Payday Celebrates 5th Anniversary & 659 Articles Published

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This month marks Payday’s 5th Anniversary since we were first founded in Chattanooga back in the spring of 2016. Since then, we have grown tremendously and have been cited and praised for our work from everyone including The New York Times to NPR’s All Things Considered to The New Yorker. Even film director Boots Riley praised us on the podcast “Bad Faith” that talked about the strike wave during the pandemic.

“You could count on one hand the number of outlets, whether they’re mainstream or radical that pushed this fact,” Riley said of our work tracking more than 1,300 strikes since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Since our founding, we have published 659 stories as well as dozens of videos from 24 different states across the U.S. 

To celebrate our 5th anniversary, we are hoping to raise $1,000 to help us meet this month’s payroll. 

We also wanted to take this opportunity to highlight 5 of our biggest stories that we’ve covered since being founded in 2016. One for each year that Payday has been around. 

2016: “Deadly Chattanooga School Bus Company Has Long History of Worker Intimidation & Safety Violations”

Emergency responders at the scene of Chattanooga’s deadly school bus accident, which killed 6 in Chattanooga. (Citizen Slant)

One of Payday’s first big stories examined how low pay, union-busting and being overworked lead to a tragic accident that killed six children after their 20-year-old bus driver got lost during one of his first days on a new route. As a result of our reporting, the school district wound up raising salaries to $15-an-hour. 

2017: “Electrocution Death of Latino Worker Highlights Nashville’s Construction Safety Crisis”

Sergio Gutierrez, age 30, was electrocuted to death on a construction site in downtown Nashville in 2017


Payday was there in Nashville when 31-year-old Guatemalan immigrant Sergio Gutierréz was electrocuted to death while working on a construction site. Payday was the only outlet in Nashville to cover the preventable death. 

We reported on the story for months and exposed former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s inaction on the dramatic spike in construction deaths in Nashville, which one study labeled as the most dangerous city in the South. 

Our work paid off and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry eventually signed landmark workplace safety legislation. 

2018: Teachers Strike Coverage in 5 States 

5,000 Teachers Rally on the Steps of the West Virginia State Capitol (Charleston Gazette-Mail)

The teachers’ strike of 2018 cannot be summed up in one story. Payday spent nearly six months covering them in five different states. 

In December of 2017, Payday was the first national outlet to report on the brewing teachers’ strike in West Virginia. We covered the growing momentum months before their strike that erupted in late February of 2018. 

Working with The Guardian, we were on the ground that historic morning in West Virginia when teachers walked out, paving the way for the growing teachers’ strike wave that spread to five states. 

Payday was there when rank-and-file educators defied the union leaders who wanted them to return to work and instead decided to continue their wildcat strike. Later that spring, we marched 110 miles across the state of Oklahoma with striking teachers, and we joined teachers again in late April enduring 95-degree heat as over 50,000 people marched on the Arizona State Capitol to Phoenix to show their support for Arizona’s first-ever teacher strike. 

We were on the ground in North Carolina when even North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper showed up to show his support for a one-day strike of 20,000 teachers in May of 2018. Finally, we were there when striking teachers decided to protest at the Kentucky Derby that May.

Our work was so widely regarded that The Guardian asked me to write an op-ed looking at how the teachers’ strike media coverage helped spread the strike wave. 

2019: Our 2-Year SEIU Sexual Misconduct Investigation Leads to Firings & Settlement 

Payday spent more than two years investigating sexual assault in SEIU. Our investigation resulted in one staffer losing their job, and also showed that SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was personally involved in the cover-up and also helped Mindy Sturge win a settlement so she could leave SEIU. 

Our two-year investigation taught us how to investigate sexual assault within the labor movement. Many of the lessons learned would be applied to our work that exposed the 2020 cover-up of sexual misconduct in the NewsGuild that resulted in the ouster of Pittsburgh NewsGuild President Michael Fuoco. 

Our work on exposing sexual misconduct in the labor movement would later be praised extensively by New York Times reporter Ben Smith in his Sunday column titled “A Powerful Reporter Got Away With Sexual Misconduct for Decades. His Paper, and His Union, Looked the Other Way.”

2020: Payday Tracks over 1300 Strikes 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Payday has tracked over 1,300 strikes. Our strike-tracking efforts have been widely cited, from NPR’s All Things Considered to The Economist to “Sorry to Bother You” film director Boots Riley. 

Our strike-tracking efforts revealed deeper questions about how the nature of strikes has changed in the social-media-pandemic age following years of strike action by teachers and fast-food workers. Payday’s longform “How Black and Brown Workers are Redefining Strikes in the Digital COVID Age” reported on 2020’s strike wave. 

We previewed how the labor movement was failing to understand the growing, non-traditional strike wave movement. 

“This could be a growth and power building moment for unions, and it’s not because there is a lack of vision [or] there is a lack of real understanding of the possibility of building power by actually centering people’s lives, and not a pre-described notion of what [lives] should look like,” Neidi Dominguez said, who previously served as a Deputy Director for Community Engagement at the AFL-CIO. 

Read the full 4,000-word article here.


2021: Over $10,000 Raised to Cover Amazon in Alabama 

Amazon workers and their Congressional supporters rally in Alabama (Payday Report)

One of our most ambitious efforts to date was covering the Amazon union vote in Alabama. We were the only outlet to predict defeat and our interviews with anti-union workers stirred debate throughout the labor movement. 

We even teamed up with the monthly ethnographic news site franknews to report a special issue of ethnographic interviews with activists and historians about “The Changing South.” 

Our work during the Amazon union vote was cited in The New Yorker to The Washington Post to even the French publication Le Monde Diplomatique.

Folks, we may be a small crowdfunded labor publication, but over the last five years we’ve published over 600 articles and we’ve built something that has had a major impact on the way labor is covered in this country. 

We know we could not have made any of this possible with the support from our readers and we want to thank everyone who has helped us reach this milestone. To keep us around for the next five years, here are five ways to support our work and keep Payday going:

  1. To celebrate the past five years, please make a donation today to help us keep growing and telling stories. $5 for 5 years is a great start.
  2. We are fortunate to have 589 recurring donors and we are working hard to make that 600. If you’re not already, help us reach that goal and become one of our 589 recurring donors today.
  3. If you are already a recurring donor, thank you. Your contributions help us on our path to sustainability. As we forge ahead on the next five years, we hope you continue your contributions and maybe even consider increasing your donations if you can.
  4. We’re actively working on applying to grants and foundations to make Payday more sustainable and keep fundraising letters like this down. If you know of any, please let us know by emailing [email protected].
  1. The stories that we report would not be worth it if we couldn’t make an impact. So no matter what, we appreciate you spreading the word about Payday Report. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share the newsletter to a friend who’d be interested. You’ll see our stories there, plus an invite to my big birthday bash on June 6. Join us!

Thank you for a great five years and on to the next.

Love & Solidarity,
Melk

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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