and 31 cents an hour, respectively.

It might appear that the public is saving money by making prisoners earn their keep at very low wages, but this analysis neglects the fact many prisoners have dependents on the outside who are forced onto public assistance because their former breadwinner's full-time wages are scarcely enough to keep her in sanitary pads from the prison commissary. That's not even counting the indirect costs of prisoners being released with no savings, or even large debts from all the fees they racked up in the court system. When prisoners are let out with no resources to reestablish themselves in society, they may be tempted to reoffend. 

 

[Photo credit: Valery, Creative Commons.]

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Fri, May 30, 2014

The Best of the Week's News

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The Best of the Week's News

  • A historian of abortion recalls Dr. George Tiller on the fifth anniversary of his assassination.

 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

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Thu, May 29, 2014

Investigative reporter Anne Elizabeth Moore explains that NGOs that puport to "rescue" women from prostitution in Cambodia actually channel them into garment industry sweatshops, under the smiling approval factory owners and international observers: 

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Investigative reporter Anne Elizabeth Moore explains that NGOs that puport to "rescue" women from prostitution in Cambodia actually channel them into garment industry sweatshops, under the smiling approval factory owners and international observers: 

Listen: I spent seven years researching and doing work in Cambodia, made concerted efforts to learn the language, developed a strong stomach and reliable sources, and honed my skills in investigative reporting before I could even understand what, really, anti-human trafficking NGOs do. What they do is normalize existent labor opportunities for women, however low the pay, dangerous the conditions, or abusive an environment they may be. And they shame women who reject such jobs. [Salon]

It's debateable whether these new jobs constitute rescue at all, and the tactics that some NGOs use to move workers from one sector to another can be coercive. 

 

[Photo credit: Garment workers in Cambodia on their way to work. World Bank, Creative Commons.]

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