1158 Strikes Since March 1st – S.C. Teachers Strike Enters 2nd Week – Hazard Pay Helps Bust Union Drive

Nurses hold a demonstration outside Jacobi Medical Center to protest a new policy by the hospital requiring a doctor's note for paid sick leave, Friday, April 17, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Folks, greetings from the Burgh, where we’re publishing a special Sunday edition of Payday Report. The New York Times just dropped a major exposé featuring Payday’s work reporting on a sexual misconduct coverup within the NewsGuild union.

Read Ben Smith’s piece at the NYT “A Powerful Got Away with Sexual Misconduct for Decades. His Paper, and His Union Looked the Other Way” 

1158 Strikes Since March 1st on Payday Report’s Strike Tracker

Payday Report’s Strike Tracker has struck a chord at major publications with NPR’s All Things Considered, The Economist, and even The New York Times citing our work. 

The award-winning director of “Sorry to Bother You” Boots Riley, repeatedly praised Payday Report’s Strike Tracker on The Bad Faith Podcast with Briahna Joy Gray saying, “You could count on one hand the number of outlets, whether mainstream or radical, that pushed this fact.”

So far we have tracked 1,158 strikes since March 1. Keep on submitting tips so we can keep tracking these strikes

$86,489 Raised from 1,826 Readers This Year

We’re nearing the last few weeks of the year and we at Payday are so grateful to have reached an incredible milestone with our fundraising, raising nearly $87,000 so far this year. 

We are a small labor publication, but we can cover the types of stories that we do because of your continued support.

To keep us sustainable as we enter 2021, we are hoping for a huge push to bring our fundraising to over $100,000. If we could raise above $100,000 this year, it would be an incredible display of solidarity from our readers. 

Donate Today to Help Us Cover the Unprecedented Strike Wave Gripping the US in the Wake of COVID

South Carolina Teachers Continue “Sick Out” Strike

Back in 2019, Payday was one of the few national outlets in the country to cover the first-ever statewide teachers strike in South Carolina. Now, teachers in school districts throughout South Carolina are increasingly calling “sickout” strikes to protest unsafe COVID conditions. 

A growing sickout strike in the suburbs of the state capitol Columbia is now entering its second week. Our friends at The State have the story:  

“Our main thing is to go back to the hybrid model,” said an Airport High School teacher, who asked to remain anonymous. Schools in the district previously operated on a rotating two-day in-person schedule, with students spending part of the week on campus and the other three days learning remotely.

“We’d also like to see the district’s COVID dashboard be updated with the number of students and faculty quarantined,” the teacher said, believing it would more accurately reflect the impact on the district.

A letter from teachers to the board that was forwarded to The State cited concerns about unsafe working conditions amid the pandemic, an inadequate amount of personal protective equipment, and the growing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in South Carolina.

“Unsafe working conditions specifically include class sizes (as large as 32), which inhibit appropriate social distancing,” the letter reads. “The mask-wearing and type of masks worn by all parties are not consistent with CDC and DHEC guidelines, and this is also alarming as we are in contact with more than 75 people per day.”

For more, check out The State. 

Hazard Pay Used to Bust Union Drive at Spyhouse Coffee

At the beginning of the pandemic, many frontline workers were given “hazard pay” as corporations desperately sought to keep workers on the job during the pandemic.  

However, many major corporations quickly took back hazard pay when the fear of the pandemic subsided. Now, some corporations may bring back hazard pay to defeat union drives. 

The Minnesota Reformer has a truly wild story on how business owners offered hazard pay and threatened store closing to bust a union drive at Spyhouse Coffee in Minnesota:

[Spyhouse barista Matt] Marciniec blamed a steady drumbeat of anti-union messaging coming from Spyhouse management and ownership. Following a one-day worker strike in September, he said the company attempted to “demoralize” its pro-union workers, resulting in around 15 departures.

Former worker Grace Erpenbach told City Pages last month she was called into a meeting and presented with a choice: Stop organizing or lose your job. If true, such a threat would violate federal labor law even if it’s a common tactic. A recent study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found employers are charged with illegally firing employees in 20% of unionization efforts. Through a spokesperson, Spyhouse says Erpenbach was a manager and should not have participated in organizing efforts.

Erpenbach opted to quit, as did several of her colleagues in solidarity.

The new hires that replaced them were manipulated with “a hideous smear campaign,” Spyhouse’s would-be union tweeted Tuesday, one intended to “paint the remaining pro-union folks as a small group of fringe troublemakers.”

For more, check out The Minnesota Reformer. 

Roving Strikes to Start at Sunrise Hospital in Nevada 

At the Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, workers are beginning weekly walkouts. The union alleges that the hospital owned by HCA is still denying workers proper PPE during the pandemic. 

Workers, members of SEIU Local 1107, plan to start walkouts on Wednesday to protest their working conditions. 

“If you are going to call us heroes in public then treat us like heroes in private,” surgical tech Erika Watanabe said. “While all of us are here making a sacrifice HCA CEOs are talking about the profit they’re making because of the high degree of acuity in COVID-19 patients. They need to stop obsessing over profits and make sure hospital workers have everything they need to care for patients.”

For more, check out KVVU-TV in Las Vegas. 

58th Anniversary of Robena Mine Explosion that Killed 37 in Western PA 

Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Robena Mine Explosion that killed 37 miners in Western PA. In 2012, I went to cover a memorial service on the explosion for Working In These Times. A look back from the 50th anniversary in 2012: 

“I remem­ber it like it was yes­ter­day,” 94-year-old retired coal min­er Charles Kar­watsky told Work­ing in These Times at the cer­e­mo­ny. ​“I was shak­ing like this. It was my bud­dy that blew up. I trad­ed [shifts] with him and I took his place because I liked the boy. He was a col­ored boy and the white boys were giv­ing him a hard time so I said, ​‘Sam­my, if none of your bud­dies will trade with you then I will trade with you.’ The guy I swapped with, Sam­my Rain, he blew up….That would have been me. They would have been call­ing my name out [at the cer­e­mo­ny].”

For many of the min­ers and for the fam­i­lies of those who died, the mem­o­ry of the Robe­na explo­sion is still sharp. They recall the bliz­zard of snow that fell that day, and sleep­ing in tents near the mine in the nights that fol­lowed as they await­ed news of the fates of the miss­ing miners.

Dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, a union offi­cial asked all the fam­i­ly mem­bers of the min­ers who were killed to come for­ward, and then began read­ing out the names of the 37 men. A gray-haired man in his mid-60s, strug­gling to make his way through the crowd, called out, ​“I am here, I am over here.” As he reached the front, he broke down and began to cry. Fifty years have passed since his father’s death, but the pain is still raw.

Even for min­ers who were not at the Robe­na mine on that day in 1962, the acci­dent still strikes a nerve. Many min­ers I spoke with say they feel just as vul­ner­a­ble to pre­ventable mine explo­sions today as min­ers were 50 years ago. The Upper Big Branch explo­sion in 2010, which killed 29 min­ers in West Vir­ginia, was strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar to the Robe­na explo­sion. Both were caused by methane and coal dust ignit­ing, a sce­nario that can be pre­vent­ed by prop­er­ly ven­ti­lat­ing the mines and wash­ing out coal dust. That coal dust-fueled explo­sions keep occur­ing, despite ample knowl­edge on how to pre­vent them, leads  Kar­watsky to won­der whether mine safe­ty has improved at all since the explo­sion that killed his friend Sam­my Rain 50 years ago.

“It’s just about the same. There ain’t no change,” he says.

To read the full story, head to Working In These Times. 

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Alright, folks, that’s all for today. Donate so we can keep doing the type of hard-hitting labor reporting that other publications aren’t doing. 

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Love & Solidarity,


About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]

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