Category Archives: Reporter Pieces

Downtown East Commons Alternative Approaches

On April 8th,  the next Downtown East Commons meeteing will lay out “alternative approaches” to shaping this new park in the middle of downtown Minneapolis.

As a new billion dollar football stadium rises in Minneapolis, planning is underway for Downtown East Commons, a green space that so far has only some lovely drawings to its name.

The development has a history tied to the new stadium and before it, the Metrodome.    An early controversy about Downtown East involved ownership and responsibility – the Minneapolis Park Board didn’t propose it and wasn’t enthusiastic about taking control of it.   An agreement from late 2014 describes an ownership hand-off sequence that gives the Vikings an undue amount of control long-term, but the design, construction and programming of the park are all question marks, clearly explained here by blogger Sam Newberg as “Joe Urban”.

Assignment:  Attend the meeting and produce a report that describes the alternatives being offered, with reaction from some of the people in attendance.

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Somali-American Joins Airports Commission

Here’s an interesting press release from the Service Employees International Union Local 26.

Assignment: research the issues facing the Metropolitan Airports Commission, particularly with regard to the labor relations questions, and have a conversation with Ibrahim Mohamed about his new role on the MAC. A good first step – attend the MAC meeting on Tuesday, February 17.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 16, 2015
Contact: Josh Keller, Media Relations Coordinator | 612-270-2984

In Groundbreaking Appointment, Airport Worker Becomes First Somali-American To Serve On Metropolitan Airports Commission
The appointment by Governor Dayton lifts current airport employee into important governing role

St. Paul, MN – On Monday, February 9th, Governor Dayton announced his latest appointments to the 14 member Metropolitan Airports Commission. One of the two new Commissioners selected was Ibrahim Mohamed from Rosemount, a cart driver who works for Delta sub-contractor AirServ and has been employed at the airport for 11 years. Mohamed will be the first Somali-American to serve on the MAC and will be the only current airport employee.

In his 11 years at the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Airport, Mohamed has served many roles, including Baggage Runner, Ticket Verifier and Lavatory and Water Services. He said that his range of experience, on both sides of security, will allow him to serve the residents of his district and be a voice for the workers on the front lines.

“I am excited to bring the voices of the people that I speak to on a daily basis to the MAC. In my current position as a cart driver, I speak with hundreds of elderly and disabled passengers each day. I hear about their time in MSP and am the first line of response to help,” said Mohamed. “I am excited about this opportunity to serve and to be a leader in connecting new communities to the important work of the Metropolitan Airports Commission.”

Mohamed and hundreds of other employees of AirServ at MSP have been advocating for improved working conditions over the last few years.

“There are hundreds of workers like myself who are paid minimum wage, with no benefits. I’ve made up to $12.50 at various positions, but currently make minimum wage, which just went up in August to $8.00 per hour. I will work to make sure that workers at the airport are part of the conversations at the MAC, because when workers have fair pay, decent benefits and a reliable schedule, we are able to provide world-class service to passengers,” said Mohamed. “I will continue to stand together with my fellow co-workers as we fight for dignity and respect for all workers at MSP, and will always fight to make sure the needs and concerns of workers and passengers are part of all decisions made by the MAC.”

AirServ workers like Mohamed have been fighting for years to have the right to form a union with SEIU Local 26. They have taken direct action with disability rights activists to highlight the need for sub-contractors like Air Serv to value seniors and people with disabilities by paying the workers who serve them a fair wage with decent benefits and a stable schedule.

SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo praised Ibrahim’s work to improve conditions at the airport and his new role as MAC commissioner.

“We applaud Governor Dayton for insisting that a worker be represented on the MAC, and appointing a great candidate like Ibrahim Mohamed,” Morillo stated. “I am excited to see Ibrahim continue the work he has always done fighting to make the MSP airport the best airport it can possibly be for both employees and passengers.”

Mohamed’s first MAC hearing will be this Tuesday, February 17th.

High Speed Hogs – Meat Processing Raises Questions

Who has an interest in our food supply and the way the USDA is (and is not) looking out for consumers?

We’ve received messages from a group pushing a petition  through Change.org to get the government to stop high speed meat inspections.

Assignment:  Look into allegations from the Food Integrity Campaign that Hormel and other meat processors are taking dangerous risks in Minnesota and elsewhere with casual, high speed processing.

Here’s a press release from the Food Integrity Campaign:

 

Dale,

Hope all is well. I’m Communications Manager at the Food Integrity Campaign (a program of national whistleblower protection organization, the Government Accountability Project), and was wondering if you had any interest in covering disclosures we’ve received from USDA inspector whistleblowers regarding the agency’s high-speed hog inspection program. It’s been piloted in five plants (including three owned by Minnesota-based Hormel) and inspectors who’ve worked there have raised concerns about high speeds (83 pounds of pork whizzing by every second) and deregulation – causing signs of contamination being routinely missed (such as hair, toenails, feces, cystic kidneys, etc.) and entering the food supply. See our press release below for more information and let me know if there’s any interest in reporting this public health issue.

Regards,

Sarah Damian
Communications Manager, Food Integrity Campaign
Government Accountability Project
1612 K St. NW, Washington D.C. 20006
Phone: 202-457-0034 ext. 130
Email: SarahD@whistleblower.org
Website: http://foodwhistleblower.org
Twitter: http://twitter.com/@foodinteg

January 30, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Inspectors Warn Against USDA’s High-Speed Hog Inspection Program
(Washington, DC) – Today, the Food Integrity Campaign (FIC, a program of the Government Accountability Project) is releasing evidence it has gathered from federal meat inspector whistleblowers who currently work at pork processing plants participating in a high-speed inspection pilot program. These whistleblowers voice concerns regarding the program and warn about the potential public health implications if this plan is instituted on a national level.

FIC is making publicly available affidavits from four U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors that illustrate serious concerns with the agency pilot program that increases the speed of processing lines and reduces the number of trained USDA inspection personnel in the hog plants.

FIC Director, Amanda Hitt, stated:

The USDA already refused to listen to its own inspectors when it implemented a similar high-speed inspection program for poultry late last year. Now the agency is poised to reduce oversight and increase line speeds at plants with hogs. It’s become abundantly clear that the Department of Agriculture is not interested in listening to the food safety concerns voiced by its own staff. Since the government doesn’t wish to heed whistleblowers, we are urging pork producers to reject sub-par meat inspection that places profit before public health.
FIC has launched a Change.org petition <https://www.change.org/p/stop-high-speed-inspection-model-from-expanding-to-the-pork-industry> urging Hormel, one of the largest pork producers in the United States, to abandon its use of high-speed inspection. The company owns three out of five hog plants currently participating in USDA’s pilot program.

USDA inspectors stationed at the Hormel pilot plants have informed FIC that the high-speed inspection model will lead to more contaminated and defective products on consumers’ plates. Some of the problems that inspector affidavits raise include:

  • Plant employees take over the duties of government inspectors. While federal employees (including at USDA) have whistleblower protections and can speak on behalf of the plant workers, Hormel employees are in the private sector and have inadequate legal safeguards. They cannot safely report food safety problems or stop the lines without fear of retaliation.

 

  • Line speeds at pilot plants run up to 20 percent faster than those at plants operating under traditional inspection. Quicker speeds make it even more difficult for plant employees and USDA inspectors to detect contamination on carcasses.

 

  • Company employees lack adequate training and often fail to identify signs of defects and contamination that could result in foodborne illness or unwholesome products. Inspectors in pilot plants report a higher level of zero-tolerance food safety hazards compared to plants operating under traditional inspection.

 

  • USDA inspectors are only allowed to conduct inspections on a small sample of hogs. Samples in these plants are not representative, and don’t reflect true pathogen risk.

The affidavits released today can be found at FoodWhistleblower.org/StopHighSpeedHogs <http://www.foodwhistleblower.org/campaign/hormel-hogs/#affidavits> .

The names of three of the inspectors, and all identifying information of the specific plants, have been redacted at the request of the inspectors. However, these affidavits have the full backing and endorsement of FIC.

Direct Quotes from USDA Inspectors

– There aren’t enough eyes on the line to monitor carcasses coming by at such high speeds. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #1)

– On numerous occasions I witnessed them [company inspectors] fail to spot abscesses, lesions, fecal matter, and other defects that would render an animal unsafe or unwholesome. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #1)

– When USDA loses the authority to make plant employees engage in corrective actions, the program stops working. This is what has happened at the plant where I work. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #2)

– Other contamination such as hair, toenails, cystic kidneys, and bladder stems has increased under HIMP [pilot program]. Line speeds don’t make it any easier to detect contamination. Most of the time they are running so fast it is impossible to see anything on the carcass. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #2)

– When HIMP was originally implemented, I had high hopes that the program would improve food safety. Over the past few years, I have learned that is not the case. Instead it seems like it is just the USDA’s way of catering to the industry instead of the consumer. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #2)

– The company threatens plant employees with terminations if they see them condemning too many carcasses or carcass parts. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)

– It seems like the USDA is doing all it can to make sure the HIMP program succeeds in this plant, even if it means betraying consumers by hiding the truth about their food. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)

– It’s no longer meaningful for consumers to see that mark indicating that their product has been USDA-inspected. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)

– Food safety has gone down the drain under HIMP. (Anonymous Inspector, Affidavit #3)

– Personally, I will not eat any products that bear the name of the company for which this meat is produced. I don’t think that it is wholesome or safe to consume. (Joe Ferguson, Affidavit #4)

– After working in this plant for more than ten years, I definitely do not support its expansion to the rest of the industry. (Joe Ferguson, Affidavit #4)

Contact: Amanda Hitt, Food Integrity Campaign Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 159
Email: amandah@whistleblower.org <mailto:amandah@whistleblower.org>

Contact: Sarah Damian, Communications Manager
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 130
Email: sarahd@whistleblower.org <mailto:sarahd@whistleblower.org>
Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

 

Ebb & Flow – Minnesota’s Population Future

The Minnesota State Demographic Center issued a report last week that details how people are leaving Minnesota for other states.  

The birthrate keeps us moving forward economically with a growing population, in combination with immigrants moving here from overseas.   

Note:  A recent national report says immigrant entrepreneurs boost the economy, here in Minnesota and elsewhere.

As the baby boomers leave the workforce, the state, and eventually, the planet, Minnesota’s birth rate will not be able to keep up and maintaining growth will be a bigger challenge.

Assignment:  File a report or do a series of interviews on the Morning Blend about this new demographic information and  its ramifications.

 

2014 Minnestoa Femicide Report

On Tuesday, January 27th, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women will hold a press conference in room 181 of the State office building to talk about last year’s statistics regarding violence against women.

Assignment:  go to the press conference and produce a feature for the Morning Blend.  Or schedule a live Morning Blend interview on this topic.

 

Since 1989, the Minnesota Femicide Report has provided annual documentation on intimate partner homicides across the state of Minnesota. The 26th release of the Minnesota Femicide Report memorializes the 23 Minnesotans known to be killed due to domestic violence in 2014. The report focuses on significant issues related to the homicides including: murder-suicides, particularly within elderly relationships; the use of firearms; the cross-section of mental health and domestic violence; and the need for expansive intervention and collaboration to support people experiencing domestic violence. The press conference will include a small display of the 2014 Clothesline Project, a visual memorial to the lives lost to domestic violence.
WHO: It is expected that the following people will speak at the press conference:
 Pete Orput, Washington County Attorney
 Bethany, survivor of domestic violence
 Rebekah Moses, MCBW Program Manager in Public Policy
 Becky Smith, MCBW Program Manager in Communications and Public Awareness
Various legislators are expected to attend the press conference.
WHEN: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.
WHERE: Room 181, State Office Building