By Kris Warner
It’s Payday, folks! Greetings from Houston, Texas, where we’re hoping for vegan taco trucks on every corner. Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk is out sick.
This week’s Lunch Pail is dedicated to the workers at the Center for Community Change who joined our publisher’s former union, IFPTE Local 70. Congrats!
Payday Gets Its 39th and 40th Dues-Paying Readers
Thanks to Tyler Woodard and The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz for becoming Payday Report’s latest dues-paying readers.
Our publisher apologizes for any online badgering done by our senior labor reporter, but wants to note that he is unable to prevent such shakedowns. So before Mike Elk comes after you, become our next supporter by going here.
Nationwide Prison Labor Strike Called for Today by IWW
The Industrial Workers of the World’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is calling for a nationwide prison labor strike to mark the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising. Incarcerated workers in over 24 states plan to strike today. The prisoners are protesting guard brutality, poor sanitation, poor food, and low-to-nonexistent wages.
The Nation’s John Washington has a long look at the roots of the prison labor organizing effort. Also, check out Payday’s July piece on how public-sector unions could aid the efforts of prisoners to organize. UAW local 2865, which represents 14,000 student workers in the University of California system, became the first union to endorse the efforts.
Power Company Locks Out Nearly 1,000 Union Workers
The workers of Richmond-based Dominion Resources, Inc. provide electricity and natural gas to more than 5 million residents and businesses in 14 states from the South to the Northeast to the Midwest. Now the company has locked out union workers across six states who have been working without a contract since April.
Of the affected workers, members of United Gas Workers Union Local 69, more than half are located in West Virginia. The rest are in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Negotiators for the union and the company reached a tentative agreement in late August, but it was rejected by the union’s “representative council,” which consists of its executive board and shop stewards. After this, and despite having a meeting with a federal mediator scheduled for Thursday, Dominion decided to lock out its union workers on Wednesday.
Yesterday morning, UGWU Local 69 President Craig Bradford told AJR News Network’s “The Mike Queen Show” the reasons behind the rejection of the proposed agreement:
They’re trying to destroy a new hired person’s pension, they’re trying to destroy a new hired person’s ability to retire. Like we said before, they are clearly – they want to completely eliminate a new hired person’s medical insurance when they retire. And then slash their pension, turn it into a cash-balance fund that would slash their benefits by 40%. And the membership [is] clear on this – they are just not wanting to do that because of the detriment it will cause our local.
Despite hopes that the meeting with the mediator would bring the lockout to an end, the union reported yesterday evening that “no agreement was reached and members will continue to be locked out until further notice.”
Student Walkout Follows Faculty Lockout in Brooklyn
Just before Labor Day – and before classes started on Wednesday – the administration of Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus locked out its 400 union faculty members, discontinuing their health insurance and removing their access to their school email addresses. Negotiations of a new contract were underway; the old one expired just days before.
In an announcement on Monday, the administration claimed that its lockout of seasoned educators was necessary in order to ensure affordable tuition and prevent any interruption in classes, which are now being taught by management and scabs. According to The Atlantic, on Tuesday the union rejected a proposed contract by a vote of 226 to 10 while the faculty senate held a decisive 135 to 10 no-confidence vote of the school’s president.
Yesterday, students rallied to the side of their teachers and hundreds of them walked out of their “disorganized” classes, taking to Twitter with the hashtag #LIUwalkout. Shelley Drucker, a freshman on the field hockey team, told The Gothamist:
At the end of the day I play a sport, but I could play it anywhere. I came here because they have good programs. My teachers aren’t here, so why am I going?
If you’re not in New York and can’t show your solidarity on the streets, AFT has set up an online solidarity fund where you can make a donation to support the locked-out professors.
Ousted UMass Amherst Labor Center Director Warns of Plans to Close Center
The Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is one of the most respected of its kind in the U.S. So it is concerning when its director, Eve Weinbaum, says the administration is trying to abolish the center and seemingly strong-armed her out of her position. A letter she wrote, which included an appeal for letters of protest to the school, was published below glowing words of support for her efforts by such well-respected labor advocates as Michael D. Yates and Corey Robin. According to Weinbaum:
As you probably know, the UMass Amherst administration has been cutting the Labor Center’s budget for many years, and on several occasions planned to eliminate the Labor Studies program. […]
I have been a vocal opponent of the administration’s plans to demolish the Labor Center, and I am proud to have fought off many attacks over the past decade. This past spring, I filed grievances when two of the proposed cuts violated our faculty union contract. As we were discussing possible settlements with the provost’s office, however, I was told that the administration would only settle the grievances if I stepped down as Director immediately, so that they could appoint someone more open to “compromise” (in their words). Before I had time to formulate a response, the chair of the Sociology Department sent out an email to the entire faculty of Labor Studies and Sociology, falsely declaring that I had “resigned” as Director, and announcing that she was accepting nominations for a new Labor Center Director. As you may imagine, this came as a shock to myself and my colleagues. As things currently stand, I have been dismissed as Director as of September 1, and the status of the Labor Center is unclear; as of today we have no director but the Sociology Chair will be appointing one soon, with no input from Labor Studies. I am hoping to remain as director of the ULA program, but the administration has not been willing to make that commitment.
Now, fellow Amherst professor and labor scholar Tom Juravich has reportedly replaced Weinbaum as the interim director of the center.
A student at the campus told Payday Report:
UMass’s new provost is ultra-neoliberal and basically she’s trying to get rid of everything that doesn’t create super-rich alums to give money. The only bright spot here is that the faculty – pretty much across the board – hate the provost and are trying to get rid of her.
More OSHA Citations for Southern Chicken Slaughterhouses
Payday has been closely following the recent efforts by OSHA to crack down on workplace safety problems at poultry plants in the South. Last month, we reported on OSHA citations at a Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Florida and at a Tyson’s chicken plant in Center, Texas.
Now, OSHA has cited yet another poultry plant. This one is in Bakersville, Alabama and is run by Keystone Foods. OSHA has fined the company $76,734 after a 65-year-old worker lost the tip of their finger in a March accident. The company was fined for having unguarded machinery, failure to implement proper safety controls to prevent machinery from starting when being cleaned, and failing to provide workers with proper safety gear and protection against falls.
“Keystone Foods is exposing workers to numerous serious safety hazards and must be more proactive with assessing the workplace for deficiencies and taking action to correct them,” Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in the Mobile Office, said in a press release. “This incident could have been prevented if management had followed OSHA standards.”
Unpaid Maritime Workers Stranded on 85 Hanjin Ships Worldwide
Last month, Payday reported on the unpaid maritime workers stranded for four months on the ship of a bankrupt shipping company off the coast of Georgia. This week, over 85 ship crews at 50 ports in 26 countries have found themselves stranded with countries refusing to accept them after their shipping company, Hanjin, went bankrupt.
NPR’s All Things Considered has the story:
Basil Karatzas of the New York-based Karatzas Marine Advisors says Hanjin is reluctant to dock its ships in some of the world’s ports, fearing they will be seized by creditors. And he says other ports around the world have simply turned the Hanjin ships away.
“The port terminals do not want to accept the vessels before they get paid in advance. The company is in bankruptcy, so nobody will give you credit anymore,” he says. Now it’s cash, payable upfront.
Karatzas says Hanjin is more than $5 billion in debt, and an emergency rescue plan in South Korea was rejected by creditors earlier this week. He says the shipping company sought Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. — and was granted permission by a bankruptcy court, which means it could soon be able to dock its ships here. But it’s not clear who will pay to dock those ships — or unload them.
Musicians in Texas Go on Strike
After the Fort Worth Symphony submitted its “last, best, and final contract offer” – the same as its previous offer, according to the union – the musicians of American Federation of Musicians Local 72-147 voted to authorize a strike. In addition to the fact that the proposed contract would have left musicians making 5% less than they did in 2010, the union also cited the long-term health of the orchestra. Cellist and negotiating committee member Shelly Jessup said:
Our serious decision to provide authorization for a strike is about more than wages and benefits. It is about the future of the orchestra. Fort Worth is a proud destination city and should have a destination orchestra. The cuts we have seen since 2010 threaten to undo all the work that donors, musicians and citizens have done over the last 100 years to build the [Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra] into the world class orchestra our city deserves.
Yesterday, the musicians made good on their threat and struck, picketing in front of downtown Fort Worth’s Bass Hall while a local Thai restaurant provided fresh water and egg rolls. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“I’m afraid now that we’re on strike, there’s no rehearsal,” said union president Stewart Williams. But, he said, they would have agreed to play the weekend concerts had management agreed to continue talks.
“All we want to do is continue negotiating, continue working to resolve this,” he said, “and we’ve been told that it’s over; no more negotiations. We’ve got a ‘last, best and final offer’ that tells us we’ve got to take more cuts.”
Corporate Welfare Watch
A $660 million corporate welfare deal has been working its way through the Baltimore City Council, but now has been suddenly and unexpectedly delayed. Under Amour has been pushing to receive public funds to develop the area around its headquarters in the Port Covington area of Baltimore. But on Thursday, the chair of the council’s economic development committee closed a meeting of the committee prior to a vote on the issue. According to the Baltimore Sun:
He later told reporters he was concerned that the public had not had time to properly review the community benefits deal. He also expressed concern about projections that show that city schools would lose millions of dollars in state funding as a result of the project, and wants stronger guarantees that the developer would cover such a loss.
This is not Under Amour CEO Kevin Plank’s first time at the public trough. As Good Jobs First noted last month:
In 2011, Under Armour won a $35 million Baltimore City subsidy to improve parks around his then-recently completed corporate headquarters. This time around, he is asking the city for an investment nearly 19 times higher.
A Boston-based company named Humanyze appears to have taken Taylorism and injected it with a massive dose of steroids and 21st-century technology. According to the Washington Post:
[The company] has taken technology developed at MIT and turned it into special badges that hang around your neck on a lanyard. Each has two microphones doing real-time voice analysis, and each comes with sensors that follow where you are in the office, with motion detectors to record how much you move. The beacons tracking your movements are omitted from bathroom locations, to give you some privacy.
Colossal has dug up a great half-hour long documentary entitled “Farewell – ETAOIN SHRDLU” about the last day that the New York Times used hot metal typesetting. It’s a great film about a bygone era – watch it here.
The New York Times this week has a disturbing documentary looking at airline employees forced to live in a community of 70 RV vehicles at Los Angeles Airport:
The lot was created at least a decade ago as an airport-sponsored program offering airline employees a place to rest before heading to their next destination. Today, however, the next destination for many of the lot’s residents is unknown. As a result of pursuing their dream of working in the aviation industry, with its attendant transient lifestyle, many of the parking lot’s residents are estranged from their families. They are largely a community of people living alone, together — and most now consider the lot “home.” But airport officials do not necessarily share their enthusiasm. Instead, they are actively seeking ways to re-appropriate the space where the community is situated and have slowly, and steadily, reduced the number of its residents.
Finally, Sam Gindin and Herman Rosenfield, writing for the Bullet, have an in-depth analysis on whether unions bargaining over corporate investment is an innovation or a trap.
Thanks for reading this week’s Lunch Pail. If you haven’t already, go here to become a dues-paying reader to help us continue this work. And then consider sending some support to Sally Lehrman’s and Venise Wagner’s Indiegogo campaign that aims to “teach journalists how to investigate disparity’s root causes, not just focus on bleak outcomes.”
Send any tips on stories to [email protected].
Kris Warner is the publisher of Payday Report and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He has previously worked in a variety of other jobs, including as a cleaner in the hot end of his hometown glass plant and as a union organizer for the Steelworkers.