When the gods dance...

Sunday, June 30, 2013


"I believe that a guarantee of public access to government  information is indispensable in the long run for any democratic society.... if officials make public only what they want citizens to know, then publicity becomes a sham and accountability meaningless." - Sissela Bok, Swedish philosopher, 1982

 "The overarching purpose of access to information legislation ... is to facilitate democracy. It does so in two related ways. It helps to ensure first, that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process, and secondly, that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry." -  Gerard LaForest, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, in Dagg vs. Canada (1997)

"For the most part, officials love secrecy because it is a tool of power and control, not because the information they hold is particularly sensitive by nature."   - John Reid, 1999

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cave Art Reveals Ancient View of Cosmos

Date: 27 June 2013 Time: 02:04 PM ET
Miriam Kramer, SPACE.com Staff Writer
Miriam interned at Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and Oak Ridge National Laboratory before coming to SPACE.com. She graduated with her degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee after working with the microbiology and anthropology departments. She received her master's in science, health and environmental reporting from New York University. To find out what her latest project is, you can follow Miriam on .

The Expendables

How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed

Rosa Ramirez waits to be called for a job at the temp agency Staffing Network in Hanover Park, Ill., on Jan. 21, 2013. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)
It’s 4:18 a.m. and the strip mall is deserted. But tucked in back, next to a closed-down video store, an employment agency is already filling up. Rosa Ramirez walks in, as she has done nearly every morning for the past six months. She signs in and sits down in one of the 100 or so blue plastic chairs that fill the office. Over the next three hours, dispatchers will bark out the names of who will work today. Rosa waits, wondering if she will make her rent.

In cities all across the country, workers stand on street corners, line up in alleys or wait in a neon-lit beauty salon for rickety vans to whisk them off to warehouses miles away. Some vans are so packed that to get to work, people must squat on milk crates, sit on the laps of passengers they do not know or sometimes lie on the floor, the other workers’ feet on top of them.
This is not Mexico. It is not Guatemala or Honduras. This is Chicago, New Jersey, Boston.

The people here are not day laborers looking for an odd job from a passing contractor. They are regular employees of temp agencies working in the supply chain of many of America’s largest companies – Walmart, Macy’s, Nike, Frito-Lay. They make our frozen pizzas, sort the recycling from our trash, cut our vegetables and clean our imported fish. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves. They are as important to the global economy as shipping containers and Asian garment workers.

Many get by on minimum wage, renting rooms in rundown houses, eating dinners of beans and potatoes, and surviving on food banks and taxpayer-funded health care. They almost never get benefits and have little opportunity for advancement.

Across America, temporary work has become a mainstay of the economy, leading to the proliferation of what researchers have begun to call “temp towns.” They are often dense Latino neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible even for whites and African-Americans with vocational training to find factory and warehouse work without first being directed to a temp firm.
In June, the Labor Department reported that the nation had more temp workers than ever before: 2.7 million. Overall, almost one-fifth of the total job growth since the recession ended in mid-2009 has been in the temp sector, federal data shows. But according to the American Staffing Association, the temp industry’s trade group, the pool is even larger: Every year, a tenth of all U.S. workers finds a job at a staffing agency.
The proportion of temp workers in the labor force reached its peak in early 2000 before the 2001 slump and then the Great Recession. But as the economy continues its slow, uneven recovery, temp work is roaring back 10 times faster than private-sector employment as a whole – a pace “exceeding even the dramatic run-up of the early 1990s,” according to the staffing association.

The Rise of Blue-Collar Temp Jobs

Blue-collar jobs
White-collar jobs
Service jobs
 2012Source: ProPublica analysis of Occupational Employment Statistics data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
The overwhelming majority of that growth has come in blue-collar work in factories and warehouses, as the temp industry sheds the Kelly Girl image of the past. Last year, more than one in every 20 blue-collar workers was a temp.

Several temp agencies, such as Adecco and Manpower, are now among the largest employers in the United States. One list put Kelly Services as second only to Walmart.

“We’re seeing just more and more industries using business models that attempt to change the employment relationship or obscure the employment relationship,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, a top official in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. “While it’s certainly not a new phenomenon, it’s rapidly escalating. In the last 10 to 15 years, there’s just a big shift to this for a lot more workers – which makes them a lot more vulnerable.”

The temp system insulates the host companies from workers’ compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are citizens or legal immigrants. In turn, the temps suffer high injury rates, according to federal officials and academic studies, and many of them endure hours of unpaid waiting and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.

The rise of the blue-collar permatemp helps explain one of the most troubling aspects of the phlegmatic recovery. Despite a soaring stock market and steady economic growth, many workers are returning to temporary or part-time jobs. This trend is intensifying America’s decades-long rise in income inequality, in which low- and middle-income workers have seen their real wages stagnate or decline. On average, temps earn 25 percent less than permanent workers.

Many economists predict the growth of temp work will continue beyond the recession, in part because of health-care reform, which some economists say will lead employers to hire temps to avoid the costs of covering full-time workers.

The Rise of ‘Temp Towns’

Rosa, a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant with thin glasses and a curly bob of brown hair, has been a temp worker for the better part of 12 years. She has packed free samples for Walmart, put together displays for Sony, printed ads for Marlboro, made air filters for the Navy and boxed textbooks for elite colleges and universities. None of the work led to a full-time job.

Even though some assignments last months, such as her recent job packaging razors for Philips Norelco, every day is a crapshoot for Rosa. She must first check in at the temp agency in Hanover Park, Ill., by 4:30 a.m. and wait. If she is lucky enough to be called, she must then take a van or bus to the worksite. And even though the agency, Staffing Network, is her legal employer, she is not paid until she gets to the assembly line at 6 a.m.
Locations of Temp Workers
These counties had high concentrations of temporary help service workers for counties with more than 100,000 workers in 2011. Overall, 2.1 percent of private-sector workers were temps in 2011.
Greenville County, S.C.8.6%
Kane County, Ill.6.1%
Kent County, Mich.6%
Middlesex County, N.J.5.8%
Shelby County, Tenn.5.3%
San Bernardino County, Calif.5.1%
Lehigh County, Pa.4.6%
Camden County, N.J.4.3%
Winnebago County, Ill.4.2%
Ramsey County, Minn.4%
Burlington County, N.J.4%
Source: ProPublica analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data
In Kane County, Ill., where Rosa lives, one in every 16 workers is a temp. Such high concentrations of temp workers exist in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Middlesex County, N.J.; Memphis, Tenn.; the Inland Empire of California; and Lehigh County, Pa. In New Jersey, white vans zip through an old Hungarian neighborhood in New Brunswick, picking up workers at temp agencies along French Street. In Joliet, Ill., one temp agency operated out of a motel meeting room once a week, supplying labor to the layers of logistics contractors at one of Walmart’s biggest warehouses. In Greenville County, S.C., near BMW’s U.S. manufacturing plant, one in 11 workers was a temp in 2011. A decade before, it was one in 22.
In temp towns, it is not uncommon to find warehouses with virtually no employees of their own. Many temp workers say they have worked in the same factory day in and day out for years. José Miguel Rojo, for example, packed frozen pizzas for a Walmart supplier every day for eight years as a temp until he was injured last summer and lost his job. (Walmart said Rojo wasn’t its employee and that it wants its suppliers to treat their workers well.)
Occupations of Temp Workers
These occupations had high concentrations of their workers in the employment services industry in 2012.
Production helpers (entry-level jobs that require less skill)29.2%
Laborers and freight, stock and material movers by hand18.4%
Assemblers who work in a team17.6%
Human resources specialists16.2%
Packers and packagers by hand16.2%
Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders16.1%
Data entry keyers15.1%
Demonstrators and product promoters11.5%
Metal and plastic cutting, punching and press machine setters, operators and tenders10.1%
Construction laborers9.4%
Source: ProPublica analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics data
In some lines of work, huge numbers of full-time workers have been replaced by temps. One in five manual laborers who move and pack merchandise is now a temp. As is one in six assemblers who work in a team, such as those at auto plants.
To be sure, many temp assignments serve a legitimate and beneficial purpose. Temp agencies help companies weather sudden or seasonal upswings and provide flexibility for uncertain times. Employees try out jobs, gain skills and transition to full-time work.
“I think our industry has been good for North America, as far as keeping people working,” said Randall Hatcher, president of MAU Workforce Solutions, which supplies temps to BMW. “I get laid off by Employer A and go over here to Employer B, and maybe they have a job for me. People get a lot of different experiences. An employee can work at four to five different companies and then maybe decide this is what I want to do.”
Companies like the “flexibility,” he added. “To be able to call someone and say, ‘I need 100 people’ is very powerful. It allows them to meet orders that they might not otherwise.”
But over the years, many companies have upended that model and stretched the definition of “temporary work.”
At least 840,000 temp workers are like Rosa: working blue-collar jobs and earning less than $25,000 a year, a ProPublica analysis of federal labor data found. Only about 30 percent of industrial temp jobs will become permanent, according to a survey by Staffing Industry Analysts.
By 4:52 a.m., the chairs at Rosa’s temp agency are filled, and workers line the walls, clutching plastic bags that contain their lunches. From behind the tall white counter, the voice of an unseen dispatcher booms like a game-show host, calling out the first batch of workers: ___ Mendoza, ___ Rosales, ___ Centeno, ___ Martinez, ...
It is a practice that George Gonos, a sociologist at SUNY-Potsdam who has spent his career studying the temp industry, calls the modern version of the “shape-up” – a practice in which longshoremen would line up in front of a boss, who would pick them one by one for work on the docks.
The day after Thanksgiving 1960, Edward R. Murrow broadcast a report called “Harvest of Shame,” documenting the plight of migrant farmworkers. Temp workers today face many similar conditions in how they get hired, how they get to work, how they live and what they can afford to eat. Adjusted for inflation, those farmworkers earned roughly the same 50 years ago as many of today’s temp workers, including Rosa. In fact, some of the same farm towns featured in Murrow’s report have now been built up with warehouses filled with temps.

As before, the products change by the season. But now, instead of picking strawberries, tomatoes and corn, the temp workers pack chocolates for Valentine’s Day, barbecue grills for Memorial Day, turkey pans for Thanksgiving, clothing and toys for Christmas.

African-Americans make up 11 percent of the overall workforce but more than 20 percent of temp workers. Willie Pearson, who is African-American, has been a full-time worker at BMW's South Carolina plant for 14 years. But since at least 2005, he said, he hasn't seen anyone who’s “been hired straight on. It’s all been through temporary agencies.” The company says “after six months they can hire them,” he said, “but I’d say it’s only one out of five” who actually lands a full-time job.
BMW did not return calls for this story.

Latinos make up about 20 percent of all temp workers. In many temp towns, agencies have flocked to neighborhoods full of undocumented immigrants, finding labor that is kept cheap in part by these workers’ legal vulnerability: They cannot complain without risking deportation.

Labor Sharks and Kelly Girls

Many people believe that the use of temp workers simply grew organically, filling a niche that companies demanded in an ever-changing global economy. But decades before “outsourcing” was even a word, the temp industry campaigned to persuade corporate America that permanent workers were a burden.
White Glove Girl, a Manpower game made in 1966. The object of the game is to be the first to earn money to afford four goals: children's college education, a vacation, home remodeling and a new wardrobe. (Krista Kjellman Schmidt /ProPublica)
White Glove Girl, a Manpower game made in 1966. The object of the game is to be the first to earn money to afford four goals: children's college education, a vacation, home remodeling and a new wardrobe. (Krista Kjellman Schmidt /ProPublica)
The industry arose after World War II as the increase in office work led to a need for secretaries and typists for short assignments. At the time, nearly every state had laws regulating employment agents in order to stop the abuses of labor sharks, who charged exorbitant fees to new European immigrants in the early 1900s. Presenting temp work as a new industry, big temp firms successfully lobbied to rewrite those laws so that they didn’t apply to temp firms. In the 1960s, agencies such as Kelly Services and Manpower advertised their services as women’s work, providing “pin money” to housewives, according to Erin Hatton, a SUNY Buffalo sociologist and author of The Temp Economy. And they marketed the advantages of workers that the host company wasn’t responsible for — a theme that continues today.
A Kelly Girl advertisement for 'The Never-Never Girl.' (Source: The Office, January 1971, p. 19 via Erin Hatton) | <a href='https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/717839-kelly-services-never-never-girl-ad-from-1971.html'>Larger version</a>
A Kelly Girl advertisement for 'The Never-Never Girl.' (Source: The Office, January 1971, p. 19 via Erin Hatton) | Larger version
One 1971 Kelly Girl ad that Hatton found, called “The Never-Never Girl,” featured a woman biting a pencil. The copy read:
Never takes a vacation or holiday. Never asks for a raise. Never costs you a dime for slack time. (When the workload drops, you drop her.) Never has a cold, slipped disc or loose tooth. (Not on your time anyway!) Never costs you for unemployment taxes and social security payments. (None of the paperwork, either!) Never costs you for fringe benefits. (They add up to 30% of every payroll dollar.) Never fails to please. (If our Kelly Girl employee doesn’t work out, you don’t pay. We’re that sure of all our girls.)
Carl Camden, the current chief executive of Kelly Services, said the anachronistic language was a response to the chauvinistic attitude of the time. “It wasn’t typical to see women working,” he said. “So you had that work often positioned as not real work. The way the media could sell it as sociologically acceptable was making money for Christmas, something you were doing on the side for your family.” (Manpower didn’t return calls for this story.)
An Olsten Services advertisement warning executives that a few more people on the payroll could cut into profits even in good times. (Source: Personnel Journal, September 1968, inside front cover via Erin Hatton) | <a href='http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/717838-olsten-a-successful-year-could-ruin-you-ad-from'>Larger version</a>
An Olsten Services advertisement warning executives that a few more people on the payroll could cut into profits even in good times. (Source: Personnel Journal, September 1968, inside front cover via Erin Hatton) | Larger version
Gradually, temp firms began moving into blue-collar work. At the end of the 1960s — a decade in which the American economy grew by 50 percent — temp agencies began selling the idea of temping out entire departments. Relying on temps only for seasonal work and uncertain times was foolish, the agencies told managers over the next two decades. Instead, they said companies should have a core of, say, five employees supplemented by as many as 50 temps, Hatton wrote. The temp industry boomed in the 1990s, as the rise of just-in-time manufacturing drove just-in-time labor. But it also gained by promoting itself as the antidote to bad publicity over layoffs. If a company laid off a large portion of its workforce, it could make big news and leave customers feeling sour. But if a company simply cut its temps, it was easy to write it off as seasonal — and the host company could often avoid the federal requirement that it notify workers of mass layoffs in advance.

More recently, temp firms have successfully lobbied to change laws or regulatory interpretations in 31 states, so that workers who lose their assignments and are out of work cannot get unemployment benefits unless they check back in with the temp firm for another assignment.

'You Are Not Driving Goats'

Rosa sits on the mattress in the room she rents with her boyfriend. The trap she sets for rats is visible on the floor near the door frame. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)
Rosa sits on the mattress in the room she rents with her boyfriend. The trap she sets for rats is visible on the floor near the door frame. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)
Rosa lives in the living room of an old Victorian boarding house. There is a cheap mattress on the floor, and a sheet blocks the French doors that separate her room from the hallway. The rent is $450 a month, which she splits with her boyfriend who works as a carpet installer. She shares a kitchen and bathroom with another family. A trap by her door guards against the rats that have woken her up at night. Rosa came to the United States in 1997 from Ecatepec, Mexico, where she struggled to raise two sons on her own as a street vendor of beauty supplies. When she found out a neighbor had hired a coyote to help her cross the border, Rosa joined her, leaving her children with family and taking a bus to the frontera. They walked for three days across the desert to a meeting point, where a bus took them to a safe house in Phoenix and then to Cullman, Ala.

By the time she arrived in Cullman, Rosa recalled, her shoes were so full of holes that her first mission was to go to a strip mall and dig through a clothing donation bin for a new pair.

“I worked in a poultry plant and a restaurant at the same time so I could get enough money to send back to Mexico,” she said. Like Rosa, many undocumented immigrants who spoke for this story landed full-time jobs when they first arrived in the 1990s. But many of them lost their jobs when factories closed during the recent recession and have since found only temp work.

Another temp worker, Judith Iturralde, traced the shift back even earlier, to the immigration crackdowns after 9/11. She said that after she returned to work from surgery in 2002, the compact-disc warehouse she worked at told her it could no longer employ her because she didn’t have papers. They directed her to a temp firm, she said, and a few years later, she returned to the same warehouse, still undocumented.

After raising enough money, Rosa returned to Mexico and brought her two teenage sons across the desert and back to Alabama, where they worked full-time at a lumberyard. After her son got hurt on the job, they moved to Chicago, hoping for a better life.

But the only work Rosa was able to find was at temp agencies.
It is now 5:03 a.m. at Staffing Network, and the first batch of workers waits outside to board the school bus for Norelco. The agency said it offers complimentary transportation for its employees’ benefit. But worker advocates say vans help the temp agencies by ensuring they provide their corporate clients with the right number of workers at the right time.
Many metro areas don’t have adequate transportation from the working-class neighborhoods to the former farmland where warehouses have sprouted over the past 15 years. So a system of temp vans has popped up, often contracted by the agencies. Workers in several cities said they feel pressured to get on the vans or lose the job. They usually pay $7 to $8 a day for the round trip.
Vicente Ramos with his children in their home in New Brunswick, N.J., in March. Ramos recounted how he had to walk for three hours one night when the temp agency van didn't show. (Melanie Burford for ProPublica)
Vicente Ramos with his children in their home in New Brunswick, N.J., in March. Ramos recounted how he had to walk for three hours one night when the temp agency van didn't show. (Melanie Burford for ProPublica)
Workers describe the vans as dangerously overcrowded with as many as 22 people stuffed into a 15-passenger van. In New Jersey, one worker drew a diagram of how his temp agency fit 17 people into a minivan, using wooden benches and baby seats and having three workers crouch in the trunk space. “They push and push us in until we get like cigarettes in a box,” said one Illinois worker. “Sometimes I say, ‘Hey, you are not driving goats!’”

Several workers said the temp agency had left them stranded at times. Vicente Ramos, a father of six who lives in New Jersey, recalled how several years ago he and other workers walked for three hours one night after the van failed to show up.

“We were getting hungry and thirsty, and we could barely walk, and our feet were hurting,” Ramos said. “They still charged us for the ride.”

A New Temp Ecosystem

It is now 5:20 a.m., and a second batch of workers has been called for Norelco. Dispatchers are starting to tap workers for Start Sampling, which provides free samples of items like shampoos, coffee and cat food on behalf of retailers and consumer product companies.
The dispatchers have called several other workers named Rosa. Each time, her ears perk up, but it is always another last name. She goes to the counter and asks the dispatchers if they think there will be work today. They tell her there’s not much but to wait a little longer in case a company calls to say they need more bodies.
Rosa Ramirez, flanked by members of Chicago Workers Collaborative, reads her speech at Staffing Network in November 2012. (Screenshot from video courtesy of Chicago Workers Collaborative)
Rosa Ramirez, flanked by members of Chicago Workers Collaborative, reads her speech at Staffing Network in November 2012. (Screenshot from video courtesy of Chicago Workers Collaborative)
Two months before, in November, Rosa walked into the temp agency with something to say. She had been attending meetings of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, a nonprofit that advocates for temp workers and is funded by various religious and anti-poverty foundations. Though Rosa became increasingly active, her only source of income is temp jobs. “My name is Rosa Ramirez,” she said, flanked by leaders of the workers collaborative, who recorded the speech on a cellphone. “We wanted to read some points that we want to change here in this office.”
“Stop forcing workers to wait without pay before the work shift,” Rosa said, standing in the center of the room and reading from a paper she had brought.
“Allow workers to go directly to the worksite, because some people have children, and they can’t find care that early.”
The workers sitting in the bucket chairs looked down nervously, not sure what would happen next.
Rosa read on. “Don’t force employees to wait outside of the office until transportation arrives during the winter months.”
“We don’t want to be loaded into trucks or vans,” Rosa said. “Because they carry us like sardines.”
Looking back on that day, Rosa said she feels empowered at times but at other times defeated.
“I no longer could stand the abuses,” Rosa said. “I see people accepting them, and so I thought by standing up and speaking, I was hoping that people would join me and would agree and would stand up for themselves. But unfortunately, the majority of the people did not.”
Staffing Network said in a statement that workers weren’t required to come to the branch office. Many workers, it said, get hired by calling about job opportunities and then go directly to their worksites.
“Our track record of being a fair and lawful employer is evidenced by the fact that more than 65 percent of the temporary employees we hire and place have worked with Staffing Network for one year or more,” the company wrote. “We provide all employees opportunities to voice any questions or concerns about any aspects of their jobs — without any retaliation.”
Unions, on the ropes nationwide, have historically done little for temp workers. The temp industry initially won union backing by promising never to cross picket lines. But in 1985, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that the trade association could not force its members to honor that pledge; so they didn’t.
“Unions have had two souls when it comes to temp workers,” said Harley Shaiken, a longtime labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley. One is to try to include them, he said, but “the other is circle the wagons, protect the full-time workers that are there.”
Will Collette, who led an AFL-CIO campaign against the temp firm Labor Ready in the early 2000s, said it was nearly impossible to organize workers with such a high turnover.
And recent rulings have tied union hands. A 2004 order by the National Labor Relations Board barred temp workers from joining with permanent workers for collective bargaining unless both the temp agency and the host company agree to the arrangement.
Some temp firms have even promoted themselves as experts at maintaining a union-free workplace. In a proposal for the off-road vehicle maker Polaris, the temp agency Westaff, a division of the Select Family of Staffing Companies, said its team was specially trained to spot early warning signs of union activity, such as “groups of workers huddling, then quieting when managers appear.”
Walmart's warehouse complex southwest of Chicago is managed by Schneider Logistics. Walmart, along with many other American companies, benefits from temp labor, both for its flexibility and for the protection it provides from complaints from workers and regulators. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)
Walmart's warehouse complex southwest of Chicago is managed by Schneider Logistics. Walmart, along with many other American companies, benefits from temp labor, both for its flexibility and for the protection it provides from complaints from workers and regulators. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)
Meanwhile, a whole ecosystem of contractors and subcontractors benefits from the flexibility of just-in-time labor. For example, Walmart’s two largest warehouse complexes are southwest of Chicago and in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. Both are managed by Schneider Logistics, which in turn subcontracts to an ever-changing cast of third-party logistics firms and staffing companies. Such layers of temp agencies have helped Walmart avoid responsibility when regulators have uncovered problems or when workers have tried to sue, accusing the company of wage or safety violations. For example, when California inspected Walmart’s Inland Empire warehouse in 2011 and found that workers were being paid piece-rate according to how many shipping containers they unloaded, rather than by the hour, regulators issued more than $1 million in fines against the subcontractors for failing to show how the pay was calculated. Neither Walmart nor Schneider faced penalties.
Asked if the layers of subcontracting allow Walmart to escape blame, spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said, “Absolutely not.”
“We work very hard to abide by the law,” she said, “and we expect all the businesses that we do business with and that they do business with to comply with the law.”
Schneider treats its associates with “dignity and respect,” spokeswoman Janet Bonkowski wrote in an email. “Our suppliers are independent,” she said. “When we utilize third-party vendors, we contractually require full compliance with all required laws and that all parties conduct business ethically.”
As work is downsourced through a cascade of subcontractors, some workers have been paid wages below the legal minimum or seen their incomes decline over the years.
Berto Gutierrez, who has worked several stints at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Ill., provided ProPublica with a copy of a 2011 paycheck from subcontractor Eclipse Advantage. The check shows he was paid only $57.81 for 12.5 hours of work, or $4.62 an hour. Neither Eclipse, Schneider nor Walmart provided an explanation for Gutierrez’s paycheck.
In 2007, Leticia Rodriguez was hired directly by Simos, the logistics contractor running the online part of Walmart’s Elwood warehouse. She said she worked as a supervisor on an annual contract for $49,500 a year, with health insurance. In 2009, when she declined to come in on what she described as a long-awaited day off, she was fired.
Rodriguez returned to the warehouse six months later, this time starting at the bottom, loading trucks for one of Schneider’s staffing companies. She said she was paid $15 an hour, but within a year the staffing company lost the contract.
Eclipse Advantage took over, and Rodriguez went to work for that company. There, she said, she got paid piece-rate, averaging about $9.50 an hour. But six months later, Eclipse left, and she and all the other workers lost their jobs. Rodriguez has since interned at the union-backed campaign Warehouse Workers for Justice, earning $12,000.
Eclipse’s president, David Simono, declined to comment. Simos didn’t return calls. Walmart said it couldn’t comment on the specifics of a subcontractor’s employee but said it provides all its workers opportunities for growth.

‘We’ve Seen Just Ghastly Situations’

Temp workers line up at Custom Staffing near Chicago in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2013. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)
Temp workers line up at Custom Staffing near Chicago in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2013. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)
The growing temporary sector does little to sustain workers’ standard of living. Temp agencies consistently rank among the worst large industries for the rate of wage and hour violations, according a ProPublica analysis of federal enforcement data. A 2005 Labor Department survey, the most recent available, found that only 4 percent of temps have pensions or retirement plans from their employers. Only 8 percent get health insurance from their employers, compared with 56 percent of permanent workers. What employers don’t provide, workers get from the social safety net, i.e., taxpayers. And don’t look for Obamacare to fix it. Under the law, employers must provide health coverage only to employees who average 30 hours a week or more. After pressure from the temp industry and others, the IRS ruled that companies have up to a year to determine if workers qualify.
With the major provisions of health-care reform set to take effect in 2014, there’s growing evidence that 2013 is becoming a boom year for temping out. TempWorks, which sells software that keeps track of payroll and worker orders, says sales to staffing agencies have been going through the roof and that temp firms tell them the uptick is because of Obamacare.
Unlike the way it monitors nearly every other industry, the government does not keep statistics on injuries among temp workers. But a study of workers compensation data in Washington state found that temp workers in construction and manufacturing were twice as likely to be injured as regular staff doing the same work.
In April, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced an initiative to get better information on temp-worker safety. “Employers, we think, do not have the same commitment to providing a safe workplace, to providing the proper training, to a worker who they may only be paying for a few weeks.” OSHA director David Michaels said in an interview. “I mean, we’ve seen just ghastly situations.”
In December 2011, a Chicago temp worker died after he was scalded by a citric acid solution. The skin cream and shampoo factory he was assigned to failed to call 911 even as his skin was peeling from his body. In August 2012, a Jacksonville temp was crushed to death on his first day of work at a bottling plant when a supervisor told him to clean glass from underneath a machine that stacks goods onto pallets — a job that OSHA said he wasn’t trained to do. And in January, a temp was killed at a paper mill outside Charlotte, N.C., when he was overcome by toxic fumes while cleaning the inside of a chemical tank.
“There’s something going on here that needs direct intervention,” Michaels said.

A Temp Worker Bill of Rights

Members of Congress have introduced a handful of bills protecting temp workers in the past two decades. None have made it out of committee. Efforts on the state level have met similar resistance.
Community organizer Jasiela Chaves talks to temp worker Lorne Casey of Lawrence, Mass., inside a Labor Ready office about the state's Temporary Workers Right to Know Law that went into effect on Jan. 31, 2013. (Matthew Healey for ProPublica)
Community organizer Jasiela Chaves talks to temp worker Lorne Casey of Lawrence, Mass., inside a Labor Ready office about the state's Temporary Workers Right to Know Law that went into effect on Jan. 31, 2013. (Matthew Healey for ProPublica)
But worker advocates and some temp agencies say the Massachusetts Temporary Workers Right-to-Know Law, which took effect in January, provides a model for other states. That law requires temp agencies to give workers written notice of the basics: whom they will work for, how much they’ll be paid and what safety equipment they’ll need. The law limits transportation costs and prohibits fees that would push workers’ pay below minimum wage. Agencies must also reimburse the worker if they are sent to a worksite only to find out there is no job for them there.
Similar state bills have passed in New Jersey and Illinois in the past few years. But while the American Staffing Association has a code of ethics containing similar guidelines, it has fought against such laws and blocked them in California and New York. “All laws that apply to every other employee apply to temporary workers,” said Stephen Dwyer, the group’s general counsel. “We thought that heaping new laws on top of existing laws would not be effective.”
Even in states that have them, the laws are honored mostly in the breach. For example, Illinois prohibits temp agencies from charging for transportation. But many have gotten around the law by using so-called raiteros, who act as neighborhood labor brokers for the agencies and charge for transportation. The law also requires an employment notice stating the name of the host company, the hourly wage and any equipment needed. Out of more than 50 Chicago-area workers interviewed for this story, only a handful had ever received one.
Passing through Chicago’s working-class suburbs recently, Rosa pointed out the car window to a row of small redbrick homes.
“I’ve always dreamed of having a little house, a really small, little house,” she said.
Asked if she thought she’d ever be able to buy one, Rosa laughed.
“Earning $8.25 an hour?” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.”
Back at the temp agency, Rosa continues to wait with about 50 other people.
Around 6 a.m., she again inquires if there will be any work. The dispatcher tells her to give it 15 more minutes.
Then he breaks the news: There is no work today.

Get Involved: Is this happening in your community? What should be done about it? Join our discussion by tweeting us your questions and comments with #TempLand, or send us a tip.

First Person: Save a Language, Save a Culture

A Marma farmer poses for a portrait in a ginger field.
The grassroots initiative hopes to revive threatened indigenous languages throughout Bangladesh, like the language of this Marma ginger farmer.
Photograph by Alex Treadway, National Geographic

Tim Brookes.
Tim Brookes at work. Photograph courtesy Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes
Published June 28, 2013
Part of our First Person series, where we invite writers to share personal stories.
Of the world's 6,000-plus languages, half are expected to be extinct by the end of the century.

I knew nothing about this linguistic catastrophe until four years ago, when more or less by accident I began carving the alphabets of endangered languages.

I'd spent my life as a nonfiction writer, with no pretensions to be a visual artist, when one Christmas I decided to make gifts for my family by carving their names in boards of Vermont maple, with the bark still on and a beautiful ripple in the grain.

These came out surprisingly well, and in casting around for something else to carve, I stumbled on Omniglot.com, an online encyclopedia of the world's hundred or more writing systems.

Their range and variety were amazing. Some were alphabets with symbols to represent all the vowels and consonants. Some were syllabaries, in which each symbol represented a syllable, and some were abjads, consisting mostly or entirely of consonants.

Some were astonishingly graceful and fluid (the Balinese script looks like a flock of birds), while others were minimal, ornate, or downright exotic: The Dongba script used by the Naxi people in China includes baffling pictograms that look like folding chairs and jellyfish.

My most striking and disturbing discovery, though, was that fully a third are in danger of extinction.

I decided to carve some of the scripts to draw attention to the problem of language loss and cultural erosion. The carvings have since been exhibited in schools, libraries, and universities across the United States and Europe.

Working with a set of gouges and a paintbrush, I created several dozen pieces depicting words, phrases, sentences, or poems in vanishing alphabets from all over the world, including three scripts of indigenous peoples in Bangladesh: the Mro, Marma, and Chakma.

At the time I had no idea I would meet a member of the Marma people, a remarkable man named Maung Nyeu, and that we would collaborate on a preservation project that may become a model of how to reverse linguistic decline and the cultural collapse that goes with it.

Why Do Scripts Matter?

"Scripts are a hugely important aspect of culture," write Martin Raymond and Lorna Evans of ScriptSource, the world's leading authority.
Writing is intimately associated with cultural identity. Each writing system tells the tale of its culture's history, its evolving technology, even its deeply embedded values.

In sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than a dozen scripts have been formulated for indigenous languages since 1900.

"The N'Ko script," Raymond and Evans note, "was originally created in 1949 for Bambara, one of the Manding languages of Mali, which, at that time, was written using the Latin script.

"N'Ko script was adopted by other Manding language groups because, unlike Latin, it was seen as a script of their culture. N'Ko has become one of the most widely used indigenous African scripts, and it has strengthened the Manding cultural identity."

A carving of the N’Ko script.
Photograph courtesy Tim Brookes

If scripts are vital to a society, why do they die?
For the same reason languages die. One culture is dominated by another (economically, militarily, politically, and/or technologically), sometimes with extreme consequences: Shong Lue Yang was assassinated by Laotian troops for creating a script for the Hmong.
Suppression of indigenous peoples is happening right now in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh's Imperiled Cultures

I must confess that when I started my project, my interest in carving and exhibiting scripts was a little theoretical—after all, I couldn't actually read or write what I was carving, and I had never seen language or script endangerment up close.

All that changed in June 2012, when I first met Maung Nyeu, in Boston.
He had stumbled on my website and seen, to his amazement, that someone not only knew about the threatened languages of the Hill Tracts but had actually carved them.

The Hill Tracts, a forested upland area in southeastern Bangladesh, are home to more than a dozen indigenous peoples who are distinct from the majority Bengali population in language, culture, and religion.

Over the past two decades, the region has become increasingly militarized, and traditional farmlands have been given to Bengali settlers.
According to Amnesty International, the Bangladeshi government's failure to address legal rights to traditional lands in the eastern Chittagong Hill Tracts has left tens of thousands landless.

Local people are trapped in a cycle of violent clashes with Bengali settlers.

Villages and temples have been burned, and indigenous women and girls have been abducted to be sold into the sex trade. Massacres have been documented.

Lack of education and language collapse are pernicious threats: More than half of the indigenous people of the Hill Tracts have no formal schooling.

For those who start school, fewer than 8 percent complete primary education, and only 2 percent secondary.

This isn't surprising, because instruction is in Bangla, which most Hill Tracts children don't understand.

Adding injury to insult, indigenous children are often abused by teachers and students from the country's largest ethnic group, Bengalis. Maung himself suffered mistreatment.

In a single generation, Maung said, he has seen his people go from living as self-sufficient farmers on ancestral lands to being vagrant day laborers scattered across Bangladesh and into India and Myanmar.

Language Nurturer

Remarkably, Maung flouted the norm, earning a degree in engineering at the University of Hawaii, then an MBA from the University of Southern California.

He returned to the Hill Tracts to build the Padamu Residential Education Center, a school on the grounds of a Buddhist temple, so the children of the Hill Tracts could be educated in their own languages.

Classes began in 2008. Change was immediately apparent: Children who had seemed destined to be domestics or day laborers announced their intention to be doctors and teachers.

But most of the students could no longer speak their own ethnic language.

So Maung came back to the U.S., to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to learn how to create a culturally relevant curriculum that would revive the dying languages of the Hill Tracts.

At the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he sought out the advice of the philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky.

"He was very kind and very attentive," Maung said. "His recommendation was that it is possible to preserve a language, but it needs to start with the children, preferably as part of their curriculum."

For Maung, a culturally relevant curriculum must be taught in the language the child speaks at home—the language the child is already learning and is using to find out about the world.

Also, the material being taught must be familiar. Maung remembered that at school he had to learn by heart William Wordsworth's poem "Daffodils."
"I had never seen a daffodil!" he laughed. "I had no idea what it looked like. We have all sorts of plants and flowers, but I never saw a daffodil until I came to the United States!"

Maung has collected more than 40 stories passed down in the villages of the Hill Tracts. The stories involve mountains and trees and animals the children already know—tales they may have heard from their parents and grandparents.

He is beginning the process of having them translated into Mro, Marma, and Chakma, writing them out, getting them illustrated in a visual idiom familiar to the children, and getting them published.

He faces an additional challenge. Most people in these groups still speak their traditional languages, but very few can now read and write their unique scripts.

That's where I came in.

In June 2012 Maung and I set up a partnership to create and publish his schoolbooks and, we hope, to help save the languages that sustain the cultures of the Hill Tracts.

I recruited a calligrapher at Louisiana State University to take the handwritten forms of the scripts and turn them into works of art.
I enlisted a typographer from Anglia University in England to make Mro, Marma, and Chakma fonts so that the books can be digitally printed.
I hand-carved texts in each of the three languages.

A friend, using a laser, experimented with burning the scripts into mahogany boards. Some are now on display in community centers in the Hill Tracts.

One of Maung's fellow Harvard students created illustrations for the first book.

This fall, students of mine from Champlain College, in Burlington, Vermont, will help write, edit, design, and illustrate the next books bound for Padamu.

Signs of Revival

Reversing the decline of a language is a Herculean task, and there are no guarantees that Maung will succeed.

But there are signs that the tide of globalism that has been eroding indigenous cultures and their languages may be turning.
Some of the same multinational corporations that are creating a global online culture recognize that they can play a positive part.

Apple and Google in particular have shown an interest in endangered languages. One example: Macs, iPhones, Google, and Gmail now recognize the Cherokee syllabary.

And in the Philippines, where the pre-Spanish script called Baybayin was widely believed to be extinct, the government has now adopted Baybayin symbols on its banknotes as an anti-counterfeiting device.

So there is hope—but there is also urgency.

"In medicine," Maung explained, "there is a window of time—maybe a few minutes to two hours, called the golden hour—where if the person can get to the ER, the chance of survival increases. For our children, their golden hour is between the ages of four or five and twelve. If we don't get them in school during this time, we won't get them at all."

Tim Brookes is founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project and author of 13 books, including Endangered Alphabets. His website is www.endangeredalphabets.com.
Brookes and Maung Nyeu will speak about endangered alphabets and the Chittagong Hill Tracts at 1:15 p.m., June 28, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
How to help: To raise funds for schoolbooks for the children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Maung founded a nonprofit organization, Our Golden Hour, where donations can be made.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cuentamelo: An Oral History of Queer Latin Immigrants in San Francisco

For years I've sat next to my adoptive mama eating fried bacalao, listening as she tells and retells stories of the glamorous, fierce, sad, immigrant queens, faggots, and weirdos that roamed San Francisco in the '80s and '90s. Most of these people are now dead, gone at the peak of the AIDS epidemic. Their stories survive solely in the memories of those they left behind — stories of leaving hostile homelands for unknown new ones, of falling down, of building new selves, of living in two worlds.

Here, four gay and transgender Latin American immigrants tell of coming to San Francisco in the 1980s and the ways in which they survived, built, changed (and were changed by) the city. ("Cuéntamelo" means "Tell me.") This small compilation of oral histories maps Latin queerness as seen and lived in Spanish: It highlights the changes that over time have impacted the community: immigration laws, access to health care, the hormone black market, AIDS funding, and, with it, the rise and fall of Latino organizations, bars, and community centers. The stories travel down 16th Street (which Adela Vazquez says at the time was the "mecca of faggotry"), over to the Tenderloin, to bars such as La India Bonita, Los Portales, Esta Noche, and Finnochio's. Most of these places are now closed, but in their heyday, in the late '80s, Latin female impersonators, transformistas, travestis, and, later, drag queens flourished. Also during this time, and through the work of some of these performers, transgender and gay Latino communities in San Francisco became visible through programs such as Proyecto ContraSIDA por Vida, Instituto Familiar de la Raza, and Aguilas.

All of these interviews were conducted in Spanish and translated. Because the storytellers come from different parts of Latin America, their use of words, especially slang, differs too. The following chart explains a few of the terms and concepts:

Fuerte: Literally, "strong." In English it's better known as "fierce." Someone flamboyant, bold, who does not care what others think.

Latin@: Used by LGBT Latinos/as to indicate all genders.

Loca: General term for all females and males who feel like women in some way or another. Loca can also be used when you don't remember her name. Or "loquita," someone you met on a night out.

Maricón: Literally, "faggot." Used in Spanish with intimates; you call someone a maricón when you know them. Alternatively, "maricón" can be someone who despises the community.

Mariconería: Literally, "faggotry." It's a way of carrying oneself. Also a reunion of "maricones" who act very feminine.

Niña!: Literally, "girl." Used to say, "What up!" "Bitch!" "Sister!"
Transformista: Original term used by urban locas. In Havana, Cuba, for instance, the term signifies boys who dress as women generally as art.

Travesti: Same as "transformista." Generally used in South America and Spain.

Vestida: Literally, "dressed." Dressed as a woman; drag queen.

Nelson D'Alerta
Isla de Pino, Cuba
Year of Arrival: 1983

Call me Catherine White.

I'm from a small island, Isla de Pino. I lived there until I was 10 years old, then I moved to La Habana. When we first arrived in La Habana my grandfather took me to the opera to see Aida. He held my hand tight, saying: This is going to be your home, you are going to come back here many times. I was shocked, oh my god. Because theater has truly been my life. Dressed in a gown, as a woman, never as a man. My grandfather was Italian, from Florence; he was a painter, a fencer. My family is a family of artists. I remember thereafter dancing ballet in front of my grandfather one day and him saying I was fantastic, that I needed to straighten my fingers a little more. He said: ballet is totally your thing.
I never had a closet because my mom always said to me, "You are a fag." My mom took me to see a psychiatrist during the '60s because I have a picture as a kid wearing high heels. I'd steal my mother's clothes and rehearse. I'd go out into the streets in women's garments, and in 1970 I was sent to jail and taken to court — dressed as a woman in court. And hell went down in La Habana!

In high school I used to dye my hair. I'd wear truly scandalous outfits, big sunglasses, I'd sew in the bus, my face all painted weirdly like a woman. I'd wear bras and panties. Tell the boys on the bus: I'm wearing a bra, wanna see it? They'd go crazy. They didn't know what to do! I mean this was the '70s in Cuba. My first gay friend was Marquesa. We used to perform in the middle of the bushes, in the midst of passing goats and animals, the space filled with faggotry. Ah, so wonderful. With a boom box. I'm crazy to do something like that again.

To be a faggot in Cuba during the '70s was the worst thing you could be. The government even went all over the world looking for ways to end homosexuality in Cuba. They opened a concentration camp called UMA in Camaguey. When you signed up for the military draft they picked out everyone who was an outcast, not only homosexuals but anyone who could be related to this group and sent them to the UMA. You couldn't wear shorts, or a certain kind of sandal, you couldn't have long hair. If that wasn't a concentration camp, I don't know what is!


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 The three surviving members of Pink Floyd - Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and Nick Mason (right) - this week wrote a scathing op-ed for USA Today, accusing Pandora of attempting to con artists into a massive pay cut. At the heart of the issue is the Internet Radio Fairness Act, which failed to do much in the last Congress, largely because it was introduced too late in the session. But Pandora, which was a strong supporter of the legislation, is planning on introducing the proposed legislation again, objecting to the fact that it has to pay performance royalties when conventional radio broadcasters don't pay anything. Taking umbrage with Pandora's attempt to get artists to support the IRFA, Pink Floyd claimed the measure could result in an 85% pay cut, writing that "a musician could read this 'letter of support' a dozen times and hold it up to a funhouse mirror for good measure without realizing she was signing a call to cut her own royalties to pad Pandora's bottom line.'" In response, Pandora founder Tim Westergren countered in a blog post, "That is a lie manufactured by the Recording Industry Association of America and promoted by their hired guns to mislead and agitate the artist community. We have never, nor would we ever, advocate such a thing. The 85% sound bite preys upon the natural suspicions of the artist community, but it is simply untrue. And although we compete directly with AM/FM radio, which pays zero performance royalties, we have always supported fair compensation to artists." [Full story: Forbes]

Pandora Expects To Be In Over 100 Car Models This Year

Pandora this week announced it has had more than 2.5 million unique activations through its partnerships with 23 car companies. According to Chief Marketing Officer Simon Fleming-Wood, the company's internet radio service will become available in over 100 car models this year, and he projects that about a third of all new cars sold in the U.S. this year will have Pandora installed. Pandora currently has deals with major auto brands including Ford, Toyota, Honda, and various General Motors units, including Buick and Chevrolet, and plans to make its radio service available in Dodge, Infiniti, Jeep, Kia, and Ram brands in the near future. Approximately half of all radio listening takes place in automobiles, and Fleming-Wood referred to vehicles as "the traditional home of radio" - making them "a key battleground in the $15 billion local radio advertising market that Pandora is looking to capitalize on." [Full story: Wall Street Pit]
Microsoft To Launch Web-Based Xbox Music Next Week

As expected, Microsoft announced it is launching a web-based version of its streaming music service/digital store Xbox Music. The rebranded version of Zune, Xbox Music is is a digital music store that allows Windows and Xbox users to buy individual tracks or albums, as well as a streaming music service that offers a premium subscription (for a monthly fee) for on-demand streaming music that's similar to Spotify. Users can access the service from the Xbox Music Windows app, Xbox Live, Windows Phone 8 smartphones, Surface tablets, and now, the web. The web-based launch also will make the platform available on Android and iOS devices, although whether that also results in standalone apps remains to be seen. The Verge reports that the home screen of the Windows 8 app has been tweaked slightly, with "Collection" listed at the top of the sidebar and "Explore" placed directly underneath. It's been designed to reduce the number of clicks needed to dive into the user's existing tracks - those not streamed from Xbox Music itself - and replace any alternative music apps. Microsoft also is poking Pandora and Nokia Music+ in this version by allowing users to launch a new "station" based on a specific artist or music genre. [Full story: Venture Beat]

Lou Reed: MP3s Reduce Music To Lowest Common Denominator

"MP3s [are] a really miserable sounding thing...people don't understand what they are missing." That's the word from legendary rock musician Lou Reed (left), who told an audience at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity that commercial digital music on both aesthetic and financial grounds "sounds like s**t...it's been reduced to the lowest common denominator." Comparing his most recent royalty check of $2.60 to what he was paid playing in a bar at age 14, he said, "I understand young people were brought up on downloading, and Steve Jobs tried to make it into some kind of business which benefits Apple, but you get about a sixteenth of a penny (for each song). You used to make a record but they reduced the size of it and put it in this plastic that breaks immediately ... You realize they are really (messing) with you, so people didn't want to pay for anything. But meanwhile the musician doesn't get paid anything. Now making a record is kind of a promotional thing." [Full story: Spin]

Vadio Turns Radio Station Playlists Into Real-Time Video Feed

In the 34 years since The Buggles released the single "Video Killed The Radio Star," the phrase has become an overworked cliché, but a new company known as Vadio might actually have a platform that could "save" traditional AM/FM radio. The start-up company has developed a way to provide virtually any radio station a feed of music videos, complete with DVR-like catch-up functionality. The idea is quite simple: Vadio is partnering with radio stations to get real-time access to song titles as they air, and the digital player - which is embedded on the station's website or made available through mobile apps - then pulls in the music video for the song from Vevo or YouTube. The result is a curated list of music videos that mirrors what's playing on air (up to a point, since videos aren't necessarily the same length as a record), along with a list of videos that previously aired so users can go back and watch songs that played half an hour ago. The company has deals in place with a number of radio networks, and Virgin Radio signed up just last week. [Full story: Giga Om]
Al Bell Presents American Soul Music ... And American Soul TV

If you're into classic and contemporary Soul, R&B, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Hip-Hop Soul, Rap Soul, and Neo-Soul, we invite you to listen to Al Bell Presents American Soul Music. Former Stax Records owner and Motown Records Group President Al Bell personally has programmed this awesome radio station online, presenting your favorites from the 1960s and '70s [and some '80s], a lot of the best new music that's being released today, and some real gems you haven't heard in a long, long time. Come to www.AlBellPresents.Com and hear it for yourself!

And now...join us for Al Bell Presents American Soul TV here.