Ole Miss Workers Unionize – Nissan Union Organizer Named Rhode Scholar – Memphis Wins $15 an Hour

The Historic March on Mississippi in 2017 (AP)

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Mississippi Labor Makes Overlooked Gains This Week

Payday is finally getting back into action after the holidays, but boy do we wish that we were back in Mississippi this week where Southern organizers showed that they are building power.

Mike Espy lost to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith by a margin of only 8 points; making it the closest Senate race in Mississippi since 1988.

Check out the excellent Mississippi Today for more.

Mississippi Gets Its First Union in Higher Education

This week, campus workers at the United Campus Workers of Mississippi, an affiliate of United Campus Workers-CWA. They become the first higher education institution in the state of Mississippi to have a union. 

UCW started in the late 1990s at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville organizing professors, custodians, grad students, and cafeteria workers all into one big union. Despite lacking collective bargaining rights, through collective action and protest, they won major improvements and have successfully defeated bids to outsource campus work to private contractors.

Now, UCW has expanded to Georgia and Mississippi. Workers at the University of Mississippi have worked closely with both chapters in forming their chapter and are excited about the future.

“Many unions in the South were at the forefront of fighting against racial and sexual discrimination, as well,” Jessica Wilkerson, a professor of Southern Studies told the Daily Mississippian.  “I hope that our union builds on these legacies and works to make ours a fairer and safer workplace for everyone.”

Nissan Union Organizer Wins Rhode Scholarship – Becoming First Woman in Mississippi.

A big congratulations goes out to Mississippi organizer Jaz Brisack, who won the Rhodes Scholarship, becoming the first woman in the history of the University of Mississippi to win a Rhodes Scholarship.

In August of 2017, when Payday was down in Canton, Mississippi covering the union drive, we got to know Jaz Brisack, then a 20-year-old intern working on the UAW drive at Nissan.

This week, Brisack made headlines when she became the first woman from the University of Mississippi to ever win the Rhodes Scholarship.

“For me, this scholarship is not an accomplishment in itself, but rather a platform from which to continue working for human rights and justice,” Brisack told the Oxford Eagle. “Persuading a worker to sign a union authorization card or helping a woman obtain an abortion are the achievements that truly matter to me.”

As a radical feminist anti-racist union organizer from Mississippi, Brisack hopes to use her platform as Rhodes Scholar from Mississippi to inspire others to push for radical change.

“I’m honored to get to be a role model for other Mississippi girls looking for ways to make their voices heard in a state still very much dominated by patriarchal structures,” Brisack told the Oxford Eagle.  “Given that our state amplifies the voices of white supremacist women like [Senator] Cindy Hyde-Smith who reinforce and uphold misogynist policies, I’m glad to be able to provide a very different example of how an empowered Southern woman acts.”

Congrats Jaz!

Memphis Workers Win $15 an Hour

Up the Delta, in Memphis-area Shelby County, county employees won the right to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Effective January 1, 2019, 340 workers including temp workers will get a raise as a result of the measure.

“Being a single mom, $15 helps a lot in my household,” Felicia Jones, a temporary clerical worker, wrote in an Instagram post celebrating the victory.

The move by the county puts pressure on the city of Memphis to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage for its employees. In March, the Shelby County School District announced a $15 an hour minimum wage for its employees.

For more, check out the NewsGuild-represented Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership Doubles Down on Anti-Immigrant Sponsor

After Payday reported on the anti-immigrant funder Colcom Foundation prominently displaying sponsorship of the Pittsburgh Downtown Holiday Market, The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, a private-public partnership that operates events in public parks, is defending Colcom’s participation.

“Colcom Foundation has supported numerous [Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership] initiatives, including as a founding sponsor of the Holiday Market, said the organization’s spokesperson Leigh White in a statement.  “Since its founding, the Holiday Market has provided opportunities for local businesses, makers, artisans, and an increasingly diverse array of global merchants.”

Local immigrant groups have denounced the move.

“Did they forget that Jesus was an immigrant? It’s Christmas,” Monica Ruiz of the community group Casa San Jose told the Pittsburgh City Paper. “This is not the type of message to send to the city.”

Committee to Protect Journalists Paying for PTSD Treatment in Wake of Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting

Folks, as many of you know, covering the Tree of Life synagogue massacre was the roughest day of my career as a reporter. As a kid, my bus stop was in front of the Tree of Life synagogue. I arrived at the scene while it was still an active shooter situation and was horrified.

The collective horror and fear that I saw in the streets of a neighborhood that I loved all of my life was something I never experienced before in my life.

I’ve covered coal mine explosions, the drug war in Brazil and while I saw horrible stuff, I wasn’t a coal miner or a drug trafficker. However, I was a Jew from that neighborhood and it felt like an attack on all of us as a political identity as Jews from a progressive neighborhood.

As a PTSD survivor, I experienced a regression and really appreciate the support of my readers so that I could take some time off in November to sort things out.

I am also very appreciative of the Committee to Protect Journalists for offering to see a psychiatrist, a great Jewish psychiatrist who was there that day too. It’s been really wonderful.

Thank you all for all the messages of love and support.

After Blowing $60 Million in Venture Capital, Mic Lays Off All 100 Employees

This week, the collapse of MIC showed why venture capital won’t save journalism, only our readers.

Solidarity this week with the over 100 NewsGuild union member this week, who was laid off on a moment’s notice.

In 2011, MIC was launched with much fanfare to be a publication geared towards millennials. The organization raised $60 million in venture capital funds and rented an entire floor of the World Trade Center in Downtown Manhattan.

However, the publication struggled to gain an audience even after laying off most of its writing stuff as they shifted their resources towards making money with facebook videos. However, recent research has shown that Facebook has inflated its numbers and that the promised revenue from views and clicks never materialized.

(Check out the brilliant Heidi Moore’s 2017 Columbia Journalism Review piece warning why the “pivot to video” projections was always unrealistic and doomed to failure) 

Yesterday, MIC was sold to Bustle for $5 million and Bustle announced that it would hire new staff to run the site.

(For more on the complexities of what caused MIC to fail, check out the Columbia Journalism Review)

NewsGuild Denounces the Mass Layoffs

The moves by MIC’s ownership was met with outrage by the workers’ union, the New York NewsGuild.

In February, workers at MIC unionized. However, they have yet to negotiate a first contract and many fear that the shutdown and sell to Bustle was done so as to prevent the union from moving to the new company.

“This egregious act further exemplifies the need for media workers to stand together and demand better for themselves and their industry,” said the union in a statement.

“Shuttering an entire news operation at a moment’s notice, primarily as a result of an inexperienced leadership team and chronic mismanagement, cannot become the new norm in media. We will continue to fight for each and every one of our members in the face of these cuts, and explore all options available to us, legal and otherwise.”

Payday Mourns Death of Crusading Houston Gay Radio Host Ray Hill

This week, Ray Hill, a crusading radio host, died at the age of 72. Democracy Now Producer Renée Feltz has a fond remembrance of him:

When I became KPFT news director in the mid-2000s, Ray was my mentor while I covered the beat he called “cops and courts and prisons and jails.” On Saturday, Uncle Ray, as he was known to many, died in hospice at age 78. His legacy of unrepentant rabble-rousing made Texas a more welcome place for the underdog.

“I’m one of many people who agreed with him about his important causes now,” noted Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “But such positions are relatively easy to take and express now that Ray has blazed the trail.”

Ray helped start KPFT in 1968, with former Texas Observer associate editor Larry Lee and a couple others. In his history of Pacifica radio, Matthew Lesar describes how Ray and company applied to launch the peace-driven network’s only station south of the Mason-Dixon line after hearing a rumor that the Observer might stop publishing. Ray recalled in an interview with the Houston Oral History Project that “we needed some liberal progressive media.”

In 1971, Ray took a break to serve four years in Texas prisons for felony burglary and larceny, and Lee became KPFT’s first general manager. During Lee’s tenure, the Klu Klux Klan bombed the station’s transmitter and knocked it off the air not once, but twice. In prison, Ray hung out in the law library and successfully fought to knock his 160-year sentence down to 20, getting out early in 1975 with good behavior. Upon release, he stayed focused on liberation.

Go to the Texas Observer to read the full obituary.

Weekend Reads

Over at the Philly Inquirer/Daily News, NewsGuild activist Will Bunch has a long look at how Vietnam Veterans helped lead a contentious strike at the Lordstown GM plant that GM announced they were going to close this week:

The young lords of Lordstown found the assembly line — 35 second bursts of a dull, repetitive task, and a 5-second break before the next Impala or Vega rolled up — to be soul-crushing work. Botched cars — some of them slashed, deliberately sabotaged by angry workers — piled up in the giant lot outside the factory. A good chunk of the labor force had little fear of conflict with their bosses because they’d recently returned from the front lines in Vietnam.

Russo recalled that during his later research he asked a Lordstown employer if he’d been afraid of losing his job during the 1970s labor strife. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” the man responded. “I just had 500,000 Vietnamese trying to kill me. You think I’m scared of GM?”

Here’s one worker’s contemporaneous rant about worker alienation at Lordstown in early 1970s: “You do it automatically, like a monkey or dog would do something by conditioning. You feel stagnant; everything is over and over and over. It seems like you’re just going to work and your whole purpose in life is to do this operation, and you come home and you’re so tired from working the hours, trying to keep up with the line, you feel you’re not making any advancement whatsoever. This makes the average individual feel sort of like a vegetable.”

It all boiled over in March 1972. The frequent orders from Detroit to make the assembly line run faster, faster, faster finally caused the Lordstown workers to strike for 22 days. A work stoppage that cost GM $150 million made headlines from coast to coast and was dubbed by Newsweek as “industrial Woodstock.” When its music finally stopped, the young workers did win some concessions — mainly an end to the hated speed-up orders — but, more importantly, gained acclaim as avatars of a new generation of laborers who valued a more meaningful work experience over a few extra bucks every new contract.

Go to the Philly Inquirer/Daily News to read the whole story

— The talented Ms. Milli Legrain over at the Guardian has a look at how poultry workers are routinely denied bathroom breaks:

“I tried not to drink water because I knew my supervisor wasn’t going to let me go. Not even if I was peeing on myself,” said one worker who had worked at Sanderson Farms.

A former supervisor claimed pressure from her own managers to turn out more chicken was immense. “I say I’m a supervisor but I’m really just doing what I’m told,” she said. “And I get into trouble if I don’t.”

Having started off as a worker herself, she experienced first-hand the humiliation of having a bathroom request denied. “The workers complain a lot and I understand. Sometimes they have to wait 30 or 40 minutes and [the supervisors] won’t let them use the restroom.”

Go to the Guardian to read the full story.


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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