Construction Worker Suicides Spike – Florida Prison Guard Shortage – Unions Combat Opiate Epidemic – Kentucky Labor Soldiers On

By Mike Elk 

Phew, folks, it’s finally Payday – why couldn’t the Holiday Break be longer?

This week’s Lunch Pail goes out to Kentucky AFL-CIO President “Wild Bill” Londrigan and all the folks in Frankfort packing the Capitol in an attempt to shut shit down.

Last year, Bill hosted digital media union activists from four continents for The Louisville Statement of Media Worker’s Rights. Media workers rights are Kentuckians’ rights! #1U

“Right-to-Work” & Prevailing Wage Repeal Passes Kentucky House

Yesterday, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 1, which would allow workers in the state to receive the benefit of union contracts without being legally obligated to pay dues for such representation.

Also, the Kentucky State Senate passed a law that would forbid unions from deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks to go toward political action funds. The state Senate also passed a law that would allow Republican Gov. Matthew Bevin to fire and replace the entire trustee board of the University of Louisville, a move that many fear could negatively impact the hundreds of campus workers employed by the school.

The state House also repealed the state’s prevailing wages law, which dictates that construction workers on publicly financed projects are paid the average wage of construction workers as dictated by a survey of area wages.

In addition, the state House passed a bill that would require all women seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound and also ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Both Houses could combine to pass the bills by this Saturday.

Repealing Prevailing Wage Law Will Drive Down Wages by 10 Percent

Many unions argue that prevailing wages laws are necessary to prevent the government from driving down wages in the private sector.

According to a study conducted by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy (KCEP), the loss of prevailing wages protection would cause a 10 percent drop in income for construction workers, both union and non-union. The study found that an estimated 6,100 workers would lose employer-provided health coverage and another 10,300 would lose pensions provided by employers.

The state would lose an additional 1,100 jobs in other industries as a result of reduced construction worker spending, according to KCEP’s research. Furthermore, the study says, the state would lose $12.5 million in state and local tax revenue.

However, it’s unlikely that repealing prevailing wage will result in the state spending less on construction projects, as claimed by proponents of the repeal.

“13 out of 17 (76 percent) peer-reviewed studies since 2000 suggest prevailing wages are not associated with higher public construction costs,” according to the study. “The research shows increased wages are offset by other factors such as higher productivity due to a more skilled workforce.”

To read the full report, go to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy website.  

Construction Workers Commit Suicide at Four Times National Average

One factor KCEP’s research does not analyze is how many additional suicides may follow as a result of the lowered wages.

A landmark study out by the federal Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) showed that construction rates have the second highest rate of suicide of any group of workers in the U.S. According to the CDC, construction workers commit suicide at four times the rate of the average American.

Industry analysts say that the unpredictable nature of the jobs, the decline in wages in recent years, and the stress of often being alone on the road are factors in the high rates of suicide. More than this, many construction workers become addicted to painkillers after suffering workplace injuries and become entangled in the cycle of substance abuse, depression, and in some cases, suicide.

Unions Form Shop Steward System to Fight Opiate Epidemic

“If people are already fragile to begin with and they are trying to drown their feelings, they are not able to pay their mortgage and everything is falling apart, it’s just one more domino,” says Chris Carlough, the education director of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART). “We need to have awareness and link our people with mental health awareness and be there to support them.”

In recent years, SMART has adopted a full-day suicide prevention program to help struggling construction workers. SMART is part of a program called Labor Assistance Professional (LAP). LAP is a program run by two dozen unions, who train shop stewards to help workers and their families through mental health crises, substance abuse, and suicide prevention.

“It’s really simple,” says Carlough. “We just aren’t getting people to where we need to get them right now. We need to show them that when they get out of treatment that there is a loving, supportive union family there to help them.”  

Florida Prison Guard Shortage Dues to Low Wages & High Turnover

Despite having “For Hire” signs outside of every prison in the state of Florida, the state faces a shortage of corrections officers. According to Florida’s Capitol News Service, the state is currently facing a 10 percent vacancy of prison guard jobs that need to be filed.

“Right now they are working twelve-hour shifts plus another four. We are working them to death because of the vacancy rate,” Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told Capitol News Service.

One reason may be that Florida pays the state’s corrections officers only $29,000 per year – approximately $14 per hour for a job that is often violent and hazardous. As a result, the state’s corrections workforce is experiencing an approximately 30 percent turnover rate annually.

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Mattie Smith, Who Brought Story of Emmett Till To the World, Dies at 98

On December 30, long-time Chicago Defender reporter Mattie Smith died at the age of 98. She met Emmett Till’s mother at the train station in Chicago to retrieve the body of her son. The resulting story brought the cause to international attention:

“Oh, God, Oh God, my only boy,” Mrs. Mamie (Till) Bradley wailed as five men lifted a soiled paper-wrapped bundle from a brown, wooden mid-Victorian box at the Illinois Central Station in Chicago Friday and put it into a waiting hearse.

“The bundle was the bruised and bullet-ridden body of little 14-year-old Emmett L. Till of Chicago, who had been lynched down in Money, Mississippi.”

Payday mourns the loss of Smith.

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Payday Picks Up Its 100th, 101st, 102nd, & 103rd Monthly Sustaining Donors

Yesterday, we reached a milestone as a publication as we picked up our 100th monthly sustaining donor, Bryant Hileman. A public health worker in Paducah, Kentucky, Hileman has been a loyal reader of ours since the ugly days of covering the lockout of uranium workers at Honeywell.

The addition of three more Payday supporters now gives us 103 monthly readers, pledging a total of $897 a month. Help Payday continue the crusading work of journalism in the South. Become a monthly sustaining donor today of Payday – join here.   

Weekend Reads & Listens

A new documentary profiles 58-year-old Daryl Davis, who has spent his career playing alongside musicians like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Percy Sledge. In his spare time, he has dedicated himself to attempting to befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Over the course of his life, Davis claims that he has gotten 200 people to quit the Klan by simply being friends with them.

Davis is not without his detractors:

“I had one guy from an NAACP branch chew me up one side and down the other, saying, you know, we’ve worked hard to get ten steps forward. Here you are sitting down with the enemy having dinner, you’re putting us twenty steps back,” Davis told the Atlantic.

“I pull out my robes and hoods and say, ‘look, this is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism,” said Davis. “I’ve got robes and hoods hanging in my closet by people who’ve given up that belief because of my conversations sitting down to dinner. They gave it up. How many robes and hoods have you collected?'”

Check out “The Accidental Courtesy” profiling Davis’ lifelong pursuit to simply try to have lunch with Klan members.

In the late 1960s, major league baseball players set out to form a union and hired Steelworkers economist Marvin Miller as their executive director. Miller persuaded the players that they weren’t getting a fair shake on royalties from Topps baseball card deals and used a boycott of having their photographs taken as a basis of building a cohesive system of mobilization throughout the bigs.

The Society for Americans Baseball Research has the story:

In November 1968 Topps caved, agreeing to double its annual player stipend (to $250 per year) and to pay a royalty to the MLBPA of 8 percent on revenue up to $4 million, and 10 percent thereafter. In the first year of this deal the Association collected $320,000 from their Topps license, which came out to $500 per player on top of their individual deals. By the early 1980s, the union collected more than 10 times that from the licensing of baseball cards.

One could say that this was the first time the fledgling union used their collective power to effect change. “It was important on two levels,” said Jim Bouton. “One, it showed how powerful Marvin Miller was and how smart he was. It gave him instant credibility. But also, the player’s association became immediately self-funding.” Today’s licensing program, rebranded as Player’s Choice, nets tens of thousands of dollars per player annually, and funds charitable acts all around the globe.

Finally, West Virginia ACLU Director Joseph Cohen (the former General Counsel for UE) has a long interview this weekend with West Virginia public radio about how civil rights groups can push back in the age of Trump.

Full Disclosure: Joseph Cohen’s office was down the hall from UE Director of Organization Gene Elk’s office (the father of Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk). He has assisted the Elk family on many matters both personal and professional over the year.

In short, Cohen is a great guy – check out his extended interview here.

That’s all folks. Have fun this weekend and if after you have fun, you got a little money left over, donate to Payday’s winter fundraising drive.

Love & Solidarity,

Melk

Mike Elk is a Sidney award winner and a lifetime member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO, a workplace safety expert at MSNBC, and as an investigative reporter at In These Times Magazine. In 2015, Elk was illegally fired for union organizing at POLITICO and used his NLRB settlement to found Payday Report in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Follow him on Twitter @MikeElk or email him: melk@paydayreport.com

Contribute to Payday’s winter fundraising drive today and help us continue covering workers that the mainstream media ignores.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is a Sidney award winner and a lifetime member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO, as an investigative reporter at In These Times Magazine, and has written for The New York Times. In 2015, Elk was illegally fired for union organizing at POLITICO and used his NLRB settlement to found Payday Report in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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