Tenn. Teachers Organize to Strike – Workplace Deaths Spike Under Trump – Labor Divided on Acosta Resignation

Workers march on Workers Memorial Day in 2016 (Sheetmetal Workers Union)

Greetings from the Burgh, where I am back to full health and had an absolutely wonderful week despite the drop off in recurring donors we are seeing

Payday Sees Drop in Recurring Donors Following SEIU Sexual Misconduct Investigation & Union Democracy Coverage

Over the past few weeks, Payday had done a series of stories examining sexual misconduct retaliation within SEIU, the NewsGuild not allowing 2,000 members to vote in their upcoming leadership election, and the Steelworkers covering for US Steel as they appeal a Clean Air Act enforcement decision in Pittsburgh.

Typically, when we do hard-hitting labor reporting that focuses on corporate or public sector targets, but in recent weeks, we’ve seen a steep decrease in recurring members dropping their subscriptions. In the last two weeks alone, we’ve seen 12 people drop their recurring subscription (a huge spike for us).

Many in the labor movement don’t think that our dirty laundry should be aired in public, but who wants to join a union if they are going to be sexually harassed by the union’s leadership? Who wants to join a union if new members can’t vote? Finally, who wants to join a union that is willing to stand up for their jobs at the risk of making everyone else in the region sick.

To keep this type of vital labor reporting, we call on our readers to sign up today as recurring donors today.

Workplace Deaths Spike Under Trump

New data released by the National Employment Law Projects shows that workplace fatality investigations by OSHA have spiked under the Trump Administration. In Fiscal Year 2018, workplace fatality investigations reached a ten year high of 929; claiming by nearly a 100 from the year before.

“The latest data from OSHA is very alarming,” said Debbie Berkowitz, NELP’s program director for worker health and safety, and a former senior official with OSHA. “We’re seeing huge red flags in the continued drop in enforcement and staffing at OSHA, while the number of workplace fatality investigations is at a decade high. That’s a clear indication that workplace deaths are on the rise.”

The increase in fatalities comes as the number of inspectors has dramatically decreased from 952 in 2016 to 875 in 2018.

At the same time, an analysis by the National Employment Law Project shows that the sophistication and complexity of the inspections being performed have already decreased dramatically. For more, check out NELP’s page.

Tennessee Teachers Form New Organization as Strike Talks Lingers

Across the nation, a number of the rank-and-file organization of teachers from various unions have formed to help propel many union leaders into supporting teachers’ strike.

This week, teachers in Tennessee announced the formation of the TN Teachers United. The teachers say the group was formed after meeting with similar groups that formed in West Virginia and Arizona.

A teachers’ strike hasn’t happened in Tennessee since 1978 and many of the new organizers are skeptical that they have the support to launch one now, but they won’t rule out the possibility.

“I think we have to leave everything on the table,” Amanda Kail, a teacher at Margaret Allen Middle School in Nashville told Chalkbeat.  “A lot of people are afraid to talk about it, but we can’t be afraid. I think we’re reaching a boiling point.”

The organizers are currently circulating a questionnaire as they seek to build support for the organization throughout the state. More can be found out on their facebook TN Teachers United, which already has approximately 1,000 members.

Women Labor Leaders Outspoken in Calling for Acosta to Resign Over Sex Trafficking

Last month, the AFL-CIO while meeting in Washington, D.C. declined to pass a resolution calling on Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign over allegations that he failed to prosecture a major sex trafficking ring lead by Jeffrey Epstein.

So far, both American Federation of Teacher President Randi Weingarten and American Flight Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson have called on Acosta to resign. Both labor leaders have sought to organize another labor leaders to issue similar calls.

“We feel in this instance Secretary Acosta should resign,” Weingarten, a sexual assault survivor herself, told Bloomberg. “I understand others may differ from it. I’m perfectly fine with people doing it on a union by union basis.”

Study: White Americans More Likely to Cause Pollution Than Suffer From It

Last month, Payday Report covered an ugly scene as a crowd of orange-clad steelworkers, heckled African American Pa. State Rep Summer Lee at an air quality crisis hearing called in the wake of a fire at the Clairton Coke Workers destroying sulfur dioxide regulation equipment.  

Later, a study found that only 400 out of the 1,400 workers employed at the Clariton Coke Workers actually lived in Allegheny County, where the mill is located.

Now, a new study shows that air pollution is disportinately caused by the consumers’ demands of white consumers while negatively affecting communities of colors disportinately.

“This paper is exciting and really quite novel,” says Anjum Hajat, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study. “Inequity in exposure to air pollution is well documented, but this study brings in the consumption angle.”

For more on the study, check out NPR.

Western PA Teamsters May Sue Their International Over UPS Contract Implementation

Earlier this year, Teamsters in Western PA voted against a contract with UPS by 96%. However, now the international may impose the contract on them anyhow.

Dave Jamieson at the Writers’ Guild-represented HuffPost has the story:

The contract under dispute in Pennsylvania is what’s known as a “supplemental” one ― a secondary accord, specific to a region, that deals with issues not laid out in the master contract. The Teamsters have dozens of supplemental contracts with UPS around the country. The vast majority of them have been resolved.

The sticking points in Pennsylvania, though, are that members wanted UPS to contribute more to their pension fund, which is in financial trouble, and assure time-and-a-half pay for part-time drivers on weekends, according to Kevin Schmitt, president of Teamsters Local 249 who has been negotiating the supplemental contract. Schmitt said UPS’ offers became worse over the course of negotiations, after members rejected the company’s first proposal.

Leaders of the western Pennsylvania locals urged members to vote down the most recent offer and authorize them to go back to the bargaining table. The members did so in resounding numbers: Out of 1,817 votes cast, 1,752 came down against the contract.

Schmitt said he and others argued the need to negotiate with UPS further, but were told by national Teamster negotiators that what the locals were asking of UPS wasn’t attainable. He said he isn’t sure what authority the union has to override the member vote, given that 63 percent of eligible voters participated, and the “no” votes far surpassed two-thirds. He said he was told the issue now goes before the union’s executive board.

For more, go to HuffPost.

NYT Reporter Glenn Thrush Demoted After Sexual Misconduct Back on His Old Beat

Back in December of 2017, I wrote about how upset I was that the New York Times retained 51-year-old Glenn Thrush after he followed a 23-year-old low-level Politico staffer across the Key Bridge into another state, pursuing her sexually until the point where he cried.

In 2017, the New York Times announced that they would suspend Thrush for two months, which happened to fall primarily during the holiday season and demote it to a less prestigious beat.

However, an analysis done by Jezebel shows that less than a year later that Thrush is back on high-profile political beat:

These days, Thrush is covering Congress, most recently filing a story about the Ilhan Omar controversy with another reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg. In late February, he was even bylined on a story that deals directly with sexual abuse, writing about Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta, who’s facing criticism over the plea deal he arranged for serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein while Acosta was serving as the U.S. Attorney for Southern District of Florida.

In an email, Murphy, the Times spokesperson, told me, “Glenn is covering the Hill, filling in for a colleague there who is on book leave.” She didn’t respond to a follow-up question; I had asked if there were concerns about putting Thrush directly on a story dealing with sexual abuse, given that he himself was reassigned for alleged sexual misconduct. Thrush also did not respond to a request for comment.

The Times has a recent history of reassigning reporters who publicly mess up to cover what appear to be, in their eyes, less “prestigious” beats. In July, national security reporter Ali Watkins was the subject of a series of explosive stories over her three-year relationship with James Wolfe, a top aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who was arrested for leaking to reporters. (Wolfe ultimately pleaded guilty to lying during a federal leak investigation and was sentenced to two months in prison.) Watkins had her phone and email records seized by federal investigators, a fact she didn’t reveal to the Times for months, on the advice of her lawyers.

It was a career- and life-altering mistake of an entirely different type and Watkins, 26, was, unlike Thrush, the subject of an extremely long story by the Times themselves, outlining her misdeeds. (While the Times did cover the Thrush allegations in two brief stories, they didn’t re-report the allegations in the Vox article.) Like Thrush, however, Watkins was reassigned to a beat involving the social safety net: She was moved from D.C. to New York, where she now covers “courts and social services,” per her author page. (Watkins declined to comment when reached by Jezebel.)

For more,go to Jezebel.

We gotta run to dinner, but pass the hat and help us pay for dinner. Thank you all for your supoort.

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]

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