West Virginia Teachers Vote to Strike (AGAIN!) – Bloomberg Union Taps 1st Women of Color Prez – Labor Split on Amazon

Striking teachers in the West Virginia State Capitol (AP).

Greetings from Washington, D.C.

Folks, its the day after Payday and I am just as broke as I was on Payday. (Donate to the weekend end fun fund)

Comet and Ping Pong Provides Health Insurance

Payday is coming out with a special Saturday edition cuz I had to have dinner with one of my mentors,  veteran 68-year-old labor reporter Tim Shorrock of Korea File. We had an investigation of our own to do on working conditions at the famous Comet and Ping Pong restaurant.

In 2017, an alt-right “citizen journalist” showed up with a machine gun and fired shots into the floor. He claimed he was there to investigate sex trafficking as the site had strangely been linked to conspiracy theorists.  than usual cuz veteran labor reporter Tim Shorrock had to go out and do an inspection of the infamous Comet and Ping Pong restaurant to do our investigation.

What we found out is that Comet and Ping Pong is a progressive employer. They provide their 30 employees with health insurance and turn over is very low. Many people report having been at the music venue and pizzeria for more than a decade.  The employer also is a very friendly employer for immigrants as we talk to workers from multiple countries in Central America and the Carribean.

Fatima Hussein is the First Palestinean-Creole Union Leader at Bloomberg Law

Prior to the meet up with a veteran labor reporter like Tim, I got to kick it down at Jackpot bar where we are celebrating the election of veteran labor reporter Fatima Hussein as the chair of the union at Bloomberg Law, the only division of Bloomberg that is unionized.

In my ideal world, labor reporters would be paired up with other labor reporters as partners – the way detective are. I’d take a bullet for Fatima – she’d totally represent in a workers comp hearing – not just a labor reporter, she’s also a lawyer!

As a labor reporter, I first got to know Fatima when she was a labor reporter at the Cincinnati Inquirer, where she covered the overlooked exploitation of immigrant workers in the Midwest and provided a much-needed watchdog on the labor beat in the Ohio River Valley.

A biracial Palestinean-Creole native of Jacksonville, Florida, the 31-year-old Hussein is both a labor reporter and a trained lawyer. She started her career at Daytona Beach News-Journal before GateHouse Media took over the paper and in typical fashion, laid off many of Daytona Beach’s best reporters.

Hussein then worked as a labor reporter at the Cincinnati Inquirer before moving onto the Indianapolis Star. At age 29, while at the Indianapolis Star, Hussein was elected unit chair, and was able to maintain 100% cards sign up from the 50-person bargaining unit during a round of tough contract talks with management.

A true labor reporter, Hussein both covered the tough fights of unions against corporations as well as taking on corruption within the Teamsters pension fund; ultimately kicking a high profile Hoffa ally off the board.

Last year, she started at Bloomberg Law, where she focuses primarily on workplace safety. After only a year in the bargaining unit, Hussein’s colleagues decided to tap her to lead up the 500-person bargaining unit.

In addition to her work at Bloomberg, Hussein is an active watercolorist, owns a small cosmetic line, and has played in several all-girl rock bands in Florida. Follow her on twitter @FatimaTheFatima

IMPACT: Payday Helps Get Black History Month Event Back at Bloomberg Law

While not yet in power, Hussein has already been making some waves on behalf of people of color at Bloomberg.

For over 20 years, Bloomberg Law, previously named the Bureau of National Affairs before Bloomberg acquired it in 2011, allowed the union to host an annual Black History Month on the newsroom premise.

However, earlier this month, Bloomberg management informed the union that they wouldn’t be allowed to hold a Black History Month on premise.

Bloomberg Law’s union took to Twitter to protest the move.

“The @GuildatBBNA’s #BlackHistoryMonth event is one of our most popular events. The Guild deeply regrets this unfortunate decision on the part of the company. It was a great opportunity for us to work with management to promote and celebrate diversity” tweeted the union’s twitter account @GuildatBBNA.

Payday tipped off fellow Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild member Erik Wemple of the Washington Post to the scandal. Wemple made a phone call to Bloomberg and now the event is back on.

$1,400 Guardian Paycheck Late – Pass the Hat

Not only is Fatima Hussein a great labor reporter, but she also picked up the tab yesterday, which is great because my $1,400 paycheck from my Virginia strike coverage from the Guardian is late.  

Payday is like a small community supported an organic farm of labor reporting. This small farm has allowed me much greater economic security than if I just had to rely on erratic an often late freelance checks from the Guardian.

So please, once again, help us enjoy the weekend without stressing about money – pass the hat and donate today.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Publisher Goes on Drunk Violent Tirade in Newsroom on a Saturday Night

Back up in the Burgh, reporters are on edge after a violent drunken tirade disturbed the newsroom.

The Writers’ Guild-represented HuffPost has the story:

According to the published accounts, Block arrived at the newsroom around 10 p.m. and took issue over a sign reading “Shame on the Blocks!” that was posted on the Guild’s newsroom bulletin board. The sign had been posted to protest the company’s refusal to cover price increases in employee health care costs and 13 years without raises.

Block ordered that the union sign be taken down or “he’d close the whole paper,” paginator Alex Miller recalled to the Guild.

When that didn’t happen, Block allegedly grabbed his daughter and ordered that a staff photographer take a picture of them in front of the sign for the next day’s front page.

“She was screaming that she didn’t want to, crying hysterically and red-faced. I felt terrible about what I was watching,” recounted reporter Andrew Goldstein.

“He yelled at his daughter, up to her face: ‘You’re a Block, don’t you forget it. You’re a Block, you’re not one of them,’” repeatedly as he firmly jabbed his finger into her shoulder,” web editor Marianne Mizera said. “It was clear he was intoxicated.”

For more, go to HuffPost.

West Virginia Teachers Could Strike Again

West Virginia teachers once again authorized their union leaders to take “work action” including a strike or other displays of force in the classroom, in order to put pressure on the state legislature as it debates Senate Bill 451.

Ballots sent to members this week stated: “I authorize the state leadership of AFT-WV, WVSSPA and WVEA to call a statewide work action should circumstances surrounding the Omnibus Education Bill merit such a work stoppage. And I further authorize the state leadership of the organizations to determine the appropriate time for that action to take place.”

The vote comes as many feared that the State GOP is moving to make it tougher for teachers to strike in the state following last years’ historic teachers’ strike that inspired a wave of strikes across the nation.

The pressure appears to be working as the Senate removed provisions that would have withheld pay from teachers for striking and forcing costly annual union dues to sign off the process on unions.

SB 451 Would Establish Charter Schools in West Virginia for the First Time Ever

However, measures still remain in the bill that would establish charter schools for the first time ever in West Virginia.

Unless teachers in West Virginia get the changes they want, many say that they are prepared to strike.

“The unity shown by all three educator’s unions is unprecedented in our state’s history. Leaders are working together to represent the concerns of the entire public education community,” Ravenswood-area Adena Barnette, a member of the board of the West Virginia Education Association and president of the the Jackson County Education Association told the Marietta Times. “We know what’s at stake here. Unity is the only way to defeat SB 451 and to save our public schools.”

For more details, check out the West Virginia Education Association’s website.

Denver Teachers Win Strike

After a historic four-day strike, Denver teachers are declaring victory.

The teachers will receive on average a 12% pay raise. In addition, they won the implementation of 20 step pay raise structure that significantly dilutes the influence of corporate reform implemented bonus pay structures, which teachers say was arbitrary and disincentives them from working in communities in need.

“No longer will our students see their education disrupted because their teachers cannot afford to stay in their classrooms,” Denver Teacher Association President Henry Roman said in a statement.

Illinois Passes $15 an Hour

Earlier this month, New Jersey passed legislation establishing a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Illinois joined the suit today.

The excellent veteran labor Dave Jamieson at the Writers’ Guild represented HuffPost has the story:

Now it seems there is little to stop $15 proposals in blue states where Democrats control the levers of government. Illinois is now on track to become the fifth state with a $15 floor, following California, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Even so, the Illinois bill is not an unqualified victory for unions and worker groups. In a win for the service industry, the legislation does not touch what’s known as the “tip credit” ― the ability of restaurants and other gratuity-based businesses to pay a lower base minimum wage, letting tips make up the difference. The legislation will allow restaurants to continue paying 60 percent of the regular minimum wage.

That means the lower tipped minimum wage will go up over time, eventually to $9 when the regular minimum wage hits $15, but it won’t be eliminated the way liberal groups have sought.

Employers can also pay a lower minimum wage to minors who work fewer than 650 hours annually, the equivalent of about 16 full-time weeks. That minimum wage will top out at $13, rather than $15, in 2025.

For more, check out HuffPost.

NASA Contractors in Houston Won’t Receive Backpay

This week, the Senate passed federal legislation which denies backpay to federal contractors who went without pay for 35 days in the largest federal government shutdown in history.

However, many federal contractors including workers at NASA’s facility in Houston won’t be receiving back pay.

The non-union Houston Chronicle has the story:

During the 35-day shutdown, about 94 percent of Johnson’s 3,055 federal employees were out of work, but quickly received back pay after the shutdown ended. The four postdoctoral fellows working at the Houston site also received back pay.

But there wasn’t much NASA could do about the contractors who work on site, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in January. Contractor back pay was on a case-by-case basis, depending on the contract, he added.

About 7,500 contractors work at the site, according to a fiscal year 2017 report released by the Houston center last year, though it’s not clear how many were out of work during the shutdown. Many were able to continue working — with pay — through all or part of the shutdown.

Bills were filed in Congress to provide as much as $1,400 per week to contractors affected by the shutdown and those have not yet been approved. But language to pay contractors for their time without work was left out of the budget deal reached this week.

For more, check out the Houston Chronicle.

What Lessons Can Labor Learn About Their Division on Amazon?

Finally, over at Splinter, Hamilton Nolan has a long look at what we as a labor movement learned from the Amazon right:

The most interesting strategic debate that will continue long after Amazon’s wounded ass has left town is the one that has already ensued in the world of organized labor. There were two basic responses in the union world to the news that Amazon was coming to NYC. Some saw it as a chance to grab pieces of the pie for their union, and some saw it as a chance to draw a more existential line in the sand—to say that New York City, America’s strongest union town, would be the place where Amazon would be forced to bow the power of organized labor, or else. Everyone in labor tended to agree that if Amazon did decide to come to NYC, we would unionize them; but they disagreed over whether this possibility meant that we should welcome and encourage Amazon to come here, even as they vowed to oppose unions.

Many unions are transactional creatures. They represent poor or vulnerable workers, and as long as they are accruing gains for those workers they believe they are doing god’s work. And they are, as far as that goes. But anyone in the labor movement wiling and able to broaden their perspective must see the multiple outrages at play here: Amazon, a company that is systematically turning the somewhat-unionized retail industry into a completely non-union industry of miserable and precarious warehouse workers in order to fund the absurd fortune of the richest man on earth (a man so parsimonious that he even fights his own newspaper’s right to a union while running Super Bowl ads about how valuable journalism is), played cities across America off against one another in order to extract billions of dollars in concessions from the public in order to build office space that they are going to build anyhow, because they need it, in order to run their fabulously powerful business. That’s what the context is. The fact that the entire practice cities and states competing with one another to shower tax breaks on big businesses is a net negative for the public is completely uncontroversial, at least on the left. The NYC politicians and labor leaders cheering on the Amazon HQ2 know that the entire process by which it happened is corrupt and bad for the public at large; they just calculate that it is a benefit for the specific segment of the public that they represent.

That is not enlightened. And that is not solidarity.

Amazon agreed to use union construction workers and to use unionized building workers in their headquarters. Great. Those things are good. Nobody was upset about that. But Amazon simultaneously vowed to oppose the unionization of anyone who was actually an employee of Amazon. It certainly would have been possible for the unions who stood to benefit from Amazon coming here to sit quietly and see how the issue played out; to say, in essence, “We recognize all of the evils of Amazon, and we recognize the corrupt nature of this deal, but if they do come here, they will use our union labor, which is good.” Instead, they chose to become vocal public cheerleaders for the project. That was divisive to the labor movement. A united front of organized labor from day one could have said, even before Amazon arrived: Do not choose New York City unless you are prepared to have a union work force. Instead, unions went their own separate ways, and a mess ensued. Now, the unions that decided to become public advocates for Amazon in order to get their piece of the pie have sacrificed good will and credibility in exchange for… nothing.

For more, read Splinter.

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing over 1,800 stories from 46 states, Elk was the only American reporter in the room with Lula on the morning of the election & traveled with him to the Oval Office. 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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