In This Episode
- Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed in an incident last week involving a prop gun fired on the set of the film, “Rust.” It is unclear at the moment whether there will be any criminal charges stemming from this incident, but given reports of negligence, cutting corners, and lax safety standards, there will certainly be civil suits.
- Organizers at an Amazon facility in Staten Island plan to file for a union election today. Christian Smalls was fired after he organized a protest about safety conditions when he worked at the facility. Small is now the president of an independent group, the Amazon Labor Union, and joins us to discuss the news.
- And in headlines: “The Facebook Papers” revealed the degree to which Facebook employees knew of extremists on the site who were polarizing people, U.S. Border Patrol recorded the highest number of arrests ever at the Southern border, and researchers in Africa are attempting to reverse engineer the Moderna vaccine.
- NY Times: “Amazon Workers on Staten Island Aim for Union Vote” – https://nyti.ms/3B98QB5
- NY Times: “The Amazon That Customers Don’t See” – https://nyti.ms/3vGGeOy
Gideon Resnick: It’s Monday, October 25th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day. The official soundtrack to Halloweek after the Monster Mash.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, every single day we will introduce you to a new monster, and that monster is the news.
Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island plan to unionize. Plus, new reports detail how Facebook struggles to control misinformation around the world.
Gideon Resnick: But first, in a tragic and by all accounts, preventable incident on the set of the film “Rust” that happened last Thursday evening, cinematographer Halyna Hutchens was killed and director Joel Souza was injured in an incident that involved a prop gun that was fired by the actor Alec Baldwin. It’s leading to questions of who was ultimately responsible here and whether other productions will immediately change how they use firearms. But before we get to all of that Josie, can you tell us more about this actual incident?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it was just so tragic and surprising. So the incident occurred on the set of Rust, a Western movie filming in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Though Baldwin fired the gun that led to the death of Hutchins, he was, by all accounts, not at fault for what transpired. In the past days, there have been vigils and LA and in Santa Fe to mourn Hutchins, who was a talented cinematographer. Her husband and family, including her just nine-year old son, have expressed disbelief and sorrow over the shocking tragedy of her death. A GoFundMe established by the International Cinematographers Guild has already raised almost $200,000 for her family in just the past few days.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is so, so, so awful.
Josie Duffy Rice: It really is.
Gideon Resnick: I think the thing that a lot of people were confused about this incident is that it’s sort of hard to understand how a prop gun could actually kill someone.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s a fair question. The term prop gun can mean many different things. It can include a nonfunctioning gun or a fake gun made of plastic or rubber. But it can also mean a real gun modified to fire only blank cartridges. And that’s the kind of gun that killed Hutchins. At close range, these guns can result in real injury or death, and that’s why on set, these guns have to be handled with enormous, enormous care.
Gideon Resnick: And by most accounts of what we’re learning about this entire situation that does not seem to be what happened here.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think that’s right. In a week or so before the incident, the Rust was plagued by discontent and safety issues. In fact, just hours before Hutchins was fatally injured, about half a dozen camera crew walked off set protesting working conditions. They were frustrated by long hours, long commutes, and long waits for their paychecks. But what’s more, at least one camera operator had already complained about issues with gun safety in particular. So the Saturday before the incident, Baldwin’s stunt double had accidentally fired two rounds after being told both times that the gun was cold. That’s a term they use on site to mean that a weapon doesn’t have ammunition. And the situation was so alarming that one crew member sent a text to the unit production manager stating that quote, “We’ve now had three accidental discharges. This is super unsafe.”
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, that is just frankly unbelievable.
Josie Duffy Rice: According to the L.A. Times, crew members said that after such a mistake was made multiple times, there should have been follow up safety meetings and an investigation. But producers were rushing to get the production done, apparently in a really short timeframe, just 21 days. And according to some of the crew, they just seem to be cutting corners. Remember, too, that this incident comes just days after Hollywood narrowly avoided a strike by members of IATSE, which is the union that represents many crew members on TV and movie sets. That union is calling for better working conditions.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And so at this point, given what we know currently, it does not appear that Baldwin is directly at fault for what has happened in this situation, what happened on set. So the question kind of remains then exactly whose responsibility was it to ensure that safety protocols were followed in that moment?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think the short answer is that as of now, we don’t really know with total certainty, right? So reports have identified two people: the armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, and the Assistant Director, Dave Halls. At 24, this was just Reed’s second time as armorer, which is a pretty big job. Armorers oversee the handling of all guns on site, they teach actors how to safely handle firearms, ensure that they’re only handled by the right people, and that they are loaded at the right time with the right projectiles. So it’s unclear if Reed was responsible for the fatal incident, but a report from the Daily Beast says that there were also gun safety concerns on her first set as well. Still, it’s not totally clear what role she played in this particular incident or if she played a direct role at all. Meanwhile, the Assistant Director, Dave Halls, is reportedly the person who handed Baldwin the firearm and stated that it was a cold gun. During the 911 call made after Hutchins was shot, a crew member said that Halls quote, “was supposed to check the guns. He is responsible for what happens on the set.” But again, we don’t know whether it was just negligence or bad information or what that led to Halls’ proclamation that the gun was in fact, cold.
Gideon Resnick: Right.
Josie Duffy Rice: So once again, there is sure to be more to the story as it unfolds.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and one thing that seems to be for certain, though, is that the legal system is likely going to get involved in whatever happens next year, right?
Josie Duffy Rice: Oh yeah, I think that is a very safe bet, right? So unclear at the moment whether there will be any criminal charges stemming from this incident, but given the strict safety protocols that are supposed to be in place during productions like this, there are certainly going to be civil suits, given that there were reports of negligence, of cutting corners, and lax safety standards. Who will face these lawsuits is not clear, but the movie’s production company is certainly a good bet, I would say.
Gideon Resnick: Right. And the other thing that I think a lot of people are thinking about right now is, what does this actually mean for how firearms are used on set in the future?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think it’s definitely likely to change how firearms and ammunition are handled on set. That seems clear already. So at least one show, ABC’s cop procedural, “The Rookie” has banned the firing of real guns after what happened on the Rust set. Instead, according to the L.A. Times quote, “replica toy guns will be used, with computer generated muzzle flashes added in post-production.” Meanwhile, a California state senator has said that he will introduce legislation that would ban live ammunition and real guns capable of firing ammunition from sets.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it seems like there’s tons of different threads that are going to keep going with this and it really is just an awful, awful situation.
Josie Duffy Rice: It is. It really is.
Gideon Resnick: Turning to another story, this one about labor: today organizers at a now kind of infamous Amazon facility in Staten Island planned to file for a union election. If it pans out, it would mark the second unionization vote at an Amazon warehouse in less than a year. The last, as we talked about, was at a Bessemer, Alabama, facility where the ultimate results are kind of now in question. The initial vote was strongly against the union, but a hearing officer with the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, said that another vote should be held due to Amazon’s tactics to interfere in the process.
Josie Duffy Rice: So in some ways, the situation in New York is similar, but in other ways it’s pretty different. So who’s organizing here?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So this is being led by an independent outfit called the Amazon Labor Union, and they actually began this effort as that Bessemer vote ended. Christian Smalls is the president of the group, who listeners may remember hearing on our show in the past. Short story here, Smalls organized a protest about safety conditions when he worked in the Staten Island facility—that was earlier in the pandemic—and after that, he was fired by Amazon. In the months since, he has been working with his friends still employed at the facility to organize for this union election for quite some time now. I caught up with Smalls yesterday ahead of their filing for an election.
[Christian Smalls] To finally get an Amazon facility in the U.S. unionized for the first time in American history, that’s going to be historical. And when workers see that as possible, I’m hoping that it’ll spread like wildfire. Trust me, there’s enough pieces in the pie for everybody, and I’m hoping that you’ll see the rise of unions again in this country.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I’m glad he’s still a big part of this effort, especially since Amazon fired him, for wanting to unionize. Unbelievable. And Gideon, you mentioned that the push here that Smalls is in charge of is independent and not with one of the more established unions that we typically hear about. Is that right?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So in Bessemer, it was the retail, wholesale and department store union, RWDSU, that was leading the organizing, and Smalls was telling me that that led to some logistical difficulties. He was saying that these problems are not really ones that his group of organizers have at the moment. Namely, that’s because Smalls is a former staffer, there’s a lot of trust and communication that has been established, workers who support the union themselves are physically in the building, talking to colleagues. And lastly, New York is not a right-to-work state like Alabama.
[Christian Smalls] My lead organizers, they are current workers. They’re giving me information real time. If there’s some union buster walking around, is there a new posting that Amazon posted, is there any text message, email that they sent out? I’m getting it the same day, if not within the same hour. Not only do I have, you know, my core lead organizers, we built up a workers committee with over 100 members. So that’s a hundred different eyes that’s looking out for union-busting literature. That’s what we got to that point where workers are organizing themselves.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s pretty incredible and exciting to hear. So what are some of the next steps in the process here?
Gideon Resnick: Yes, this is pretty early going. First is this filing, and the NLRB’s is going to have to approve the request for a vote here. The organizers have to deliver signatures by something like 30% of the total workforce to them. Smalls has said that they have that number, at least 2,100 or so signatures out of the 7,000 workers at these facilities. He said that he is expecting a hearing in mid-November. That’s after whatever response comes from Amazon. That hearing is going to determine whether they’re going forward with the election process and at what date. And Smalls also mentioned that they are going to be dressed in something today that he hopes sends a message.
Christian Smalls: Everybody’s going to get a kick out of what we’re doing. If anybody’s watched the show on Netflix, Money Heist, we’ll be dressed up in those costumes. And I think, very powerful message that we’re going to send to them.
Gideon Resnick: I’m going to have to Google that after this. We’re going to link to a story about Smalls and his efforts in our show notes, as well as a must-read investigation of these facilities from the New York Times that was published this summer. More on this soon, as well as other labor news, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Recently leaked internal documents known as quote, “The Facebook Papers”— extremely ominous—have revealed the degree to which Facebook employees knew of extremist movements and groups on its site that were successfully polarizing people in the U.S., India, and all over the world. For example, just days after the 2020 presidential election, a Facebook data scientist told his colleagues that as much as 10% of political material on the site in the U.S. called the election fraudulent. Also confirming every suspicion that we’ve ever had, an internal memo revealed that in regards to content policies, Facebook would make quote, “special exceptions” for conservative news sites such as Breitbart in order to avoid appearing biased. In addition, the documents revealed many issues with misinformation and hate speech in India, including anti-Muslim and violence-inciting posts. India is the company’s largest market, and according to one report, Facebook did not have enough resources to grapple with the problems because it dedicated 87% of its resources to fighting misinformation in the US, leaving only 13% for the rest of the world, and 100% pretty inefficient at the problem writ large?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I got to say it seems like Facebook has been zero percent effective at this. So they should redo the math. The Border Patrol recorded the highest number of arrests ever at the southern border over the last year: nearly 1.7 million migrants were apprehended for unlawful crossings at the US-Mexico border between September of 2020 and 2021. That’s according to data the agency released last Friday. Although the number of monthly border arrests began to rise under former President Trump, they really have skyrocketed under President Biden. Since March of 2020, Customs and Border Protection have expelled massive amounts of migrants under the public health order title 42, which was put in place because of the pandemic. But immigration advocates have criticized Biden for keeping it in place, citing human rights violations and arguing that it forces people back to very, very unsafe places. As of now, the health order remains and has garnered support from Biden’s pick to lead the Customs and Border Protection Agency, Chris Magnus.
Gideon Resnick: Faced the pharmaceutical industry policy that says the real pandemic is when stockholders don’t make money, researchers in Africa are attempting to reverse engineer the Moderna vaccine without the company’s permission. The effort is backed by the World Health Organization and is headquartered in South Africa. It could be one of the best options for poor countries who have been largely shut out of buying vaccines since pharmaceutical companies have been unwilling to share their methods for vaccine production. The company leading the charge is Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, and it aims to have a version of the Moderna vaccine ready for testing within a year. Then it will make the information required to produce it publicly available. In an example of the absolute minimum amount of love that one can show for the human race, Moderna has said it won’t sue if its intellectual property protections are infringed upon by companies like Afrigen. Wow, it’s so generous.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, you would think maybe they would just make sure that the vaccine was available to people—
Gideon Resnick: That’s an option.
Josie Duffy Rice: But I guess the best they can do is promise to not sue them,. Just really, really generous people. The trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes combines lies, greed, death, and delusion, making it just barely interesting enough to hold the attention of one of its jurors who was dismissed last Friday for—wait for it—playing Sudoku. That juror, the juror reportedly played the game for around 7 to 10 days of testimony, which from my own experience is how long it takes to do just one puzzle. The juror kept Sudoku in her court-issued notebook, and when questioned about it by the judge, said it helped to keep her focused. A total of three jurors have now been dismissed from the historic trial, which is entering its eighth week. Only two alternate jurors remain, and if two or three more jurors drop out, it could all end in a mistrial. Holmes promised to reinvent blood testing—by which she meant make it less about results and more about attitude—and now she faces a dozen federal fraud charges and up to 20 years in prison.
Gideon Resnick: I’m fascinated in the possibility of a legal strategy that involves like giving jurors, you know, puzzles to do to inevitably disqualify them to like get your client a mistrial or something. There’s a John Grisham novel somewhere in this.
Josie Duffy Rice: You know, I am really fascinated by the fact that she was doing Sudoku for 7 to 10 days before any long time notice. That feels like too long.
Gideon Resnick: That’s a long time! Right. And maybe there were like attentive jurors and there was only one who is like, OK, it’s time to narc. I don’t know.
[sung] Yeah, it just feels, it feels like a lot. I got to say.
Gideon Resnick: It does. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: the stakes could not be higher as we head into 2022. That is why Vote Save America is working to raise $1.5 million through its No Off Years fund.
Josie Duffy Rice: Donations will go to help voter registration efforts in places where reaching new voters will help make the difference in the ability to win next year and beyond, like Arizona, Florida and Texas. It’s raised over $270,000 so far, which is almost halfway to the goal of reaching $600,000 by the end of this month. Help them get there by heading to VoteSaveAmerica dot com/donate.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leae a review value results over attitude, and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just the recipes for mRNA vaccines like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Gideon Resnick: I am Gideon Resnick.
[together] And put us your Halloween playlist.
Gideon Resnick: The news can be spooky, so you know. In general.
Josie Duffy Rice: The news can be spooked. And maybe we will just like, sing the news one day this week just to make it even better. You know?
Gideon Resnick: We will not make any promises, but we . . . it’s, it’s possible. It’s certainly a possibility. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Jazzi Marine is our associate producer. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and myself. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.