"God Bless Him."

John Feal, Zadroga Bill Leader, Upon Learning Of Arthur Schwartz’ Plan for Advocates for Justice’s 9-11 Victims Compensation Work Says: “God Bless Him.”
Advocates for Justice Zadroga work gets written up in the Chief-Leader, New York City’s public employee weekly paper. John Feal, the principal organizer to get the Zadroga Bill passed, gives his blessing.

Veteran Union Lawyer Pegs Public-Interest Firm to Zadroga Bill

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2011 5:00 pm


The Chief

John Feal commenting on Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice

JOHN FEAL: Legal representation a must.

For the 9/11 community, the Zadroga bill will mean financial relief and necessary health care. For one labor lawyer, it presents an opportunity to expand his practice by offering long-term service in the public interest.

In a Manhattan office crammed with legal files, Arthur Schwartz recently laid out his plans for a non-profit public-interest law firm whose initial focus will be on helping people file claims for the Victim’s Compensation Fund and health benefits under the World Trade Center Health Program.

“Although there are a number of public-interest law firms around the country, maybe 20 of them are substantial,” he said, referring to those firms with more than five attorneys on staff.

New Firm Flows Out Of Work  for  ACORN

Mr. Schwartz has spent 30 years as a labor lawyer, handling cases for dozens of unions, including the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and several District Council 37 locals. Much of his time over the last few years was spent with the now-defunct advocate for low-income families, ACORN. Once it fell apart, Mr. Schwartz saw an opportunity to form a new public-interest firm, Advocates for Justice.
“What sparked forward motion on it was the Zadroga bill,” he said. “It clicked.”
Attorneys at Advocates for Justice will help people navigate the benefit processes under Zadroga. Once they have collected their fee, they will “tithe” a percentage of it back into the organization to get it up and running.
The organization’s mission, according to its website, is to “reach out broadly to the affected community,” which, in addition to first-responders, includes residents, professionals and students who lived, worked or went to school in the radius of the toxic dust cloud. “It is our belief that many in this group would fail to avail themselves of the opportunities to be medically monitored or to make application for benefits without the involvement of a public-interest based educational effort, and a community organization and union based effort to encourage broad involvement,” the web site states.

More Eligible for Zadroga

Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice

ARTHUR SCHWARTZ: Reaching beyond first-responders.

Mr. Schwartz said one of the biggest issues is educating residents and workers about their rights to health care and compensation under the bill. In addition to working with unions and other worker  organizations, they plan to do educational outreach for residents and workers in the areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn that were affected.

“Everybody’s considered a survivor who went down there,” said Mike Kenny,a member of the Advocates for Justice Board and the vice president of Civil Service Technical Guild Local 375 of District Council 37, which was once represented by Mr. Schwartz. “The EPA said it was safe to be there and people went back to work and back to live.”
Mr. Kenny advocated for the Zadroga bill, and also testified at a subcommittee in 2006 on his seven months working on the pile. He said such testimony changed minds. “It made it real. It wasn’t just special interests yelling,” he explained. He lobbied for the bill in Washington, DC with John Feal, founder of the Feal Good Foundation, an advocacy group for 9/11 responders.

Advocacy Continues

Mr. Feal is already fielding hundreds of calls and e-mails from first-responders seeking advice on how to manage the Zadroga claims process. He is also launching outreach efforts through the Feal Good Foundation, and when he heard of Mr. Schwartz’s plan, he said, “God bless him.”
The foundation has already identified six law firms it feels are qualified to help 9/11 victims, and attorney Sean Riordan helps connect people to them. Mr. Feal said that legal counsel is important when it comes to receiving assistance through Zadroga.
“I recommend every responder, every member of Lower Manhattan, every survivor group get legal representation before they go before the Special Master,” he said.
Mr. Feal plans to hold a forum with Citibank in March to help 9/11 responders decide how best to manage money they receive from the fund. He has also advised some people with minor illnesses to wait and see if they develop something more serious, since payments from the fund are a one-time shot. “This is it. This is the rest of your life,” he said. “But it’s hard to try to tell somebody to wait when they’ve been waiting for nine years.”

Awaiting Claims Process

Everyone is now waiting for the appointment of the Special Master, who will administer all the guidelines and programs associated with the bill. Mr. Feal said, “We need the program up and running so people can have questions answered.”
Once the fund is opened and a claims process established by the Special Master, things will be more hectic for the Advocates for Justice attorneys working out of Mr. Schwartz’s office. “It’s really about advocating and putting people’s claims together in a way that’s beneficial,” Mr. Schwartz said, adding that it’s still going to take time. “My guess is that the [VCF] claims process doesn’t open for six months,” he said. “Last time, most people got paid in two years.”
Mr. Schwartz wants Advocates for Justice to work on issues including civil rights, consumer protection, and environmental justice—but it all begins with Zadroga.
“I’m hoping that if we’re successful, it can grow this public-interest law firm into something that services lots of people,” he said.
For more information, please go to www.advocatesforjustice.net.


Community Residents and Those Who Worked Below Houston Street or Went To School in That Area Can Apply for Compensation Under the Zadroga 9-11 Victims Compensation Act

Community Residents and Those Who Worked Below Houston Street or Went To School in That Area Can Apply for Compensation Under the Zadroga 9-11 Victims Compensation Act

In response to some confusion about who is covered by the compensation provisions of the Zadroga bill (and the medical monitoring provisions) Congressman Nadler asked the Congressional Research Service to address the issue about whether community residents, and those who went to school and worked below Houston Street were covered. Reprinted below is the CRS’ response. Advocates for Justice will be processing claims from such people. Use the “Contact me” box on the right side of this blog post.

From the Congressional Research Service:

Are NYC residents who were in the vicinity of Ground Zero eligible?

The WTCHP is required to provide benefits to eligible survivors. Survivors are persons who may have

been affected by these attacks because they lived, worked, or attended school in areas near the sites of

these attacks.

According to the Act, the following groups of survivors are eligible for the WTCHP:

Persons currently eligible for medical treatment and monitoring by the WTC Health

Center (referred to as currently identified survivors).

Persons who claim symptoms of a WTC-related health condition and who meet eligibility

criteria relating to specific dates and locations of activities on and after September 11,

2001 (referred to as survivors who meet current eligibility criteria). A complete list of

eligibility criteria for these responders is provided in Appendix II to this memorandum.

Survivors who meet additional eligibility criteria established by the Program

Administrator (referred to as survivors who meet modified eligibility criteria).

A certified-eligible WTC survivor is an eligible survivor who is certified by the Program Administrator to

be eligible for follow-up monitoring and treatment. As noted earlier, there is a limit of 25,000 certifiedeligible

WTC survivors. This limit does not include currently identified survivors. The Program

Administrator will also limit certifications to ensure sufficient funds are available to provide treatment

and monitoring, and will prioritize certifications based on the order in which a person applies.

The full CRS Question and Answer format report cab be found at:


A Billion Dollar A Year Racket

“Wage theft” is not just a slogan. When a worker is not paid the stautory minimum wage, or the rate in his or her union contract, and the money is kept by the employer, it is theft. As Make the Road New York reports below, it is a billion dollar a year racket. New York law recently enacted increases the penalties. Advocates for Justice is going after Food Fare, in conjunction with New York Communities for Change and RWDSU.

December 14, 2010

Stunning Win for Workers Across New York State!

By  Make the Road New York Staff / Make the Road New York

On December 13, Governor Paterson signed into law the historic Wage Theft Prevention Act (WTPA), landmark legislation that will significantly increase penalties and improve enforcement of the New York State laws protecting workers from wage theft.

Sadly, Wage Theft is rampant in New York – in NYC alone, unscrupulous employers steal more than $18.4 million a week, almost $1 billion each year, from their workers by cheating them out of the minimum wages and overtime benefits they are due. Penalties for this all-too-common practice have been so low that there is a perverse incentive to steal your workers’ wages – it costs less, even if you eventually get caught, than paying people what is required by law. Law-abiding businesses are put at a disadvantage when their competitors are reducing costs by stealing workers’ pay.

The Wage Theft Prevention Act will change that by increasing penalties, increasing protection for workers who speak up, and adding tools that the Department of Labor and Courts can use to investigate cases and actually collect the money that workers are owed. MRNY drafted the WTPA, and led a strong community-labor coalition to pass the bill. (Read more in the NY Times, NY Daily News, Village Voice, and see below for list of key allies who helped make this victory a reality.)

Workers, like MRNY member Luis Olivo, who worked at the Fine Fare supermarket in the Bronx for more than seven years as a bagger – for more than thirteen hours a day, six days a week for pocket change and tips – will now have the law behind them when they stand up for their dignity and demand that their employers follow the law. Read more about Luis’ story in the Daily News.

MRNY wants to thank all of the hard-working friends and allies without whom this victory would not have been possible: State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblyman Carl Heastie, UFCW Local 1500, and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) formed the core of our steering committee. But the strength of this coalition was also the breadth of organizations driving and supporting the work:

  • Labor allies like the Working Families Party, SEIU Local 32BJ, the New York State AFL-CIO, New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council, 1199 SEIU, the Laborers International Union, and the Mason Tenders PAC.
  • Community partners and advocates like New York Communities for Change, the Drum Major Institute, NYCOSH, New York Jobs with Justice/Urban Agenda, Hispanic Federation and the NYS Stimulus Alliance.
  • New York City leaders like City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Brad Lander, and Margaret Chin.
  • NYS Senators Jose Peralta, Toby Ann Stavisky, John Sampson and Martin Dilan.
  • NYS Assembly Members Hakeem Jeffries, Rory Lancman, Jeffrion Aubry, Brian Kavanagh, Cathy Nolan, Richard Gottfried and Speaker Sheldon Silver.
  • Wage and hour experts at the National Employment Law Project, New York State Trial Lawyers Association, Outten and Golden LLP, Urban Justice Center-Community Development Project, Workers Rights Law Center, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, MFY Legal Services, Inc., and the Legal Aid Society.
  • Business leaders like those at Morton Williams Supermarkets and Small Business United.

Congressional Efforts To Suppress Voter Registration of the Poor Based On ACORN Fallacies

The run-up to the 2008 US Presidential Election saw one of the largest organized efforts ever to register poor, and previously disenfranchised voters. Those efforts were in line with national policy developed after the horrors of the 2000 election, embodied in the National Voter Registration Act, which Advocates for justice has sued to enforce. The 2008 efforts, led by the now defunct group ACORN, were wildly successful, which is why they were attacked so viciously – and falsely – as an effort to promote voter fraud.  Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has kicked off an effort to make it harder, perhaps impossible, to do large scale voter registration ever again. And he is stating that he is proposing the legislation to prevent "another ACORN." Fact is, as is so vividly pointed out in the accompanying article posted on the Media matters website, ACORN has been cleared of all allegations of complicity in voter fraud, most recently in Connecticut.  See http://www.necn.com/02/03/11/Conn-board-clears-ACORN-of-voter-fraud/landing_nation.html?&blockID=3&apID=38308c7ae68b45c886df84cf45030fa4

Posted on Media Matters
3 Feb 2011

Sen. Vitter’s Legislation Combats Non-Issue Of ACORN’s Voter Fraud

February 01, 2011 4:09 pm ET

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced two pieces of legislation: the "Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act" and the "Voter Fraud Prevention Act." Both of these bills are based upon popular conservative inflations of non-issues. Contrary to Vitter’s allegations, there is no evidence that ACORN perpetrated any kind of systematic voter fraud; instead, there have been just six cases since 2005 involving individual ACORN employees accused of voter registration fraud — a crime extremely unlikely to spawn any actual voter fraud during an election. Voter fraud itself is extremely rare: a five-year effort by the Bush administration turned up virtually no evidence of any widespread voter fraud.

CLAIM: ACORN Was Responsible For "Systematic Fraud"

Sen. David Vitter press release:

U.S. Sen. David Vitter last week introduced the Voter Fraud Prevention Act and the Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act, which seek to protect taxpayers and the democratic process itself from the type of systemic fraud perpetrated by ACORN and related organizations in recent years. […]
"In order to prevent ACORN from perpetrating another fraud on the American taxpayer, we must aggressively focus on the various ACORN state chapters and subsidiaries who have adopted new names in an attempt to defraud the system," said Vitter. "ACORN has a well-documented history of hiding behind various nonprofit protections in order to conceal their schemes, and my bill will ensure that American taxpayers are protected from ACORN and its numerous mutating state chapters." [Vitter press release, 1/31/11, emphasis added]

FACT: There Was No "Systematic" Voter Fraud — Only Isolated Incidents Of Voter Registration Fraud

Government Watchdog: No Viable Cases Of Fraud By ACORN Itself — Just Six Cases Of Voter Registration Fraud By Employees. From a report by the Government Accountability Office:

In the closed matters, closed investigations, and prosecutions since fiscal year 2005 provided by the FEC, the FBI, and EOUSA, ACORN and four potentially related organizations (Project Vote, Citizens Consulting, Inc., Citizen Services Inc., and SEIU Local 100) or their employees were involved to varying degrees in the investigated allegations, as detailed in the tables below.  The allegations involved generally related to voter registration fraud and election fraud. IGs can also conduct investigations to determine whether an organization or individual violated federal law. However, of the 31 IGs that we contacted, 29 stated that they had no ongoing or closed investigations of ACORN or potentially related organizations since fiscal year 2005. […]
The FEC identified four closed matters that involved allegations that ACORN or potentially related organizations violated the Federal Election Campaign Act.
For each of these matters, the FEC determined that there was no evidence that such violations occurred. These matters are summarized in table 5. EOUSA and the FBI identified six closed investigations, most concerning allegations of voter registration fraud on the part of ACORN employees.  Of the six investigations, all were closed without federal prosecutorial action for reasons such as lack of, or insufficiency of, evidence.  These investigations are summarized in table 6.
EOUSA identified six closed cases that involved employees of ACORN.  The charges filed did not allege wrongdoing by ACORN or any potentially related organizations. The six cases generally involved alleged voter registration fraud; all but one of these cases resulted in a guilty plea by the defendant. These cases are summarized in table 7. [Government Accountability Office, 6/14/10, emphasis added]

TPM: A Few ACORN Employees Cheated On Voter Registration — But ACORN Often Turned Them In. From Talking Points Memo: "ACORN registers lots of lower income and/or minority voters. They operate all across the country and do a lot of things beside voter registration. What’s key to understand is their method. By and large they do not rely on volunteers to register voters. They hire people — often people with low incomes or even the unemployed. This has the dual effect of not only registering people but also providing some work and income for people who are out of work. But because a lot of these people are doing it for the money, inevitably, a few of them cut corners or even cheat. So someone will end up filling out cards for nonexistent names and some of those slip through ACORN’s own efforts to catch errors. (It’s important to note that in many of the recent ACORN cases that have gotten the most attention it’s ACORN itself that has turned the people in who did the fake registrations.) These reports start buzzing through the right-wing media every two years and every time the anecdotal reports of ‘thousands’ of fraudulent registrations turns out, on closer inspection, to be either totally bogus themselves or wildly exaggerated." [Talking Points Memo, 10/10/08, emphasis added]

  • ACORN Workers Charged With Voter Registration Fraud In Missouri Were Fired, Turned In By ACORN. According to KMBC.com: "ACORN officials in Kansas City said they turned in the four people who were indicted. ‘We’re very happy that they were indicted,’ said Claudie Harris with ACORN. Harris said ACORN workers are paid by the hour and not by the number of voter registration cards they turn in. ‘When you fraudulently defraud this, that gives us a bad name and what we’re trying to do a bad name,’ Harris said. ACORN officials said the four indicted have been fired." [KMBC.com, 11/1/06]
  • No Reports Of Fraudulent Registrations Actually Being Used To Vote In Missouri. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in Missouri, "the wrongdoers were an isolated few registration workers, and despite the skepticism of some that registration fraud occurs only to let ineligible people vote fraudulently, there are no reports of which we are aware that any votes were cast using any fraudulent registration connected to the drive." [Brennan Center for Justice, accessed 7/7/10]

Allegations Of Voter Fraud Part Of Systematic Effort To Discredit ACORN. From Huffington Post: "Since 2000 ACORN’s effort to register millions of poor, minority voters, a time-honored way of bringing disenfranchised people into the American democratic process, put it squarely in the crosshairs of the Republican Party. Determined to destroy ACORN as a threat to the GOP, White House political director Karl Rove led an effort to get U.S. attorneys to file bogus ‘voter fraud’ charges against the community group. When one of them, a Republican, David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico refused, Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, fired him – an abuse of power that cost Gonzalez his job once his brazen behavior became public. This month, the House Judiciary Committee released over 5,000 pages of White House and Republican National Committee e-mails, with transcripts of closed-door testimony by Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. The documents reveal that Rove directed the sacking of U.S. Attorneys who found no evidence to indict ACORN." [Huffington Post, 9/25/09]
GAO: No Evidence ACORN Mishandled Federal Grants. From Huffington Post: "On Monday, June 14, a preliminary probe by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of ACORN has found no evidence the association or related organizations mishandled the $40 million in federal money they received in recent years. A review of grants by nine federal agencies found no problems with ACORN’s grants." [Huffington Post, 6/15/10]

CLAIM: There Have Been "A Significant Number Of Voter Fraud Cases" That Threaten "The Right To Free Elections"

Sen. David Vitter press release:

"In the past few years, a significant number of voter fraud cases committed by ACORN and others have come to light, and these are cause for grave concern because the right to free elections is one of our country’s most cherished freedoms," said Vitter. "Voter fraud threatens that right, and individuals or organizations that attempt to manipulate the system to bring about their own desired result should be stopped before they upend our electoral process."
Vitter’s bill would help prevent voter fraud by requiring that individuals engaged in the distribution of voter application forms cannot be convicted felons, must sign and print legibly their name on the registration form and must include other identifying material – including the name of any organization that they are working on behalf of. Further, the bill requires that these individuals certify – under penalty of law – that they haven’t received financial compensation based on the number of forms they submit. [Vitter press release, 1/31/11]

FACT: No Evidence Of Widespread Voter Fraud

Five-Year Effort By Bush Administration Did Not Find Widespread Incidences Of Voter Fraud. According to the New York Times: "Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year. … A handful of convictions involved people who voted twice. More than 30 were linked to small vote-buying schemes in which candidates generally in sheriff’s or judge’s races paid voters for their support." [New York Times4/12/07]

Most Voter Fraud Cases Dealt With Unintended Mistakes And Errors. According to the New York Times: "Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show. In Miami, an assistant United States attorney said many cases there involved what were apparently mistakes by immigrants, not fraud. In Wisconsin, where prosecutors have lost almost twice as many cases as they won, charges were brought against voters who filled out more than one registration form and felons seemingly unaware that they were barred from voting." [New York Times4/12/07]

An Individual Is As Likely To Commit Voter Fraud As He Is To Be Hit By Lightning. According to the Brennan Center for Justice: "evidence from the microscopically scrutinized 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time. The similarly closely-analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%. National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often." [Brennan Center for Justice, 2007]

Brennan Center For Justice: Voter Fraud Is So Rare Because Its Risks Are Much Greater Than Its Rewards. According to the Brennan Center for Justice: "[V]oter fraud is extraordinarily rare. In part, this is because fraud by individual voters is a singularly foolish and ineffective way to attempt to win an election. Each act of voter fraud in connection with a federal election risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, in addition to any state penalties. In return, it yields at most one incremental vote. That single extra vote is simply not worth the price." [Brennan Center for Justice, 2007]

Defend Planned Parenthood From ACORN-Like Attacks

In late January, a right-wing activist, faux journalist, named Lila Rose, released a series of videos designed to destroy Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s foremost providers of family planning to poor people. The method she used was similar to that employed by her friend James O’Keefe in his videos of various ACORN staffers released in September 2009. She had actors approach isolated staff memebers, describe themselves as involved in prostitution, and ask for advice.  Like ACORN, Planned Parenthood reported the visits to law enforcement. Hopefully, unlike ACORN (which I was General Counsel to when the doctored O’Keefe films came out) the progressive and liberal community will rally around Planned Parenthood.  Already bills have been introduced in the US House of Representative’s to end all federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

The two reports belwo were posted on the Media Matters website.

HOAX VIDEO EXPOSED: Planned Parenthood Already Reported "Sex Trafficking" To FBI

February 01, 2011 11:57

by Jeremy Schulman


Today, anti-abortion rights propagandist Lila Rose released her latest in a series of heavily edited videos seeking to demonstrate that Planned Parenthood engages in criminal activities. Rose’s organization, Live Action, claims their video exposes what they call "Planned Parenthood’s cover-up of child sex trafficking."

Except that isn’t what the video shows at all.

Rather, the Live Action video shows edited comments made by a single Planned Parenthood employee. Live Action has so far refused to publicly release the full video of the incident, instead posting what the organization itself admits is an "abridged 11-minute video." (Live Action claims they are "sending full footage" to law enforcement officials.) [UPDATE: Live Action subsequently released what they say is the full video.]
Is Live Action accurately portraying the Planned Parenthood employee’s statements and actions? It’s impossible to say for sure without the full video, but there is good reason for media to be skeptical. Lila Rose, after all, began infiltrating abortion clinics in collaboration with James O’Keefe — a convicted criminal who repeatedly lied about his heavily edited ACORN videos. Rose herself has a history of smearing the subjects of her videos.
But even if Live Action’s video doesn’t take the employee out of context, the incident obviously doesn’t show Planned Parenthood covering up child sex trafficking. That’s because Planned Parenthood has already reported the "potential sex trafficking" to law enforcement officials.
On January 24, Planned Parenthood released the following statement, titled "Planned Parenthood Informs Federal Authorities of Potential Sex Trafficking" [emphasis in original]:

Last week, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) alerted federal authorities to a potential multistate sex trafficking ring.  Over a five day period, visitors to Planned Parenthood health centers in six states said they were seeking information from Planned Parenthood about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring.  Subsequent to alerting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Planned Parenthood learned the identify of one of those involved and believes these visits are likely a hoax by opponents of legal abortion seeking to discredit Planned Parenthood, which delivers preventive health care and abortion services to three million women each year.

Men, sometimes accompanied by a woman, have visited at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states within a one-week time frame.  During their visits, they claimed to be involved in sex trafficking of teens, some of whom are in the United States illegally.  These men appeared at health centers without appointments and said that they were seeking health services for themselves, but they quickly turned the conversation to the sex ring they said they were managing. 

"When Planned Parenthood learns of an operation that exploits young women, we vigilantly work with law enforcement authorities to uncover and stop this abhorrent activity," said Stuart Schear, PPFA vice president for communications.  "Planned Parenthood’s top priority is the health and safety of our patients and the health and well-being of women and teens across the country, and we have been in contact with federal and local authorities to identify the persons involved in these visits."

One of the men involved in these visits has now been identified, and he appears to be associated with or influenced by Live Action, an anti-Planned Parenthood organization that uses surreptitious videotaping and manipulative editing for media and political campaigns.  The pattern of these visits and the highly unusual nature of the information being shared with staff lends credibility to the possibility that these multistate visits are part of this organization’s ongoing effort to "bring down" Planned Parenthood, a nearly 100-year-old organization with more than 800 health centers from coast to coast.  Live Action is associated with James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who was arrested for attempting to wiretap the offices of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
In recent years Planned Parenthood has been the target of activists attempting to portray the organization negatively by secretly videotaping inside health centers and publicizing heavily edited versions of those tapes to the media.  Recent incidents are the first time that such visitors have told Planned Parenthood staff that they are involved in sex trafficking of minor girls.

"If a multistate sex trafficking operation is in place, those responsible must be pursued to stop the exploitation of girls and young women," said Schear.  "If these visits are part of a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign, they must be condemned.  Falsely claiming sex trafficking to health professionals to advance a political agenda is an astoundingly cynical form of political activity."

All Planned Parenthood staff have been alerted to the suspicious visits, and Planned Parenthood is working with FBI investigators and local authorities.

Last week, the AP reported that "Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder summarizing the visits and requesting an FBI investigation. If the man’s assertions were true, she wrote, they would indicate possible violations of federal laws dealing with interstate sex trafficking of minors. … Schear said there had been some preliminary contacts with the FBI, which was asking for information from the clinics that were visited.
Planned Parenthood reported the potential sex trafficking to the Attorney General and the FBI. So clearly, Planned Parenthood wasn’t trying to cover anything up.

ABC: No Wrongdoing By Planned Parenthood Worker In Lila Rose’s Latest Video

February 03, 2011

by Shauna Theel

ABC reported on the latest video released by Lila Rose’s anti-abortion activist group Live Action, saying that "the Richmond clinic worker "appears to act professionally and appropriately, informing the couple of their legal rights to privacy under the law" and "the legal guidelines for a minor seeking an abortion."
From an article titled "Abortion Activists Attempt to Discredit Planned Parenthood with Second Video: Latest ‘Live Action’ Undercover Film Lacks Bombshell Quality of Earlier Release":

The new video was shot Jan. 12 and features the same staged scenario involving a man and woman posing as sex workers and inquiring about sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, birth control options and abortions for underage girls.
But unlike the first video, the Richmond clinic worker appears to act professionally and appropriately, informing the couple of their legal rights to privacy under the law, regardless of their backgrounds.
"We see people from, um, every walk of life," said the clinic worker. "So, no judgment, no sharing of information, like, uh, nothing here."
The worker also laid out legal guidelines for a minor seeking an abortion, including the requirement of parental consent or permission from a judge before one can be performed.
"Our new video shows their Richmond clinic willing to aid and abet the sexual exploitation of minors and coaching a pimp about how girls as young as 14 — 15 could circumvent parental consent laws for secret abortions," said Live Action founder Lila Rose, a former associate of controversial conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe.
Rose has asked state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to investigate the centers to make sure they are compliant with state law. Cuccinelli’s office said it had not yet received the letter.
Many states, including Virginia, require medical professionals to report evidence of alleged sex crimes involving minors. Planned Parenthood said its Virginia clinic employee immediately did so in this case.

Cathy Black? Because Larry Flynt Wasn't Available

The controversy over NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s selection of Cathy Black isn’t just a dry debate over what makes someone qualified to be the head of a one million student school system.  The nominee’s work with respect to children is extremely relevant, and in Blacks’s case that includes the material she published for high school age girls to read. The blog below, by Jim Horn, which reproduces an Op-Ed piece by David Berliner titled "Soft Core Porn and the Crisis of School Leadership" presents the picture in stark terms.

from: Schools Matter

January 26, 2011

Why Bloomberg Picked Cathie Black: Larry Flynt Was Not Available
by Jim Horn

Until David Berliner wrote the op-ed below, "Soft Core Porn and the Crisis of School Leadership," I had never considered Cathie Black an educator, but educator she has been for teens and wives around the world, I now realize.  Her flagship pub, Cosmopolitan, still beckons (if you find drugged anorexics alluring) from the the checkout stand of every supermarket, with a new collection of articles each month on how to be an inventive whore for your husband or your man in order to keep him from going to whores he would, otherwise, have to pay for.

Offering an on-going seminar, you might say, on domestic tranquility through womanly debasements, Black’s Hearst publications, including, Seventeen, are educational mainstays in how to appear weaker and dumber than your man while keeping him wrapped around your gilded cage panting to get in.  Cathie’s mags have offered educational guidance on female preening and posturing and manipulation for generations of women who are now sending their children to schools that Cathie runs.  To call her a non-educator is clearly wrong-headed, and for my earlier angry grousing on the matter, I sincerely apologize to her and to her patron, Prince Mike.

With that preface, Dr. Berliner:

Tuesday 25 January 2011

by: David C. Berliner, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed


I must state at the start of this essay that I am no prude, no Victorian. In fact I am generally quite tolerant of contemporary mores in the area of sexuality. But I have my limits. I still expect my school leaders to behave with sobriety, to be prudent, to not push the limits of our secular and permissive society and to model more of what might be called traditional American values. Although I choose to live my personal life according to more modern and secular values, I do not see my position to be hypocritical. I think modern youth needs some grounding in prudence, restraint and responsibility, before their involvement in the difficult work of becoming a responsible young adult in our tumultuous times. Perhaps this belief is shared by others and is why there is such a furor over the new MTV show "Skins." The blatant sexuality of the young people in this TV show, understandably, is scandalizing many of those who worry about the moral behavior of our youth. But for some reason they let another questionable event go without protest.


For reasons I don’t understand, the chairman of a large corporate entity that publishes salacious material was selected to be the leader of a major American school system. I always had considered some of this business leaders’ publications akin to soft-core pornography. Thus, I wondered about the propriety of this person’s appointment to lead a school system and the lack of attention to the persons publication record. The new school leader in question, while in business, published magazines with suggestive photos and articles. For example, highly sexualized, barely clothed woman stare out at you from some of the chairman’s best known publications. The women often have what on the street would be called a "come hither look." Often these women are in intimate positions. Some pictures suggest bondage by the woman, to please a man.

This chairman/now school leader has published prose like this:

Mikayla felt his lips trail down the side of her neck. Her body stated tingling with anticipation. He caressed one nipple with his tongue, then the other….

He pressed his hands between her thighs, spreading her legs. She moaned as he gripped the band of her silk panties and pulled them down….

Nik led her to the bed…. Then suddenly his mouth was on her, exploring her with his tongue as he gripped her ankles with his hands.

A month later another one of the publications of the chairman/now school leader included this:

His hands, hardened and callused … ran up her thighs, until he reached her panties. She felt a quick tug and heard a ripping sound, then felt his fingers, gentle and tender, finding her, stroking her and bringing her to higher and higher levels of pleasure.

…. He entered her slowly, deeply, but then pulled back out. He groaned with pleasure.

"Please" was all she could utter.

In what genre might we classify the prose represented by these recently published excerpts from the chairman/now a school leader? Readers may disagree but I would label them "woman’s romance," soft-core pornography, or both.

On another page of a publication by the chairman/now school leader one woman tells us that the casual sex she engaged in was "so good, it was worth the guilt." One can question the wisdom of such advice to any young woman, but to teenagers still in school it is simply bad advice. In fact, in the advice realm, the chairman/now school leader seems quite enthusiastic about what is possible sexually.


For example, the chairman recommends the following as fun: That woman/girls choose a deserted corner of the parking lot and back in. Then put up their sunshade on the windshield and hang their jackets on the hooks over the back windows, so it’s harder for people to see in. The chairman then recommends: "Jump his bones." Other advice to spice up relationships include light whipping, or a new high-tech form for arousing a male partner, namely, texting pictures of your vagina via your cell phone to your boyfriend across the table while dining out. Apparently, when he checks his mail, his appetite is increased!


Other advice presented is from men to women. One guy says he liked it when his date undid her shoes under the table at a restaurant and gave him "a foot job under the table." Another reported "This girl was riding me in reverse cowboy when she stopped, leaned way forward and started sucking my toes." Still another told women what he liked about his ex-girlfriend: She would "put my whole package in her mouth. Then she would hum to create vibrations."


And we also learn from the horoscope in a publication of the chairman/now school leader that Aries men, in particular, are visual and thus would like to have sex doggie-style in front of a mirror. On the other hand, the chairman apparently believes that Taurus men would prefer woman to slowly lick down their chests and nibble their thighs, before ending up at their package. Gemini men, different than others, like to take the lead, so, ladies, bend over against a wall and have these gentlemen enter you from behind and let the Gemini guys set the pace and depth for themselves. Capricorn men are equality minded so, ladies, you might want to "Guide him into 69, with you on top, using your lips and tongues to trigger insane pleasure." And if you forget all these helpful hints the corporation headed by the chairman has an iPhone and an Android application offering you the sex position of the day, allowing your phone to choose your position!


Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up! As I stated at the start of this essay I am not personally offended by any of the text cited. What I do find distasteful is that women are presented as objects in these publications, apparently under the guise of making them powerful. To me, the major publications under the chairman, now a school leader, make objectification of women their theme. A smart business person like the chairman must understand that the stories told, the advice given and the photos that accompany them could be harmful to youth. That is probably why, stuck away in an obscure part of the publications from which I drew my illustrations and in small font, the chairman cautions "The models photographed … are used for illustrative purposes only: [This publication] does not suggest that the models actually engage in the conduct discussed in the stories they illustrate."


The former chairman, Cathleen Black, was recently appointed by Mayor Bloomberg of New York to be the Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools. By all accounts she is a successful businesswoman. Among other accomplishments she was chairman of the Magazine Division of Hearst publications, whose flagship magazine is Cosmopolitan. The examples I just provided of what Black has published for girls and young woman all come from the January and February 2011 issues of Cosmopolitan magazine, selling well on newsstands across the country right now.


Although many complained about the mayor’s appointment of Black because of her lack of knowledge about schooling, I was surprised there was no mention of the appropriateness of her appointment on the basis of her ethical and moral fitness to lead our schools. Doesn’t that count anymore? Where were America’s conservatives, such as Alan Bloom and Bill Bennett, when her appointment was announced? I expected them to be outraged. Where was the Christian right, when so clear a secularist and morally suspect person as Black was appointed? Why did Pat Robertson and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council give Black a free ride? Where were the critics, now attacking "Skins," when Black was appointed? Why weren’t critics pointing out that the success of Cosmo and other magazines over which Black has editorial responsibility (e. g. Seventeen, Marie Clair), is not based on their literary qualities, unless sexual titillation is the readers’ goal.


I am afraid that I see a difference only in degree, but not much of a difference in kind, between Black and two other successful publishers, Larry Flynt and Hugh Heffner. But they would never be allowed to interview for the job, despite equal records of business success. My question is this: Shouldn’t an appointment of this magnitude have generated more debate? Black’s lack of knowledge for the position of chancellor of the New York City schools is surely matched by the questionable moral values expressed in the publishing empire she headed. But debate about her lack of knowledge has been muted and debate about her moral fitness to lead the system has been virtually non-existent and that makes me angry.


Debate should have occurred. What Chancellor Black believes and does will, literally, affect the lives of millions of American teachers and students in New York and the nation. I am appalled that a position of this significance can be obtained without proper and public vetting of the candidates qualifications, especially when it is quite clear that her knowledge and her moral vision are both questionable. Although we have been told that mayoral control of the schools would aid in reforming them, it looks to me like mayoral control of the schools simply allows for the old New York patronage system to continue.

Advocates for Justice to Litigate NYC Schools Chancellor Waiver Appeal!

On February 4, Advocates for Justice files the appeal for a group of parents, led by NYS Assembly member Hakeem Jeffries, challenging the action by NYS Education Commissioner Neil Steiner granting a waiver to Cathy Black, Mayor (Emperor?) Bloomberg’s nominee for NYC Schools Chancellor, of various statutory requirements. Somehow, the Commissioner equated a successful business career with being qualified to be the Chief educator in the largest school system in the United States. The statement below, published by the Deny the Waiver Coalition at the outset of its litigation, still rings true.

Deny The Waiver Coalition Statement on
Cathy Black Waiver Allowing Her To Become
NYC Schools Chancellor

November 28, 2010
CONTACT: info@denywaiver.com
Mona Davids 917-340-8987
Chris Owens 646-450-3552
Noah Gotbaum 917-658-3213

Parents and Educators Announce Opposition to Steiner’s Chancellor “Compromise”
Today, Sunday, November 28th, a coalition of parents and educators announce their opposition regarding the “compromise” that New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner has brokered with City Hall appointing Ms. Cathleen Black as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education with Mr. Shael Polakow-Suransky designated to serve as Ms. Black’s Senior Deputy Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer.
Parents, educators, and elected officials challenge the validity of such a deal and announce they are considering legal action to ensure that Ms. Black’s waiver is denied.

“This compromise is not a compromise at all, but a very transparent and flimsy fig leaf that will allow Ms. Black to be in charge despite a complete lack of qualifications for the job,” said Mona Davids, President of the New York Charter Parents Association.
Lisa Donlan, a parent and President of Manhattan’s Community Education Council 1 added, “The deal brokered by Commissioner Steiner and Mayor Bloomberg satisfies neither the requirements of law nor those of our public schools. By requiring that a credentialed ‘number two’ serve alongside Ms. Black, the Commissioner has underlined the need for a Chancellor who actually meets the standards for training, experience and education set forth in the law – and the law does not allow for conditional waivers.”

The education and community leaders highlight critical facts. Recent public opinion polls document that New Yorkers have opposed the appointment of Ms. Black by a 2-to-1 margin. More than 13,000 parents, educators, and citizens have signed petitions against the waiver. Most importantly, Commissioner Steiner’s own advisory panel voted against granting the waiver.
“Rather than representing the people they serve, Commissioner Steiner and Mayor Bloomberg have dismissed democracy and highlighted the worst aspects of Mayoral control of schools through secretive back-room negotiations and an unacceptable outcome,” states Chris Owens, a parent and former Community School Board President in Brooklyn.

“The entire thrust of this administration’s reforms has shown a lack of respect for education, educators, and parents. This appointment exemplifies and is the culmination of that lack of respect,” says Noah Gotbaum, parent and President of Community Education Council 3 of Manhattan. “Why should the wishes of one autocratic billionaire supersede the needs of our children, the priorities of New Yorkers, and the wishes of stakeholders and the law?,” continues Gotbaum. “Last week, Commissioner Steiner and his committee stated unequivocally that Ms. Black did not possess the legal qualifications to become Chancellor. Other than a backroom deal with the Mayor to circumvent the law, parents are asking what has changed over the past seven days?”

Parent John Battis echoes this sentiment. “Commissioner Steiner himself, plus six out of the eight members of his committee clearly stated that Cathleen Black does not have the adequate qualifications to be Chancellor. A back room deal with the Mayor to get around the law, with a ‘Vice-Chancellor’ acting as Ms. Black’s tutor, does not magically provide the necessary qualifications nor does it do anything to change the Commissioner’s own admission that Ms. Black simply isn’t qualified for this important position.”

William McDonald, from Advocates for Change in Queens, states further, “Hundreds of New York City students were retained because the state adjusted the standards. We were told that far too many of our students are not college ready. This is the time when you bring in the best qualified person to take the helm. The New York State Education Commissioner telling the Mayor that his pick for Chancellor needs a Co-Chancellor loudly states that the wrong person was selected. Mayoral Control should not mean that the Mayor can hire anybody regardless of their qualifications. The Chancellor of the New York City school system should and must be the educational leader of the school system. The Chancellor has to stand on her or his own merits, not on the deeds of someone else. I am requesting that the New York State Education Commissioner not give a waiver, but inform Mayor Bloomberg that he must have a public and transparent search for the best qualified person for Chancellor. New York City students, parents and communities deserve the best, because the best will not need a waiver.”

Carmen Applewhite, New York City Public School Teacher and education advocate, continues, “To run the school system in New York City we must have a Chancellor with the proper credentials necessary to to do so. Mr. Steiner cannot approve the appointment of Cathie Black to such a complex position. If he does go forth with such a decision, Steiner will highlight the abuse of power by the Mayor’s Office, and he will undermine the credibility of the New York City Department of Education and the legitimacy of the Office of the New York City Schools Chancellor.”

Khem Irby, a parent in Brooklyn’s District 13, put the current controversy in context. “I think we need to look at the track record of the Commissioners of New York State. The previous Commissioner granted Joel Klein a waiver. We’re still suffering from the make-believe business model principals in some of our schools. Now we have another commissioner who is not strong enough to tell the Mayor that ‘the children of NYC must have a qualified educator at the helm.’ Ms. Black will not have the respect of the true educators and the students in our schools.”
Ms. Irby continues, “Commissioner Steiner should not continue in the same vein as his predecessor. The true message that he is sending, if he allows this, is, ‘I don’t care about the children of NYC.’ How can Cathie Black uphold Educational Law when at the same time she is allowed to break it? This is not the example we want to have before our children in NYC.”

“Ms. Black is not only unqualified, but Mr. Steiner and Mr. Bloomberg have usurped the law in order to push through a vision for our children and public education system that is contingent upon the leadership of business executives and the privileged few,” said Julie Cavanagh, an educator in Brooklyn. “Our children deserve one qualified Chancellor who will deal with the tough challenges our p
ublic school system faces; they deserve a Chancellor who has their interest at heart, not the interest of wealthy millionaires and billionaires.”

New Weapon To Fight Unsafe Housing

Many of the poor health conditions among New York’s poorer residents are illnesses caused by toxins in the buildings they live in. In January 2011 the NYC City Council adopted a model law giving tenmants a new tool, and more importantly, requiring government action when landlords don’t act.

NY City Council Targets Asthma Triggers with Housing Act

By  Rebecca Baird-Remba / All Media NY/ January 17, 2011

In an effort to improve some of the city’s most dilapidated buildings, the City Council last week expanded a housing program that forces landlords to make repairs to buildings with the most housing code violations.

The program, known as the Safe Housing Act, targets the city’s 200 worst buildings every year and forces landlords to make the required repairs. If the landlords don’t repair their buildings, the city makes the repairs and sends the landlords the bill.

With the expansion, the program will include twice as many apartment units by targeting larger buildings. It will also focus more closely on violations related to health issues such as mold, asthma, insects, and mice.

According to the NYC Department of Health, New York City has one of the highest hospitalization rates for asthma in the country, at twice the national average. Asthma is also the leading cause for hospitalization of children in New York City, with nearly 10,000 children hospitalized annually for asthma-related complications.

"Imagine if you were sick and every time you went home it made it worse," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "Unfortunately, that is what’s happening all over the city."

Despite extensive support for the program, it continues to lose money because the city fails to recoup much of the housing costs from the landlords. A spokesman from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said the city has spent $17 million to improve these buildings, but has only recouped $4.5 million.

In the three years since its creation, only a third of all participating landlords have “graduated” from the program, meaning they have successfully fixed their buildings. 2010 was the worst year to date, with only 57 landlords graduating from the program.

But city council members and tenant advocates consider that money an investment in the improvement of the city’s health and living conditions. Over 300,000 New Yorkers suffer from asthma, reports the Department of Health, and the asthma rates are highest in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, such as certain parts of Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx.

The asthma rate in Bushwick, Brooklyn is four times the city average, mostly due to poor housing conditions such as vermin and mold, according to Parvez Mir, head of the asthma clinic at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

"Asthma is [an] epidemic in low-income communities of color throughout our city, and this bill is an important step toward ending the impunity that is literally taking our children’s breath away," said Andrew Friedman, co-executive Director of the tenant advocacy group Make the Road New York, which helped pass the Safe Housing Act.

Under the program’s expansion, the city will now repair over 3,000 units annually, according to Make the Road New York.

Payday Loan Debt of 140,000 Wiped Out!

Advocates for Justice is focused on the mistreatment of consumers, particularly poor consumers, by the credit card and banking industry. Payday loans are a particularly pernicious form of exploitation by the credit industry. Public Justice, a public interest law firm based in Washington led a successful effort in North Carolina to wipe out the debts of 140,000 people.  It took six years!. These victories don’t come easily.

from Lawyers and Settlements.com

Debts Wiped Out for 140,000 Payday Loan Customers

September 27, 2010. By Brenda Craig

 It took six years, 17,000 billable hours, three law firms and three public justice
organizations, but in the end they managed to wrestle a payday loan company in North Carolina
into a settling with thousands of unhappy customers. “We have had great reaction from clients,”
says Paul Bland, with the Public Justice organization in Washington, DC. “The settlement was a
compromise. But we faced enormous legal challenges and we made the decision that this was a
good settlement compared to the risks going forward.”

The payday loan industry is notoriously hard-nosed and has deep pockets when it comes to
fighting lawsuits. However, Advance America, the largest payday lender in the US, agreed to pay
$18.5 million to settle a class action suit that argued it had contravened North Carolina’s state
usury laws. Class members—about 140,000 Advance America customers in North Carolina—will
get back at least some of the lending costs they paid out.

According to the suit, Advance America was charging
annual interest rates of somewhere between 350 and 500
percent. “We had one client, for example, who borrowed
$200. They made $2000 in payments to Advance America and still owed the principle,” says
Bland, who took or read at least 50 depositions in the case against Advance America and talked to
dozens of expert witnesses.

Although payday lending was declared illegal in North Carolina several years ago, Advance
America and many others continued to operate by creating an association with banks. In this case,
it was the Republic Bank.

A recent report by federal authorities cites payday loan industry’s association with both small and
large banks to avoid state regulations as a problem for consumers in the US. Paul Bland says it
amounts to banks essentially renting their charter for a fee.

“They aren’t actually taking any significant risks,” says Bland. “They aren’t underwriting the
loans; they are just lending their name to the payday lending company and then taking as much as
a 5 percent fee. Essentially, they’re operating as a shield. It’s a sham operation.
“Payday lending is a terrible financial product. It is almost like an addiction, like crack cocaine.
You get people taking out loans and they believe they are going to pay them off. By
overwhelming margins they can’t pay them off, and they end up on a debt treadmill.”
This treadmill for the North Carolina Advance America customers has finally stopped.

The Death of Juan Baten

One focus of our work at Advocates for Justice is to assist food industry workers who do back-breaking work for 60-70 hours per week, without earning overtime, without workers comp insurance, and without the rights granted to workers under the Labor Laws. As Daniel Gross reports in this February 2 piece, these workers, who we all rely on, are invisible, often undocumented, and grossly abused.

The Killing of Juan Baten

Death in a New York Food Sweatshop

When many people think of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it’s the fashionable boutiques, music scene, and hip bars that come to mind. But for thousands of recent immigrants, the eastern section of Williamsburg is where you go to find work in food processing and distribution factories that service many of New York City’s markets and restaurants. If you’ve ever eaten a meal in New York, you can be assured that you’ve consumed food that has been produced and distributed through one of these food companies and those in a few adjacent neighborhoods.

Hundreds of small and mid-sized food warehouses line an industrial corridor starting in East Williamsburg and Bushwick, and extending into the Ridgewood and Maspeth neighborhoods of Queens. Rice, seafood, hummus, soda, onions, tortillas, you name it; massive quantities of those products and everything in between is produced or packed in these factories and then delivered in bulk to restaurants and grocery stores before they end up on our plates. Though not widely-known, this in-between section of the food supply chain plays an absolutely critical role in getting us the food we all need to survive and thrive.


Despite the indispensable role they play, the workers at these food businesses, largely recent immigrants from Latin America and China, constitute an invisible workforce. Out of sight from the consuming public, employers in this industrial corridor often maintain what can be fairly characterized as sweatshop conditions. Wage theft, reckless disregard for the safety of workers, grueling shifts through the night, and abusive management are all common hardships facing workers in the sector. The work is heavy and exhausting, yet workers typically earn poverty wages and almost no one receives any health or retirement benefits.


It was in this industrial zone of food sweatshops that Juan Baten, the 22-year old father of a seven-month old daughter and a devoted husband, tragically lost his life. Mr. Baten, who lived in Brooklyn and was originally from Guatemala, worked at a tortilla factory called Tortilleria Chinantla in East Williamsburg. Last week, Mr. Baten was crushed and killed in a dough mixing machine. Mr. Baten’s workplace did not have a union and had never been inspected by OSHA, the federal workplace safety authority.


While it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions, troubling facts have emerged indicating that the Chinantla tortilla factory is not unlike many of the other food processing facilities in the Brooklyn-Queens industrial corridor. According to a report in El Diario, Mr. Baten worked incredibly long, twelve hour shifts, from six at night until six the next morning, six days a week. Regardless of what is uncovered in pending investigations, the length of those shifts alone, working through the night on dangerous equipment and with only one day off per week, should be enough to raise alarms. (The factory is currently closed by an order from the New York State Workers Compensation Board because of owner Erasmo Ponce’s criminal failure to pay for workers compensation coverage, the very coverage mandated to provide some financial protection to injured workers or to families of workers, like Juan Baten’s, in the event of workplace fatality.)


Many questions about Chinantla and Juan Baten’s death remain unanswered. What safety procedures and training did management have in place, if any? Was the factory sufficiently staffed so workers could meet demand at a safe speed? Was the equipment properly maintained?

Still, based on what is already known, I have no doubt that Juan Baten’s death could have been prevented. He should be with us today, working towards his dream of saving enough money to return to Guatemala with his wife and daughter. Instead, his family is left navigating a profoundly uncertain future with a deep wound in their hearts.


Sadly, it often takes a tragedy to open our eyes to issues normally kept safely out of sight and out of mind. Again, the conditions which likely contributed to Mr. Baten being killed are anything but uncommon. Indeed, they are typical of the food factories in the Brooklyn-Queens industrial corridor whose business models center on exploiting recent immigrant workers. The tragedy of Mr. Baten’s death will only be compounded if we treat it as an isolated case rather than a wake-up call to the systemic hardships facing workers along the food chain, mostly workers of color and immigrants.


The workers who work so hard to bring us the food we depend on to survive, often in unsafe conditions and through the night, need your support. Through workplace organizing, grassroots protests, and legal actions, a campaign called Focus on the Food Chain is helping a growing number of immigrant food workers in the Brooklyn-Queens corridor win improved working conditions and increased employer compliance with the law. But these fights always trigger fierce retaliation from employers and require robust worker and community support to win. To lend a hand through solidarity actions, financial support, or to share any other ideas you might have, please connect with the Focus campaign at http://tinyurl.com/focusonthefoodchain or focus@brandworkers.org

Together we can honor the life of Juan Baten, avoid more senseless loss of life, and ensure that this workforce never becomes invisible again.


Daniel Gross is an attorney and executive director of Brandworkers International, a non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees. Focus on the Food Chain is a joint campaign of Brandworkers and the NYC Industrial Workers of the World labor union.