Greetings from Charleston, South Carolina, where Payday is working on a story about minority unionism at a hospital run by the Medical University of South Carolina. Look forward to our story early next week.
Despite Threats of Closing, DNAinfo Reporters Unionize
This week’s Lunch Pail goes out to 26 reporters at DNAinfo/Gothamist who opted this week to unionize with the Writers Guild of America East (WGAE). The successful union drive at DNAinfo marks the 16th successful union drive in the digital media industry in the last two years.
The workers unionized despite what some consider thinly veiled threats from management that the publication, which has not turned a profit since launching in 2009, may close if workers unionized. The publication is owned by billionaire Chicago Cubs owner and Ameritrade Founder Joe Ricketts.
Nestlé Warehouse Workers in Georgia Unionize with RWDSU
Following an aggressive anti-union campaign, workers at a Nestlé warehouse in McDonough, Georgia also voted to unionize by a margin of 49-46 with RWSDU. Workers there expect an uphill battle in getting a first contract.
“They [Nestlé] fought this from Day 1. They brought in people from HR from all around the country,” RWSDU organizer Scandrett told veteran labor reporter Bruce Vail of In These Times.
Black Belt and Other Southern Nonprofits Get 1/10 of National Foundation Funding
According to a new report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, local civil rights and economic justice organizations in the South are not receiving anywhere near an equal amount of philanthropic spending. Regions like Alabama’s Black Belt and the Mississippi Delta receive approximately 1/10, per capita, of the national average of funding from foundations. Between 2010 to 2014, foundations donated, on average, $41 dollars towards philanthropic causes in the regions, while nationally, foundations donated $451 per person, according to the NCRP’s research.
The report concludes that part of the reason that Southern philanthropies get far below the national average of foundation investment is that Southern leaders lack the credentials and education backgrounds that leaders elsewhere have.
“Funders and foundations set up criteria that will not fit grassroots organizations, so what they end up getting is a person that looks good on paper but actually isn’t doing any work,” Pastor Kenneth Glasgow of Donithan, Alabama, who worked to organize prison labor strikes, told the report’s author. “They know the language, they have the grammatical skills, they write this awesome proposal, and they’ve never even been inside a prison, never even been on the street.”
“If you really want something to attach your foundation money to that is going to get you whatever goal you want to reach, you’ll want to attach it to one of the grassroots organizations that’s actually on the ground doing the work, that’s dealing with the directly impacted people, not somebody in an ivory tower with a beautiful office and a full staff on payroll but they ain’t getting no work done,” says Glasgow. “In the South, you can lobby all the hell you want to, but our resource here is not money, because we don’t have none. Our resource here is relationships.”
Go check out the full report on NCRP website and consider investing in the South. We got a lot of work to do here.
OSHA Breaks Press Release Silence, but Many Citations Still Going Unnoticed
Since the Trump Administration took power, OSHA has faced significant criticism for not issuing any press releases in the first three months of its tenure. The press releases prove crucial for many time-strapped journalists who are seeking to learn about cases of unsafe workplaces and understand them quickly.
During the Obama Administration, the policy of OSHA was that it issued a press release for any citation greater than $40,000. In 2016, OSHA issued 486 press releases alone.
Now, after much public outcry from workplace safety advocates, the Trump Administration has finally issued a press release announcing that OSHA is fining Atlantic Drain Service $1.5 million for the death of two workers in October.
“The deaths of these two men could have and should have been prevented. Their employer, which previously had been cited by OSHA for the same hazardous conditions, knew what safeguards were needed to protect its employees but chose to ignore that responsibility,” said Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator in a press release issued by the Trump Administration.
However, former Obama OSHA official Jordan Barab notes in his blog Confined Space that there are more than 30 fines of companies above $40,000 since February 24 that OSHA has not issued any press releases about.
Go to Confined Space and read about the cases that Trump’s OSHA isn’t talking about.
New Orleans Union Sues City Over Failure to Enforce Wage Ordinance
In January 2016, a living wage ordinance went into effect in New Orleans that raised all city employee and contractor wages to $11 an hour.
However, labor activists are charging that the city is still paying nearly 50 of its custodians paid by Exceptional Temporaries Inc. a mere $7.25 an hour. Workers have called on the city to change the policy, but to no avail. Now the union that represents the custodians, United Labor Unions Local 100, is suing the city.
“What this mayor has said is, ‘Thanks for working for me, thanks for cleaning our toilets and our city. I would pay you less and I’ve figured out how to do it,'” United Labor Union Local 100 attorney David Capusso told the Times-Picayune.
Less than 2% of Welfare Applicants in Mississippi Were Approved for Benefits
Between 2003 and 2010, almost half of Mississippi applicants were approved for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, whose maximum benefits are a mere $170 a month for a family. However, according to a new report out by the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, last year Mississippi only approved 167 new applicants for TANF out of a pool of 11,717 applicants.
According to the report, Mississippi has the highest rejection rate for TANF of any state in the nation. The report’s authors cite required drug tests, work search requirements, pressure on caseworkers not to approve applicants, and a Republican control of the state legislature for being the reasons for such a low approval rate.
Sesame Street Premieres Its First Autistic Character
Finally, Payday is very excited that this week Sesame Street introduced its first ever autistic character. As many of you know, Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk was diagnosed as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder as a teenager. Dylan Matthews of Vox, who was also diagnosed as being on the Spectrum as a teenager, has a story about why this is so important:
And, crucially for the show’s autism initiative, randomized evaluations have found that Sesame Street encourages prosocial, cooperative behavior among children. That’s exactly what the show’s autism initiative is seeking to do: model sensitive, cooperative behavior for neurotypical kids.
That’s a message that fits in well with Sesame Street but is miles ahead of autism representation elsewhere in TV and movies. For years, the autism group with the most purchase in Hollywood and the entertainment industry has been Autism Speaks; its “Light Up the Blues” concerts in LA are star-studded affairs with guests like Jack Black, Christina Applegate, and Brad Pitt, and co-hosted by FX Networks COO and Autism Speaks board member Chuck Saftler.
That group has analogized having autism to being kidnapped or having a fatal disease; one of its fundraising videos features an Autism Speaks executive recalling a time she thought about driving off a bridge to kill her autistic child (and saying the reason she didn’t is that she had a non-autistic child she needed to take care of). But the group has a huge following among parents of autistic children, particularly wealthy parents in the finance and entertainment worlds like Saftler, which helps it maintain its standing despite actual autistics’ objections.
It should be no surprise given the prominence of a group like that in Hollywood that movie studios have put out some harmful and at times actively anti-autistic film projects over the years. 2009’s Adam, starring Hugh Dancy as a man on the autism spectrum and Rose Byrne as his love interest, seemed designed to show that neurotypical people would have to be nuts to even consider dating someone with autism. I saw that movie when I was 19, having never been in a serious relationship before, and it was both offensive and deeply terrifying. What if the movie was right? What if people like me just didn’t deserve to have romantic relationships like everybody else?
To read more, go to Vox.
Weekend Reads & Listens
— All About Jazz published Part One of their series “The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest”:
Considered by many to be the first important Civil Rights protest song, “Strange Fruit” is often thought to be a Billie Holiday composition. In fact, an unassuming New York City schoolteacher and loyal Communist Party member, Abel Meeropol, had written the song (originally as a poem titled “Bitter Fruit”) in 1936. Meeropol was better known as the adoptive father of the two sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, following their parents’ execution for espionage. Journalist David Margolick, who wrote Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights (Ecco, 2000) explains that Meeropol, a Civil Rights activist, did not have Holiday in mind at the time he penned the song. Meeropol had been driven by a shockingly graphic Lawrence Beitler photograph in the New York Post, showing the 1930 mob lynching of two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, in Marion, Indiana; murders for which no one was ever convicted. Meeropol added music so that his wife could perform the song. He later shared the song with the singer Laura Duncan who performed it at Madison Square Garden. It had yet to reach the significant popularity that would come with Holiday’s arrangement.
“Strange Fruit” was a milestone in Holiday’s career and she was perceptive enough to capitalize on it, if not always in the most sound manner. Her troubled life led her to make claims about the song that simply weren’t true. Chief among them was that Meeropol, upon hearing Holiday sing at a Harlem club, decided—on the spot—that he would set the poem to music for her; that she, in Holiday’s own recollection, was the only singer that could do justice to his words. The urban myth never completely disappeared. As late as 1995, the Pulitzer Prize winning classical composer Ned Rorem inexplicably questioned Meeropol’s legacy with no supporting evidence and almost ten years after Meeropol’s death. In retrospect, it hardly mattered as Holiday would come to be inextricably linked to the song.
Café Society was the first integrated night club in the US. Holiday and her pianist Sonny White, having modified Meeropol’s original musical arrangement, performed the song at the Greenwich Village venue in 1939 and the immediate audience reaction was stunned silence. Nevertheless, “Strange Fruit” quickly grew in popularity and became her regular closing number, complete with dramatic lighting and no encores. Recording the song was a different story. Holiday, under contract to Columbia Records, found her label flatly refusing to issue a recording for fear of offending its Southern distributors. A much smaller label, the Dixieland-oriented Commodore Records, produced the recording in 1939 and it sold more than one million copies.
— A new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that over an 18-month period, the federal government paid $18 billion to 68 federal contractors with proven wage violations.
— Vox has a long look at the business efforts that led Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to veto a bill that would have raised the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
— Finally, The New Yorker has a long profile on one of the unsung legal heroes of the Civil Rights Movement:
The wager was ten dollars. It was 1944, and the law students of Howard University were discussing how best to bring an end to Jim Crow. In the half century since Plessy v. Ferguson, lawyers had been chipping away at segregation by questioning the “equal” part of the “separate but equal” doctrine—arguing that, say, a specific black school was not truly equivalent to its white counterpart. Fed up with the limited and incremental results, one student in the class proposed a radical alternative: why not challenge the “separate” part instead?
That student’s name was Pauli Murray. Her law-school peers were accustomed to being startled by her—she was the only woman among them and first in the class—but that day they laughed out loud. Her idea was both impractical and reckless, they told her; any challenge to Plessy would result in the Supreme Court affirming it instead. Undeterred, Murray told them they were wrong. Then, with the whole class as her witness, she made a bet with her professor, a man named Spottswood Robinson: ten bucks said Plessy would be overturned within twenty-five years.
Murray was right. Plessy was overturned in a decade—and, when it was, Robinson owed her a lot more than ten dollars. In her final law-school paper, Murray had formalized the idea she’d hatched in class that day, arguing that segregation violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Some years later, when Robinson joined with Thurgood Marshall and others to try to end Jim Crow, he remembered Murray’s paper, fished it out of his files, and presented it to his colleagues—the team that, in 1954, successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education.
Go to The New Yorker to read the rest.
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.