Musician Teodoro Cuevas waits for business in LA's Mariachi Plaza. Photo by Emmanuel Martinez/Neon Tommy.

Musician Teodoro Cuevas waits for business in LA’s Mariachi Plaza. Photo by Emmanuel Martinez/Neon Tommy.

In 24 Hours: A Day in the Working Life, 12 Los Angeles-area workers – including a stripper, deli waitress, bus driver, metal scrapper, and bathroom attendant – take us inside their workplaces to show us what they do and why they do it. 

The Labor Day special aired on public radio stations around the country yesterday. It was reported by graduate students at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC as part of a course taught by Homelands’ Sandy Tolan and Karen Lowe of the web and radio project Bending Borders.

Karen is an old friend of Homelands; as an editor for Marketplace, she worked on many of the profiles in our WORKING series.

24 Hours is a co-production of Homelands Productions, Bending Borders, and the USC Annenberg School. It is distributed by the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).


Homelands senior producer Cecilia Vaisman, Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas and the production team at Magnum in Motion have created a powerful multimedia feature about the struggles of farm workers to meet their basic food needs as they grow older. “A Harvest Out of Reach” is the third part of AARP’s “Hungry in America” series about food insecurity among seniors. A Spanish language version is also available.

The first two stories—”A Little Goes a Long Way” (by Jonathan Miller and Christopher Anderson) and “Hard Choices” (by Sandy Tolan and Larry Towell)—were also collaborative efforts between Homelands producers and Magnum photographers. A fourth and final piece is on its way.

Please keep your ears open on Wednesday, December 1, for a  story on NPR’s All Things Considered called “The Legacy of George F. Johnson and the Square Deal.” The 13-minute piece was produced by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries and Homelands’ Jonathan Miller.

George F. Johnson (1857-1948) was president and owner of the Endicott-Johnson Corporation, once the largest shoe manufacturer in the United States. The company employed as many as 24,000 people in upstate New York’s “Triple Cities” of Binghamton, Endicott and Johnson City, and supplied much of the footwear for American soldiers during both world wars.

Johnson was a leading practitioner of what came to be known as “welfare capitalism,” in which corporations provide a wide range of benefits to workers and their families (job security, low-cost housing, subsidized health care, recreation, etc.) in exchange for loyalty and labor peace. A former factory worker and socialist who bought the company with a loan from his boss, Johnson told his workers that they didn’t need unions. What he offered instead was a “square deal.” The work would be hard, but profits were shared, management jobs were filled from within, and the president’s door was always open for those with suggestions or complaints.

Some workers bristled at this arrangement, but most did not, and unions never flourished. Townsfolk loved the company-sponsored parks, carousels, sports leagues and picnics. When George F. Johnson died in 1948, tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects in one of the biggest funerals in US history. But today the company is gone and Johnson is all but forgotten outside the Triple Cities.

“The Legacy of George F. Johnson and the Square Deal” airs at the 35-minute mark of All Things Considered’s first hour (the actual time will depend on your local station’s schedule) and will be available online after that on the NPR and Radio Diaries websites.

Belated Happy Labor Day! Last weekend Re:sound, the Chicago Public Radio program that showcases radio documentaries from around the world, broadcast (actually “re:broadcast”) “The Work Show,” featuring Homelands’ WORKING project. The hour, which was first heard last September, weaves interview bits with executive producer Jon Miller with excerpts from several profiles from the series. Those include a pirate in Indonesia (by Kelly McEvers), a movie director in Nigeria and a French chocolate taster in Ecuador (both by Jon), an oil worker in Canada (Chris Brookes), a lobster diver in Honduras (Claudine LoMonaco), and an express mail driver in Beijing (Sandy Tolan).

“The Work Show” was produced by Delaney Hall and hosted by Gwen Macsai. If you missed the broadcast you can still hear it online, presumably until the end of time. WORKING aired on Marketplace between 2007 and 2009 and received the 2008 Sigma Delta Chi Award for radio feature reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.

A story I reported from Honduras and Virginia for BBC’s domestic service, Radio 4, is being rebroadcast today in slightly edited form on the BBC World Service program “Assignment.” “Cutting the Lifeline” looks at the impact of the financial crisis on Honduran migrant workers, their families, and their communities. The 23-minute piece was produced and narrated by former NPR correspondent and old Homelands friend Vera Frankl.

The timing of the broadcast coincides with news reports describing the massacre of 72 would-be migrants in northern Mexico. Among the dead were Hondurans, Salvadorans, Ecuadorans, and others trying to reach the United States. Several hundred migrant workers now die each year along the US-Mexico border. But it’s easy to forget how harrowing the journey is for everyone who risks it. An appallingly high number of those who now live and work in the US were raped, robbed, or injured on their way here. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this latest horror.


A documentary on BBC Radio 4 today looks at the impact of the global economic crisis on migrant workers and the people who depend on them. “Cutting the Lifeline” was reported by Homelands’ Jonathan Miller in Honduras and the USA and produced and narrated by Vera Frankl in London. The audio will be available for streaming until May 12. We hope you’ll have a chance to listen.

The half-hour show takes listeners from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, where thousands of Central American workers have lost their jobs, to a former fishing village in northern Honduras that depends on money sent by family members in America, to a farming community in western Honduras, where a mother of five eagerly awaits her husband’s return after a 10-year absence.

Remittances from migrant workers are now the largest single source of income for Honduras, but few services exist to support the migrants or their families. Migration carries terrible risks, from the perilous journey north (90 percent of Honduran migrants are undocumented) to the strain that long-term separation puts on family relationships. Still, with few opportunities at home, one in seven Hondurans has chosen to leave. The economic downturn has made many rethink that calculation.

P.S. We just learned that “Cutting the Lifeline” has been chosen as a “Pick of the Week” by the BBC. An excerpt will air on Sunday, May 9 at 6:15 pm in the UK.

In October we reported on the murder of Marco Antonio Armendáriz Vega, a self-taught lawyer who had spent years defending the poor and powerless in northern Mexico’s Sonora state. Marcos (as he was known) was shot in his home in Agua Prieta at point blank range. Our colleague Ingrid Lobet, who met Marcos while reporting a profile of e-waste recycler Vicki Ponce for the WORKING series, has been in touch with his friends and family and tells us that no progress has been made in the investigation. The case has been handed from the local police to the ministerio publico, which is like the district attorney’s office. Meanwhile, Marcos’ daughter Paty is taking over her father’s practice, and another daughter is considering leaving law school to help. We wish them success and safety.

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