Hot Air: Workers’ Blues



The shuttering of DNAinfo outlets in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington is a double-barrel shotgun blast to the faces of labor and journalism.

Newsroom workers at the New York office of the online news-gathering operation voted to join the Writers Guild of America East a week ago today. DNAinfo owner Joe Ricketts responded yesterday by closing the entire multi-city network down. Unions, he moans, are an impediment to business success.

I agree with him. Paying employees salaries and honoring standards like the 40-hour work week, giving workers vacations and providing a non-lethal workplace environment also hamper good, smart businessmen like Ricketts.

Who do these workers think they are?

A News Locavore

In recent years I’d turned more and more to DNAinfo Chicago for news of my beloved hometown, as opposed to the traditional dailies, the Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily Herald, or any of the ten other print publications available in the city. DNAinfo concentrated more on local news. That was okay by me; I could depend on the New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and dozens of weekly news and commentary magazines and even social media for my national and world news fixes.

“I believe people care deeply about the things that happen where they live and work,” Ricketts told an interviewer once about why he started the operation in 2009. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I still retain a keen interest in crime in, say, the Avondale neighborhood, or what sweetheart deals Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cooking up for his cronies in the LaSalle Street banks, the construction industry, and real estate. Ricketts’ operation kept me abreast.

But then, when his employees wanted to exercise their right to collectively bargain, well, to hell with anything he’d said before, he just shut the whole damned shebang down.

Kick ‘Em Where It Hurts

The PATCO Strike

Labor has been under assault in this holy land since even before St. Ronald Reagan committed his signature sin, firing the PATCO air traffic controllers in August, 1981. The Republicans, long antagonists of organized labor, cleverly determined that since unions were perhaps the largest contributors to Democratic coffers, they had to work day and night to dismantle them. The wrecking thereof began in earnest in the ’70s.

By the late ’80s and early ’90s union membership was down, precipitously, and labor’s sway over the Democrats had been reduced to a hint of a breeze.

In desperation, Dems led by Democratic Leadership Council rising superstars like the Clintons turned toward Wall Street for their mother’s milk, changing the party profoundly and alienating much, if not most, of its base.

The Rich Are Different From You And Me

Pure Greed

It got to the point that the strongest union in the nation was, improbably, the Major League Baseball Players Association, winners time and again against team owners in work stoppages from 1972 through 1994. But of course! Only in Reagan’s America would the nation’s remaining strong union represent a tiny, skilled group of employees whose minimum annual salary — attained through collective bargaining, naturally — be $535,000 and whose average annual pay is $4.47 million.

Unions, in other words, are fine for rich guys.

For those making, say, $9 an hour? Tough shit.

Who, again, do these workers think they are?

The Business Of America Is Business

And lots of people expect everybody to hold their hands over their hearts and thank the lord Jesus up above that they’re Americans while the Star Spangled Banner is played before a goddamned sporting event.


Now that that’s off my chest, let’s get back to Bloomington affairs. Like Big Talk.

My guests yesterday were John Armstrong and Zachary Spicer, the co-founders of Pigasus Pictures. The two met as undergrads at Indiana University, then years later reconnected in New York and formed their production company to shoot The Good Catholic, starring Danny Glover, John C. McGinley, Spicer, and Wrenn Schmidt. The 2017 release won the top jury award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival this past February.

Armstrong and Spicer relate the sad tale of what happened to the actual award they were given. Suffice it to say, the trophy sleeps with the fishes, to borrow a line from another award-winning film.

The boys have promised to shoot six more films here in Indiana over the next two or three years. Their non-profit, Pigasus Horizons, helps high school and college kids learn about the craft and business of filmmaking and even helps the most promising youngsters get work in the field.

Go here for the WFHB Daily Local News feature and here for the full-length orginal interview I did with Armstrong and Spicer.

Next week, IU Professor Theresa Ochoa, director of H.O.P.E., an innovative program connecting college student mentors with prison inmates in hopes of getting them jobs when their terms are up.

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