Perriello Calls For Virginia “Right-to-Work” Repeal – Duke Energy Threatens Civil Rights Museum – NLRB Charges Volkswagen
By Mike Elk
Greetings from Goshen, Ky., where Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk has been recovering from yet another bout of Hay Fever.
Virginia Governor’s Race Seen as Proxy Battle Over Southern Democratic Party
On June 13, Democratic voters in Virginia will head to the polls to choose their candidate to take on the Republican’s nominee in November.
Virginia is quickly becoming a blue-leaning state, having voted for Democratic presidents in the last three elections. The gubernatorial race is quickly heating up as a proxy war over the viability of progressive candidates in the New South.
Initially, Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam was widely expected to win the nomination. Despite being a moderate Democrat, who admitted to voting for George W. Bush twice, Northam was able to secure the support of the Virginia Democratic Party establishment and the commonwealth’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the former DNC chair who is considered one of the closest confidantes of the Clinton family.
Then, former Congressman Tom Perriello entered the race. In 2008, Perriello beat Republican Congressman Virgil Goode by a margin of 726 votes in one of the most conservative districts in the country. Then he proceeded to vote for all the major Obama hallmark legislation, including the Affordable Care Act.
After Perriello had been defeated in 2010, President Obama appointed him special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Perriello’s run for the Virginia governorship has moved the conversation to the left. He is the only candidate in the Democratic Primary dedicated to stopping the construction of pipelines in Virginia, granting free two-year community college, and having the state guarantee paid family and sick leave for all workers.
Perriello quickly secured the support of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and many top Obama Administration officials, including former Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff John Podesta.
(To learn more, check out Nation D.C. editor George Zornick’s profile “Tom Perriello Makes a Populist Stand”)
Polling: Virginia Governor’s Race Neck & Neck
If Perriello is successful in Virginia, it would be a major boost to those that say Democrats must become more populist to win increasingly purple states in the South like Georgia and North Carolina.
A poll recently released by the Washington Post showed Perriello leading 40-38.
Perriello’s base of support comes largely from his native Southwestern Virginia, where he leads Northam 58-20, and the Richmond area, where Perriello leads 40-30. (Northam leads in his native Tidewater region 40-28.)
Both candidates, however, are stuck in a neck-to-neck battle for the Northern Virginia suburbs outside of D.C., where Perriello currently leads narrowly at 23-22.
Perriello Draws Contrast With Northam on “Right-to-Work” Repeal
With the race so close, it could come down to which candidate is best able to mobilize activists to get out the vote.
So far, organized labor in the state appears to be split, at least at the endorsement level. Northam has received the endorsement of some of the state’s biggest unions, including the Virginia Education Association and the Laborers’ Union.
Last week, in a debate hosted at IBEW Local 666 in Highland Springs, Perriello called for repealing Virginia’s right-to-work law.
“I think it undermines the middle and working class here in Virginia,” said Perriello. “I think it’s an anti-growth strategy.”
Traditionally, the state’s Democratic governors, including Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe, hesitated in calling for its repeal; thus making Perriello call to repeal it a landmark position for Virginia Democrats.
Northam refused to support “right-to-work’s” repeal, but emphasized that he was pro-labor and had campaigned against a ballot measure that would have enshrined right-to-work in Virginia’s constitution.
“I want to congratulate labor tonight for helping to defeat the constitutional amendment this past year. … I stood up, and I traveled around the Commonwealth of Virginia and helped to fight that as well,” he said. “I think rather than pick fights that we perhaps can’t win right now; we need to talk about how can we help labor, how can we help with PLAs, which are project labor agreements. Those are very important to labor and unions right now.”
NLRB Charges Volkswagen with Unfair Labor Practice
Last week, Payday reported on how the UAW is starting to get more aggressive with Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn. The union has even launched a corporate campaign against the company.
For a year and a half, Volkswagen has refused to recognize the bargaining unit of 180 maintenance employees at its Chattanooga plant, whose workers voted to unionize by a 2-to-1 margin. Volkswagen has challenged an Obama-era rule that allows unions to call for elections in only certain parts of a workplace instead of the whole workplace.
Now, the NLRB has charged Volkswagen with illegally raising the health care premiums of workers at the plant without bargaining with them about the change.
Volkswagen has said that it would not bargain with employees until a Federal Appeals Court rules on the legality of the Obama-era rule change.
Non-Union Private Employers in North Carolina Raise Wages
In February, North Carolina-based Novant Health decided to voluntarily raise the minimum wage for its workers to $11 an hour. The move gave a raise to approximately 2,000 employees in the state.
Now, Cone Health, another North Carolina hospital network, has decided to voluntarily raise the minimum wage for its workers to $12 an hour. The measure will increase wages for about 1,500 North Carolina employees.
“This is further proof of our commitment to offering our workforce competitive wages,” Mandy Eaton, vice president of human resources told the Winston Salem-Journal. “Our goal with a $12 minimum wage is to remove the barriers some of our employee’s experience, both financially and with work-life balance.”
The moves by the private health care employer show that employers are feeling pressure to raise wages for workers.
Reverend Barber Steps Down from N.C. NAACP To Lead National Campaign
Longtime North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber resigned this week to focus on leading a nationwide Poor People’s Campaign based on the principles of the Campaign that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to organized 50 years ago.
“This is not a commemoration,” Barber told a gathering of North Carolina activists this week. “We’re not doing this for one year to quit. But this is a launching.”
Barber says that he plans to focus on those states primarily in the South that have not expanded Medicaid under Obama.
“If there are people cynical enough in the same states to hold people down, we ought to be courageous enough to come together and lift them up,” Barber told the crowd.
Duke Energy Threatens the Civil Rights Museum
The site of the 1960 Woolworth’s sit-in that helped spark the nascent Civil Rights Movement has been home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, N.C., since 1993.
In recent years, the museum has struggled financially and is now involved in a dispute with Duke Energy, which is demanding thousands of dollars in energy payments disputed by museum officials, according to The News & Observer.
Although the museum has had debts to the energy company in past years, museum officials say that they are currently paid up and are asking the state’s Utilities Commission to block Duke’s insistence that the museum pays back a previous credit of more than $18,000.
David Sirota Launches Crowdfunded Podcast
This week, awesome investigative reporter David Sirota decided to launch a crowdfunded podcast. In a little over a week since launching, Sirota has secured financial commitments from 173 patrons totaling $1,281 a month through the site Patreon.
Showing the power of a new crowdfunded media movement, Sirota secured an exclusive interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who came out and endorsed single-payer health care for the first time on his show.
“A lot of us complain about the media — so let’s finally start building our media,” Sirota said in launching the podcast.
If you can, contribute a few dollars here.
— When facing right-to-work, unions can get creative in how they show support and solidarity for their workers. Labor Notes has a quick piece about oil refinery workers who, despite having the ability to leave Steelworkers Local 675 at the end of each contract, still maintain a 90 percent membership rate:
That’s because members have the habit of acting for themselves as a union on the shop floor. Union leaders encourage members to bolster a grievance with workplace action. For instance, a supervisor had forbidden people to wear baseball caps, sunglasses, or Hawaiian shirts in the control room. Workers collected signatures on a petition and presented it to the other supervisor, who crumpled it up and threw it away.
“We organized all four crews to show up for work with Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, and ball caps,” Campbell says, “and the union bought the roast pig for a Hawaiian luau lunch. When the superintendent saw all the workers united, he of course asked what the hell was going on—and the supervisor who had caused all this was reassigned.”
Besides being fun and effective, these activities give workers the chance to learn by doing. “In essence they see what the union really is,” Campbell says. “The union is them, and it’s their concerted, collective activity on the shop floor which gives the union power.”
— Many undocumented workers, after being injured at work, are afraid to apply for workers’ compensation, fearing their employers may contact immigration agents. WBUR shares the story of one such worker. Jose Flores broke his leg after falling off a ladder while working in construction in Massachusetts. He now faces deportation after what his attorney Stacie Sobosik believes was a setup from his boss:
Sobosik says she could not have expected what would take place when Flores’ boss offered some cash to help the family and arranged a meeting.
“The employer told this worker where to be, at exactly what time, and immigration was waiting,” Sobosik explained.
Lawyers for Flores say it’s still unclear whether the employer — who, it turns out, had no workers’ comp coverage on the day of Flores’ accident — arranged the arrest that day.
— The musicians behind New Orleans’ ever-traditional, yet ever-evolving Preservation Hall Jazz Band have updated their sound again with a new Afro-Cuban album by modern indie rock producer Dave Sitek. Rolling Stone has a look at how the band has changed, grown, and stayed the same since 1963:
Sitek took the band to Sonic Ranch studio in El Paso (“There’s so much New Orleans in these guys, you can’t take it out of them, even if you took them to outer space,” he said) and set them up to record live in the round, so they could build off of each other’s energy in real time. The end result is dynamic and urgent, with a tension and vitality that feels like it throws off sparks, from the menacing trombone growl on the hip-shaker “La Malanga” to the slow-burning “One Hundred Fires,” which juxtaposes snaky, slinky horns with slick soul-jazz organ. The aptly named “Convergence,” which credits all seven band members and Sitek as writers, is where all the moving parts come together: New Orleans piano rolls; clattering tambourine and cowbell; a popping shuffle beat; and joyous, meandering horns. Like the album as a whole, the track fuses old Cuba and new New Orleans, updating each city’s legacy with fresh perspectives and fresh blood.
— As the last of New Orleans’ confederate statues come down, Black Perspectives looks at Baltimore artists that have created a memorial to address the city’s history of segregation at what was Baltimore’s first black-only public swimming pools:
The first artist to respond to this history was Joyce Scott, a Baltimore native and 2016 MacArthur Fellow, who added a set of markers and colored concrete designs surrounding the pool for her work Memorial Pool in 1999. Although the swimming pool had long been discontinued as a recreational facility, its metal ladders and life guard stand remained in place and the pool was filled with soil topped with grass. In a sense, the combination of art and organic matter brought a dead swimming pool back to life.
Fast forward to 2017, and a group of ten visual artists and curator Sheena Morrison created Everyday Utopias, an extraordinary collection of aesthetic statements on the pool at the once segregated site. Lauren R. Lyde’s The Integrationist is a vibrant oil painting on a clear Plexiglas surface resting on top of a kiddie pool. It depicts a group of young Black swimmers joined by a single white swimmer, gesturing to a widespread but unconfirmed story of a lone white boy who chose to swim at Pool No. 2 after its official desegregation. Lyde’s work draws on the idea that “white and black people alike [had] an opportunity to integrate their neighborhoods and schools and businesses of their own free will.” Integration was supposed to be a two-way process, and not just a matter of making Blacks abandon their institutions.
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 for The Guardian.