By Mike Elk and Kris Warner
It’s Payday, Folks! Greetings from the Pittsburgh of the South: Chattanooga, Tennessee!
This Lunch Pail goes out to all the Mercedes workers at UAW Local 112 in Vance, Alabama. Despite having faced illegal anti-union intimidation, the workers there are still struggling to organize the plant and have formed a minority union. Payday certainly appreciates the support of all the folks in Vance sharing our work.
US Economy Gains 255k Jobs in July – Payday Picking Up Too!
This past month Payday Report gained 9 additional supporters of our work. A big shout-out to labor economist Mark Price, Asheville Blade Editor David Forbes, and Atlanta native and IFPTE Local 70 President Alan Barber for becoming supporters.
Alan is also Director of Domestic Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research,* which just released its analysis of the BLS’s latest jobs report (255,000 jobs gained in July, unemployment rate steady at 4.9%). Check it out here.
Help us make our own job picture even better next month, become a monthly sustaining sponsor here.
YUUUGE, Birdie Cart Upset in Tennessee State Senate Primary – Cue the Carole King!
Last week, Payday Report brought you the story of 36-year-old Khristy Wilkinson, one of the leaders of the Sanders Democrats movement in Chattanooga.
Yesterday, she won the Democratic primary for Tennessee’s State Senate. Despite being out-fund-raised $79K to $3K by Chattanooga Deputy Economic Development Administrator Nick Wilkinson (no relation), Khristy won the race by a margin of 10 percent.
“I haven’t really processed it yet”, Khristy Wilkinson told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press in an interview late Thursday night. “I’m also very humbled, to be perfectly honest. We spent a fraction of what Nick’s campaign raised and spent.”
Wilkinson Election Could Re-start Medicaid Expansion Debate in Tennessee
Now, Wilkinson goes on to face Republican Tennessee State Senator Todd Gardenhire, who recently sponsored a bill to strip the University of Tennessee’s funding for diversity programs. Gardenhire said he wanted to strip the diversity office of its funding because of the program’s use of gender neutral pronouns, annual “Sex Week” educational activities, and the department’s tendency to avoid using the word “Christmas” in holiday greetings.
Currently, there are 26 Republicans in the Tennessee State Senate and only 5 Democrats. Wilkinson’s victory may not help the Democrats take control of the Senate, but could help Republican Governor Bill Haslam pass his proposed plan to expand Medicaid to 280,000 Tennesseans under the Affordable Care Act.
Clinton-supporter Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke Spent Heavily to Defeat Her
With Clinton at the top of the ticket, Wilkinson may be able to form a unity ticket of Sanders Democrats and Clinton Democrats to recapture the seat held by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke up until his election as Mayor in 2012. Through her deep ties in community organizing with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and organized labor, Wilkinson also has the ability to bring new voters to the equation.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and his PAC provided nearly $12,000 to the campaign of top economic aide Nick Wilkinson, who raised nearly $80,000 in total. Despite this, he still lost to Khristy Wilkinson, who pulled together just $3,000 from local Sanders supporters.
Corker Could Face 2018 Senate Challenge from Berke
If elected, Wilkinson would represent approximately 192,000 residents, including almost the entire city of Chattanooga except for a rural Northern portion of the city. Berke, who has hinted at a statewide run for Senate against Bob Corker in 2018, only represents 172,000 voters in the City of Chattanooga.
Wilkinson’s popularity with young voters throughout Chattanooga could put pressure on Berke to move to the left. Recently, Berke has shown an increasing receptiveness to the left in Chattanooga. He has pledged that the city would do more to make sure tax credits for apartment complexes were going towards affordable housing and to cut off tax subsidies to employers who do not create the jobs they promise.
However, Berke has failed to implement the agenda of #BlackLivesMatter, including the creation of an independent civilian review board. Wilkinson’s victory could force Berke to move even more to the left to win young Bernie voters in the South.
#BlackLivesMatter Calls for Worker-Owned Press Movement
This week, the Movement for Black Lives issued a bold, detailed policy proposal that calls for reparations, investment in disadvantaged communities, increased community control of public institutions, and “complete transformation of the current systems [that] place profit over people.”
One of the demands of the movement is for a black-owned press. Joe Torres of Free Press and Brandi Collins of the Color of Change have a stirring op-ed laying out the case of why diversity in the newsroom isn’t enough:
Our community still relies on corporate platforms like Google and Facebook to get our message out. These companies profit off of our advocacy and suffering. And these new media gatekeepers exert tremendous power over the distribution of news and information. They have the ability to censor us or use racially biased algorithms that dehumanize our communities.
#Law360Union Leak Details of Captive Audience Meetings
Payday Report has been hot on the story of the union drive at Law360. Now, Writers Guild activist and Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson has obtained exclusive audio of the captive audience meetings that management at Law360 is forcing reporters there to attend:
On the recordings, employees challenge [anti-union consultant Katie Lev] when she suggests a union contract wouldn’t give them much more protection than they already have. They also demand to know how much money Law360 has decided to put toward LRI, rather than toward increasing the company’s wage floors. That question goes unanswered. (The employees will be able to find out exactly how much once LRI files disclosure forms with the Labor Department.)
“You have their attention now…. They really don’t want a union here, so they’re listening,” Lev assures. “If you vote no, things will probably stay pretty much the same, except one big change… They would love a chance to try, before there’s another opportunity for you to vote the union in, to try and see, what would things look like if we listened to employees more? … Management wants to be given a chance.”
Payback after Boss Calls Immigration
London-based burger chain Byron Burger has come under fire for calling fake meetings of employees so immigration officials could swoop in and deport workers. Activists invited journalist Michael Segalov to witness their novel direct action in response:
As a journalist I get quite a lot of people pitching me stories: writers with ideas, PR people with demanding clients, and occasionally too tip-offs from anonymous mobile numbers letting you know that a story is about to kick off. On Thursday evening my phone vibrated, a number I’d never seen before had sent me a text.
“Dear Journalist, this is a tip-off”, it read, “info: 8000 locust, 2000 crickets, 4000 cockroaches. See you tomorrow night.”
To find out what happened go to Huck Magazine. Hat tip to Sister Emily Loftis of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network for sending the story along to Lunch Pail. If you have a suggestion of a story to feature, email [email protected].
UPS Contract Warehouse Worker Falls 22 Feet to His Death
This week, we published the story of how OSHA issued their first-ever citation for denying workers prompt medical attention. While OSHA has become more aggressive under Obama, a worker’s unfortunate death in Addison, Illinois proves that OSHA citations and fines aren’t enough to hold corporations accountable, even ones receiving government subsidies.
OSHA fined Louisville-based conveyor belt construction contractor Material Handling Systems/MHS Technical Services, $320,000 for the February death of a 42 year old, who fell 22 feet while constructing a UPS facility. The contractor has been cited 4 times in the last 5 years by OSHA for failing to prevent the falls. Falls are the fastest growing cause of death of workers in the US with 337 workers dying from workplace falls in 2015 up from 255 in 2010.
“A man is dead because this employer decided to break the law over and over again. Before this tragedy, OSHA cited this contractor twice for exposing workers to fall hazards, including at the same site just four months earlier,” said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor of Occupational Safety and Health in a citation blasting the company. “OSHA is asking companies contracting with Material Handling Systems to take strong steps to ensure that this employer protects its employees, and terminate its contracts if this employer continues to violate OSHA regulations.
UPS Has Received Over $185 Million in Federal & State Subsidies
Last fall, Kentucky’s economic development agency approved $1.75 million for a UPS expansion in Louisville that the company said will create 300 new jobs. Last week, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the state approved up to $500,000 in subsidies for a possible UPS expansion in Lexington, KY, but apparently without a job commitment. UPS’s district communications supervisor Nancy Barczak said, “I’m sure there will be a few [jobs] but [we] don’t have an accurate number at this point.”
According to Good Jobs First, which created and maintains a database of subsidies given to corporations, UPS has received at least 290 subsidies totaling $185 million from both the federal and state government going back the last three decades.
Around the South
In another story on corporate subsidies, the Winston-Salem Journal reports that Caterpillar is seeking to weaken clawback provisions tied to employment levels in a subsidy granted by Forsyth County, North Carolina, while also asking to renegotiate terms of a subsidy provided by the city of Winston-Salem. Thus far, the two governmental entities have provided nearly $10 million in subsidies to the company.
“Clawback provisions and job creation requirements are created to protect public investment in private companies,” said Kasia Tarczynska, a research analyst at Good Jobs First, a national policy center that focuses on promoting corporate and governmental accountability in economic development. “Altering any of those provisions will cause the public to ultimately lose on those deals.”
About an hour south in Charlotte, a waitress has filed a collective action lawsuit against a locally based restaurant chain, Hickory Tavern, for wage theft. Vanessa Chavez told The State she sought a legal remedy for under-paid sidework after having been told by company management that she “shouldn’t complain because it is a lot worse at other places.”
With just a few days until teachers and then students return to school in Louisville, union negotiations between teachers and the public school system continue. This summer, the Jefferson County Teachers Association sued the school district for breach of contract and also protested outside school board meetings. Now, the superintendent of the Jefferson County Public School system told the Courier-Journal in a broader interview that:
“We’re working to set compensation for this school year and of course everyone will be paid retroactively, depending on how that ends, so, again, we want our school system to have competitive salaries and it’s a regular process of negotiations.”
City workers in Alexander City, Alabama went on strike after the city council stalemated on a vote to uphold the mayor’s firing of the city’s finance director. Mayor Charles Shaw said that he made the decision to fire Finance Director Sandra Machen over a number of issues, including financial improprieties. Workers have said they “will not show up to work until she is gone,” while Machen’s attorney says that he thinks the mayor told the workers to go on strike. This is not the first time the mayor tried to fire Machen.
At Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the security guards working for the school’s current security contractor are unionized. However, student organizers writing in the Baltimore Sun are raising concerns that the administration is seeking to bring in a new contractor, and “tailoring its bidding process to a company with close ties to JHU — Broadway — that is not unionized.”
Nearly all of the unionized security guards are black Baltimoreans — the same demographic that JHU has had a long and often cruel history of exploiting and oppressing. Through current projects such as HopkinsLocal and the Homewood Community Partners Initiative, [University] President Daniels is trying to demonstrate a stronger and more improved relationship between JHU and the Baltimore community. […] This can begin here and now, with these workers.
The unions representing pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and baggage handlers at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines are calling for the removal of the company’s chief executive officer and its chief operating officer out of frustration of years-long contract negotiations. According to the Dallas Morning News:
“As tenured employees and frontline leaders of this company, we can no longer sit idly by and watch poor decision after poor decision deeply affect our customers and Southwest Airlines,” Capt. Jon Weaks, president of Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association, said in a written statement. “We believe that a change is needed for the best interests of Southwest Airlines and the loyal customers we serve.”
Another Dallas-based corporation, AT&T, has reached a tentative agreement with the 42,000 employees represented by the Communication Workers of America. After a previous agreement was voted down, union negotiators were able to secure improved health benefits. Earlier this year, CWA members won a strike against Verizon, which has likely helped in talks with AT&T.
Finally, as Texas farmworkers commemorated the 50th anniversary of a three-month long march to the state capitol, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers wrapped up their education tour through tomato farms in Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey. The CIW trained hundreds of new workers about their rights and the organization’s Fair Food Program while addressing workers’ concerns and questions.
Reuters has a long piece on the death of an Italian doctoral student in Egypt, whose work “had Egyptian security forces interested”:
Regeni, who was 28, had been researching Egypt’s independent unions for his doctoral thesis. Associates say he was also interested in alternatives to the long-standing domination by the state and the military of Egypt’s economy.
Both subjects are sensitive in Egypt. The military’s grip on the economy is a subject rarely talked about in a country that has been ruled almost entirely by military men since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952.
And independent unions helped orchestrate the industrial unrest and strikes that paved the way for the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. Two years later, union activists supported the mass protests that led to the ouster of Mubarak’s democratically elected successor, Mohamed Mursi.
Over at the Labor and Working Class History Association, historian Peter Cole has an article about “Paul Robeson, Black Dockworkers, And Labor-Left Pan-Africanism”:
Paul Robeson was one of the greatest black internationalists of the twentieth century. A gifted actor and singer, he was also an unabashed leftist and union supporter. This resulted in his bitter persecution, destroying his career and causing, to a surprising degree, his disappearance from popular–if not academic–memory. Robeson’s connections to the fiery black dockworkers of the San Francisco Bay illuminate a form of black internationalism still left out of scholarly analyses –what I will refer to as Labor-Left Pan-Africanism.
Robeson’s life exemplified Pan-Africanism, a global movement of politically conscious black people who believed they shared much in common with all people of African descent in Africa and across the African Diaspora. In the 1930s, Robeson embraced this ideology, along with communism, and supported the Soviet Union. Robeson and other leftwing, Pan-African black intellectuals and activists—such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Eslanda Robeson, Vicki Garvin, and Hubert Harrison—fought long and hard for racial equality in the United States and for liberation of African and Caribbean nations abroad.
Robeson connected struggles for civil rights with socialism and working class politics. His interest in black equality first came from his father, William Drew Robeson, who was born a slave and successfully liberated himself. Robeson’s leftist politics emerged in the 1930s, first visiting the Soviet Union in 1934, and subsequently embracing socialism for treating black people as equals. He combined politics and artistry from then onwards.
“Ban the box” initiatives – where employers are prevented from asking about a criminal record in the first step of hiring – have gained momentum over the last few years as criminal justice reform overall has become a higher national priority. However, as Pacific Standard notes:
The evidence on the employment effects of Ban the Box legislation is still emerging. In 2011, the city of Durham, North Carolina, enacted Ban the Box legislation (followed in 2012 by the county of Durham). Between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of people with criminal records hired by the city and county of Durham increased substantially. In the city of Durham, only 2.25 percent of hires in 2011 had a criminal record. In 2014, 15.53 percentage of hires did.
Several recent academic papers, however, suggest that Ban the Box policies also have the potential to backfire. In a working paper released earlier this year, the economists Jennifer Doleac and Benjamin Hansen found that local Ban the Box policies decreased the likelihood of employment by 5.1 percent for young, low-skill black men, and by 2.9 percent for comparable Hispanic men.
Since the last Lunch Pail we held another monthly supporter call and found new ways to make communication more efficient. The three of us are having a lot of fun while developing ways to work together that will enable us to use our talents, while helping each other to gain a mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
This thing is off the ground, the stands are starting to fill up and we would love to have you as the wind in our sails! Please join our growing supporter base!
If you want to request a song or have a suggestion for the Folk Labor Desk, please email [email protected].
Yours for the media revolution.
JP Wright, Folk Labor Desk / Ombudsman
Thanks for reading this week’s Lunch Pail. 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 the publisher of Payday Report and has previously worked as a union organizer, a research assistant, and a union researcher.
*Full disclosure: Kris Warner was previously employed by CEPR and was the Vice President of Organizing for IFPTE Local 70.