Tag Archives: worker’s rights

Happy International Women’s Day

This year is the one hundredth anniversary of celebrating International Women’s Day (and the 24th anniversary of celebrating my birth). Here’s some info from the International Women’s Day Foundation:

IWD is now an official holiday in China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while many feminists from the 1970’s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy.

With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

This year there are more than 1500 IWD events around the world.   There are events in nearly every major city in the US.  Join one!  And celebrate the women in your life!

I’ve decided to start a tradition in which I choose a different feminist each year to honor.  Tonight I will be drinking in honor of Mary Jones, aka “Mother Jones.”

This feisty woman was so passionate about helping the less fortunate.  According to Autumn Stephens, she was “a curser, a drinker, a hard-boiled old bird [who] organized her first labor strike at the age of forty-seven.”  A Marxist at heart, she worked for the rights of steel workers, coal miners…you name it.

“This is the fighting age,” she thundered to a crowd of women in New York City, the sisters and wives of striking streetcar men.  “Put on your fighting clothes!” (from Stephens’ Wild Women)

And in Mother Jones’ honor, I will continue to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

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HAPPY WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH!!!

March is the month of my birth – a month of spring, passionate politics, and women’s history!!!  Let’s begin with a recent story from the New York Times on the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of 1911 which killed 129 female factory workers.

This story is so important to me, not only because it’s one of the first facts I learned about women’s history, but because it reveals how “women’s history” isn’t just a collection of facts about women – it’s everyone’s history.  This fire and the massive amount of deaths had an incredible effect on worker’s rights and factory conditions for all workers – men and women alike.

Cornell University has a really knowledgeable website on the fire, with a collection of original documents, secondary sources, photos, memoirs and more.  Let’s hear a summary of the incident from them:

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The Triangle Waist Company was in many ways a typical sweated factory in the heart of Manhattan, at 23-29 Washington Place, at the northern corner of Washington Square East. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops.Even though many workers toiled under one roof in the Asch building, owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the owners subcontracted much work to individuals who hired the hands and pocketed a portion of the profits. Subcontractors could pay the workers whatever rates they wanted, often extremely low. The owners supposedly never knew the rates paid to the workers, nor did they know exactly how many workers were employed at their factory at any given point. Such a system led to exploitation…

Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.

From left, Max Florin, Fannie Rosen, Dora Evans and Josephine Cammarata were among the final six unidentified victims of the Triangle Waist Company factory fire of 1911, which killed 146 and influenced building codes, labor laws and politics in the years that followed.

According to the New York Times, Michael Hirsch, an amateur genealogist and historian, helped attach names to the six “unknowns” whose unidentified remains were found at the fire.

NYT journalist Joseph Berger states:

The fire was a wrenching event in New York’s history, one that had a profound influence on building codes, labor laws, politics and the beginning of the New Deal two decades later…

The day the six unidentified victims were buried was the culmination of the city’s outpouring of grief; hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers turned out in a driving rain for a symbolic funeral procession sponsored by labor unions and other organizations, while hundreds of thousands more watched from the sidewalks.

I love history.

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Catch up on your news

Republicans have gone awry the country over.  Do you know what’s going on?  Here are some websites to give you the gist on two important legislative happenings: Planned Parenthood and Wisconsin labor unions.

 

Wisconsin state employee unions

(yes, this really does matter to you)

New York Times

**(I’ve linked some definitions for “collective bargaining,” “union,” and “public employee”)**

  • The legislative push by Wisconsin’s new governor, Scott Walker, a Republican, to slash the collective bargaining rights of his state’s public employees could prove a watershed for public-sector unions, perhaps signaling the beginning of a decline in their power — both at the bargaining table and in politics.
  • But Mr. Walker is going far beyond that, seeking to definitively curb the power of government unions in his state. He sees public-employee unions as a bane to the taxpayer because they demand — and often win — generous health and pension plans that help push up taxes and drive budget deficits higher.
  • To end that cycle, he wants to restrict the unions to bargaining over just one topic, base wages, while eliminating their ability to deal over health care, working hours and vacations.
  • By flooding the State Capitol in Madison with more than 10,000 protesters, labor unions are doing their utmost to block Mr. Walker’s plans. They helped persuade Democratic state senators to slip out of the building this week to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the legislation.
  • Democrats say the governor’s “budget repair bill” — strongly supported by the Republicans who control both legislative houses — is political payback, intended to cripple public-sector unions, which spent more than $200 million to back Democrats across the country in November’s elections.

Andy Manis/Associated Press - A Capitol protest in Madison, Wis., over Gov. Scott Walker's bill to slash collective bargaining rights for many state workers.

New York Times

  • Behind closed doors, Scott Walker, the Republican who has been governor for about six weeks, calmly described his intent to forge ahead with the plans that had set off the uprising: He wants to require public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, effectively cutting the take-home pay of many by around 7 percent.
  • Mr. Walker said he had no other options, since he is facing a deficit of $137 million in the current state budget and the prospect of a $3.6 billion hole in the coming two-year budget.
  • “For us, it’s simple,” said Mr. Walker, whose family home was surrounded by angry workers this week, prompting the police to close the street. “We’re broke.”

New York Times

  • Then the surprising drama in Madison this week added a new twist: the Democrats disappeared.
  • That left Republicans, who control the Capitol and had expected to push through the bill, in limbo. Although Republicans control the State Senate by 19 to 14, 20 senators — and thus, at least a single Democrat — must be in the room to call a vote on such fiscal matters.
  • “The plan is to try and slow this down because it’s an extreme piece of legislation that’s tearing this state apart,” Senator Jon Erpenbach, one of the missing Democrats, told The Associated Press by telephone. (He refused, of course, to say where he was.)

Planned Parenthood

(not just birth control or abortions)

Washington Post:

  • The Republican-led House approved an amendment Friday that would prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
  • The measure, which passed the House 240 to 185, blocks Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for any of its activities. The organization already is banned from using federal funds to perform most abortions.

Huffington Post

  • House Republicans voted on Friday to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, cutting money for contraceptives, HIV tests, cancer screenings and reproductive health services as part of an attempt to weaken the abortion provider. Planned Parenthood does not currently spend federal money on abortion services.
  • The vote, which passed, 240 to 185, came after an emotional, late-night speech by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who revealed on the House floor that she had had an abortion. Speier criticized Republicans for vilifying Planned Parenthood and abortion-rights supporters.
  • “There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and it was played out in this room tonight,” she said on the House floor. “Planned Parenthood has a right to operate. Planned Parenthood has a right to provide family planning services. Planned parenthood has a right to perform abortions. Last time you checked, abortions were legal in this country.”

And there are massive protests in Bahrain which you should read up on.

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Women of The Daily Show

I recently shared an article from Jezebel.com on The Daily Show‘s Woman Problem.  Author Irin Carmon had interviewed past female Daily Show workers who felt they and many other women at the show had been treated unfairly due to their gender.

Click to see the press release on The Daily Show website.

I was so glad to hear that the women of The Daily Show responded for themselves about these allegations of sexism.  Here is the following statement they released; you can find it at The Daily Show website here.

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A partial list of things Jon has supported us through
  • 9/11
  • Anthrax
  • The writers’ strike
  • Blackout
  • Death
  • Marriages
  • Divorces
  • Cancer
  • Infertility
  • Family emergencies
  • Babies
  • Office food poisoning
  • Staff restructuring
  • Pet emergencies
  • The re-election of George Bush
  • Inadequately researched blog posts that cling to a predetermined narrative about sexism at The Daily Show

Dear People Who Don’t Work Here,

Recently, certain media outlets have attempted to tell us what it’s like to be a woman at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We must admit it is entertaining to be the subjects of such a vivid and dramatic narrative. However, while rampant sexism at a well-respected show makes for a great story, we want to make something very clear: the place you may have read about is not our office.

The Daily Show isn’t a place where women quietly suffer on the sidelines as barely tolerated tokens. On the contrary: just like the men here, we’re indispensable. We generate a significant portion of the show’s creative content and the fact is, it wouldn’t be the show that you love without us.

So, who are the women of The Daily Show?

If you think the only women who help create this show are a couple of female writers and correspondents, you’re dismissing the vast majority of us. Actually, we make up 40% of the staff, and we’re not all shoved into the party-planning department (although we do run that, and we throw some kick-ass parties). We are co-executive producers, supervising producers, senior producers, segment producers, coordinating field producers, associate producers, editors, writers, correspondents, talent coordinators, production coordinators, researchers, makeup artists, the entire accounting and audience departments, production assistants, crew members, and much more. We were each hired because of our creative ability, our intelligence, and above all, our ability to work our asses off to make a great show.

Is it hard to work at The Daily Show?

Absolutely. When it comes to what makes it onto the show, competing ideas aren’t just hashed out between the faces you see on camera or the names that roll under the “writers” credits. Jokes and concepts come from our studio department, our field department, our graphics department, our production department, our intern department, and our control room. Jon’s rule is: the strongest idea and the funniest joke win every single time, no matter who pitches it–woman or man, executive producer or production assistant. And of course none of these jokes and ideas would get to air without the layers of production talent working behind the scenes. The fairness of our workplace makes competition tough and makes the show better.

So if it’s so challenging, why have we stayed for two, five, ten, fourteen years? Because it’s challenging. We feel lucky to work in a meritocracy where someone with talent can join us as an intern and work her way up to wherever her strengths take her. But also because it’s an environment that supports our being more than just our jobs. The Daily Show (to an extent few of us have seen elsewhere) allows us the flexibility to care for our families, pursue our own projects, cope with unexpected crises, and have lives outside the show.

Also… are you kidding? It’s The Daily Show for Christ’s sake. You ask some stupid questions, imaginary interlocutor.

What’s Jon Stewart really like?

Jon’s not just a guy in a suit reading a prompter. His voice and vision shape every aspect of the show from concept to execution. The idea that he would risk compromising his show’s quality by hiring or firing someone based on anything but ability, or by booking guests based on anything but subject matter, is simply ludicrous.

But what’s he really like? Well, for a sexist prick, he can be quite charming. He’s also generous, humble, genuine, compassionate, fair, supportive, exacting, stubborn, goofy, hands-on, driven, occasionally infuriating, ethical, down-to-earth and–a lot of people don’t know this–surprisingly funny (for a guy brimming with “joyless rage”). How else to describe him? What’s the word that means the opposite of sexist? That one.

In any organization, the tone is set from the top. Since taking over the show, Jon has worked hard to create an environment where people feel respected and valued regardless of their gender or position. If that’s not your scene, you probably wouldn’t like it here. We happen to love it.

And so…

And so, while it may cause a big stir to seize on the bitter rantings of ex-employees and ignore what current staff say about working at The Daily Show, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to us, it’s not fair to Jon, it’s not fair to our wonderful male colleagues, and it’s especially not fair to the young women who want to have a career in comedy but are scared they may get swallowed up in what people label as a “boy’s club.”

The truth is, when it comes down to it, The Daily Show isn’t a boy’s club or a girl’s club, it’s a family – a highly functioning if sometimes dysfunctional family. And we’re not thinking about how to maximize our gender roles in the workplace on a daily basis. We’re thinking about how to punch up a joke about Glenn Beck’s latest diatribe, where to find a Michael Steele puppet on an hour’s notice, which chocolate looks most like an oil spill, and how to get a gospel choir to sing the immortal words, “Go f@#k yourself!”

Love,

Teri Abrams-Maidenberg, Department Supervisor, 11 years

Jill Baum, Writers’ Assistant, 4 years

Samantha Bee, Correspondent, 7 years

Alison Camillo, Coordinating Field Producer, 12 years

Vilma Cardenas, Production Accountant, 14 years

Lauren Cohen, Production Assistant, 1 year

Jocelyn Conn, Executive Assistant, 4 years

Kahane Cooperman, Co-Executive Producer, 14 years

Pam DePace, Line Producer, 14 years

Tonya Dreher, Avid Editor, 4 years

Kristen Everman, Production Assistant, 2 years

Christy Fiero, Production Controller, 13 years

Jen Flanz, Supervising Producer, 13 years

Hallie Haglund, Writer, 5 years

Kira Hopf, Senior Producer, 14 years

Jenna Jones, Production Assistant, 2 years

Jessie Kanevsky, Department Coordinator, 5 years

Jill Katz, Producer/Executive in Charge of Production, 4 years

Hillary Kun, Supervising Producer, 9 years

Christina Kyriazis, TelePrompter Operator, 14 years

Jo Miller, Writer, 1 year

Jody Morlock, Hair & Make-Up Artist, 14 years

Olivia Munn, Correspondent, 1 month

Lauren Sarver, Associate Segment Producer, 5 years

Kristen Schaal, Correspondent, 2 years

April Smith, Utility, 14 years

Patty Ido Smith, Electronic Graphics, 12 years

Sara Taksler, Segment Producer, 5 years

Elise Terrell, Production Coordinator, 6 years

Adriane Truex, Facility Manager, 12 years

Juliet Werner, Researcher, 1 year

Kaela Wohl, Wardrobe Stylist/Costumer, 2 years

PS. Thanks for the list of funny women. Our Nanas send us a ton of suggestions about “what would make a great skit for The John Daley Show.” We’ll file it right next to those.

PPS. Thanks to the male writers who penned this for us.

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The Daily Show’s Woman Problem

This post is taken from an article on Jesebel.com.  Read Irin Carmon’s article in its entirety here.  The embedded links were from the original article.

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The Daily Show is many things: progressive darling, alleged news source for America’s youth, righteous media critique. And it’s also a boys’ club where women’s contributions are often ignored and dismissed.

If Olivia Munn, the former video game show host introduced to Daily Show viewers three weeks ago, survives her tryout, she’ll be the first new female correspondent on the show in seven years. With the notable exception of Samantha Bee, who’s been on since 2001, female correspondents have been a short-lived phenomenon. As fiercely liberal and sharp-eyed an observer as Jon Stewart can be, getting women on the air may be his major blind spot.

Television comedy, and late night in particular, can be cutthroat and transitory, and no one is particularly surprised when the men who host these shows turn out to be not very nice guys, as anyone who cared to pay attention to the David Letterman fall-out could see. Women are universally scarce, whether in the writer’s room or on the air.

The environment on The Daily Show was arguably worse in the Craig Kilborn era: Back in 1997, the then-host was suspended after telling Esquire,”To be honest, [co-creator] Lizz [Winstead] does find me very attractive. If I wanted her to blow me, she would.” (Winstead quit not long afterward.) Nowadays there may be less overt frat-boy humor, but that doesn’t mean the institutionalized sexism is gone.  Behind the scenes, numerous former female staffers tell us that working there was often a frustrating and alienating experience.

Jon Stewart hosts a taping of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" Thursday, March 12, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

“What I was told when I was hired is that they have a very hard time finding and keeping women, and that I was lucky to get a one year contract,” says Lauren Weedman, a comedian and writer who worked on the show as an on-air correspondent from 2001-2002.

The story of Stewart throwing a newspaper or script at the show’s co-creator and executive producer Madeleine Smithberg out of displeasure with her work is an oft-told one among Daily Show veterans. Not long after the continued tension led Smithberg to quit in 2003, sources say Stewart refused to allow her onstage to accept the show’s Emmy, even though her work contributed to the win.

Stacey Grenrock Woods was on Stewart’s show from 1999-2003, longer than any other correspondent besides Bee. (She later chronicled the experience in her book, I, California.) She told me, “Did I feel like there was a boy’s club there? Yeah, sure. Did I want to be part of it? Not necessarily. So it kind of goes both ways.”

Overall, The Daily Show‘s environment was such that many women felt marginalized. “It was a place of just business,” says one show veteran. “The business happened to be hilarious comedy, but you weren’t allowed to enjoy it…Any sort of emotional vulnerability is like blood to a shark. And that is not great for women.”

Stewart and his show do have their female defenders. Bee, for starters, has repeatedly said her gender has been no impediment. Allison Silverman, a former Daily Show writer who returned after a stint working for Conan O’Brien to launch and executive produce The Colbert Report, says, “I had a great experience at The Daily Show. Jon’s given me nothing but support.”

“I don’t think Jon is sexist,” Smithberg says. “I don’t think that there is a double standard at the Daily Show. I do think that by the time it gets to the Daily Show it’s already been through the horrible sexist double standard of the universe. You’re not hiring someone right out of school. By the time they get to the candidates of the Daily Show, the herd has been thinned by the larger societal forces.” Of the greater talent pool of comedians, she said, “All that’s left are white men and Aziz Ansari.”

The show’s producers are somewhat aware they have a problem. Last fall, the writers’ room went from being all male to having two women, a definite improvement. “We shook the trees a little,” the head writer told The New York Times, and bringing on Olivia Munn would come out of the same impulse, according to numerous reports.

“The writers want to be able to write for a female reporter — but not too female,” says Weedman. She says it was hard to figure out what that meant exactly. “I would pitch something like, can I do a segment on women’s self help or on fitness. And they didn’t want anything like that…Ed Helms got to have his mole removed [in a segment], but they weren’t going to do, a women goes to the gynecologist. They felt like at the time it wasn’t their audience.”

According to Nielsen, the Daily Show‘s audience does lean male—about 60 percent. That’s who producers seemed to have in mind when they hired Olivia Munn. Though it’s far to early to assess Munn’s performance based on her few seconds onscreen so far, her previous career path has led some to criticize The Daily Show for hiring someone better known for suggestively putting things in her mouth on a video game show (seen here) and being on the covers of Playboy and Maxim than for her comedic chops.

Munn was hired after an exhaustive search for a female correspondent that included many professional comedians. (Kristen Schaal is already an occasional contributor, but not a regular correspondent.) Executive producer Rory Albanese told the Daily Beast that producers were previously unaware of Olivia’s drooling fanboy base: “We’re stuck in a hard news cycle and we’re nerdy. If she was on the cover of The Economist, we would have been like, ‘Yes! Of course!'”

It’s hard not to conclude that looks mattered more for women than for men. Silverman jokes of Munn’s hiring, “I just hope it encourages Wyatt Cenac to take his top off more often.”

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Playboy Bunnies, 1960s and 1970s – NPR

Another really interesting NPR story on women.  This article by Scott Simon on the changing perceptions of Playboy Bunny servers (think waitress, not The Girls Next Door”).  One of the most interesting parts of Simon’s essay is with Ex-Bunny Mary Chipman who began working at first Playboy club in Chicago during the 1970s.

Nancy Downey Caddick as a Playboy Bunny in the 60s. Courtesy of Caddick.

Although in the 1960s the men’s club attracted top entertainers, by the 1970s the club was denigrated by the women’s movement.  Chipman, a self-proclaimed feminist, explains how both the bunny ears and female patrons were degrading:

_____________________________

“Ms. Chipman came in at a more feminist age. She loathed every aspect of the costume. “I really did. It wasn’t the sexiness of it, which was OK, it was the whole idea of the ears and the tail — I just thought it was very degrading.

“Once you make yourself into this Bunny — which isn’t really a woman, it’s kind of just this hybrid creature — people felt entitled to take liberties with you. People would feel entitled to pull your tail or touch you.

“Of course, the management would protect you from all of this, but you know, still, that was the natural impulse,” she says. “The usual social barriers of treating women with a certain amount of respect were somewhat dissolved by the costume, I felt.”

Ms. Downey Caddick found the most difficult customers to be the women, not the men.  “I would have a couple of incidents where a woman would pull my tail,” she says. “Another one would just continue to make all kinds of nasty statements to me as I’m trying to serve them.”

______________________

Read/Listen to the NPR story here.

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Foxconn Worker Suicides

I’m finally back from China and now able to write on my blog!  I have some exciting and interesting blog posts to share in the near future.  Hold your horses.

In China I learned about the idea of “saving face.”  This idea of preventing embarrassment and shame governs most actions.  Our guidebooks even instructed us to not publicly embarrass a Chinese person, as it was a grave offense to do so.

Worker conditions in China aren’t so great either and the concept of fair trade is just emerging.  Combined with the Chinese work ethic and their need to save face, many workers, like those at Taiwanese company Foxconn, commit suicide in response to the intense pressure to succeed, poor working conditions, and just plain life struggles.

__________________________________________

This Wall Street Journal article elaborates on the current situation at Foxconn, “the world’s largest contract maker of electronic gadgets for brands such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard,” where eleven workers (900,000 total) have committed suicide by jumping to their deaths at work.  2 other workers attempted suicide but were unsuccessful.  In response to this suicide cluster, the company has put up nets around the building to prevent jumpers.

Shen/Bloomberg Workers walk outside Hon Hai Group's Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, on Wednesday, May 26, 2010. Gou said nine of the 11 company workers who either committed suicide or attempted to had worked at the company less than a year, and six had been employed for less than a half-year.

The opinion piece from Wall Street Journal encourages readers to view the story holistically by examining the cultural factors that influenced the deaths.  I agree with many of the points they listed:

“Foxconn’s factory employees tend to join the company at the age of 18 or 19, and stay for several years. So the atmosphere in its dormitories is akin to that of a large university, with the workers living away from home for the first time and encountering the usual new experiences…

China is in the midst of the largest and most rapid process of urbanization the world has ever seen. The creation of a “mass society” is often accompanied by adjustment difficulties, and the national suicide rate—14 per 100,000—is high by international standards. China’s rural youth often can’t rely on the support of parents, since that generation has little conception of the world their child is entering.

It’s true that Foxconn has done itself no favors with its past conduct. A young manager killed himself last July after an Apple iPhone prototype went missing, and his final messages to friends suggest he had been interrogated and beaten. In a separate incident the following month, the company confirmed its guards beat employees after the incident was caught on video. In 2006, after a Chinese newspaper reported that employees were being abused, a charge that was later shown to be false, Foxconn sued the two reporters personally and sought to have their assets frozen, provoking a public backlash against the company.”

_______________________________________

As joked about on Colbert Report (6:42), Foxconn has allegedly required workers to sign a “no-suicide pledge,” according to this NY Daily News article.  “The signed pledge also allows the company to send those displaying “abnormal emotional outbreaks” to psychiatric institutions, according to Taiwan’s CTI cable TV channel,” a 21-year-old employee told the South China Morning Post.

According to China Daily, Foxconn also raised its minimum wage this week from 900 yuan to 1,200 yuan per month (6.7 yuan to 1 US dollar) in all its mainland plants starting in June.

Bloomberg had a really fascinating article which included workers’ comments and a summary of the positive and negative conditions at Foxconn.  Read more here.

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