By Mike Elk and Kris Warner
It’s Payday, Folks! Greetings from the Pittsburgh of the South: Chattanooga, Tennessee!
Lakeland Ledger Becomes First Florida Publication to Unionize
This Lunch Pail goes to out to the journalists at the Lakeland Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, who voted 22-3 yesterday to join the NewsGuild. The journalists become the first journalists in the state of Florida in recent memory to successfully unionize.
NC Labor Law Professor Hopes to Engage in Pay-to-Play with Payday Report
Big thanks this week to Eric Fink for becoming a monthly sustaining supporter of our work. Payday is continuing its economic growth and we hope that you too will consider supporting us, for as little as $3 a month. Help us reach 30 supporters this week by donating here.
Unpaid Filipino Sailors Stranded Off the Coast of Georgia
Maritime workers are some of the most widely exploited forces in the world. Reports of slavery in the maritime industry are widespread, as the workforce includes foreign nationals operating under a hodge-podge of national and international laws.
This week the NewsGuild-represented Associated Press has the story of cargo ship workers who have been stranded off shore of Tybee Island, Georgia for two months now without pay:
The crew, all Filipinos save for a Greek engineer and a Romania[n] electrician, got caught in the middle of a legal battle after the Newlead Castellano’s owner, Newlead Holdings of Greece, fell behind on its debt payments. Four creditors who loaned the owner cash to buy the ship filed suit April 19 in U.S. District Court, saying they were owed $7.1 million.
A judge ordered federal marshals to seize the ship before it left Savannah. And days spent idle at sea turned into months.
The ship’s first officer, Cecilio Calo Yting, told The Associated Press the ship’s owner had not paid the crew for more than two months when the vessel was seized. Reached on Facebook and communicating via online instant messages, Yting said the crew was well. Still, he complained of boredom and the inability to come ashore to go shopping.
Undefeated U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Calls for #EqualPlayEqualPay
In March, five players of the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging that they are being paid unfairly by the U.S Soccer Federation compared to their male counterparts. Bryce Colvert over at the Writers Guild-represented ThinkProgress has the details:
In their complaint, the players claimed that they are paid almost four times less than the men’s team players. For example, the women say they are paid just $1,350 each for winning a friendly match and nothing for a tie or loss, compared to $9,375 for a men’s victory (even more if they win against a top-ranked team), $6,250 for a tie, and $5,000 for a loss.
The women’s team has a contract specifying that top-tier players get $72,000 a year as a base salary, while the men aren’t guaranteed payment. But the complaint pointed out that if the USWNT were to lose all 20 friendlies in a season, a player would get $72,000, while if it won all 20 she would get $99,000. The men, on the other hand, get $100,000 a year for losing all 20 friendlies, $1,000 more than a victorious female player. Meanwhile, they get about $263,000 each for winning all 20 matches–so a winning women’s player makes just 38 percent of a winning men’s player.
The women’s team also gets nothing for playing in World Cup matches until they get into fourth place, even though the men’s team gets payment for each game played regardless of the result. They got just $2 million for winning the World Cup last year, while the U.S. men’s team earned $8 million for losing in the first round.
Rio Teacher Occupy Schools to Win Big Gains
As the Olympic games were gearing up, teachers and students in Rio de Janeiro were in their own competition, fighting to improve work and education standards in schools. The Nation’s Sports Editor Dave Zirin has the story:
Of 166,000 teachers, 70 percent went out, confronting violent police repression in an effort to win a raise and confront unendurable working conditions that produce student-teacher ratios of 50-1.
What made this strike so remarkable was that it did not end on a picket line. Dozens of schools were occupied by teachers and students and for months, where they staged their own classes while union leaders negotiated their futures and the police knocked down their doors.
NC State Senator Under Federal Investigation for Farm Labor Practices
Paul Blest of the Durham-based Indy Week reported that North Carolina State Senator Brent Jackson is under investigation by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division for practices on his farm. In June, Blest broke the story of how Jackson routinely charged workers on his farm for broken equipment.
Berniecrat Wilkinson Stresses Labor Ties in Key Tenn State Senate Race #FireGardenhire
Last week, Lunch Pail brought the story of how Birdiecrat Khristy Wilkinson beat Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s handpicked candidate Nick Wilkinson, despite being out-fundraised by $79,000 to $3,000. While Berke has been loathe to stress his connections to organized labor, most notably remaining silent during the defeat of the UAW at Volkswagen in 2014, Detroit native Khristy Wilkinson has not been shy to tout hers.
“My mother’s step-father was an Iron Worker, as was my first step-father; her father was a sign-maker. My step-mom was a union school bus driver until the school system privatized their busing system,” says Wilkinson.
Wilkinson was recently named the Secretary Treasurer of a new Chattanooga labor-faith-community alliance called CALEB, which according to Wilkinson aims to “to work together for common goals including improvements to wages and education and working to eliminate institutional racism.”
(While we’re on the subject, check out Payday Report Folk Labor Ombudsman JP Wright’s new Bluegrass song about Wilkinson’s upset victory.)
Feds Raid Tortilla Plant over Immigration While Ignoring Workplace Safety Violations
Last year, federal agents went undercover at a Houston-area tortilla plant to bust the company for its use of undocumented workers. In the end, the agents detained 11 undocumented workers in order to have them testify against the company for violating immigration law, while they left unreported the unsafe working conditions:
[D]ay after day, workers had been working in temperatures of up to 100 degrees – and higher – with little access to water. When the poorly maintained machines caught fire, the workers discovered the emergency exits were locked.
And as a complaint to the Department of Labor outlined, one worker lost three fingers on a machine. Only a year later, another worker lost two fingers on the same machine. The factory’s owners forced the double amputee out of his job, without compensation for his injuries or even an apology.
In addition to this, there were blocked exits and exposed wires, amongst other safety hazards. When the detained workers told the Department of Labor about these conditions, it initiated its own investigation into the tortilla factory, resulting in OSHA issuing 21 serious health and safety violations. In any factory, the need for safety is essential, violating these OSHA guidelines is incredibly concerning, whether they are in a tortilla factory with equipment training or on a construction site with crane training, they need to be fully briefed and supported by their employers to minimise any risks.
***** Bluegrass Break *****
Check out this interesting lesson plan that was created by the Tribeca Film Institute to go along with the movie “High Lonesome Sound.” The narrative focuses on the working conditions and also the difficult issues of race relations that the workers in the music industry were facing when “bluegrass music” was in its formative years.
“In bluegrass this exchange is visible in the centrality of the banjo, with its African roots, and in the influence of black musical forms such as blues and ragtime. [Bill] Monroe, for instance, often cited as a central influence on his music a black musician named Arnold Schulz, with whom he played dances when he was young.”
So, are there are still hobos on the railroad? Check out Matt Kinman’s new CD, “Traveling Songs.” Matt is carrying on the traditions and hard working conditions of the musical heritage that is described in the lesson plan mentioned above. Based out of Knoxville, Tennessee, his contemporary musical experience could be described as “authentic,” but we here at Payday Report know it’s just a continuation of a (folk) family tradition. This CD is as about as real as it gets… throw your debit card up on the barrel head and support folk music!
Southwest Airline Workers Picket Across the South
After the unions of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and baggage handlers employed by Southwest Airlines called for the removal of the company’s CEO and COO last week, flight attendants (members of Transport Workers Union Local 556) led pickets at airports in Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Baltimore, and Orlando, amongst others.
Contract negotiations have been going on for three years, leaving the airline’s workers understandably frustrated. TWU Local 556 said the picketing was “designed to educate the public about the deteriorating working conditions at the airline, resulting in falling morale and endangering the famed culture on which the airline was founded.”
Massachusetts Town Upset with Relocation of Plant to Tennessee
This week, the Chattanooga area celebrated the relocation of a Polartec factory that will add 150 jobs in Cleveland, Tennessee. However, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, Unite Here workers, who were previously employed by the company and helped save the factory from a devastating fire in 1997, say they feel burned by the company, and even took massive pension cuts to keep the factory open.
“I would warn Mayor [Tom] Roland and the citizens of Cleveland, Tenn., to be careful,” [Lawrence, Mass Mayor] Rivera said in a statement Monday. “This business has shown us regardless of city, state or federal government investment or business friendly environment, they will move where the cheapest labor costs are. Next stop will probably be their South American plant.”
Unfortunately, this is a familiar pattern for U.S. manufacturing. To learn more about this history, check out historian Jefferson Cowie’s Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor, in which he documents RCA’s moves from Camden, NJ to Bloomington, IN to Memphis, TN and finally to Juárez, Mexico, and the workers’ efforts to improve their working conditions at each step along the way.
Fight for 15 Convention Opens in Richmond
This weekend an estimated 10,000 low-wage workers are expected to converge on Richmond, Virginia for the inaugural Fight for $15 convention. On Saturday, organizers plan to march on the Robert E. Lee statue, where Reverend William E. Barber of the Moral Monday movement plans to give a speech.
“We chose Richmond because it’s the onetime capital of the Confederacy, and we want to draw links between the way workers are treated today and the racist history of the United States,” Kendall Fells, national organizer for Fight for $15, told The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Unclassified Documents May Help South Carolina Nuclear Weapons Workers
A lawyer has found what appears to be damning evidence that the federal government lied to workers about the presence of thorium, a cancer-causing element, at the Savannah River Site (SRS), a nuclear weapons facility in South Carolina.
After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, Bob Warren, who has been working with sick workers for 13 years, received once-classified documents that “indicate that thorium existed in notable quantities for years at [the facility] after 1972 – despite government arguments that it did not.”
“Without this information, we would not be able to go forward,” Warren told The State. “These documents are pivotal in making the case.”
Though fighting Parkinson’s disease and planning to retire, Warren is hoping to build on his 2011 success that made workers exposed to thorium prior to 1973 eligible for a federal compensation program. Winning easier access to the compensation program for workers exposed since 1973 will help those such as Mitch Still, who worked at the facility from 1982 to 1991.
Still said he has been denied benefits by the government because he can’t get the records he needs to prove the dose of radiation he received caused his cancer.
“I’m the first in my family to have cancer,” said Still, a resident of Clark’s Hill near McCormick. His main concern, he said, is “that they just treat me fairly.”
Teachers in Louisville and Pasco County, Florida Fight for Improvements
Teachers and students in Louisville may have returned for the beginning of the school year, but negotiations between the teachers’ union and the school district “have broken down,” according to Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.
After the union submitted a new proposal earlier this week, management “said they were done and that we needed to move on to mediation,” which Kim said hadn’t happened in “probably 20 years.” The school district is also in negotiations with members of AFSCME and the Teamsters.
Meanwhile, Florida union teachers and other school employees are encouraging the Pasco County school district to reach into the unassigned portion of its general fund to provide raises for those who are the farthest behind the average statewide pay.
While only required to be 3 percent of the total, the district “religiously” keeps this unassigned portion at 5 percent or more. Jim Ciaddella, the union’s director or operations, said “We believe it would be appropriate to put some of those dollars in employees’ hands.”
In the Village Voice this week, labor reporter and NewsGuild activist Cole Stangler has a long look at an effort to create a union-style hiring hall for domestic workers:
[T]he Worker’s Justice Project unveiled an ambitious new proposal. With the help of researchers from the Worker Institute at Cornell University, the group published a report that calls for the creation of a “job center” at La Parada.
The center would enforce a baseline set of employment standards. Under the plan, all workers would be paid at least fifteen dollars an hour, receive basic health and safety training, and be equipped with mops and other cleaning equipment like masks and gloves. If successfully implemented, the plan could reshape the corner economy – and perhaps other hubs like it across the country.
“It would give value to the work we do,” says Leticia Sanchez, a 28-year-old single mother with two children who’s worked at the corner for ten years. “Having a fixed salary, understanding your worth as an employee, and having the appropriate tools so that you don’t suffer from any sickness, it would value our work and give us respect.”
The Houston Chronicle looks at the lack of health insurance coverage for nearly three-quarters of a million people in Texas, largely inflicted upon the state’s residents by the state’s decision to not expand Medicaid:
Texas is tied with Alabama as having the toughest threshold in the nation for parents to qualify for Medicaid. They can earn no more than 18 percent of the federal poverty level, which means a family of three cannot make more than $3,628 per year. Childless adults in the state do not qualify at all, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The problem deepened when a troubling gap in the law was exposed. Under the ACA, Medicaid would take care of lower-income people while those with more means, including the middle class, would benefit from federal subsidies to lower premiums. But the subsidies come with a minimum income requirement and no bridge to help anyone stuck in between.
There are 766,000 Texans, the most in any state in the country, making too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to get a subsidy that would make the price of plans on the federal exchange practical, Kaiser said. So they do without.
And if you’ve got too much to read already, you can listen to this episode of the Mountain News & World Report from Kentucky’s community radio station WMMT that includes a piece on Kentucky civil rights activist Anne Braden.
Or you can watch a stirring interview by Democracy Now! with the filmmaker of the new documentary Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, which “examines the conflict within black America over whether or not the athletes should boycott the ’36 Olympics, and how their presence on the world stage in Hitler’s Germany impacted the modern civil rights movement.”
Whoa, what a week: several new supporters and last week’s Lunch Pail, featuring the victory of a Southern Berniecrat in Chattanooga, got over 100,000 views. Things are really hoppin’ here at the Payday Report Chattanooga junction. Come on, hop on board the train!
Yours for the media revolution.
Payday Report Folk Labor Ombudsman
Thanks for reading this week’s Lunch Pail. Send any tips on stories to [email protected]. Let’s go Buccos!
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.
Kris Warner is the publisher of Payday Report and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He has previously worked as a union organizer, a research assistant, and a union researcher.