Panic Street Lawyer: Jobs and Jasmine

Sunday, 01 September 2013 12:06 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20130901laborday photocom90392045 150Two weeks ago, I began with English football terms, and last week I began with a “Jeopardy” question. This week’s PSL plays a different kind of word game, in honor of the true meaning of Labor Day: celebrating worker contributions to society. Specifically, I will explore this week’s newspapers and find a buried Labor Day angle in every item.

Some reported current events do not require much digging to find the sought-after treasure. For example, this week saw the return of students to most Pennsylvania schools. Those students go to school to be educated by educated teachers. We all know the stories of dedication to the job and sacrifices that teachers make for our sons, daughters, siblings, friends, nieces, nephews, grandsons, and granddaughters (sadly, teachers sometimes sacrifice their lives in the course of these “clean” jobs). But although teachers provide a valuable service, sometimes there are disagreements over what teachers should actually be paid for that service. These disputes arise in both urban and suburban school districts, and they occur at the post-secondary education level as well.

Or take the start this week of American high school and college football. While no one is arguing that high school football players should be compensated for their services, more and more serious people are arguing that it is wrong for colleges and universities to take a lot of money from football while players on the field -- the ones the fans in the stadiums go to see -- receive nothing more than free tuition. And while the National Football League’s settlement this week with retired pro players will provide millions to those who sustained brain damage while active in the NFL, no money will be made available to those who sustained concussions as “amateur” footballers.

At this point, you probably want me to pick a more challenging newspaper item. “Sure, the news and sports sections are full of stories with ‘workers in society’ angles. Why don’t you pick something from, say, the arts and entertainment section?” OK, I will pick from the movie listings the two recent releases – both set primarily in Northern California -- which I saw at local theaters this past week.

Jobs

This film is a selective biography of the 1974-2001 years of Steve Jobs (1955-2011), co-founder of Apple Inc. The filmmakers selected stories which portray Jobs as a creative genius who possessed very little in the way of “people skills.” But Jobs’ obvious HR deficiencies during this time are not what I want to write about this Labor Day.

Instead, I want to go back to an early scene, when Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed Apple Computer and, with the help of a handful of others, built Apple 1 computers in Jobs’ parents’ garage. Then, if you fast-forward to near the end of the film, there is a brief shot of sprawling Cupertino campus where Jobs maintained his office -- but where no Apple products were actually assembled. It was in the final (post-movie) years of Jobs’ life, when Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, that China Labor Watch first conducted investigations where those products were being assembled.

In July 2012, CLW released its latest report on an Apple Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, as well as nine other factories in China which supply Apple, finding “not only that labor rights violations are still common at Foxconn but also that these violations are rampant throughout Apple’s supply chain.” Common problems included excessive overtime, low wages, dangerous working conditions, unsanitary factory cafeterias, and overcrowded housing facilities. And one month ago, CLW published a report which “revealed at least 86 labor rights violations” (including hiring discrimination and underage labor) at three factories of Petagron Group, a major supplier to Apple.

Blue Jasmine

Speaking of China, jasmine is believed to have originated in China, and jasmine tea is very popular there. And activists in 2011 called for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China (in response, the Chinese government blocked the word “jasmine” on popular social networking sites and chat rooms).

But Woody Allen did not seem to have any of this in mind when he wrote and directed his latest film. Nor did he consult with any horticulturalist before coming up with the film’s title, since jasmine flowers are not blue (they are white, yellow or bicolor).

What was most memorable about “Blue Jasmine” was Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-worthy portrayal of high society “Jasmine.” But Blanchett’s powerful performance is not what I want to write about this Labor Day.

Instead, I want to talk about her sister, Ginger. Working class all the way, Ginger works as a cashier/bagger at San Francisco neighborhood grocery store. Jasmine moves in with Ginger and her two small sons when Jasmine’s world comes crashing down. Ginger has experienced her own crushed dreams, which directly caused her divorce from the father of her boys. But she will get by -- so long as she ignores her sister’s advice.

While there have been no recent grocery store job actions in Northern California, there were protests outside Bay Area fast-food establishments (and a Walmart) this week over low wages, part-time hours, and limited health care benefits.

At film’s end, Ginger seems content with her life, which is more than can be said for Jasmine. Interestingly, while ginger (like jasmine) also makes a lovely Chinese tea, my search for a “Ginger Revolution” turned up only the fictitious Ginger Separatist Movement from the minds of the creators of “South Park.”

Happy Labor Day.

P.S.  The “Jobs” soundtrack gave me a great idea for a Panic Street Lawyer tagline:  “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do.”

(Top image: Marisa Allegra Williams/Getty Images)


The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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