There Will Be Blood (And PFAS) | Crooked Media
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January 18, 2023
What A Day
There Will Be Blood (And PFAS)

In This Episode

  • Thinx, one of the most recognizable brands for period underwear, agreed to pay out $5 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that its signature product contains PFAS — despite having advertised the underwear as safe.
  • A recent New York Times investigation revealed that the National Restaurant Association coerced millions of restaurant workers nationwide into unknowingly funding the lobbying efforts that keep their wages low. Saru Jayaraman, the President of One Fair Wage, joins us to discuss the effort to end the sub-minimum wage and improve working conditions in the service sector.
  • And in headlines: Ukraine’s interior minister was among at least 14 people killed in a helicopter crash outside Kyiv, Microsoft announced that it will lay off 10,000 employees, and former President Donald Trump’s campaign asked Meta to reinstate his Facebook account.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

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TRANSCRIPT

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, January 19th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What A Day. Where we’re still holding out hope that George Santos wasn’t lying when he said he’d get us Coachella tickets. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, George told us that he knows Frank Ocean personally, so I think we’re, like, backstage. I think– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Girl. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –everything’s all set for us. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: But George told me he toured with Black Pink last year. That’s who I’m trying to see. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. That’s an impressive resumé he’s got. [music break] On today’s show, Donald Trump wants Facebook to unblock his accounts. Plus, there is friction over fonts at the State Department. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: But first, just when you thought period panties were a safe and effective way to manage your cycle and avoid leaks, here comes a massive class action lawsuit and settlement against Thinx, one of the most recognizable brands for period underwear. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, Thinx like really is the big player in this space. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It is like the one. If you’ve heard of these, you’ve heard of Thinx. So please tell us more about what is going on here, because this is kind of wild. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: It’s wild and concerning. But before I– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: –get into it, I’ll start by saying if you bought a pair of Thinx period underwear between November 12, 2016, and November 28, 2022, you may be entitled to a class action benefit, i.e. coins from this settlement and we’ll link to the settlement website in our show notes. So the website went live earlier this week after Thinx agreed to pay a $5 million settlement in a class action lawsuit that alleged that its signature underwear, which had been advertised as safe and quote, free of toxic metals and or nanoparticles, were found to contain PFAS when labs conducted independent studies on the product. In 2020, an investigation by Sierra magazine revealed that Thinx main line of underwear contained more than 3000 parts per million of PFAS. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, that does not sound good at all. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: No. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So can you explain what exactly these PFASs are and how harmful they are? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Have you ever heard of Forever Chemicals? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Okay I haven’t, but that doesn’t sound good. I don’t like the sound of it– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –one bit. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. Well, PFAS are in that category as they don’t break down in the environment. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS can be found in things like food packaging, household cleaning products, cookware, certain beauty products, and more. Long term exposure to PFAS can cause fertility issues, cancer, and they’re extremely harmful to the environment. And New York State is reportedly set to ban PFAS in clothing this year. I mean, I always wondered how these period panties were so effective, but these allegations paint a picture of how harmful they could ultimately be. According to the settlement website, Thinx has denied all allegations in the lawsuit and denies any wrongdoing. They also stated that, quote, “Thinx confirms that PFAS have never been a part of its product design and that it will continue to take measures to help ensure that PFAS are not intentionally added to Thinx period underwear at any stage of production. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Okay. Deny all you want. Like they were found in the product. So clearly something is– 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Period. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –wrong here. So what’s going to happen for people who purchase this product thinking that it was safe for use? Like are they going to receive payments as part of this settlement? How does this work? 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Sure, But I wouldn’t expect much, by the way, of cash payments. According to customer interviews featured in Jezebel. Some customers are only receiving $21 from Thinx, even when the extent of the exposure and potential for resulting harm likely won’t be clear until years from now. And when you consider the number of people who sought out Thinx as a safer option compared to other period products like tampons and pads, it truly feels like injustice. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, there are some really big implications for exposure to these toxins, and 21 bucks like I don’t think is is really a fair way to say like, our bad. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Ain’t gonna cut it. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely not. Uh. But Thinx has also you know had a bunch of other issues and scandals in its past. So tell us more about, you know, what they’ve been up to over the years. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. This is not the first time that Thinx was sued over PFAS as one lawsuit related to those same toxins was filed in 2021 and Thinx has also dealt with sexual harassment complaints filed against its co-founder, Miki Agrawal in New York in 2017, as well as complaints about toxic workplace that included retaliation and sexist standards for salary increases. So it’s a big ole hot mess over there at Thinx. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Does not sound good one bit, but let’s move from consumer safety to an unusual situation that is screwing over workers for lack of a better term. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Mmm. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So a recent New York Times investigation revealed that the National Restaurant Association coerced millions of restaurant workers nationwide to unknowingly fund the lobbying efforts that ultimately keep their wages low. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: This was like a New Age scam. Like, explain this. How does that even happen? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s a really crazy story. So buckle up. The National Restaurant Association or NRA, as they are known, it’s another bad NRA. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Mmm. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Does this through food safety classes, that they themselves have a monopoly over. So these mandatory $15 classes, which, you know, are only mandatory because of their own lobbying efforts, are required for cooks, waiters, and bartenders and other restaurant workers to complete before they start a new job. And these workers have to pay for these classes out of pocket by themselves. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: So it’s a fake prerequisite before they can even start working. Like, what exactly are these food safety classes that sound like a scam and how are they connected to the other evil NRA? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, apparently it’s like super basic stuff that’s covered in these classes, you know how to put on a hairnet. Like you look at a moldy strawberry and you’re like, this is moldy. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Go figure. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s not particularly groundbreaking stuff. The company is called Serve Safe. It is also the NRA’s fundraising arm. So the money from the millions of workers who are required to take this course and pay the $15 fee for it you know every three years that they want to remain in the industry. All of that money goes right back to the NRA to fund their lobbying efforts. And for decades, those lobbying efforts have centered around fighting increases to the minimum wage at the federal and state level, as well as the tipped minimum wage, which is an amount far below the minimum wage that restaurants in many states are allowed to pay their workers if they are eligible for tips. So right now, the federal tipped minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour. And that is what restaurants in several states are allowed to pay their workers, if they are eligible for tips, does not matter if no one came in and no one tipped. Doesn’t matter if people are stiffing them, that’s just what they’re allowed to do. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: You know what’s sickening about this is like capitalism has found a way to prompt self oppression through this kind of scam where they’re having these restaurant workers pay to lobby against themselves, essentially, so they give them a non livable wage. They have these scam classes and they all lose. Honestly, it flashes me back to the visual of Kyrsten Sinema doing that thumbs down like and essentially giving a fuck you to all workers because they all lose. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, that’s what it is. I mean, restaurant workers around the country are getting scammed. They have been and they are continuing to be. So to learn more about all of this, I spoke with Saru Jayaraman. She is the president of One Fair Wage, which is an organization working to end the sub minimum wage and improve working conditions in the service sector. I started out by asking how all of this works. 

 

Saru Jayaraman: These workers are getting two and three dollars in most states per hour. They’re paying $15 for this training program that’s then used to lobby to maintain their wage at two and three dollars. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And this isn’t always just a one time fee, right? How often you know are people required to do this? 

 

Saru Jayaraman: Not sometimes. If you are required to take it at all, you are required to take it every three years. It’s actually not even just low wage workers. It’s pretty much everybody in the industry has been scammed by the National Restaurant Association, including, by the way, independent restaurant owners. We have an association of 2500 independent restaurant owners who say the NRA doesn’t represent us, the National Restaurant Association. And they say, look, if all of their lobbying is funded by low wage workers, they’re not going to be accountable to us as independent restaurant owners. They’re going to go off and do whatever they want. And the fact that they’re led by the chains and advocate for policies that mostly benefit the chains is a result of the fact that they’ve created this scam where it’s not member corporations, member restaurants paying for this lobbying. It’s actually workers who are unknowingly being deceived into funding this lobbying against their own wage increases. Here’s the thing, though, I think it’s so important for everybody to understand. The problem and the challenge here and who we need to call out is not just the restaurant association. It’s elected officials who for years and years and years at the state level, at the federal level, have taken lobbying dollars from the Restaurant association, which maybe until now, that they didn’t know came from unknowing low wage workers. But now that they know, no legislator of conscience should be taking this money, we are calling on all legislators to sign a pledge we’ve created that they will no longer take money from this restaurant association. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, definitely. I want to ask you a little bit more about how people found out about this. You know, it seems like they were running this scam for quite a bit of time. Maybe not so many people realize, you know, how did workers start to find out how these fees were being used and what’s the response been since more and more people have become aware of this? 

 

Saru Jayaraman: Yeah. So a couple of years ago, somebody inside the restaurant Association leaked to me a series of emails that were kind of like bragging emails by the Restaurant Association that, look, we get all this money from Serve Safe and we use it to cover our lobbying expenses. And so once that happened, we started to talk to some attorneys. We started to explore the creation of an alternative worker owned food handler training company that we have launched called JustSafeFood.com. We started to think about how to sue the NRA for doing this horrific thing. And so we felt like this was our moment. We had to get this out in the world. People needed to know, legislators needed to know because we’re moving legislation and ballot measures in 25 states right now to end the sub minimum wage for tipped workers. So we released it to The New York Times. And when they wrote it, we’ve heard from so many workers around the country, they are outraged. They are asking us to join protests and lawsuits. They are getting engaged because so many workers had reached their limit. It’s like the icing on the cake. I think you’re going to see like a mass revolt in the restaurant industry because people are just no longer willing to put up with this ridiculousness. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Saru Jayaraman, the president of One Fair Wage. I also asked her how people inside and outside of the restaurant industry can get involved and help. We will include some of those resources in our show notes, as well as the New York Times article that exposed what the NRA was doing. We’ll keep following this story as we continue to learn more. But that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 

 

[sung] Headlines. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Ukraine’s interior minister was among at least 14 people killed in a helicopter crash outside of Kiev yesterday morning. The aircraft was carrying nine people on board, including other domestic officials, before it went down near a kindergarten. At least one child was also reportedly among the dead. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, though officials have not suggested that Russia was involved. The victims are believed to be the highest ranking government figures to die since Russia invaded Ukraine last February. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is trying to overturn his state murder conviction for the death of George Floyd. And the state of Minnesota is not having it. To refresh your memory. Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the state court back in 2021 for killing Floyd. Chauvin announced his plan to appeal the decision shortly after. On Wednesday, Chauvin’s lawyer argued in Minnesota’s Court of Appeals that the high profile nature of George Floyd’s death prevented his client from getting a fair trial. A special attorney for the state was quick to rebuff the claim, arguing that the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck until he died was enough evidence to sustain the verdict. A decision on the matter is expected by mid-April. But even if Chauvin were somehow successful, he’ll still remain behind bars thanks to a separate federal civil rights charge that landed him a 21 year sentence. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Microsoft announced yesterday that it will lay off 10,000 employees around the world, a number that amounts to less than 5% of the company’s global workforce. Their reasoning was the same as other tech giants that have cut jobs in recent months. The company said it hired too many people during a surge in demand for its workplace software and other products during the pandemic, and now they’re worried about a possible recession. Microsoft CEO said on Wednesday that the company hopes to cut costs with these layoffs so it can refocus on other initiatives like artificial intelligence. But legally, if they are building a M3gan doll, they do have to tell us. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Donald Trump could soon return to Facebook. The former president’s campaign reportedly asked Meta, Facebook’s parent company to reinstate his account earlier this week. Trump was blocked from the platform following the January 6th insurrection. He was also banned on Twitter, though his account on the infamous hillside has since been reactivated under Elon Musk’s leadership. Thankfully, he has yet to tweet anything since his return, choosing instead to use his own social media site, which we’ll just call Twitter, but worse. While Trump’s ban on Facebook was initially indefinite, Meta will reassess its decision sometime in the coming weeks. Trump’s team argue that his trademark rants with questionable capitalization should once again appear on his followers feeds because he is officially running for president for the third time. The deliberations over whether to unban Trump are reportedly being handled by a special internal group at Meta, which is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she will be stepping down, saying that she no longer has the energy to do the job justice. Ardern, who has held the office since 2017 at the age of 37, was one of the youngest world leaders at the time and only the second to give birth while in office. Reelected in 2020, the Prime Minister’s approach to COVID safety drew praise for her swift and serious handling of the threat, allowing the island nation to avoid the scale of outbreaks seen elsewhere. Her deft ability as a world leader only makes us more in awe of her sense of boundaries and work life balance. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Ardern’s term will end no later than February 7th, after which a new Labor Party prime minister will be sworn in until a new head of state can be elected in October. We should follow her lead. I mean, she knows. She knows her limits. I respect that. That’s amazing. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Not only do I respect her, but I just adore how she centered her own humanity. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: She is human. She knows it’s her time. So shout out to her for her self-awareness. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Perhaps a lesson that uh some people in our government could uh learn. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: Imagine. Imagine [laughter]. There’s a new serif in town y’all. For nearly 20 years, the U.S. State Department used Times New Roman as its standard font for all of its communication. But that all changed on Tuesday, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent out a department wide email with the subject line, y’all this is a quote, “The Times New Roman are a changing” [laugh] Girl. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Bye. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: How much time did he spend on that? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: You know, he was like, that’s a zinger. I love it. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: According to a report by the Washington Post, Blinken instructed employees to let go of tradition and use Calibri for all official communications moving forward. The idea behind switching to the sans serif font is to make it easier for people with disabilities to read important documents. But the style change had some devotees saying what the Helvetica? One Foreign Service worker told the Post that they didn’t mind the change, but that one of their colleagues called it sacrilege. And another Foreign Service worker said that they’re, quote, “anticipating an internal revolt from those attached to the Times New Roman aesthetic like. Please. Y’all have so many other things y’all need to be spending time on right now. But. Okay. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That’s so true. Like, [laughter] I’m ready to be like the ones who are hanging on to Times New Roman, curmudgeons. We hate them. But also here I am being like, really Calibri? Like you had Helvetica, you had Ariel, you had options like you did not have to default to that. Why? [laughter] And those are the headlines. [music break] That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, quiet quit out loud and tell your friends to listen. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading not just accessible press releases like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

[spoken togeether] And we want those tickets George!

 

Juanita Tolliver:  Girl, that’s not even his name. [laughter] He ain’t coming up with nothing. [laughter] 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We’re never seeing those tickets. We’re not going. 

 

Juanita Tolliver: What? What’s his other name? Anthony. Anthony. Only want some tickets. [laughing] 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Which of your names do we have to say to get our tickets? [music break]

 

Juanita Tolliver: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman, and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.