HB2 Repeal Stalls Labor in N.C. – Chattanooga NPR Reporter Fired – Alt-OSHA Press Office Effort

Protests against HB2 (The News & Observer).

By Mike Elk

Greetings from Raleigh, North Carolina, where a lot has been happening these past few days.

North Carolina Caves to NCAA 6-year Ban

Yesterday, the State of North Carolina partially repealed HB2, the controversial, so-called bathroom law. In addition to prohibiting municipalities from passing anti-transgender nondiscrimination laws, it also restricted the ability of municipalities to pass laws improving wages and standards for the employees of municipal contractors.

The bill also took away the right of employees to sue for gender and sexual orientation in state court, leaving them only the right of private action in federal court.

The NCAA set a Thursday deadline for the state to repeal or risk losing all NCAA tournament games. With powerhouse sports programs like Duke, University of North Carolina, Wake Forest, and N.C. State, the state would lose an enormous amount of money in tourism revenue if the NCAA imposed the ban. NCAA tends to hold outdoor sports tournaments in the spring and fall in North Carolina when the weather is too cold or unpredictable up North, bringing thousands of tourists to the coastal Southern state each year to watch the games.

Under threat of the NCAA, the state repealed the law. However, with the GOP maintaining a supermajority in the state legislature, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper was forced to pass the repeal with a coalition of Democrats and Republicans. The compromise bill still leaves many unhappy, including conservatives who want HB2 to stand and LGBTQ activists angered by many discriminatory measures that remain in the law. The NCAA has said it needs to review the repeal measure before deciding whether or not it will continue to hold games in the state.

HB2 Compromise Divides Labor & CIvil Rights Groups

Many in organized labor were upset by the bill as it leaves in place a three-and-a-half year moratorium on state and municipalities passing their own anti-discrimination ordinances or moving to improve wages or condition for municipal contractors.

Currently, 10 cities in North Carolina have passed laws paying a living wage to all city employees. In these cities, many of them predominantly African-American, there is growing momentum to expand those ordinances to include workers employed by municipal contractors.

The legendary civil rights leader Floyd McKissick Jr of Durham County was against the bill.

“I understand that the current compromise bill may be the only politically feasible option to reverse the devastating financial impacts and consequences from HB2; however, it is equally important for North Carolina to take a strong, principled stand against all forms of discrimination,” said McKissick on facebook. “The time has come for us to embrace and welcome people regardless of these attributes in our communities and in our State. It is simply the right thing to do. I personally could not put the potential to obtain championship football, basketball, and baseball games above my personal principles.”  

The state’s preemption laws also ban these cities from passing $15-an-hour minimum wage laws. On April 4th, the Fight for $15 movement plans to hold rallies around the state to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We are deeply disappointed that the so-called repeal of House Bill 2 still limits local government’s ability to pass non-discrimination or living wage ordinances” said North Carolina AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillian in a statement.

“Working people in North Carolina deserve discrimination-free workplaces, higher wages, and paid sick leave. Cities and counties that want to provide such protections to workers should be allowed to do so, now – not almost four years from now” said McMillian  “While we support efforts to bring jobs back to North Carolina, imposing a moratorium that leaves working people vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation is shameful.

N.C. Cities Also Fear Labeling Themselves Sanctuary Cities

So far, not a single city in North Carolina has become a sanctuary city, despite many cities having pro-immigrant statuses. Many say this is because both the federal government and the Republican-led state legislature are threatening to crack down on and fine municipalities that add sanctuary protections, which generally require federal immigration authorities to get a court order before taking into custody suspects arrested and held by local law enforcement.

“We are welcoming and have many refugees that have come through the system,” Chapel Hill mayor Pam Hemminger told WTVD ABC 11. “But nobody wants to be shot at by the General Assembly or the national government withholding funding. It’s hard to talk about and not have state lawmakers come at us.”

Lawsuit: Tenn. State Legislators Pressured NPR Affiliate to Fire Lesbian Reporter

A new lawsuit is out alleging that WUTC, the flagship NPR station located at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, which receives a majority of its funding from the state, was forced to fire 32-year-old Jacqui Helbert by state legislators who threatened the university’s funding.

The radio station claimed that it fired Jacqui Helbert because she attended a rally of transgender activists in the Tennessee State Capitol and didn’t identify herself as a reporter. Helbert quoted Republican State Sen. Mike Bell making disparaging statements about transgender people to students from the Cleveland High School Gay-Student Alliance. Reportedly, Bell made several of the transgender activists cry with his statements mocking them.

“Clearly I believe I was fired for reporting a story of important public interest that did not sit well with lawmakers,” Helbert said in a statement.

Tennessee Tries to Privatize All UT Building Management

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is finalizing a contract that could outsource the building management of all school buildings in the University of Tennessee system. Currently managed by state workers, UT facilities would instead be managed by Chicago real estate behemoth Jones Lang LaSalle (which would in turn subcontract the work to two other firms), the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

This latest outsourcing deal, which follows a similar contract made by Haslam with JLL to manage other state buildings, could affect thousands of state workers’ jobs. The United Campus Workers, a union for university employees, has sharply criticized the new contract, telling the Times Free Press that the deal, which was made in secret and only announced only after JLL won the bid, is “the largest corporate takeover of public services and jobs in Tennessee history.” UCW and other opponents are rallying against the contract, hoping to sway public opinion before Haslam and JLL have the chance to sign.

Obama Era OSHA Officials Forms “Alt OSHA Press Office”

Under the Obama Administration, OSHA routinely issued press releases shaming companies that had violated workplace safety laws. As discussed on Payday’s new podcast #BossTalk, the press releases were extremely valuable packets of information for time-pressed reporters to use. (Check out our podcast here.)

In 2016, the Obama Administration issued 486 enforcement-related press releases.

However, the Trump Administration has not issued a single press release citing an enforcement action. The silence from the Trump Administration is indicative of the favoritism towards companies at the expense of workplace safety that many observers expect a Trump DOL to take.

Now, Jordan Barab, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA under Obama, is publishing OSHA’s large enforcement actions on his website. Check out his website, JordanBarab.com, which has become a sort of Alt-OSHA Press Office.

Payday Passes 3,000 Miles on Southern Resistance Road Tour

If anyone wants to chip in for gas mileage, we got a fund going here. So far we have raised $405 towards our $1,500 goal to cover our trip costs. Pitch in here.

Pittsburgh Pirates Release Jared Hughes

While we are in Raleigh this week, Payday’s heart is in Bradenton, Florida, where Relief pitcher Jared Hughes was cut from the team. In addition to his ability as a late-inning sinkerballer specialist, Hughes also served as one of the Pirates union reps.

Three years ago, Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk and Hughes got to become friends when he covered the Buccos in spring training. Hughes will be missed and Payday is hoping for another team to pick him up. While Jared will no longer be with my favorite ball club, I look forward to having him as a brother in the labor movement for years to come. 

Roger Wilkins Dies

Writer, lawyer, and Civil Rights activist Roger Wilkins has died, at the age of 85. As a young attorney, he helped champion the Civil Rights movement from within the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Later, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his Watergate columns, alongside his Washington Post colleagues Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Read the New York Times and Ebony obituaries for a glimpse into Wilkins’ celebrated and conflicted life.

Weekend Reads

The Guardian has a long look at how Trump’s anti-immigrant policies are forcing undocumented workers to leave the Charlotte, North Carolina workforce. The first article in the three-part series looks at the effect that fear of targeting and deportation has had on the city’s construction industry:

During last month’s Day Without Immigrants protest, David’s work site was “literally stopped”, he says, because none of the concrete workers came to work that day and neither did most of the framers. David chose to work that day, but his bosses told him they understood his colleagues’ reasons for striking. “They weren’t angry,” said David, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. “They were mostly worried because the workers were talking about doing it for a week next time.”

Local contractors said they were falling behind on projects because of the protests, which were by both legal and illegal immigrants. A bigger national protest is expected on May Day.

Bloomberg Businessweek has an incredible story on the dangers, low pay, and overwork that Alabama’s 26,000 autoworkers must face. The state’s largely non-unionized auto industry has been promoted as a boon for the economy, even as employees are killed, maimed, and underpaid in the process:

Alabama has been trying on the nickname “New Detroit.” Its burgeoning auto parts industry employs 26,000 workers, who last year earned $1.3 billion in wages. Georgia and Mississippi have similar, though smaller, auto parts sectors. This factory growth, after the long, painful demise of the region’s textile industry, would seem to be just the kind of manufacturing renaissance President Donald Trump and his supporters are looking for.

Except that it also epitomizes the global economy’s race to the bottom. Parts suppliers in the American South compete for low-margin orders against suppliers in Mexico and Asia. They promise delivery schedules they can’t possibly meet and face ruinous penalties if they fall short. Employees work ungodly hours, six or seven days a week, for months on end. Pay is low, turnover is high, training is scant, and safety is an afterthought, usually after someone is badly hurt. Many of the same woes that typify work conditions at contract manufacturers across Asia now bedevil parts plants in the South.

“The supply chain isn’t going just to Bangladesh. It’s going to Alabama and Georgia,” says David Michaels, who ran OSHA for the last seven years of the Obama administration. Safety at the Southern car factories themselves is generally good, he says. The situation is much worse at parts suppliers, where workers earn about 70¢ for every dollar earned by auto parts workers in Michigan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Many plants in the North are unionized; only a few are in the South.)

In These Times interviews Staughton Lynd, an activist, professor, and lawyer from Youngstown, Ohio. In the 1970s, as de-industrialization threatened the region’s steel industry, Lynd helped lead an effort to make one Youngstown plant a worker-owned cooperative, which could have helped save a community had the Carter Administration not balked on guaranteeing loans. Moshe Marvit asks Lynd what lessons he can draw from that attempt to today’s fight to save de-industrialized communities:

I remember sitting in this basement with Marvin Weinstock, former candidate for United Steelworkers vice president, and Ed Mann, a president of one of the most effective local unions. I asked them, “What about this idea of worker-community ownership?” Historically, of course, the Left has tended to disparage it as a petty bourgeois false illusion.

The reaction of those men was, “Do it. Try it. See if you can bring it off.” That was enough for me and we came close to bringing it off.

The best thing about that effort was something akin to what Trump brings to some issues—a very simple appeal to one of a worker’s strongest feelings: We know how to make steel. The mill runs far better on the nightshift when the foremen aren’t around. It’s very powerful to be able to say to a person who’s been absolutely humiliated, discarded, made to feel of no worth, “You could do it. Boy do we need a roller like yourself with all your years of experience.” I still remember, for instance, a worker at a closing mill who came up to me and said, “Now, write this down. Here’s my name and the thing that I was very good at—the job that I did— was such and such. Don’t lose that.”

Love & Solidarity,


Mike Elk is a Sidney award winner and a lifetime member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and has written for the New York Times.

Follow him on Twitter @MikeElk or email him: [email protected]

Contribute to Payday’s Southern Resistance Road Tour Reporting Trip.

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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