The fastest-growing region in the United States for union membership is the South, where nearly 150,000 workers opted to join unions last year. Yet no one is covering that story. Payday was set up to help Southern workers achieve this historic breakthrough in organizing this breakthrough.
As veterans of the digital media unionization, we know that if unionization in digital media has proved one thing, it is that coverage of workers unionizing leads to even more organizing. In the digital media unionization wave that saw nine major digital media outlets organize in a little over a year, we learned that coverage of organizing helps workers feel less scared. If workers feel less scared, they are more willing to organize.
Mike Elk, Senior Labor Reporter & Co-Founder
A native of the East End of Pittsburgh, Mike Elk is a Sidney award winner and a lifetime member of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. As a pioneering leader in the digital media unionization movement, he has been profiled by NPR, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Newsweek, and Pacific Standard.
As an investigative reporter, Mike Elk’s work has been featured everywhere from the front page fo The New York Times to being debated by Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg on ABC’s The View. His work was credited by the Obama Administration for leading to an end of the use of the subminimum wage for the disabled workers and a massive pay raise for the domestic violence survivor advocates on 48 Army bases across the country. Speaking of his reporting covering the lockout of Honeywell uranium workers, Daily Show Co-Creator Lizz Winstead said “Mike Elk is the new John Wayne. I believe he is the real Matt Taibbi”.
At age 22, his first job was working as a field staffer for President Obama’s campaign in rural Western Pennsylvania. Afterward, he followed the President to Washington, D.C., where he heeded the President’s call to his young staffers to hold him accountable and became a labor reporter. He spent all eight years of the Obama Administration based out of Washington, D.C. crisscrossing the country, visiting over 30 states, covering strikes, lockouts, and tragic workplace deaths.
He has worked as a workplace safety expert for MSNBC, as an investigative reporter for In These Times Magazine, and has also written for The New York Times, Washington Post, and Reuters. He is co-author of the book “We Are Wisconsin”.
At the age of 28, he rose to be the senior labor reporter on largest labor desk in the country when he co-founded POLITICO’s labor desk. After being illegally fired for union organizing at POLITICO, Mike used his NLRB settlement money to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee to found Payday Report
As the son of UE Director of Organization Gene Elk, he prefers to hide the fact that he attended a university as elite as Bucknell on a full scholarship. During college, he spent a year half in Brasil, where he covered the landless workers’ movement and the fallout of the drug war. He speaks Portuguese.
When Mike isn’t reporting on workers, he can be found listening to Sharon Jones, cooking salmon, and talking about the Civil War. He can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @MikeElk.
John Paul Wright, Folk Labor Ombudsman & Co-Founder
John Paul (JP) is a father and husband, locomotive engineer, and a labor musician/historian. Over the years, JP has performed with Anne Feeney, David Rovics, Duncan Phillips, Bonnie Prince Billy, Babatunde Olatunji, Bolokada Conde, Sue Massek and Kentucky poet Wendell Berry. In 2015, JP helped to organize the Joe Hill 100 national memorial tour, and was the first musician to play the opening show in Chicago. He is also an accomplished West African Style Djembe’ player.
JP got his start as a community organizer in 1989 at the Good Neighbor Food Co-op. His first fundraising project was an art and music festival that included 30 artists and community groups as well as six bands. In 1998, he was awarded a two-year Community Artist in Residency grant from the Kentucky Arts Council and worked at PNEUMA (an inner-city art mission). He was awarded an unprecedented third year grant as recognition for his work the previous two years.
In 2001, JP went to his family trade and got hired on with CSX Railroad and took his organizing and music to the union. He served two years as the secretary of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, division 78. He has served as the national co-chair and organizer for Railroad Workers United and also served a two-year International Steering Committee position with Teamsters for a Democratic Union. JP drives trains from Louisville to Nashville and when he is not blowing that lonesome whistle, Fellow Worker Wright lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife Donna and son Jonah. JP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or found on twitter @Bletjp.