Atlanta Bus Drivers Strike – 94% of Pittsburgh Teachers Vote to Strike – Maryland Delays Silica Rule

Atlanta Bus Drivers go on strike to protest toxic gas that often make them sick while driving. (11Alive)

Greetings from the Burgh, where Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk spent the week hanging out with the Bowzer of Sha Na Na aka Jon Bauman, President of the Social Security Works PAC, as part of a new Payday Report project to cover poverty among the elderly.

Check out this clip of Sha Na Na opening for Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.

Across the North and South this week, workers have certainly been rocking and rolling.

94% of Pittsburgh Teachers Vote to Strike

This week in Pittsburgh, more than 94% of teachers voted to strike.

The teachers are upset over a new system of scheduling that would give principals more control over the workplace. They also want to teach in small classes as well as see raises given to early childhood education teachers.

It’s been more than a decade since the 2,400 members Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers has voted to authorize a strike. The teachers’ contract expired more than year and a half ago and under Pennsylvania state law, they are free to strike at any time.

“It has been more than 40 years since the PFT has gone on strike. We want to be in the classroom with our students,” said PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis in a statement. “This is clearly a demonstration that our members feel strongly about the items that we are still negotiating and want a contract that is good for students and fair to educators.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Says Strike Could Hurt Chance of Getting Amazon

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto received widespread condemnation from many involved in the Pittsburgh DSA when he said that the strike vote would hurt the city’s chances of attracting Amazon.

“The image that Pittsburgh would be set back, on a historic day like this while we’re in competition with Amazon, just because two people can’t work something out is no excuse,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. “Get in, get it done, and let’s move on.”

The Mayor has offered to mediate between the school district, which has an independent school board, and the teachers’ union.

Atlanta Paratransit Strike Workers Go on strike

Down South, things appear to be heating up this week in Atlanta where bus drivers went on a one day strike to protest unfair labor practices by the company.

In 2016, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority decided to outsource paratransit work to a private contractor, MV Transit.

Last year, an arbitration panel overturned the outsourcing decision, saying that the outsourcing violated the terms of a union contract. Then last month, a Fulton County Judge overturned the decision.

Aggravated by what they say are worsening and unsafe conditions on the bus line, more than 70 workers decided to go on a one day strike.

“Some of these buses are like mobile gas chambers; that’s how dangerous they are,” transit worker Stanley Smalls told Atlanta NBC 11. “Just recently, one driver had a wheel fall off his bus, and thankfully, there was no one on his bus at the time.”

Teachers in 6 West Virginia Counties to Go on Strike Friday

Earlier this month, teachers in 2 counties in West Virginia went out on strike. Now, in a sign on escalating tension between the state and the teachers, teachers in six counties are going out on strike on Friday.

Workers are upset about the lack of raises while being forced to pay an increasing share of health care costs.

On Monday, teachers from 55 counties voted to authorize a strike. The strike authorization vote fell below 70 percent in only three counties, an indication that many teachers want increased wages and better health care.

If the teachers go on strike, it would be the first statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia in 30 years.

“We can’t wait, and we won’t wait,” said Christine Campbell, president of AFT-West Virginia. “The crisis in public education in this state has come to a head, and teachers and service personnel have reached their breaking point.”

Payday’s Reporting on Dunkirk’s Use of Prison Labor Cited in The Daily Telegraph, the Irish Times, and Britain’s top Entertainment Magazine

At Payday, we pride ourselves for being trailblazers in journalism: we like to cover stories before the rest of the mainstream media notices and thus lay a path for others to follow.

This week, our reporting on the movie Dunkirk’s use of convict labor is having a big effect. It was already cited by the Daily Telegraph, one of Great Britain’s largest papers, the Irish Times, and  NME, a British entertainment magazine owned by Time Inc. with a circulation of 300,000.

It’s due to our reader support that we are able to maintain our operation, with Mike Elk working full time as Senior Labor Reporter and Oliver Bateman working part-time as General Counsel.

So far, we have raised $1,147 this month.  Please chip in a few bucks to help us accomplish even more.

Austin Becomes The First State in the South to Pass Paid Sick Days

Yesterday, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance granting employees in the city paid sick days, making Austin the first city in the South to have done this.

The bill would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

“After months of building a movement for paid sick days, I’m so proud of the efforts of our community to achieve this historic policy victory,” said Council Member Greg Casar, sponsor of the ordinance, in a statement. “Austin is now the first city in Texas and the first city in the South to have a citywide paid sick days policy.”

Virginia Democrats Upset Governor & Stick It to Dominion Energy

Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates offered a stunning rebuke to Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and his political allies at Dominion Energy.

Last week, the Virginia State Senate passed a bill, which would have allowed Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to reinvest their over earnings instead of giving ratepayers a refund. Many feared that this bill would have allowed the power companies to “double-dip” and charge consumers more.

The bill was suppose to easily pass as the Democratic Governor Ralph Northam favored the bill. However, 49 Democrats and 6 Republicans in the House voted against the bill and handed the power giants their first major legislative defeat in decades.

This vote came after 13 newly elected House Democrats had refused to accept campaign donations from Dominion. The defeat of the bill signals that Dominion’s influence in the state may be waning.

“This is a new dynamic right now,” House Democratic leader David Toscano told HuffPost.  “It’s a function of some of these new people and in general some of the populism of the time.”

Maryland Refusing to Implement New OSHA Rule on Deadly Silica Dust

One of the final acts of the Obama Administration was to implement a new workplace safety rule regulating silica dust in the workplace. The rule was expected to save 600 lives each year.

In September of 2017, the rule went into effect.

Under OSHA, the federal OSHA enforces the law in 29 states, while 21 states have their own separate OSHA agencies that are responsible for implementing this law. When the federal government implements a new rule, those states’ OSHA agencies are suppose to follow these rules.

However, under the leadership of Republican Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland’s OSHA has so far refused to implement a silica rule and is unlikely to face reprisals from the federal government.

Obama Deputy OSHA Administrator and labor reporter Jordan Barab has the story at his newsletter Confined Spaces:

In a response to state delegate David Moon’s request for information about the state’s progress in adopting the new standard, the state has come up with a new excuse based on the court’s order to OSHA to more adequately explain the agency’s decision not to include medical removal protection (MRP) in the standard. Medical removal protection is a procedure in several OSHA standards that requires employers to keep workers from exposure when medical findings determine that the employee’s health will be further harmed by continued exposure. The employee maintains the right to his or her “normal earnings as well as all other employee rights and benefits.”

Maryland Secretary of Labor Kelly M. Schulz told Moon that based on the court’s “remand”of medical removal protection, the state will continue to hold off:

“Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) is still awaiting a final rule from OSHA before adopting a new rule. Once approved, MOSH will begin the process of adopting the new OSHA standard. Final regulations are expected to be published in the Maryland Register within six months of federal enforcement, which is the normal timeline for revising federal standards.  Until new regulations are issued, the existing silica standard is still in effect across Maryland and MOSH stands ready to assist contractors to remain in compliance and enforce any violations.”

First, there is no final rule to await. OSHA issued a final rule in March 2016 — almost two years ago.  And the six month “normal timeline” is long gone. Based on the court’s order, OSHA must now go back and improve its justification for not including MRP, or the agency can decide that MRP is needed, and begin new rulemaking.  It could be many months before OSHA issues a new justification for not including MRP, and it would be many years before the standard is modified if the agency decides to propose inclusion of MRP.  Neither of these options, however, legally justifies Maryland OSHA’s failure to issue a new standard to protect construction workers for the months or years it may for federal OSHA to act on the court’s instruction.

Go to Confined Spaces to read the full story.

Weekend Reads

— Our friends over at NOS Magazine have a look at how Harriet Tubman was a forgotten hero of neurodiversity:

In her adolescence, Tubman experienced a severe head injury that caused her to have random sleeping spells, seizures, and religiously themed dreams she did not have before her accident. She had developed this injury after she attempted to defend a fugitive slave from being recaptured. The overseer trying to take this slave back to the plantation threw a weight from a store counter, intending it to hit the slave, but it ended up hitting Tubman. It is this head injury and the resulting conditions she developed that have led many modern disability activists, including me, to consider her disabled and neurodivergent.

The Winston Salem Journal has a fascinating look at how North Carolina, in an unsuccessful bid for a new Toyota-Mazda plant, offered to triple their incentive package from $600 million to $1.5 billion. Ultimately, Toyota choose to accept a $700 million incentive package from Alabama due to the location’s proximity to their supply chain.

Labor Historian Erik Loomis has a look at how environmentalists and trade unionist teamed up to take on International Paper in Maine in 1988:

In the summer of 1987, the mill’s 1,250 union workers, some in United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU) Local 14 and some in International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers (IBFW) Local 246, went on strike. They engaged in some big actions to build publicity, including a march of 10,000 people on August 1. The reason reflected the all-too-common actions of companies in the 1980s, as International Paper decided to follow the example of Hormel, Phelps Dodge, and indeed, the federal government, in breaking the long-term social contract created with workers that had led to good wages and benefits. In the decades leading up to the 1987 walkout, the unions had not made a huge deal over the company’s many pollution problems, accepting the wages and benefits in return for the company controlling how it operated. But when IP decided to break that social contract with the union, as well as its unions in plants in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania; DePere, Wisconsin; and Mobile, Alabama, workers, striking to save their jobs, now felt free to discuss the entirety of how horrible IP actually was. IP demanded huge union givebacks, including an end to Sunday premium pay, the replacement of 350 workers with contracted labor, and the company taking control of many work rules. The workers walked out and the company almost immediately replaced them with scabs. UPIU president Wayne Glenn immediately targeted the environmental problems of the mill as a key leverage point, telling reporters the union would point out all the problems and saying “we know where all the skeletons are buried,” which nearly included union members as several accidents had taken place in the prior months.

The growth of environmentalists coming to help out the strikers came from International Paper’s terrible pollution problems that affected the local community. Despite Glenn’s rhetoric, in the early months of the strike, the public focus remained on economic issues, even as the union fought with Maine Department of Environmental Protection, trying to get the state to bust the company over its constant and visible pollution into the Androscoggin River. But environmental issues played a bigger role as time went on, including the union taking three ordinances to the Jay city council, one of which included the strict enforcement of pollution laws. The unions, especially UPIU, had long publicized the terrible environmental record of IP. Their members felt at risk from the indifference to air and water pollution laws and the congenital workplace safety and health issues the company would not take seriously.

Ultimately though, it was IP’s indifference to the local citizens that made this effective. In late January and early February, IP had three toxic gas leaks. On January 28, a hydrogen sulfide leak led to the hospitalization of eight scabs. A chlorine gas leak sent another seven scabs to the hospital on February 14. That was the final straw for greens. But the real issue came on February 5, when two scabs made some fundamental safety errors that led to the nozzle of a chemical storage tank breaking off and the release of 144,000 gallons of liquid chlorine dioxide escaping. That could have caused massive fatalities if the winds were blowing the wrong way. In other words, International Paper’s unwillingness to negotiate with their unions were endangering the lives of not only the scabs replacing them but also of everyone in the local community. UPIU leadership realized that these accidents could help them a lot at the bargaining table by mobilizing community support.

The piece is Loomis’ 256th in his series “This Day in Labor History”. Check it out here.

— PBS NewsHour has a look at how Appalshop is using arts & culture to help rebuild the economy in Eastern Kentucky. Give a watch here.

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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