Tenn. Gains 12,000 Union Members in 2016 – Maryland Dems Block $15 an Hour – McConnell Pulls a Slick One on Miners – #OrganizeTheSouth

Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Vince Fort rallies with workers protecting outside of Nissan car dealership to protest the company's labor rights at its Canton, Mississippi plant. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

By Mike Elk

It’s Payday folks!  Time to get paid.

Payday raised $800 this week toward our winter fundraising goal. We have now raised $2,125 from 52 donors during our winter campaign. With 17 days left to go, help us reach our goal of $5,000.

Obama lost 700,000 Union Members During His Administration

Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its union statistics, which showed that, nationwide, unions lost 240,000 union members. In the private sector, unions lost 119,000 members. While in the public sector, unions lost 121,000 members.

Overall, organized labor lost 700,000 union members since Obama took office in 2009.

6 States in the South GAINED 57,000 Union Members in 2016

While unions lost members nationwide, six states in the South gained union members in 2016:

  • Tennessee gained 12,000 new union members, bringing its total to 158,000.
  • Maryland gained a whopping 23,000 members, bringing its total to 310,000.
  • Mississippi gained 10,000 members, bringing its total to 70,000.
  • North Carolina gained 6,000 members, bringing its total to 129,000.
  • Kentucky gained 3,000 union members, bringing its total to 165,000.
  • Georgia gained 3,000 union members, bringing its total 190,000.

Alabama, Florida, Virginia & Texas Suffer Massive Union Losses in 2016

While those states in the South made gains, others lost union members for reasons that are unclear:

  • Florida lost 90,000 members, decreasing its total membership to 456,000.
  • Texas lost 41,000 members, decreasing its total to 606,000.
  • Alabama lost 37,000 members, decreasing its total to 153,000.
  • Virginia lost 32,000 members, decreasing its total to 160,000.
  • Louisiana lost 31,000 members, decreasing its total to 76,000.
  • Arkansas lost 11,000 union members, decreasing its total to 11,000.
  • South Carolina lost 9,000 members, decreasing its total to 32,000.
  • West Virginia lost 4,000 union members, decreasing its total to 79,000.

Montgomery County, Maryland Dem Vetoes $15 an Hour Legislation

Despite Maryland’s gains in union membership and Democrats’ need of labor’s support to regain the Governor’s House in 2018 it appears that Democrats in the state are intent on fighting against the labor movement.

This week, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, the three-term African-American Democrat, vetoed a bill that would raise the suburban DC county’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Late last year, DC voted to raises its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, and activists hoped the move would create momentum for passing similar measures in DC’s suburbs.

Leggett wrote in a letter to City Council President Roger Berliner that he vetoed the bill because he remains concerned “about the competitive disadvantage [the bill] would put the County in compared to our neighboring [counties].”

“Working families who fear life under the Trump presidency need not wait for the White House to make their lives harder — their own local leaders have already started,” the MD/DC Fight for $15 Coalition said in a statement about the move.

Key Maryland Dem State Senator Wants to Ban Local Minimum Wage Changes

Meanwhile, Derek David, the Democratic chairman of the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee, has introduced legislation that would ban local governments, like Montgomery County, from passing initiatives to raise their minimum wage.

“We’re not a collection of 24 individual fiefdoms,” Davis told The Washington Post.  “We have to work together as a state so we can attract and retain businesses, keep a healthy, strong economy, and not put our jobs at risk.”

Jaime Contreras, vice president of the 32BJ SEIU, told the Post that, if passed, the proposed bill would make them “lose the little remaining faith they have in the Democratic lawmakers.”

McConnell Moves to Axe Miner’s Pension This Spring

Last fall, Payday covered the fight by the United Mine Workers (UMW) to pass the Miner’s Protection Act. Senate Democrats threatened to shut down the U.S. Senate unless the Miner’s Protection Act was passed. At the time, the Senate passed a four-month temporary spending bill that would extend retired miner’s health care until April.

The bill would allocate approximately $220 million a year through a complex formula from the EPA’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to the United Mine Workers Pension and Retirement Fund. The Fund is facing insolvency as a result of bankruptcies in the coal industry. If the fund went insolvent, 125,000 retired coal miners and their beneficiaries could lose their health care and pension benefits.

Now, Senator Joe Manchin is threatening to shut down the government once again unless the Senate passes the Miner’s Protection Act.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced the Helping Ensure Long-term Protection (HELP) for Coal Miner Health Care Act. The measure would protect retired coal miner’s health insurance permanently but would do nothing to address the miner’s pensions.

If a resolution on the issue of coal miner’s pensions is not resolved, Senate Democrats could shut down the Senate; forcing Trump, who claimed to be a champion of coal miners, into a potentially awkward public showdown.

Anti-Outsourcing Fight Gains Key Allies In Tennessee

Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Haslam is attempting to pass a plan through the state legislature that would allow him to outsource tens of thousands of jobs. However, the plan is facing resistance, especially among communities affected by the University of Tennessee System. Last week, a group of 20 bipartisan state legislators came out with a letter opposing outsourcing in the University System.

Haslam’s plan is not popular even among faculty administration, and his proposed legislation would allow university presidents to opt-out of privatizing their services. Earlier this month, the president of Eastern Tennessee State University, Bill Noland, said he would not consider outsourcing any of the university’s 228 maintenance jobs.

Now, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Student Senate has passed a resolution opposing any outsourcing being done at the University. The Student Senate hopes that the measure puts pressure on University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro to block any such plans.

New Study: 6,000 Texas State Workers on Food Stamps

Having a state job doesn’t always means having a good job. In Texas, where workers lack the right to collective bargain, workers have been organizing with the Texas State Employee Union (a Communications Workers of America affiliate), which has been able to organize 9,500 dues-paying members.

This week, they attempted to put pressure on the state legislature to raise the pay of workers. A new study put out by the union, using data from the State’s Health and Human Services Commission, shows that approximately 6,000 workers receive food stamps. Also, the study showed that 30,000 children of state workers qualify for Medicaid.

The study also showed that low pay and a lack of benefits have led to a turnover problem. According to the data, the turnover rate among Texas state workers is 18 percent, a 15-year high.

Workers are hoping that the study and their activism can put pressure on the state to pass a $6,000 raise for all Texas state employees this year.

“Are we going to spend $1.3 billion on border security or serving the people that serve Texas?” Texas State Representative Mary González told the non-union Dallas Morning News.

(Full Disclosure: Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk is a member of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, an affiliate of CWA. CWA has no editorial control over Payday).


Baseball Break

Folks, let’s not lie, every issue of Payday seems to have a long form baseball story in it. Baseball writing remains one of the few areas of journalism where there is still consistently good long form even on social issues.

So we are going to make it a regular feature. Send us your favorite baseball stories each week at [email protected].

This week’s story is from the Writers Guild-represented Vice Sports about Negro League all-star and civil rights pioneer Art Pennington:

Pennington was a switch-hitter, he played every position but pitcher and catcher. In the Negro Leagues, he was a three-time East-West All Star. He even stole bases. But he never got the call from a big league front office. It wasn’t simply the color of his skin—by the mid-1950s, when Pennington was putting up dominant numbers for major league affiliate clubs, plenty of black players had found their way onto major league rosters. Why didn’t Pennington?

The answer lies on the second page of a scrapbook Pennington donated to National Baseball Hall of Fame archives. Pinned to the second page are pictures of all five of Pennington’s wives: Mattie, Mary Ann, Jewell, Anita, and Beth. The last two of those wives had white skin.

“The wife. That was the whole thing,” Pennington told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “They actually said, ‘Would you leave your wife?’ I said, ‘Man, I wouldn’t leave my wife for all of baseball.”’

Go to Vice to read the whole story and check out the photos.


Weekend Reads and Listens:

 The Bitter Southerner has a great photo essay tour of John Lewis’ 5th Congressional District in Atlanta.

— The Alt has an excellent long form look at IUE-CWA members on strike in Waterford, New York titled, “Cold, broke, and under surveillance: life on the Momentive Picket Line”:

“It’s really dangerous where the reactors and distillation is,” Johnson said. “There’s a handful of leaders and engineers in there, but they can’t run the equipment, they weren’t part of the day-to-day operations. Little tweaks to the system here and there, these aren’t in the book for you to read about how to keep things in control and in check. I’ll guarantee you they’re not doing half the work we would be, in fear of something going wrong when they don’t have the people to respond to it.”

He and other strikers believe the input of workers and output of trucks are simply for show. A waste of money on hourly scab wages and transportation of very few–if any–materials that could have simply been put towards employee healthcare and retirement. Johnson recalled when strikers once stopped a truck driver who was pulling into the plant around the back entrance. They do this often, to explain their presence and current situation. “A lot of them don’t even know,” Harrington said. “Some of them will back right out and drive away.” This particular driver relayed to the workers that he was pulling in his tractor trailer to pick up only one pallet.

“It’s honestly insulting at this point that the company is hemorrhaging money just to keep us out, just to flex their muscles,” Rossner said. They are concerned about community safety when it comes to the mere two months that scab workers have had to learn the inner workings of the dangerous equipment at Momentive.

— Over at the South Lawn, Douglas Williams and the mysterious Cato the Younger (the pen name of a union organizer, whose union doesn’t always like what we write), has a great look back at how the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina took on the KKK in 1958:

When approximately 50-150 Klansmen were all set to rally, 500 Lumbee, armed with rocks and sticks and firearms swarmed them. Four Klansmen were wounded by gunfire, the rest (including Cole) ran for the woods, leaving behind their families. The sheriff ultimately showed up and dispersed the ‘Klan rout’ after the Lumbee tribe took the Klan’s banner as a trophy, which is pictured above with the leaders of the Lumbee group who confronted the Klan, Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine. Cole was ultimately arrested and prosecuted for inciting a riot, and the Lumbee still celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Hayes Pond to this day.

Go to South Lawn to read the whole story and the lessons it holds for how to take on racism in the Trump era.

— Finally, Vanity Fair has a long look at how author Timothy Tyson tracked down the woman who falsely accused Emmett Till of sexual harassing her in 1955.

Love & Solidarity,


Mike Elk is a Sidney award winner and a lifetime member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO,  as an investigative reporter at In These Times Magazine, and has written for The New York Times. In 2015, Elk was illegally fired for union organizing at POLITICO and used his NLRB settlement to found Payday Report in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Follow him on Twitter @MikeElk or email him: [email protected]

Contribute to Payday’s winter fundraising drive today and help us continue covering workers that the mainstream media ignores.


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]

1 Comment on "Tenn. Gains 12,000 Union Members in 2016 – Maryland Dems Block $15 an Hour – McConnell Pulls a Slick One on Miners – #OrganizeTheSouth"

  1. This is perhaps the greatest gift of our deteriorating government: We are awakening. Thanks for having the courage to stories like these.

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