Around the world, the ubiquitous Golden Arches are often paired with the barely fathomable proclamation: “Billions and Billions Served.” But that boast may now be a bit of a liability, thanks to this week’s ruling by the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel.
General Counsel Richard Griffin, the prosecutor for unfair labor practice claims at the NLRB, ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is a joint employer of its vast workforce, sharing liability alongside its thousands of franchisees nationwide. This is very unwelcome news for the fast food giant, because even though the corporation proudly takes credit as the purveyor of an astronomical volume of Big Macs, it has always sloughed off responsibility as an employer of an equally enormous number of impoverished and exploited workers.
The ruling authorizes dozens of complaints under the National Labor Relations Act that have been brought by McDonald’s workers. If the joint-employer designation is upheld, it would enable workers to hold the company to account for violating workers' right to take collective action, and parallel allegations against McDonald's as an employer in other pending lawsuits. This could ultimately advance the workers’ efforts to forge a union contract across many McDonald’s branches.
There have been 181 cases involving McDonald’s since November 2012—the time that a small group of fast food workers staged a demonstration in New York and kicked off what would become a global campaign for workplace justice. The General Counsel stated that while some cases had been thrown out and another sixty-four were still being investigated, there were “forty-three cases where complaint has been authorized,” and depending on how those cases play out in hearings, “McDonald’s franchisees and/or McDonald’s, USA, LLC will be named as a respondent if parties are unable to reach settlement.”
If the NLRB ultimately rules in these cases that McDonald’s did crack down on or otherwise retaliated against or intimidated the workers as they demonstrated and staged sporadic wildcat strikes, the company could face penalties for labor violations. More importantly, no longer would McDonald’s be able to cast blame on individual franchisees for poor working conditions. Liability would go straight to the top, which has always been the target of the chief union supporting the campaign, SEIU.
There could also be a domino effect for similar cases involving multiple employers or contractors operating underneath large firms seeking to cut labor costs. As we’ve reported before, temp labor and other contingent workers face myriad obstacles in holding a parent company legally liable for labor abuse.
The new ruling may encourage workers to place the responsibility for various aspects of their bad jobs (which typically start at $9 an hour) squarely at McDonald’s doorstep, and perhaps even find common ground with franchise operators, who essentially are not mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, but more like sub-managers for a brand.
McDonald’s has vowed to fight the ruling. McDonald’s Senior Vice President Heather Smedstad told The New York Times that the company was ultimately not responsible for wages and working conditions, and that “this decision changes the rules for thousands of small businesses, and goes against decades of established law.”
But progressive labor experts say the designation of McDonald’s as a joint employer is not a mistake but a corrective for decades of corporate impunity, in which the company cheated workers and left franchisees holding the bag.
Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel of the National Employment Law Project, told reporters on Tuesday that the ruling recognizes the extraordinary power that a company like McDonald’s exerts as a supra-manager of its many semi-autonomous outlets and the frontline workers in the kitchen and counter workers. "[C]orporations that exercise sufficient control over their franchise operations cannot feign ignorance or disclaim responsibility for the illegal acts that happen in their stores," she added. "Especially when these acts flow from the business model that McDonald's... imposes.”
And if the huge McDonald’s workforce gets to negotiate the terms of its labor with a fast food behemoth, and one of the country’s largest unions is intervening as well, they might strike a deal of unprecedented proportions. Catherine Fisk, a law professor at University of California, Irvine, tells The Nation via email that with franchisees and McDonald’s no longer able to mutually deflect (and thus both avoid) blame:
Having McDonald’s Corporation at the bargaining table will probably help the workers in some respects: The franchisee won’t be able to say, “Gee I’d love to pay you $15 an hour and eliminate the irregular and very short part-time work schedules that you hate, but I can’t because if I raise wages or change my staffing I won’t make enough profit to be able to meet my financial obligations under my franchise agreement with McDonald’s Corp."
McDonald’s, in turn, might face more direct pressure to raise pay scales, expand benefits, or loosen financial pressures on franchise operators on the retail end. In theory, with enough public pressure, the firm might even be pushed, or shamed, into shaving a bit off its profit margin to increase frontline wages.
It is not clear yet whether the politics between McDonald's and its franchisees on the one hand, and SEIU and the workers on the other, will yield a full-fledged union. But fast food campaigners see the ruling as a validation. Kendall Fells, organizing director with the advocacy group Fast Food Forward, told reporters, “This campaign is ultimately about McDonald's coming to the table and negotiating with these workers—$15 an hour and a union contract. And at some point, McDonald's has to make a decision on if it makes sense to keep fighting these workers, or does it make more sense to come to the table.”
Yet workers may now face an unprecedented political challenge in their organizing, if workplace disputes will automatically implicate McDonald's as a whole. Workers won’t just be sitting across the table from the local manager, but from one of the biggest players in the global food industry.
For now, fast food workers are gearing up for the long game. At the NLRB, they are only seeking to defend their basic right to speak out against their boss without fear. And now at least, they will be able to name exactly who the boss is.
Read Next: Michelle Chen on restaurant workers who don't know where their next meal is coming from
If and when Governor Chris Christie announces his 2016 presidential bid, one thing is certain: a primary focus will be on education. And when Christie talks about education, he means undermining teachers unions, ending tenure for teachers, closing and consolidating schools, replacing traditional public schools with for-profit charter schools, privatization, and more. That’s what he’s done in Newark, and that’s what he bragging about when he travels around the country – including, as reported below, in two recent speeches, one to an elite gathering of wealthy Wall Street types and one to the Aspen Institute.
In New Jersey, the battleground between Christie, on one hand, and teachers and parents, on the other, has centered on Newark, the state’s largest city, where schools have operated under state control since 1995. As described in a detailed piece in The Nation by Owen Davis, in countless pieces in Bob Braun’s Ledger, and as a central focus of the Jersey Jazzman blog, since taking office in 2009 Christie has extended and expanded state control of Newark’s school, ordering a dramatic reorganization of the school system under the direction of Cami Anderson, the Christie-appointed superintendent of schools in Newark. Her plan, One Newark, called for firing hundreds of tenured teachers, closing numerous public schools and replacing them with charter schools. Opposition erupted immediately, sparking walk-outs, demonstrations, marches, and angry school board meetings, and it led to Anderson firing five principals who spoke out against her policies. The anger was pivotal in the election of Ras Baraka in May as Newark’s new reform mayor. Baraka, a public high school principal and strong opponent of Christie’s education plans, ran against Shavar Jeffries, a strong charter school proponent, as Christie Watch detailed on May 14:
While Baraka was backed strongly by New Jersey’s Working Families Alliance, the teachers union, the Communications Workers of America and the rest of organized labor, lots of money from Wall Street, hedge funds and the wealthy charter school movement poured into Newark on behalf of Shavar Jeffries, Baraka’s opponent in the race.
Despite the opposition at home, Christie is promoting his education ideas to potential Republican backers and financiers of his 2016 campaign. On July 16, surrounded by the big guns of the hedge fund industry, Christie was in his element when he keynoted the CNBC/Institutional Investor “Delivering Alpha” conference. In interview format with CNBC’s John Harwood, Christie made clear that a key focus of a possible presidential campaign would be a reformed education system that “promotes competition”:
We have an educational system in this country now that puts the comfort of the adults (the teachers) before the children. The fact is, there are ineffective teachers all across the country, protected by the tenure system, [which is] the essence of anti-competitiveness. ... You should have merit pay across the country and they should get paid more if they are good. And we shouldn’t have a system that allows bad teachers to be guaranteed a job for life.
Christie played to the audience of mostly alpha-type billionaire hedge fund managers who see education as a $600 billion or more emerging market, including John Paulson, Lee Ainslie and Stan Drackenmiller, who attended this one-day event at New York’s luxury hotel, the Pierre. Christie, whose gubernatorial campaigns were heavily funded by this very same hedge fund crowd and who now relies on the big bucks of David Tepper, a New Jersey hedge fund mogul and educational activist, for his current privitization projects, told the audience that “it’s wrong to say government needs to spend more money on education.” He then described how New Jersey spends what he considers to be an outrageous amount of $17,700 per pupil on average on K to 12 education.
Then, on July 24, in Aspen Colorado, speaking along side a handful of other Republican governors on a panel organised by the Aspen Institute, Christie spoke more bluntly about the needs to not only make major corporate reforms to education but to drastically weaken if not destroy the teachers’ unions as a pre-requisite for instituting other education reforms. Claiming that Newark has made “some really significant progress” under Christie’s changes, and falsely denouncing Baraka as former principal of the “worst performing high school in Newark,” Christie bragged arrogantly that he himself is “the decider” when it comes to Newark’s schools:
To say that [Baraka] is opposed to these reforms would be an understatement. … If you looked at his campaign in Newark it was as if he was running against me, not against Shavar Jeffries, who was his opponent, and in the end though the good news is this. He came in to talk to me about his agenda and said he wanted to speak to me about the education system in Newark. And I said to him listen I'll listen to whatever you have to say but the state runs the school system, I am the decider, and you have nothing to do with it.
And Christie went on to gloat to the Aspen group that he reappointed Cami Anderson literally one day before Baraka took office:
And the second person he was running against beside me, other than Shavar Jeffries, was Cami Anderson, who was the state appointed superintendent of schools there. Her contract was expiring on June 30 of this year. He was being sworn in on July 1. So on June 30 I extended her contract three years.
Back in New Jersey, opposition to Christie’s Newark plan is growing. A rank and file caucus strongly opposed to Christie’s efforts, the Newark Education Workers (NEW), won a majority of the executive board of the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) last year. “The NEW Caucus has developed student leaders, reached out to parents and the broader community,” Brandon Rippey, chair of the Caucus told Christie Watch. Rippey is a veteran social studies teacher at a Newark public high school considered by New Jersey Monthly to be among the best in the state. Rippey believes the “refusal of the NTU and other teacher unions to strike is holding them back.” One of the parent groups involved is the Newark Parents Union, led by Frank Adao, who is organizing meetings and protests. It includes several dozen parents and has 2,300 Facebook followers. Adao is hopeful Baraka will be able to wrest control of the schools back from the state, he told Christie Watch. “I am hoping that we get back local control of our schools, [not] to destroy public education rather than rebuild.” Adao said the group was going to invite Christie to a town hall meeting in Newark. But “if that doesn’t work, we will take it to the next level and go to him in Trenton to rally.” Since taking office in 2009, Christie has held 125 town hall gatherings, including one this week at the seaside resort of Belmar, but none in Newark.
At the Belmar event, one Newark student leader, Kristin Towkaniuk, rose to ask Christie to come to Newark. Towkaniuk, a 17-year old who heads the Newark Students Union, led a walk-out of 1,000 students this past spring opposing One Newark, despite, she told Christie Watch, threats of disciplinary action from school officials, and one principal who chained his school’s doors closed. At the town meeting she asked Christie when he would come to Newark to hear what his constituents there have to say about One Newark. Christie’s arrogance, even to a student, shocked many:
The answer is, I'll do my town halls where me and my staff think are the best places for me to do the town halls. If one of them turns up in Newark, I hope you show up and you get to ask a question that's better than the one you just asked.
Bob Braun, who wrote for the Star-Ledger for fifty years, and now has his own popular blog, issued a call to arms to Newark politicians and leaders:
It is time for Newark to decide what it wants. Either it will aggressively demand fulfillment of the promise of equal educational opportunity for all children, or it will stand back and watch the city become a hierarchical system of charters for the most promising and warehouses for the children who need public education the most. It is up to you, Ras Baraka. You can lead the fight or you can compromise.
Unfortunately for the city, and New Jersey, few Republican primary voters who will go to the polls in 2016 live in Newark.
In our last post, we discussed different ways to reference single letters, but we did not address what may be the most common way to refer to a single letter: as an abbreviation.
There are many ultra-standard abbreviations in cryptic clues, such as “club” for Y, “time” for T, “love” for O (zero in tennis,) “quietly” and “loud” for P and F (in music), “university” for U. We try to minimize our use of those clichés, but we often break down:
BYLAW Bawl uncontrollably about club’s rule (5)
HOT SPOT Photos distorted by time in radioactive location (3,4)
IDIOM I’d love to go inside—I’m getting a foot in the door, for instance (5)
PAVERS Quietly maintains street crews (6)
STUFFY Filthy locale outside university, very loud and poorly ventilated (6)
Many cryptic constructors use name for N, but we don’t think we’ve seen this outside of cryptics. Another abbreviation that seems to be common, but only within cryptic puzzles, is “new” for N. One could conceivably justify that because it is common in state abbreviations, but in that case why not use J for Jersey or M for Mexico?
Frank Lewis, our predecessor at The Nation, was fond of using “point” for “cardinal point”: N, E, W or S. However, we usually specify which one we are talking about:
SMIDGEN Between south and north, fly a little bit (7)
EERIE Spooky Eastern lake (5)
He also frequently used “number” to refer to Roman numerals. Again, we try to be more specific:
BLACK LUNG Fifty in rear, fifty in front of retreating antelope with disease (5,4)
As a policy, we prefer everyday abbreviations such as these:
• cold for C, hot for H (on faucets)
• salt for S, pepper for P (on shakers)
• left for L, right for R (on earphones)
• ace for A, king for K, queen for Q, jack for J (on playing cards)
However, for variety, we sometimes resort to more specialized and less well-known abbreviations:
• bishop for B, knight for N (chess)
• losses for L, error for E (sports)
• variable for x or y, irrational for e (math)
Alas, while the latter bring some variety to the puzzle, they are guaranteed to irritate some solvers who are not familiar with them. Our apologies: one person’s familiar is another person’s obscure. There’s nothing we can do about that.
Finally, somewhere in between familiar and specialized are many abbreviations we feel ambivalent about, such as the ROY G BIV abbreviations for the colors of the rainbow. And sometimes we disagree between ourselves: one of us looks askance at Y or N for “yes” or “no,” while the other thinks they’re perfectly fine.
As a solver, what abbreviations do you feel are acceptable?
This week’s cluing challenge: INITIALS. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.
On Wednesday, Christie Watch followed the New Jersey governor to an idyllic, beachside pavilion in Belmar, New Jersey. Under crystal blue skies and amid soft, cool ocean breezes, Chris Christie held the 125th in his long-running series of town hall meetings. But you could tell that the governor’s heart wasn’t in it. Beleaguered at home, dealing with a budget crisis and a faltering New Jersey economy, engaged in a statewide confrontation with teachers, police, firefighters and other state employees over Christie’s plan to slice and dice public pensions, and still dogged by Bridgegate, there’s little doubt that the governor would like to leave New Jersey behind and get started on his 2016 presidential campaign—for which, if he decides to run, he’ll probably resign sometime next year and leave New Jersey’s problems to his successor. Indeed, today the governor is in New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, whose feisty, independent-minded voters hold the key to Christie’s presidential future.
At Christie’s last town meeting, July 22 in Long Beach, the governor found himself facing a formidable, silent protest by 200 police and firefighters angry over’s Christie’s intent to conduct another round of pension and healthcare benefit cuts later this year. So, too, on Wednesday in Belmar Christie found himself facing a healthy contingent of protesters, mostly teachers and other state workers, among the 400 or so who showed up to see the governor. Holding signs and placards, talking to reporters, singing songs—including one specifically written for the occasion by the Solidarity Singers, a pro-union group—the protesters dominated the audience, interrupting Christie’s patter, asking tough questions during the Q&A session, and mostly dominating the event’s ambience. Riffing on Christie’s latest theme, “No Pain, No Gain,” Carol Gay, president of the Industrial Union Council of New Jersey, said, “We’re here because we don’t think our pain should be Christie’s gain.” Like many in the crowd, Gay was angry that earlier this year Christie reneged on a deal to make the full, promised payment toward New Jersey’s public pension plan’s solvency. “He’s trying to make public workers the scapegoat for his mistakes,” she said.
“He’s screwing with all of our pensions. He’s basically trying to get rid of it,” said a correction officers with eight years on the job, who asked that his name not be used. “Morale is suffering. There are guys who don’t know if they’ll be on the job in five or ten years.”
During the event, part of a series of such meetings along the Jersey Shore this summer to build support for what Christie promises will be sharp cuts later this year, a teacher in the audience asked Christie to reassure her that teachers won’t face draconian reductions. “We negotiated those benefits,” she told the governor. “We took low salaries all these years because we knew we could count on a pension when we retire.” But Christie was unmoved, during a back-and-forth exchange. Pressed to guarantee that the state would follow through on its commitments, Christie said: “I can’t.… If I were to guarantee [that], I’d be lying. The money is not there, and it will not be there.” By the end of the summer, he said, he’ll announce the outlines of his plan to deal with the problem. To make sure his audience got the point, he raised the threat of the state pension system’s going “bankrupt” and New Jersey’s ending up like Detroit.
That’s Christie’s message, not so much to New Jerseyans but to Republican primary voters, especially the ultraconservative and Tea Party types who are suspicious of Christie’s right-wing bona fides. And it might be working, at least according to some early polling, including a CNN poll this week that found Christie leading the pack among potential GOP 2016 candidates, though in a crowded field of nine rivals. Pretending that Bridgegate, the scandals involving corruption and self-dealing at the Port Authority, and charges that the Christie administration used recovery aid from Hurricane Sandy as blackmail against Hoboken’s mayor are all in the past, Christie is traveling the country, visiting as many as two dozen states, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and he’s setting fundraising records for the RGA by appealing to his real base, the über-wealthy, hedge fund managers and Wall Street. Indeed, on Monday night, according to a story by Heather Haddon of The Wall Street Journal, Christie spent the evening at a “thank-you party” with 140 big-money donors, including his chief backer, Home Depot’s Ken Langone, along with hedge fund wheeler-dealer Paul Singer and financier Lewis Eisenberg, plus New Jersey developer Jon Hanson, whose role was recently spotlighted in a Christie Watch series on Christie’s involvement in the controversial American Dream megamall at the Meadowlands.
Christie, of course, is hoping that New Jersey’s lagging economy and the pension crisis doesn’t go with him to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina—except as a foil for him to show Republican how tough he is against unions and state workers. But thoughtful critics have challenged the very premises of Christie’s pension-slashing fervor and even State Senate President Steve Sweeney—a former Christie ally, who is thinking himself about running for governor if and when Christie resigns—said in an interview with the Star-Ledger that the “end game” of Christie’s pension campaign is “to make himself the darling of the national political scene again.” Sweeney is angry because back in 2011 he worked alongside Christie to enact painful pension and health-care benefit cuts, in exchange for which the governor promised to make regular payments into the pension fund—only to find, in 2014, that Christie reneged on the payments and is demanding that the state legislature enact even more cuts. As Sweeney told The Star-Ledger:
The labor people were not on my side when I did the previous reforms, but my comments were ‘I have the payment guaranteed.’ Now you know what I have? I have nothing.… So how do I go back to people in good faith and say ‘trust me this time.… I’m going to double-pinky swear it will work this time?’
At Wednesday’s Belmar event, the outrage over Christie’s pension antics was palpable. Susan Twidle, a teacher and member of the Freehold Regional Education Association, said the she attended the event to register her concern over Christie’s refusal to make the promised pension payments and over his demonizing of teachers:
He talks about shared sacrifice, but he’s not sharing. I had to take a second job. I almost feel like I have to defend myself, when I talk to people, that I’m a teacher. … We’re paying $700 more per month, per family [since the 2011 deal] and in exchange he started to make payments into our pension fund, but this year he didn’t make the payments. … He’s going on tour like he’s a rock star, without even saying what he’ll do. It’s the death knell for unions, and it’s happening across the country.
Before the event got underway, the Solidarity Singers performed for the crowd, signing a ditty called “Chris Christie” written by Tom Bias, a printer who lost his job at age 60 in 2010. Bias said that he wrote the words to music from an old Oklahoma country swing song called “Roly Poly, Daddy’s Little Fatty.” That was an inside joke, he said, since the song itself doesn’t refer to Christie’s weight problem. One verse:
Treats the teachers like fools
And wants to close down Newark schools
He hurts working families that way.
Chris Christie, Jersey’s old big bully—
Imagine if he’s president some day.
In August of 1884, the French navy attacked Tonkin, the Northern part of what we today call Vietnam. The area happened to be under Chinese control, but expansion-minded French colonial authorities sought to ensure freedom of access for French traders.
“The story of French action in Tonquin is a story of gross cruelty and fraud,” an essay in The Nation of October 23, 1884, declared.
Published without a byline, the article—a review of a book about the French in Indochina—was written by Robert Durie Osborn, a recently retired lieutenant colonel in the English army in India (described by an author in 1901 as “a red-hot Radical and a perpetual thorn in the side of the Indian Government”). The French campaign, he wrote in The Nation, was nothing short of horrific: “Towns were bombarded, and all prisoners taken in action were shot or hanged without a touch of pity or compunction.”
Beyond its cruelty, Osborn continued, the war was—for the French—neither winnable nor worth winning: “The revenues of the republic…are not in a condition to bear the burden of a distant and costly war.” Even if France did manage to come out of it with a semblance of victory—peace with honor, perhaps?—
it will be with her resources so exhausted and her military strength so impaired that for many a year after she will be in a measure effaced from the politics of Europe. That the possession of Tonquin will be the source of any profit to France, few can anticipate who know the unfortunate result of French colonial enterprises hitherto.
* * *
Almost exactly eighty years after the French assault on Tonkin, and fifty years ago this weekend, the United States navy reported that its ships had been attacked some miles off the shore of North Vietnam, in the gulf that bears the old French protectorate’s name. Provocatively, the US ships were patrolling in areas where South Vietnam was conducting active operations against the North, prompting the latter, quite understandably, to perceive the Americans as participants in the hostilities. Torpedo boats approached within a few nautical miles of the USS Maddox, which responded with warning shots. The subsequent firefight killed four North Vietnamese sailors, destroyed several of their boats, and lightly wounded an American ship and a plane.
Two days later, American ships again reported that they were under attack and for hours fiercely maneuvered and fired at North Vietnamese boats, two of which they claimed to have sunk. As it turned out, the American ships had only been picking up radar signals from their own equipment, chasing phantoms as Don Quixote had combated windmills. Regardless, President Lyndon Johnson seized on the incident as a pretext for bombing North Vietnam and drastically escalating American involvement in the war. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing such action passed on August 7, 1964, with only two senators objecting: Wayne Morse of Oregon, a frequent Nation contributor, and Ernest Greuning of Alaska, managing editor of this publication in the early 1920s.
“The excessive retaliatory action the President saw fit to order brings us closer to the brink of World War III,” The Nation’s editors glumly observed in the next issue. “He laid all the blame on the North Vietnamese and took no account of the fact that there had been prior South Vietnamese and American provocation to match any that we suffered.”
The issue also contained an essay by John Gange, a professor at the University of Oregon and a former State Department official, titled “Misadventure in Vietnam: The Mix of Fact and Myth.” A brief history of American involvement in Indochina since the French defeat at Dienbienphu in 1954, Gange’s report also bears within it warnings of what would indeed doom the US campaign from the start: the impossibility, the immorality, the stupidity of the mission, the utter waste of resources and lives.
Gange then assailed the myth known as the “domino theory,” the linchpin of American foreign policy during most of the Cold War:
Stay tuned for future Back Issues posts about The Nation’s coverage of the Vietnam War.
Curious about how we covered something? E-mail me at email@example.com. Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.
Read Next: Israel must stop its campaign of terror
The Ku Klux Klan doesn’t want to leave all the immigrant-hating to gun-toting militias and US congressmen. The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is calling for a “shoot-to-kill” policy at the border. Robert Ray of Al Jazeera America caught up with two such “knights” in North Carolina, and asked if the policy would apply to child migrants.
The “wizard” hemmed and hawed for a moment, then said: “If we pop a couple of ’em off and leave the corpses laying on the border, maybe they’ll see we’re serious about stopping immigrants.”
Read Next: Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss on Rick Perry’s immigrant bashing
Earlier this month, The Nation partnered with Know Your IX, a national survivor-run campaign to fight campus sexual violence. Together we called on Congress to give the Department of Education the tools to hold colleges accountable for their treatment of sexual assault. This morning, a group of senators introduced a bill that would do just that.
Title IX is famous for its impact on women’s sports, but the law also requires schools to protect students from gender-based violence. Our campaign asked Congress to give the DOE the authority to impose fines on schools that violate students’ Title IX rights by not protecting them from sexual violence. The DOE’s Office for Civil Rights has never once sanctioned a school for sexual assault-related violations. Part of the reason is that the current option at their disposal, the full removal of federal funds, is too onerous. Senator McCaskill called it an “idle threat” that is “like having no penalty.”
Between the petition hosted at The Nation and another at Change.org, we collected over 11,000 names in favor of the change. Along with lending their support to the campaign, many shared their stories with us, and the reasons they were demanding reform. A number of supporters said they lacked faith in institutions’ treatment of victims; one woman wrote, “My daughter was raped going down to the ladies room at night while studying in the campus in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She never even told me until years later. She thought no one would do anything about it.” Another commented, “I graduated college in 1983. This was an issue then. Why has nothing been done in thirty-one years?”
Called the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators that included Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill and Republicans Marco Rubio and Dean Heller. Wagatwe Wanjuki, a member of Know Your IX, spoke at the press conference, as did other survivors and advocates. In addition to fines, the bill would require schools to make public the results of annual anonymous surveys on sexual assault on their campuses, ensure minimum training standards for staff handling sexual assault complaints and require colleges to implement uniform procedures for handling complaints, forbidding them from allowing subgroups, such as athletic departments, to handle accusations for their group alone.
Members of Know Your IX see the legislation as an important step forward in holding colleges accountable for their treatment of sexual assault. “We’re glad to see this bipartisan effort, rooted in students’ experiences on the ground and their recommendations, moving forward,” they said. “It’s a promising step toward building campuses that are safe for students of all genders.”
In his interview with Ian Masters, Nation contributing editor Stephen Cohen discusses the dangerous tensions between Washington and Moscow. Unlike other regional conflicts, Cohen states that the violence in Ukraine “is global…and the destiny of our children and grandchildren is playing out.” Cohen also critiques the Obama administrations lack of statesmanship and diplomacy: “This is [Obama’s] defining moment. This is what Roosevelt called his rendezvous with destiny and [Obama] seems to flee [his] destiny.” As the Washington hawks continue to take incremental action, Cohen asserts that we’re in the “worst American-Russian crisis since the Cuban missile confrontation.”
I’m in the hospital as I write this, getting ready to be cut open for some kind of intestinal surgery. I feel stressed, a little scared, yet given the news in the world, oddly grateful. I’m grateful that this clean facility, and its overworked but exceptionally kind staff, is not in the process of being bombed by the Israeli Defense Forces.
It is a sick sign of our times that human beings throughout the world cannot take for granted the concept that your hospital will not have a bullseye on its roof, but this is exactly where President Benjamin Netanyahu has dragged us. He is not the first, and he will not be the last, to take this tactic as a legitimate means of war. But defending these actions by saying, “George W. Bush has done it!” or “Assad does it, too!” is only an argument the morally bankrupt could possibly make.
No part of Israel’s war on Gaza—or any war—is more unconscionable than the targeting of hospitals. The shelling of institutions where people go to heal not only adds to the spiraling body count, it also creates mortality figures that will never ever be uttered by Wolf Blitzer, as the sick, the dying and the pregnant find themselves imperiled by Netanyahu’s slaughter. The reports from the UN about the effects in Gaza on pregnant women makes one wonder when fetuses became enemy combatants—their mothers, human shields.
Then there is Al-Wafa hospital, the only facility equipped to handle brain and spinal injuries in Gaza, which is now a “smoldering ruin.” According to Jonathan Miller of NBC News, in a devastating report, patients had to be evacuated from the hospital and carried to the center of Gaza City in blankets.
As of this writing, Al Shifa hospital, the most well-equipped in Gaza, has been under bombardment. Israel is arguing that Hamas has bombed their own hospital. Ayman Mohyeldin of NBC News, who witnessed the shelling, reported otherwise, although the story from NBC has changed repeatedly without explanation.
This is yet another example of Netanyahu’s—as he speaks of his war on Gaza being one of “civilization vs. barbarism”—violating Geneva protocols.
As Allison Deger summed up in her searing report on Al-Wafa hospital,
According to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) hospitals are protected sites. Article 19 of the Fourth Geneva Convention also states: ‘The protection to which civilian hospitals are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit…acts harmful to the enemy.’ The Geneva Convention also requires ‘a reasonable time limit,” for allowing an evacuation. If a hospital is used to launch weapons, under IHL it can only be targeted when there is an imminent strike originating from the location. Even storing caches of weapons do not meet international law’s stringent threshold for firing on humanitarian sites.
As for Al-Wafa, there were no weapons, no rockets. Just doctors, nurses and patients. Just teenagers, like Aya, paralyzed with a tumor on her spine, being transported with makeshift gurneys into an open space. Just bodies. Just civilians increasingly seen as legitimate targets by the IDF.
One final point. I write this from a hospital bed in the middle of the night, with help from a bedside lamp and extension cord attached to my computer. In other words, I have electricity.
The main power plant of Gaza has been bombed, plunging the city into darkness. CNN reported that this was either an accident of the IDF or Hamas took out their own power. (If Wolf Blitzer said Hamas was killing Israeli unicorns with the key to eternal life at this point, no one in Atlanta would blink.) Fox News was more blunt, saying that Israel was “striking at symbols of Hamas’s power.” How the media spin this is irrelevant to the pressing fact that it has imperiled every health facility for a place with a population three times the size of Washington, DC. I have a lot of worries right now, but the absence of electricity is not one of them. Nothing exposes the lies underpinning Netanyahu’s battle for “civilization” quite like this kind of savagery. Nothing feels more illustrative of the horrors Israel has unleashed quite like feeling privileged that my hospital isn’t under lethal attack from the skies.
Read Next: Dave Zirin on violence against women in the NFL
The person who served you lunch today may be going hungry. Surveys of restaurant workers in the Bay Area and New York City show that after spending long days sating the appetites of customers, they return home to empty pantries and struggle to pay for groceries. Nearly one in three restaurant workers suffers from “food insecurity”—meaning they regularly have trouble obtaining adequate nourishment, usually because they can’t afford it.
The study, published by Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) (in collaboration with Food Chain Workers Alliance and Food First), shows that while the prevalence of food insecurity in the food-service workforce is paradoxical, it is built into the capitalist food chain.
Among the surveyed workers—representing a cross-section of cooks, servers, bussers and other low-wage workers in two cities with thriving dining scenes—workers of color were more likely to be food insecure than their white counterparts. Two in three undocumented workers experienced food insecurity. The problem is especially widespread among tipped workers, like servers. Those jobs are mostly done by women, many of them single mothers raising kids in poverty.
Even restaurants that touted their green credentials—marketing themselves as organic or sustainable—did not seem to pay enough to sustain the basic needs of their workers: “Bay Area restaurant workers who served organic or sustainable ingredients were 22 percent more likely to be food insecure, compared to other Bay Area restaurant workers after controlling for demographic characteristics.”
One server surveyed, ROC-NY member Carolina Portillo, described the class dynamics of an industry built on the extremes of indulgence and deprivation: “It’s sad that when you work in a restaurant, most of the servers are starving.”
Even when they’re not actually starving, food-insecure workers struggle for sustenance. One in five of those surveyed relied on government food assistance. About the same percentage depended on restaurant food, typically because they did not have the time or money to eat homemade meals. What looks like a perk smacks of desperation. In New York, about half of those surveyed said the group meal provided by the restaurant was not nutritious. Most of them also said they “wanted to eat more fruits and vegetables than they presently did.” In other words, their jobs kept them from having the food choices that their patrons freely enjoy on the menu.
Martin Sanchez, a New York City busser and ROC-NY member, explained for the study why he ate on the job: “Even though I work in a restaurant and handle food for a living, it’s a struggle to feed myself and provide for my wife and five children…. at the last place I worked, they would serve us junk: cheap, fried food and sometimes expired food. They never let us eat the kind of food that’s popular with our customers like salmon or quinoa salads.”
Though gourmet bistros illustrate the most striking inequities, material deprivation runs through the metabolism of the entire food system. Across all food labor sectors, including farming, processing, and service, those who work with food have trouble feeding themselves; they experience twice the rate of “very low to marginal” food security, 30 percent, of the overall US workforce.
Food labor has been deeply exploited since the days of chattel slavery, and it became industrialized at the turn of the century with the squalid drudgery of urban slaughterhouses. So today’s line cooks and waitresses face brutal conditions, and they in turn make up a big chunk of the working poor who are priced out of eating well.
ROC-NY’s study points to how working conditions are linked to risk of food insecurity. Only about 2 percent of restaurant workers are unionized, and employers regularly short workers on overtime pay and discriminate against women and workers of color in their hiring and promotion decisions. Workers are regularly denied the healthcare benefits and safety protections that are essential not only to their dignity but to public health in the restaurant industry. The federal “subminimum” wage for tipped workers has remained stagnant for two decades, at $2.13 an hour—a regulatory quirk that leaves many workers essentially living on tips.
Workers often struggle with food insecurity when forced to work erratic shifts or a nonstandard schedule. The volatility in their earnings from week to week can place a healthy family lifestyle out of reach. When she works a double shift waiting tables, a single mom will find it near impossible to even see her children, much less go shopping for and cook a nutritious family meal at home.
Conversely, the survey reveals that workers are less likely to suffer from food insecurity if they have stable jobs and paid leave benefits, access to job training for career advancement and access to union representation.
By organizing workers at higher-end restaurants serving affluent clientele, ROC has run effective and media-genic workplace-justice campaigns. The group uses a blend of direct-action tactics, public outreach to educate consumers about the workforce, litigation and negotiation to win better wages and working conditions.
ROC-NY also runs a “High Road” restaurateur program, in which employers voluntarily sign onto a code of ethics promising a certain level of wages, benefits and the ability to organize.
For those employers who don’t voluntarily treat workers decently, ROC-NY and other economic justice organizations are pushing for federal legislation to provide for family and medical leave insurance for all workers, as well as raising the minimum wage for both standard wage workers and tipped workers. Some state and local lawmakers have moved ahead with paid sick days legislation; San Diego, California, and Eugene, Oregon, have recently joined seven other cities (Portland, New York City, Newark and Jersey City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC) and Connecticut in establishing paid sick days policies. Efforts are underway to pass and federal-state level family-leave insurance , which allows for longer leave times from work financed through an insurance fund.
ROC-NY also calls on policymakers to strengthen enforcement of the anti-discrimination laws and wage and hour regulations that are already on the books, and to protect workers’ universal right to organize without fear of retaliation from their bosses.
The restaurant industry lobby is one of the most powerful in the country, and it has campaigned fiercely to block federal and local minimum wage legislation, claiming that broadening labor protections for cooks and servers would harm small businesses.
But for the one in three restaurant workers who don’t earn enough to put food on the table, who go to bed hungry so their kids can eat—they’re part of the dining experience as well. When restaurant customers indulge their appetites by starving workers and their families of basic dignity, the industry is cannibalizing its own moral fiber.