CNN Union Drive Imperiled – Breakthrough in Martha’s Vineyard Transit Strike – Biden & Warren Offer Unpaid Jobs

VTA bus drivers picketing for fair treatment at a protest in August. State legislators sent a letter to VTA administrator Angela Grant last week asking her to take "critical steps" to resume union negotiations.

Greetings from the Burgh, where I’ve thrown my back out again and have to run to a $125 physical therapy appointment not covered by my health insurance.

Help us pay the physical therapist – donate today. 

Summer Drought of Freelance Work As Editors Vacation

While the corporate media continues to crash and burn, we are building something sustainable here at Payday. We are now up to 287 recurring donors and growing (sign up today to be a recurring donor)

Summers months are the best months to sign up for a recurring subscription. As most editors with staff jobs, go on vacation, freelancers have no one to pitch to as editors enjoy a vacation while freelancers go broke. 

So help solve some of the inequalities of freelance life and donate today. 

$500 a Plate Martha Vineyard Fundraisers Gives Striking Bus Drivers a Standing Ovation

One story that Payday has been covering that no one else has is the Martha Vineyard’s Transit strike now entering its 3rd week. 

The strikers are now entering their third week of striking on the Island. So far, it appears that they have massive community support. 

Earlier this month, South Bend’s Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a $500-a-plate fundraising dinner on the Island. At the dinner, he invited the striking Martha Vineyard’s transit drivers to line the back of the room. During his speech to the crowd, he saluted the drivers to a standing ovation from the assembled crowd of elite Democratic donors. 

“These were $500 a seat people in this room, and we got a standing ovation. Eight hundred of them standing up clapping for them,” says Martha Vineyard’s Transit Driver Rich Townes. 

Poverty Wages Fuel Transit and Tourism in Martha Vineyard’s 

With ferries bringing cars to the island often being very expensive, public transit is a vital part of the tourist economy on the island. 

“We are a valuable asset, we are the ones that make the system move, We are answering questions, recommending places to go, sleep, eat every day,” says Rich Townes.  

Since Martha’s Vineyard has to ship in all their goods, the cost-of-living on the Vineyard is 60% higher than anywhere else in the U.S. While housing prices are twice the national average. 

Despite this, bus drivers in Martha’s Vineyard make a starting wage of only $16 an hour and wages cap out at $23.50 an hour. As a result, most of the bus drivers employed in the system are retirees, who use pensions and medicare to subsidize the transit systems’ low wages. 

“The only reason I can keep driving is that I am on Medicare,” says 69-year-old bus driver Rich Townes. “Most of the drivers have other forms of income because they can’t live on what they pay here.” 

Scabs Brought in From Puerto Rico to Bust Martha Vineyard’s Transit Strike

For more than five years, bus drivers on Martha’s Vineyard have been fighting for a first contract after the transit authority and its contractor TCI refused to recognize the union; fighting its recognition and certification in court for several years.  

Instead of settling the contract dispute, the Martha Vineyard Transit Authority has brought in scab bus drivers from Puerto Rico and is paying peak season rental prices that average over $500 a night for hotel rooms on Martha’s Vineyard. 

“They have blown through their yearly budget paying for these scabs,” says Townes. 

“They just don’t want a union here. They don’t want to have a follow contract. They wanna run it the way they wanna run it, and they don’t want to follow policies and procedures” says Townes.

Possible Breakthrough as Vineyard Transit Authority Order TCI Subcontract Back to the Table 

With community support solidly behind them (even the local Chamber of Commerce supports the transit drivers), the Vineyard Transit Authority yesterday ordered their subcontractor TCI back to the table to bargain a new contract. 

TCI had refused to meet with the union for more than two weeks. Now, facing public backlash, the transit authority in a tense emotional meeting voted to send the company back to the table. 

“It’s a step in the right direction. Selectmen and town administrators were here, and they got to hear the other side”,” Andre Bonnell, a striking driver, told the Vineyard Gazette. 

For more, check out the Vineyard Gazette. 

AT&T Break on Neutrality Agreement w/ CWA Could Hurt CNN Union Drive

At the time of the proposed Time-Warner – AT&T merger, the Communication Workers of America helped rally support from Democrats on Capitol Hill behind the deal saying that the agreement would result in more union jobs. 

For decades, CWA has enjoyed a union neutrality agreement with AT&T where AT&T agreed to a union neutrality deal In exchange for political support for the proposed mega-merger, AT&T and CWA agreed that Time-Warner’s 23,000 new employees would fall under the union neutrality agreement. 

Now, AT&T is saying that only 83 of Time-Warner’s 23,000 employees are eligible for union neutrality. According to Bloomberg-Businessweek, CWA is now taking legal action against AT&T to enforce its neutrality agreement. 

The lack of a union neutrality agreement could affect CWA”s ability to organize Time CNN, one of the largest remaining non-union media outlets. 

Warren & Biden Criticized Over Unpaid Interns While Bernie Faces Staff Union Tensions

Yesterday, the Washington Post broke the news that Sanders campaign and its staff union have been locked in tense negotiations about premium shares of health care as well as overtime pay. 

Both the Biden and Warren campaign faced criticism for offering only limited paid internship opportunities while continuing to offer unpaid fellowship opportunities that they claim required fewer hours of work. 

The group “Pay Our Interns” criticized Biden and Warren for their use of unpaid fellows. The Daily Beast has the story

Guillermo Creamer, co-founder of the non-profit group Pay Our Interns, said there’s a “gray area” that emerges from having both paid and unpaid options, creating a “fine line” between the roles. 

“It is interesting that some campaigns can still think about having both,” Creamer said. “The question now is: is fellowship the scapegoat for not paying individuals?”

Youngstown Will Get Major Media Investments Following Paper’s Closing

Last week, Payday reported on how Youngstown, Ohio lost its only paper. Already, two news organization have committed to helping feel the void. 

ProPublica has said that they will put a full-time reporter on the ground in Youngstown.  Now, the Compass Experiment, a joint project of McClatchy and Google, are making a three-year investment in starting to build a sustainable local digital-only outlet in Youngstown, Ohio. 

(See the announcement of their project here)

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Only Going to Print 3 Days a Week 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has announced that they are cutting print of their publication to only 3 days a week. The paper also announced that it was moving to an online format; meaning that Pittsburgh would be the largest city in North America without a print delay

The union quickly denounced the move. 

“This is a colossal mistake given the demographics of our subscribers, who are older and want nothing to do with digital. We have not done a good enough job promoting our digital platforms to young people to make up for the difference…I fear this is the death knell for the paper where I have worked more than half my life” Pittsburgh NewsGuild President Michael Fuoco wrote in an email to the publication’s editorial leadership. 

That’s all for Payday this week, gotta run to physical therapy and hopefully get back in the swing of things next week.  Pass the hat and donate today. 

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is the founder of Payday Report and also covers labor and immigration for The Guardian. In 2015, he was illegally fired for union organizing as Politico’s senior labor reporter and used his $70,000 NLRB settlement to start Payday. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and has dinner with his folks regularly. He can be reached at Melk@PaydayReport.com A Sidney Award winner and proud graduate of Woodland Hills, Elk lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

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