5,000 Teachers Storm WV Capitol – Labor Upset with Lamb in #PA18 – Virginia State House Passes Medicaid Expansion

Thousands of teachers crowd the West Virginia State Capitol (Wall Street Journal).

Greetings from the top of Lydia Street, where Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk has returned from an inspiring trip to the historic statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia.

See Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk’s dispatch in the Guardian from the picket lines in Wheeling, West Virginia on the first day of the two-day strike yesterday.

State Board of Education Could Take Legal Action Against The Teachers,

In an unprecedented display of unity for the various teacher’s unions across the state, teachers from over 55 counties went out on strike to protest the refusal of the state to increase wages. West Virginia teachers’ wages rank 48th out of 50 states, with some starting salaries amounting to less than $15 an hour after health care costs are deducted.

However, the State of Board of Education may now take action against the teachers for striking illegally.

On Wednesday, the State Board of Education adopted a proposal that would empower West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to take legal action if needed to stop future walkouts.

“Let us make no mistake. The impending work stoppage is unlawful,” Morrissey said in a statement.

“Our office is prepared to support any relevant state agency or board with legal remedies they may choose to pursue to uphold the law,” said Morrisey. “We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent to enforce the law.”

Over 5,000 Rallied in the West Virginia State Capitol

Yesterday, the West Virginia State Capitol set a record for capacity as over 5,000 people rallied there according to the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Teachers union officials say that the already see that their protests are starting to have some effect on the bills being voted on during this session of the state legislature.

“The bills we’ve been fighting for the last several years — charter schools and taking public education dollars and the possibility of them going to private corporations — those bills aren’t running this year,” Christine Campbell, president of the West Virginia chapter of American Federation of Teachers told the Charleston Mail-Gazette.  “The seniority bills, they came out last year, they came back this year, those bills aren’t running.”

Still, the teachers union feels that pay and health care proposals being presented are still inadequate. Earlier this week, the state legislature passed a bill that would only raise teacher salaries by 2% in the first year, then 1% in the years following that.

Teachers plan to keep up the pressure and strike on Friday. Teachers unions in the state have not ruled out further strikes.

Labor Disappointed by Lamb in #PA18

Across the West Virginia border in Southwestern PA, organized labor is feeling deflated by the campaign of Conor Lamb in the bellwether #PA18 special election.

Initially, Lamb had pledged to run a populist campaign focusing on unions, coal miner pensions, and his Republican opponents support for repealing the prevailing wage for construction workers on federal projects.

However, so far none of his ads have focused on unions or populist themes related to the economy, instead focusing on vague notions of working across the aisle and taking on leaders in both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Lamb Says $15 an Hour Is “Too High”

This week, frustration with Lamb came to a boiling point. During a debate, Lamb was asked by KDKA’s Jon Delano if he supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Lamb said that he supported raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, but felt setting the wage at $15 was too high.

“I think $15 sounds high based on what I’ve been told by many small business owners in our area,” said Lamb.“I would rather see something that was agreed on by both sides.”

The comments were met with outrage from many in the labor community in Southwestern PA.

“It’s always great when people who have never had to live on less than $15 an hour say that an amount that doesn’t even bring most people out of poverty sounds too high,” said prominent Pittsburgh labor lawyer Moshe Marvit on facebook regarding career prosecutor Lamb, who hails from one of the richest suburbs in Pittsburgh.

Privately, many labor leaders expressed to Payday that the comments further hurt their efforts to mobilize their members to knock on doors for Lamb. While many labor leaders are publicly backing Conor Lamb, labor leaders from 6 different unions told us that the feeling behind the scenes is very different.

“Everybody is sort of going through the motions,” said one senior labor official, who declined to go on the record so as not to deflate his union’s turnout effort. “He’s got no fire, he’s got no passion to fight for them, and our members know it.”

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Disney Withholds $1,000 Bonuses As Unions Push for $15 an Hour at Disney World.

Down in Florida, Disney World is not the happiest place on earth for Disney’s workers. Over 36,000 unionized workers are seeing their $1,000 “tax cut” bonuses withheld because they are refusing to ratify Disney’s current union contract proposal

In December, 93% of workers at Disney World voted to reject the company’s two-year contract proposal that would only raise wages by a mere 50 cents a year.

Some workers at Disney make as little as $10 an hour. The coalition has pushed Disney World, which brought in $1.6 billion from its theme park in the last push, to adopt a minimum wage at the park of $15 an hour.

While non-union workers at Disney world have already been given their bonuses, the six-union Service Trade Union Coalition contends that union workers have not been given their bonus because they refuse to agree to the company’s contract proposal.

The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB regarding the withholding of this bonus.

University of Wyoming Labor Law Professor Mike Duff says that he thinks it’s unlikely that the NLRB will take action against Disney.

“Under normal circumstances, I would expect the Region to find a violation and issue a complaint.  I would also expect an Administrative Law Judge to uphold the Region and affirm the violation,” said Duff.  “And I would expect a Republican NLRB in D.C. to reverse the ALJ. But we are not in normal circumstances. The NLRB has been so hollowed out at the Regional level that I have no idea what this particular Region will do. So it is entirely possible no violation will be found here. If there is a violation found, I’m pretty sure the full Board in Washington would eventually reverse it.”

Virginia State House Passed Medicaid Expansion

In a sign of just how much the political climate has shifted in Virginia, where Republicans narrowly control the legislature by a single vote, this week Republicans in the State House voted to expand Medicaid by exactly that one vote.

On Thursday, 19 Republicans in the State House joined 49 Democrats to vote for expanding Medicaid. The Medicaid expansion bill would free up more than $420 million that the state is spending on Medicaid to be spent on other priorities.

However, the bill has its downside. As part of a compromise with House Republicans, Northam agreed to include work requirements for some categories of Medicaid recipients – a measure that disability and labor groups have opposed at the national level.

Recently, the Trump Administration said that they would grant waivers to the state to allow them to place work requirements on portions of their populations receiving Medicaid. So far, 8 states have applied with only 2 – Indiana and Kentucky – being approved.

Northam is not the only Southern Democrat pushing for work requirements. Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has also signaled that he intends to impose work requirements on Medicaid as well.

The Virginia Medicaid Expansion Bill still faces an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled Virginia State Senate.

(For more on the dynamics of the Virginia Medicaid Expansion fight, check out this story in the  NewsGuild-represented Washington Post).

Tronc Decided to Sell La Times After They Unionized

In a historic vote in January, workers at the La Times voted to unionize by a margin of 248-44.

Now, a new report suggests that unionizing the LA Times imperiled Tronc’s desire to build a major syndication network, leading to the sale to Dr. Soon-Shiong.

Ken Doctor at Nieman Media Lab has the story:

As I laid out four potential reasons, the issue of union-organizing pressure emerged as a key. As veteran entertainment editor Janice Min noted this week in discussing why she rejected the possibility of the L.A. Times’ editorship last summer, “I think one of the things that were interesting to me is they were terrified of their newsroom,” she said. “They clearly didn’t want to interact with them.” (Min’s name is now back in play as a potential Times editor-in-chief, as Soon-Shiong and his people plumb the possibilities.)

In fact, the Times’ sale was more just than a visceral decision. Tronc had consulted with labor law firms about how to deal with a unionizing Times newsroom, several sources say. That strategizing also included how far it could go, and how useful it would be, to set up a parallel L.A.-based newsroom. (I detailed the nascent development, and the ensuing staff suspicion it stoked, of that network — briefly named the Los Angeles Times Network — last month.)

After gathering that legal advice, Tronc concluded that the unionized Times newsroom would create too great an obstacle to putting its new syndication strategy in place. Changed job descriptions, layoffs, and new work requirements would all be subject to News Guild bargaining. That turned out to be a key driver in Ferro’s turn-about sale to Soon-Shiong.

Go to NiemanLab to read the full story.

University of South Carolina Honors First Black Professor With Statue

The University of South Carolina unveiled a fitting tribute this week to the school’s first African-American professor. Richard Greener was also Harvard’s first black graduate and taught at the University during the Reconstruction Era from 1873-1877.

“Few people realize that not only was he here on this campus, but he had a tremendous relationship with a lot of the people we talk about in our history books,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, who spoke at the dedication event. “For some reason, he never made it into those books. So I think this is a great day and I congratulate the university for having the intestinal fortitude to do this.”

Watch this 28 minute documentary on Greener produced by the University of South Carolina to learn more about the trailblazing leader.

Weekend Reads

– The American Prospect has a fascinating look at just a few of the accomplishments of the trailblazing social crusader Marjory Stoneman Douglas:

Post-World War I Miami was still a small Southern city, governed by Jim Crow laws, with fewer than 20,000 residents. Many Miami police officers were members of the Ku Klux Klan, which was gaining momentum. One night Douglas was driving back from the beach with her father when they came upon the KKK preparing to march in their masks and sheets.

“A masked man on horseback rode up in front of my father and said, ‘this street is closed,’ and my father said  ‘Get out of my way!’ and drove right straight ahead, through them and scattering them and everything; they couldn’t stop him,” she recalled years later. “We were all yelling and screaming in defiance, we were so mad.”

Despite his liberal sympathies, Douglas’s father initially relegated her to writing for the paper’s “society” page, covering weddings, tea parties, and other so-called “women’s issues.” She rebelled, insisting on covering more hard-hitting topics, and was soon writing editorials, columns, and articles that expressed her concern for civil rights, better sanitation, women’s suffrage, and responsible urban planning. In 1923, she wrote a ballad lamenting the death of a 22-year-old vagrant who was beaten to death in a labor camp, titled “Martin Tabert of North Dakota is Walking Florida Now,” that was printed in the Herald and read aloud during a session of the Florida Legislature, which passed a law banning convict leasing, in large part due to her writing.

For more go to the American Prospect.

— The Louisville Urban League has released a 172-page report entitled “The 2018 State of Black Louisville.” Among other findings, the report notes that the poverty rate for African Americans in Louisville is nearly three times that of whites while the unemployment rate is nearly double.

To read a full write up of what the report means, check out the always-excellent Philip Bailey in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

— The Pacific Standard has a must-read essay “Imagining a Fuller Spectrum of Autism on TV”:

As an autistic writer who spends a lot of time online, I find the act of forming and discussing autistic headcanons to be a fascinating look into the way that autistic people can use pop culture to better understand ourselves and the world around us. What I find most interesting, though, is how little overlap there is between the characters that are ostensibly created in our image by others, and the characters that we choose for ourselves.

An enthusiasm for headcanons is not, as I’m sure many non-autistic people might suspect, a desire to glamorize our condition, nor a symptom of our deficient empathy or theory of mind. Whenever there’s a chasm between conventional assumptions about autism and the beliefs of self-advocates, there’s a tendency for a certain segment of the neurotypical population to blame the discrepancy on autism itself. But that argument is often easily refuted by the content of the autistic headcanon discussions themselves. Autistic people aren’t gravitating toward certain characters simply because we are looking for a very specific recreation of our own experience on the spectrum. We understand that people experience the world differently, and that each autistic individual is unique—and it’s that range of experience that we’re longing to see better represented on screen.

As prevalent as autism has become in film and TV lately, it still tends to look, sound, and behave a certain way. With the exception of Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) in The Bridge and Wendy (Dakota Fanning) in the recently released Please Stand By, these characters are almost invariably young men. With the exception of Billy (R.J. Cyler), the Blue Ranger from 2017’s Power Rangers, they’re almost exclusively white. Heterosexuality, cis-genderhood, and savantism are all disproportionately represented. Most of these characters appear to be constructed from the same checklist of common symptoms: no eye contact, a flat-affect voice, and generically awkward body language.

For more go to the Pacific Standard.

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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