Grit Nation

Dirty Work - Eyal Press

February 07, 2022 Eyal Press Season 4 Episode 1
Grit Nation
Dirty Work - Eyal Press
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to Grit Nation

In this episode I have the pleasure of speaking with journalist, professor of sociology and author Eyal Press.

Eyal’s latest book titled Dirty Work – Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America, addresses the morally troubling work that society silently condones and the hidden class of workers who do it. 

 Eyal and I begin our conversation by discussing the origins of the term Dirty Work and how the unconscious mandate it reveals is as prevalent today in contemporary American life as it was in Nazi occupied World War 2 Germany. 

 Eyal will then explain the physical and mental toll dirty work jobs take on the people who perform them as he shares the many personal stories he encountered while doing research for his book. 

From mental health care professionals working in state and federal penal systems, to aerial drone pilots conducting remote air strikes and workers on the kill floors of industrial slaughterhouses, Eyal unfolds a tale that is simultaneously gut-wrenching, powerful, and provocative. 

Later we’ll discuss the roll organized labor unions can play in de-stigmatizing dirty work, by challenging the systemic socio-economic and moral inequality structure that so strongly divides our nation. 

And we’ll end our conversation by exploring the nature of the implicit social contract around dirty work; so we can better understand who does the work, why it is done how we can re-shape the story it tells about us as a society.

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Joe Cadwell:

Welcome to Grit Nation. I'm Joe Cadwell, the writer, producer and host of the show. And on this episode I have the pleasure of speaking with journalists Professor of Sociology and author Eyal Press. His latest book titled Dirty Work, Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America addresses the morally troubling work that society silently condones, and the hidden class workers who do it Al and I begin our conversation by discussing the origins of the term dirty work, and how the unconscious mandate it reveals is as prevalent today in contemporary American life, as it was in Nazi occupied World War Two German ale will then explain the physical and mental toll dirty work jobs take on the people perform them, as he shares the many personal stories he encountered while doing research for his book. For mental healthcare professionals working in state and federal penal systems to aerial drone pilots conducting remote airstrikes, and workers on the kill floors of industrial slaughterhouses. Aon folds a tale that is simultaneously gut wrenching, powerful and provocative. Later, we'll discuss the role organized labor unions can play in de stigmatizing dirty work. by challenging the systemic socio economic and moral inequality structure that is so strongly divides our nation and want our conversation by exploring the nature of the implicit social contract around dirty work. So we can better understand who does the work, why it is done, and how we can reshape the story it tells about us as a society. After this show, be sure to check out the Episode notes to help you dive deeper into the subject. And now on to the show. Eyal Press Welcome to Grit Nation.

Eyal Press:

Thank you so much.

Joe Cadwell:

Eyal, thank you so much for taking your time to be on the show today, I'm really excited to talk to you about your your recent book, Dirty Work, Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America. But before we do that, Al I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about you. And I understand your your folks, your mom and dad both have interesting stories as well.

Eyal Press:

Absolutely. Thank you again, for having me on the program. And I want to just say that it's it's a special privilege to talk to an audience of union members and blue collar workers. Because you mentioned a little personal history. So my paternal grandfather was originally from the Russian pale of settlement, as a lot of Jews were and he became sort of, he joined the Zionist movement when he after there were some attacks on Jews and ended up going to Palestine. And he worked in a bakery, there was a mixed workforce, both Jews and Arabs. And he told me, I recorded this conversation with him. He told me that they used to work 80 hour weeks, some of the guys would actually sleep there on these little carpets, they brought and go right back to work after you know, three to four hours of sleep. And the conditions were really tough. And eventually they wanted to organize. And so they came together to the workers. And they chose someone to represent them in the negotiations with management. And that turned out to be my my grandfather. Benjamin was his name, Benjamin press. And he became one of the leaders of the what became the history group in Israel, which is really the sort of analogous organ of the institution to the AFL CIO here as the kind of largest organized labor union in Israel. And throughout his life, he was negotiating on behalf of workers to improve conditions in various workplaces into his 80s. I remember him getting on buses and going to to mediate these disputes. So that's part of where my interest in labor comes from. And I should also say that, you know, was also the backdrop to my upbringing in the United States. So I was born in Israel, but my family moved to Buffalo, New York when I was three years old in the 1970s. And buffalo, as many people know, is a blue collar town that in the 70s experienced really harsh deindustrialization, steep steel plants closing down and having ripple effects. There was a lot of unemployment. So that was kind of always there in my consciousness as something that was interesting to me. On a whole different side of things, you mentioned my, my, my mother's side of the family, so you know connects also to issues of labor. But my mother was born in a German camp during World War Two. My paternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. They were Romanian Jews and survived a couple of years at this camp, which really was a kind of simply a labor camp, but as opposed to constantly an extermination camp, but people were working 1416 hour days on a piece of bread, you know, really just horrible, horrible, horribly difficult conditions. And after World War Two, my grandparents returned to Romania, and my grandfather couldn't find work he had been he had run a small shop, he was a milliner. That was over. And he ended up working in a gas station. That was all he could do pumping gas. And, you know, the title of my new book is dirty work. And, you know, one of my extended members of the family said, you know, this is this is a book that the both of your grandparents your grandfather's would have, would have understood the one who was involved in unions, and the one who ended up doing an in effect, kind of dirty work of working in a gas station. So I didn't talk about my parents, do you want me to say more? Do you want to dip into the substance of the book,

Joe Cadwell:

we'll start getting into the book for sure. But that's a very interesting family history. And I think a lot of my listeners right now, or are probably scratching their head because they probably saw dirty work and assumed it was going to be along the lines of Mike Rose Dirty Jobs, you know, and the physically getting dirty from from the work that you do. But in your book, after reading it, I realized that that it's not so much a physical manifestation of dirt on the outside of your clothing, but a lot of the moral quandaries and compromised positions that people who are engaged in dirty work find themselves in and I think it all started with you referencing a sociologist, Everett Hughes, and a good people dirty work. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit more about that.

Eyal Press:

Yeah, so So you're absolutely right. I apologize to listeners who did expect that it was a book about physically dirty jobs, because my book takes that expression, dirty work from this essay by Everett Hughes. And that essay ever use was pretty renowned sociologist back in his days kind of been forgotten. But he wrote one classic essay, and that essays titled good people, and dirty work. And it was written after Hughes spent a semester teaching abroad in postwar Germany. This was right after World War Two. And he goes there. And Hughes has an interest in finding out how ordinary Germans how they would react when he brought up the Nazi era, which of course, had just past just happened. And mostly, what he found is that people wouldn't bring it up. So he started bringing it up in conversation and the folks he knew, and got to know, we're not committed members of the Nazi party, they were what he called, good people, you know, they were tolerant minded. They, they would react at first, as one architect he visited one night said, you know, when, when asked about the Nazis? Well, I'm ashamed for my people, when whenever I hear that, you know, whenever it's brought up, which is exactly what you'd expect, you know, a good person

Joe Cadwell:

to say, 948, Germany, I mean, this is right after that, the end of World War Two.

Eyal Press:

Exactly. It's right after the war. But so so the guy says, you know, I'm ashamed for my people whenever I think of it. But then he goes on to say, but you know, the Jews, they really were a problem. You know, they were taking all the good jobs and law and medicine, they were gathering in these ghettos. He kind of goes on to describe Jews as you know, a nuisance to society. At the same time, that he says he's ashamed that the Nazis committed this horrible, you know, genocide. And Hughes keeps hearing this kind of on the one hand, on the other hand, from the folks he talks to while he's there, and he comes back to the United States, he teaches at the University of Chicago, and he eventually publishes this essay called good people and dirty work. And what he says in that essay, is that the dirty work that was orchestrated by the Nazis was not entirely separate from the good people. He talked to that that there is a relationship between these things. And what he meant was that it's not the good people like that architect approved of what the Nazis did. that they didn't really want to hear too much about it. Because at some level, they saw the Jews as a problem, right as their fellow citizens, people who had rights and needed to be protected. But rather, as you know, let's quietly get rid of this and don't don't ask me too much about it. And so Hughes says there is, you know, he posits in this essay that there's a kind of tacit mandate, and unconscious mandate, he says, for, for people to, you know, kind of tune out and have the dirty work done by someone else. And what's most interesting about that essay, is what Hughes says, towards the end, because he, he isn't writing this to indict Germans. And he's very explicit about this. What he says is, you know, this dynamic exists in every society, every society has its share of dirty work, not the kind that you know, existed under the Nazis, not something so stark, and on that scale of evil. But nevertheless, you can find dirty work, you can find, as he put it, morally troubling activities that go on and have some kind of unconscious mandate from the rest of society, which doesn't want to hear too much about it and doesn't ask questions. Maybe because at some level, you know, it benefits them not to ask these questions. And, you know, I found these letters he wrote after that essay came out, and it stirred a lot of debate. And he said, Look, I wasn't writing this with the Germans in mind, I was writing this with my fellow Americans in mind, you know, to warn us of the dangers in our own mitts, you know, how much dirty work do we tolerate as a society because we can delegate it to others, and hide it and so forth. That's the point of departure for this book, I decided to that those questions that he asked, were worth exploring in contemporary America, you know, what kind of dirty work goes on here. And when I say that, I mean, the kind of, you know, morally troubling activity that Hughes is talking about, who does this work? And what kind of mandate does it have from the rest of society. And that's really the basis of this book.

Joe Cadwell:

And having read your book, I understand that you focused on three main areas, and I think it would be best to just name them off, and then maybe go back and revisit each one, but mental health workers in the criminal justice system or in jails and prisons, you talk about drone pilots in the in the military, performing assassinations, if you will, remotely. Yeah. And then you you talk about the sort of the industrial food complex and where a lot of our meat comes from in the killing floors, just assembly lines of slaughterhouses. And I think, chronologically, maybe we can start with Harriet Chris Koski. And the story that you brought the light about her time there in Dade County, Florida.

Eyal Press:

Sure, sure. So so, you know, I started out with Harriet, and this is a book of stories, I should say, you know, folks who are looking for policy analysis, probably going to find more of it. In other books. I think if you're looking for vivid stories about people doing jobs that put them in a compromised situation, where they have to decide, you know, do I do this or not? And if I do it, you know, what's it going to mean? You know, about what's it going to say about my values about who I am, I'm gonna be able to sleep at night. That's, that's what I deal with in this book. And Harriet is a person who really never expected to encounter those questions. She got a job. This was post recession, Florida right after the 2008 Great Recession. She and her husband husband's out of work, they really need money. She's looking around for a job, she can't find anything. And she ends up getting a job at this prison south of Florida called the day Correctional Institution. And her training to the extent she had training, she was still in the process of getting it was as as kind of social worker and mental health aide. So she works in the mental health board of this prison. And she's a woman and it's an all male prison. So when she goes in there, she has a pretty conventional view of who the good guys and the bad guys are right? The prison. The good guys are the guards because they're going to protect her. And the bad guys are, you know, the inmates, because they've committed crimes. It's so she's a little bit weary. At the same time, she knows it's her job to help guys who are you know, maybe while in prison having mental health crises, and she gets there and this worldview of hers is kind of turned upside down. Because as soon as she starts working at Dade, she starts to you know, realize that yeah, you know, these inmates, they made mistakes in their lives. They're not perfect. But neither is she. And she actually really wants to help them. You know, they're there, a lot of them are really in need of mental health services. And in fact, that's not unique to date, because jails and prisons are the largest mental health institutions in the United States today. We don't fund mental health services adequately. And as a result, especially in poor communities, what ends up happening is, you know, folks get picked up and brought into the criminal justice system. And who,

Joe Cadwell:

I was gonna say that a big part of that came in the early 80s, during the Reagan administration, when there was a lot of defunding mental institutions, and now our prisons and jails sort of become the de facto mental health care facilities.

Eyal Press:

Absolutely. And so Harriet's kind of getting clued into this. But she's also getting hearing from some of the inmates that they're being mistreated. Some of them start telling her, you know, they're skipping my meals, I get empty meal meal trace, she doesn't hear this once, she hears it quite a lot. She hears it enough that she actually asked her supervisory What should I do about this, these guys are telling me they're not getting fed. And her supervisor says, you know, Harriet, our job is to get along with security, you know, basically sending her message, don't stir things up in here. And as it happens, Harriet sometime later is trying to get a group of guys she's supervising on a Sunday into the rec yard. And the rec yard is the area where they can be outdoors, they get some sunlight, it's actually the only place they can get sunlight. And the security officer was working, keeps giving her an excuse for why they can't do it. You know, every week, she keeps getting a different excuse.

Joe Cadwell:

And this is one day a week these inmates get to go out and on a Sunday and go into the yard, and it's being denied. So the one rep, positive thing they have to look forward to at the end of every week is being taken away.

Eyal Press:

Exactly. And so she she eventually writes an email to her supervisor complaining about this. And soon after she does that, the guards stop opening the security gates for her, they start leaving her alone in the rec yard, they start leaving her alone when she's doing these group sessions with inmates, basically sending her a message. We don't have your back anymore, because you ratted us out. You said something, you know, you stepped out of line. And so Harriet kind of learns, as you put it to me that you know what, what your job is, in addition to, you know, checking in and walking around and doing your daily responsibilities, is to pretend you don't see what's going on to not be a witness. And, you know, what she sees as prevented from reporting is is verbal abuse is in some cases, physical abuse. And then she arrives at the prison one morning, and she hears about a guy named Darren Rainey, who had been in the throes of a real mental health crisis the day before. And she was told as she was leaving the day before, well, they're taking Rainey to a shower to a hot shower. Really make much of this? Yeah,

Joe Cadwell:

if I understand correctly, it deprecated in his cell and refused to clean it up. And the guard said, Well, we're going to give him a shower, which he thought was sounded like a good idea. That's right.

Eyal Press:

That's right. She thought, Okay, you're giving them a shower. Nothing too. Probably a good thing. She comes in the next day. And she hears that rainy, collapsed and died in that shower. And the first thought she has is, oh, he had a heart attack. He fell down. And a nurse tells her no, he was locked inside that shower on purpose, and left in there and eventually couldn't take being in there. And the reason he couldn't take being in there is because the flow of water and the temperature of the water in that shower was controlled by the guards from a rigged up hose. And the temperature was the temperature of tea water. It was scalding water.

Joe Cadwell:

180 degrees. I

Eyal Press:

sense right, remember? Yes, yes. In fact, Harriet knew this because she used to use some of the water for some of the faucets that the prison took to warm up her ramen noodles. And so she knew and this is what she instantly thought of and she thought, wait a minute. No. And then she finds out Rainey is not The first guy to have been locked in that shower that this was a form of an effect torture, a punishment that a group of guards at the prison were inflicting on some of the guys in what was called the the Transitional Care Unit that the mental health ward. So Harry learns about this. And she says to the nurse, oh, they're going to get in trouble for this. And the nurse says, No, they're not going to get in trouble. They're going to they're going to brush it under the rug, they're going to get away with it. And, in fact, no one on the mental health staff at the prison, reported what had happened. Harriet, who hears about it, and is in shock at first wants to report it. But remember, she has had this experience of trying to defy the guards on other matters, and learn her lesson, which is you know, you don't cross us. This is our house. And the only reason we actually know what happened to Derek Rainey is a another inmate another prisoner at Dade eventually leak the story to Julie Brown, a reporter at the Miami Herald and the truth that did come out. And indeed, we now have seen the pictures of what happened to rainy he had burns 90% of his body when he was found. He died a gruesome, gruesome death, we still don't know exactly how whether he did collapse, and maybe, you know, lost because of the steam and the heat or just because of the scalding. In any event. What I use Harriet's story, to again to go back to the questions about dirty work in our society. This is an extreme story on one level, and you're thinking Wait, okay, this happened at one prison. But what's it really tell us about broader society? Well, it turns out, as we said that, that it's not just one prison, the jails and prisons have become de facto mental health asylums. And that puts not just the mental health aides in a very difficult situation, folks, like Harriet, it also puts prison guards and corrections officers in a difficult situation, because, you know, there are those who take advantage of this. And in the ways I've just described, also, as Harry had put it, to me, there were a lot of guards at Dade who were trying to do the right thing. You know, they were trying to do their best. But it was a it was a situation where you really couldn't do much, because they haven't been trained to care for this population. The resources are scarce. Right now in Florida. You know, they're having huge staffing shortages in, in the prisons. So everything I'm describing is very much.

Joe Cadwell:

And if I understand correctly, Florida has the third largest prison system in the US and it funds its mental health program second to the bottom, just after I doubt.

Eyal Press:

That's right. That's right. And so and so when we think about those structural conditions, and this is really the point of the book, it's the point of the story I tell about Harriet, it's very easy to point the finger at the guys at the lowest rung and to say, Oh, those brutal guards, they're the dirty workers, you know, they were doing it, they're rogue actors. But whatever Hughes would tell us is, wait a minute, those rogue actors, no, those are agents of society. Society has some responsibility for all of this, because of the conditions that created this mess. And, and I actually think that, that that very much does apply, because as you said, you know, in the state of Florida, there are not adequate mental health services to prevent people like dark and rainy and others from ending up at a place like Dade and instead maybe just getting treatment in the community. And so the criminal justice system absorbs these folks. And they enter an overcrowded, underfunded system that is ill equipped to care for them. And how is order to the extent there is order enforced in such an environment? Well, it ends up being through brutality and force. And, you know, that's not my opinion. That's actually I'm paraphrasing. One of the corrections officers I write about in the book, a guy named Bill Curtis, and, you know, Bill, worked in the system for a long time. And he told me something that has stayed with me ever since he said, he said, You know, when a good man or woman works in in a prison, a bit of that goodness wears off. You become jaded, you become callous. You know, he did. I'm paraphrasing what he said but the point is, even the people with good intent Tensions, start figuring out that, you know, this is a system that's going to where you're going to dirty your hands or you're not going to survive. And and that's really the point of the prison section of the book that we have. The prison system in America isn't just a system of punishment. It is also a large workforce that is, has effectively been subcontracted to carry out things like providing mental health care for this population of folks who who cycled through the prison systems. The other thing I would would want to say, because we haven't really talked about it, I said at the beginning, you know, who does the dirty work in our society? Where Where does it end up falling? Well, it falls to people like Harriet, you know, she was she was earning $12 an hour at that prison. By the way, she wasn't actually a state employee, she was working for Horizon, which was, which is a private contractor, private company, that contracts to provide mental health services in prisons. And that arrangement was done to save money by the state of Florida saves taxpayer money, it seems like a good deal for everyone. But it's not such a good deal when you look at what it does to quality of care. When you as as was done in Florida, exposito reveal that after Korea after the privatization of the health services happened, you know, deaths spiked up, and hospital visits plummeted, because hospital visits cost money. It admitting someone to the hospital. So So if we look at these broader structural conditions, we see that the conditions are really the problem, not the rogue actors at the bottom. And we also see that it's not elite psychiatrists who work at places like Dade right, it's not graduates of Harvard. From the top psychiatric programs. It's people like Harry who need a job and who are doing it effectively in the shadows,

Joe Cadwell:

making just above minimum wage, from what I understand that it's a disproportionate the demographic is disproportionate for women, black people of color, undocumented immigrants, high school graduates, people that live in rural areas seem to take the lion's share of this dirty work. And it is truly unfortunate. Harriet, I understand had a lot of physical manifestation of this trauma that she was suffering this mental turmoil, she wanted to keep hold of her job as a mental health counselor, as poorly paid as it was, had to internalize a lot of the brutality that she saw and it began to manifest itself physically, can you can you talk to me about that?

Eyal Press:

Yeah. And the first time I met Harriet, I was really struck by those manifestations. This was several years after the rainy incident had occurred. But for one thing, she couldn't really talk loudly about it. And the first way I learned about what she'd been through is, she gave me the notes of what she called her trauma narrative, because she had kind of written about what she'd been through. The second striking thing is that she was wearing a wig. Because one of the physical manifestations of working at date for her and of silencing herself, after she learned what happened to Rainey, is that her hair fell out. Her literally she lost her hair. And at first she thought, you know, is this an iron deficiency in my diet? But then she realized, no, it's stress. It's it's the anguish I'm feeling about working at this place, and not honoring what I think my duty is, which is to, to not allow this abuse to go on. And that's a central theme. And all the stories I tell book, I'm trying to write about document the moral and emotional burdens that come with certain forms of labor. And we don't really talk about those moral and emotional burdens very much economists don't talk about them. And one of the reasons I think economists don't talk about them, is that they're impossible to measure. You can't quantify what Harriet went through emotionally and morally, but you sure could see it. And as I was saying, Bill Curtis, you know what he said to me, a little bit of your goodness wears off. Well, that's another, you know, kind of burden that goes unnoticed, but is very real. And in the dirty work I look at in the book. There are effectively two groups that suffer from this work. One are, you know, people like Darren Rainey right the people who are getting inadequate care or who are, you know, being treated in morally suspect ways, but the second group that incurs some injury from this work For the people who do the work, you know, at people like Harriet and some of the other characters we can talk about in the book. And through their stories, I think we can start talking about what I call moral inequality. You know, we've all we've heard a lot about inequality in America in recent years. And when we talk about inequality, it tends to be, you know, the CEO makes 300 times what the average worker makes, or salaries and high tech are x compared to salaries at McDonald's. And that, and that's important, and it's real, it's the monetary quantifiable stuff. But I think there's something else called Moral inequality that divides our society just as much. And moral inequality is, who does the degrading, stigmatized work? who bears the psychic and emotional burdens of doing that work? You know, who does a job they may not want to talk about in polite company? Because people kind of look at you in a funny way. Harriet, by the way, didn't talk about what she did. She worked at a date. And if you read about, you know, and talk to prison guards, they'll often tell you, you know, yeah, my brother was a cop, you know, he gets to, you know, brag about that. But but not us not Not, not this line of work. You know, they don't, they don't even see us as real law enforcement. So it's, it's the moral and emotional inequality that mirrors I think, economic inequality in our, in our country, if we really want to get the full picture of what inequality does.

Joe Cadwell:

And I think a lot of this inequality, definitely during the Occupy Wall Street movement, kind of came to light the financial inequality, income inequality. And, you know, it's one thing when you're a hedge fund manager, and you're, you're doing the dirty work, so to speak of, of mismanaging people's fortunes, and but you're being adequately compensated. So you know, for your dirty work, and it takes away a lot of the stigma, but when you have people like Harriet, or as we'll find out Flora Martinez, or are the folks in the military, they aren't being adequately compensated and that and they are in a position where they just can't easily walk away. They don't have a golden parachute, should they walk away from that morally compromised job they have, they're just struggling trying to make ends meet. And it's it's really unfortunate that, as you said, it's a systemic problem that that puts people in these positions that cause this moral as well, I hope talk a little bit a little bit more about the moral injury that will occur to them.

Eyal Press:

Yeah, I mean, you make a great point there. And I think it's, it's a point that is so often missed, but you know, people say, Well, wait a minute, you know, aren't the guys on Wall Street? Also? Like, isn't that also dirty work or lobbyists in Washington? You know, isn't that dirty work? Don't they get a lot of, you know, grief for what they do? Why are you talking about, you know, these these folks who do these kinds of dead end jobs, like working in a prison? And what I would say is that the key difference, and you just talked about it is money, status, and power. Right? If you are taking home, you know, a six or seven figure bonus from working on Wall Street at a hedge fund or whatever it is. Yeah, you know, so So the folks who are at Occupy Wall Street are saying nasty things about you. But you're also dining at really nice restaurants, you're also you know, able to vacation at you know, posh resorts, fly first class, take your kids or your family to, you know, wherever, wherever they want to want to go. And, and money, I think confers virtue in our society, you know, it is is a way not only to kind of launder immoral activity sometimes, but also just to kind of feel like you are part of the good in society, you know, you're successful. Therefore, who who can point a finger at you, I think is very different for folks who don't have power, money, access to resources, all that

Joe Cadwell:

today's episode of grit nation is brought to you by our friends over at Union Home Plus, since 2002. Union Home Plus has been in the business of helping union families just like yours, buy, sell and finance their home to support the union Home Plus team of finance and real estate professionals doesn't stop after you buy your home either. Oh no. When you purchase and finance your home through a union home plus you can preferred provider. They'll make a financial donation to a 501 C three nonprofit in your community on your behalf. How cool is that? Right? For more information on how you can begin your journey to homeownership. Be sure to check out the show notes and today's episode or visit union Home Plus dot o RG on the web. That's union Home Plus dot O R G union Home Plus helping union families find their way home for over 20 years. I think the second part of your book behind the screens, the the joystick warriors, looks at people that joined the military with more of an idealistic pursuit of post 911 patriotism to step up to honor their, their country to do their service for their country. And, you know, I know you talk about Christopher Aaron in the book, I was also really impressed with Heather Lindbergh story. And I was hoping you could talk to us a little bit more about these people that that got into the military, because they either financially didn't have the ability to pursue higher education. It was a way to serve their country, and they found themselves doing their fair share of dirty work.

Eyal Press:

Yes. So So I think that what what drew me to look at the military, and particularly drone operators, people who are doing this kind of, you know, these desk soldiers, in effect, are two things. One is that we have, you know, I call it the other 1%. And I'm borrowing there from from others, but, you know, we don't have a draft in this country. So. So, here, again, there's this way in which only some members of society and, you know, bearing the burdens of fighting worse of putting their lives at risk and also of suffering, you know, PTSD and all kinds of other things, including moral injury, which, which we'll talk about in greater detail. Now, some people, some listeners are going to say, Now, wait a minute. Okay. That's that may be true. But but this is, you know, this is something that America honors right, we have Veterans Day, we soldiers are saluted at sports events. And you know, what, why is this dirty work? But then let's, let's talk about drone operators, right. Here's a form of warfare, that, you know, has grown and is really has kept America has kind of never ending wars going on as as we speak. But where you don't actually set foot on the battlefield? You know? And is their honor in that? And and some people will say, yes, there is. But when drone, when the drone operators asked to receive a medal of honor, like other soldiers, a lot of veterans objected to that. And the Department of Defense ended up deciding well, they shouldn't get a medal of honor in the same way that soldiers conventional soldiers do.

Joe Cadwell:

I'm sorry, to chastise them saying it would be a Nintendo metal,

Eyal Press:

exactly a Nintendo metal for and this is another term that they sometimes hear for joystick workers, right? What are these guys doing, you know, they're sitting at a desk, they're not, they're not putting their

Joe Cadwell:

1000s of miles away, not putting their their lives on risk. And I think, again, what as we lead into the moral injury, when it becomes an issue of Kill or be killed, when you're truly on a battlefield, someone is you're actively engaged in combat, and someone that is trying to take your life, it will allow you to conceptualize the deeds that you need to do in a different fashion. But when you're sitting 1000s of miles away in an air conditioned Conex, box, 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas at Creech Air Force Base, you know, viewing remote imagery from from an aerial drone, it's a different story when it comes time to, to make that calculation that takes people's lives.

Eyal Press:

Absolutely. And so so the thing about, you know, if we want to be blunt about it about killing, is that in the military, it is sanctioned, right. War is, as you said, sometimes comes down to kill or be killed, defend your country or, or risk, you know, the death of comrades yourself, civilians, etc. But what if you can't actually say that your your life was on the line, right? And so and what drone warfare does, is it, it takes the risk away for the folks who are watching those screens, but who are making decisions that can have life and death consequences, and do have life and death consequences. So I wanted to focus and maybe I should just say a little about specific people to give readers a sense of how this work. So Chris Aaron is one of the former drone operators I write about. And Chris was after 911 felt very idealistic, wanted to serve his country, you know, started doing some some various things and then telogen 's unit and then ended up participating in the drone program. And at the beginning, when he saw the strikes, hitting and, you know, got involved in all of this, and he felt that These strikes were hitting the quote unquote bad guys who were responsible for 911. He felt pretty good about it, he felt fine with it. In fact, he, at some level, felt the kind of rush of wow, look at this technology. Look what we can

Joe Cadwell:

do. There's a lot of high fiving going on, as I seem to remember in the book, and then at some point that that adrenaline turned to disillusionment,

Eyal Press:

yes. And this is actually very, although this happened a long time ago. For Chris, it's very, it's very relevant to what just happened. The turnaround for Chris was when he was deployed in Afghanistan at one point, and he's there on the ground. And this is some time later. And he's realizing that all of these, that the story of the success of the war that he's had in his head, is not actually what's playing out on the ground. In fact, he can't even go the military can't even go to areas where some of those strikes were happening. Because they're in enemy hands at this point. And, as he's sort of starting to doubt the story he's been told about the war and how well it's going, he begins to break down physically. It's just, you know, it's a sort of echo of what we talked about with Harriet. And you know, he's a very robust guys, a former high school wrestling champ. He can't get out of bed, he's having to just have problems. He's having all kinds of just, he just feels weak. He doesn't know what's wrong with him. And he now realizes he was entering what he refers to as a kind of dark night of the soul, where he was starting to question, the decisions he'd made, and the strikes that he'd seen and participated in. Because what really came up with that, and who did we actually hit? Do I Do I really know who that it was a terrorist or, you know, sometimes they couldn't see. And especially in the early days of the program, you know, it was very fuzzy what they actually saw. And so he starts to develop these doubts. And this is where I bring in the concept of moral injury. And, you know, a lot of folks are familiar with PTSD is kind of the combat wounds that veterans experience. And we associate that with kind of life threatening experiences that people went through that trigger them for a long time afterwards, sometimes for years or an entire lifetime. Because of the kind of fear response that goes on. You were at a, you know, battle, you roadside bomb went off, and you keep reliving that experience. But as veterans were coming back from America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some of them were saying, you know, that's not really my problem. You know, what really troubles me is something else. And this is where the concept of moral injury will start starts to come in an injury not based on having survived a near death experience, but from having witnessed or participated in Acts that go against one's own values and beliefs. You know, you're at a roadside juncture. And you think there's an armed group in a car and someone opens fire. And it turns out, there was a family in that car of civilians. You know, you called in a strike, because, again, you thought this was enemy occupied, and the smoke clears. And what you see instead is that this was a residential building. How do you live with that? And what's developed in the VA, some VA psychiatrists have kind of really pushed for this to be part of the conversation about the wounds of war, is this concept of moral injury, that it's a wound to the soul, not really, to the brain, you know, and it's, it's about how do I, you know, I've dirtied my hands in some ways. And what I try to emphasize, and again, this goes back to every Hughes is that these moral injuries don't just belong to the drone operators. They belong to all of us. Because drone warfare, again, is a very convenient, and I think, unconsciously sanctioned way to go on with our wars without really having to pay any price, the

Joe Cadwell:

unconscious mandate, again, given by the American people, through that the politicians that they elect that set policies in regards to our foreign affairs.

Eyal Press:

Absolutely. And actually, and I emphasize this in the book, you know, this isn't one party. The drone program began in the Bush administration. It was vastly expanded under Barack Obama, and then expanded even more under Donald Trump, and so it's not one party. And and, you know, everyone I talked to said the same thing about Congress, which is, yeah, they could do a little more oversight. Pretty happy not doing it. You know, they're pretty content to just kind of let this go on in the shadows. And, you know, I think that, that that's where the unconscious mandate comes in.

Joe Cadwell:

Sure. And the moral injury again, you know, you have the industrial military complex, generating billions, if not trillions of dollars during these wars, and you have the high level officials that, that will make orders that eventually trickle down to someone like a Chris Aaron, or Heather, who are actually the ones who are having to internalize that again. And, and part of it, from my understanding, never been in actual combat. But after coming off a patrol in a foreign land, where you maybe you've exchanged fire, at least you have the ability to process with people that were in the same vehicle in the same battalion, platoon, whatever, that and you could talk it out, back when, when the dust settled, these folks who are geographically isolated 1000s of miles away from the battlefield, have to take that, that the actions, internalize them. And then when they leave work, so to speak, and I think you mentioned it in the book, you'll you'll get a text saying, Hey, can you pick up milk on the way home? And these people are internalizing the stresses that they're brought down from from the very top? And the low level operators are the ones that, again, have the physical manifestation of their actions in the moral injury?

Eyal Press:

Absolutely. And by the way, you know, some listeners may say, Well, okay, so So Chris Aaron, led through that, but typical drone drop operator, just, you know, presses a button goes home doesn't think about it, right? Wrong. I, my source for this is the military itself, you know, they've they've now done studies, surveys of folks in the drone program, and found a very high level, in fact, higher than conventional pilots level of stress, which is leading to high levels of burnout. And so what's the source of that stress? And I went to some of these drone bases, and I was struck, first of all, that they have teams of chaplains and psychologists, and, you know, folks who are there to, in a sense, try to provide support

Joe Cadwell:

to human performance teams that you've mentioned. Right? The psychologist, the chaplains, in the, in the psychiatrist, yeah. Working to try to keep these people, you know, saying as they commit these horrific acts on a day to day basis,

Eyal Press:

yeah. And then those, those people are not going to tell you it's a video game. It's easy, because what they see what it is, you know, one, one of the one of the folks in that human performance team said to me, you know, guy came up to him and said, you know, what is Jesus going to say about all the killing, I've seen it done, you know, and I didn't, I didn't ask about that. That's just what came up spontaneously in this conversation. And then he went on to say, you know, we don't really see PTSD, in this in this group. But we see, we see a lot of moral injury. Because, you know, as you say, you you're watching this graphic violence on screen, you're in what's called the kill chain, where life and death decisions are made that low cost lives, and then you come out of that, and instead of having the esprit de corps of a conventional combat unit, you get in your car, and you drive on the on the road. And, you know, I went to Creech, which is in Nevada, and you know, half an hour later, you're seeing the billboards for the casinos, you know, and you're seeing the tourist industry, and you're seeing this kind of society that is totally disconnected from the wars being fought in their name. And that just really stayed with me when I was there, that God, you know, these guys are in this program watching this day in day out shift after shift, and they go back to a society that has forgotten there's even a war going on. And that, again, is this kind of arrangement of I think, you know, delegating the dirty work, hiding it in the shadows, and then you don't think about it anymore.

Joe Cadwell:

You open your book, I'll just have to throw on you open your book with that Baldwin quote that says the powerless must do their own dirty work, the powerful habit done for them. And if you could lay the analogy that you know, the powerless are the operators and the powerful are, again, the industrial military complex head that puts these people in these positions. Speaking speaking of that, the yes part of For your book on the kill floors, and the shadow people, I stumbled across a term I'd never heard before when I was reading through that the virtuous consumers, of which I feel that I am definitely a virtuous consumer. Join the crowd. Yeah, I'm hoping we can transition out of the drone program now to the to the kill floors, where we meet floor Martinez, and hoping you tell us a little more about floor story.

Eyal Press:

Yeah, so Florida Martinez was an undocumented immigrant who worked in a poultry slaughterhouse that I write about in the book, it's located in Texas, it's owned by Sanderson Farms, and she was typical of the workforce in this plant. And I think people have read a fair amount, if they've read it all about, you know, the industrial meat system, they probably read about how the animals are treated, and just the hormones that go into it, you know, books, like written by Michael Pollan and others, others about the kind of, you know, what does it mean? That, that these are animals, after all, these are living beings, and you know, and just, and even if you believe, well, eating meats, fine, do we have to do it on this scale in this way, you know, in such a way where cows can't, or chickens can't walk, because they're pumped up with so many hormones, you know, all this. But in my book, there's a different focus. And it's about the dehumanizing conditions for the workers in these plants. And, you know, for Martinez experienced those conditions in two ways. One was just, you know, the lines in this plant are moving so fast, and the repetitive motions are so constant, that she starts to experience repetitive strain injuries, you know, pain in one one hand, that hand gets better than the other hand goes bad. I didn't interview a single worker at that plant. The minute I asked, you know, do you have any injuries, it start pointing to things, you know, yeah, my shoulder, this, I can't do this, I can't do that at this. That's one level of it. And that creates a lot of strain and a lot of turnover. But there's another level, and that is the sort of the more than emotional impact of the labor because of the degrading conditions. And at this particular plan, the supervisors would yell at the workers when they wanted to take bathroom breaks, you weren't supposed to do that. Why? Because the line is going around, and it slows things down, and it cuts production. And after all, we've got to, you know, maximize the amount that we produce per hour. And as a consequence of that many members of the female workforce at the slaughterhouse, they couldn't go to the bathroom, they literally could not take a bathroom break. And I interviewed one woman who said, you know, I used to go to work with a sanitary napkin, or an extra pair of pants. And as she's telling me this, she starts to cry. And this was not for Martinez. But for Martinez, when she talked to me about some of the things she'd gone through. She also starts to cry. And I keep seeing this. And it's a pattern. And what it tells you is that the sense of degradation, the the assault on dignity, is as bad as the physical injuries that that these workers have incurred. And that makes sense, right? Because, you know, I think it was Joe Biden who said this, is when he accepted the nomination, he told a story about his father. And he said when he recounted that story, he said, you know, his father told him, Joey, the job isn't just a paycheck. It's a source of dignity, it's about your place in the community. Well, if your dignity is being assaulted, and if it's an if your place in the community is really not very settled, then then you experiencing something very different. And so I connect all of that to the other side of the meat industrial system, which is the consumers who, who you know, buy this packaged meat or, you know, sometimes meat that comes in a nice little, you know, fast food chain wrapped up and doesn't really even look like meat or look like an animal product of any kind at the other end, and it's the demand for cheap, plentiful, you know, chicken, which is America's most popular meat and other forms of animal protein that are related to the conditions that you see in the slaughterhouse in terms of virtuous consumers. So what's interesting there is that, you know, I came across that term, I hadn't heard of it before myself. And I, I qualify as one of them as well. But what's happened over the last 1015 years, thanks to Michael Pollan and other expert days, is that a lot of people who buy and eat meat, want to know something about the conditions, right? So they don't just want to buy whatever supermarket meat is there to buy

Joe Cadwell:

just the meat, they want to buy the story. Yes, how the animal lived, how the the farmer, the farm was for the farmers, that family worked. It's, it's, you're buying a whole package at that point.

Eyal Press:

Absolutely. And so you, you look for the label that says humanely raised, and you look for the label that says no hormones, and you look for the label that says, you know, family, farm and all of that. And, you know, on one level, you can say that's a form of progress. And I think that that's true, I think that, you know, it's very important. For we are in a consumer society, we are in a capitalist system, we buy things every day, it's very important that people do think about whether what they're buying, and what's behind what they're buying, what went into it. But what those labels don't tell you is how were the workers treated? You know, there's never says humanely treated employees. And they don't necessarily address the systemic conditions, right? Because, because what people could do is say, Well, I'm not going to dirty, I'm not going to feel bad because I only buy the virtuous meat that's sold. So I can feel good about what I do. Meanwhile, the system that is feeding the country goes on. And so again, we have structural conditions that I think create, you know, compromising situations for a lot of people, we're

Joe Cadwell:

all complicit at some point, that unconscious mandate that we've referred to so many times, you could say, I don't believe in war. So I, you know, I don't feel responsible, personally responsible for for drone strikes, or I'd I don't know anyone in the prison system, I've never committed a crime myself. So, you know, why should I care, but we all at some level consume, whether it's, you know, from a killing floor of a slaughterhouse, or the conditions that we expose our migrant farm workers to, or when we go to pump gas into our vehicles, and the the fuel industry does its own sir, sort of degradation of the planet and the people that do the work, even now with emerging technologies in the cobalt, as you mentioned, at the one of the last chapters in your book, the cobalt mining, similar to my understanding, some blood diamonds, you know, and, and the dirty work that it takes to mined those precious gems and the people that profit from it and the whole system. So it does seem like again, going back a disproportionate amount of this work is being put forth on the undocumented workers on the the poor, the uneducated women, people of color. And I was hoping al that you could you could speak a little bit about how you feel unions organized labor unions in America may be able to better the working conditions of the people that are being asked to do these jobs, maybe not make them perfect, but at least better them so that we can kind of clean the hands of the dirty workers.

Eyal Press:

I think there's no question that that unions are an important potential leverage point to alter the conditions of labor like this. And the best example would be in meatpacking. And, you know, you mentioned Upton Sinclair, and the jungle, did not put in 100 years ago about the brutal conditions in you know, slaughterhouses that were then in Chicago, and the big cities in America. And, you know, that book had an impact, you know, leading to the passage of new regulations and laws. But it also changed conditions in the industry changed because of union activism and unions that took really progressive stance in you know, both integrating representing workforces that were racially divided and integrating them and, you know, uniting them in a common cause to to have better conditions. But that sort of golden era, if you will, you know, it didn't make me packing and dirty I mean, it was still a job that involved the killing of animals and

Joe Cadwell:

hard physical labor dangerous conditions at time. But, but they were able to take breaks be a little more adequately compensated did not need to carry a second pair of pants to work.

Eyal Press:

Exactly. And then in the 70s, you had a new model, unfortunately, that arose, pioneered by a company called IBP. And that was based in Nebraska. And basically they said, you know, why should we have these slaughterhouses in these big cities, let's relocate them out in these rural areas closer to where the factory farms are. So you reduce cost that way. And the other way you reduce costs is through labor. Instead of going, you know, getting that big, expensive union contract. Let's hire some undocumented folks, you know, let's hire some some immigrant laborers who will not demand as much and who will not complain, when we order them not to take bathroom breaks, because they may be afraid not just to lose their jobs, but to be deported. And, you know, in for Martinez case, she talked to me a lot about that, that this fear that exists in these plants, you know, the last thing you want to do is get in trouble. So you become very docile. And that, of course, puts all the power in the hands of the companies. So yeah, unions can can make a big difference.

Joe Cadwell:

Al, what do you hope that people will come away with after reading your book?

Eyal Press:

Um, I very much hope that first of all, just awareness, that there are things being done in our name, there are things that we are complicit in, that we can't claim not to be involved in. You know, I'm not trying to guilt the reader, but I am trying to raise awareness to get conversations going about, you know, is this the kind of society we want? Do we do we want to be a society where, you know, jails and prisons are de facto mental health asylums? Do we want to be a society where the food we eat behind it lies a story of, you know, gross exploitation, not just of animals, but of people. So that's one level. I think the other thing is, I'd like to have a different conversation arise around both inequality and accountability. And the inequality piece we talked about, you know, that, that it's not just economic, it's also moral. The accountability thing is who we end up blaming, when we hear about dirty work, you know, and if you whether it's the story that I told the very graphic story of what happened to Darren Rainey, or the story you occasionally see in a newspaper, we've seen it recently of an errant drone strike, right? Who tends to look where the fingers get pointed, they tend to get pointed at the folks at the lowest rungs, you know, oh, wow, who was responsible for that must have been someone, you know, a couple bad guards. Where we don't think responsibility, where we don't look as much is to the people at the top, and to the broader society and those who hold power in our society. And, and, and the voters and the citizens who confer power to those people. You know, the Florida system, you know, the responsibility went to the top it should have gone to then Governor Scott, who has now of course, Senator Scott, you know, in in the case of some of the military scandals that we've had like Abu Ghraib, we've we tended to blame, you know, people like lynndie England and low ranking reservists and no senior officials, you know, no one at the top. So I'd like us to think about, you know, broader accountability and, and to take it away from just the folks who get stigmatized at the bottom.

Joe Cadwell:

Absolutely. Well, Al press, this has been a fantastic conversation. Where can people go to find out more about you and your book?

Eyal Press:

So my Twitter handle is, is at Eyal Press. I have a website www.eyalpress.com where you can read about the book and also read some of the journalism I do tends to have a sort of social justice. Ben,

Joe Cadwell:

thank you so much for taking your time to be on the show. It's been a real pleasure.

Eyal Press:

Great to be here. Thanks so much for the conversation.

Joe Cadwell:

My guest today has been Eyal Press author of Dirty Work- Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America. His book is available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Find out more about Al and his work visit eyalpress.com. That's eyalpress.com. Also, be sure to check out the show notes to find more information to help you dive deeper into subject. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Joe Cadwell reminding you to work safe, work smart and stay union strong!! I see that we are recording so I'll just do a quick welcome and then we'll, we'll get going so and I apologize, but I heard it pronounced three times three different way. Al,

Eyal Press:

AL Yeah, Al Al. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Okay. All right.

Joe Cadwell:

So 321

Intro to Dirty Work
Mental Health Care in Prisons
Moral and Emotional Burdens
Sponsor Message
"Joystick Warriors" + Moral Injury
Slaughterhouses + Shadow People
The Power of Unions
The takeaway + moving forward