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What Happens When You Hire Scabs


You have all heard by now about Alec Baldwin accidentally shooting the director and cinematographer on the set of his current movie project, killing the latter. Turns out this is all about bad workplace safety conditions, union workers walking off the set to protest the lack of safety, and scabs crews taking their place.

Hours before actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer on the New Mexico set of “Rust” with a prop gun, a half-dozen camera crew workers walked off the set to protest working conditions.

The camera operators and their assistants were frustrated by the conditions surrounding the low-budget film, including complaints about long hours, long commutes and collecting their paychecks, according to three people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.

Safety protocols standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed on the “Rust” set near Santa Fe, the sources said. They said at least one of the camera operators complained last weekend to a production manager about gun safety on the set.

Three crew members who were present at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set on Saturday said they were particularly concerned about two accidental prop gun discharges.

Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds Saturday after being told that the gun was “cold” — lingo for a weapon that doesn’t have any ammunition, including blanks, two crew members who witnessed the episode told the Los Angeles Times.

“There should have been an investigation into what happened,” said the crew member. “There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush.”

A colleague was so alarmed by the prop gun misfires he sent a text message to the unit production manager. “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” according to a copy of the message reviewed by The Times.

Labor trouble had been brewing for days on the dusty set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe.

Shooting began on Oct. 6 and members of the low-budget film said they had been promised the production would pay for their hotel rooms in Santa Fe.

But after filming began, the crews were told they instead would be required to make the 50-mile drive from Albuquerque each day, rather than stay overnight in nearby Santa Fe. That rankled crew members who worried that they might have an accident after spending 12 to 13 hours on the set.

Hutchins had been advocating for safer conditions for her team and was tearful when the camera crew left, said one crew member who was on the set.

She said, ‘I feel like I’m losing my best friends,’” recalled one of the workers.

As the camera crew — members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — spent about an hour assembling their gear at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, several nonunion crew members showed up to replace them, two of the knowledgeable people said.

One of the producers ordered the union members to leave the set and threatened to call security to remove them if they didn’t leave voluntarily.

“Corners were being cut — and they brought in nonunion people so they could continue shooting,” the knowledgeable person said.

The shooting occurred about six hours after the union camera crew left.

Bosses don’t care about worker safety. Unions do. When employers who don’t care about workers hire scabs, people die. And yes, Alec Baldwin is a producer on the film and thus one of the bosses.

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America’s car crash epidemic

A car in the middle of a paved road stuck with its front wheels off the ground atop a median strip.
A passenger car involved in a car crash in Brooklyn, New York. The pandemic has made driving more dangerous. | Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Driving kills as many Americans each year as guns do. Experts say that’s preventable.

Driving is the most dangerous thing most Americans do every day. Virtually every American knows someone who’s been injured in a car crash, and each year cars kill about as many people as guns and severely injure millions.

It’s a public health crisis in any year, and somehow, the pandemic has only made it more acute. Even as Americans have been driving less in the past year or so, car crash deaths (including both occupants of vehicles and pedestrians) have surged.

Cars killed 42,060 people in 2020, up from 39,107 in 2019, according to a preliminary estimate from the National Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit that focuses on eliminating preventable deaths. (NSC’s numbers are typically higher than those reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) because the NSC includes car deaths in private spaces like driveways and parking lots, and it counts deaths that occur up to a year after a crash.)

That increase occurred even as the number of miles traveled by car decreased by 13 percent from the previous year. It was the biggest single-year spike in the US car fatality rate in nearly a century, and 2021 is on pace to be even worse.

Between January and June of this year, NSC reports that car fatalities increased by 16 percent from the same period last year, with areas as diverse as Texas and New York City reporting sharp increases. If the trend continues for the rest of the year, nationwide deaths would reach the highest level since 2006. The NHTSA’s preliminary data estimate a lower but still dramatic 10.5 percent increase in car deaths between January and March 2021 compared to the same months last year.

According to several traffic experts I spoke with, the explanation for the 2020 fatality spike is relatively straightforward: With fewer cars on the road during quarantine, traffic congestion was all but eliminated, which emboldened people to drive at lethal speeds. Compared to 2019, many more drivers involved in fatal crashes also didn’t wear seat belts or drove drunk.

But why has the surge persisted and worsened this year, even as traffic has been picking back up and nearing pre-Covid-19 levels? We don’t entirely know, but it seems to have something to do with the pandemic altering traffic patterns.

The Covid-driven surge in car deaths shouldn’t obscure what was already a disquieting fact before the pandemic: American automotive deaths — both of pedestrians and of people in cars — are a public health emergency.

 Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Investigators at the scene of a crash between an SUV and a semi-truck near Holtville, California, on March 2. At least 13 people were killed when a vehicle packed with passengers, including minors, collided with the large truck.

In a recent report on car fatality rates in OECD nations, the US ranked among the worst. Most of America’s peers have shown a clear downward trend in car fatalities over the past two decades: Belgium, France, Spain, and the Czech Republic all had per capita car death rates comparable to the US in 2000 and have since more than halved them. America’s fatality rate has decreased, too, over the same period but not by nearly as much, and it’s started to show signs of ticking back up in the past decade.

And like so many other major causes of mortality, people of color are disproportionately affected. Cars last year killed 23 percent more Black Americans and 11 percent more Native Americans than they did in 2019 (compared to a 4 percent increase for white Americans).

All this isn’t an inevitability — traffic safety experts know the policy interventions needed to fix the problem. The continuing surge in pandemic-era car deaths should focus national attention on implementing them.

The tragedy of road deaths

If the federal government undertook a national project to dramatically cut the number of people being killed by cars, one compelling starting point could be preventing pedestrian deaths. Pedestrians are our most vulnerable road users, and they walk in many of the same environments that are dangerous for drivers. A pedestrian-first focus would also make motorists safer.

The past decade has seen an extraordinary increase in the number of people killed by cars while walking, so much so that pedestrians account for most of the recent increase in car fatalities. Cars killed 6,205 people walking in 2019, an increase of 51 percent from 4,109 in 2009, according to the NHTSA. (The National Safety Council estimates a higher number, 7,700 pedestrians killed in 2019.)

People who can’t afford cars are also less likely to live in neighborhoods where it’s safe to walk. Black Americans, Native Americans, wheelchair users, and people walking in low-income areas are much more likely to be killed by a car, a structural disparity that worsened during the pandemic.

But for all the vulnerabilities of pedestrians in any given incident, most American car deaths don’t involve them. More common are crashes of two or more cars, or just one car crashing into an object like a tree, post, or storefront (something that happens with bizarre frequency in the US).

 Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Image
Emergency workers investigate the scene of a car that crashed into pedestrians in New York’s Times Square on May 18, 2017.
 Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A makeshift memorial was created in Times Square for Alyssa Elsman, a young woman who died when a car crashed into pedestrians on May 18, 2017.

During the pandemic, car fatalities worsened across all regions of the US. Deaths spiked by about the same percentage in both urban and rural America, according to the NHTSA, though rural areas have always been highly overrepresented and remained so in 2020. In the region comprising Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which already has above-average fatality rates, deaths rose by 7 percent in 2020 and 11 percent in the first quarter of 2021. In New England, which has the country’s lowest car fatality rates, deaths increased by 9 percent in 2020 and increased by 1 percent in the first quarter of this year.

The tragedy of high road death rates isn’t uniquely American. Worldwide, the car death rate is even higher than in the US, and it’s especially bad in the Global South. Cars kill 1.3 million people worldwide every year, more than murders and suicides combined, and most victims are pedestrians, bikers, and motorcyclists — not car passengers, who tend to be wealthier.

Poor- and middle-income countries have more dangerous road infrastructure, older cars with fewer safety features, higher motorcycle ridership, and less physical separation (like bike lanes) between different types of traffic, says Renato Vieira, an economist at the Catholic University of Brasília.

 Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Passengers travel atop a truck surrounded by motorcyclists in Maharashtra, India, earlier this year.

“Motorcycles will usually circulate in between the cars, so it’s much more dangerous,” Vieira says. “The accident ratio with motorcycles is much higher, and the fatality ratio as well.”

If the world is to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of halving car fatalities by 2030, then it has much work to do. In the US, that can start with refining our crash prevention strategy, which too often lays the blame on bad drivers while encouraging safer behaviors among individuals. These tactics have their place, but the priority ought to be on the highest-impact intervention: building roads that are safer for everyone.

America’s dangerous road design, explained

American roads have been designed for the convenience of drivers, which means they’ve been engineered for speed.

And speed is the decisive factor in a car crash’s severity. Everything else — drunk driving, distracted driving, bad weather — makes crashes more likely to happen, but speed is the difference between life and death, especially for pedestrians and bikers, who don’t have the armor of a car. A pedestrian has a 10 percent chance of dying when hit by a car at 23 miles per hour, a 25 percent chance at 32 mph, and a 75 percent chance at 50 mph.

One type of roadway that’s especially dangerous is what Charles Marohn, a municipal engineer and urban planner, calls a “stroad”: places that try to be both a street, with access to shopping and leisure, and a road, where drivers move from place to place at high speeds, but do neither well.

Stroads are pervasive throughout America. Think of the wide arterial roads, lined with strip malls and big-box stores, that dominate the country. These environments combine 30- or 40-plus mph speeds with frequent turns, stopping points, and shared traffic with pedestrians and bikes, which creates many opportunities for crashes. “When we mix high-speed cars with stopping and turning traffic, it is only a matter of time until people get killed,” Marohn writes in his recent book Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, which explores the failures of America’s car-dependent transportation system.

 Gabriela Bhaskar/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Stroads, or wide arterial roads lined with stores, are pervasive throughout America.

In the postwar period, “they were taking this new idea of highways, commuters, suburbs, and they said, ‘We’re going to do this everywhere,’” says Marohn. “If you’re trying to build a whole new version of America in two or three decades at scale across an entire continent, what you do is you adopt really dumb, nonflexible standards, and you just repeat them over and over and over again. That’s what we did.”

Auto-centric design didn’t just create unsafe “stroads” in the suburbs and exurbs; it also made them pervasive in city centers, where roads accommodated commuters arriving by car.

And when there’s little traffic in the way, as has been the case during most of the pandemic, the overly wide design of stroads encourages people to drive very fast, regardless of the speed limit.

One victim of stroads in an urban environment was Hermanda Booker, a 29-year-old special education teacher in Brooklyn. One day in 2017, when Booker was walking the three blocks from her home to catch a bus to work, an SUV turned left at a crosswalk and struck her, and then a school bus ran her over. “I can’t even imagine those last moments for her, of just terror,” her sister, Rhondelle Booker, told me.

It was a notoriously dangerous intersection of two wide, high-speed roads, where pedestrians are forced to spend a long time in the crosswalk. Neither of the drivers were held responsible for Hermanda’s death, her sister says. It was deemed a “tragic accident,” just an inevitable part of how driving in America works.

Though more Americans are driving regularly this year than in 2020, fewer people are driving during a predictable rush hour compared to before the pandemic, Marohn says. This has made roads less jammed even as total traffic volumes return to normal, which results in faster driving and puts drivers and pedestrians like Booker at higher risk.

“Everything that we said was happening last year — where instead of having congestion, calm traffic, you have people who are driving on roads that are over-engineered [for speed] and they’re driving fast because nothing is slowing them down — what you have now is more drivers, a higher volume of drivers, having that same experience,” Marohn says.

Stroads are common in rural America, too, and rural areas face unique challenges, like relatively empty roads that encourage fast driving, which make their car death rates much higher than in urban areas. Unlike interstates, rural highways often have no physical barrier between lanes of opposing traffic traveling at 40, 50, 60 mph or higher — a ridiculously dangerous situation that shouldn’t exist anywhere.

How to bring down car deaths

Controlling speeds on roads is the most important goal of any car safety strategy. There are two main ways to do that: change the physical design of the road with “traffic calming” measures that encourage slower driving, like narrowing lanes and adding speed bumps, or change the legal speed limit, which is easier and inexpensive but less effective.

Some cities that have committed to eliminating car fatalities have shown promising results. New York City’s traffic deaths reached a low of 200 in 2018 (the lowest in a century), down from 299 five years before, after making major citywide changes: lowering speed limits to 25 mph, installing speed cameras, and testing traffic calming measures, like these posts installed at dangerous turns. The suburban city of Fremont, California, decreased fatalities and severe injuries by 45 percent between 2015 and 2020.

Other ideas have proven promising. Installing roundabouts instead of traditional intersections is highly effective at saving lives in US rural areas, which have death rates far above the national average because of their high speeds and lack of physical barriers between lanes. Deaths can be dramatically reduced with the addition of medians or central turn lanes.

The concept of a “road diet” has also shown particular promise in mitigating the dangers of roads in sparsely populated areas. Road diets add complexity to roads by removing some traffic lanes, creating central turn lanes to more safely manage left turns, and adding features like bike lanes and shoulders, which are often missing from rural roads, resulting in fatal single-car crashes. And maybe most important, it does all this while slowing down traffic.

Reconfigure the lanes and the traffic will calm.

But the US should also look beyond its borders for solutions. Some of the most transformative recent case studies come from abroad, and they have much to teach Americans about what’s possible.

Fortaleza, Brazil, a city of 2.7 million, cut its traffic deaths nearly in half between 2014 and 2019 by lowering speeds, narrowing lanes, and adding complexity to roads, like raised pedestrian crossings. In 2015, São Paulo, Brazil, decreased speed limits on its urban highways and major roads, a reform that reduced crashes by 21.7 percent, according to a recent study by Vieira and economists Amanda Ang and Peter Christensen. “The evidence we have from São Paulo is very clear,” Vieira says. “Speed limits are very effective.”

São Paulo’s speed limits are automatically enforced by traffic cameras, so drivers are highly incentivized to comply. “If you’re driving in São Paulo and you go above the speed limit, you’re sure you’re going to get a ticket,” Vieira says. “I was surprised when I was [in America] that you don’t have automatic enforcement.”

Oslo, incredibly, virtually eliminated traffic deaths in 2019 by aggressively reducing speeds, banning cars from the city center, and building out a robust bike path network. Very slow speeds and car-free zones are becoming the norm in many European cities.

Americans might imagine that Europeans are somehow naturally predisposed to dense development that deprioritizes cars, but that isn’t exactly true. Car-centric development came to Europe in the mid-20th century, just as it did to the US.

The Netherlands’ car fatality rate was once higher than America’s; now it’s one-third of it. In the 1970s, a citizens movement called “Stop de Kindermoord,” or “Stop Murdering Children,” protested the country’s epidemic of death by cars. “They were just sick and tired of kids being killed in the streets,” says Jason Slaughter, a Canadian immigrant in Amsterdam who runs Not Just Bikes, an urban planning YouTube channel. Combined with the 1973 oil crisis, public outcry helped transform Dutch streets.

A brick-paved city intersection without cars shows parked bikes and people cycling. Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Daily life in De Negen Straatjes in Amsterdam on August 7.

The Dutch example illustrates why street design is probably more important than legal speed limits. “When you have a big, wide, straight road in the middle of the city, you’re going to drive faster,” Slaughter says — it’s an ingrained, subconscious part of how we drive.

Dutch streets would be unrecognizable to most North Americans. They’re narrow and built with plenty of traffic-calming features, like curves and landscaping, making people naturally drive slower. They often have a flipped design that puts the pedestrian experience at the center. Continuous sidewalks go straight through intersections, which puts the onus on cars to stop for pedestrians rather than the other way around.

This design style recognizes that humans make mistakes, instead of expecting drivers to make split-second decisions in dangerous environments. While it’s unlikely that pedestrian-first streets are going to become the norm across the US overnight, similar principles can work in the country’s more car-dominated settings.

The policy challenge

For all of the energy around finding solutions to America’s road death emergency, the challenge of actually scaling up effective policies remains steep.

According to Bloomberg’s CityLab, many American cities pursuing “Vision Zero” — a strategy advocated by the traffic safety nonprofit Vision Zero Network to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries — have not yet shown overwhelming success. The pandemic has further complicated their efforts; New York City traffic deaths, after years of sustained progress, shot up last year.

Local opposition among drivers to any perceived inconvenience can be fierce. But state restrictions have also prevented cities from going as far as they’d like to. To change a traffic law, local governments have to cut through a morass of federal and state rules, and the funding that’s tied to them.

Under state law, New York City can’t reduce most of its speed limits below 25 mph, which is still too high for streets shared with many pedestrians and bikers (activists have backed a bill that would change that, which recently passed the state Senate).

“The cities need better partners at the state level and at the federal level,” says Leah Shahum, founder and director of Vision Zero Network. “They can’t do this on their own.” And states are given little incentive to reduce fatalities; federal transportation money keeps flowing to them regardless.

“I would love it if states were actually penalized for rising crash rates,” says Courtney Cobbs, a co-founder of the nonprofit Better Streets Chicago. While states are required to set safety performance targets, Shahum calls them “really embarrassingly lax”; they function less as death reduction goals than as forecasts of how many people will be allowed to die. “They are literally planning for more traffic deaths,” Shahum says.

 Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
New York Police and Fire Department investigate the site of a car collision in Manhattan on March 5. Six people, including two children, were reported injured after a two-car collision saw one car mount a sidewalk and destroy an outdoor dining structure.

Federal standards don’t just fail to set ambitious goals — they also make it exceedingly difficult for communities to make sensible design changes, says Marohn, complaining about the stroad in front of his house in the town of Brainerd, Minnesota. “If you narrowed the lanes and made the speeds lower, it would become way more safe just overnight, immediately. But no city, no state is really allowed to do that.” Roads have to adhere to the rulebook that has dictated bad, speed-first design for decades, or risk losing federal transportation aid, Marohn says.

Deviating from the rules can also put local governments legally on the hook for crashes, which creates a strong incentive to comply even if the established standards aren’t keeping people safe.

Tying federal transportation funds to state death rates might be an effective idea, Marohn says, but only if we also throw out that rulebook.

As more cities become serious about slashing their death rates, that could actually become feasible. Americans are only at the beginning of embracing a people-focused road system, and their successes — convincing state policymakers to change street designs and speed limits — can create a positive feedback loop that inspires higher-level reform.

Marina Bolotnikova is a journalist in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Johnson & Johnson is drawing criticism after using a controversial bankruptcy maneuver to block roughly 38,000 lawsuits linked to claims that its talc baby powder was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos.

The health products giant used a quirk of Texas state law to spin off a new company called LTL, then dumped all its asbestos-related liabilities — including the avalanche of lawsuits — into the new firm.

LTL filed for bankruptcy last week in a federal court in Charlotte, N.C., a move designed to sharply limit efforts to recover damages for those who say they were harmed by J&J's baby powder.

"Johnson & Johnson doesn't have this liability anymore. They pushed all of it into the company they created just to file for bankruptcy," said Lindsey Simon, a bankruptcy expert at the University of Georgia School of Law.

As a result, Simon said, "consumers can't recover [damages] against a big solvent company. They have to recover against this smaller fictional company created [by J&J]."

The move sparked outrage from lawmakers and consumer advocates.

"J&J knew asbestos laced some bottles but kept it a secret for decades," Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., tweeted on Tuesday. "Tens of thousands of women with ovarian cancer are suing, and the company wants to shield its assets."

In 2018, separate investigations by Reuters and The New York Times revealed documents showing Johnson & Johnson fretted for decades that small amounts of asbestos lurked in its baby powder, without telling regulators.

J&J has repeatedly denied the claim. The company remains one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, with more than $25 billion in cash reserves, and has not filed for bankruptcy.

Johnson & Johnson says the bankruptcy move is legitimate

During a call with investors on Tuesday, J&J CFO Joseph Wolk defended the bankruptcy maneuver and again said its talc baby powder products, discontinued last year, were safe.

"There's an established process that allows companies facing abusive tort systems to resolve claims in an efficient and equitable manner," Wolk said.

"It's really the bankruptcy courts that will ultimately decide this. It's not plaintiff attorneys. It's not Johnson & Johnson," he added.

In a separate statement, LTL said J&J had agreed to provide the new firm with $2 billion, along with other funds, for future payouts linked to baby powder asbestos claims.

"We are confident all parties will be treated equitably during this process," said John Kim, chief legal officer of LTL, in the statement.

But Andrew Birchfield, an attorney with the firm Beasley Allen who represents women who have sued J&J, said this legal maneuver could make it far more difficult for his clients to recover damages.

"Women and families would be devastated, and it would just be a get-out-of-jail-free card for Johnson & Johnson," Birchfield said.

J&J has had a mixed record defending itself against these talc-asbestos lawsuits.

The company has prevailed in many cases, but last year an appeals court in Missouri ordered the firm to pay $2 billion to women who say J&J's talc product caused their ovarian cancer.

Advocates are raising alarms about "bankruptcy grifters"

Critics say this is another instance of a growing trend: corporations and wealthy individuals using bankruptcy to block lawsuits without actually filing for bankruptcy themselves.

"Another giant corporation is abusing our bankruptcy system to shield its assets and evade liability for the harm it has caused people across the country," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted last week.

The American Association for Justice, a coalition of trial lawyers, also blasted J&J's maneuver and called for legislation to block this kind of legal tactic.

"There are countless Americans suffering from cancer, or mourning the death of a loved one, because of the toxic baby powder that Johnson & Johnson put on the market," the group said in a statement. "Their conduct and now bankruptcy gimmick is as despicable as it is brazen."

In recent months, legal scholars, bipartisan members of Congress and consumer advocacy groups have raised alarms about the use of bankruptcy courts by wealthy and powerful entities seeking to block lawsuits.

Simon, at the University of Georgia, published a widely read paper in the Yale Law Journal in April that described wealthy companies like Johnson & Johnson as "bankruptcy grifters."

She argued such firms and organizations receive the benefits of Chapter 11 protection while "incurring only a fraction of the associated burdens."

Critics also say lax bankruptcy laws allow companies to "venue shop," choosing to file for bankruptcy in federal jurisdictions viewed as friendly to corporations.

In this case, Johnson & Johnson is headquartered in New Jersey, but these legal maneuvers have been executed in North Carolina and Texas.

Similar legal strategies have been used in bankruptcy courts by members of the Sackler family who own OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, as well as by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Boy Scouts of America, which face a barrage of sex abuse-related claims.

Simon said this bankruptcy maneuver offers J&J significant advantages in negotiations that are likely to follow over a final settlement.

But she said the company may still be on the hook for sizable payouts to victims as determined by the bankruptcy court.

"[J&J is] not completely wiping their hands of the issue, and I think probably awareness of how that would be perceived is the reason why," Simon said.

Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, has asked a federal bankruptcy judge to halt progress on talc-asbestos claims while LTL's bankruptcy filing is under review.

Judge Craig Whitley will hold a hearing on that request on Friday in Charlotte.

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Too bad the millions of normal people in debt (student loans and otherwise) can't do this weird legal trick.

"Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protectes but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect." https://crookedtimber.org/2018/03/21/liberals-against-progressives/#comment-729288
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The Methods of Moral Panic Journalism

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During the 1990s, the media convinced Americans that frivolous lawsuits were out of control.

The canonical example was the 1994 “McDonald’s hot coffee” case. In the mythic version, a woman spilled coffee on herself while driving, received minor injuries and then got rich by suing the fast food chain that sold it to her. In reality, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck wasn’t driving, suffered third-degree burns over 10% of her body and only decided to sue after McDonald’s refused to pay for her medical care. Liebeck’s jury award of $2.9 million made headlines, but the punitive damages were almost immediately knocked down to $640,000. She ended up settling with McDonald’s for even less.

Looking back nearly 30 years later, the most remarkable thing about the McDonald’s case is that all of these debunking details were available at the time. The very first AP story about the case noted Liebeck’s severe burns and McDonald’s refusal to pay damages. Within weeks of the verdict, the Wall St. Journal published an A1 story in which jurors said they had initially been skeptical of Liebeck’s motives, but changed their minds after learning that McDonald’s sold its coffee so close to boiling that it had caused at least 700 other severe burn cases in the previous decade.

The real story of the McDonald’s case was always available, it just didn’t matter. By the time the Liebeck verdict came down, Americans had already spent nearly a decade hearing about ambulance-chasing lawyers, “jackpot justice” awards and the debilitating “tort tax” on American businesses. As early as 1986, Ronald Reagan speeches included a laugh line about a woman who sued her doctor after a CAT scan robbed her of her psychic powers. (In reality, the woman had an allergic reaction to a surgical dye, suffered severe headaches for the rest of her life and had her lawsuit thrown out. She never received a dime.) 

This pre-existing narrative explains why the exaggerated version of the McDonald’s case was so durable. Sure, some of the details didn’t check out and the facts turned out to be a bit more complicated than they seemed. But still, journalists argued at the time, we know frivolous lawsuits are a problem in America.

But they weren’t. Civil cases were actually falling throughout the 1990s. Seven-digit payouts attracted headlines, but they were vanishingly rare — just 3% of plaintiffs got punitive damages at all; the median award was $38,000 — and nearly always got overturned on appeal.

The central premise of the “frivolous lawsuits” panic — it is too easy for citizens to sue corporations — was an obvious lie, a blinking, howling whopper that would have been laughed off of front pages if it weren’t for all the overblown anecdotes making it seem plausible.

You know where I’m going with this. For years now, panicked headlines and grave magazine features have warned Americans about the threat of an increasingly illiberal left. This narrative has appeared in countless stories about “The New Intolerance of Student Activism,” and endless editorials decrying the latest episode of “cancel culture.” Roughly a dozen national-level journalists have turned oversensitive sophomores and arcane YA fiction dramas into a beat.

I have (God help me) read a huge amount of this coverage and the thing that strikes me, over and over again, is the sheer sameness of it. Thousands upon thousands of words dedicated to the same arguments, the same low-stakes anecdotes, the same tortured historical analogies. Other than slight tweaks to the headlines, few of these stories even attempt to offer any original reporting or perspective.

And so, because I don’t have time to debunk all of these articles, I’m going to pick on two of them. Last month, The Economist and The Atlantic published long features purporting to explore the phenomena of “Left-Wing Illiberalism” and “New Puritanism,” respectively. While both stories display the superficial features of investigative journalism, a deep dive reveals the same motivated reasoning, nonexistent evidence and indefensible editorial standards that misinformed the public about frivolous lawsuits.

It’s happening again. And here’s how to spot it.

1. Low Stakes

The central premise of the “wokeness” panic is that the progressive left represents a slippery slope toward authoritarianism. In the Atlantic, historian Anne Applebaum decries “modern mob justice” and compares social media shamings to Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Stalin’s purges.

“The censoriousness, the shunning, the ritualized apologies, the public sacrifices—these are rather typical behaviors in illiberal societies with rigid cultural codes, enforced by heavy peer pressure,” she says.

The Economist dedicates an entire chapter of its “Left-Wing Illiberalism” cover story to the similarities between present-day wokeness and the “confessional state” of Medieval Europe.

I don’t think I’m reaching for the stars when I say that if you’re going to compare a modern-day political movement to some of history’s worst atrocities, you had better have strong evidence to back it up.

So what are the telltale signs that we’re entering a new era of mass repression?

According to the Atlantic, an editor got fired:

After losing his job as editor of The New York Review of Books in a #MeToo-related editorial dispute—he was not accused of assault, just of printing an article by someone who was—Ian Buruma discovered that several of the magazines where he had been writing for three decades would not publish him any longer.

Applebaum goes out of her way to say that she’s not going to “reinvestigate or relitigate” any of the cases she includes in her article, but by implying that Buruma was fired simply for printing an article by someone who was once accused of sexual assault, that is exactly what she’s doing. 

The article in question was not a movie review or a treatise on Namibian politics. It was a first-person account of the allegations in question by the alleged perpetrator. Buruma circumvented his own magazine’s editorial standards to allow the author to characterize himself as an innocent victim of a witch hunt. Buruma later admitted that he made no effort to confirm whether any of the essay was true, nor to seek responses from victims. These are significant ethical lapses. After a wave of staff and public backlash, Buruma stepped down.

Again: Applebaum is marshaling this anecdote as evidence for the claim that young progressives are carrying out Stalinist purges of their ideological enemies. Was Buruma falsely accused? No. Did he make an honest misstep, show contrition and lose his job anyway? Also no: To this day, Buruma refuses to acknowledge that he did anything wrong.

It’s not even obvious that Buruma’s punishment was disproportionate. After her article came out, Applebaum implied that because the victims of America’s “new puritanism” hadn’t broken any laws, the consequences applied to them were fundamentally illegitimate.

This is laughable. Buruma, the senior editor of a national magazine, suffered a reputational hit after publishing an article that invited widespread public backlash. This happens in journalism constantly. Jonah Lehrer didn’t break any laws, but he was effectively banished from journalism after making up Bob Dylan quotes. Rolling Stone editor-in-chief Jann Wenner stepped down after publishing the infamous University of Virginia rape story. Applebaum is arguing that these consequences are not only unjust — regardless of the underlying facts — but evidence of creeping totalitarianism.

And Buruma’s not the only example. The Economist cites the case of Colin Wright, a post-doctoral student who had difficulty finding a job after publishing a series of essays “arguing that sex is a biological reality” (TERF-ese for “trans people don’t exist”). Elsewhere in her Atlantic piece, Applebaum recounts the tale of Daniel Elder, a composer whose music was pulled from performances because he criticized Black Lives Matter protesters.

By contrast, here is an excerpt from Frank Dikötter’s history of the Cultural Revolution, the event to which these authors are explicitly inviting us to draw parallels:

Party activists joined the local militia in locking their victims into their own homes or makeshift prisons. They were taken out one by one. Some were clubbed to death, others stabbed with chaff cutters or strangled with wire. Several were electrocuted. Children were hung by their feet and whipped. One eight-year-old girl and her grandmother were buried alive. More than 300 people were killed, including entire families and their children, as the killers wanted to make sure that there would be none left to take revenge years later.

On one hand, a few prominent figures faced routine professional consequences for their publicly stated views. On the other, thousands of people, including children, were beaten to death in the streets despite doing nothing wrong.

If you want to argue that one of those things will lead to the other, fine. But you should at least be honest about how slippery the slope needs to be for that to happen.

2. Irrelevant Examples

One of the first things you notice about the “frivolous lawsuits” panic is how much space journalists gave to examples that … weren’t frivolous lawsuits.

In 1995, the New York Times opened an article called “Hey, Waiter! Now There's a Lawyer in My Soup” with the story of a couple who threatened to sue a restaurant for exposing them to secondhand smoke but never filed. In 2004, Newsweek recounted the tale of a convict who hid from police in a forest and lost three toes to frostbite. “The man threatened to sue the police for not catching him sooner,” the story intones. Period, space. Then: “He couldn't find a lawyer” — i.e. there was no lawsuit, frivolous or otherwise.

In hindsight, these anecdotes actually demonstrated the opposite of the panic’s core thesis: Rather than doling out “jackpot justice” to any doofus with a Social Security number and a minor complaint, America’s civil litigation system actually made it pretty hard — and pretty rare — for frivolous lawsuits to make it to courtrooms.

The same bizarre tendency shows up in the “illiberal left” panic. Midway through the Economist’s article detailing the parallels between today’s campus activism and yesterday’s confessional crackdowns, we get this argument (highlights by me):

So here we have a dire warning — illiberal leftists are banning books! — followed by two anecdotes in which no books have been banned.

As with the frivolous lawsuits that weren’t lawsuits, these examples demonstrate the non-existence of the trend the author thinks he is exploring. JK Rowling received widespread criticism after making series of unpopular and bigoted public statements, but has suffered no meaningful consequences. Duncan, a young adult fiction author, received criticism on the concept of an unpublished manuscript and decided not to publish it.

Maybe you think the criticism of Rowling is unfair (it’s not) and find YA dramas exhausting (they are), but this is not censorship in any meaningful sense of the word. If you asked a million Americans to define the term “book banning,” would a single one describe … authors being roasted on social media?

A surprisingly large percentage of “illiberal left” articles pull this same rhetorical trick. In 2019, Laurie Sheck, a New School professor, was investigated by her employer for saying the n-word in class. For weeks, centrist and conservative media outlets sputtered to her defense: The word appeared in a quote from James Baldwin! She was leading a class discussion about racial slurs! Invoking epithets wasn’t even prohibited in any school policies. The case became a totemic example of Wokeness Gone Mad that still pops up in anecdote-parade feature stories two years later.

But that version of the story leaves out an important epilogue. The university cleared Scheck without any punishment. The pundits were right: She hadn’t violated any school policies.

Scheck’s case, as soon as you tell it in full, turns out to be an example of a university that isn’t captured by leftist ideology. Only a single (white) student complained about Sheck’s use of the n-word. Like most universities, the New School has a grievance mechanism that allows students to file complaints and obligates administrators to take them seriously. The term “investigation” conjures up comparisons to Orwell and Kafka, but in this case it appears administrators interviewed Sheck and the student, reviewed their policies and moved on. Perhaps you wish the student had never filed a complaint in the first place, but this is the story of a system working as intended, not breaking down.

Applebaum’s Atlantic piece is packed with non-example examples. She recounts the story of Joshua Katz, a Princeton classics professor who wrote a Quillette article denouncing a “Faculty Letter” that demanded a series of anti-racist changes at the university.

“In response,” Applebaum says, “The Daily Princetonian, a student newspaper, spent seven months investigating his past relationships with students, eventually convincing university officials to relitigate incidents from years earlier that had already been adjudicated—a classic breach of James Madison’s belief that no one should be punished for the same thing twice.”

Applebaum is again misrepresenting the facts of a case to make it seem more troubling than it is. First, there’s no evidence that the Princetonian’s investigation was “in response” to Katz’s political views. All we know is that the sexual harassment story came out seven months after the open-letter controversy. Is it possible that the student newspaper had a vendetta against Katz or that his conservative views encouraged previous students to speak out against him? Sure. But it’s irresponsible for Applebaum to assert that as fact when she hasn’t proved it, nor reached out to the newspaper’s editors to get their side of the story.

Second, Katz’s case had not “already been adjudicated.” According to Katz, the university investigated his relationship with a student in the mid-2000s and placed him on suspension. This was, however, done in secret and the university hasn’t confirmed Katz’s account. The Princetonian investigation found two other students who allege that he made inappropriate advances toward them. One never filed a formal complaint; the other tried complaining and was stonewalled by administrators.

Again we’re left with an example that demonstrates the opposite of what the writer seems to think it does. Katz was not fired. During the open-letter controversy he even wrote a Wall St. Journal editorial entitled “I Survived Cancellation at Princeton.” Despite admitting that he dated a student, a clear violation of university policy, Katz remains a full professor.

It is impossible to look at Katz’s case and see an example of an “illiberal left” with an itchy trigger finger for firing ideological heretics. If this anecdote demonstrates anything, it’s the lack of seriousness with which elite institutions still treat claims of sexual harassment. It should be appearing in articles about why the MeToo movement exists, not why it’s gone too far.

3. Misleading Statistics

So far I’ve talked about the use of anecdotes in this kind of journalism because, frankly, it consists of little else. But eventually, even professional moral panickers have to provide some numbers to back up their claims.

This statistic is the only piece of quantitative data that appears in Applebaum’s Atlantic article:

“According to one recent poll, 62 percent of Americans, including a majority of self-described moderates and liberals, are afraid to speak their mind about politics.”

This statistic comes from a 2020 Cato Institute survey. The conservative think tank asked 2,000 Americans whether they agreed with the statement “the political climate these days prevents me from saying things I believe because others might find them offensive.” And sure enough, it appears conservatives do a lot more self-censorship than liberals.

But what do these numbers actually mean? The most obvious problem is the wording of the question. “Offensive” is a term almost exclusively associated with the political left. Conservative media has spent years reinforcing the idea that feminists, minorities and college students are too easily offended.  When conservative throw tantrums— Dr. Seuss, face masks, Lil Nas X, the “war on Christmas,” we could do this all day  — their paroxysms are almost never described using the O-word.

Therefore, asking someone if they hesitate to express ideas because someone might be offended is just another way of asking if they have ideas that will make liberals mad. Of course conservatives are more hesitant than leftists.

But the more fundamental problem with this question — and the absurd sub-panic about “self-censorship” generally — is that it’s not clear this “trend” is all that worrying in the first place.

The Atlantic / Economist / Cato view appears to be that having a thought but not expressing it is some sort of rights violation. But it makes no sense to talk about a “political climate” that suppresses ideas without being specific about what those ideas are. Sixty years ago you could say, “Black people and white people shouldn’t get married” in nearly every church, workplace and college campus in the country. These days, people who hold that view hesitate to express it just about everywhere. Good.

We also need to be specific about where this alleged self-censorship is taking place. Most employers, either formally or informally, discourage employees from talking about politics. A huge range of ideological statements, from “marriage is between a man and a woman” to “defund the police,” aren’t welcome at most American workplaces. I’m not going to pretend that’s a good thing, but there’s nothing new, authoritarian or left-wing about it.

In fact, a broader look at polling data indicates that Americans are freer to express their views without sanction than at any other time in history. 

We live in an era of unprecedented access to information. Fifty years ago, if you had a controversial view you couldn’t express at work, you could, I dunno, write it on a piece of paper and put it on a lamp-post? Send it to the editor of the local newspaper?

Today you have dozens of free, instantaneous, low-effort ways of disseminating your idea. Write a Medium post and try to make it go viral. Find a message board of like-minded people. Set up an anonymous account and tweet your take at Elon Musk. I truly cannot fathom looking around in 2021 and not concluding that on the whole, speech is freer than it’s ever been.

Maybe that’s true, retort the panickers, but college is a special case. Classrooms are laboratories for hearing challenging ideas and engaging in open debate. Students should have venues — one might even say “safe spaces” — for hearing and expressing challenging ideas. 

According to The Economist, this process has broken down.

“Today’s radicals demand the enforcement of codes of behaviour and speech. A poll of more than 4,000 four-year college students for the Knight Foundation in 2019 found that 68% felt that students cannot say what they think because their classmates might find it offensive.”

But these numbers, too, fall apart as soon as you try to put them back on the cherry tree. The survey the Economist cites as evidence that college students “demand the enforcement of codes of behavior and speech” actually finds that 74% oppose campus policies restricting political views offensive to minority groups. Four out of five say they prefer an environment where people are “exposed to all types of speech even if they may find it offensive” to one where offensive speech is prohibited.

And that’s just the one survey! For decades, polling data has consistently shown that university graduates are more likely to favor letting racists teach classes and give public lectures than Americans with less education. There’s even data indicating that college seniors are more supportive of free expression than college freshmen. If anything, college appears to make students more tolerant of speech they dislike.

Refresher: The articles I’m covering here comprise roughly 20,000 words of text and these are the only numbers in them. We are being asked to believe that America is marching toward totalitarian dictatorship solely on the strength of unconvincing anecdotes and statistics that do not hold up to clicking the links the authors themselves provide.

4. False Equivalence

One of the most incredible aspects of “wokeness panic” journalism is that they admit — right there in the text! — that their central premise is false.

Here’s the Economist blithely noting, in a story sub-headlined “don’t underestimate the danger of left-leaning identity politics,” that left-leaning identity politics … aren’t dangerous.

Applebaum’s Atlantic piece makes the case even more strongly:

America remains a safe distance from Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia. Neither our secretive university committees nor the social-media mobs are backed by authoritarian regimes threatening violence. Despite the right-wing rhetoric that says otherwise, these procedures are not being driven by a “unified left” (there is no “unified left”), or by a unified movement of any kind, let alone by the government.

Both of these To Be Sures acknowledge the same basic fact: The American right represents a far greater authoritarian threat than the American left. Even if elite colleges and radical activists had the motivation to install a totalitarian regime, there’s no evidence that they have the means or the opportunity. It’s hard to find a single elected Democrat who supports asking Trump administration officials to leave a restaurant, much less censorship, book burning or Nazi-punching.

And yet, the pundits who have published dozens of near-identical “illiberal left” stories over the last five years would like us to believe that this far-fetched, slipperiest-slope-imaginable scenario warrants almost as much attention as the authoritarian creep that is already happening. 

Here’s Applebaum again:

In America, of course, we don’t have that kind of state coercion. There are currently no laws that shape what academics or journalists can say; there is no government censor, no ruling-party censor.

This is absurdly, wildly, screamingly untrue.

Do I even need to spell it out? We’re in the middle of a nationwide wave of GOP legislation aimed at banning “critical race theory,” a vaguely defined category that includes everything from teaching the concept of “white privilege” to holding diversity seminars to telling children that slavery was bad. Republican legislatures are micromanaging curricula and getting teachers fired and — pulling my hair out as I type this — actually banning books.

And that’s just the K-12 authoritarianism. In 2017, Donald Trump explicitly threatened to pull federal funds from U.C. Berkeley after students protested a right-wing speaker. In 2020, he signed an executive order banning publicly funded universities from holding diversity trainings that included any mention of "systemic racism," "intersectionality," or "racial humility" (???). In 2019, Trump’s education department ordered Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill to “remake” their Middle East studies program to include more positive depictions of Christianity and Judaism.

I could go on. There’s the Republican congressional candidate who body-slammed a reporter, the Republican House Rep who jokes about executing Democrats, the Republican attorney general who prosecuted an activist for laughing during his confirmation hearing. Conservatives have developed an entire ecosystem of websites and grassroots organizations dedicated to targeting left-wing professors for harassment.

Nothing remotely analogous exists on the institutional left. Democrats control the house, senate and governorship in 15 states. They have made no effort to ban conservative books or “cancel” racist professors or outlaw microaggressions. The reason right-wing media constantly highlights obscure documents and non-mandatory corporate trainings is that they cannot find legitimate examples of Democrats using their power to install illiberalism.

Articles about the “illiberal left” feel like dispatches from the Upside Down, a parallel universe where American political life looks nothing like it does in reality. Why are readers of national publications constantly being told that they should worry about the left potentially, sometime in the future, becoming as bad as Republicans are now?

America is in the middle of a worrying democratic backslide. At the institutional level, elected Republicans are rolling back voting rights, overturning ballot initiatives, criminalizing protest, stripping power from elected Democrats and sowing doubt about a valid election result.

At the grassroots level, the majority of Republicans believe that Biden is an illegitimate president, that vigilante violence is justified, that Democrats caused the January 6 insurrection and that the deranged QAnon conspiracy is fully or partly true. America has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate among developed nations due almost entirely to conservative politicians and media figures spreading conspiracy theories.

See that? I don’t have to exaggerate events or misrepresent statistics or pelt you with low-stakes anecdotes because I am describing an actual national trend. 

I realize it’s boring to list all this. Journalism thrives on unconventional narratives. It may appear that Republicans are a threat to democracy, but the true threat lies on the left is a more compelling story than things are what they seem.  

I get it. But the problem with “illiberal left” stories, even when they include a paragraph-seven acknowledgement that Republicans are worse, is that the public does not form its views based on what articles actually say. The length, prominence, headline and graphics have a far greater impact than the content of any given story, much less the blithe, tossed-off caveat that it should not exist.

The writers and editors of these stories, when pressed, often claim that they’re simply exploring a social phenomenon. What’s the harm in talking how norms on the left are changing?

This is a bait and switch. The articles we’re discussing here are called “The New Puritans” and “The Threat From The Illiberal Left.” Nothing about their presentation implies that the danger of the left is minuscule compared to right-wing authoritarianism. A far greater number of people will see the title, skim the content or glance at a newsstand than will ever read these stories in full, much less internalize their self-admitted weaknesses.

This is how moral panics happen. In the 1990s, hundreds of articles warned Americans about the dangers of “political correctness,” a right-wing swamp fungus that functioned almost exclusively as a tool to discredit progressive demands. In the 1980s we got “stranger danger,” a nationwide ulcer of anxiety about creeps in white vans kidnapping children. By the time journalists got around to debunking it (there’s only around 100 stranger kidnappings per year in the entire U.S.), we’d already passed a wave of laws that expanded mass incarceration — and did nothing whatsoever to keep children safe.

Same thing with the “frivolous lawsuits” panic. According to a 2016 poll, 87 percent of Americans still think there are “too many lawsuits filed in America.” Irresponsible coverage of the McDonald’s hot coffee case, as well as credulous retellings of other non-representative anecdotes, resulted in a significant erosion of legal rights for consumers. It is now much harder for Americans to sue corporations that harm us — and it was already hard enough when Stella Liebeck pulled up to that drive-through.

Moral panics entrench misinformation and foment reactionary backlash. The parents storming town halls and taking over school boards to ban critical race theory have been explicit that their efforts are in response to the alleged “wokeness” of K-12 teaching. This is precisely, word for word, the narrative that the Economist and Atlantic articles, and dozens like them, have promoted. 

The “frivolous lawsuits” panic should be seen as a foundational embarrassment for the national media. Rather than educating the citizens of a functioning democracy — the role we journalists love to tell ourselves we’re playing — prestigious publications were de-educating them by presenting evidence of a national trend that didn’t exist.

They are doing the same thing now, playing with the same fire that has pulled the United States rightward and backward over and over again for the last 40 years.

The media has tremendous power to shape public opinion. Reporters and editors should not just be aware of their ability to spread moral panics. They should be terrified of it. 

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4 days ago
“While both stories display the superficial features of investigative journalism, a deep dive reveals the same motivated reasoning, nonexistent evidence and indefensible editorial standards that misinformed the public about frivolous lawsuits.

It’s happening again. And here’s how to spot it.”
Washington, DC
3 days ago
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3 days ago
This is so spot on with my feelings about cancel culture I'm not sure I didn't write it myself in a dissociative fugue.

my employee wasn't respectful enough after the company messed up her paycheck — Ask a Manager

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A reader writes:

I’m not comfortable with one of my new staff members and how overconfident she is. Her work is great and she needed very little training but she’s got very big britches.

“Jane” has only been with us for two months. Just today she asked for a meeting with me and our payroll manager. It turns out payroll made an error entering her direct deposit information that resulted in Jane not getting paid, not once but two times.

Our company requires potential candidates to complete sample assignments during the interview process and we pay them an hourly contractor rate. It turns out she didn’t get paid for her assignment period, or for the next full pay cycle. The payroll employee apologized directly to Jane in an email, because it was their error in entering her information and not following up/fixing it that resulted in Jane not getting paid. Jane was able to show emails back and forth where she checked in with the payroll employee and asked if it was fixed, which they confirmed it was. Today was payday and Jane didn’t get paid. She checked with the employee again and they acknowledged that they “thought” it was fixed. It’s upsetting for Jane, I understand, but I think she was out of line about the whole thing. People make mistakes.

Neither payroll nor I knew anything about it until today. We both apologized and assured her the issue would be handled. After that, she looked at me and the payroll manager and said, “I appreciate your apology, but I need you both to understand that this can’t happen again. This has put me under financial strain and I can’t continue to work for COMPANY if this isn’t corrected today.”

The payroll manager was heavily in agreement, but I was speechless that she’d speak to management like that.

Payroll handled the whole thing and cut her a check with the okay from HR. Jane had referenced that not being paid put her in financial hardship and unable to pay bills, so HR allowed the use of the employee hardship fund and gave her $500 in gift cards so she can get groceries and gas and catch up on bills. I’m just kind of floored that she’s getting gift cards after speaking to her superiors like that. I’m also uncomfortable because why is our company responsible for her fiscal irresponsibility? Her personal finances or debts are not the company’s responsibility. I just don’t think it’s the company’s responsibility to give her more than what she’s earned (the extra $500 from the employee emergency relief fund) to fix things for her if she overspent or didn’t prioritize her bills or save smartly. We also don’t know if she is actually experiencing a financial hardship or just claiming she was.

HR allowed her paid time to go to the bank today and deposit her check. I told our HR person that while it’s not okay Jane didn’t get paid, the way she approached it was uncalled for. HR told me, “She’s right, it can’t happen again and it shouldn’t have happened at all.”

I’m getting tired of the respect gap I’m seeing with younger staff. I think Jane would be better suited in a different department. I’m not comfortable having her on my team since it’s obvious she doesn’t understand she’s entry-level and not in charge. Should I wait a while before suggesting she transfer to a different department?

I’m going to say this bluntly: you are very, very wrong about this situation, both as a manager and as a human.

Your company didn’t pay Jane money they owed her in the timeframe in which they were legally obligated to pay it. They did this twice.

Your company messed up, and their mistake impacted someone’s income. That’s a very big deal.

The payroll department handled this exactly as they should: they apologized, cut her a check immediately, and helped repair the damage their mistake had caused. Jane shouldn’t have to suffer for their error, and their remedies were appropriate and warranted.

Your objection to this because the company shouldn’t be responsible for Jane’s finances is nonsensical. Your company is responsible for paying the wages they’ve agreed to pay in the timeline they’ve agreed to pay them in. They didn’t meet that obligation, and so they fixed it. That’s not about them being responsible for Jane’s debts; it’s about them being responsible for adhering to a legal wage agreement and treating an employee well after failing at a basic responsibility and causing that person hardship.

Suggesting that someone who needs the paycheck they earned to be delivered to them on time “didn’t prioritize her bills or save smartly” is wildly out of touch with the reality of many people’s finances in this country and how many people live paycheck to paycheck (particularly someone entry-level who just started a job two months ago and may have been unemployed before that). But frankly, even if Jane didn’t save smartly, it’s irrelevant; your company’s mistake is what caused the problem, and it’s what’s at issue here.

Your speculation that Jane might be lying about her financial situation is bizarre and reflects poorly on you. It’s irrelevant and you don’t seem to have any reason for wondering that other than an apparent desire to cast Jane in a bad light.

You’re absolutely right that there’s a respect gap in this situation — but it’s from you toward your employees, not from Jane toward her employer.

There’s nothing disrespectful about Jane advocating for herself and explaining that she’d be unable to stay in the job if the payroll mistakes weren’t corrected. She gets to make that choice for herself, it’s not an unreasonable one, and it’s not disrespectful for her to spell it out. In fact, I’d argue it’s actively respectful since respect requires clear, polite, direct communication and she gave you that.

When you say Jane doesn’t seem to understand she’s entry-level and not in charge … Jane is very much in charge of where she’s willing to work and what she will and won’t tolerate. Every employee is, regardless of how junior or senior they might be.

Corporate power structures require deference in things like decision-making on a project, but not the sort of obeisance in all things that you seem to be looking for.

Somewhere along the way, you picked up a very warped idea of what employees owe their employers, but you don’t seem to have thought much about what employers owe their employees. You urgently need to do some rethinking and recalibration if you’re going to continue managing people.

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1 day ago
OMG. this manager should be ashamed.
Seymour, Indiana
5 days ago
Good for Jane for sticking up for herself, she doesn’t owe management anything in the way of pleasantries considering they screwed up not once, but twice. And on her pay! Whoever wrote in should be canned for having a fragile ego- not a great trait for a manager but all too common.
Space City, USA
5 days ago
Uh yeah, if I was not paid twice including the second time after being assured that the issue was fixed, I'd be pretty upset about it. I'd be especially upset and stressed out if it was cauing me to miss bill payments or be unable to eat or put gas in my car. This shouldn't be hard to understand.

NYPD Threatens Tipster for Filing 311 Complaints About Illegal Parking  – Streetsblog New York City


Members of the NYPD harassed and threatened a cyclist after he reported the cops for illegally parking along several notoriously lawless stretches in Downtown Brooklyn, including on Schermerhorn Street right outside a transit police station house, according to the complainant — and now the matter is under investigation by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

The tipster (who asked to remain anonymous for fear of even more retribution) says he started getting calls from members of New York’s Finest after he made dozens of complaints to 311 about officers from the 84th Precinct and Transit Bureau 30 stashing their private cars in the bike lane and on the sidewalk on Schermerhorn Street, and on nearby Smith, Jay, and Hoyt streets — an illegal practice that for years has gone unchecked, endangering cyclists along the vital corridors.

The tipster shared with Streetsblog a log of 49 of his 311 complaints he made via Reported for illegal parking on Schermerhorn, Jay, Hoyt, and Smith streets — all within the 84th Precinct and adjacent to TD30 — on three dates, including Aug. 13, Aug. 26, and Sept. 10. All 49 are marked as “closed,” though he says the situation was never actually resolved and the cars were never moved, or just came back again the next day.

And on each of those dates, the tipster says he received a retaliatory phone call. The first came on Aug. 13 at about 9:30 am, when the caller actually identified himself as a member of the NYPD, but refused to give his name. The second was on Aug. 26 at about 11 am when someone who identified themselves as Det. Sturman called the tipster a “dickhead.” And the third was a few weeks later on Sept.10 at about 2:45 pm when someone, who the tipster believes was a cop impersonating a 311 operator, told him he would be barred from filing more complaints.

All three calls were shared with Streetsblog.

“My name is Detective Sturman from the 84th Precinct. I’m calling to see if you want to come into the precinct to meet with our community affairs officers…to address your issues. We want to address all your concerns,” the detective said.

“I don’t need to come in, you can just address them by stop parking in the bike lane,” he responded.

The detective responded by saying she “can’t stop people everyday from parking in the bike lane.”

“That’s your job,” the tipster responded, before things escalated when he told her to “f*** off” and the detective said, “stop calling dickhead.”

In another call, the unidentified person claiming to be a 311 operator threatened to block the tipster from filing any more complaints.

“You’re speaking to a 311 operator. Why do you keep putting over the same 311 job over and over and over again? You might be barred from the system going forward,” the unidentified person said, using vernacular (“the same 311 job”) common among cops.

Brooklyn Council Member Steve Levin, who has long complained about personal police vehicles parked illegally with the help of a placard or NYPD logbook on the dash —  was appalled at the abuse of power and harassment of citizens who are just trying to watch the watchers.

“That’s crazy. That’s not legal. The whole situation has been really, really frustrating,” said Levin. “Police officers harassing is so illegal, so far beyond retaliatory. It’s a level of misconduct, nobody should be allowing that. Whatever they’re doing there is a total breach of their duty.”

A spokesperson for 311 said that 311 operators do not personally reach out to those who file complaints, and that complaints are shared directly with the local precinct.

A spokesperson for the NYPD told Streetsblog that they are investigating the incident, and are working with the local precinct to keep the bike lanes and sidewalks clear.

“We are aware of the allegation regarding the detective and the matter is under internal review,” said Detective Sophia Mason. “Parking in the vicinity of the 84th Precinct is extremely limited. The Commanding Officer is aware of complaints regarding bike lanes surrounding the precinct and is working to address the condition.”

And a spokesperson for the Civilian Complaint Review Board told Streetsblog that the case has been assigned to an investigator, who is looking at whether the alleged harassment constitutes “misconduct” that could require a disciplinary recommendation.

The tipster said he started reporting illegal cop parking to 311 after years of growing frustration because no one — including 84th Precinct CO Capt. Adeel Rana, Levin, and Mayor de Blasio — has been able to put an end to the street-level corruption, despite years of broken promises to keep the bike lanes and sidewalks clear.

“The police care more about free parking for their personal vehicles than our personal safety,” he said. “Adeel Rana has allowed a culture of corruption to develop…his officers feel empowered to refuse to identify themselves, and even impersonate other city employees to keep their sidewalk and bike lane parking spaces. The city has failed to provide adequate space for bike riders/pedestrians, and the NYPD’s dangerous parking exacerbates the problem.”

Levin said he held a meeting earlier this month on Schermerhorn Street with the Department of Transportation, the 84th Precinct, and TD30 — he said he invited Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster, but she didn’t show. But like all the times before it, there was no solution to fix the longstanding problem, though days later DOT put out a survey soliciting public opinion about the mess.

For now, before a full reconstruction of Schermerhorn Street can happen, Levin said he’s still in favor of giving cops more spots outside the station house if it would stop them from parking in the bike lane, but said that DOT is opposed to it, hypothesizing that more spots would not actually solve anything. He said DOT has no imminent plans for a full reconstruction of Schermerhorn Street.

It’s certainly not the first time that Streetsblog has documented egregious car-centric corruption within the police department. Prior stories include the horrendous driving records of officers, the illegal parking documented at station houses all over the city, and the systemic failure to understand basic traffic laws.

Advocates and local pols have indeed tried — and failed — to get cops to stop illegally storing their personal cars in bus lanes, crosswalks, on sidewalks, and in bike lanes, putting cyclists and pedestrians and danger. Last year, Levin and Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would allow anyone to report illegally parked cars, a new citizen enforcement program modeled after an existing city program to combat idling. A person reporting the illegally parked car would take home some cash if a ticket ended up being issued.

But the de Blasio administration has opposed the bill, fearing that some ticketed drivers would assault their neighbors for ratting them out for illegal parking. In this case, that fear apparently is justified: the NYPD is apparently threatening people for reporting their crimes.

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