9 episodes

Payday Report is an Emmy-nominated labor outlet founded by Mike Elk, an alumni of the Guardian. Our work as the first outlet to systematically track the strike wave during the pandemic has been widely recognized by everyone from Washington Post to NPR’s “All Things Considered” to filmmaker Boots Riley.

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    • News

Payday Report is an Emmy-nominated labor outlet founded by Mike Elk, an alumni of the Guardian. Our work as the first outlet to systematically track the strike wave during the pandemic has been widely recognized by everyone from Washington Post to NPR’s “All Things Considered” to filmmaker Boots Riley.

    With 70% UAW Sign Up, 25-Year Mercedes UAW Veteran Talks

    With 70% UAW Sign Up, 25-Year Mercedes UAW Veteran Talks

    With 70% UAW Sign Up, 25-Year Mercedes UAW Veteran Talks
    By Mike Elk
    Eleven years ago, I first met Kirk Garner, Vice President of UAW Local 149, the minority union at Mercedes in Vance, Alabama.
    After the UAW was narrowly defeated in a union drive in 2014, it formed minority unions at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Mercedes in Vance, Alabama. 
    Both automakers were German and allowed the minority union in the South to sit in on meetings and discuss workplace issues with more sympathetic minds in union-heavy Germany. 
    For ten years, the UAW couldn't attract enough members to win, but folks like Kirk, who has been involved in union organizing efforts at Mercedes in Vance, Alabama, keep trying. 
    "We've had a good network for the last two years, at Chattanooga, Volkswagen, they already had a minority union," says Garner. "So they had a base to begin with, which helped speed things up. So you weren't starting from scratch. And so we have a minority union at Mercedes."
    When UAW filed for a union election at Mercedes in April, they filed with 70% of the workers having signed cards. After the Volkswagen victory, Garner says that interest has expanded dramatically. 
    "it came real quick by hundreds and hundreds of people," says Garner of the union, finally above 70%. "It was just like, immediate. People started jumping on board. And so with momentum (it) keeps on going. It's just blossomed into this, probably over a 70% majority now. So we should end up about where Volkswagen did," where the UAW won with 70% of the vote. 
    Garner says that the severe labor shortage has helped union efforts. Using Biden stimulus programs from the Inflation Recovery Act, Mercedes has used the federal government to pay for electricity. In the process, they had trouble finding workers.
    With the plant expanding and management trying to get any “body they can get in the door,” says Garner, power dynamics have changed dramatically in the shop. 
    As the plant expanded, the automaker struggled to keep people employed, with wages starting at $21 an hour, and hired more prominent young workers. The younger workers at the plant seem much more receptive than Garner has seen in any of his 25 years of organizing. 
    Garner says that 65% of the workforce is under 30. 
    "When the labor shortage kicked in around COVID, a lot of older people left. So, the only people in the labor pool were the younger generation under 30. And so that's what we've had to bring in. It'll take years to balance out since we've got 65% under 30.”
    With many people needing help with childcare costs, it’s difficult to get together union members for multiple weekly in-person meetings. However, the union relies heavily on Zoom, which became famous for organizers during the pandemic. 
    "This is a new age, we're in the digital age, it's somewhat of a new way of organizing from older people to younger people”. says Garner. "I think we saw it in Amazon in New York, they used a lot of internet and phones, instead of a traditional house calling, having big committee meetings, you know, three or four days a week." 
    Please listen to the lessons of how union activists combine new and old methods to organize across generations and races in the digital age. 
    Donate to Help Us Provide #PaydayPodcasts Update from Alabama

    • 10 min
    Mercedes Union Leader in Alabama Predicts Landslide Victory

    Mercedes Union Leader in Alabama Predicts Landslide Victory

    Since the late 1990s, UAW Local 149 Vice President Kirk Garner has been involved in efforts to unionize at Mercedes in Vance, Alabama. Now, after the 73% victory at Volkswagen in April, the union says that it is cruising to victory.
    “It feels really good. And it's finally coming to fruition. And we're excited, everybody's excited, ready to vote,” says Garner, who predicts that approximately 70% of his co-workers at Mercedes support the UAW. 
    Mercedes union organizers say that the news of the massive victory is helping building their support as they head for election.
    “Everybody's excited,” says Garner. “We're making calls this week to some of the undecided people, and we're getting good responses from them. Volkswagen was able to get, you know, some people that hadn't signed up, to vote for the union.”

    • 22 min
    After 10 Year Battle, a Younger Generation Leads the Way at Volkswagen

    After 10 Year Battle, a Younger Generation Leads the Way at Volkswagen

    A formerly anti-union Volkswagen worker explains why he now supports the union at Volkswagen.

    • 16 min
    After 25 Years, Mercedes Workers Say Union Could Come "Any Day Now"

    After 25 Years, Mercedes Workers Say Union Could Come "Any Day Now"

    For nearly 25 years Mercedes workers in Vance have tried to unionize, but have never gotten so close. Early last month workers at Mercedes reached 50% for the first time in plant history.
    “I came in ‘98. And they had a campaign going on, and were gaining momentum. And they just couldn't reach that 50% mark,” says Kirk Garner, one of the leaders of the current union drive there. “They get pretty close. But they just couldn't get over the hump. And so they ended the campaign, then. And so for the last 20 years, we've tried little campaigns to see if there was any interest, and we just couldn't get over the hump”. 
    Now, after the success of the “Stand Up Strike,” union activists are seeing new momentum in their attempts to organize at Mercedes. In February they announced that a majority of workers at the plant had signed union cards. 
    “The big three got a really good contract and so people down here got excited and wanted to organize. So we're organizing now,” says Garner. 
    Not only does the UAW feel a new sense of momentum in their organizing, but they are using new digital technologies to help organize. 
    “They've adopted tactics that grassroots online organizing (is) using that it's not so many staffers on the ground now as much as handing out QR codes and signing people up online and things like that,” says Garner. “The UAW has been slow to make that change. And once the new administration came to UAW that they, they have accepted, you know, today's ideology and social media.” 
    Mercedes has responded to the organizing energy in the plant by raising wages $2-an-hour. However, the German company, which is entirely unionized in Europe, has yet to launch an aggressive anti-union campaign. The UAW so far has yet to file any unfair labor practice charges against the company. 
    However, although some local anti-union lawyers are raising money to launch a “community anti-union campaign,” it may be too little too late to stem the momentum of workers at Mercedes. 
    Anti-union community campaigns run by outside sources have helped lead to devastating losses both at Volkswagen in Chattanooga and at Nissan in Canton, Mississippi. 
    The union says that it is increasingly moving towards the solid majority needed to hold a union election at the plant. 
    “I'm expecting the UAW to file any day now. file for an election,” says Garner. “The big three Stand Up Strike generated a lot of interest. So I think this is a great opportunity. While it's still in everybody's forefront, that we'd go ahead and get this done now.”
    The UAW is also very close to filing for a union election at VW in Chattanooga and has announced a union drive at Hyundai in Montgomery, Alabama. 
    Listen to our full interview with Mercedes Alabama worker Garner here for more. 

    • 14 min
    Koch Industries Using “Texas Two-Step” to Prevent Asbestos Victims from Going to Court

    Koch Industries Using “Texas Two-Step” to Prevent Asbestos Victims from Going to Court

    This week, as part of our podcast, Payday Report spoke to Lori Knapp and her lawyer, Jon Ruschdeki, who have been involved in a 6-year lawsuit against Koch Industries-owned Georgia Pacific but have yet to see their day in court.
    The lawsuit stems from her father Ed Chapman's death in 2020 from mesothelioma. Her father contracted the disease as a construction worker working with drywall containing asbestos for Koch Industries-owned Georgia Pacific.
    In 2018, her father sued Koch Industries for damages. He died in 2020, and his daughter, Lori, has taken on his case, but six years later, using a bankruptcy process called the “Texas Two-Step,” the case has yet to see its day in court. 

    • 22 min
    Mike Elk & Richard Eskow on Journalism & Solidarity

    Mike Elk & Richard Eskow on Journalism & Solidarity

    • 39 min

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