By Mike Elk
It’s Payday, folks! Greetings from Chattanooga, Tennessee: The Pittsburgh of the South!
Another Union Victory in Chattanooga & UE Scores Big at National Visa Center!
This week’s Payday goes out to workers at Ardent Mills in Chattanooga who voted 25-22 to join UFCW Local 1995.
Also, FCI Federal contract workers at the National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire voted by a margin of 279 to 247 to join the United Electrical Workers (UE). The Organizing Director leading the drive for UE was Gene Elk, the father of Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk.
Payday Picks Up 7 New Members & Passes $700 a month in Sustaining Donation Threshold
This week, Payday passed a key fundraising threshold and now has $711 in monthly sustaining revenue. We picked up 7 new members – including long-time New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse, Honeywell union activist Bryant Hilleman, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Editor Jim Naureckas, Michael Jochum, an anoymous donor, and The Intercept’s Lee Fang – but we are still behind our monthly goal of 20 new subscribers. Help us pick up the slack and become a dues-paying reader of Payday today.
Kentucky Supreme Court Strikes Down Louisville Minimum Wage Increase
Last year, the Louisville Metro City Council voted to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, but yesterday the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the law. The court ruled in its 6-1 decision that the municipality did not have the authority to raise the city’s minimum wage.
The ruling has local Democrats in Louisville up in arms. The Louisville Courier-Journal has the story:
“It is now up to the General Assembly to take action when they next meet to correct this injustice and ensure more Kentuckians who work can meet their basic needs,” said Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.
[Louisville Metro Mayor] Fischer and council Democrats urged companies and business owners to think twice before lowering employees’ pay.
“I’d be shocked if anybody did that,” Fischer said. “That would be a real slap in the face toward their employees.”
New Study: Largest Bank in Tennessee Gave One Traditional Mortgage to Black Family Over 4 Years
A new study put out this week by Chattanooga Organized for Action (COA) and the National Community Reinvestment Act shows that between 2011 and 2014 First Tennessee Bank, the largest bank in the state of Tennessee, gave out exactly one conventional mortgage to an African-American family.
“Our banks aren’t even dealing with the working class,” Michael Gilliland, COA board chairman told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. “It’s not just a lack of loans, but the total absence of banks in black neighborhoods. Banks don’t have a plan. They are required to do this, but nobody is calling them out on it.”
“Right-to-Work” on the Ballot in Five States This Election
Since 1947, right-to-work has been the law of the land in Virginia. However, a new ballot initiative by anti-union forces would ensure right-to-work as part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s constitution. But Virginia is just one of five states this year in which the election could determine whether or not the states will adopt the restrictive unionization policies.
In Missouri, if the Governor’s House flips to Republicans, the state will likely become right-to-work, as the Republican-led state Legislature passed a right-to-work bill last year, which the current Democratic governor vetoed. Likewise in Kentucky, if four State Assembly seats flip to the Republican party, the state is expected to pass right-to-work.
Alabama, which has the highest rate of unionization in the South at 10.2 percent, is also voting on a constitutional amendment that would enshrine right-to-work in the state. Finally, if the Governor’s mansion in Montana flips Republican, the state is widely expected to pass the measure as well.
In Kentucky, Jim Beam Workers Strike over 70 Hour Work Weeks.
Last Saturday, approximately 250 bourbon workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers 111D, went on strike at two separate facilities in Kentucky over the company forcing workers to routinely work excessive overtime.
While bourbon demand has soared, Jim Beam has not hired enough new workers to meet the demand, according to workers. Instead of hiring new full-time employees, who start at the plant at $17.22 an hour, the bourbon maker has relied on hiring temporary workers, who start at $11 an hour. The result, workers say, is that full-time employees are forced to work 60-70 hours a week.
“They always said they didn’t want to hire [full-time employees] because when the workload drops off, then they would have to lay them off. But for the past two to three years, the workload has been consistently on the high side,” UFCW Local 111d President Janelle Mudd told the Louisville-Courier Journal.
Louisville General Electric Workers Vote to Strike Over $13 an Hour Wage
Jim Beam workers may soon not be the only workers in Kentucky out on strike. This week, 4,000 General Electric workers, members of IUE-CWA Local 83671 employed at General Electric’s Louisville Appliance Park facility, are taking a strike authorization vote.
General Electric has repeatedly complained that workers at the plant are making too much and that they need to reduce their wages in order to keep GE competitive.
“We need to negotiate a contract that we can afford,” Eric Leef, the chief negotiator for GE Appliances, wrote in an employee newsletter circulated in August. “I see this contract negotiation as a pivotal point for Appliance Park’s future”. Louisville WDRB’s has the story, with the full newsletter attached.
The comments outraged local union members, who have been stuck in tough contract talks with the company for more than two months. Previously, the union has already made numerous concessions, including lowering starting wages to $13 an hour at one point during the recession.
However, now workers are outraged by GE’s demand for even more concessions. IUE-CWA Local 83671 President Dana Crittenden says that the local union is prepared to strike in order to stop any further concessions. The results of the strike vote should be announced sometime next week.
*********** Bluegrass Break **************
On this week’s episode of the Folk Labor Desk, JP talks about an upcoming project with artist Matthew Moore that he is preparing for at the University of Louisville’s Speed Art Museum. He sings a song by the Stanley Brothers, written in the 1950s, to start a conversation about a time and place, progressive economic transition.
This episode also features a poem that was graciously sent in by Todd Smith, a passionate Payday Report supporter.
“If you are not at the table, it is because you are on the menu,” is the focus of Part Two of the Folk Labor Desk. JP talks about the Labor Movement and a concept called “A Just Transition” by Singing Jean Richie’s song “The L&N Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.”
Give it a listen here.
McConnell & Trump Stay Silent on Patriot Coal Bankruptcy
For the past year, Payday has been on hot on the heels of the refusal of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring to the floor the Miners Protection Act.
The bill would transfer up to $490 million per year – and an estimated average of $220 million per year over the next decade – from the EPA’s Abandoned Mine Lands to the United Mine Workers’ benefit and pension programs. In addition, the bill would revise the Coal Act, which provides government-funded health care to retirees at bankrupt companies, to cover miners whose companies have gone bankrupt after the bill was last revised, in 2006.
In September, the bill cleared the Senate Finance Committee by a margin of 18-8 and enjoys wide bipartisan support from Coal State Republicans and Democrats alike. However, McConnell has refused to bring the bill to a vote despite the fact that he presents himself regularly in Kentucky as a champion of coal miners, even telling a group of Pike County, Kentucky business leaders last week that “the country must not turn its back on Kentucky coal miners.”
This week, McConnell told the Associated Press that he does not favor the bill because it would only help union miners and not non-union miners. He also said that he would bring the bill to a vote if it is not attached to other legislation and comes through regular order.
However, as Payday reported back in September, many in organized labor say that the real reason McConnell hasn’t brought the bill to a vote is that he is scared of upsetting billionaire Super PAC Donor Joe Craft, the CEO of non-union Alliance Resources Partners.
His influence was seen as key to Senator Mitch McConnell’s refusal to bring a similar bipartisan bill to a vote in 2014. In the 2014 election, Alliance was McConnell’s sixth-largest campaign contributor, providing $93,450 to the McConnell campaign. In addition to these direct campaign contributions, Craft gave $300,000 to the pro-McConnell Super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership.
Not only has McConnell stayed silent on the bill, but Donald Trump, who has pledged to “end the war on miners” if elected president, has also remained silent on the bill.
This week, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) called on Trump to speak up about the matter.
“I know that with Donald Trump being the nominee from the Republican Party, he could be very influential in asking other Republican senators to please verbally sign on and support the Miners Protection Act,” Manchin, told the NewsGuild-represented Associated Press. “That would be very, very helpful.”
Gig Economy Workers Win in Groundbreaking Labor Action
Instacart has quickly become one of the most popular grocery shopping apps in the country. Busy professional-types often use it to pay other people to do their grocery shopping for them. Workers say they make anywhere from $700 to $1,100 a week, but, they say, with tips they can make a lot more.
Thus, workers were outraged when Instacart announced earlier this month that they were doing away with tips. Despite not having a union, the workers quickly organized the threat of a strike. Buzzfeed tech reporter Caroline O’Donnell has the story:
“Fear is going to keep [shoppers] from doing much outside of social media and talking. What we want is action,” said Matt [a Instacart worker], who estimated as many as forty shoppers in Chicago were prepared to join the boycott. “The only thing that’s going to get us what we want is what affects customer service and profit.”
The threat of a strike has had an impact. Following Instacart’s announcement today, the changes to base fare and addition of a service amount, charged by default when customers checkout, will remain as planned. But customers will have the option to add a tip on top of that in app if they so choose.
Given the adjusted rate and new fee, it’s unclear how many customers will be willing to also add a tip. Though Instacart says 20% of customers already don’t tip at all, and 40% of tips average around $2, top shoppers say big orders or deliveries that involve heavy lifting or lots of stairs can earn them much more than that. Whether the October 16/17 strike will still occur also remains to be seen. But if shoppers have something to say about the update, it seems that — for now at least — Instacart is willing to listen.
Labor Reporter Mark Ames Kicks Ass & Helps Cartoonists Win $50 Million in Wage Theft Suit
Back in 2014, Mark Ames, a close personal friend of Payday, wrote a series of exposes for PandoDaily on the widespread problem of wage theft among computer animators in Hollywood. Inspired by Ames’ reporting, the workers filed a wage theft complaint against Dreamworks.
Now, Dreamworks offered to settled the wage theft complaint for a whopping $50 million.
Cartoon Brew has the story:
Documents filed with the federal district court in San Jose reveal that the studio has agreed to pay $50 million to members of the class of animation and visual effects artists affected by the suit. Those artists include animation and visual effects employees who worked at DreamWorks between 2004 and 2010. If the court finds the agreement fair and accepts the settlement, a notice will be sent to those employees informing them what to do to ensure that they will receive their share of the settlement.
As part of the settlement agreement, the named plaintiffs—Robert A. Nitsch, Jr., Georgia Cano, and David Wentworth—will be awarded $10,000 in consideration of their efforts on behalf of the class. Additionally, the agreement allows for 30% of the settlement amount (or $15 million) to be paid to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. (When an attorney is hired by a plaintiff on a contingency basis—that is, without pay unless the plaintiff wins the case—that attorney will typically receive anywhere from 25-40% of the amount awarded to the plaintiff.)
Texas Native & Payday Friend Morgan Fairchild Gets Honored by SAG-AFTRA
Finally, Payday would like to give a shout-out to our good friend – actress and SAG-AFTRA activist Morgan Fairchild. Last week, SAG-AFTRA gave Fairchild the Ralph Morgan award to honor her for her decades of work on behalf of the union.
“I found that the people you work with at the union become your family,” Fairchild said in accepting the award. “We all start in this business with big dreams. Those dreams are what this union is here to protect.”
Writer and death row inmate Leroy E. Mann looks out from his cell at the relationships between the prison staff and those prisoners, like himself, who await execution. Mann, a resident of death row at Raleigh, North Carolina’s Central Prison, writes with empathy, eloquence, and a smoldering sense of injustice:
I cannot recall one time when the staff found it necessary to lock down the block during this intense exercise of segregation. You would think a group of “animals” sensing the slaughter of one of their own would make for the most dangerous of environments. But there are no confrontations, only the heartfelt gestures of people sensing the demise of another. Through these darkest moments of my existence, I’ve learned that a genuine embrace can last a lifetime. The Enforcers always leave the block unscathed.
Read the full story at Scalawag.
NPR looks at how victims and bystanders struggle with workplace sexual assault and harassment, from the tech sector to the military.
Facing South recalls “the largest human rights gathering the South had ever seen” – 1946’s Southern Negro Youth Congress convention in Columbia, South Carolina – by posting the event’s keynote address, made by W.E.B. Du Bois.
That’s all folks, be sure to give some do-re-mi and save Payday from eviction. Donate here.
Mike Elk is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report and a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and at In These Times Magazine.