By Julia B. Chan, Reveal
In July, Reveal investigates who’s responsible for protecting workers harmed on the job. Reveal’s collaborative investigation with FRONTLINE, Univision, the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and KQED examines the hidden problem of sexual assault on the night shift.
We also explore the legacy of toxic chemicals used in electronics manufacturing and the effect they have on the people who’ve built our technology-based economy, both here and in Asia. And we take to the fields and explore why it was so hard to ban a tool that was injuring agricultural workers.
Rape on the night shift
Thousands of office janitors work at night, alone, sweeping up the crumbs from our sandwiches, taking out the garbage and scrubbing bathrooms. Many are immigrants – some undocumented – and many are women. With these conditions, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.
In this segment, we hear from members of a tiny nonprofit who try to root out abuses in the cleaning industry; women who’ve sued janitorial companies for failing to protect them from rape and harassment; and an accused rapist who has run his own cleaning company.
This story is a part of a collaborative 18-month investigation with FRONTLINE, Univision, the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and KQED.
Toxic tech in America
In 1975, when she was 18 years old, Yvette Flores got her first job. She helped assemble delicate parts to make some of the first supermarket checkout scanners. When her son Mark was born five years later, he had severe disabilities.
It took 30 years for her to connect her son’s problems to that first job.
Yvette discovered that she’d been inhaling and ingesting lead all day in the factory where she worked. And she’s not the only one. An occupational medicine doctor who treated workers in Silicon Valley in the 1970s and ’80s tells us about the widespread illnesses and injuries he saw – and how hard it was to get companies to open up about what was making his patients sick.
Reveal reporter Laura Starecheski partnered up with Jim Morris from The Center for Public Integrity to bring us Yvette and Mark’s story and also alert us to an alarming practice: Chemical exposures that never would be acceptable outside a plant’s fence are not only tolerated, but legal, inside the plant.
Disposable workers in Asia
Today, there are millions of electronics workers around the world – especially in places where labor laws are even less strict than those in the U.S.
Since the 1980s, the electronics industry largely has moved overseas in search of cheaper labor. Reporter Sandra Bartlett went to South Korea, where one of the largest electronics companies, Samsung, is headquartered. There, a movement has sprung up to investigate the illnesses and deaths among Samsung factory employees.
Last year, Samsung publicly apologized and promised to compensate sick workers and the families of those who died. But the company didn’t acknowledge that the work environment was responsible.
Samsung is keeping its manufacturing process a secret even as its expansion grows in new countries such as Vietnam.
The long tale of the short-handled hoe
We take a look back at a historic battle over workers’ rights in California. It all started in “the salad bowl of the world” – aka Salinas Valley – and the fight was over a simple tool: the short-handled hoe.
This smaller hoe looks like a standard gardening tool, but workers had to bend over pretty far to use it. Doing that kind of work for 12 hours a day caused debilitating and permanent back damage for those tasked with maintaining huge fields of vegetables.
This short hoe – or “cortito” in Spanish – became a symbol of cruelty, oppression and literally back-breaking labor. That is, until a lawyer in the early 1970s took on big ag, and the story of “el cortito” was heard before the California Supreme Court.