HuffPost Union Layoffs Without Seniority – NewsGuild Files NLRB Charges in Memphis – Duke Adjuncts Close to Contract

Jackson Mayor-Elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba (Jackson Free Press)

Its Payday folks! Greetings from Racine, Wisconsin, where Payday is hanging out with Ironworker Local 9 member and Payday subscriber Randy Bryce, who is closely exploring a run against Paul Ryan in the first Congressional District.   

(Check out The Isthmus on how Ryan’s swing seat could flip if Bryce hops into the race).

NewsGuild Files NLRB Charges Against Memphis Commercial Appeal

In April of 2016, Gannett purchased the Memphis Commercial Appeal as part of $280 million deal to purchase the Journal Media Group. Gannett is one of the largest news organization in Tennessee; employing more than 340 journalists statewide at the Tennessean, the Knoxville News Sentinel, and the Commercial Appeal.

This spring, Gannett fired 13 employees in the advertising department at Memphis Commercial Appeal and forced them to reapply for their jobs. The union has charged that this is a violation of the union’s contract and filed NLRB charges against the company.

At the same time, Gannett also laid off 12 editorial employees.

Despite the fact that the employees were laid off more than 60 days ago, the publication has yet to pay severance to these workers. The company is demanding that if employees want severance that the union must first settle NLRB charges stemming from their layoffs.

“The behavior is also self-destructive,” said Memphis NewsGuild Daniel Connolly in a statement put out by the union. “It harms employee morale, weakens recruiting and drives off good people.”

#HuffPost Layoffs 38 Reporters Without Seniority

Our hearts at Payday go out to the 38 Huffington Post reporters – and members of the Writers Guild – who were informed that they would be laid off this week.

The move comes as part of an internal shake-up under new editor Lydia Polgreen and the departure of founding editor Arianna Huffington.

Payday Report has learned that the layoffs were done without regard to seniority despite the workers at Huffington Post being covered by a union contract. Several veteran reporters were laid off despite younger reporters with less seniority keeping their jobs.

Veteran Huffington Post reporters affected by the layoff include media correspondent Jason Linkins, who had been there ten years; political reporter Michael McAuliff, who had six years of seniority; and reporter Kim Bellware, who had been with the Huffington Post for five years.  

“It did not come up when we were negotiating our contract,” says HuffPost reporter and Writers Guild America East activist Daniel Marans, who is still working there. “I personally support seniority provisions. I am pretty sure there would not have been much support for it.”

Millennial Digital Media Union Activists Don’t Prioritize Seniority

In the past two years, digital media unionization activists have organized over 17 new digital media outlets. While there is newfound enthusiasm for organized labor among digital journalists, there hasn’t been equal enthusiasm for seniority provisions among a largely millennial-oriented workforce.

In recent years, the Writers Guild settled contracts without seniority provisions at Vice and HuffPost. So have the NewsGuild at In These Times and the UAW at Mother Jones.

(Full Disclosure: Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk helped lead a union drive at In These Times Magazine in 2013, and would not have been laid off if his co-workers had agreed to seniority provisions.)

Digital media activists say that while many millennial union activists don’t quite get the importance of seniority that efforts are underway to educate them.

“As we mature as a union, we will continue to seek more protections’ Marans says.  “If I am still working here when our next contract comes up, I would like to see us have a conversation within the union about it.”

North Carolina Labor Reporter Paul Blest Launches a Patreon

As the corporate media system continues to sink, many reporters are now starting to build our own life rafts with the help of readers like you.

Back in January, North Carolina labor reporter Paul Blest was laid off at the Durham-based publication Indy Week. Now, he is launching his patreon and newsletter to cover social movements as he struggles to make ends meet as a freelancer.

In his first week on Patreon, Blest has secured pledges of $170 a month from 31 different readers. Sign up to support Paul today.

(Full Disclosure: Paul Blest is editing this week’s Payday Report at the rate of $25 an hour. Please donate to Payday so that we can pay him).

Payday Raises $1,533 in First Week of Summer Fundraising Drive 

Payday is very excited to announce that in Payday’s first week of fundraising that we brought in $1,533.

Check out our Civil War-themed fundraising video if you haven’t done so and please give if you can.

Duke Adjuncts Close to Reaching Historic Consensus

Payday reported earlier this year that Duke graduate employees lost a tough election. Their adjunct faculty colleagues, however, are on the verge of a big win.”

In March of 2016, adjuncts at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina became the first adjuncts to successfully unionize at a private university in the South. Now adjuncts at Duke say that they are close to a union contract with the only differences existing on issues about pay and professional development.

The main area of focus is on setting a minimum salary for instructors that ensures no full-time instructor is paid less than $35,000 – the current minimum salary for Durham public school teachers. Duke’s current proposal would offer some full-time instructors as little as $27,000 per year.

The union says that the difference between the costs of their proposal is approximately $150,000. So far, however, Duke Das refused to budge.

“Our requests are both modest and realistic,” the union said in an open letter to Duke University Administration on June 13. “The idea that we as faculty are somehow trying to break Duke’s bank is frankly absurd — it’s the kind of thing people used to thinking in terms of game theory might believe, but it in no way reflects the approach we’ve taken in bargaining.”

85% Drop in Food Stamp Recipients in Alabama’s Black Belt Since January

A new study released by the Alabama Department of Human Resources shows that the number of people receiving food stamps in 13 Alabama counties – primarily in the Black Belt – has dropped by 85% since January of this year. The drop is tied to the reinstatement of a requirement that able-bodied workers are also seeking work.

“We’re going to turn into a Third World country where people are starving in Alabama, and people just don’t like to admit it,” West Alabama Food Bank executive director Jean Rykaczewski told “If these benefits are cut drastically, that could become the reality.”

(To read more on the food stamp crisis in Alabama, check out’s lengthy profile on how the new rules are affecting Alabama workers.)

EPA Delays Chemical Safety Rule Implementation Till 2019

In January, Payday broke the story of how the Obama Administration’s unnecessary delay in implementing chemical safety rules – introduced following a 2013 warehouse explosion at a fertilizer company in West, Texas – could imperil the rules.

This week, the EPA announced that they would delay implementation of the rules until 2019. The move was quickly denounced by chemical safety activists.

“My family, along with other families living in the pathway of hazardous chemicals, have been directly impacted by them and in danger for decades,” says Eboni Cochran, co-coordinator of Rubbertown Emergency Action (REACT) in Louisville. “We should not have to bear the burden of wondering daily if our government is going to be courageous enough to stand up to corporations, who only look at their bottom line while viewing us as expendable.”

(#TBT: Check out Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk’s 2013 Washington Post op-ed predicting how the media would ignore the issue, leading to no real changes would be implemented).

Weekend Reads

– Last week, 33-year-old Chokwe Lumumba was elected Mayor of Jackson with 93% of the vote. Lumumba quickly pledged to make 170,000 person Mississippi city “the most radical city on the planet.”

Lumumba sat down for a long interview with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger to explain what he means by making the most radical city on the planet:

“I’m not afraid of the term ‘radical.’ I’ll embrace the term radical,” said Lumumba.  “Because when I look in history and I see all the people who have been called radicals — Martin Luther King was called a radical. Jesus Christ was called a radical. I believe that a radical is someone who cares enough about circumstances that they want to see a change, and if you look outside of these walls, and you see a need for a change in this community, in this city, then we all need to be prepared to be as radical as the circumstances dictate we should be.”

– The Raleigh News & Observer reports that the state of North Carolina will place a historic marker to commemorate the 1834 killing of a white overseer by an enslaved African-American:

In 1834, on a plantation in Edgecombe County, a slave named Will refused to share a hoe he had made with his own hands, an act of defiance that got him shot in the back by his white overseer. As he lay wounded, Will reached up and fatally slashed his attacker on the hip and the arm, earning himself a trip to the gallows.

But before the death sentence could be carried out, the plantation owner hired a lawyer to defend Will, paying the unheard-of fee of $1,000. That lawyer, Bartholomew Moore, would one day become the state’s attorney general. But at age 33, he persuaded the court to overturn an earlier ruling governing slavery and reduce Will’s sentence to manslaughter – arguing that slaves were entitled to self-defense.

“The prisoner is a human being,” wrote William Gaston, then a justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, “degraded by slavery, but yet having ‘organs, senses, dimensions, passions,’ like our own.”

The case of State v. Will is widely considered a landmark case in the rights for slaves, chipping away at the brutality of the system. The case hardly granted Will his freedom, sending him from his jail cell back into forced plantation labor. But it demonstrated shifting attitudes in a state that only five years earlier had ruled “the power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect.”

– Finally, The Bitter Southerner has a long look at the racial complexities behind rice cultivation entitled “Who Owns Uncle Bens?”

As more planters shifted to growing Carolina Gold, they paid a higher premium for slaves from the ancient rice regions of Sierra Leone and the Upper Guinea Coast; traders were quick to advertise these skills in auction posters at the Old Market in Charleston. Fields were dug by hand in the lowland meadows and cypress swamps surrounding the region’s great tidal river deltas. Grain was sown by pressing it into the muddy ground with the bare heel, a technique first practiced in the freshwater floodplains of the Sahel of Africa. Harvest in the Lowcountry took place at the height of hurricane season. Panicles were cut and baled. Women pounded the hulls with a wooden mortar and pestle, and then winnowed while tossing handfuls from coiled grass fanner baskets, husks blowing away in the wind. The grain was absurdly delicate and fractured easily during milling, producing “middlings” or “brokens” that became a delicacy of sorts as well. The entire process, from planting to polishing, was punishing work under a subtropical sun, with risk of exposure to malaria, cholera, and yellow fever. Malnutrition and mortality rates were high.

Until recently, I didn’t know slaves grew their own rice.

Other species — particularly upland bearded rice introduced from Guinea — were planted in provision gardens, plots granted by overseers to supplement meager rations of cornmeal and pork. The husk of this African rice was reddish-brown to purple in hue, and unlike the golden Asian cultivar served at tables in the “big house,” thrived in dry soil conditions rather than flooded fields. Its origin story is also murky, and involves Thomas Jefferson trying to grow some in a flowerpot, but crops up wherever slave cultures existed in the New World, including Trinidad, El Salvador, and French Guiana. Upland bearded rice is still grown by the Maroons of Suriname, and plays a central role in their ancestor meals. The ceremony called ala mofo nyan, or food for all mouths, often includes offerings of African origin foods like pigeon peas and rice. (Hold that thought, OK?)

When Emancipation liberated the enslaved labor force in the Lowcountry, commercial production of Carolina Gold gradually ceased. Berms, sluices, trunks, and dykes rotted and returned to swampland, the grain barges and settlement houses, abandoned, crumbled in decay, strangled by creeper vines. A series of devastating hurricanes between 1881 and 1911 wiped out the last vestiges of viable rice agriculture in the Lowcountry — the cost of repairing fields outweighed the potential profits. Carolina Gold barely escaped extinction as large-scale farming of inferior grain in Louisiana and Texas supplanted it. Upland bearded rice also disappeared as the rural population that raised it began to shift to Northern industrial cities during the Great Migration. Certain stubborn seedsmen planted them as a hobby, or to attract ducks during hunting season. Carolina Gold eventually had a comeback, but only as a specialty crop, not the goldmine of the Antebellum Period.

Why would anyone preserve a crop, no matter how flavorful and aromatic, with such a disturbing heritage?

Mike Elk is a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild and is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and has written for the New York Times. He also writes for  The Guardian.

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

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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