Sunday, September 4, 2016

Last Call For Off The Menu

As much as I liked eating there as there's one right near my apartment, it may be time to stick a fork in Chipotle, folks.  

Nearly 10,000 workers are suing Chipotle for allegedly cheating them on their pay.
Current and former Chipotle employees claim that the company made them work extra hours "off the clock" without paying them. It's a practice known as wage theft, and Chipotle is allegedly doing it all over the United States. 
"Chipotle routinely requires hourly-paid restaurant employees to punch out, and then continue working until they are given permission to leave," according to the class action lawsuit known as Turner v. Chipotle. It's named after a former Chipotle manager in Colorado, Leah Turner, who claims she had to work without pay and was told to make workers under her do the same in order to meet budget goals. 
Chipotle denies any wrongdoing and says the case has no merit. The company says it has paid all wages it owes employees. 
Briana Alexander is one of the nearly 10,000 workers who have joined the lawsuit. She worked at a Chipotle in Miami, Florida for about a year, starting in the fall of 2013.
"Behind the scenes, [Chipotle] is not always what it seems," Alexander told CNNMoney. "I can say I have worked off the clock." 
Alexander says she was forced to stay late numerous times at her store. If the workers weren't done by midnight or 12:30am, they were clocked out but told to keep working until the job was finished, even though they were no longer getting paid. Alexander also claims she worked 12-hour shifts on some days, but was clocked out after her shift time ended even though she actually continued to work on busy days. 
Chipotle has faced similar lawsuits before, but this is the first time there has been such a large class action case against the company for wage theft. As of Friday, 9,961 current and former workers have sent in consent forms to join the lawsuit. 
They come from about every state that Chipotle operates in, according to lawyer Kent Williams of Williams Law Firm, who is representing the employees in Turner v. Chipotle. 
"Chipotle has argued this is a few rogue managers who aren't following policy. Our view, especially given the number of people opting in, is that it's a systematic problem at Chipotle," says Williams.

And I know what the obvious criticism is from a Glibertarian standpoint: better to be working for stolen wages than to be unemployed and getting $0.  And yes, I'm sure Chipotle's response will be "Well we will have to cut jobs and close underperforming locations now" if they lose this case.

But at some point, cheating workers out of money they are owed is a problem that has to be addressed.  As an IT professional I've been subject to wage theft.  When the state of KY came to me looking for evidence I complied.

That company is still going and they've hired more.  Hopefully, they pay their new workers fairly.

I doubt it, though.

Duterte Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

Meanwhile in the Philippines, recently elected President Rodrigo Duterte, voted in on a "law and order platform" to apply the death penalty for drug pushers through , you know, illegal military death squads whenever possible, has responded to his first national terrorism crisis with the light, friendly version of outright martial law.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday declared a "state of lawlessness" in the country after 14 people were killed in a bomb blast at a night market in his home city.

Duterte's declaration came as the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group claimed responsibility for the late Friday attack that also injured 71 people, with the extremists warning of more attacks in the coming days.

The Philippine leader stressed that he had not declared martial law, but that the move would allow him to ask the military to conduct operations according to his instructions.

"These are extraordinary times," he told reporters during a visit before dawn at the site of the bomb attack in the southern city of Davao, where he used to be the mayor. "I can order soldiers to search premises."

Placing the country under a state of lawlessness empowers the president to call on the military to help the police in anti-crime operations.

In a statement, the office of the presidential spokesperson pointed out that the declaration has "limitations" as the president can only order the armed forces to quell violence.

Martial law can only be declared in certain situations, the statement continued. "Only if there is an invasion or a rebellion, and when public safety is at risk, can he (the president) suspend the writ of habeas corpus or declare martial law."

The statement called on Philippine citizens to be vigilant against "those who wish to create chaos."

Anyone want to take bets on how long before that declaration of martial law happens?  He's been in office for less than three months and he's running the classic military strongman playbook to an absolute T.

Since Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency of the Philippines eight weeks ago, the same scene has unfolded night after night in the slum neighborhoods of Manila: A shot rings out, and a person lies dead on the street with a cardboard sign laid next to him, scrawled with a single word: “Pusher.”

This is how Duterte’s war on drugs is playing out on the ground. It is a punitive campaign spurred by the president’s promises of immunity and even bounties to those who take drug users and traffickers “dead or alive.”Last week, the national police chief testified during a Senate inquiry that more than 1,900 people suspected of being involved in the drug trade or abusing drugs had been shot dead by police or “vigilantes” (that number nowapproaches 2,500). Over 10,000 people have been arrested, and at least 675,000 people have voluntarily surrendered to the authorities.

The numbers are staggering, but what remains unclear is whether those killed and imprisoned are even involved in the drug trade. According to bereaved relatives, Duterte’s take-no-prisoners approach has claimed former addicts, spouses of suspected drug peddlers, and even a 5-year old child as casualties. “Mothers are approaching me every week as their sons are threatened or listed in police precincts,” said Jean Enriquez, a long-time feminist leader who belongs to a coalition of 50 Philippine human rights organizations. “Being listed could mean death.”

The soaring rise in extrajudicial killings has invited scrutiny and condemnation from both international and domestic human rights groups, as well as institutions like the Catholic Church. But Duterte shows no sign of slowing down. Only last Friday, he brushed off criticism from the United Nations in an address to the Philippine military: “What crime against humanity? I’d like to be frank with you, are [drug users] humans?

And keep in mind this was all before this weekend's declaration of "lawlessness", suddenly making those extrajudicial military death squads of his very, very legal.

Manila has suddenly become a extremely big international problem in the last several weeks, and it's only going to get worse.

Sunday Long Read: The Cure For What Ailes You

This week's Sunday Long Read is Gabriel Sherman's piece in NY Mag about the women who brought down FOX News chairman Roger Ailes, ending his two-decade run as the man who forever changed the cable news landscape for the worse.

And it couldn't have happened to a nicer asshole.

It began, of course, with a lawsuit. Of all the people who might have brought down Ailes, the former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson was among the least likely. A 50-year-old former Miss America, she was the archetypal Fox anchor: blonde, right-wing, proudly anti-intellectual. A memorable Daily Show clip showed Carlson saying she needed to Google the words czar and ignoramus. But television is a deceptive medium. Off-camera, Carlson is a Stanford- and Oxford-educated feminist who chafed at the culture of Fox News. When Ailes made harassing comments to her about her legs and suggested she wear tight-fitting outfits after she joined the network in 2005, she tried to ignore him. But eventually he pushed her too far. When Carlson complained to her supervisor in 2009 about her co-host Steve Doocy, who she said condescended to her on and off the air, Ailes responded that she was “a man hater” and a “killer” who “needed to get along with the boys.” After this conversation, Carlson says, her role on the show diminished. In September 2013, Ailes demoted her from the morning show Fox & Friends to the lower-rated 2 p.m. time slot.

Carlson knew her situation was far from unique: It was common knowledge at Fox that Ailes frequently made inappropriate comments to women in private meetings and asked them to twirl around so he could examine their figures; and there were persistent rumors that Ailes propositioned female employees for sexual favors. The culture of fear at Fox was such that no one would dare come forward. Ailes was notoriously paranoid and secretive — he built a multiroom security bunker under his home and kept a gun in his Fox office, according to Vanity Fair — and he demanded absolute loyalty from those who worked for him. He was known for monitoring employee emails and phone conversations and hiring private investigators. “Watch out for the enemy within,” he told Fox’s staff during one companywide meeting.

Taking on Ailes was dangerous, but Carlson was determined to fight back. She settled on a simple strategy: She would turn the tables on his surveillance. Beginning in 2014, according to a person familiar with the lawsuit, Carlson brought her iPhone to meetings in Ailes’s office and secretly recorded him saying the kinds of things he’d been saying to her all along. “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better. Sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way, he said in one conversation. “I’m sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to,” he said another time.

After more than a year of taping, she had captured numerous incidents of sexual harassment. Carlson’s husband, sports agent Casey Close, put her in touch with his lawyer Martin Hyman, who introduced her to employment attorney Nancy Erika Smith. Smith had won a sexual-harassment settlement in 2008 for a woman who sued former New Jersey acting governor Donald DiFranceso. “I hate bullies,” Smith told me. “I became a lawyer to fight bullies.” But this was riskier than any case she’d tried. Carlson’s Fox contract had a clause that mandated that employment disputes be resolved in private arbitration—which meant Carlson’s case could be thrown out and Smith herself could be sued for millions for filing.

Carlson’s team decided to circumvent the clause by suing Ailes personally rather than Fox News. They hoped that with the element of surprise, they would be able to prevent Fox from launching a preemptive suit that forced them into arbitration. The plan was to file in September 2016 in New Jersey Superior Court (Ailes owns a home in Cresskill, New Jersey). But their timetable was pushed up when, on the afternoon of June 23, Carlson was called into a meeting with Fox general counsel Dianne Brandi and senior executive VP Bill Shine, and fired the day her contract expired.* Smith, bedridden following surgery for a severed hamstring, raced to get the suit ready. Over the Fourth of July weekend, Smith instructed an IT technician to install software on her firm’s network and Carlson’s electronic devices to prevent the use of spyware by Fox. “We didn’t want to be hacked,” Smith said. They filed their lawsuit on July 6.

And the rest is now history.  Ailes was forced out of his position before the end of July after several additional women, mostly employees (and in some cases possible employees) of FOX News came forward to corroborate his slimy behavior.  The Murdochs kicked his ass to the curb following their own investigation into the matter.

The larger issue was of course that Ailes's cartoonish misogyny and sexual harassment, hush money payments and stalking, was one of the worst-kept secrets in the cable news business.  Say what you will about Gretchen Carlson (and many of us have, including myself) and her tenure on FOX and Friends, but standing up to Roger Ailes and ending his reign of frat boy garbage took serious courage, and she deserves respect and even admiration for it.

More power to you, ma'am.

Something Of A Soap Opera

Cincinnati is home to a lot of major corporations, Fifth Third Bank, Macy's, AK Steel and Western & Southern Insurance, but the big two by far are Kroger and Proctor & Gamble (now P&G).  The region makes a lot of money as HQ to two of the largest makers and sellers of consumer cleaning products you buy at the grocery store, so when the Obama administration called out manufacturers and retailers of antibacterial soaps on Friday and is banning the main ingredient in them, it's kind of a big deal around here.

The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of soaps containing certain antibacterial chemicals on Friday, saying industry had failed to prove they were safe to use over the long term or more effective than using ordinary soap and water.

In all the F.D.A. took action against 19 different chemicals and has given industry a year to take them out of their products. About 40 percent of soaps — including liquid hand soap and bar soap – contain the chemicals. Triclosan, mostly used in liquid soap, and triclocarban, in bar soaps, are by far the most common.

The rule applies only to consumer hand washes and soaps. Other products may still contain the chemicals. At least one toothpaste, Colgate Total, still does, but the F.D.A. says its maker proved that the benefits of using it — reducing plaque and gum disease — outweigh the risks.

The agency is also studying the safety and efficacy of hand sanitizers and wipes, and has asked companies for data on three active ingredients — alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol), isopropyl alcohol and benzalkonium chloride — before issuing a final rule on them.

Public health experts applauded the rule, which came after years of mounting concerns that the antibacterial chemicals that go into everyday products are doing more harm than good. Experts have pushed the agency to regulate antimicrobial chemicals, warning that they risk scrambling hormones in children and promoting drug-resistant infections.

“It has boggled my mind why we were clinging to these compounds, and now that they are gone I feel liberated,” said Rolf Halden, a scientist at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, who has been tracking the issue for years. “They had absolutely no benefit but we kept them buzzing around us everywhere. They are in breast milk, in urine, in blood, in babies just born, in dust, in water.”

The agency first proposed the rule in 2013, when it told companies that unless they could prove that chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban did more good than harm, they would have to remove the products that contained them from the market. On Friday, the agency said that it was not convinced.

The F.D.A. has given industry more time to prove that an additional three chemicals are safe and effective — benzalkonium chloride,benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol. Products with those chemicals can stay on the market for now.

And the drug resistance that antibacterial agents like triclosan are causing is not a joke.  We're rapidly running into resistant strains of infectious, treatable diseases like tuberculosis that are no longer treatable by the drugs we have. The age of antibiotics is rapidly coming to a close and the antibiotics we have now will probably be rendered all but useless within my lifetime.

It's probably a smart move by the FDA to keep a tight leash on chemicals like that.  Hand sanitizer, now ubiquitous in American society, is most likely next on the list.

We'll see what the FDA has to say about that soon.
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