In Human Rights News: November 16 - 22, 2013
In this week's Human Rights News we find issues related to worker's rights, the death penalty, Immigration detention facilities, marriage equality, transgender rights, abortion rights, homelessness, and the use of drones.
WALMART IN THE NEWS. Walmart featured prominently in the news this week with stories of federal prosecution, workers’ strikes, and a canned food drive that one store in Ohio is holding for its own employees. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced Monday that it will prosecute Walmart for violating workers’ rights. According to OUR Walmart, the group that has helped organize strikes, the company will be prosecuted for firing, threatening, and retaliating against workers for protest activities last year around Black Friday. Workers could potentially get back pay, jobs returned, and the reversal of disciplinary actions. Read more at the Huffington Post. On Wednesday, Walmart workers from seven stores in Dallas went on strike, calling on the company to pay all employees at least $25,000 a year, provide more full-time work, and stop retaliating against workers who attempt to strike or unionize. Read more about the strikes at Think Progress. On Friday, the Daily Beast rebuked Walmart (along with McDonald's) for being an “out and proud corporate Scrooge,” referring to the miserly character from A Christmas Carol. For this year's Black Friday, Our Walmart announced this week that Walmart workers and their supporters plan to hold 1,500 protests throughout the country. Dorian Warren, an expert on labor politics and a Columbia University associate professor, said that the day will "mark a turning point in American history." He continued, "Fifteen hundred protests against Walmart is unprecedented. Working families are fighting back like never before, and have the support of America behind them." Read more at Progress Illinois.
LABOR STANDARDS FOR TRUCK DRIVERS. Last Monday, approximately 100 port truck drivers from three major companies walked off the job at 5:00 AM in a coordinated effort to improve labor standards. Sarah Jaffe of In These Times reports that the port trucking industry, which transports cheaply made products from overseas, started a deregulation process in 1980 that has led to ports abdicating responsibility for labor practices, the safety of trucks, and air quality. For example, workers from one of the truck companies are considered independent contractors, meaning that their bosses can legally deduct operating costs from their paychecks. Meanwhile, they enjoy none of the benefits of independence like being able to set their own hours or work for different companies. Other companies pay their employees by the truckload, which puts pressure on them to work longer hours and means they receive no compensation for the time they spend waiting in line at the port breathing truck fumes. The strike was supported by the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, which includes labor groups such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Change to Win. Read more at In These Times.
LETHAL INJECTION CONTROVERSY. On Wednesday, Misourri executed a prisoner with drugs supplied by a loosely-regulated pharmacy that the state refuses to identify. Al Jazeera’s Ehab Zahriyeh reports that this event highlights the new lengths prisons are going to obtain lethal ingredients in the wake of drug manufacturers refusing to sell their products to execution states. It has led to corrections departments using little-tested and in some cases untested mixtures of chemicals from compounding pharmacies. Advocates opposed to the death penalty argue that the new lethal injection methods may be unconstitutional and could amount to torture. Brian Stull, capital punishment litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union, likened it to "reaching into the medicine cabinet to see what might work to kill a fellow human being.” He continued, “they have no idea the risks that this will entail an excruciating suffering process, and that’s strictly prohibited by our Constitution.” Read the complete article here.
SEXUAL ABUSE IN ICE DETAINMENT FACILITIES. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report this week that documents ICE's failure to report all sexual abuse and assault allegations that were made in their immigration detention facilities to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). GAO investigators went to ten facilities and were unable to find records for 40 percent of the allegations that detainees made to the facilities. ICE field officials did not report these allegations to DHS (as they are required to do) because they judged them to be unfounded or classified them as harassment rather than assault. Chris Daley, Deputy Executive Director of Just Detention International told Al Jazeera that the report indicates a deficient understanding of what constitutes sexual abuse and assault. The GAO report also suggests that incidents of sexual abuse and assault by staff may be underreported as immigration detainees may be hesitant to make claims against the same agency that has the power to deport them. Click here for the Al Jazeera article and here for the full GAO report.
LGBTQI RIGHTS. This week Illinois became the 16th U.S. state, and the largest in the Midwest, to legalize same-sex marriage. The new law is scheduled to take effect on June 1, 2014. Read more at Talking Points Memo. Harris County in Texas, home of the third largest county jail in the country, recently passed a law to protect the rights and safety of transgender people in prison. The new policy will allow housing to be determined by a person’s gender identity and ensure that transgender people are addressed by their chosen names in speech and documentation while incarcerated. In an interview with the Associated Press, Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that the move “represents a significant step forward.” She continued, “It is an issue of preventing violence, of meeting a state’s legal and moral responsibilities to keep people safe.” Read more at Salon. Also in Texas, the state National Guard has resisted granting ID cards to same-sex spouses through the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Requirement System (DEERS), the federal database where military personnel and their spouses must enroll to qualify for military benefits. This violates the state's obligation under federal law, which now requires same-sex spouses of military service members to be eligible for the same benefits afforded to opposite-sex military spouses. Read more at Al Jazeera.
ABORTION RIGHTS. The fight for reproductive justice saw both victory and defeat this week. Voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, struck down a measure on Tuesday that would have banned late-term abortions. “Today, Albuquerque voters respected women – and sent a clear message here and across the country that voters reject callous attempts to take away complex, personal decisions from women, their families, and their faith,” said Adriann Barboa of the Respect ABQ Women Steering Committee. Read more about the Albuquerque vote at Al Jazeera. That same day, the Supreme Court denied a request by abortion providers to block implementation of new regulations in Texas that have already prompted a dozen clinics in the state to stop performing abortions. The 5th Circuit is still scheduled to hear the lawsuit in January, but as dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, “The harms to the individual women whose rights [the law] restricts while it remains in effect will be permanent.” Read more about the Supreme Court's decision at the Washington Post.
HOMELESSNESS. Five-term State Representative Tom Brower (D-HI) made the news this week for his literal attacks against the homeless in Hiwaii. For the past two weeks, Brower has been roaming the streets with a sledgehammer he uses to destroy homeless people's property. He told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he has destroyed about 30 shopping carts so that homeless people could no longer use them to store and transport their possessions. He also took to waking up homeless people and telling them to sleep somewhere else. After an outpouring of criticism, especially from advocates of the homeless, Brower agreed to stop his sledgehammer rampage, although he remained "defiantly unrepentant" according to Think Progress. Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, was part of an email and telephone campaign that lobbied Brower to stop the attacks. "It was such a horrible example of vigilantism and terrorizing people who are the most vulnerable," she said. Read more at Global Post.
DRONE WARFARE. The second annual Drone Summit was held last weekend at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. In These Times reports that the summit had a “markedly international spirit” with speakers from countries targeted by drones such as Yemen and Pakistan as well as other countries that have used drones such as the United Kingdom and Germany. At a panel called “Pressuring the Government for Change,” Robert Naiman, policy director at Just Foreign Policy, talked about the public’s broad support of drone warfare. He told the audience that this support is based on two claims: that strikes specifically target high-level Al Qaeda figures; and, that civilian casualties are extremely uncommon. “A key reason we need to force out more information from the administration is so they have to defend these two claims on record, where they can be challenged,” Naiman said. The Monday after the conference, summit attendees went to Capitol Hill to lobby Senate offices. Their goal was to convince Congress to pass legislation that would force the Obama Administration to publicly release an annual report with information on the number of drone strike casualties each year. There is hope that such a bill can be attached as an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Read more at In These Times.