Given Iowa’s early labor organizing among mineworkers, led by John L. Lewis, who went on to head the United Mine Workers and found the Congress of Industrial Organizations, this book review illustrates the struggles posed by this dangerous profession.
Grand Prairie Union News
The Devil Is Here In These Hills: West Virginia Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, by James Green, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 978-0-8021-2331-2 $28.00
Stereotypes abound about Appalachian people, “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” as rough clothed, rough fighting, straight shooting and inter-marrying tribal Americans, lost in deep eastern valleys.
Stereotypes are never fair and the determined labor battles that West Virginia coal miners fought receive their comprehensive due in James Green’s latest gift to labor history, The Devil Is Here In These Hills.
As the 20th century began, coal mining reached higher levels in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, as deep seams of high quality fuel were exploited on an industrial scale. Not only were native Appalachians recruited to work the mines, so were Italian immigrants and African-Americans. Soon forging common bonds, these workers struggled from the 1900s until the 1930s to win union recognition and security.
Isolated in coal camps where the companies controlled the town, housing and stores, paying the workers often in company-issued currency, the miners soon found themselves in debt, their safety and dignity disregarded.
Again and again these workers rose up, only to face Baldwin-Felts detectives, court injunctions, state militias and federal troops. Blood ran freely and the miners quickly learned to arm themselves and fight back, though the odds were stacked against them.
Famous characters show up to rally the workers – the “Miners’ Angel,” Mary “Mother” Jones, with her characteristic salty language, boldly marched into company towns. Sid Hatfield, scion of the famous feuding families and sheriff of Matewan, West Virginia, became a miners’ hero after he faced off against Baldwin-Felts agents, only to be assassinated on the courthouse steps in Welch, West Virginia.
Green thoroughly details the culminating battles that Hatfield’s death helped trigger, the 1920-21 Mine Wars, including the Battle of Blair Mountain, where thousands of armed miners skirmished for three days with company guards and sheriffs. The U.S. Army Air Force had its first and only foray against American civilians during this episode and Federal troops finally disarmed the miners. To their dismay, the miners soon learned that only they were being disarmed, not the coal companies nor the Baldwin-Felts agents.
The term “redneck” is often linked to these battles, as the miners wore red kerchiefs and the company white, to distinguish their separate sides.
Beat down but never surrendering, when the 1930s Roosevelt Administration legalized union organization, West Virginia miners quickly joined the United Mine Workers and not only won better conditions, but democracy in their own communities, freed from the company store and company house.
Too often working people and their efforts for a voice and dignity get lost; particularly rural workers are stereotyped. Green breaks through this to show a multi-ethnic workers’ community, united in seeking democracy, not only in politics, but also on the job, and bravely willing to shed blood to win it.
While Iowans engaged in the NCAA Basketball Tournament another story was being written by Associated Press reporters Robin McDowell, Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza about food not far from televisions tuned into the games.
Following a year-long investigation, AP broke the story of slave labor being used to fish, sometimes illegally, in Indonesian waters for catch that finds its way to U.S. markets in stores like Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway. You’ll find slave-caught seafood at the food service company SYSCO, and in restaurants. It is also used in popular pet foods such as Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams according to AP.
During its investigation, AP interviewed 40 slaves on the Indonesian island of Benjina.
“The men the Associated Press spoke to on Benjina were mostly from Myanmar, also known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world,” the March 24 article said. “They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish. Their catch was shipped back to Thailand, and then entered the global commerce stream.”
The slaves interviewed by the AP described 20- to 22-hour shifts and unclean drinking water. Almost all said they were kicked, beaten or whipped with toxic stingray tails if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing.
Runaway Hlaing Min said many died at sea, according to the AP.
“If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us. There must be a mountain of bones under the sea,” he said. “The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.”
There is plenty to provoke outrage among American consumers. Reactions to this story may include a boycott, begging the question who do we boycott? Better yet would be pressuring companies with our pocketbook by making better choices if we consume seafood. The Environmental Defense Fund provides a seafood selector site here; Greenpeace provides a shopping guide for tuna and there are other rating sites on the web. Slave labor is not the only issue with consuming seafood.
It is important to note this story about slave labor buried in the U.S. food supply chain would have remained hidden if not for the resources of the Associated Press and the work of McDowell, Mason and Mendoza.
Sometimes corporate media does their job, and Associated Press deserves a hat tip on this one.
Read the article “Are Slaves Catching the Fish you Buy” here.
Below is a link to a video version of the same story.
Often overlooked, one of Ireland’s most important contributions to the United States and Canada is the labor movement. Millions of Irish immigrants settled in the growing industrial areas of North America following the great famine in the 1840s.
Predominantly unskilled blue collar workers, the earliest Irish settlers faced dangerous working conditions, low pay and on-the-job discrimination.
As journalist Harold Meyerson wrote in 2009:
When the Irish began arriving en masse in the 1840s, they were met with savage hostility by America’s largely Protestant native-born population and shunted into ghettos … In their occupational ghettos, laying railroad track and working on construction crews, they became America’s first distinct paid ethnic working class.
Some of those immigrant workers starting organizing, helping to form the first labor unions.
For nearly a half-of-a-century one name was nearly synonymous with unions in the public’s mind: Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. Born in Cork, Ireland in 1837, she emigrated to the U.S. at the age of five. Losing her entire family to yellow fever in 1867, she devoted her life to the labor movement, helping to organize coal miners for more than 30 years.
Known for the saying, “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” she continued to fight for working people and for the end to child labor up until her death in 1930 at the age of 93. more
“As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this week, let us not forget all the hate, violence and discrimination Irish immigrants faced. The progress we made as an American people and a Labor Movement, we owe to the sacrifices and struggles of all immigrants. So this St. Patrick’s Day, let us toast all those who immigrate to our great country, be mindful of the hate and violence they currently face, and lend them our moral support – so that they too can work hard to achieve their American Dream – just as the Irish did.”
As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker makes his first appearance in Iowa after making comments at CPAC comparing union members protesting his policies to ISIS, Iowa workers are speaking up and demanding an apology. Union Members and workers from all over Iowa are planning to hold a press conference in Dubuque to address Walker’s unpatriotic remarks in front of the Hotel Julien, at 6 pm on Saturday March 7.
Bruce Clark, President of the Dubuque Federation of Labor will be the main speaker. Other officials have been invited to speak at this Press Conference.
WHO: Veterans, Nurses, Schoolteachers, Parents, and other Iowa workers
WHAT: Press Conference with Iowa workers demanding an apology from Wisconsin Governor Walker.
WHERE: In front of the Hotel Julien, 200 Main Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
WHEN: Saturday, March 7, 2015, at 6PM
Organizer – Iowa Federation of Labor
On Saturday, Governor Walker of Wisconsin will be in Dubuque at the Hotel Julien for a fundraiser for newly-elected IA 1st District Congressman Rod Blum. The fundraiser is part of a day-long trip by Walker to Iowa who will speak earlier in the day at the Ag Summit in Des Moines – an event that profiles would-be presidential contenders.
However, when Walker arrives in Dubuque, he will be greeted by Iowans who are deeply offended and shocked by his recent comments at a CPAC conference that compared union members to ISIS terrorists. Saying, “If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world,” Walker suggested that his experience in 2011 pushing through a bill that gutted public sector bargaining rights, is similar to the skills needed to handle global threats such as ISIS.
This absurd analogy prompted AFL-CIO president Trumka to tweet, “@GovWalker stmt comparing workers & terrorists is revolting. It’s clear his judgment is impaired & he’s not qualified for the Presidency.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren added, tweeting, “If Scott Walker sees 100,000 teachers & firefighters as his enemies, maybe it’s time we take a closer look at his friends.”
Walker was asked by labor groups to apologize for this comment but has since resisted. He did extrapolate on his remarks on FOX News, explaining, “The leadership we provided under extremely difficult circumstances, arguably the most difficult of any governor in the country, maybe in recent times. To me, I apply that to say, if I were to run and if I were to win and be commander-in-chief, I believe that kind of leadership is what’s necessary to take on radical Islamic terrorism.”
Again, Walker’s response is not only woefully inaccurate, but it is very concerning. The reality of dealing with peaceful public protest against anti-worker legislation is a very different reality than dealing with the magnitude of warfare. For Walker to act like his experience with one qualifies him to deal with the other both underrates the very serious contemplation of war, it alternately conflates peaceful protests with armed conflict.
Whenever I hear some dismiss these comments as “stupid” or by an “idiot,” I pause, because this type of thinking, even as it appears stupid, is actually quite dangerous. Analogies grow on people. What is first just a thought, a suggestion, after repetition becomes conventional wisdom. The lines get blurred between what is our just, lawful, right to protest, use civil disobedience (and to do so while standing up for the rights of workers to collectively organize and bargain), and terrorism.
It is also absurd to think about what on earth would Scott Walker do to deter ISIS, based on his behavior as Wisconsin Governor? Will he tell them he’s going to defund secular education? Will Walker threaten ISIS by saying he will reduce access to the polls and voting? That he will go after women’s reproductive rights and limit access to family planning? That he will implement economic policies that result in Wisconsin being below the national average in job and wage growth? I think ISIS might actually agree with him on a lot of those policies.
Join good people of Iowa this Saturday in Dubuque at 6PM to make sure that this story does not die off as the conservative press would like it to do.
Posted on Iowa Labor News, an electronic newsletter for the Labor Movement, specifically in Iowa, sponsored by the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO
By Charlie Wishman
Secretary/Treasurer Iowa Federation of Labor
All over the capitol, you’ll hear the same refrain from legislators from both parties. “We have no money this year.” It’s amazing what short memories they have, since many of them helped to cause this situation. We warned them two years ago that if they passed the “Largest Tax Cut In Iowa History,” (which was a massive property tax cut for corporate Iowa) we’d be in trouble in a short amount of time. It hasn’t taken long, and the effects are starting to show.
The Governor and his party have made some dangerous choices in reaction to the situation. One example is that they have proposed closing the mental health institutes in Clarinda and in Mount Pleasant. Not only on the worker side is this problematic as they plan to close two of the larger (union) employers in these communities, just as with other short sided decisions like closing the Iowa Juvenile Home they don’t seem to have a workable plan as to what to do with the residents of the facilities.
Another example of bad budgeting is the Governor and his party proposing to seriously short change our education system, proposing a 1.25% increase in funding next year followed by a 2.45% increase the second year. These proposals fall far short of the 6% recommended by our friends at the Iowa State Education Association and lower than the Iowa Senate’s plan that includes a 4% increase.
There has been positive movement in the House Labor committee by holding several sub-committee hearings on the issue of payment to employees with pay cards (HSB94). More and more Iowans are being paid on a card of some kind, sometimes without knowing what charges the cards have when trying to use the money they earned. Is this bankers and employers working together to rip off workers? No matter what anyone’s motives are, this has led to a unique form of wage theft that needs to stop, and rules need to be in place so workers and employers both know what expectations the state has. There are many issues that need addressed about these cards because currently this form of wage payment is not addressed in the Iowa Code.
The fight for a livable wage took a bad turn this week, with Senate Democrats signaling they would settle for a much lower minimum wage than the $10.10 we and many other of our partners have advocated for. SSB1151 would only raise the minimum wage to $8.75 by 2016, which is still not enough for a family to live on. We should do better as a state, and Iowa Senate Democrats should be leaders on this issue.
Contact your state Representatives and Senators and let them know that working families need a higher minimum wage than $8.75, and that we need a budget that looks out for all Iowans – not just corporate interests.
If you don’t know them or how to contact them, you can find that here: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators
Maybe you missed it because there was no birth announcement. The lack of a birth announcement is probably due to the fact that the parents, Charles and David Koch and their corporate concubines don’t want anyone to know. Just like ACCE’s bigger brother, ALEC, ACCE works best behind closed doors and under a rock. ACCE stands for “American City County Exchange.” This will allow the Koch to – shall we say – get involved in your local city councils and county government.
If the Kochs and their lackey congress critters can’t turn the government over to business at the national level, they will work to do so at the state level through their lackey legislatures. And now if they can’t turn government into their personal servant at the national or state level, they now have a new surreptitious organization to corrupt at the local level. If you feel that government is becoming responsive only to those with money, you are right. This is just what the Kochs want. After all they have the money and lots of friends with money.
ALEC and ACCE just completed a session meeting behind closed doors with corporate biggies rubbing elbows with legislators and now supervisors and councillors. Playing kind of a reverse Santa Claus where Santa sits on the knee of the legislators asking for presents. Later there will be campaign donations in a world where campaigns are conducted mostly on the expensive media.
While ALEC seldom announces their want list, we can make some informed guesses. However, the ALEC watchdog group at the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) PR Watch published what they believed to be on this year’s wish list. So from the the CMD, here is an educated forecast for what we may soon see popping up as “model legislation” for legislatures around the country:
Blocking Local Minimum Wage Increases
Citizens in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted overwhelmingly in favor of raising their state’s minimum wage on November 4, as did Republican and Democratic voters in states like Wisconsin, where twenty communities supported advisory referendums in favor of raising the wage.
With such a clear divide between the policies that voters support and those that ALEC corporate interests like the National Restaurant Association (which has been fighting for a $2.13 sub-minimum wage) want legislators to implement, the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force will feature a presentation on “Minimum Wage Preemption Policies.”
ALEC has long pushed bills like the “Living Wage Preemption Act” to block city, county, or local governments from enacting progressive economic initiatives like a higher minimum wage. In light of the renewed grassroots push for fair wage laws, this bill to crush a local government’s ability to increase wages in their community will likely be a top ALEC priority in 2015. (ALEC legislators have also been active in banning local paid sick day efforts, passing 10 laws after Wisconsin’s paid sick days preemption bill was shared at ALEC’s August 2011 meeting).
Local Right to Work
The ACCE meeting will also feature a presentation titled “Local Right to Work: Protect my Paycheck.” ALEC has long pushed anti-union “Right to Work” laws, which allow non-union members to free-ride on union representation, reaping the benefits of union negotiations for wages and benefits but without paying the costs. Michigan’s right to work law, for example, was a word-for-word copy of ALEC’s model legislation and sponsored by ALEC members.
With ACCE, ALEC is now trying to promote this anti-union legislation at the local level.
In September, the Washington Examiner reported that “Conservatives are starting to push the idea that city and county governments can pass union-restricting right-to-work laws, even though it may not be legal and has been tried only a handful of times in the last 70 years.” It is unclear whether local governments have the authority to pass right to work under the Taft-Hartley National Labor Relations Act, but in August the Heritage Foundation issued a report arguing that they do. Heritage hosted a panel discussion on local right to work in August featuring representatives of ACCE, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, and highlighted what they viewed as opportunities for local ordinances in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Those are the two top wishes, but of course business asks for a big package which will also include:
Depriving Low-Wage Workers of Health Insurance
Electronic cigarettes – stopping legislation on vaping nicotine
Protesting “Global Taxes” on Tobacco
Regulating Ride-Share Companies – exempting Uber and Lyft from common carrier laws
Industry-Friendly Dental Bills – moving dental services to less trained “practitioners”
Rigging the Game for Insurers – pretty self explanatory
Free Trade! – again self-explanatory
School Privatization – one of ALEC’s perennials, but once more carving out new areas for business to control. From the article: As one ALEC member told an ALEC education subcommittee earlier this year, “we need to stamp out local control.”
Please go to the link and read the sickening details of how the Kochs and their compadres plan to subvert our government for their business interests.
WASHINGTON, D.C.— On Wednesday, Oct. 1, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez issued a final rule raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, effective Jan. 1, 2015. According to the Associated Press, the change will impact more than 200,000 workers.
The top ten federal government contractors in 2012 were Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing, SAIC, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Hewlett Packard, Booz Allen Hamilton, Computer Sciences Corporation, and DynCorp International. They will feel the minimum wage hike a bit, but for the vast majority of Americans, especially the working class, the changes by the Labor Department will pass unnoticed.
The Labor Department also announced that effective Jan. 1, 2015, most direct care workers will be entitled to receive federal minimum wage and overtime pay protections. Direct care workers are workers who provide home care services, such as certified nursing assistants, home health aides, personal care aides, caregivers, and companions.
This is how change happens: bit by bit, incrementally, and job by job.
While many hoped for big changes when President Obama was sworn into office, expectations were set so high, he had an impossible task to meet them. While some small companies may complain about the new federal minimum wage rules, it is a basic tenant of living in our country that companies that secure a federal contract should pay a reasonable wage. Likewise, the notion that home care is real work, and that when a person runs a business that provides home care, they should be subject to paying the federal minimum wage with overtime is obvious. The rules set by the secretary create a floor, one that has been needed for a long time.
People who operate businesses want to make a profit, and that’s no crime. Running a profitable business is something basic and needed in our society. The political debate has been about the amount of government regulation and subsidy, and the dynamic of our bicameral legislature has been to create an environment that favors large, corporate businesses in the post-World War II era. Businesses like the top federal contractors.
At the same time, there is an economy of low wage workers, like those that provide home care. Someone knows a friend or relative who needs care, and an agreement is reached for compensation. The amount of compensation may not be as important as providing the service, especially when people can’t afford professional care. Personal relationships enter into the picture. Often this work is done off the books.
My point is this. Between the publicized, formal programs of the Labor Department and the reality of daily life there is and always will be a gap. That’s where many of us live our lives. We should appreciate the work of the Obama administration to fix known problems like those related to federal contractor wages and home care workers. In the working class, we may view that as nice, but less relevant to our lives than all of the brouhaha suggests.
It is something that we even noticed President Obama did what he said he would with regard to setting the minimum wage for federal contractors. But then that’s what blogs are for.
We are getting down to crunch time for the 2014 election. Actual election day is about 35 days away. But as most of you know the election in Iowa started last Thursday. Everyday from here forward Iowans will be sitting in their kitchens, sipping coffee and filling out their ballots to drop into the mail box to be sent off to the auditor’s office. Or they are reading their morning news choice and then hopping into the car with a spouse or a friend to go to the county courthouse to vote. Or perhaps they will be voting in a satellite polling place somewhere in their county.
Despite a concerted effort by Matt Schultz and his band of Republican revisionists, the much more accessible voting set up by his predecessors, Chet Culver and Mike Mauro, are still in effect. Thus from now until 9PM on November 4th we will be having fellow citizens voting. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to remind folks that the government at every level is in much better hands if it is in the hands of Democrats.
Go to your local Democratic headquarters and offer to help knock doors if you can or make calls if you can. These are the most effective ways to get folks out. Join in the Labor efforts this weekend. A list can be found here: Every hour or two really helps. Envelopes will need to be stuffed for mailings. This is a critical time for traditional mailings. Offer to write up person to person post cards. All of these tactics may coax one more vote for our Democratic candidates.
One other tactic that is easy to use is the Letters to The Editor column in local newspapers. Usually there is a limit of 250 words per letter, so it is best to focus on a narrow subject. You will also probably want to use a word editor that counts the words to put your letter together. Then when you go to submit your letter you can copy and paste.
These days submission is usually a matter of going to the paper’s website and going to the contact button. There you should find a selection for ‘Letter To The Editor.’ Click on the button and follow the instructions. Remember, most papers will ask for your contact information to verify you are who you say you are.
The letters to the editor section is the most read section of the paper behind obituaries. Other folks are interested in the opinions of their peers. Read your letter out loud before you submit to make sure it makes sense to you. Be positive, be coherent and most of all be yourself.
There is no shortage of material to write on, from the big differences between Hatch and Branstad to Dave Loebsack’s very successful stint as Congressman.
Here is my most recent example. Later today I will publish another LTTE submitted by a friend:
Vote Republican, Lose
If you are planning on voting for Republican candidates this fall, remember what you are voting for in reality. You are not voting for an individual candidate but for an ideology that greatly favors the wealthy and has policies that punish the poor and guts the middle classes.
Seldom will an individual Republican candidate mention their true issues out loud, but as a party almost fully beholden to wealthy donors they will mention them behind closed doors to those donors. What comes out of there should scare the daylights out of anyone who is not independently wealthy.
The Affordable Care Act is still their top target and if elected each and every one will go after it with total focus whether at the state or federal level. Right behind them are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, Unemployment Insurance and any other programs which help those who are somehow not as fortunate as others.
There will also be total denial of looming problems, especially those brought on by Climate Change. In order to distract from looming problems we will see our ‘leaders’ chasing phantom demons from Benghazi to the southern border and any other bogus terror they can dream up.
While they are doing that they will be stealing your children’s and grandchildren’s future to give their wealthy donors more tax breaks and privileges to ruin the environment. It is what they have been doing for 35 years. Just so you understand before you vote.
Clive: Reception with Dave Loebsack
6 PM. Clive. IA. RSVP 319-804-9218 or email@example.com.
Clinton Labor Walk 5 PM. 309-738-3196 224 22nd Place, Clinton, Iowa
Mason City Labor Walk. 9 am, Mason City Labor Temple, 510 S Pennsylvania, Mason City. contact Matt Marchese at firstname.lastname@example.org 515-243-1924 or 917-757-8788
Davenport – Quad Cities. Labor Walk 11 Am to 7 PM. UFCW 431 2411 W Central Park Avenue, Davenport. Tracy Leone at 309-738-3196
September 24: Performance and Reception for Staci Appel
Des Moines: 4 – 6 PM Java Joe’s 214 4th Street, Des Moines, IA. 50309. Performance by Jon “Bowzer” Bauman from Sha NA NA. RSVP 515-957-1391 or email@example.com.
September 25-26 New Stewards School.
Coralville: Labor Center. University of Iowa BioVentures Center, Coralville. $150 per person. Includes materials, parking and lunch both days. Registration deadline is September 10. 319-335-4144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iowa City: Winning better laws: How can ordinary people be heard
Center for Worker Justice. 940 S Gilbert Court, Iowa City. 319-594-7593. All workshops take place at 12:00 noon and 6:00 pm at the Center for Worker Justice, 940 S. Gilbert Court, Iowa City. Call 319-594-7593 for more information. Interpretation is available upon request.
Des Moines: Labor Jam – Labor Park. Noon to 10 PM. $5 per person. Bring you own beer, chairs and blankets. Food, pop and water will be for sale. 515-265-1862 or email@example.com
Burlington: Labor History. Saturday, Sept. 27, 8:00 am-12:00 noon, 16452 US Hwy 34, West Burlington (Machinists Hall)
Learn more about key struggles and dramatic turning points in U.S. and Iowa labor history, and what labor history tells us about the challenges workers continue to face today. Sponsored by Des Moines-Henry County Labor Council with support from the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Contact Ryan Drew to RSVP or for more information: 319-759-3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walker. Labor Walk – 2000 Walker
Quad Cities Sat. Sept 27: Labor to Labor Walk – 10 – 1pm @ UFCW 431
Quad Cities: Monday Phone Bank @ UA Hall 5-8PM Tracy Leone at 309-738-3196
West Des Moines
Citizen Koch Screening –
Citizen Koch: A Film About Money, Power and Democracy
Century 20 Theatres at Jordan Creek
West Des Moines, Iowa
September 29, 2014 @ 7:30 PM
What working person hasn’t taken a nap in their vehicle? Part time and temporary workers with multiple jobs are unlikely to get enough rest, so why not set the alarm clock and snooze after arriving early for a shift, or during a 30-minute lunch break? At the meat packing plant where I worked during summer breaks from college, there was competition for the prime snoozing spots before clocking in the regulation six minutes before starting a shift. One’s vehicle provides a level of security and privacy— it’s also convenient.
The story of Maria Fernandes, who died in her automobile while sleeping between part time jobs at three New Jersey and New York Dunkin’ Donut shops, hit the corporate media in full force last week, and they were atwitter. The best coverage I found was in RT, the Russian 24/7 news channel:
A New Jersey woman who worked four jobs, who sometimes “wouldn’t sleep for five days,” according to a co-worker, died Monday while napping between shifts in her car on the side of the road.
Maria Fernandes died in her 2001 Kia Sportage after inhaling carbon monoxide and fumes from an overturned gas container she kept in the car, according to the New York Daily News.
The 32-year-old Newark woman pulled into a WAWA convenience store lot in Elizabeth, New Jersey for a nap early Monday. She left the car running. The carbon monoxide and gasoline fumes were the likely cause of death, authorities said.
Fernandes was found dead in the car around eight hours later when EMTs responded to a 911 call of a woman found in a vehicle with closed windows and doors. Emergency workers sensed a strong chemical odor upon entering the vehicle, authorities said.
What will the story of Fernandes mean to broader society? Regretfully, not much once the news cycle is finished. Hers is one more sad story in the life of working people.
There is media discussion of Fernandes becoming emblematic for low wage workers, and some connect her death to the current political discussion about the need for an increase in the minimum wage. Advocates will likely use her story to make a case for unionization and other favored topics. But something is missing. Let’s follow the RT story down the rabbit hole:
About 7.5 million Americans are working more than one job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those jobs often leave people short on income compared to full-time work, said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
“These are folks who would like to work full-time but they can’t find the jobs,” Van Horn said. “They wind up in these circumstances in which they are exhausted. More commonly it creates just an enormous amount of stress.”
Workers in the United States are earning an average of 23 percent less than earnings from jobs that were lost during the economic recession that began in 2008, according to a recent report, as wealth inequality in the U.S. has shot to record highs, according to various indicators. Many long-term unemployed are considering abandoning their job search following years of stagnant economic growth.
Maria Fernandes is not a victim of her own choices, except maybe the one to leave her car running while she slept in it. Closer to the truth is that many companies want part time or temporary workers to avoid paying benefits, and this runs contrary to the expectations built for those of us in the baby boom generation. The movement to part time and temporary work is an inexorable march toward stripping costs from business operations— something few in the corporate media have covered as it relates to Fernandes.
That she could work in three locations with the same corporate brand and wear the same uniform in each, yet not work for the same company, gets to a core issue. By its structure, Dunkin’ Donuts and companies like it, are designed to distance themselves from workers, and create gross margin and related profits that flow to the richest one percent of the population. In this case to the parent company, Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: DNKN), led by Nigel Travis. There are layers of distancing from the company, presumably related to the goal of avoiding the costs and troubles of lowly paid workers.
The circumstances around Maria Fernandes’ death captivated attention for a news cycle. One must ask the question what will we do about it, and hope there will be an answer.