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
Hillman Prize-winner Alison Young exposes another dodgy dietary supplement for USA Today:
GUADALAJARA, Mexico — A Mexican dietary supplement called Reumofan has gained a loyal following in the United States as a "100% natural" treatment for arthritis and joint pain. It's supposedly made by a company called Riger Natural from ingredients such as shark cartilage, white willow and glucosamine, or so the labels say.
But consumers who buy Reumofan products are risking dangerous side effects and trusting their lives to a company that uses fake addresses, lies about the ingredients in its products and may not even exist, a USA TODAY investigation has found.
The newspaper set out to find Riger Natural and the people responsible for producing and selling the supplement, searching corporation records and visiting addresses in Mexico where it had been listed on the Web as having a lab. Those addresses are fake and there's no evidence the company ever had facilities in the locations. Some Mexican retailers who once distributed the product say their contacts have simply disappeared. Even Mexican health authorities have been unable to track down the company.
Riger Natural? As in Riger Mortis? Reumofan is marketed as a dietary supplement but some of these pills contain potentially toxic prescription drugs and the FDA has received reports linking the pills to bleeding, strokes, and death.
[Photo credit: U.S. FDA.]
The Best of the Week's News
- The ACLU is challenging local laws that can have a battered woman locked up or evicted if she calls 9-1-1 too many times.
- How the Vatican got snookered on stem cells.
- The sheriff of Mingo County was assassinated in April, and his death sparked an epic public corruption investigation that reached all the way to the local court house.
- "LoveInt": NSA employees have used their eavesdropping powers to spy on their intimate partners on at least 12 occasions since 2003.
- Michael Grabell's wife gave birth to the couple's second child in July (the same week he won a Sidney Award). The little boy's life was saved by a simple blood oxygenation test that revealed a correctable congenital heart defect. Grabell wants the test made available to all newborns.
Of the thirty-three Colorado prisoners who committed murder on parole, half had spent time in solitary confinement, the Denver Post reports:
The Colorado prison system is struggling to manage prisoners like Bassett — a fact laid bare when police say a parolee released directly from his solitary cell to the streets rang the doorbell at former Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements' home in March and assassinated him.
Clements, ironically, had been pushing Colorado to reduce the number of prisoners in solitary as well as the number released straight to parole. The percentage of the prison population in solitary has dropped from 7 percent to 4 percent since 2011 — though that's still double the national average — and the share of those in segregation who went straight to parole decreased from 48 percent to 23 percent. But it remains a problem many in the public are unaware of, and one with dangerous consequences.
Is solitary making prisoners more violent, or are the most violent prisoners most likely to find themselves in administrative segregation? Probably both. Worryingly, the Post found that there are no safeguards in place to make sure that prisoners who are released directly from solitary into the community receive extra supervision.
[Photo credit: Bohemian Dolls, Creative Commons.]
Migrant workers in Qatar are literally being worked to death as the Gulf State prepares to host the World Cup in 2022:
Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar's preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022. [Guardian]
According to documents obtained by the Guardian from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, workers are alleging wage theft, forced labor, and brutal living and working conditions. Some say they were denied free drinking water while toiling in the dessert heat. Many report having their passports confiscated. Some say they are forced to beg in the streets for food after work because their wages are being withheld. At least forty-four Nepalese workers died between early June and early August, mostly from heart attacks and workplace activists, according to embassy statistics. Thirty Nepalese workers sought refuge in their embassy in Doha.
[Photo credit: Fatboyke, Creative Commons.]
Garment workers in Bangladesh, galvanized by a series of deadly accidents and police brutality, are demanding a three-fold increase in their wages:
Workers are demanding an almost threefold increase to their monthly salaries – from the current 3,000 takas ($38) to 8,114 takas ($100). Factory owners recently offered a 20 percent pay rise to employees.
Workers rejected the offer, calling it “inhuman and humiliating.” Employees then resorted to vandalism, blocking major roads, damaging vehicles, hurling stones at factories, and burning furniture taken from nearby buildings.
One worker, Laizu Akhter, also called for the body of a co-worker purported to be missing to be returned to his family, AP reported. “Our major demand from them is to return the dead body. We demand their punishment. Additionally, we demand an increase of our monthly wages,” she said. [AFP]
Strikers closed over 100 factories. Dozens of strikers were injured in clashes with police.
[Photo credit: Rajiv Ashrafi, Creative Commons. Shows a Shabag protest in Bangladesh, not a labor protest.]
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.]
The Best of the Week's News
- Bruce Raynor and Andy Stern present a five-point plan to envigorate the labor movement.
- "Rational as crackhead" is not a phrase you hear very often, but new research suggests that crack addicts can make rational choices about their next fix.
- Sidney Award-winner Jina Moore on the revolution in maternal health in the Republic of Congo, where deaths in childbirth have fallen by half.
- The earwax of a blue whale is like a time capsule, scientists report.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
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.
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.]
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.]