By Mike Elk and Kris Warner
It’s Payday, folks! Greetings from the Pittsburgh of the South: Chattanooga, Tennessee!
Tennessee Cadillac Seat Makers Vote Overwhelmingly to Join UAW
This week’s Lunch Pail goes out to the workers at Magna Seating in Spring Hill, Tennessee, who voted 192 to 1 to join the UAW.
Also, big congrats to the workers at Law360, who voted 109 to 9 to join the NewsGuild.
Grade School Buddy Becomes Dues-Paying Reader of Payday Report
This week, Andrew Moelk, a Pittsburgh grade school buddy of Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk and now a resident of Savannah, Georgia, became a dues-paying reader of Payday. We also welcome Mike Fadel and New Jersey workers compensation attorney David Tykulsker.
Join these upstanding members of the Payday Report community and become a dues-paying reader today.
VW Pays for Reporter Junket to Chattanooga While Hiring 700 Temps at $13.50 an Hour
This weekend, Volkswagen is paying for nearly two dozen auto journalists from around the country to come to Chattanooga to tour production facilities of its new crossover SUV. Not only is Volkswagen paying for the reporters to travel to Tennessee, but it also plans to wine & dine them at some of the fanciest restaurants in town and is paying for them to stay at the boutique hipster Dwell hotel.
Each room of the Dwell Hotel is unique and custom designed with vintage 1960s-era retro furniture. According to the hotel’s website, the cheapest room costs $225 a night.
While the company spends lavishly in the hope of getting journalists to give its new SUV good reviews, Volkswagen has not been nearly as generous with its workers. It recently announced that it plans to hire 700 temps through the Aerotek staffing agency to build the new SUV. Temp wages start at $13.50 an hour to build a car priced at approximately $40,000.
VW Temps Won’t Have Health Insurance, Tenn Obamacare “Very Near Collapse”
Volkswagen commonly employs temps for up to a year at its Chattanooga facility and does not provide them with healthcare coverage. This week, Insurance Commissioner of Tennessee Julie Mix McPeak warned that the exchanges were “very near collapse.” The number of insurers on the exchange has dwindled to only four, and Tennessee was forced to approve rate hikes from 44% to 62%.
At the national level, as Dean Baker explains at NewsGuild-represented Truthout, “this is not a problem of health care costs rising rapidly in general, [but with] the mix of people who sign up on the health care exchanges.” They have turned out to be generally less healthy than the population as a whole, and thus more costly for insurers. Baker suggests two solutions:
[T]he insurers are still making money in the individual market outside of the exchanges. We could simply make participation in the exchanges a condition for participating in the individual markets. This in effect tells the insurers that if they want to make money insuring healthy people, they will also have to bear the risk of insuring less healthy people.
The other route would be to do what President Obama originally proposed in his 2008 campaign: set up a Medicare-type public option in the exchanges. This would ensure that everyone had an efficient low-cost plan which they could buy into.
Given the refusal of State Senate Republicans in Tennessee to approve Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s attempt to expand Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans are unable to obtain affordable health insurance.
Microsoft Temp Workers Finally Win Union Contract, But Face Layoffs
While Volkswagen intends to hire 700 hundred temps at its Chattanooga facility, recent NLRB rulings have made it easier for temp workers to form or join unions. In the past, the UAW has not attempted to organize around temp issues at the plant in Chattanooga. However, the new NLRB ruling may open the way for such organizing.
This month, after a long campaign to unionize temp workers employed by Microsoft that built off earlier efforts, the independent, 33-person Temporary Workers of America union finally won a first contract. However, as the Seattle Times points out, the news was bittersweet:
[The union] asked Microsoft to join the TWA’s talks with Lionbridge, citing the precedent established in Browning-Ferris and saying Microsoft’s new paid-time-off rules didn’t go far enough.
When Microsoft refused, saying Lionbridge was the TWA members’ only employer, the union asked the NLRB to investigate whether the company was a joint employer under the Browning-Ferris standard.
Microsoft resisted the NLRB probe in an appeal that stretched for nine months, until a national NLRB panel ruled last month that Microsoft had to cooperate with NLRB information requests.
A week later, Lionbridge approached the TWA with a renewed contract offer. Work on the Windows application project to which the group was assigned had tapered off, union members say they were told, and layoffs were imminent.
Oklahoma Air Force Base Workers Strike Enters Fourth Week
Members of International Association of Machinists Local 885 are entering their fourth of a strike at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. New Channel 9 KWTV has the story:
Never have had a strike, this is my first and we’re learning as we go exactly how to do them. I hope to never have another one,” local union president Ben Moody said.
The union has a 570 worker membership, and roughly 260 work on base. Members have been striking in shifts of a dozen from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
The union is responsible for any and all maintenance to the facilities on base everything from heating to cooling to plumbing, according to Moody. Their strike poses a problem for some work being done on base in which climate controlled buildings are key for the production of aircraft.
According to one source on base, who asked to stay anonymous, one building is already without air conditioning and there are rumors of problems in other facilities.
Workplace Deaths in Virginia This Year Surpass Last Year’s Total
As of August 23, 32 workers had died in workplace-related illnesses and injuries in Virginia, compared to a total of 31 workers in 2015. Earlier this month, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry had already warned about the “surge” of workplace deaths and called for “greater employer and worker vigilance on occupational safety and health protections.”
Only one workplace was the site of multiple deaths in the past year, a Goodyear Tire and Rubber manufacturing plant in Danville, where workers have union representation with the United Steelworkers. More from Virginia Business:
Data at the website of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), a division of the U. S. Department of Labor, give a brief description of the cause behind reported workplace fatalities, which employers are required by law to report. According to the data for the deaths that have occurred at Goodyear since last August:
- Jeanie Strader, 56, died on Aug, 31, 2015, after being caught in the plant’s steam rollers.
- Kevin Edmonds, 54, died on March 31, 2016, after being crushed between a wall and a pallet.
- Greg Cooper, 52, died on April 12, after falling into a vat of boiling water and oil.
The outcome of inspections are pending in several of these cases and until cases are closed, the agency points out that entries concerning specific OSHA inspections are subject to continuing correction and updating, particularly with regard to citation items.
In the most recent death of 47-year-old electrician, William “Billy” Scheier on Aug. 12, there is no OSHA data posted. However, according to the medical examiner’s office in Roanoke, the cause of his death — termed an industrial accident by the state — was blunt injuries to the chest and mechanical asphyxiation. Dr. Amy Tharp, the examiner in the case, said those terms refer to a crushing type of injury and a weight to the chest that physically prevents a person from breathing.
******* Bluegrass Break *******
Bluegrass Break is on break this week for vacation, but be sure to check out the latest Folk Labor Desk, where Folk Labor Ombudsman J.P. Wright sings the song of the railroad worker. When J.P. is not wearing his folk labor ombudsman hat, he is a Locomotive Engineer, driving trains from Louisville, Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee. This song details the stress of working a job that takes a person away from home for 70 hours a week.
Arkansas Judge Under Fire For Running Debtor’s Prison
The ACLU this week has sued the city of Sherwood, Arkansas for jailing people who are unable to pay their bills. Bryce Colvert at Writers Guild-represented Think Progress has the story:
[Nikki Petree] has allegedly been arrested at least seven times over the last 15 years, spending more than 25 days in jail, and has already paid $640 for bouncing a check of less than $30. She currently sits in the Pulaski County Jail because she can’t come up with $2,656.93 in additional fees, according to the lawsuit.
“There are many individuals like Nikki Petree who are incarcerated for their inability to pay,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, on a call with the media.
The lawsuit from her organization and the ACLU of Arkansas is filed on behalf of five plaintiffs: four low-income residents of the city of Sherwood who have been allegedly jailed over an inability to pay fines and fees associated with bounced checks — all of whom are still either incarcerated or under threat of being put back in jail — and a resident of the city who is suing over the alleged misuse of his tax money to run the debtors prison scheme. It names the City of Sherwood, Pulaski County, and Judge Milas H. Hale, III, who presides over the Sherwood District Court, as defendants.
“The Sherwood District Court of Arkansas epitomizes the criminalization of poverty and the corrupting effect of financial incentives on our local courts,” Clarke said, calling the practices “brazen and unconstitutional.”
Memphis Workers Win Legal Battle, Will It Help?
Yesterday, we released a story on the years-long organizing and legal battles of workers at several distribution centers in Memphis. Late last week, a federal court ruled in their favor, upholding earlier NLRB rulings that had found the company repeatedly broke the law and denied workers their rights to unionize and collectively bargain. Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common, and demonstrate how just how weak and ineffective labor law is for workers.
Duke University Graduate Students to Organize in Wake of NLRB Ruling
Earlier this week, the NLRB ruled that teaching and research assistants at private universities have the right to unionize, reversing an earlier decision that had reversed a still earlier decision. As David Moberg explained in In These Times:
The NLRB has shifted back and forth over the past several decades on issues regarding who, among all the people on a university campus, is a worker and thus has the right to organize a union. In its decision in 2000 regarding New York University (NYU) teaching and research assistants, the NLRB decided that working as a TA or RA looked like many other “common law” employment relationships. Therefore, they should have the right to form a union and to bargain collectively, the NLRB said.
But four years later, looking at Brown University, the Republican-leaning majority argued that the NLRA was intended to cover “economic,” not “educational,” activities, and overturned the NYU decision. (The administration there then voluntarily agreed to recognize the union). In its rejoinder to the authors of the Brown decision, the current NLRB majority, reviewing the evidence from Columbia, said that treating teaching and research assistants as workers best fulfilled the intentions of the NLRA. Also, the NLRB wrote, just because work could be educationally useful did not mean it was not, as well, a job.
Now, student organizers at Duke have said that they plan to move forward with their own unionizing efforts. According to Duke University student paper The Chronicle:
Scott Barish, a Ph.D. student in cell and molecular biology and one of the union’s organizers, said the campaign has not yet spoken to administrators.
However, it plans to do so in the coming weeks, he noted.
Issues they hope to address, Barish said, include a lack of dental care, improving child care for students with families, more transparency from the administration and a clear contract listing graduate students’ rights and responsibilities.
Baltimore Adjuncts and Healthcare Professionals Unionize
Students who plan to move from behind the desk to in front it will find more and more unionized adjunct positions in Maryland. After voting more than two years ago in a union representation election, adjunct professors at Groucher College last week became members of SEIU Local 500, joining the ranks of adjuncts at three other colleges who are unionized, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The Sun has also been covering the organizing efforts of workers at Chase Brexton Health Care to join SEIU Local 1199. Yesterday, they voted 87 to 9 (with 15 uncounted challenged votes) in favoring of unionizing. Brian Owens, an SEIU organizer, told the Sun, “I think the workers at Chase Brexton sent a clear message that patient care matters and they are willing to fight for it.”
Payday Pays Tribute to George Curry & Warren Hinckle
Payday would like to pay special tribute to two trailblazing journalists who died this week.
George Curry was a syndicated African-American columnist who appeared weekly in hundreds of black newspapers across the country. He died on Saturday, August 20th, at the age of 69. Black Press USA has a moving tribute to Curry.
Crusading reporter Warren Hinckle passed away on Thursday at the age of 77. Hinckle had dedicated his career to the cause of providing heat for low income residents in San Francisco. Labor journalist Randy Shaw profiled Hinckle’s efforts. Check it out at Beyond Chron.
Earlier this month, Simone Manuel became the first African-American swimmer to win a gold medal at the Olympics. The win was symbolic of the strides made in race relations since the massive defunding of public swimming pools that occurred across America because racist whites didn’t want to swim with blacks.
Chattanooga-based writer Erin E. Tocknell has a fantastic long read about Nashville deciding to close all of their public pools in 1961 rather than integrate them:
Nashville, Tennessee, sits in the bottom of a geological basin encircled by hills, so while it might go without saying that any Southern day in July is “hot,” Nashville can be a stew of misery. Heat rises in waves from the concrete, but no breeze stirs the bowl. The air feels wet and immobile; the city languishes to a crawl beneath it.
July 18, 1961, was exactly that kind of standstill day in the “Athens of the South.” Lillard and his friend, Matthew Walker, didn’t know what to do with themselves. Since graduating that May from the state-funded, historically black Tennessee State University, Kwame Lillard, known then as “Leo,” had lived and worked in the nondescript wood-frame house on Jefferson Street that served as headquarters for the Nashville Student Movement and a logistical center for the Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Rides. It was Lillard’s job to train and prepare would-be Freedom Riders before they continued on to the perils of Jackson, Mississippi.
“It was like getting a passport to go to prison, that’s what it was, and we (Lillard and activist Diane Nash) were the processing department,” he remembers.
Take some time this weekend and check out Tocknell’s long read at The Bitter Southerner.
Durham-based Scalawag Magazine has a moving photo essay at how workers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana are banding together to clean up after the flood. Check out the piece in its entirety.
Finally, this week marks the twentieth anniversary of the enactment of welfare reform. Our good friends over at IFPTE-represented Talk Poverty have a great in-depth look at how welfare reform failed, titled “Everything You Wanted to Know About Welfare Reform, but Were Afraid to Ask.”
Thanks for reading this week’s Lunch Pail. Please consider becoming a dues-paying reader to show your support for our work. Also, please consider contributing to the GoFundMe campaign in support of Trump Taj Mahal workers, which was started by the workers’ union.
Send any tips on stories to [email protected]. Let’s go Buccos!
Mike Elk is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report and a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and at In These Times Magazine.
Kris Warner is publisher of Payday Report and member of the Industrial Workers of the World.