Nashville Inequality- Johns Hopkins Sued Over Black Lung – NC State Senator Found Guilty of Wage Theft – The Prison Strike Continues

It’s Payday, folks! Greetings from Chattanooga, Tennessee: The Pittsburgh of the South!

The Root Opts to Unionize

This Payday goes out to the writers at The Root, who opted last week to unionize with the Writer’s Guild of America East. The Root marks the 11th digital media shop to unionize in the last year.

Payday Picks Up 13 New Dues Paying Readers in October

Last month, Payday picked up 13 new dues-paying readers. Now, we have 65 dues-paying readers contributing $744 a month. Help us reach our goal of picking up 15 new dues-paying readers in December.

Donate today so that Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk can afford a place to live.

Payday Evicted in Chattanooga – Getting Out on the Road Llewyn Davis Style

This last week, Payday was evicted from our house following a dispute with our landlords over the failure to fix a window, which fell out of the house. Payday plans to relocate our H.Q. back up to Pittsburgh and D.C. for the holidays, then return to Chattanooga in December.

If you want Payday to come visit you or have a place to rent in Chattanooga, email us at [email protected]  

Nashville Workers Demand Equity

As the Nashville economy continues to grow, a new coalition of unions and community groups will push for poor and working-class residents to share in the boon, according to the Tennessean. The AFL-CIO, Ironworkers International Union and others, with community groups like the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, plan to push city officials and private developers to bring higher wages, affordable housing, and job-training programs to local workers currently shut out of the city’s rapid growth. The Tennessean writes of the existing inequalities in Davidson County, which is home to Nashville:

Davidson County’s unemployment rate of 3.8 percent is second lowest in Tennessee, but the poverty rate is still at 16.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

And as the Nashville Business Journal explains, while the Music City’s wealthiest residents have continued to get richer throughout the last three years, poverty has increased among the poorest.

Voters in Four States Vote on Raising the Minimum Wage

Next Tuesday, voters in four states will head to polls to vote on whether or not their states should raise the minimum wage above the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine residents will vote on raising the minimum wage to a $12-an-hour minimum by 2020. In Washington state, voters will choose whether or not they want to raise the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020 as well as to give paid sick days to all workers.

In total, the ballot initiatives in these four states will affect 4 million workers.

Kentucky Right-to-Work Could Pass if State House Flips

Kentucky is currently the last state in the South not to have “Right-to-Work” laws. However, if just four seats flip in the state House, the Kentucky GOP has signaled that one of their top priorities would be to pass “Right-to-Work” in the Bluegrass State.

The state has seen a flood of outside money from both sides. Kentucky AFL-CIO President BIll Londrigan told Payday earlier this week that he expects the race to go down to the wire.

If West Virginia House Flips, “Right-to-Work” could be overturned

Despite a veto from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, West Virginia became the 26th state in the nation to pass so-called “right to work” laws. The issue is playing a key role in this year’s state legislative elections in as Democrats hope to regain power to overturn the law.

Both labor and anti-union groups are spending heavily. However, one anti-union group, the West Virginia Right to Work Committee, is in trouble for failing to register with the state, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

An anti-union group linked to organizations involved in campaign violations in Montana and allegedly unreported political contributions in Iowa has mailed pro-Republican political material to voters in West Virginia, while not reporting that activity to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Letters obtained by the Gazette-Mail show that the group has mailed out letters that praise state senators Greg Boso (R-Nicholas) and Chris Walters (R-Putnam) for supporting the state’s recently passed right-to-work law and criticize their Democratic opponents for not returning a survey about the issue.

“With control of state government up for grabs this fall, you can be sure Big Labor is going all-out to put the Mountain State back under its forced-unionism stranglehold,” the letters read.

North Carolina State Senator Paid Workers Less Than Min. Wage

The U.S. Department of Labor, in its investigation of state Sen. Brent Jackson, found that the powerful North Carolina Republican’s farm failed to pay 21 of its employees minimum wage, according to Indy Week. The findings follow the Indy’s reporting on Jackson’s history of safety and wage violations, which includes a lawsuit by seven foreign workers alleging wage theft and retaliation, and a union grievance from 2014 about other instances of underpaying workers. At that time, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) had a contract with the North Carolina Growers’ Association. After the grievance, Jackson’s farm left the organization, leaving his workers without union protection.

Concerning the Department of Labor’s ruling against Jackson, FLOC vice-president Justin Flores told the Indy:

“We know there’s been ongoing violations at that farm, particularly since he got out from under the union agreement. …. We’re hoping that more workers like this decide to come together and request better working conditions, and keep growers in compliance with the law through collective bargaining.”

The Problem Is Widespread in the South

The reliance on – and abuse of – foreign workers is not confined to North Carolina’s farms, but also its neighboring coastal tourist towns. South Carolina’s Post and Courier has an investigation into the low wages, poor living conditions, sexual assault and other abuses suffered by the young foreign workers staffing the restaurants, beach shops, mini-golf and other amusements at summer hot spots like Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Hilton Head.

The investigation includes interviews with many workers, who receive temporary work visas supposedly to enable “cultural exchange,” but which often give cover to employers looking to save on labor costs and exploit vulnerable young adults. As one student worker from the Dominican Republic told the Post and Courier:

“I’m doing exhausting work,” he says. “I’m not getting any cultural exchange. I would not have come here if I knew this would be my experience.” Disillusioned and feeling tricked, he says the experience so far is that “Americans basically do whatever they want, no matter what’s legal, and we foreigners can’t.”

Prison Strikes Continue Despite Media Blackout

Prison workers affiliated with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the International Workers of the World (IWW) are continuing their efforts to strike and organize at prisons across the U.S. This week, Writer’s Guild-represented Think Progress, has an inside look at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama, where guards also joined the strike alongside prison workers:

Most days at Holman, people are kept on lockdown. They are, essentially, stacked on top of one another, with more than 100 people forced into dormitories so small that some have to sit just so others might stand. According to Tom, recreation time is almost non-existent. Prisoners don’t go outside at all 25 days out of every month, and they have no educational or social programs to occupy their time.

Workers File Class Action Lawsuit Against Johns Hopkins for Black Lung Cover Up

In 2014, Tennessee native Chris Hamby, reporting for the Center for Public Integrity, won a Pulitzer Prize for his long investigation of how the black lung compensation system was stacked against coal miners. The series showed that a group of highly regarded radiologists at Johns Hopkins University collected big fees from law firms representing coal companies in order to testify against small town doctors, who had diagnosed hundreds of miners.

Over a 14-year period, Dr. Paul Wheeler, the head of unit, examined more than 1,500 cases and did not find a single case of complicated coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Meanwhile, other doctors, who saw those same cases, found 390 cases.

Now, the families of two deceased coal miners are suing Johns Hopkins for wrongfully denying their loved one’s black lung claims. From the Center for Public Integrity which published the series “Breathless and Burdened”:

The Center investigation found that the longtime leader of the unit, Dr. Paul Wheeler, had read X-rays in more than 1,500 cases just since 2000 but never once found a case of severe black lung, despite the fact that other doctors looking at the same films found evidence of the disease hundreds of times. Wheeler’s credentials and longtime affiliation with Johns Hopkins often trumped those of all other doctors involved, and administrative judges credited his reports over those of other doctors and denied more than 800 claims.

Yet the Center found that in more than 100 cases, biopsies or autopsies proved Wheeler wrong.

********** Baseball Break *********

This week, baseball season ended, but the real action is about to heat up at the bargaining table as players attempt to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The National Pastime Museum has a look back at John Montgomery Ward, who tried to found a players’ union back in the 1880s:

John Montgomery Ward played in the Major Leagues from 1878 through 1894. One of the all-time greats of the nineteenth century, Ward played on two pennant-winning New York Giants teams and managed the team for two other seasons. He also starred for the Providence Grays and, toward the end of his career, the Brooklyn Grooms. A pitcher until his arm gave out, Ward then played in the infield and the outfield, all with considerable accomplishment. While Babe Ruth may have been the greatest combination of hitting and pitching skills in baseball history, no other player apart from Ward ever won over 100 games as a pitcher while also notching over 2,000 hits as an everyday player.

Ward was no mere jock, however. He was brilliant. He attended Penn State University at the age of 13. Later he went back to finish his degree and then obtained a law degree from Columbia University in 1885, right in the middle of his playing career. On April 2, 1885—just prior to obtaining his juris doctorate—Ward and a handful of his New York Giants teammates secretly formed the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. It was the first labor union in professional sports history.

For more, check out the National Pastime Museum’s website.


Rank-and-File Laborers Push Back Against Union Leader’s Support of Dakota Access Pipeline

This week, Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan took a swipe at unions that have shown their solidarity with Standing Rock protesters.

“These unions have sided with THUGS against trade unionists,” O’Sullivan wrote in a letter of protest to unions attempting to block the project. “They are a group of bottom-feeding organizations that are once again trying to destroy our members’ jobs.”

However, this past week, a caravan of rank-and-file union members – including some from O’Sullivan’s own union – traveled to Standing Rock to support the Native American protesters’ stand against the construction of the pipeline. The Indian Country Today Media Network has the story:

Liam Cain, a union laborer at LIUNA Local 1271 Cheyenne, WY and a [Labor for Standing Rock] spokesperson, over years worked on numerous heavy construction sites and pipeline construction spreads. “To the union laborers working on these projects I would just implore you to listen to what regular folks are saying,” Cain said. “Don’t just listen to the bosses, and not to just the echo-chambers on the spread.”

“Listen to the water protectors, listen to folks talking about just transition, a view of the future, involving good-paying union jobs, involving many of your skill-sets. Just generating energy in a much more environmentally sustainable manner, rather than just gross over-reliance on fossil fuels, that we currently engage in. As the saying goes, ‘there’s no jobs on a dead planet.’”

(Full Disclosure: Liam Cian is a dues-paying reader of Payday Report.)

Report Finds Tennessee Government Not Doing Much About Sexual Harassment

A new analysis by the Tennessean of state records shows that the Tennessee Department of Human Resources has been woefully inadequate in its attempt to track sexual harassment throughout the workforce. According to the Tennessean, “The Tennessee Department of Human Resources does not track sexual harassment complaints from agencies within the judicial or legislative branches of state government, or the contents of complaints received from executive branch department.”

Weekend Reads

Yes! Magazine takes a close look into how the D.C. Black Workers Center is empowering the city’s black workers against discrimination, low wages, and unemployment. The District is one of eight cities that have opened black worker co-ops in recent years.

Philadelphia’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 93 is facing new allegations from contractors that they using illegal tactics in order to punish non-union employers. The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at the allegations, and the resulting investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Roy Cohn, widely credited for teaching Donald Trump how to be an attack dog, was also notorious for red-baiting unions. The UE News’ Al Hart has a long look at this infamous anti-union figure.

Mike Elk is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report and a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and at In These Times Magazine. 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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