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
A bowl of thick, creamy Greek yogurt seems like the most wholesome of meals. If you're a New Yorker, you can feel virtuous not only because you're consuming copious amounts of calcium and protein, but also because you're boosting our state's dairy industry. Greek yogurt production in the Empire State has tripled in the last five years. In the U.S. at large, Greek yogurt is a $2 billion industry. But our national addiction to the white stuff comes at a cost, acid whey pollution:
For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years. [Modern Farmer]
Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt because more whey is strained or spun off in production. Unfortunately, unlike the sweet weigh that is a byproduct of cheese making, acid whey can't easily be dried to make bodybuilding supplements. Some scientists are working on methods to filter the lactose out of acid whey, to be used as a food additive, but these solutions aren't ready for prime time yet. In the meantime, the New York dairy industry alone is stuck with 150 million gallons a year of corrosive yogurt byproduct that nobody really knows what to do with.
[Photo credit: Ephien, Creative Commons.]
We are very proud to announce that Julfikar Ali Manik, Steven Greenhouse, and Jim Yardley of the New York Times have won this month's Sidney Award for their compassionate, in-depth, well-contextualized coverage of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and its impact on working conditions for garment workers. The building crumbled on April 24, burying over 1100 people, many of whom were garment workers sewing clothes for Western brands like Wal-Mart and Benetton.
The three reporters began their coverage on the day the tower collapsed and they have since produced well over a dozen follow-up stories, exploring multiple aspects of the world's worst industrial disaster. They covered the rescue effort, exposed the criminal past of the owner of Rana Plaza, and chronicled the negotiations between labor organizations and Western clothing brands to broker a historic safety accord that will dramatically improve working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers.
In my Backstory interview with Steven Greenhouse, we talk about the journalistic teamwork that made this coverage possible, the labor climate in Bangladesh, the mechanics of the safety accord, and more.
[Photo credit: This photo of the Rana Plaza disaster site is used with the kind permission of Claus of PhotoCPH, all rights reserved.]
North Carolinians gathered at the state assembly building on Monday to peacefully protest the legislature's radical agenda, which includes reinstating the death penalty, repealing the Racial Justice Act, rescinding felons' right to vote after they've done their time, refusing a Medicaid expansion for 500,000 people under Obamacare, and above all, making it more difficult for ordinary people to vote. Yesterday's action, dubbed "Moral Monday" was the fourth in a series of demonstrations organized by the NAACP and its allies.
Fifty-seven protesters were arrested yesterday out of a crowd of about 500 protesters. Organizers expect even more arrests on June 3.
Many of these bills are prefab legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization that churns out cookie-cutter bills to restrict voting rights, collective bargaining rights, environmental protection, and other issues.
Watch this UpWorthy video to learn more about Moral Monday: Historians, pastors, and a pediatrician explain why they're using civil disobedience to save voting rights for all in North Carolina. The state is doing everything it can to make it difficult to vote, from abolishing early voting to restricting the voting rights of felons who have already paid their debt to society. As one historian explains, North Carolina is taking a step backwards to an era where most poor people (black and white, alike) couldn't vote because of anti-democratic restrictions. State legislators wantsto ensure that the people most likely to challenge its agenda are silenced at the polls, but the Moral Monday protesters aren't going to let them.
[Photo credit: Scene from a Moral Monday protest, sja7943, Creative Commons.]
Generic drugs promise the same efficacy as their brand-name counterparts at a fraction of the price. That's why 84% of the nation's drug supply has gone generic. Unfortunately, as Katherine Eban reports in Fortune, the recent boom in overseas generic drug manufacturing has outstripped the U.S.'s regulatory capacity. FDA inspectors visit overseas generic drug factories but their inspections are neither as frequent nor as thorough as the checks performed on domestic pharmaceutical plants:
Fortune's investigation yields the first comprehensive picture of how one under-policed and far-flung generics company operated. It is not a tale of cutting corners or lax manufacturing practices but one of outright fraud, in which the company knowingly sold substandard drugs around the world -- including in the U.S. -- while working to deceive regulators. The impact on patients will likely never be known. But it is clear that millions of people worldwide got medicine of dubious quality from Ranbaxy.
Ranbaxy was the first foreign company to export generic drugs to the U.S. and it quickly became the 6th-largest drug company in America. It has since been discovered that many of its products were sold as substitutes for branded drugs without being properly tested to ensure equivalency. Ranbaxy got caught mixing high-quality HIV medication with cheaper stuff in order to bring the drug's purity scores up to a minimally acceptable level. Such adulteration may have harmed patients because the drug mixture can rapidly break down and become toxic.
[Photo credit: Ess_JayNZ, Creative Commons.]
Highlights from the week's news:
- Has your favorite retailer signed the tough new Bangladesh safety pact?
- New York's Attorney General is investigating wage theft in the fast food industry.
- Zombie Lehman Brothers rises from the grave to demand millions from non-profits.
- Family planning officials in Texas sat on $2.3 million while clinics closed for lack of funds and thousands of women lost access to care.
- Anteater "immaculate conception" leaves zookeepers scratching their heads.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]
We aren't accustomed to thinking of sewing as a death-defying trade, but as Hillman Judge Harold Meyerson explains in the Washington Post, garment workers in Bangladesh take their lives in their hands each day when they report to poorly built factories to stich cheap clothing for Western consumers.
On April 24, the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed, killing over 1100 workers, but the Rana disaster was just the best known of a string of entirely preventable mass casualties. In the weeks since the collapse several fires have swept through garment factories in Bangladesh, the most recent of which killed eight people:
“That fire began on the lower floors, but people died on the floors above,” says Scott Nova, who heads the Workers Rights Consortium, the organization that has spearheaded the global fight to make garment factories safe. “Those people would have had no trouble getting out unharmed if they could have walked into stairwells protected by fire doors. But the factory had open staircases that became a chimney, funneling toxic smoke to the upper floors. And most of the factories in the country are similarly structured.” [WaPo]
These deaths reveal the inadequacy of the current regime of voluntary factory inspections that many Western companies use to put a figleaf on dismal working conditions. After Rana companies protested that their inspectors weren't sent to inspect the physical integrity of the structure. Well, it doesn't take a civil engineer to notice that a stairwell has no fire doors.
But there is cause for optimism. Rana may finally have shaken Western brands--and the Western consumers who buy their products--out of their complacency:
In the wake of Rana, that’s begun to change. Under pressure from unions and anti-sweatshop activists in their home countries, the European retailers and brands with the biggest presence in Bangladesh agreed this week to a plan under which they would pay for renovations to make their factories safe and independent inspections that would keep them that way. The retailers include H&M, which is the biggest buyer in Bangladesh, Carrefour and the British-based firms Tesco and Primark.
Thus far, most U.S. firms have declined to sign on. Holdouts include Wal-Mart, which ranks just behind H&M in the volume of clothing produced in Bangladesh; Gap; JC Penney and Sears. The only U.S. company to join the accord — and it signed on to a version that predated last month’s disaster outside the Bangladeshi capital — is PVH, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Izod. [WaPo]
PVH had an extra push to do the right thing. The company decided to clean up its act after 2013 Hillman Prize-winner Brian Ross and his team at ABC News publicly shamed Tommy Hilfiger over factory deaths in Bangladesh in 2012.
[Photo credit: jankie, Creative Commons.]
A prisoner says that two consecutive Utah Attorneys General extorted thousands of dollars from him...and he has the receipts to prove it! Marc Sessions Jenson is doing time for failing to pay restutition to the investors he bilked in a separate fraud. He says Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his successor, John Swallow, demanded and received thousands of dollars of perks from Jenson including vacations, golf outings, meals, massages, and faux consulting fees paid to their buddies.
Jenson says that Swallow, who boasted in 2009 that he would be joining the Attorney General’s Office as Shurtleff’s handpicked successor, suggested he could help the businessman navigate his legal troubles from inside the office and ensure that Jenson’s plans for a luxurious $3.5 billion Mount Holly resort, with private ski slopes and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, became a reality.
In exchange, Jenson alleges, Swallow wanted a share in the posh Beaver County resort. The shares started at $1.5 million.
"I was stunned. I was shocked. I was also scared to death," Jenson said. "I had no idea what they would do next."
Swallow is under federal investigation and Shurtleff may be under scrutiny as well.
[Photo credit: Fatty Tuna, Creative Commons.]
The Swedish fast fashion giant H&M--the largest purchaser of garments from Bangladesh--has agreed to a sweeping and legally binding fire safety plan. H&M signed the deal on Monday. Inditex, the Spanish fashion conglomerate behind Zara, also agreed to the plan minutes after H&M signed on. The agreements came the day after Bangladesh's minister of textiles announced that the government would raise the minimum wage for garment workers
H&M and other brands that purchase clothing from Bangladesh have been under intense international pressure to improve fire and building safety since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex on April 24. Investigators found no evidence that any of the factories in the building were making H&M or Inditex clothes at the time of the collapse.
[Photo credit: Crownless King, Creative Commons.]
Left to right: Hillman board member Danny Glover, Broadcast winner Brian Ross, and foundation president Bruce Raynor.
On Tuesday night, the Sidney Hillman Foundation recognized excellence in journalism in service of the common good at our annual Hillman Prize ceremony and reception in New York City.
Click here to see all the photos of Tuesday's event.
Carla Astudillo is the winner of the 2013 Hillman Award for Social Justice Reporting at the CUNY School of Journalism. Her specialty is data visualization, which she uses to tell the stories of vulnerable New Yorkers.
“I wanted to learn how to relate the big picture to the person who has to use food stamps or needs paid sick leave, the ones who have kids in the juvenile justice system,” she says. “That’s where data visualization comes in. I want the numbers to put into context the tragedy of a person’s story.”
For her final project at CUNY, Carla developed an interactive map that allows New Yorkers to evaluate the quality of nursing home care.