Peace & Justice News is a collection of news items collected by Bloomington Alternative contributor Linda Greene. Today's edition includes:

  • How CEO pay compares with yours
  • Profits from the prison-industrial complex
  • Suicide rates soar in the West
  • Student strike in Quebec: 178,390 participate over 73 days
  • Putting politics in birth control
  • Human rights at risk in Bahrain
  • Connecticut joins 16 other states in abolishing the death penalty
  • Restaurant worker fired for standing up for her rights

Read Peace & Justice news archive on The Bloomington Alternative.


How CEO pay compares with yours If you’ve ever wondered how CEO pay compares with yours, you now have a way of finding out: through the AFL-CIO’s Executive PayWatch website. For instance, the average worker makes $34,053 annually, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CEO of Charles River Laboratories International Inc., James C. Foster, makes $4.76 million a year. His income could support 140 workers. In 1980, the website shows, CEO income was 42 times the average blue-collar worker’s pay. Last year it was 380 times the average worker’s earnings -- by far the widest gap in the world. The average household income of the top 1/100th of the top 1 percent is $23.85 million. During the economic recovery in 2010, the income of the top 1 percent grew by 11.6 percent while that of the rest of Americans grew by only 0.2 percent. Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will soon require public companies to report their CEO-worker pay ratios to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is considering requiring companies to disclose their ratios publicly. Studies have shown that large pay disparities within a corporation can harm employee teamwork, productivity, loyalty and motivation. “The impact of high levels of CEO pay on employee morale,” the AFL-CIO says, “is particularly important in today’s weak economy, when workers are being asked to do more for less.” Income inequality is also bad for democracy. “Extremes of inequality breed patterns of domination and subservience in the multiple social relations of everyday life, and these cultural patterns undermine democratic capabilities,” Frances Fox Piven pointed out in Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. You can send a form letter to the SEC to urge public disclosure of pay ratios, or you can send your own letter to at rule-comments@sec.gov.


Profits from the prison-industrial complex “One out of every 100 people in the United States is imprisoned," according to TruthOut.org. "Even though we are 5 percent of the world's population, we have 25 percent of the prisoners in the world. We are number one in the world in the number of people we imprison -- we even beat China.” The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has seen its profits grow by 500 percent in the last 20 years. “[S]tates are so broke they’ve resorted to selling off their correctional facilities (with the prisoners inside) as a way to cut costs and make ends meet,” wrote Tom Engelhardt on April 19 in TomDispatch.com. In 2011, Engelhardt wrote, Ohio sold one of its prisons for $73 million to the CCA, the nation’s largest private, for-profit prison company. The Huffington Post reported in February that CCA sent letters to 48 governors offering to buy prisons in their states. “The company,” Engelhardt reported, “said it had earmarked $250 million for buying and running state-owned prisons as part of a ‘corrections investment initiative.’” There’s a catch, as stated in the letters to governors: the state prison agency has to ensure that the prison remain at least 90 percent full. The population size works well for those who profit from prison labor. “The privatization of prisons in recent years has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and rightless to complain,” said Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman in the TomDispatch piece. “[N]early a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day,” Fraser and Freeman noted. Leasing prisoners to corporations for outrageously low wages, Engelhardt said, is a “’Yankee invention’ dating back almost 200 years that was modern then and, frighteningly enough, couldn’t be more modern today.”


Suicide rates soar in the West On April 27, Spanish National Radio announced that suicide rates have been rising dramatically in economically hard-hit European countries that have implemented “austerity” programs. In Ireland the suicide rate has risen 16 percent, in Italy 50 percent and in Greece 24 percent. In Athens the rate has increased 25 percent. Meanwhile, the suicide rate between 2004 and 2008 among U.S. Army troops has soared 80 percent, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Command, as reported by ABC News. According to the Army’s study, the rise parallels escalating rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions in soldiers. In 2008 the suicide rate among soldiers surpassed the rate of civilian suicides, the ABC report said.


Student strike in Quebec: 178,390 participate over 73 days April 27 was the 73rd day of a massive student strike in Canada’s province of Quebec. The students are protesting a $1,624 tuition hike, according to Isa al-Jaza’lrl, writing in In Defence of Marxism. The strike has kept going, even though the government thought it could wait out the strikers, but the students are in it for the long haul, said al-Jaza’lrl. The government arrested 600 strikers in three days alone during one week. College and university administrators are now going after the professors. Quebec’s minister of education, Line Beauchamp, has called on campus administrations to hold classes even without any students present. College and university administrators across the province have begun to request court injunctions against student picket lines and issued a directive aimed at professors – “teach, even if the classroom is empty, or be disciplined for missing work,” said al-Jaza’lrl. New on the scene is a “wave” of new security guards hired on campuses around the provinces in recent weeks, al-Jaza’lrl said. Police have been beating students. After 66 days of police abuse, 600 students held an outdoor assembly at the Universite du Quebec en Outaouals and voted on their next course of action. They formed lines and, with some professors, together forced their way through the police phalanx and set up barricades at the university, according to al-Jaza’lrl. The students occupied the university for two hours and were then forced out. Several professors and 300 students were arrested during two days of protest, al-Jaza’lrl said. The courts had ordered the students to return to their classes. “This heroic movement is showing an amazing will to fight, and the government has been playing games. They have been swinging back and forth from pretending to negotiate to attempting to put down this rising of a generation by force. The coming days will be crucial in deciding the struggle” al-Jaza’lrl wrote.


Putting politics in birth control On April 27 the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the FDA and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius in federal court for blocking access to emergency contraception. Though such contraception is safer than aspirin or cold medication, the FDA caved in to political pressure to make it difficult for women to obtain by placing it behind the counter, making the consumers subject to ID checks and thereby keeping emergency contraception out of reach for millions of women, according to an email from the center. The FDA finally decided to remove the restrictions on emergency contraception this winter, but Sebelius intervened and overruled the agency’s decision. The center first started working on this case 11 years ago.


Human rights at risk in Bahrain The U.S. provides the government of Bahrain with weapons. Bahrain is also the home of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Obviously the U.S. has a significant influence on Bahrain, according to an email from Just Foreign Policy. The Bahrain government is imprisoning and abusing Bahrainis for advocating peaceful protests in support of democracy. The Obama administration has finally begun to speak out about human rights in Bahrain, but it can do more: demand the release of Bahrainis imprisoned and abused for advocating peaceful protests. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is a Bahraini political prisoner imprisoned for life for his role in prodemocracy protests, has been on a hunger strike for two months and is close to death, according to Democracy Now!. Amnesty International says al-Khawaja and 13 other well-known activists are being held "solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly" and that the 14 have never advocated violence. Send a letter to President Obama, your senators and representatives to take action in support of Bahraini human rights defenders at this website.



Connecticut joins 16 other states in abolishing the death penalty Just weeks ago Connecticut Gov. Dannell P. Malloy signed into law the Act Revising the Penalty for Capital Felonies, which had passed the state legislature with strong bipartisan votes. Passage of the law makes Connecticut the 17th state to abolish the death penalty. According to an email posted on April 25, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty issued a statement in response to passage of the new law: “The momentum in this country is toward ending the death penalty. With Governor Malloy’s leadership in Connecticut, we now have five states that have abandoned the death penalty in five years. The numbers of new death sentences and executions are down, and there is a growing body of evidence exposing the death penalty system as failed public policy. We look forward to more states across the country joining the list of those without capital punishment in the coming years. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has been at it for 35 years, and [we are] pleased to say that the end of our struggle is in sight.” The coalition encourages people to write letters to the editors of their local newspapers -- Indiana newspapers are a case in point -- “pointing to the building momentum towards ending the death penalty in the United States.”


Restaurant worker fired for standing up for her rights Sonia Ordonez had worked as a cook at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago for six years when she decided to do something about her and her coworkers’ mistreatment by hotel management. “I’m proud of the work I do, but in recent months I have spoken out when Hyatt has mistreated us,” she said in an email from UNITE HERE. “At Hyatt, we struggle daily with an employer that injures our bodies and treats us like we are disposable.” Ordonez is a member of UNITE HERE, which represents workers throughout the U.S. and Canada who work in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry and airport industries. UNITE HERE has a diverse membership, composed of workers from many immigrant communities as well as high percentages of African American, Latino and Asian-American workers. The majority of UNITE HERE members are women. UNITE HERE represents more than 100,000 hotel workers who work in more than 900 hotels in the U.S. and Canada. Ordonez shared her story with numerous community leaders and even took her request for justice to Hyatt’s top management at an annual shareholders’ meeting. During the week of April 13, Hyatt fired Ordonez for missing the last few minutes of her shift even though all her work was finished. “A lot of my coworkers do this, and to my knowledge no one has ever been fired for it,” she claimed. Ordonez is a single mother who immigrated from Nicaragua 20 years ago to escape the civil war there. Once in the U.S. she found herself in an abusive marriage. For her and her children’s safety, she left her husband and worked at one job during the day and another at night to support her family. “I need this job,” Ordonez said, “but I’ve come too far to take abuse from anyone. That’s why I have raised my voice. I believe that all workers should have this right. I am not the first woman at Hyatt to be terminated or disciplined after speaking out against injustice.” To help Ordonez recover her job, UNITE HERE is asking people to send an email to the general manager of the Hyatt Regency calling for her reinstatement and an end to the hotel chain’s mistreatment of women and immigrant workers. Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.