Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Over 7,000 Nurses On Strike In New York City. Here’s Why

Nurses, organized by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) are demanding safe patient-to-staff ratios, fair wages, and to maintain existing healthcare benefits

By Natalia Marques, People's Dispatch

On Monday, January 9, over 7,000 New York City nurses from Mount Sinai and Montefiore hospitals in Manhattan and the Bronx, respectively, went on strike. Nurses, organized by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) are demanding safe patient-to-staff ratios, fair wages, and to maintain existing healthcare benefits.

Nurses, who authorized a strike on December 21 with an overwhelming vote of 98.8% in favor, have been in contract negotiations with hospital administrations across the city. Initially, the number of nurses set to strike was around 16,000, at eight hospitals: NewYork-Presbyterian, Montefiore, Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Morningside and West, Maimonides, BronxCare, Richmond University Medical Center, and Flushing Hospital Medical Center. However, hospital bosses scrambled to reach tentative agreements with the nurses to avert a strike at all hospitals save Montefiore and Mount Sinai Hospital.

The mood outside of Mount Sinai Hospital, in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was fiery, despite negotiations being tense for the past few days. The picket line swelled with a crowd of hundreds of nurses, bisected by a road of slow-moving vehicles, many honking in support.

Mount Sinai management has claimed that NYSNA walked out of negotiations, while NYSNA has claimed the same of the hospital bosses.

“It is deeply unfortunate that instead of agreeing to either of these solutions and rescinding its strike notice, Mount Sinai’s NYSNA leadership has made the decision to ask nurses to leave patients’ bedsides during a tridemic,” claimed Mount Sinai on January 9.

Montefiore also made similar implications regarding the commitment of NYSNA nurses to their patients. “Despite Montefiore’s offer of a 19.1% compounded wage increase—the same offer agreed to at the wealthiest of our peer institutions—and a commitment to create over 170 new nursing positions, and despite a call from Governor Hochul for arbitration, NYSNA’s leadership has decided to walk away from the bedsides of their patients,” wrote the hospital in a statement.

Again and again, hospital bosses and their representatives have hammered in the point of how disastrous a strike by nurses would be. A strike would be a “public health calamity,” claimed Ken Raske, of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

Nurses are indeed essential, as evidenced by hospital executives’ costly efforts to make up for the losses of the strike by transferring infants to other hospitals or hiring travel nurses, who are paid more than a regular nurse. Union nurses have pointed out the incongruency of these decisions, as the millions of dollars required to prepare for a strike could be used to simply pay nurses more. And, as striking nurses have emphasized consistently, the picket line is the last place they want to be.

“We would rather be in there, doing what we love,” Diane, a nurse at Mount Sinai, told Peoples Dispatch, referring to the hospital building behind the picket line.

“We don’t wanna leave our patients. This is the last thing that we ever want to do. But unfortunately we’re pushed to this point,” said Jessica, also a nurse at Mount Sinai. “Management left their patients, not us. We’re here fighting for our patients.”

These nurses are referring to one of the primary concerns of unionized nurses: the lack of safe staff-to-patient ratios at New York City hospitals. New York state actually has existing staffing laws, which were passed in 2021 to address precisely the issue of hospitals using understaffing to cut costs. However, since then, New York state has failed to enforce these laws. Mount Sinai currently has 500 staff openings and Montefiore has 700, according to NYSNA.

Julia, another Mount Sinai nurse, told Peoples Dispatch: “When there’s too many patients being taken care of, then it compromises safety, and at the same time, it compromises your license. So that’s why we’re here. It really is safety for the patients as well as for the nurses.”

“Who were [the ones] here during the pandemic? Who is actually at the bedside?” Julia continued. “So if it is [the hospital executives’] family being taken care of, how could you expect me to really be addressing all of the issues of the one patient, if there’s maybe 17 other patients being taken care of in the emergency room in or in the ICUs or as inpatients.”

Hospital bosses claim that understaffing is due to a shortage of nurses. In reality, nurses are leaving the profession at increasing rates due to low wages and high stress. Union nurses argue that by investing in hiring more staff, which will decrease stress, and paying nurses more for their work, hospitals will be able to address a shortage of nurses. Instead of making these investments, the union has pointed out that hospital executives paid themselves tens of millions in bonuses during the height of the pandemic.

“We want New Yorkers to be taken care of. We stayed with you during COVID. You clapped for us with pots and pans,” said Nella Pineda-Marcon, nurse at Mount Sinai and NYSNA secretary, at a January 9 press conference at the Mount Sinai picket line. “Our loyalty is with New Yorkers. Our loyalty is with the community. It’s never profit over patients.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Defense sector contributed heavily to 45 senators who secured $1.8 billion in military construction earmarks

January 5, 2023

The end-of-year funding bill that Congress pushed to pass in late December contained more than $1.8 billion in earmarks for new military construction projects. Agencies and managers typically hire defense contractors to execute these projects, and a new OpenSecrets analysis found that the 45 senators who secured these earmarks received an average of 51% more cash from the defense sector than their colleagues during the 2022 election cycle.

Earmarks – congressional provisions in discretionary spending bills that direct funds to a specific project – are typically reserved for senators’ pet projects. These provisions were temporarily banned in 2011, but Congress restored earmarks in 2021 with rules to make the process more equitable and transparent, including posting earmark requests online and letters certifying lawmakers have no personal or financial stake in the project.

The $1.8 billion in military construction earmarks included in the omnibus bill passed Dec. 23 are separate from the record-setting $858 billion annual defense spending authorization bill passed on Dec. 15. The omnibus bill funds both the National Defense Authorization Act and the earmark provisions.

The omnibus spending bill includes earmarks for military construction in 32 states. Provisions range from child development centers to missile magazines and maintenance aircraft hangars.

The 45 senators whose requested and secured military construction earmarks made it into the omnibus bill reported receiving an average of $110,930 in political contributions from the defense sector during the 2022 election cycle as of post-general election filings. The remaining 55 senators received an average of $73,557 from the defense sector during the same period.

Twelve GOP senators with military construction earmarks in the omnibus bill reported receiving an average of $131,121 from the defense sector, nearly twice the $72,921 that Senate Republicans who do not have military construction earmarks in the omnibus package reported receiving on average. 

The 33 Democratic senators with military construction earmarks reported receiving an average of $103,588 from the defense sector last election cycle compared to $75,015 for those who didn’t request military projects.

Of the 20 senators who received the most money from the defense sector during the last election cycle, 13 requested military construction earmarks that made it into the omnibus bill.

Sen. Jack Reed (D–R.I.), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is a top recipient of contributions from the defense sector. Reed, who is not up for reelection until 2026, reported receiving nearly $289,050 from the defense sector during the 2022 election cycle.

The omnibus bill contains one military construction earmark from Reed – a $46 million project to construct a consolidated headquarters, medical and dining facility at the Quonset Air National Guard Base in his home state.

Retiring Sen. James Inhofe (R–Okla.), who served as ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the 117th Congress, was also a top recipient of defense sector contributions during the 2022 election cycle. Inhofe reported receiving $153,650 from individuals and PACs affiliated with the defense sector during the 2022 election cycle.

The Republican senator was such a staple on the committee that the Senate and House armed services committees named the annual defense authorization bill the “James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023” as a tribute to his legacy and leadership. He also secured a whopping $356.3 million in military construction earmarks for his home state of Oklahoma in the omnibus package. 

Earmarks for military construction at Tinker Air Force Base related to Boeing-developed aircrafts account for $219 million of Inhofe’s total military construction earmark requests. Two earmarks totaling $204 million would go toward building new hangars for the KC-46A aircraft refueling and airlift system, and another $15 million would go toward planning and development of an operation center for the E-7 early warning and control plane.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) received more money from the defense sector than any other senator during the 2022 election cycle – although the $387,407 he received is a relatively small portion of the $41.1 million the majority leader’s campaign reported receiving as of post-general election filings. Schumer secured five military construction earmarks totaling $20.4 million alongside fellow New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is not up for reelection until 2024 and received just $1,940 from the defense sector during the same period. 

The New York senators secured $3.1 million to design a physical fitness testing facility at Fort Drum, plus an additional $6.8 million earmarked to construct an access control point in the U.S. Army base. Other military construction earmarks include $3.6 million to design additions to the Lexington Armory’s National Guard Readiness Center, $2.8 million to design a combined operation and alert facility at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and $4.2 million for “unspecified minor construction” at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“Senator Schumer is proud to have a long history delivering much needed federal funding for important projects, including at Fort Drum in the North Country and Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, which are critical to both the local and upstate economies and critical to national defense—keeping the bases, their jobs, and our troops in Upstate NY,” a spokesperson for Schumer told OpenSecrets in a written statement, adding, “That’s why he’s been able to help bring back more federal dollars to New York than the state sends to Washington, D.C. in the last two years.”

The spokesperson also highlighted key victories in bringing those federal tax dollars back to New York, including a provision in the spring omnibus package allocating $27 million to improve drinking water quality at Fort Drum.

Another top recipient of defense sector funds also secured military construction projects that would benefit military families. The biggest military construction earmarks secured by Democratic Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff totaled $26 million to design and build a child development center addition to Fort Gordon.

Defense sector donors also contributed heavily to Warnock, who raised more money than any other U.S. Senate candidate during his contentious 2022 reelection bid. Of the $150 million Warnock raised during the last election cycle, his campaign received $324,192 from the defense sector, while Ossoff — who is not up for reelection until 2026 — received just $1,498.

Warnock secured a total of $40.6 million in military construction projects, all but one with Ossoff. In addition to the child development center, Warnock also secured an additional $2.1 million to design a National Guard and Reserve Center Building at Fort Gordon, and the pair secured $1.1 million to plan an security forces squadron operations facility at Moody Air Force Base as well as $5 million to design an Army Reserve Center at Dobbins Army Reserve Base.

Senior Researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report.

Originally published on January 5th, 2023 on  

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The Podcast Conglomerate the Media Won’t Name

Spoiler: It’s John Malone’s Liberty Media
News consumers hear about the titans of podcasting regularly these  days: Spotify, iHeartMedia, Amazon Music.  But there is one name that’s curiously absent: Liberty Media.

The company recently got some coverage after Taylor Swift fans rose up against Ticketmaster’s monopolistic pricing. The live event company increased its market share after being bought by Live Nation, a Liberty subsidiary. Forbes (1/21/22) also named Liberty the “most valuable sports empire” from its profits off its Formula One and Atlanta Braves subsidiaries.

More often ignored, Liberty Media also owns satellite radio SiriusXM, internet radio Pandora and podcast platform and network Stitcher, which it claims amount to the “largest ad-supported audio entertainment streaming service in the US,” with over 100 million listeners.

In 2021, it rolled the advertising wings for all three of those companies into SXM Media, now one of the largest ad sellers in podcasting. These forces combined make it the only real direct competitor to Spotify for a vertically integrated podcast empire (, 4/21/21).

A hidden conglomerate

An avalanche of consolidation over the past few years has made the podcast industry difficult to report on. It’s tedious for readers to shift through chains of corporate subsidiaries, so journalists seem to simply ignore them.

The media press do cover Sirius, but consistently fail to highlight its corporate parent or its own subsidiaries. The satellite radio giant itself owns Pandora and Stitcher, which includes the Midroll ad business, which was rolled into SXM, and the Earwolf podcast network (and oh what a simplification that is). But of much greater consequence is the media’s consistent failure to highlight that all of these companies are owned by Liberty Media.

In 2021, the Department of Justice gave Liberty the go-ahead to purchase iHeartMedia (formally Clear Channel), the largest radio broadcaster in the country. iHeart reaches over 90% of Americans every month “through podcasts, AM and FM stations and online platforms,” according to Variety (10/19/21). Liberty sold off its entire stake in iHeart last year, but had the deal proceeded, it would have merged two of the nation’s largest audio oligopolists into one.

The DoJ decision was sparsely covered, but even if it was front-page news, you can only understand what Liberty taking control of iHeart would have done if you already understood its other audio holdings and how they fit together. This is a bigger picture that is sorely lacking in coverage of either company.

Corporate consolidation bias 

Liberty Media's podcasting empire as Russian dolls

Liberty Media owns SXM, which owns Pandora which owns Stitcher which owns Earwolf.

When mergers happen, there is often a natural news bias toward the company doing the purchase. But the complete failure to contextualize which companies the purchaser and purchasee already own, or are owned by, obscures monopolists and insulates them from scrutiny.

The Wall Street Journal (7/6/20) reported that SiriusXM bought Stitcher, and Forbes (7/7/20) noted this will “give it the tools to compete with Spotify,” without a single mention of Liberty Media. Ashley Carmen has a superb deep dive into the after-effects of SiriusXM’s purchase of Stitcher for the Verge (3/22/22), but she never mentions that Sirius itself has a parent company.

Billboard  (10/23/20) reported when iHeart acquired Voxnest, and Variety (2/17/21) noted when it bought Triton Digital the next year. Again, no Liberty. When the New York Times (4/3/19) covered iHeart’s potential IPO, it failed to mention Liberty held a stake in the company at the time.

News sites also want to write about companies their audience wants to hear about, and that’s often the platforms and networks that they actually use. Spotify’s purchase of popular podcast network Gimlet Media was a darling story of the podcast press; meanwhile, their purchase of Anchor, an ad seller, was covered less. Today, Anchor is an engine that’s key to the audio company’s success, while Gimlet lags.

Over-focus on podcast networks poses a lot of problems, because they are often nested at the bottom of the new corporate podcasting Matryoshka dolls. Think Earwolf, owned by Stitcher, owned by Pandora, owned by Sirius, owned by Liberty.

The largest Russian doll

Vox: Why billionaire John Malone’s shadow looms over CNN

Liberty Media‘s John Malone (Vox8/26/22): “Fox News, in my opinion, has followed an interesting trajectory of trying to have ‘news’ news, I mean some actual journalism, embedded in a program schedule of all opinions.”

OK, take a deep breath, because Liberty itself is not the top of this nested power structure. It’s owned by one man: John Malone. Worth over $9 billion, and the largest landlord in the United States (FAIR.com2/17/22), Malone’s media influence does not end with audio. He is also the “power behind the throne” of the new company formed from the merger between AT&T’s Warner Brothers and Discovery (Next TV, 11/21/22). Lest I fall into the trap of my own criticism, that includes the following entities: CNNHBODC Comics and 67 other companies.

Malone was the long-term chair of TCI, the US’s second-largest cable provider (and “worst discriminator,” according to the NAACP) until it was purchased by AT&T in 1999.

Liberty Media began as the cable programming subsidiary of TCI, and helped the cable company rise to the top by purchasing stakes in the programs it ran on its channels, including a 10% stake in Time Warner, and a controlling stake of Discovery (Extra!11–12/97). Liberty even owned PBS NewsHour (yes, you read that correctly—Extra!, 11/10) from 1995 until 2014, when Washington, DC’s public media station WETA bought the program.

Under AT&T’s ownership, it absorbed TCI’s digital music and satellite businesses, before splitting off into an independent company in 2001 under Malone’s control (CNN8/10/01).

Malone was CEO of Discovery between 2006 and 2008, and was the company’s largest shareholder and board chair when it merged with Warner Brothers. He is now an independent director at the newly merged Warner Brothers Discovery, which is also run by his former hand-picked CEO of Discovery and long-term mentee, David Zaslav (Vox8/26/22).

Malone is a noted conservative who contributed over $1 million to Donald Trump’s inaugural campaign. 

Before the Warner/Discovery merger went through, he told CNBC in an interview (11/18/21) he wished CNN would “actually have journalists,” then praised Fox for its “actual journalism” (FAIR.com2/17/22). Many journalists at CNN suspect the media company’s recent firing of celebrated media reporter Brian Stelter was a political decision at the behest of Malone (Vox8/18/22).

There are rumors the merged company may attempt to absorb NBC Universal, along with its streaming platform Peacock, as early as 2024 (The Street, 9/22/22).

We’re getting far afield from podcasts here—but the whole point is that these things are all connected. When we put these threads together, we see a bigger picture that’s important for news consumers to digest.

Noted political economist Robert McChesney wrote for FAIR back in 1997 (Extra!11–12/97) that TCI faced “a direct and potentially very damaging challenge to its US market share from digital satellite broadcasting.” Now, Malone controls SiriusXM, the largest satellite broadcaster in the country.

The coming Spotify/Liberty duopoly 

Liberty and Spotify fighting for the spoils.

With the podcast industry thinning out, Liberty and Spotify are fighting for dominance.

All of these failures in clear reporting obscure the bigger picture. Mainstream coverage might leave you with the impression of a podcast landscape dominated by Spotify and Apple. But if we incorporate an understanding of corporate ownership, there are two main end-to-end podcast empires with a clear grip on the market at this point: Spotify and Liberty Media’s SiriusXM (, 4/21/21).

Sirius certainly sees it that way. A former Stitcher employee told the Verge (3/22/22), “Spotify is the devil to SiriusXM.”

Spotify has the bigger platform, with 400 million monthly listeners (CNET2/2/22), while Pandora has hemorrhaged listeners year after year since 2019. (Note that these numbers are from before big artists like Neil Young boycotted Spotify over Joe Rogen; Young still has an entire  channel on SiriusXM.) But Liberty has built an ad-selling powerhouse in SXM Media that Spotify’s own Megaphone struggles to compete with. In fact, with SXM’s help, Pandora has increased its ad revenue despite shrinking listenership. SXM Media signed deals with NBCMSNBCCNBCSoundcloud and Audiochuck early on, and has since signed with Spanish-language reVolver Podcasts and Crooked Media (home of Pod Save America). In February 2020, SiriusXM made a $75 million minority equity investment into SoundCloud, which expands on their ad agreement.

Sirius has also drawn more listeners to its content than SpotifySpotify’s Joe Rogan Experience remains the most popular individual podcast, while SiriusXM’s Crime Junkies comes in third in Edison Research show rankings. But the Stitcher podcast network has topped Triton Digital’s weekly download rankings for over a year, after it edged out NPR. And SXM Media beats Spotify in Edison Researcher’s rankings for “top podcasts networks by reach.”

Sirius also bought Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco podcast network and digital media company last year, adding a network with 180 million annual downloads (Tech Crunch4/23/22)

But winning the so-called “podcast wars” has never been just about platforms. It’s about building a whole end-to-end system for producing, hosting, monetizing and then platforming content. Spotify and Liberty are the only companies that have unlocked this “final infinity stone” in the US market (Input2/22/21).

Friday, January 6, 2023

Worker strikes and union elections surged in 2022 – could it mark a turning point for organized labor?


Marick Masters, Wayne State University

Workers organized and took to the picket line in increased numbers in 2022 to demand better pay and working conditions, leading to optimism among labor leaders and advocates that they’re witnessing a turnaround in labor’s sagging fortunes.

Teachers, journalists and baristas were among the tens of thousands of workers who went on strike – and it took an act of Congress to prevent 115,000 railroad employees from walking out as well. In total, there have been at least 20 major work stoppages involving at least 1,000 workers each in 2022, up from 16 in 2021, and hundreds more that were smaller.

At the same time, workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and dozens of other companies filed over 2,000 petitions to form unions during the year – the most since 2015. Workers won 76% of the 1,363 elections that were held.

Historically, however, these figures are pretty tepid. The number of major work stoppages has been plunging for decades, from nearly 200 as recently as 1980, while union elections typically exceeded 5,000 a year before the 1980s. As of 2021, union membership was at about the lowest level on record, at 10.3%. In the 1950s, over 1 in 3 workers belonged to a union.

As a labor scholar, I agree that the evidence shows a surge in union activism. The obvious question is: Do these developments manifest a tipping point?

Signs of increased union activism

First, let’s take a closer look at 2022.

The most noteworthy sign of labor’s revival has been the rise in the number of petitions filed with the National Labor Relations Board. In fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, workers filed 2,072 petitions, up 63% from the previous year. Starbucks workers alone filed 354 of these petitions, winning the vast majority of the elections held. In addition, employees at companies historically deemed untouchable by unions, including Apple, Microsoft and Wells Fargo, also scored wins.

The increase in strike activity is also important. And while the major strikes that involve 1,000 or more employees and are tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics arouse the greatest attention, they represent only the tip of the iceberg.

The bureau recorded 20 major strikes in 2022, which is about 25% more than the average of 16 a year over the past two decades. Examples of these major strikes include the recent one-day New York Times walkout, two strikes in California involving more than 3,000 workers at health care company Kaiser Permanente, 2,100 workers at Frontier Communications and 48,000 workers at the University of California.

Since 2021, Cornell University has been keeping track of any labor action, however small, and found that there were a total of 385 strikes in calendar year 2022, up from 270 in the previous year. In total, these reported strikes have occurred in nearly 600 locations in 19 states., signifying the geographic breadth of activism.

Historical parallels

Of course, these figures are still quite low by historical standards.

I believe two previous spikes in the early 20th century offer some clues as to whether recent events could lead to sustained gains in union membership.

From 1934 to 1939, union membership soared from 7.6% to 19.2%. A few years later, from 1941 to 1945, membership climbed from 20% to 27%.

Both spikes occurred during periods of national and global upheaval. The first spike came in the latter half of the Great Depression, when unemployment in the U.S. reached as high as a quarter of the workforce. Economic deprivation and a lack of workplace protections led to widespread political and social activism and sweeping efforts to organize workers in response. It also contributed to the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, which stimulated organizing in the industrial sector.

The second jump came as the U.S. mobilized the economy to fight a two-front war in Europe and Asia. National economic mobilization to support the war led to growth in manufacturing employment, where unions had been making substantial gains. Government wartime policy encouraged unionization as part of a bargain for industrial peace during the war.

Inequality and pandemic heroes

Today’s situation is a far cry from the economic misery of the Great Depression or the social upheaval of a global war, but there are some parallels worth exploring.

Overall unemployment may be near record lows, but economic inequality is higher than it was during the Depression. The top 10% of households hold over 68% of the wealth in the U.S. In 1936, this was about 47%.

In addition, the top 0.1% of wage earners experienced a nearly 390% increase in real wages from 1979 to 2020, versus a meager 28.2% pay hike for the bottom 90%. And employment in manufacturing, where unions had gained a stronghold in the 1940s and 1950s, slipped over 33% from 1979 to 2022.

Another parallel to the two historical precedents concerns national mobilization. The pandemic required a massive response in early 2020, as workers in industries deemed essential, such as health care, public safety and food and agriculture, bore the brunt of its impact, earning them the label “heroes” for their efforts. In such an environment, workers began to appreciate more the protections they derived from unions for occupational safety and health, eventually helping birth much-hyped recent labor trends like the “great resignation” and “quiet quitting.”

A stacked deck

Ultimately, however, the deck is still heavily stacked against unions, with unsupportive labor laws and very few employers showing real receptivity to having a unionized workforce.

And unions are limited in how much they can change public policy or the structure of the U.S. economy that makes unionization difficult. Reforming labor law through legislation has remained elusive, and the results of the 2022 midterms are not likely to make it any easier.

This makes me unconvinced that recent signs of progress represent a turning point.

An ace up labor’s sleeve may be public sentiment. Support for labor is at its highest since 1965, with 71% saying they approve of unions, according to a Gallup poll in August. And workers themselves are increasingly showing an interest in joining them. In 2017, 48% of workers polled said they would vote for union representation, up from 32% in 1995, the last time this question was asked.

Future success may depend on unions’ ability to tap into their growing popularity and emulate the recent wins at Starbucks and Amazon, as well as the successful “Fight for $15” campaign, which since 2012 has helped pass $15 minimum wage laws in a dozen states and Washington, D.C.

The odds may be steep, but the seeds of opportunity are there if labor is able to exploit them.The Conversation

Marick Masters, Professor of Business and Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.