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Jeffrey Wigand: The Tobacco Whistle- Blower

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Years after disclosing the deepest, darkest, tobacco industry secret, whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand remains as outspoken as ever. He still believes in the fight against tobacco. He is still on the front line as a key educator on tobacco dangers. 

Wigand was a big tobacco executive who made the top news when he revealed the addictive and dangerous nature of cigarettes. His testimony in a Mississippi courtroom eventually led to a $250 billion litigation settlement by the tobacco industry. The case was dramatized in the 1999 film The Insider, starring Russell Crowe as Wigand. 

Some people regard whistleblowers as disloyal sell-outs. But Wigand believes he was loyal to ethics. People were suffering from lifetime diseases; something needed to be done to bring closure. 

It’s ethical to let people know what they are smoking and how it’s going to affect their health. Wigand felt hiding such information would be depriving people of the information they needed to freely choose to risk the harmful effects of tobacco.

Wigand told the truth. He told the world about what he saw and experienced as the Head of Research and Development at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W), one of the country’s top three tobacco companies. 

The company had been misleading consumers about nicotine’s addictive nature. The company ignored research on how the additives that help improve flavor caused cancer. The company’s actions led to the deaths and sickness of cigarette users. The company coded documents so they couldn’t be used in lawsuits. 

Wigand exposed the health problems caused by the tobacco industry’s disregard for the public’s safety and health in an interview with 60 Minutes, as well as in his compelling deposition against the tobacco companies. The anti-tobacco forces promoted Jeffrey Wingand as a heroic portrait in courage. 

The pro-tobacco lobbies were equally determined to taint Wigand’s reputation and demonize him. According to a New York Publication, B&W rep John Scanlon claimed Wingand was a bad guy: a habitual liar, a spousal abuser, shoplifter, and fraud. 

Lawyers for B&W were convinced they could break the hero with a multimillion-dollar campaign of litigation, bad press, and harassment, but they underestimated Wingand’s motivation. In addition to his rage at the company’s actions, he was outraged that he was attached to this intolerable situation. He wanted personal vindication. 

Now Wingand’s anti-tobacco crusade is penance for his long years of earning big bucks from tobacco. Then, everything was top class: an 8,000 square-foot house in a fancy neighborhood, golf club memberships, the best cars, the best schools for his kid. He even took his wife along on business trips. 

Then he left tobacco and went from an annual salary of $300,000 to $30,000 as a schoolteacher. He’s faced death threats and lost his wife and kids in the nasty divorce.

Wigand eventually left teaching for public speaking on the issue of smoking. He founded the nonprofit Smoke-Free Kids.

He always urges parents to get involved in making legislation and asking for more government funding to be directed toward tobacco control. 

Wigand knows that speaking out about the bad in society has a cost, but it also has its rewards.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 


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“Wal-Mart is Not a Feudal Manor”

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The manager at the Southside Walmart in Paducah, Ky., might have figured he’d quashed the protest at his store.

After all, he made James Vetato and three other OUR Walmart picketers leave from near the front door.

The quartet retreated, but to regroup at the entrance road to the busy shopping center the Walmart store anchors.

They redeployed under a big blue and white Walmart sign and held up hand-lettered placards reading, “ON STRIKE FOR THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK OUT,” “RESPECT ASSOCIATES DON’T SILENCE ASSOCIATES,” “ULP [unfair labor practice] STRIKE” and “WALMART STOP BULLYING ASSOCIATES WHO SPEAK OUT.”

Vetato, his wife, Trina, Rick Thompson and Amber Frazee were among many members of Organization United For Respect at Walmart — “OUR Walmart” for short — who struck and walked picket lines at stores in a reported 100 cities and towns in 46 states on Thanksgiving night and on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.

The group, which numbers thousands of current and past Walmart employees across the country, wanted to focus national attention on Walmart’s abuse of its workers, Vetato said.

The world’s richest retailer, Walmart is known for paying low wages to its employees, called “associates.” In addition, Walmart is fiercely anti-union.

Said Trina Vetato:

“People honked and waved to show their support, and they slowed down to read the signs. Some people stopped and told us they supported what we were doing.”

Vetato works at the Southside store. Her husband did, too, until he said management drove him to quit.

Frazee is employed at another Walmart in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. She and Vetato expect retaliation from Walmart management.

“They said that there will be consequences,” Vetato said. “I’ll probably get fired or put on suspension or something. But it’s well worth it to me.”

Frazee agreed. “All we want is respect,” she said.

The Vetatos, Frazee and Thompson handed out leaflets explaining, “We are the life-blood of Walmart, yet we are not always treated with respect.”

Some of the literature outlined a “Declaration of Respect,” which nearly 100 OUR Walmart members, including James Vetato, delivered to Walmart’s top management at company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

The declaration calls on Wal-Mart management to

— Listen to associates.

— Respect associates and recognize their right to free association and free speech.

— Allow associates to challenge working conditions without fear of retribution.

— Pay a minimum of $13 an hour and make full-time jobs available for associates who want them.

— Create dependable and predictable work schedules.

— Provide affordable health care.

— Furnish each associate a policy manual that ensures “equal enforcement of policy and no discrimination” and affords every employee an “equal opportunity to succeed and advance in his or her career.”

The four Paducah protestors brought a cardboard box filled with OUR Walmart literature. They said management tried to keep it out of the store. Shoppers helped get it in.

“On Thanksgiving night, a community member took one of the fliers and taped it to the front of his shirt and walked through the store to get the word out to everybody,” Trina Vetato said.

Thompson, a Pittsburgh union activist, came to Paducah to join the picket line. When a member of management tried to stop him from handing out leaflets, another customer came to his aid.

Explained Thompson, a member of Vacaville, Calif.-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245:

“The manager started bullying me for peacefully disseminating information, which I had the right to do. When the customer saw the manager walk away, she said ‘Give me a stack of those. I’ll take them in for you and pass them out.'”

Thompson said OUR Walmart is not trying to drive Walmart out of business. “We are not asking a single customer to turn away. We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.

“We want employees to have a chance to form their own association and have their own concerted actions without retaliation and unfair treatment. Walmart is not a feudal manor. The associates are not serfs. Walmart does not own every aspect of their lives.”

This post was originally posted on November 24, 2012 at Union Review. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Berry Craig is a recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. His articles can also be featured on AFL-CIO NOW.


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Can Americans Care for Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs?

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Image: Gloria PanDid you see the announcement? Fem2.0 is kicking off the New Year with Wake Up, This Is the Reality!, a campaign to help change the way Americans talk and think about work and to begin shifting the national narrative away from privileged “balance” and corporate perspectives to one that reflects the reality on the ground for millions of Americans and American families.

On January 25, we will launch a two-week blog radio series on how work policies impact specific communities. That will be followed by a week-long blog carnival (Feb. 6-13) that will flood the public space with articles, opinions and personal stories about what it’s like to work in America today.

Fem2pt0In the inaugural show, Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer, will interview Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California – Hastings, and Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, about their new report, The Three Faces of Work/Family Conflict: Can Americans Care For Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs? To be released later this month, the report considers the impact of work policies on American workers and families at different income levels, revealing the all-too-common, gut-wrenching choices Americans face between being able to care for loved ones and being able to pay the bills.

On January 29, we’ll focus on Work Policies and Single Women: An Examination of the Work Issues Facing Single Women, With or Without Children. Lisa Matz, AAUW’s director of public policy and government relations, Melanie Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie, and Page Gardner, founder of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, join moderator Marcia G. Yerman of the Huffington Post to discuss how the continuum of single women are challenged by work policy issues. Topics will include:

+ The challenges faced by women in the workplace without children (50% of American women)

+ The challenges faced by never married women with children (19%-20%)

+ Reframing the family structure as horizontal (acknowledging that not all family responsibilities are “parental”)

+ Legislation to implement change (family and medical leave, Social Security, care giving credits, pay equity, retirement benefits)

+ Is the workload being left to single women without children?

+ Validating single women as heads of their own households

The blog radio series will also be looking at the impact of today’s work environment on men, seniors, businesses, and on the military, LGBT, Latino, and African-American communities. See entire series here.

Please forward this email to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and anyone else who might be interested. Find out other ways you can get involved, here.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know!

*Cross-posted from Feminism2.0 with permission. Check out the 2010 Wake Up! This is the Reality! Campaign happening now, and submit your pieces for the ongoing blog carnival.


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