2nd Florida Paper Moves to Unionize – Non-Union Ironworkers Strike Nashville Again –  Baltimore Dems Kill $15 an hour – Happy Birthday Roberto Clemente

By Mike Elk

It’s Payday, Folks! Greetings from the Pittsburgh of the South: Chattanooga, Tennessee!

Happy 82nd Birthday Roberto Clemente – Why Won’t MLB Retire His Number?

Roberto Clemente’s birthday was yesterday, and despite calls from Alex Rodriquez and top Latino leaders, Major League Baseball still refuses to honor his legacy in the way that it did Jackie Robinson. The Comeback.com has a great look at the resistance within MLB to retire the number of the Latino Yinzer legend.

Second Florida Paper Seeks to Unionize

This week’s Lunch Pail goes out to the 40 journalists at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, who filed for an NLRB election on Wednesday. If successful, the reporters would be the second paper in Florida to unionize, after their colleagues at the Lakeland Ledger. Both papers are owned by the same parent company, GateHouse Media, which has cut staff by more than a third since taking over ownership last year.

Oregon Wildland Firefighter Becomes Dues-Paying Reader of Payday Report

This week, Oregon wildland firefighter and Laborers Local 1271 member Liam Cian became a dues-paying reader of Payday Report.

You too can reject the freeloading philosophy of “right to work” and support our efforts to bring you labor coverage of the South. Become a dues-paying reader for as little as $3 a month and not only will you get access to our monthly meetings, but in the near future we’ll send you a Payday Report #OrganizeTheSouth beer koozie.

AFSCME Praises Federal Private Prison Decision, but Mum On Closing Other Prisons?

Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that it would begin steps to end the use of private prisons at the federal level. Studies have shown that private prisons are far more violent than regular prisons for both inmates and guards alike.

“The dedicated women and men working in our nation’s federal, state and local public prisons keep our communities safe, day in and day out, and they do it more cost effectively than at prisons operated for profit by private corporations,” said AFSCME’s first African American president, Lee Saunders.

“Private prisons are a failed experiment,” continued Saunders.  “We whole-heartedly applaud the Justice Department’s decision to end their use and call on state and local governments, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, to follow the federal government’s lead on this decision.”

AFSCME declined to answer questions about reducing the criminal justice system’s reliance on incarceration and the use of publicly run prisons.

Publicly Run Prisons Still Face Privatization & Contracting-Out Threats

Meanwhile, Good Jobs First Research Director Phil Mattera points out at Dirt Diggers Digest that the contracting out of work at public prisons often has bad results for taxpayers and inmates alike:

A case in point is Michigan, where in 2013 the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder gave Aramark a three-year contract worth about $150 million covering the state’s correctional facilities. The plan eliminated some 370 state jobs and was supposed to save $12 million a year.

Instead, it led to a nightmare situation in which Aramark was found to be serving maggot-infested food and employing low-paid and poorly trained workers, some of whom fraternized with prison[er]s and smuggled in contraband. These problems were described at great length in thousands of state documents obtained by the Detroit Free Press through an open records request. One of those documents was an e-mail message from the state official in charge of the contract saying he was “at my wit’s end.”

At one point the state department of corrections fined Aramark $86,000 for violations of the terms of its food service contract and another $12,000 for fraternization between company employees and prisoners, but those fines were quietly cancelled. Later the state imposed another $200,000 in fines that apparently were collected. Yet a former Aramark worker later filed a whistle-blower complaint alleging that she was fired for objecting to the falsification of records about unhygienic kitchen practices. In 2015 the state bowed to public pressure and terminated Aramark’s contract.

Dems vs. Dems: Baltimore Kills $15 an Hour Minimum Wage Bill

This week, business-friendly Democrats on the all-Democrat Baltimore City Council successfully defeated a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage by a vote of 8-6. However, supporters of the bill are hopeful that more worker-friendly politicians will be elected in the fall and the bill will pass next year.

“We live to fight another day,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, chief sponsor of the bill, told NewsGuild-represented In These Times.

Fight for $15 Organizers Say They Want $15 and a Union Too

It’s not just Democrats in Baltimore who are coming under criticism for failing to support $15 an hour. At SEIU’s Fight for $15 convention in Richmond this week, a group of 100 Fight for $15 organizers and supporters drew attention to the union’s own low wages.

The organizers say that they are often forced to work 60 hours a week for pay that comes out to $9 an hour. When they and their supporters attempted to present SEIU President Mary Kay Henry with a petition calling for a union, she receded from the stage and a fight erupted between workers and Fight for $15 organizers:

One woman on stage with Henry grabbed the mic. She berated the staff organizers and their supporters below as cameras broadcast the convention. “Are you serious? Are you going to do this right now? Do you know what it is like to get paid $500 every two weeks? … You guys get paid enough. You have a chance to get a union. I don’t.”

As Henry stood smiling faintly behind the human wall, the speaker continued, “Do you know what it is like to have your kids homeless, sleeping in the back of a van? You will never know what that is like. They will never walk a day in our shoes.”

Fennell said of the accusatory remarks, “Everyone has different struggles, but this is not fighting over scraps. This is a movement about being in solidarity. We are not competing on who has it worse. We are not trying to pull each other down like crabs in a bucket.” She said her struggles include carrying $35,000 in student loan debt and nearly as much in medical debt.

Barajas-Ames says the UUR organizers stood before Henry for 15 minutes. As the speakers on stage led the crowd in chants of “$15 and a union,” Barajas-Ames says, “The security guards became hostile and aggressive, physically pushing us back. We stepped back and stood peacefully. Our signs were grabbed and torn up.”

Arun Gupta of Raw Story was there to get the whole scene.

OSHA Crack Downs on Southern Poultry Plants, But Will Non-Union Workers Talk?

Payday Report has been hot on the tail of efforts by OSHA to crack down on rampant workplace safety abuses in the Southern poultry industry. However, despite OSHA’s recent emphasis on inspecting Southern Poultry plants, even former top officials have questions about how effective it can be.

“The reason OSHA finds the violations in union plants is because workers feel secure in talking to OSHA. They know the union will protect them from illegal retaliation,” said former OSHA Chief of Staff Debbie Berkowitz in an interview with Payday Report.  “The thoroughness and effectiveness of an OSHA inspection really in most cases depends on being able to talk to workers. In non-union plants workers are terrified of talking to OSHA for fear of retaliation.”

******* Bluegrass Break *******

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported earlier this week that tea party-backed Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wished to show some love to the Affrilachian Poets, a collective that has been writing together since 1991, by giving them a Governor’s Award in the Arts. The group rejected the state award, explaining that:

[I]t is the opinion of the group that the governor’s comments, positions, and actions regarding education in general, the Humanities specifically, universal health care, criminal justice reform, and the LGBTQ community, have been reprehensible and go against the core of who we are as writers and educators and as artists committed to resisting oppression.

For more on the poets’ decision, check out this interview they did with WKYT.

Don’t forget to send any comments, questions, or  interesting stories about art, music, and culture to [email protected].

-J.P. Wright, Folk Labor Ombudsman

Louisville Teachers Union Reaches Tentative Agreement with School District

For the past month, Payday has been following the contract negotiations between Louisville teachers and Kentucky’s largest school district. Now, it appears the Jefferson County Teacher Association has reached a tentative agreement on a two-year contract covering 6,000 teachers.

According to the Courier-Journal’s Allison Ross:

The tentative agreement would give [Jefferson County Public School] teachers a 0.75 percent salary increase, in addition to step increases, this school year, retroactive to the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1. Next school year, teachers would get another 1.5 percent salary increase in addition to steps, according to a press release from the district and an email the union sent to its members. […]

The tentative agreement also makes several other provisions in addition to salary, including a 60 percent reimbursement for teachers of the cost of seeking National Board Certification.

Chicago Teachers Could Still Strike Over Pension Cuts

Meanwhile, Chicago Teacher Union President Karen Lewis says that the union is still preparing for the very real possibility that they may strike this year. The union says it’s unhappy with the city’s proposal to eliminate the 7-9% matching contributions to employees’ pension funds.

“Seven percent is a pay cut, and we can’t do that,” Lewis told PBS affiliate WTTW. “We’re not giving on any pay cuts. And a pension pickup will be a loss of compensation. It is not a perk, it is not a favor, it is delayed compensation.”

Another Non-Union Ironworkers Strike in Nashville

A few weeks ago, we dedicated the Lunch Pail to non-union ironworkers who went on strike in Nashville over lack of access to drinking water. Now, another group of non-union ironworkers have followed their lead, demanding healthcare and higher wages.

They are working for Gilley Construction on the corporate headquarters of HCA, the world’s largest for-profit healthcare corporation. Nashville taxpayers have provided a $66 million tax subsidy for the project. According to Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice:

“We are tired of mistreatment, low wages, and lack of benefits and basic safety protective equipment, so we decided to finally do something about it,” said Carlos Hernandez, a striking Gilley Construction worker.

Heriberto Melchor, also on strike from Gilley Construction, continued, “We’re thinking about our families. We don’t have health insurance and we hope our families can have it. We took this action because we hope that the industry improves in the way the workers are treated. What we are looking for is equality. We are fighting for our rights and we will keep working as rodbusters while at the same time supporting our coworkers.”

Corporate Welfare Watch

Kevin Plank, CEO of Baltimore-based Under Amour, is seeking a $660 million tax subsidy from the city’s taxpayers for developing the area around the company’s current headquarters. As Good Jobs First notes:

The city would build road, sewers and water line to a largely infrastructure-free parcel that will eventually comprise 45 city blocks. Plank is asking city taxpayers to build a 40-acre park that will include covered walkways, an in-street trolley system, and kayak slips in a city where per student education funding is $2,000 less than the state deems necessary to provide an adequate education.

The Baltimore Sun reports that the subsidy would be the largest in Baltimore’s history and that Baltimore City Council is under pressure from unions and community activists to address concerns about the $5.5 billion project, including construction wages, the effects on school funding, affordable housing, and local hiring, amongst others.

Weekend Reads

UAW-represented Mother Jones has a great long interview with former CWA President and now #OurRevolution Political Director Larry Cohen about the fight over TPP and how Bernie Sanders intends to use his network of supporters to stop it.

The New York Times looks at efforts in Appalachia, where coal mining and related industries used to employ a huge amount of workers, to reinvigorate the economy:

Nearly 13,000 coal jobs — and countless more in related industries — have disappeared in Kentucky since President Obama took office; coal employment is at its lowest level since 1898. In Washington, Democrats and Republicans remain locked in a feud over whether Mr. Obama’s aggressive environmental regulations amount to a “war on coal.” On the presidential campaign trail, Donald J. Trump is vowing to “put our miners back to work.”

But across central Appalachia, and especially here in eastern Kentucky, elected officials, business leaders, environmentalists and community advocates are looking beyond politics to wrestle with a question essential to the region’s survival: What comes after coal?

The Labor and Working Class History Association remembers labor historian Leslie Brown:

Even if you did not know her personally, you should mourn Professor Leslie Brown, who passed away earlier this month. She was many wonderful things, among them an award-winning scholar in African American and women’s history whose first major work – Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South – is one of the best labor histories that I have read and still envy. Even as it evokes the work of wide-ranging scholars like Stephanie Shaw, Kevin Gaines, Darlene Clark Hine, Bettye Collier-Thomas, Joe William Trotter, Kimberly L. Phillips, John Sibley Butler, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and Juliet E.K. Walker in the areas of black urban, women’s, and business history, Brown’s sumptuous African American community study of Durham, North Carolina between the end of the Civil War and the consolidation of the New Deal maintained a razor-sharp focus on working-class lives. In this respect, the book is an important forerunner to new wave labor histories like Talitha LeFlouria’s Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, LaShawn Harris’s Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, Marne Campbell’s Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917, and forthcoming work by Keona Ervin and Sowandé Mustakeem.


Thanks for reading this week’s Lunch Pail. You can show your support for us by becoming a dues-paying reader here.

Also, you can show your support for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers by learning about their boycott of Wendy’s and signing their petition.

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.

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing over 1,800 stories from 46 states, Elk was the only American reporter in the room with Lula on the morning of the election & traveled with him to the Oval Office. 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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