171 Stories Published, 587 Strikes Tracked, $104,182 Raised & One Emmy Nomination in 2021

Richmond Bus Drivers protest against plan to subsidize Uber (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Folks, 

Two months ago, before I got sick with COVID, I had started drafting a write-up of the year in review. But after I got sick, I couldn’t find the energy to publish it. I wanted to take this opportunity to give yinz a snapshot of all the progress we made last year. 

This year we wrote 171 stories, newsletters, and posts for Payday Report while tracking 587 strikes and raising over $104,000. 

As a crowdfunded publication, and with the support of our readers, Payday Report played a major role in defining how the media covered “The Great Resignation” and strikes in 2021. 

The Washington Post cited our work tracking strikes in a front-page cover story. The New York Times described us as a publication with “new energy.” PBS American Portrait profiled our work tracking the strike wave, and Esquire described our work as “invaluable.” 

In our greatest honor this year, our work on W. Kamau Bell’s CNN documentary “Where Do We Even Begin with White Supremacy” was nominated for an Emmy. 

Today we want to take a look at some of our most important stories of the past year. 

1,753 Strikes Tracked since 2021

Payday continued to track strikes in 2021 after seeing a historic strike wave spreading across the country in 2020. (See our story in collaboration with the Center for Economic and Policy Research here.) While strikes may have slowed down from 2020, we still tracked 684 walkouts in 2021. 

We hope to continue tracking more in 2022 with your help.  Here is a look back at our favorite story of 2021 and our top ten from throughout the year. 

Melk’s Favorite Story of 2021

In early May, Payday was one of the first publications to show that a multiracial coalition backing Black State Representative Ed Gainey was likely to defeat the incumbent, white corporate Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto. Meanwhile, the corporate media in Pittsburgh largely ignored Gainey. 

On Election Night, Gainey overwhelmingly defeated Peduto to become Pittsburgh’s first Black Mayor in a city that is 23% Black and ranked as one of the worst cities for Black people in America.

That evening, people danced well past midnight in the SEIU Healthcare PA’s parking lot — one of the first dance parties many had attended since being fully vaccinated. 

I wound up “fast dancing” with 62-year-old Rita Garmany and captured the exciting scene in “Activists Switch to Offense Following Election of Pittsburgh’s 1st Black Mayor Ed Gainey.”

Now, here are our top ten stories:

1. The Death of Folk Labor Singer Anne Feeney

In February, my childhood neighbor and family friend, the labor folk singer Anne Feeney, died of COVID-19 while the nation struggled to roll out the vaccine. Rolling Stone wrote that she had played over 4,000 shows as a labor folk singer during her life, many of them in front of union audiences for little money. 

In February, I wrote about Anne Feeney’s life and suggested renaming Pittsburgh’s Frick Park after her since the park was named after Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist who hired gun thugs that murdered seven striking steelworkers at Homestead in 1892. 

See our piece “Frick Park Should Be Remanded for Anne Feeney.”

2. Texas Educators Fired After Co-Worker Died of COVID

After one of their co-workers died of COVID-19, Calvin College in Northern Texas dramatically increased its union organizing. The community college fought back against the organizing, with management eventually firing two educators. 

Read the story that went unnoticed: “After Co-Worker Died of COVID, 2 Texas Educators Fired for Union Organizing.”

3. The Lessons of the Defeat of the Union at Amazon in Alabama 

In March, Payday Report traveled down to Alabama to cover the union election at Amazon. Early on, Payday Report predicted accurately that the union would likely lose because of an inadequate organizing strategy. 

Payday received all kinds of smears, and many blogger types even accused Payday of being “anti-union scabs” in an episode that Harper’s Magazine labeled “troubling.” 

Ultimately, the union was defeated, and Payday’s piece was cited by major publications, including The New Yorker, ProPublica, and Le Monde Diplomatique. 

See our piece: “Flawed Approach Sunk Amazon Union Drive, But Birthed National Movement.”

4. 1,100 Coal Miners Strike Warrior Met Coal in Northern Alabama 

When 1,100 Coal Miners went on strike at Warrior Met in April (by then its ninth strike month), Payday Report was there covering the story and talking to workers. 

At a time when many in the national media were deriding Southerns following the defeat of the union at Amazon, the multiracial strike in the hills north of Tuscaloosa presented an inspiring picture of workers fighting back. 

The strike has now captured national attention, but Payday was the first national publication on the picket line on the first day of the strike. 

See our report from the ground in Brockwood, Alabama, “1,100 Coal Miners Go on Strike in Northern Alabama.”

5. A Fight Over Union Democracy at The New York Times 

Over the past five years, there has been a dramatic increase in digital media unionization. However, the Payday piece “A Fight Over Union Democracy at the New York Times” raised troubling questions about how a new generation of digital media unionization leaders was undermining union democracy and smearing their opponents. 

The piece went viral and raised troubling questions about the lack of union democracy in the union. 

Read our report, “​​A Fight Over Union Democracy at The New York Times.”

6. One Immigrant’s Quest for Justice from His Union

In July, our Editorial Director Clarissa León published an in-depth look at how one immigrant stockyard worker was denied justice from his union.

Enrique Villeda was working at Seaboard Foods in Guymon, Oklahoma when he says he was unjustifiably let go from his job. When he turned to UFCW President Martin Rosas for help, he was assured they could get his job back. 

Eventually, Villeda filed a complaint with the NLRB against Rosas, citing Rosas’ refusal to process his grievance and for acting in bad faith. But NLRB’s six-month statute of limitations meant Rosas and his complaint went nowhere. See “An Immigrant Struggles for Justice From His Union.”

7. Minor Leaguers Win Free Housing Through Unprecedented Organizing 

For several years, Payday Report has been covering the efforts of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which was launched in 2020. Payday stayed on the story and covered how many minor leaguers struggled to find housing with many host families not putting up players because of the pandemic. 

In October, those workers won the right to free housing for the first time. See “Minor Leaguers Win Free Housing Through Unprecedented Organizing.”

8. The Huntington, West Virginia Strikes 

In October, Payday Report, in conjunction with The Holler Ohio Valley, traveled to Huntington, West Virginia (population 45,000), where 1,500 workers went on three separate strikes. The strikes were an inspiring example of how labor activism was being reignited during the strike wave in once-union hotbeds like Huntington, West Virginia. 

See our stories “1,000 W.V. Hospital Workers Strike to ‘Build Back Better’ ” and “Huntington Steelworkers Dig In for Multi-Month Strike at Warren Buffett’s Special Metals.”

9. Erie Ironworkers Win Victory in Key Labor FIght 

In December, Payday Report, in conjunction with The Holler Ohio Valley, traveled to Erie, PA, to cover ironworkers holding the picket line in freezing snow. Despite only 28 workers being on strike, both the Ironworkers international and the Erie Labor Community invested heavily in organizing around the strike. 

Finally, after union members from a variety of unions picketed Erie Strayer CEO Kyle Strayer’s suburban house, the company folded at the bargaining table. 

After 75 days of striking, workers won raises, a dental plan for the first time in company history, and a new sense of respect for the union on the shop floor. 

See our initial longer dispatch from Erie “As Winter Hits, Ironworkers Escalate Key Erie Labor Fight.”

10. After 6-Year Fight, Politico Finally Unionizes 

Finally, this November, we received news that gave me more hope in the movement than anything: the news that POLITICO had finally unionized. 

Nearly seven years ago, when I went public with efforts to unionize, the Washington Post wrote an entire article explaining why it wasn’t possible. After I was fired six years ago for union organizing, it looked even more impossible. Hell, I even doubted at times that POLITICO would ever unionize. 

However, as I wrote in a piece paying homage to my friend the late Brett Norman, people like Brett kept trying for years and years to unionize. 

Donate to Help Payday Continue to Cover the Strike Wave in 2022

In 2022, we are entering our 6th year in business and hope to do even more. 

The work we do here at Payday is a collective effort, and I always take such pride in explaining how Payday is founded by such a diverse group of people. 

Some really extraordinary people support us, not just famous writers and journalists, but folks who are veterans of tough union drives who care and want to know about when workers are on the march elsewhere. Folks who want to know because they want to inspire workers in their workplaces that they can do it, too.

We are creating a podcast, launching a readers’ advisory board, and pursuing opportunities to expand Payday Report.

Donate to help us expand. And please, if you can, sign up as one of our 667 recurring donors today. 

Thank you for helping track the growing strike movement and helping us continue to build in 2022. 

Love and Solidarity,

Melk

About the Author

Mike Elk
A protege of Bill Greider, Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter who covered Lula & the drug war in Brasil, and spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian. In 2015, he used his NLRB settlement from being fired illegally for union organizing at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he grew up in a UE union household. Email: [email protected]

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