Tuesday News: The 4th Estate is still alive


DAILY TAR HEEL WINS SETTLEMENT FROM UNC BOG OVER SILENT SAM FIASCO: The Daily Tar Heel, UNC-Chapel Hill’s student-run newspaper, settled its lawsuit Monday against the UNC System for its handling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument legal agreements. DTH Media Corp., parent company of The Daily Tar Heel, sued the UNC System, its Board of Governors and individual board members over allegations of violating North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law in January 2020. The media group argued that the $2.5 million settlement and additional $74,999 payment between the UNC System and the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) were “conceived, negotiated, approved and executed in total secrecy,” the lawsuit said. DTH General Manager Erica Perel told The Daily Tar Heel this case showed the accuracy and accountability of DTH’s reporting on the issue.

NC GENERAL ASSEMBLY WORKING ON PANDEMIC RELIEF BILL: Senate Bill 36 allocates nearly $95 million in a federal relief package Congress passed in December to health care providers, local health departments and hospitals for coronavirus vaccinations, about $1.6 billion to help schools reopen and ensure our students, teachers, and staff can safely return to in-person learning and more than $546 million in emergency rental assistance. An additional $155 million in rental assistance will go to local governments with more than 200,000 residents. The bill also gives parents of school-aged children additional time to apply for $335 state grants to help pay for online learning expenses and provides $39 million in state tax money to expand broadband in rural areas. “This bill builds on of our commitment to helping North Carolinians recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sens. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, and Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said in a statement. The three co-chairs of the Senate Appropriations committee co-sponsored the bill, which will go before the committee on Tuesday morning.

REPUBLICAN PUSH BILL TO FORCE REOPENING OF NC SCHOOLS: Senate Bill 37, “In Person Learning Choice for Families,” would require that the Plan A, in-person learning option with minimal social distancing be available for students who have an individualized education program. Special-education students have had some of the most difficult challenges using remote learning. Other students would be required to be given the option of Plan A or Plan B, which has moderate social distancing, or both. Currently, school districts are only allowed to use Plan A in elementary schools. The reopening would go into effect on the first weekday 15 days after the bill became law. The North Carolina Association of Educators says the decision about in-person instruction should be left up to individual school boards. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, told reporters last week that he is asking school boards, superintendents and health officials to look at the latest CDC study about safely reopening schools and mitigating COVID-19 spread. The governor did not have a timeline for any decision on schools.

AMAZON FIGHT AGAINST UNIONIZATION PLAGUES WORKERS EVEN IN THE BATHROOM: Some workers in Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse complain that the company’s aggressive performance expectations leave them little time to take bathroom breaks. When they do get there, they face messaging from Amazon pressing its case against unionization, imploring them to vote against it when mail-in balloting begins Feb. 8. “Where will your dues go?” reads a flier posted on the door inside a bathroom stall. “They got right in your face when you’re using the stall,” said Darryl Richardson, a worker at the warehouse who supports the union. Another pro-union worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution said of Amazon’s toilet reading: “I feel like I’m getting harassed.” The stakes couldn’t be higher for Amazon, which is fighting the biggest labor battle in its history on U.S. soil. Next Monday, the National Labor Relations Board will mail ballots to 5,805 workers at the facility near Birmingham, who will then have seven weeks to decide whether they want the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to represent them. If they vote yes, they would be the first Amazon warehouse in the United States to unionize. If Amazon workers unionize, it would mark a major milestone for worker representation, which has long been in decline. As U.S. manufacturing has waned, participation in unions has shrunk to about 11 percent last year, down from 30 percent of the nonagricultural workforce in 1964. Some older companies, like 113-year-old logistics giant UPS, are unionized, but major nonunion employers include more recent entrants like retailers Walmart and the Gap.

SENATE REPUBLICANS MEET WITH BIDEN OVER STIMULUS, BUT FAIL TO WIN HIM OVER: After a two-hour closed-door meeting, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the leader of the Republican group, said the discussion had been excellent, though “I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight.” She said Mr. Biden and the senators had agreed to continue their talks. The discussions took place as Democrats prepared to push forward on Mr. Biden’s plan with or without Republican backing, and as the president faced a test of whether he would opt to pursue a scaled-back measure that could fulfill his pledge to foster broad compromise, or use his majority in Congress to reach for a more robust relief effort enacted over stiff Republican opposition. At the end of a lengthy statement hailing a “substantive and productive” meeting, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, indicated that the president would not be giving much ground. Mr. Biden reiterated, she said, “that he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.” There was scant evidence, for now, that any Democrats were seriously considering embracing a proposal as limited as the one the Republicans have laid out. And the Republicans, too, were facing a test of whether they could hold together and forge a compromise that would ultimately be seen as a sufficient response to the public health and economic toll of the pandemic.