Kentucky Tobacco Workers Strike – Perez Appoints Union Buster to DNC – Georgia Tire Workers to Vote on Union

Greetings folks from Judge Hanson’s house in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, where Payday is stranded in a bureaucratic car registration mess of epic, interstate proportions.  

Payday Raises $1,305 Toward Housing Fund

Before we get to this week’s Payday, we are gonna put out a hard ask for some donations. It is payday, after all—we know you got them.

So far, this week, we have raised $1,305 to help end Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk’s year of Couchsurfing and put down a security deposit on a place.

Donate here.

New Orleans Mayor’s Race Could be Bellwether

All eyes in the South are on the mayoral race this Saturday in New Orleans.

This summer, progressive Democrats defeated incumbent corporate Democrats in both Birmingham, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi. Now, the Working Families Party is working to ensure that New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who supports raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and criminal justice reform, becomes the new mayor.

“LaToya is part of a wave of local candidates we see across the nation, and especially across the South, who are putting forth bold and transformative visions and winning,”  Joe Dinkin, national communications director of the Working Families Party told HuffPost’s Daniel Marans.

Kentucky Tobacco Workers Go on Strike

Back down in Kentucky, seven tobacco workers that came to the United States on H-2A visas are on strike over unfair labor conditions. Employed at Wayne Day’s farm, which sells tobacco to Universal Leaf, the workers initiated the strike with the support of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), after discovering they were cheated out of thousands of dollars in wages over a three-year period.

Under federal law, the H-2A farmworkers minimum wage in Kentucky is $10.92 an hour. However, these workers were paid $7 an hour in 2015, $8 an hour in 2016, and $8 an hour again in 2017. Occasionally, the workers were paid only by a piece rate, earning as little as $3 an hour.

After FLOC approached the owner Wayne Day on September 19 with a letter demanding that the workers be paid back wages and the H-2A minimum wage moving forward, Day threatened to have the workers deported back to Mexico.

“We are on strike because of the unfair pay of the grower who hopes to get away with not paying us the correct wage,” said Cristian Santillan, one of the striking farmworkers, in a statement put out by FLOC. “We came to work for a better life for our families through sacrifice and sweat. But what we have been paid is insufficient. Even working at high speed, we cannot earn a living wage on this farm.”  

300 Georgia Tire Workers to Vote On Union Drive

Today, more than 300 Kumho Tire workers in Macon, Georgia, are voting to join the United Steelworkers.

Steelworkers organizers are cautiously optimistic that they can win at the facility, as they have signed up 75 percent of the potential workers. (Rarely do unions release card counts unless they feel confident of a victory.) If the union drive is successful, it will be only the fifth manufacturer in the 150,000-population Georgia city to unionize.

The plant opened only 17 months ago and paid relatively higher wages to its workers compared to others in the region. However, Kumho workers primary concerns center around health and safety problems in the plant and the inability to approach management with such problems.

“There are a lot of chemicals around. So the lack of precautions and lack of [personal protection equipment] is really a hazard to the workers,” Steelworkers Organizing Director Maria Somma told the Macon Telegraph. “We had workers tell us stories about not being about to pick up gloves and having to work without the right equipment, having to be around harsh chemicals with no respirator mask, just a (simple) mask on. … There are a lot of issues around health and safety.”

Steelworkers Call on Korean Government to Ensure Fair Election at the Georgia Plant

To fight the union drive, Kumho tire has hired the anti-union law firm of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP and has required workers to attend captive audience anti-union meetings.

In response, the Steelworkers have called on the South Korean government, which is currently overseeing Kumho’s operations, to ensure a fair election at the plant.

“As we understand that Kumho Tire is currently under effective control of a creditors’ committee headed by the Korean Development Bank, it appears that the Government of the Republic of Korea may bear direct responsibility for the behavior of the company’s management,” Steelworkers President Leo Gerard wrote in a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier this month.

“Our union is also concerned about the potential impact the actions of Kumho Tire management in the U.S. may have on the relationship between our countries in the context of current discussions over the possible renegotiation of the KORUS free trade agreement,” wrote Gerard.

Perez Taps Georgia Anti-Minimum Wage Lobbyists For Top DNC Spot

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez drew fire today from labor groups for appointing Daniel Halpern as deputy national finance chair.

Previously, Halpern was chairman of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s campaign as well chairman of the Georgia Restaurant Association.

The Georgia Restaurant Association has advocated against increasing the minimum wage to $10.10, arguing that doing so would cost the state jobs.  

National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn Demoro, a Bernie Sanders backer, and Perez critic was quick to denounce the appointment of Halpern on Twitter.

“Neolibs gonna neolib, workers pay the price,” tweeted Demoro. “@DNC Hasn’t changed under Establishment Democrats.”

Chattanooga Man Fired for Sitting during National Anthem in his Off Hours

While attention has been turned to potential retaliation against football players who take a knee during a national anthem to highlight police brutality against black Americans, a local Chattanooga man was fired for sitting at boxing event for a national anthem.

Tyler Chancellor, who was employed as kickboxing instructor at 9Round Gym, was attending a boxing event with several of his co-workers at Camp Jordan arena when he chose to sit down during the event.

“I wasn’t the only one sitting down,” Chancellor told WTVC. “There were other minorities in the stands sitting down.”

Despite being fired from his job, Chancellor told WTVC that he doesn’t regret his decision.

Post Demands Merit Pay as Part of Contract

The billionaire owner of the Washington Post and Amazon, Jeff Bezos, whose personal net worth is valued at $89 billion, has demanded as part of contract talks that workers do away with annual raises and instead accept merit pay based on performance metrics set by management.

The move is seen as a blatant attempt to bust the union. The Washington Post is currently an open shop, where a little less than 40 percent of the eligible 1200 workers in the bargaining unit are members of the union.

“Under the Bezos ownership, we fear a fundamental transformation is under way at the Post — one that is occurring in many other workplaces around the country, leading to economic insecurity for working people as though we are disposable or interchangeable elements in a machine,” the union bargaining committee wrote in a memo sent to workers on October 6.

Guardian Gets the First Contract

Big congrats this week to my co-workers at the Guardian, who, after two years of bargaining, successfully achieved the first contract. The contract sets a minimum wage for general assignments reporters at $55,000 a year as well as 25 days of paid vacation a year.

Most importantly, the contract contains strong security language and just cause provisions. If the Guardian undergoes a significant shift in editorial expectations, employees, who are underperforming under the new editorial direction, will not be disciplined for underperforming.  

Big congrats to my comrades at the Guardian.

Weekend Reads

— In the outcry that has followed Colin Kaepernick and other athlete’s protests, there has been no limit to the absurdity of comments made against the players. To John Howard, co-editor of Sport in U.S. History, one of the ridiculous claims is that there was, in some haloed era of American sports, a time in which sports were sports and politics never interfered with the game. In an essay journeying through the history of baseball, he takes up the topic like a wild pitcher, and aims for the head:

As early as 1866, Richmonders shaped baseball to fit their political aims – pro-Confederate sentimentality. City newspapers regularly assured readers that visiting clubs from Washington D.C. and Baltimore consisted of Confederate veterans so that anyone attending the game would give them a warm welcome. In 1866 and 1867, nearly a dozen clubs formed named in honor of the Confederacy, including Jackson (named after Stonewall Jackson), Robert E. Lee, Mosby (after John S. Mosby), Stuart (after J.E.B. Stuart), Secesh (slang for Secession), and Dixie. Some of these clubs made their pro-Confederate politics even more explicit by refusing to play teams with Union veterans in their lineup. This was unusual even for the time as plenty of clubs forming in West Virginia at the same time named for Confederates included both Confederate and Union veterans with no problem.

By the early-1880s, Richmond baseball had been fully incorporated into the growing Lost Cause public culture of reconciliation. A day-long Confederate celebration on September 4, 1883, ended with a baseball game between Union and Confederate veterans (of course the Confederates won). According to historian Richard Gudmestad, this was but one example of how club directors consciously used the team to simultaneously promote both Richmond and a Lost Cause version of the Confederacy. The club played games in support of needy Confederate veterans, explicitly invited veterans to attend games in front-row seats, and regularly booked the Stonewall Brigade Band from Staunton to play before games. There was no question – to support Richmond baseball was to support the Lost Cause – and that’s exactly how the team wanted it.

In 1890s Clifton Forge, men formed an amateur ballclub with no financiers just because they wanted to play ball. Within months though, the team captains, newspapers, and local business leaders all used the club as a ploy to reshape town image away from that of violent racists to “gentlemanly” New South capitalists. In the early-1890s, white residents murdered three black men, earning the scorn of the Virginia governor, and forced hundreds of African Americans to flee the area in search of life elsewhere. As part of local efforts to bury this recent past, the baseball club began to emphasize “gentlemanly” player behavior both on and off the field long after it had fallen out of prominence nation-wide. Local newspapers supported this idea as well by linking the club’s positive behavioral qualities to the town broadly. Another example is how unlike other cities the club placed a high emphasis on recruiting talent from within city borders as a method of “proving” to other locales just how rehabilitated local men had become by the mid-1890s. Either way, it didn’t work. The economic boom fueled by railroad expansion never came to the town as expected.

— Richard Thompson at The New Orleans Advocate takes a look at the new union at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside, the Crescent City’s largest hotel. The hospitality industry, central to the local, tourist-heavy economy, is some 80,000-employees strong. The 500 new Unite Here members at the Hilton Riverside, which are negotiating their first contract now, combine to make a total of only 2,000 members in the city’s hotel industry, but may represent a hopeful future for labor in Big Easy:

“If New Orleans had a larger labor presence, then a lot of the jobs that we now see are people scraping by would become middle-class jobs,” said David Sherwyn, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and academic director of the Cornell Institute for Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations.

Historically, the hospitality industry was not seen as a prime target of organized labor, he said. These days, though, it’s viewed as the “holy grail,” especially as U.S. manufacturing has declined in recent decades.

And in New Orleans, he said, “It makes so much sense because it’s a city where tourism stirs the drink.”

Rebecca Waxman, who works as a barista at the Hilton’s coffee shop, is a member of the committee that’s brokering the union’s initial contract.

When talk of unionizing began about two years ago, Waxman said, she and her colleagues discussed how they were struggling to keep up with daily expenses, like car payments or buying groceries.

“None of us had what we needed,” said Waxman, who lives in Gentilly. “I work at the coffee shop, and it costs nearly $4 to get the smallest cup of coffee. When we think about what customers are paying and how much money the hotel is making, I started thinking about what it would look like if we were able to get a fair share of what the company is making.”

— Laura Smith, a staff writer at Medium’s The Timeline, shares the history of union activists bombing the L.A. Times in 1910, killing 21 people and, in the eyes of many, marring the idea of organized labor. Smith writes:

The failure to unionize Los Angeles was often attributed to one man: Los Angeles Times owner Harrison Gray Otis, who used the paper to trumpet his anti-union views. Otis, a Civil War captain, was hellbent on ridding the city of unions and was known to pay strikebreakers. He drove around town with a cannon mounted on the hood of his limousine. Labor supporters considered him, “depraved, corrupt, crooked, and putrescent.”

People were swift to condemn organized labor. Two days after the bombing, the Times quoted the president of a large employers association as saying, “The country’s welfare demands strong official disapproval of the abuses of modern unionism.” A preacher presciently declared that if it was true that the unions had anything to do with the bombing, “it will have received a blow from which it can never recover in this city.”

Two brothers, James and John McNamara were quickly arrested. John, the elder, was the head of the Iron Workers union. The brothers were whisked out of town by police in what pro-union groups would repeatedly refer to as a kidnapping, “in Russian style.” Pro-union groups argued that the brothers had been set-up. Clarence Darrow, the famous defense lawyer, was hired by the labor leader and founder of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, and paid what was at the time a shocking sum of $50,000 to defend the brothers.

During the trial, Darrow was accused of trying to bribe jurors. Not long after, whether it was because of the bribery accusations or, as some would say, to avoid the death penalty, the brothers pleaded guilty. The evidence against them was irrefutable. The older brother, John, remained unrepentant, but James would lament the loss of life in his confession: “It was my intention to injure the building and scare the owner. I did not intend to take the life of any one. I sincerely regret that these unfortunate men lost their lives.” Darrow was acquitted of bribery charges, while John, who was considered the main organizer and had sent his brother to plant the bombs, was sentenced to fifteen years. James, who was seen more as his brother’s loyal aid “an idealist, half in love with martyrdom,” was sentenced to life in prison.


— Dan Zak at the Washington Post has a gripping feature on the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, which destroyed much of the town, killed 15 people and injured 160 more. Four-and-a-half years after the blast, Zak recounts the day and looks into the investigations and mysteries that followed:

There were about 300,000 pounds of ­fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate on the premises. It was planting season, after all.

Only 22 minutes had passed since a West police officer first caught a whiff of smoke.

That’s when radio traffic suddenly went dead.

The mayor’s baseball cap flew off.

The noise could be heard dozens of miles away.

Close by, everything seemed to happen in silence.

A scythe of light swept over the ground. The earth collapsed upward around the plant. Fiery hunks of metal and concrete streaked away like meteorites returning to space. A rippling dome of air bloomed from the explosion, crushing the firetrucks, racing out in a wall of pressure, flattening grass.

It threw Robby Payne, the funeral director, into a metal tank. It heaved Tommy Muska, the mayor, backward six feet. It pushed the rails of the train track together into one ribbon of steel, and it tipped over a rail car containing 200,000 pounds of fertilizer. It blew out the back walls of the apartment complex, and then the front walls, carrying some residents into the parking lot. Then it hit Bryan and Kaden in their truck, collapsing the cab and blowing the windshield into their faces.

“Are we dead?” Kaden screamed. “Are we dead?”

“I don’t know,” shouted his dad, reaching for him through shattered glass. “If we’re dead, we’re dead together, because I can feel you.”

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 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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