Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

The Movement to Put a Church in Every Public School

Photo credit: 

Moyan_Brenn, Creative Commons.

Katherine Stewart has a new piece in the Nation about the growing evangelical movement to colonize the public school system.

Groups like the Venue Church are setting up shop in public school buildings on weekends. In some places, including New York City, churches don’t even have to pay rent to use public school facilities. Once ensconsced in a public school, these churches are keen to form “partnerships” with the institution to gain access to students and parents. 

“If you are looking to maximize missional money,” Venue suggests on its website, “the school campus is where you will yield the highest return on your investment.”

The story was reported with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project

Cuomo Pledges to Raise Minimum Wage

Photo credit: 

Diana Robinson, Creative Commons.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo came out in favor of a two-tiered minimum wage hike for New York State and New York City, respectively:

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said he is proposing the creation of a two-tiered minimum wage for New York, setting the hourly rates at $10.50 for New York state and $11.50 for New York City by the end of 2016. The state’s current minimum wage is $8.75, after the state legislature in 2013 passed a graduated increase to $9 by the end of 2015. [WSJ]

Cuomo’s proposal is a far cry from the hike to $15/hr that low-wage workers and their allies have been demanding in a nationwide series of strikes, but even the modest increase that Cuomo is proposing would be a step in the right direction. 

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Be Happy: Join A Union

A new sociological study suggests that union membership makes people happier, and not just because union members earn higher wages. The authors, Patrick Flavin and Gregory Shufeldt, scoured the World Values survey and found that union members were more satisfied with their lives than non-members. Then they tried to figure out why:

Yet as Mr. Flavin and Mr. Shufeldt told Op-Talk in an email: “Labor union membership still has benefits, and that this is true for all union members. Simply put, if one goal of labor unions is to boost the quality of life for their members, our study provides empirical evidence that they are succeeding.”

In their study, they tease out four “pathways” by which being a union member might improve quality of life compared with not being a member: “These include having greater satisfaction with one’s experiences while working, feeling greater job security, being afforded numerous opportunities for social interaction and integration, and enhancing the participatory benefits associated with more engaged democratic citizenship.” [NYT]

So, the advantages of belonging to a union are better working conditions, more respect, enhanced security, more friends, and a voice in society. That’s enough to make anyone happier.

You can read a draft of the paper here. (.pdf)

L.A. Times Duo Wins Sidney For Exposing Brutal System That Puts Perfect Mexican Produce on U.S. Tables

Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti win the January Sidney Award for “Product of Mexico,” a multi-media package for the LA Times documenting the brutal labor practices on Mexican farms that produce fruits and vegetables for major U.S. retailers, including WalMart.

The story is the product of an 18-month investigation that took the reporters to 9 Mexican states. Marosi’s words and Bartletti’s images tell the stories of the workers who travel hundreds of miles to work on farms that grow produce for export.

Farm owners lure workers from remote villages in Mexico with promises of high wages. The workers travel hundreds of miiles from home. They arrive penniless, and they rapidly fall into debt due to high prices at the company store. They can’t leave as long as they owe money even if the wages aren’t as high as the famer promised. To compound the farm workers’ misery, they may not be able to buy enough food on their meagre wages to feed themselves and their families, who often travel with them. Marosi and Bartletti observed workers picking through garbage for extra food.

Working conditions are dangerous and accidents are a constant threat. One teenage farmworker they met had her ankle accidentally slashed by a machete.

Marosi used public records and reports to prove that produce from these farms found its way to major American retailers including WalMart.

Read our Backstory interview with Richard Marosi for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this remarkable multi-media package.

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Kentucky's Jail-Less Jailers Get Paid to Do Nothing

Kentucky has 41 counties with no county jail, but the state constitution requires all counties to have an elected county jailer. So, 41 county jailers get paid, often handsomely, to do nothing. The highest earner among them pulls down $69,000 a year, but she has no office, no schedule, and no official duties of any kind.

These counties are some of the poorest in the state, but they collectively spend about $2 million dollars a year on salaries for jailers-without-porforlio and their deputies. 

[Photo credit: Grim Santo, Creative Commons.]

Happy New Year, Hillmanistas!

2015 will be a great year for socially conscious journalism. 

Remember to get your Hillman Prize entries in. The deadline for the Canadian Hillman Prize is Jan 9 and the deadline for all other Hillman Prizes is Jan 30.

Fracking and Contract Killing in North Dakota

Photo credit: 

Daniel Foster, Creative Commons

A gripping tale of greed, fracking, deregulation, and murder in North Dakota brought to us by Deborah Sontag and and Brent McDonald of the New York Times.


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  • Anti-union activists take “Right to Work” to the county level.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]