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This Day in Labor History: April 14, 1975

[ 35 ] April 14, 2014 |

On April 14, 1975, the Bunker Hill Mining Company in Kellogg, Idaho announced a new policy in response to worries about female workers suffering reproductive problems due to lead exposure. The company decided to require sterilization of all women working in its smelter. This was a landmark moment in the history of women working in dangerous labor, particularly in traditionally all-male industries like mining.

Bunker Hill was founded in the late 1890s and became one of the nation’s largest producers of lead and zinc. Until 1943, women were not allowed to work in the lead smelter. That changed briefly because of World War II, but they were again banned in 1946. In the 1970s, Bunker Hill employed around 1600 people. Of them, nearly 100 were women. 22 worked in the lead smelter area. By the 1970s, Americans’ concern over lead poisoning, both on the job and in the nation at large had grown significantly. The nation was moving toward banning leaded gasoline and both environmentalists and some labor unions fought for greater restrictions on the exposure of working people to all sorts of toxic materials, especially lead.

Bunker Hill was a union mine, its workers represented by the United Steelworkers of America. But the USWA was not particularly comfortable with female members. In 1973, the EEOC, Department of Labor, and Department of Justice filed suit against the nation’s 9 largest steel companies and the USWA, charging them with discriminatory hiring practices that extended through the mills. That the union was at fault too is depressing, but on target with a lot of organized labor in traditionally male physically challenging work at this time. The settlement agreed to give $31 million in back pay to 40,000 women and minorities in the mills and to set hiring goals of 25% of supervisory positions and 50% of craft jobs going to women or minorities. Neither the union nor the companies really wanted this to happen. But the EEOC settlement reopened the lead smelter to women.

Bunker Hill’s response to the EEOC suit was to cloak itself in a fetal rights argument, simply banning most women from the job. The company stated publicly that it “is willing to be criticized for not employing some women–but not for causing birth effects.” What it was not willing to do was to limit exposure of all workers to lead. Effectively, Bunker Hill decided to define women primarily as childbearers and operate accordingly. But as ACLU lawyer Joan Bertin stated, the real reason was that companies didn’t want women working in these jobs because of beliefs they were less efficient and argued, “The price of safety cannot be the loss of civil and constitutional rights.”

Thus if women wanted to work in the lead smelter, they could. But the company wanted no responsibility for the poison the women would ingest. So they had to be sterilized. 29 women refused and were transferred to safer work that paid significantly less and reinforced the gender norms in the mill. At least three women did receive sterilization in order to keep their jobs.

The women at Bunker Hill turned to their union for help. The USWA refused to get involved. It said the fight would be too expensive. It claimed that fighting this would cause more problems for women throughout the steel industry. It also worried for the future of the mill as the industry was already declining in the United States.

The women then went to the Idaho Human Rights Commission. It developed a compromise allowing women to be paid the same rates as if they worked at the smelter. Both the company and women rejected this idea; the company because of the cost, the workers for the principle. The women then filed a suit with the EEOC in January 1976. EEOC endorsed the same compromise as the IHRC.

Too many unionists did not care much about this case, including USWA officials. On the other hand, Tony Mazzocchi, safety director for the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers and the most important figure in the union environmentalism of the 1970s and early 1980s, stated bluntly, “Ultimately, it will be quite clear that women and men alike suffer from exposure to lead and other toxic chemicals. When that happens, the industry initiative may be to have men sterilized. We will then enter the age of the neutered worker.”

OSHA stepped into this debate. President Carter’s OSHA was Eula Bingham, and as an advocate for both feminism as well as women’s rights, Bingham was furious at Bunker Hill’s sterilization policy. As she noted, no one suggested men should be banned from workplaces where toxic exposure might lead to their sterilization. It’s also likely that OSHA wanted to use Bunker Hill as an example in order to get companies to comply with its stricter national lead standard. In 1980, OSHA filed suit, fining Bunker Hill $82,000 for 108 occupational safety and health violations, including $10,000 for the sterilization policy. But after Reagan took the presidency in 1981, OSHA dropped the case. Reagan’s OSHA already stopped referring to it as a “sterilization policy,” instead calling it an “exclusionary policy,” a significant rhetorical move.

But even before Bingham became involved in fighting the broader problem of discrimination based upon defining women as childbearers, the Idaho women had accepted defeat. The EEOC offered the same compromise as the Idaho Human Rights Commission. The women accepted their higher wages, but future women would not have the opportunity for those high-paying jobs. Within weeks, companies including Union Carbide, Dow Chemical, Firestone, General Motors, and AT&T all instituted similar programs that effectively excluded women from high-paying, dangerous work.

In the end, the women believed they had been victimized not only by their employer but by the USWA and the government. The union had done basically nothing for them. The EEOC did not want to get involved. Women in other dangerous trades would have to continue fighting for equal access to work, a fight that would continue well into the 1980s.

In 1979, the Labor Occupational Health Program made a film about lead exposure featuring this struggle. You can watch a chunk of it here. Pretty good stuff.

Although it is mentioned in several places, I don’t think there is a complete scholarly discussion of this event. I relied in part on Sara Dubow, Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America, which discusses the case for a few pages.

This is the 103rd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Lawyers, Guns & Money podcast – Game of Thrones, Season Four, Episode Two – “The Lion and the Rose”

[ 10 ] April 14, 2014 |

In which Steven Attewell and I discuss how boring tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones was:

Listen to the audio here.

Game of Thrones, “The Lion and the Rose” recap by Yours Truly…

[ 87 ] April 13, 2014 |

Can be read here.

I’ll refrain from saying anything lest some of you bastards are unlucky enough not to live on the East Coast. Hey — wait a minute!

Sagebrush Rebellion Returns

[ 358 ] April 13, 2014 |

The Sagebrush Rebellion is alive and well among yahoo western ranchers who rely on the federal government to survive but resent its presence when it does anything but facilitate private interests.

Fearing for their safety as armed protesters gathered in the Nevada back country, federal officials on Saturday suddenly ended a controversial effort to seize hundreds of cattle that a rancher has kept illegally on public land.

The cattle ranch’s owner, Cliven Bundy, and hundreds of armed supporters had threatened to forcefully keep Bureau of Land Management employees from rounding up the approximately 900 cattle. Nearly 400 of the cattle had been seized during the past week. They were being held nearby and could be sent to Utah, authorities said.

In a meeting Saturday, Bundy urged Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie to seize the federal officials’ weapons and bring them back to the rancher. The demand coincided with the sheriff, who’s sought to avoid bloodshed, reading a news release from the BLM to a jubilant crowd gathered near Bundy’s ranch.

Of course, the problem here is quite simple. This guy won’t pay his grazing fees. He owes $1 million but refused to recognize the Bureau of Land Management as a legitimate government agency. Creating a version of western history Jim DeMint would be proud to own if he cared about the West, Bundy claims his family’s claims existed before the BLM or the Endangered Species Act (part of the issue here is the desert tortoise). Well, sure, but it’s not like the land wasn’t still owned by the federal government before the BLM’s creation! And it’s not like environmental legislation only gets applied to land not used by ranchers before 1970.

The Sagebrush Rebellion, for those of you not familiar with western land management history, was an astroturf roots movement of rich western ranchers, mine owners, and timber operators in the late 1970s and early 1980s against a federal government enforcing the environmental legislation passed by Congress. Western resource interests have never much cared for democracy and so revolted by engaging in some stupid actions like blocking Forest Service roads and the like. They had a champion in the Reagan Administration, especially the era of James Watt as Secretary of the Interior. Getting Carter out of office kind of ended the organized “movement,” but occasionally this sentiment pops up like it has this weekend. In the overheated right-wing rhetoric of today, what with the Muslim black president and all, morons have come out to support the rancher, leading to real fear among the government officials enforcing the law.

But we all know that law is for the brown people to follow. Old white conservatives, they dictate to the law, which is after all represented by jackbooted government thugs in black helicopters directed by Obama from his personal terrorist cell in Yemen.

High Country News typically provides some of the best work on this iss
ue.

“OK, I’ve Never Been To India. But I’ve Seen Eat, Pray, Love. Twice!”

[ 219 ] April 13, 2014 |

If this were published almost anywhere but the NYT Styles section, I could be certain that this was a vicious but deserved hatchet job:

It’s all very cordial: In the fall, Mr. Mellon and Ms. Hanley Mellon, 36, plan to introduce Hanley Mellon, their own clothing line.

They are not exactly starting from the gutter. Mr. Mellon, who comes from the Mellon and Drexel families of Bank of New York Mellon and Drexel Burnham Lambert, grew up in New York City, Palm Beach and Northeast Harbor, Me., and went to the University of Pennsylvania. The walls of the pad he and Ms. Hanley Mellon share at the Pierre are lined with paintings by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Peter Beard and, Mr. Mellon said, “Taylor Swift.”

[...]

The couple started slowly with hanleymellon.com, a lifestyle website that has fashion articles (“For Nicer Weather Days” features a Balenciaga bag, $1,485, and Mulberry coat, $3,000), posts on the perfect crop top featuring portraits of Ms. Hanley Mellon, and collages of images they find inspiring.

The Hanley Mellon line will have 10 pieces of clothing, including a coat and blouses meant to be wardrobe staples for a jet-set life, priced from $250 to $2,000. Each collection will be inspired by a different place in the world, with New York City being the first.

And then, who knows?

“I’ve never been to Africa, but I feel like I have this deep affinity for it,” Ms. Hanley Mellon said. “I’ve read every Hemingway, we collect Peter Beard, I’ve watched ‘Out of Africa.’ It touches your soul to visit and smell the smells, and you can’t recreate the experience without immersing yourself.”

Hopefully historians of The Gilded Age II have already bookmarked this one.

[Via djw]

Atrios: “If only it could be revealed that the New York Times Style section has actually been fiction penned by Andy Kaufman for the past several decades, and then he shuts it down with one final entry: The Aristocrats!”

W Is For Women!

[ 42 ] April 13, 2014 |

Remember when we spent a couple of trillion dollars unleashing large amounts of death on Iraq because Saddam was about to work with his imaginary terrorist allies to nuke Omaha with mustard gas he didn’t possess human rights? Well, extremely unfunny thing about that:

Decades ago, in the years after Iraq gained independence, a tradition of child marriage persisted in its hills and plains. Upon their fathers’ orders, Iraqi girls were betrothed to strangers and rivals alike to resolve tribal disputes or incur favor.

But in the mid-1970s, such acts — called “fasliyah” — were prohibited as the nation moved toward secularization and modernity.

“This decree [banning fasliyah] constituted the first step toward a civilized Iraqi community,” reports the Middle East publication Al-Monitor, “which would put an end to the failures of the tribal… society.”

In the years that followed, rates of child marriage plummeted. By 1997, only 15 percent of Iraqi women were married as children, according to the Central Organization for Statistics. This figure was the same in 2004.

But as the country plunged into the darkest days of the Iraq War, traditions emerged anew — including child marriage.

In 2007, Al-Monitor says, 21 percent of young Iraqi women reported they were married as children. Six years later, the Population Reference Bureau determined that “the decline in early marriages has stopped.”

In fact, the rate had risen.

By mid-2013, more than one-fourth of females were married as children, and 5 percent had been wed before age 15. This rate of child marriage placed Iraq ahead of many nations in the region.

Now the Iraqi government is poised to legalize child marriage for the nation’s majority Shiite Muslim population. But the law, which some expect to pass before this month’s parliamentary elections, would do significantly more than that.

Called the Jaafari Personal Status Law, it would prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, prevent women from leaving the house without their husband’s consent, automatically grant custody of children older than two to their father in divorce cases and legalize marital rape.

The law, which proponents say will save women’s “rights and dignity,” would also permit boys to marry as young as 15 and girls to marry as young as nine. Girls younger than nine would be permitted to marry with a parent’s approval.

Something to remember the next time a neocon fantasy runs out of other justifications and settles on human rights as a pretext…

LIUNA

[ 29 ] April 13, 2014 |

The Laborers’ Union continues to burn every bridge with other progressive communities with a napalm air strike:

A letter distributed Friday by the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) to the districts of 27 House Democrats calls for union members to make sure their representative “feels the power and the fury of LIUNA this November.”

Their crime: signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last month urging him to reject Keystone, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

“Your member of Congress is trying to destroy job opportunities for our LIUNA brothers and sisters,” said the letter signed by Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of LIUNA.

“For every action, there is a reaction, and our reaction to this frontal assault on our way of life needs to be loud and clear. If you do not stand with us, we sure as hell will not stand with you,” O’Sullivan wrote, noting the jobs Keystone would create for union members.

While I’m sure LIUNA does not have the power to make anyone suffer, especially since most of these targeted representatives have the support of far larger unions like SEIU and AFSCME, unions it should be said who see value in not making other Democrats hate them for supporting climate change creating projects, it’s still unfortunate to say the least. As I’ve said before, I completely understand LIUNA supporting the project for their own members. What I don’t get is the aggression that represents something far more than the relatively few jobs it will get from the pipeline. This is the kind of cultural warfare the Carpenters used in the Northwest during the ancient forest campaigns in the Northwest in the 80s and 90s. The hippie enviros are an existential threat far beyond Keystone. This is about what it means to be an American, which for LIUNA is supporting any construction project regardless of social cost.

I have trouble seeing how this works out for the Laborers in the long run.

The Northwest Forest Plan

[ 5 ] April 13, 2014 |

Twenty years ago, President Clinton shepherded the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan, designed to put an end to the conflict in Pacific Northwest forests between timber companies and environmentalists over the fate of the region’s ancient forests and endangered species. I agree that it has been pretty successful all in all. I also think that the fate of timber workers and small Northwestern mill towns continues to be ignored, as it is in the linked article. It’s also worth nothing that the nation’s consumption of wood products has not fallen in the last two decades, which should lead us to wonder about how timber is produced around the world to feed the American market.

Panic in the Streets of Schenectady!

[ 17 ] April 12, 2014 |

Congrats to Chester A. Arthur’s alma mater on winning the NCAA championship.

And, for even more parochial reasons, extra thanks to Union for eliminating BC in the previous round so that the JOHNNY HOCKEY era can begin tomorrow…

American Infrastructure, American Jobs

[ 73 ] April 12, 2014 |

American infrastructure funded with federal money should be built in factories that create American jobs.

Fort Pillow Massacre

[ 265 ] April 12, 2014 |

Battle_of_Fort_Pillow

On April 12, 1864, Confederate troops under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred black Union troops attempting to surrender after their defeat at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. In a war of horrible things, this was probably the worst, as angry southerners got their revenge on their slaves leaving them by dyeing the river red with their blood. Of course, the same Southerners who prefer not to talk about Fort Pillow or even defend Forrest love to hate on William Tecumseh Sherman, whose troops engaged in no such activities on their march through Georgia and the Carolinas. The preeminent historian and Grant biographer Brooks Simpson:

When it comes to Forrest’s responsibility (or culpability), I’ll simply note that one cannot claim that William T. Sherman is a war criminal without accepting that Nathan Bedford Forrest is a war criminal. After all, Sherman did not issue orders calling for the raping of women or the destruction of property outside the laws of war. Nor did he issue orders for the destruction of Columbia in February 1865. One can hold him accountable for (a) the orders he issued and (b) his actions (or inaction) in punishing his own men for violations of the law of war. One would have to hold Forrest to the same standard, unless you think the destruction of property is a greater crime than cold-blooded murder … or whether you think crimes against white people bother you more than crimes against black people, especially those wearing the uniform of the United States armed forces. Once you say that Sherman must be held responsible for the actions of his men, you must say the same for Forrest.

Today’s Specious “Free Speech” Martyr

[ 251 ] April 12, 2014 |

Many conservatives are attacking Brandeis University for denying Ayaan Hirsi Ali her sacred right to an honorary degree from Brandeis University.

What the university is supposed to have done wrong, I can’t tell you. There’s no issue of “silencing”; she has an open invitation to speak at the university. As to whether she should also have a vested right to receive a special honor, let’s consider what she’s actually said:

Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?

Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to have them all closed, but my party said it wouldn’t fly. Top people in the party privately expressed that they agreed with me, but said, “We won’t get a majority to do that,” so it never went anywhere.

Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, which guarantees that religious movements may teach children in religious schools and says the government must pay for this if minimum standards are met. So it couldn’t be done. Would you in fact advocate that again?

Hirsi Ali: Oh, yeah.

Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—

Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle. I’ve been saying this in Australia and in the U.K. and so on, and I get exactly the same arguments: The Constitution doesn’t allow it. But we need to ask where these constitutions came from to start with—what’s the history of Article 23 in the Netherlands, for instance? There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists. They had no idea.

If one were to substitute “Jewish” or “Roman Catholic” for “Muslim,” the question of giving Hirsi Ali an honorary degree would be moot because there’s no chance it would happen in the first place. And rightly so. (And the context doesn’t help; as you’ll note she is very clear that she’s not talking about “radical Islamists” but “Islam”: “So when even a hard-line critic of Islam such as Daniel Pipes says, “Radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution,” he’s wrong?” “He’s wrong. Sorry about that.”) I’m baffled that Brandeis either failed to find or ignored these statements when deciding to give her an honorary degree, but I don’t know why they’re required to go forward with it.

Was the State Department wrong to withdraw the “Women of Courage” award given to Samira Ibrahim after her history of anti-Semitic tweets was uncovered? I certainly don’t think so. And since I think this standard should apply to all religious groups, I don’t understand what Brandeis has done wrong here either.

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