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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention.  President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd.  Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.

Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages

In early 1946, a brouhaha erupted between the AFL and the CIO, the state’s rival federations of labor groups. Republican leaders in the state legislature endorsed the upstate-oriented AFL’s proposal that New York license and regulate barbers and cosmetologists. The downstate-oriented CIO, which had members who couldn’t document the required formal education, launched opposition so fierce and threatened political retaliation so severe that the legislation was considered dead. And then, as the 1946 session was drawing to a close and the CIO was concentrating on other things, the “barber and hairdresser bills” started moving through both houses, with almost total Republican support and Democratic opposition. Member of Assembly Genesta Strong, first-termer from Nassau County, dependable, safe and already expected to step aside, was asked to be the official sponsor of the cosmetologist licensing bill.

Governor Dewey’s signing of the bill cemented support for his re-election from the powerful AFL, which had been the whole point. To those in political inner circles, Mrs. Strong had proved herself a reliable team player whose dignity was useful in deflecting potential attack.

Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
Sustainable LI: Getting Good Things Done

Farmingdale-based Sustainable Long Island is hosting its eighth annual Sustainability Conference on Friday, April 4, at Carlyle on the Green, at Bethpage State Park.

The event will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and traditionally draws hundreds of people from all walks of life: government, business and not-for-profits. This year’s theme is “Accomplishing More Together.” Tickets are $75 per person, which includes the cost of lunch.

Food Fight: Fare Must Be Fair

Maybe all of us wear clothing or use electronics or a hundred other things manufactured in conditions we wouldn’t tolerate for our children or in our communities. We choose not to live hidden away in caves, and for important items for which there are few obvious alternatives we can put our heads down and plow through our day and make another small compromise with the world.

Most of us don’t want someone to die or endure suffering for our pleasure. Many of us draw our own lines regarding non-critical products. Most readers would not knowingly purchase “conflict diamonds,” which have helped fund murderous civil wars in Africa.

How about slavery tomatoes?

This is not a joke, or an exaggeration. Since 1997, law enforcement officials have prosecuted at least seven major slavery cases involving workers in Florida tomato fields. These cases freed more than 1,000 men and women who had been sold to crew bosses and forced to work against their will, sometimes held in chains and locked into shacks at night. While a few low-paid field managers have been jailed, field owners strolled away without being charged. Most slavery situations go unreported, unnoticed, unknown.

Though “free trade” has led to increased imports from cheaper Mexican greenhouses in the winter, the vast majority of the tomatoes we buy between May and December come from Florida. The biggest Florida packers ship $600 million worth of tomatoes to restaurant and grocery chains each year.

The epicenter of the Florida tomato industry is the unincorporated community of Immokalee, in Collier County off the Gulf. It was here that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers was founded. Calling itself a “community-based worker organization,” CIW is organized around a philosophy of public education and development of local leaders. Though CIW is made up mostly of Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs across Florida, it’s Fair Food campaign has captured the imagination and the support of a broad range of Americans.

CIW has worked peacefully and effectively to modernize working conditions in many harvest and packing operations. In April, CIW was credited with inspiring the first-ever White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking, which brought together private sector, government, religious and academic leaders to discuss what can be done to end a scourge in which tens of millions of human beings are trapped. Many are children forced into hard labor or sex trafficking.

The Fair Food program requires an additional penny in wages for each pound of Florida tomatoes picked. That small amount can mean a raise of 60 percent to some workers.

It burns me that so little media coverage was given to the CIW protest in Union Square, Manhattan, last week. Hundreds of actual farm workers came to New York complete with bands, street singers and street theater, educating locals and tourists about conditions in many of the Florida tomato fields. But also, they were educating those attending Wendy’s annual stockholders meeting.

Wendy’s is the last holdout among the biggest fast-food chains to sign onto the Fair Food program. Since 2005, Burger King, Chipotle Grill, McDonald’s, Subway and Taco Bell have signed. So have Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and some of the largest grocery and food service chains.

Some retailers have argued that their job is to keep their restaurants clean and shiny, to keep the dollar value menu as large as possible and to not worry about where the ingredients come from. Certainly their own employees are not beaten by goons or enslaved, and their responsibility ends there. This doesn’t concern anyone outside the sun-baked Florida fields.

Or does it?