NJ Teachers Arrested During Contract Talks – Independent Amazon Union Launched Following RWDSU Debacle – VCU Union Launched

Amazon workers protest as they seek to unionize at JFK* in Staten Island (Jennifer Conley/Common Dreams)

Folks, 

Greetings from the Burgh, where I’m finally recovering from a sinus infection. 

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$2,300 Raised for Shelby Gravett Funeral Fund 

A massive thanks to all the Payday readers who donated to the GoFundMe for Shelby Gravett’s funeral costs.

Thanks to those donations, the Gravett’s have already raised $2,370. 

The Gravetts were my guides to the South and helped me immensely when I first started Payday in Chattanooga in 2016. It means so much to me to see Payday readers from all over the country helping out these good folks. It’s certainly helped Lon to see such an outpouring of support from so many people he doesn’t know. 

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NJ Teacher Union Leaders Arrested During Contract Talks 

This week, two teachers’ union leaders at Phillipsburg High School in Warren County, New Jersey, were arrested on charges that they threatened to publish damaging information on the administration of the school. (Neither the school nor the teachers union provided any context on this info.) 

Union leader George Chilmonk, a beloved teacher who has been with the district since 1970, and Dave Post, who led the school’s wrestling team to six state championships, were both arrested. 

The teachers are being accused of threatening the release of damaging information unless an unidentified teacher was granted tenure. 

The Express-Times in Easton, PA (across the river from Phillipsburg, NJ) has the story: 

Chilmonik, a longtime teachers’ union official, is charged with official misconduct, a second-degree crime that if found guilty carries a state prison sentence up to 10 years and a mandatory minimum of five years; criminal coercion, a third-degree crime that carries a state prison sentence of up to five years’ and improper influence in official and political matters, a third-degree crime that carries up to five years in state prison and a mandatory minimum of two years, Pfeiffer said.

Post is charged with conspiracy related to all three criminal counts and if found guilty faces exposure to the same maximum prison terms, but not the mandatory minimums, Pfeiffer said.

For more, check out the Express-Time. 

The teachers union has yet to release a statement, but many local union supporters suspect that the charges are retaliation for the two union leaders’ outspoken advocacy on behalf of their fellow teachers’ union members.

Virginia Commonwealth University Launches Union 

In January of 2019, Payday traveled down to Richmond, Virginia to cover the first teachers strike there. That energy has continued to grow as staff at the Virginia Commonwealth University announced they were forming a chapter of the United Campus Workers-CWA. 

“VCU administration has repeatedly refused to pay adjuncts a living wage representative of the cost of living in Richmond,” faculty member Rose Szabo told Dogwood. “However, adjuncts are not alone in this. Many full-time faculty members do not make a living wage by our calculations either.”

The union plans to include not just faculty, but all staff at the university, which employs over 23,000 people. As Virginia hasn’t granted collective bargaining to staff employed in universities, the union plans to operate in a non-traditional organizing model, relying on mobilizing community and workplace support to achieve campus changes while also advocating for a change in the law in Virginia. 

For more, check out Dogwood. 

Alexandria, Virginia Gives Collective Bargaining to Its Public Employees

The movement for granting public employees the right to collective bargaining in Virginia has been steadily growing. Last year, the state legislature granted the municipalities the right to grant their employees the right to collective bargaining, which is set to take effect on May 1, 2021. 

This week, the 130,000-person DC suburb of Alexandria voted to grant its public employees the right to collectively bargain. 

“On behalf of the thousands of AFSCME Council 20 public employees, we commend the mayor and city council for hearing our concerns,” Robert Hollingsworth, executive director of AFSCME District Council 20, told Patch. “And we look forward to working with them on an ordinance that serves as the leading example for cities and counties across the Commonwealth.”

For more, check out Patch. 

1st College Faculty Strike in Oregon History 

In Oregon this week, faculty at Oregon Tech went on a strike to demand a first contract.

The faculty first unionized in the fall of 2019 and has spent nearly two years advocating for the union to give them a contract. 

“We organized our union in record time and we’re the first faculty ever to go on strike in Oregon,” said Mark Clark, professor of history and OT-AAUP past president in a press release

For more, check out the website of the Oregon Tech AAUP. 

Independent Union Drive Launched at Staten Island Amazon Warehouse

Finally, at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, known as JFK8, workers, organizing under the banner of the independent union, the Congress of Essential Workers, have launched a nascent union drive. 

Candice Bernd at Truthout has the story:

“We all wanted the union push to be successful in Alabama, especially with the odds being totally against them, being that Alabama is a nonunion state. But the fact that they had the opportunity to vote as a facility was historic,” JFK8 warehouse worker Derrick Palmer told Truthout. “We have to take the bruises and pick it up where they left off. If anything it started a movement. It’s going to be like a domino effect.”

Palmer says the Bessemer push inspired JFK8 workers to take their labor organizing to the next level and start their own union drive. While Palmer says they’ve spoken with officials at a handful of allied unions, TCOEW organizers are pursuing an independent union that would be led directly by the facility’s workers. The outcome in Bessemer, they say, has solidified the choice as the best option for Staten Island’s more than 5,000 workers, especially since other unions have tried and failed to unionize facilities in New York.

For more, check out Truthout. 

Alright folks, that’s all for today. Keep sending story ideas, tips, complaints, and interesting links to [email protected] 


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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is a yinzer labor reporter who covered the drug war in Brasil and spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian. In 2016, he used his $70,000 NLRB settlement from being fired in the union drive at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Email: [email protected]

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