By Mike Elk
Folks, It’s Payday! Party like it’s the weekend.
This week’s lunch pail goes out to NC Policy Watch Reporter Joe Killian, who was arrested while covering the special session of the North Carolina Legislature that stripped the incoming Democratic governor of some powers. Killian was in attendance as a journalist but was arrested while covering the arrests of NAACP protesters at the state Capitol.
NC GOP State Legislators Engage in Unprecedented Power Grab
In North Carolina this week, state legislators are attempting to jam through a series of bills (some passed and signed into law today in this quickly developing story) in the lame duck session that would significantly alter the balance of power in the state. The bills come as Republican Gov. Pat McCrory was recently defeated and after a federal court ordered the state to hold new Legislature elections in 2017 upon its finding that gerrymandering in the state was racially discriminatory.
The bills are being described as a “power grab” and have lead to massive protests aimed at shutting down the state Capitol in Raleigh. Among other things, the bill would limit the ability of the North Carolina Supreme Court to take up constitutional challenges, reintroduce partisan elections for the state Supreme and Appeals Courts, transfer authority to govern the University of North Carolina system away from the governor and to the Republican-controlled state legislature. As well, the bills would give Republicans more power in local election boards that have proven controversial because of restrictive voter measures in North Carolina.
“The bills introduced for consideration restrict access to the North Carolina Supreme Courts, diminish the power of the newly progressive majority of the court and Judge Morgan, and give the general assembly the power to control and gridlock the functions of the State and Local Boards of Elections,” said the North Carolina NAACP President Reverend William J. Barber II.
“These bills corrode fundamental principles of separation of powers,” says Barber. “The bills introduced for consideration attack public education and the environment, rig democratic institutions, and attempt to control future elections with no public comment, no notice, and no attempt for bipartisan considerations that would include the voice of African-Americans and other people of color and our chosen representatives.”
Machinists Win 29 Union Elections in the South This Year
A successful string of union elections across the South this week hints at part of the reason why the Republicans in power are fighting back: the South is changing quickly. Just this week, the Machinists Union (IAM) won three major union elections in the South.
In Fort Campbell, Kentucky, IAM District 711 won union elections to represent 13 simulator technicians employed by Nova Technologies and Pinnacle Solutions. Then, in Niceville and Port St. Joe, Florida, IAM District 75 won a union election to represent 279 workers at Reliance Technology and Test. The workers at all the locations are federal contract employees covered by the Service Contract Act, and the union expects to be able to achieve first contracts at these locations.
In the past year, the Machinists have won 29 union elections primarily at military bases in the South representing more than 3,000 workers, while losing only eight elections. Now, the union is preparing for a massive union election next year for 3,000 workers at Boeing’s plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
850 School Nutrition Workers Win Union in Louisville
Last month, Payday brought the story of how the Jefferson County School Board was stalling on granting union recognition to a group of nutrition workers. This week, the school board finally decided to grant union recognition to a group of nutrition workers in a big victory.
“This is what unity looks like, this is what democracy looks like,” said AFSCME organizer Dave Robertson in a post celebrating the win.
Federal Court Rules in Favor of Texas Teamsters Union
Back in September 2014, 113 XPO-Conway drivers in Laredo, Texas voted to join Teamsters Local 657 Teamsters in Laredo, Texas. This week the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered XPO-Conway to legally recognize the union.
“The court has rejected yet another attempt by XPO to delay justice to these workers,” said Frank Perkins, President of Local 657 in San Antonio. “The company can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but we think that is unlikely in this case. We demand that the company respect these workers’ wishes and begin bargaining a contract soon.”
Payday Raises $200 In First 12 Hours of Winter Fundraising Drive
A big thanks to Birmingham-based labor lawyer Jack Jacobs and Emergent Properties Founder Benjamin Ragheb for getting the ball rolling on Payday’s Winter Fundraising Drive. Over the next 59 days, Payday hopes to raise $5,000 so we can focus more time on reporting and less on fundraising.
The fastest-growing region in the United States for union membership is the South, where nearly 150,000 workers opted to join unions last year. As veterans of the digital media unionization movements, we know that if unionization in digital media has proved one thing, it is that coverage of workers unionizing leads to even more organizing.
Help us give workers in the South, the coverage that they deserve and donate today.
Miners set a trap for Trump
One of the stories that Payday hopes to focus on is the continuing struggle of retired coal miners to get government relief for the United Mine Workers Pension and Retirement Fund, which is facing bankruptcy as a result of bankruptcies in the coal industry. If the fund went insolvent, 125,000 retired coal miners and their beneficiaries could lose their health care and pension benefits.
Last week, a government shutdown was averted after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pledged to extend healthcare benefits for an additional four months to 22,000 retirees expected to lose their benefits. The extension sets up President Trump for a showdown on whether or not he will pass the Miners Protection Act.
In an op-ed this week for the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell pledged to work for a long-term solution for saving the health care of retired coal miners. However, McConnell declined to signal if he favors a fix to the fund’s pension problems.
New Study: Massive Surge in Black Lung Cases
For decades, it seemed that the scourge of black lung had disappeared. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence in black lung as coal companies have changed the way that they mine for coal seams in Appalachia evaporate.
Now, a new report by the National Institute of Occupational and Safety discovered that the federal government had not been accurately diagnosing a reemergence of the most severe form of black lung, Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF).
The study comes out as a new investigation by NPR shows that the true amount of PMF cases is at least ten times what previous federal government reports have shown. From NPR’s Howard Berke:
The government, through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, reported 99 cases of “complicated” black lung, or progressive massive fibrosis, throughout the country the last five years.
But NPR obtained data from 11 black lung clinics in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which reported a total of 962 cases so far this decade. The true number is probably even higher, because some clinics had incomplete records and others declined to provide data.
Experts in the field were flabbergasted by the results.
“I’ve spent much of my career trying to find ways to better protect miners’ respiratory health. It’s almost like I’ve failed,” West Virginia University’s Edward “Lee” Petsonk told labor reporter Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Mail-Gazette.
Huffington Post Refuses to Bargain Over Wages with #HuffPostUnion
Last year, approximately 250 reporters at the Huffington Post opted to form a union with the Writer’s Guild of America East. However, today reporters announced that management at the Huffington Post has refused to bargain over wages. HuffPost reporters took to Twitter to blast the company using the #HuffPostUnion hashtag.
“If #HuffPostUnion can’t win pay gains through bargaining — key part of why we formed one — it will die. That’s why this is union busting,” tweeted The Huffington Post’s Daniel Marans.
“As a [Person of Color], I know how hard it is to bite the hands that feed you. But also as a [Person of Color], I know it’s important to fight back #HuffPostUnion,” tweeted HuffPost editor Jolie Doggett.
Under federal labor law, bargaining over wages is a mandatory subject of bargaining, and the union could take legal action against the Huffington Post. Huffington Post Labor Reporter Dave Jamieson tells Payday that the union has not decided to file NLRB charges at this point, but did not rule out the possibility that they may file charges in the future.
Texas Senate to Consider Parental Consent for Union Membership
Texas state Sen. Jane Nelson, the highest ranking senator in the Texas Senate, has introduced a bill that would require minors under the age of 14 to get parental consent before joining a union. Yinzer labor lawyer and dues-paying Payday member Moshe Marvit has a piece for NewsGuild-represented In These Times explaining why this is important:
Practically, the bill may also have a significant effect. The number of workers between the ages of 16 and 24 that are represented by a union has increased steadily each year since 2013. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not measure union membership for the subgroup of those between 16 and 18 years old). Furthermore, in the past few years, some of the major labor campaigns—from Fight for 15 to a push for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to treat franchisors and franchisees as joint employers—have involved industries where younger workers represent a significant percentage of the workforce. Though workers at most fast food chains may still be far off from joining a union, a proliferation of bills such as the one being pushed in Texas would provide yet another roadblock in organizing.
Striking Teachers Save Three People From House Fire
Speaking of yinzers, a group of five teachers were on picket line duty at Ambridge School District in Western Pennsylvania when they observed that someone was yelling for help from a house across the street that was on fire. Immediately, the teachers dropped their picket signs and ran into the house to rescue the three people inside.
The striking teachers were quick to be praised by fellow public employees for their role in responding to the fire.
“If the teachers wouldn’t have been here, somebody wouldn’t have observed that, there’s a chance somebody could have been very seriously injured or even worse,” Ambridge Fire Chief Rob Gottschalk told WTAE-TV.
The Take Part has a good read looking at how a new food co-op in Greensboro, North Carolina has helped combat the problem of food deserts.
Scalawag has an excellent photo series looking at an attempt by UFCW Local 1208 to unionize poultry plants in rural North Carolina.
Scalawag is offering a special holiday season subscription rate of only $19 for one year. Sign up here.
The New York Times has an op-ed calling for a national monument to Reconstruction:
President Obama retains the power to shape his legacy and our nation in his remaining weeks in office. He has already used his final months to create several national monuments, and we urge him to create another, one that will speak as much to the nation’s present and future as it does to its past: the first national monument dedicated to Reconstruction — the turbulent, misunderstood era after the Civil War — in Beaufort, S.C., which has one of the country’s highest concentrations of Reconstruction-related sites.
Work on the monument is already underway. Community leaders in Beaufort have submitted a formal request to the National Park Service for a monument that encompasses key sites of emancipation and postwar community-building. In May, two South Carolina representatives — James Clyburn, a Democrat, and Mark Sanford, a Republican — sponsored a resolution to establish a national monument to the Reconstruction era. And last month, a group of 17 historians who have been helping the National Park Service study Reconstruction, as well as the American Historical Association and other professional historical groups, endorsed this effort.
Finally, Payday mourns the death of soul singer Sharon Jones. Deadline has an interview with Daptone Record mainstays Cochema Gastelum and Gabriel Roth looking at Sharon’s last moments:
Cochemea Gastelum: By the time we all showed up, she wasn’t talking. We were gathered around her and somebody picked up the guitar and just started playing, then she just started humming, which was amazing because she wasn’t talking at all. We all were just blown away. We all just started humming with her. She did pretty close until when she passed. Like a whole week, she was just humming. Little by little, at one point she started saying words, singing words at us. If you asked her a question, she couldn’t respond in any words. She started singing Go Tell It On The Mountain and it was just amazing. She was just singing for hours and hours. It was really beautiful. When (back-up singers) Saun and Star showed up, they started singing three-part harmonies. Her voice went right in the harmony and she started improvising on top of that. I’d never seen anything like it. It was really something.
That’s all folks. Help us reach our goal of $5,000 dollars raised over the next two months – donate today.
Love & Solidarity,
Mike Elk is an award-winning labor reporter and a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO, a workplace safety expert at MSNBC, and as an investigative reporter at In These Times Magazine. In 2015, using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing at POLITICO, he founded Payday Report in Chattanooga, Tennessee.