Beaver County Blue

Progressive Democrats of America – PA 12th CD Chapter

The Average American Worker Earns Less Today Than 40 Years Ago

Posted by carldavidson on September 28, 2015

It’s not just unemployment that matters. Many full-time workers take home less money, after inflation, than in decades.


Because most everything we buy gets more expensive over time, we have to earn more money each year just to maintain our existing standard of living. When we’re not given raises that keep up with this rate of inflation, we’re effectively suffering a pay cut.. That’s why many American workers are actually poorer today than four decades ago. They may be earning more money. But, in real terms, they’re getting less for it. Measured in 2014 dollars, the median male full-time worker made $50,383 last year against $53,294 in 1973, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures.

At $50,383, the figure is the lowest it’s been since 2006. It’s also $450 lower than in 2013. Women have seen bigger increases in real pay in the last few years, though from a lower (unequal) base. The median female worker earned $30,182 in 1973 (in 2014 dollars), but $39,621 last year.

As we explored in our income inequality series recently, technology, globalization, and reduced union bargaining power are all factors behind stagnating wages. The economy has been getting bigger, driven by continuing increases in productivity. But, for one reason or another, workers haven’t been sharing in those gains. But they’re not just disappearing: They’re making a small group of people very, very rich. What are we going to do about that?

[Top Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images]

Posted in Austerity, trade unions | 2 Comments »

Bernie Sanders Draws Blue-Collar Workers in Iowa

Posted by carldavidson on September 8, 2015

Bernie on the picket line in Iowa

By Vaughn Hillyard
Beaver County Blue via NBC News

DES MOINES, Iowa, Sept 7, 2015 — A picketing president? Bernie Sanders said it could be him.

"Yeah, I might. That’s right. Why not," Sanders said when asked about the possibility after addressing AFSCME union members on Saturday in Altoona, Iowa.

The day before, Sanders picketed outside a Cedar Rapids plant that produces specialized starches alongside union workers engaged in a battle with the plant’s parent company, Ingredion, over new contract negotiations.

And to a crowd of 400 on Thursday in Burlington, Iowa—an old, union town hit hard over the last three decades by shuttered factories—Sanders emphatically stated: "The bottom line is: For millions of American workers, wages in this country are just too damn low."

Since announcing his candidacy, Sanders has zeroed in on blue-collar voters, consistently addressing low wages, unemployment issues and the country’s trade policies in stump speeches—pushing back against the notion that the economic recovery is as strong as often touted.

"I assumed I would be a Hillary supporter—and rightly or wrongly, probably because I feel like in the last twenty years, the greatest time we had between financial stability was during Bill Clinton’s run," said Ron Lowe, 52, of Grinnell, Iowa.

But Lowe said he will caucus for Sanders in February. He drove 45 minutes with his mother-in-law last Thursday to see the Democratic candidate at a rally.

"I feel like he’s not a filthy rich millionaire," Lowe said. "He wants to take on the rich, powerful people that seem to make all these decisions without any regard to the people in the middle to lower class. And it’s so obvious that the rich keep getting richer."

Lowe, a father of four, is unemployed after losing his job three months ago. He worked in Grinnell’s Donaldson plant—since the age of 24—manufacturing mufflers for agricultural equipment. But over the years, the company moved jobs to Mexico and other states, where Lowe said non-union facilities gave the company a cheaper option. Its last employees are expected to be out of work by the end of the year.

At a time when Democrats tout the economic recovery, Sanders harps on the economic data point of real unemployment, a point often used by his Republican counterparts. Despite a decrease in nationwide unemployment to 5.1 percent, the unemployment rate does not account for individuals who are underemployed, have given up looking for work, and others who are working part time but would like to work full time. Including those individuals, the unemployment figure is 10.3 percent.

"It is absolutely imperative that we stop the hemorrhaging of decent paying jobs because of our disastrous trade policies," Sanders said. ‘You are looking at a Senator and former congressman who voted against [North American Free Trade Agreement], against [Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement], against permanent trade relations with China. And you’re looking at a senator who is going to do everything he can to help defeat this disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Sanders provides a contrast to Sec. Hillary Clinton on trade—without naming her directly. Though she hasn’t taken a stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Clinton helped kickstart the negotiations, and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law.

"To simply blame the Republicans for that would be unfair," Sanders said on Saturday. "Democratic presidents have been involved in that trade policy. It has been bipartisan. It has been wrong."

Matt Richards, 56, of Newtown lost his job in 2007 when the town’s Maytag plant closed, putting more than 2,500 employees out of work. Richards worked at the facility for 23 years as an oiler, doing jobs like greasing conveyer lines.

"It’s a whole different town now. There was a lot of money here when Maytag was here," Richards said. "The crazy part of it is these jobs—for a small town like we are—was awesome pay, good benefits, you had some vacation time…It makes it tough in this small town."

Richards—though not ready to fully commit to a candidate—says Sanders’ message resonates.

"A lot of people like Bernie. He has a lot of good ideas," Richards said. "And what he talks about, getting our wages up there, you got to let a guy make a living wage to take care of a family. You know, nine bucks an hour isn’t going to cut it or ten bucks an hour. You’ve got to let a guy get to where he can make some money."

Last month, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, called Bernie Sanders "a warrior" at a labor forum hosted in Iowa.

"I want to say thank you for being a warrior for working people—not just lately but for your entire career," Trumka said to Sanders in front of 200 union workers. "All of us are living a little bit better because of that. And we want to say thank you for those efforts. You’ve earned them."

Trumka, however, made it clear on Meet the Press this Sunday that he will not personally endorse a candidate and likes both Clinton and Sanders.

Another former Maytag employee and United Auto Workers union member, Lonnie White, 66, a porcelain sprayer at the time, sat in the back row of Sanders’ event on the Meskwaki Settlement in central Iowa on Thursday.

"I think that he’s what the Democrats used to be," White said. "I think the Democratic Party used to be exactly what he represents. Taking care of each other. I think we’ve gotten away from that and gone to the middle."

Posted in 2016 Election, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up in Pennsylvania

Posted by carldavidson on September 1, 2015

Meagan Gemperlein, 25, is a part-time tipped worker at Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey. Wigle owners say they pay each of the workers at least twice the tipped minimum wage of $2.83.

By Molly Duerig
Beaver County Times

Sept 1, 2015 – PITTSBURGH — Cori Shetter is a college graduate and aspiring actress who’s worked minimum-wage jobs for 15 years.

“It’s like swinging from Tarzan vine to Tarzan vine. One vine’s about to end and break, so you just grab the next one, but you’re never really putting your feet on solid ground,” said the 31-year-old Pittsburgh resident.

Living in her Lawrenceville home is only possible because her parents own it, and Shetter pays them as much of the mortgage and other expenses as she can.

The one major thing she could do to further her career goals — auditioning — has fallen by the wayside as she invests most of her time in serving jobs for small, but reliable, paychecks. She supplements that by cutting hair for up to 10 clients a month at home.

Many servers, like Shetter, earn Pennsylvania’s tipped minimum wage of $2.83 per hour. The standard minimum wage, both state and federal, is $7.25.

Many believe the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with the times, and movements to raise it are being led by grassroots groups and governments in communities across the nation. In June, Los Angeles became the biggest city in the country to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Nineteen U.S. cities and counties experienced mandated wage increases this year; 29 states and Washington, D.C., already require employers to pay workers more than $7.25.

Pennsylvania isn’t part of this group – yet.

There are five bills pending in the state Legislature proposing to raise the minimum wage, with different methods and standards ranging from $8.75 to $15. Some politicians and business owners said they worry that putting this mandate on employers could mean fewer job openings and other cutbacks in the business community.

“If minimum wage is hiked, many of these jobs will vanish, or work hours will be drastically cut,” state Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, wrote in an email. “Employers simply find less costly alternatives, either through automation, technology or other means.”

Even economists, who also have opinions, disagree about the impact. Although some studies indicate a minimum-wage increase would cause job losses, other studies show just the opposite, said Sean Flaherty, the economics chair at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

“There’s just no strong consensus evidence that this is a significant problem when you have a modest increase in the minimum wage, done in stepwise fashion,” Flaherty said.

The proposals

The federal wage hasn’t increased since 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25. In 2008, it rose from $5.85.

Several states, counties and cities are taking the matter into their own hands.

In Pennsylvania, the most ambitious proposed bill is from Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware, Montgomery. His “One Fair Wage” bill would raise the wage to $15 an hour and tie it to inflation across the board, for regular and tipped employees.

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Posted in Minimum Wage, Organizing | Leave a Comment »

300 Union Members Rally outside ATI’s Midland Plant after Lockout Begins

Posted by carldavidson on August 18, 2015

By Jared Stonesifer
Beaver County Times

Aug 17, 2015 – MIDLAND — More than 300 United Steelworkers union members locked out from the Allegheny Technologies plant rallied Monday morning not just for a fair contract, but for the chance to get back to the negotiating table.

ATI, which has 12 plants and employs more than 2,200 USW workers across the country, locked out the union members Saturday night as a result of a failure by the two sides to reach a contract agreement.

Union workers since July 1 had been working on a day-to-day basis after the last contract expired at the end of June, and negotiations had been progressing but hit a wall when union leadership failed to bring to a vote ATI’s “last, best and final” contract offer in early August.

Tony Tepsic, president of the Midland contingent of USW workers Local 1212, said more than 300 people marched through Midland on Monday morning demanding a new contract.

“We are on an official lockout as of now, and we’re spending our time picketing,” he said.

He called the rally “very productive” and said USW leadership attended, as did Beaver County Commissioner Joe Spanik.

Spanik, who worked in the union for many years, said it’s imperative to get local workers back on the job and railed against the fact that ATI plans on bringing in nonunion workers during the lockout.

“We want to see this resolved so the folks who live here in Beaver County can get back to work as quickly as possible,” he said. “We need to get them back to the negotiating table to try to settle a fair contract.”

Spanik said the march went through Midland down to the union hall and back up to the work site.

The commissioner said he also plans to contact Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to work on a solution to get workers back on the job.

Spanik said other union rallies are planned for the ATI plant in Brackenridge, Allegheny County.

A representative from ATI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Posted in labor, Organizing, Solidarity, Steelworkers, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

Pittsburgh: Bernie Sanders for President: Yes, He Could!

Posted by carldavidson on July 31, 2015

Pia Colucci, right, of Oakland waits for Bernie Sanders to begin speaking during a telecast broadcasted at a meet-up held in Lawrenceville on Wednesday. Supporters of the Democratic presidential hopeful gathered across the country to watch the telecast. Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette

By Tony Norman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

July 31, 2015 – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has more than a few fans in Pittsburgh, judging by the turnout for his first televised meet-up since his poll numbers began shifting in a positive direction nationally. The muggy Wednesday evening air did its best to discourage a line from forming outside the Spirit Lounge on 51st Street in Lawrenceville, but 350 supporters squeezed into the former Moose Lodge that had once been the home to many a studio ’rasslin’ night.

After ponying up the suggested $5 donation at the door, the cross-generational crowd of Democrats and fellow travelers jockeyed for the best vantage point in front of a projection screen on the east end of the hall. Mr. Sanders would televise his remarks to 3,100 similar gatherings across the country from an apartment in Washington, D.C., shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern time.

According to organizers, Mr. Sanders would be addressing as many as 100,000 supporters nationwide — a number that should concern the complacent Democratic establishment, even though the insurgent candidate trails former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by as much as 40 points in some polls.

Still, Bernie Sanders has roughly the same level of name recognition that Sen. Barack Obama had at this point in his underdog campaign against Mrs. Clinton. Unlike Mr. Obama, who was still trying to justify his candidacy to skeptical black leaders already committed to Mrs. Clinton in the summer of 2007, Mr. Sanders is drawing more energetic and enthusiastic crowds than Mrs. Clinton — a sign that the party’s progressive and liberal base is hungry for something it isn’t getting from its presumptive front-runner.

There is still time for Mrs. Clinton to ignite the passion of grass-roots Democrats, of course, but Bernie Sanders is on fire right now in ways no other candidate for the nomination can remotely claim. When he finally appeared on screen to make his speech, there was a collective roar from the crowd that felt almost primal — a mix of sweat, genuine giddiness and exasperation that it has taken so long for a candidate who shares their deepest convictions and disappointment with the status quo to finally emerge.

Technical difficulties with the live stream signal on Pittsburgh’s end prevented him from being heard at first, but when his Brooklyn-forged accent finally broke through the buffering silence, the crowd was primed to hear the candidate declare his allegiance to their issues and priorities.

“The American people are saying loudly and clearly — enough is enough,” Mr. Sanders said after ticking off a series of priorities that would occupy his days in the White House. The candidate would return to this mantra many times after promising to reverse 40 years of middle-class decline and income inequality, raising the minimum wage, affordable college education and combating the “real unemployment rate” he insisted was over 10 percent.

“Maybe, just maybe, instead of higher rates of incarceration,” he said referencing minority youth, “we could provide them with education and jobs.” In a tip-of-the-hat to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that heckled him a week earlier, Mr. Sanders pledged to fight against institutional racism. Just as he was beginning say something about instituting a campaign finance system that didn’t reward corporate bribery, Mr. Sanders’ image froze on the screen, prompting someone in the crowd to shout: “It’s a conspiracy!”

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Posted in 2016 Election, Organizing, Pittsburgh, Sanders | Leave a Comment »

Progressive Democrats to Meet on Social Security

Posted by carldavidson on July 24, 2015


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PA Gov. Battles Republicans for Education Budget

Posted by randyshannon on July 21, 2015

Wolf, Pa. GOP to resume meetings as budget stalemate hits three weeks

Progressive Democrats and Union members rally for taxing drillers and funding schools in Beaver, PA on 7/20/15

Progressive Democrats and Union members rally for taxing drillers and funding schools in Beaver, PA on 7/20/15

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has returned to Harrisburg as Gov. Tom Wolf and top Republican lawmakers were set to resume face-to-face meetings to discuss a three-week-old budget stalemate.

No major votes were expected today.

The Democratic governor and Republicans who control the Legislature are sparring over competing budget proposals. Mr. Wolf is seeking a multibillion-dollar tax increase to deliver a record funding boost to schools and wipe out a long-term deficit that’s damaged Pennsylvania’s creditworthiness.

Republicans passed a zero-tax increase budget with a smaller boost for education, but Mr. Wolf vetoed it, saying it didn’t meet his goals and used gimmickry to balance.

The stalemate has left the state government without full spending authority. That includes payments to schools and nonprofits and county agencies that help administer Pennsylvania’s social-services safety net.

During a regularly scheduled appearance at KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh today, Mr. Wolf said that bad state budgeting is costing taxpayers about $170 million a year.

Mr. Wolf said state government is paying a premium of about 1 percent interest on $17 billion in debt. He linked the extra borrowing cost to five credit downgrades that Pennsylvania has received in the past three years.

“This isn’t just Democrat Tom Wolf talking, this is people outside looking at us and right now we’re paying a premium of about 1 percent on our debt, that’s $17 billion,” Wolf said. “That adds up to about $170 million a year we’re all paying. It’s not going to education. It’s not going to roads and bridges. It’s going to the pockets of people who have bought our bonds because we don’t have a good budget.”

In the meantime, Republicans are complaining about a $750,000 ad campaign by an affiliate of the Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Governors Association that is targeting them in the showdown. The affiliate, America Works USA, has not disclosed the source of the money.

Mr. Wolf and Republicans are sparring over competing budget proposals during the stalemate, which has left the state government without full spending authority. That includes payments to schools and nonprofits and county agencies that help administer Pennsylvania’s social services safety net.

Mr. Wolf is seeking a multibillion-dollar tax increase to deliver a record funding boost to schools and wipe out a long-term deficit that’s damaged Pennsylvania’s creditworthiness. Republicans passed a zero-tax increase budget with a smaller boost for education, but Wolf vetoed it, saying it didn’t meet his goals and used gimmickry to balance.

Mr. Wolf, a first-time officeholder who became governor in January, told KDKA-AM he believes that Republicans are probably doing “some testing of me as a new governor, which I think is designed to see if I’m really serious about standing up for what I believe and what I think the people of Pennsylvania want.”

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Progressive Democrats of America Bring Movement Pressure to Dems Through Bernie Sanders Campaign

Posted by carldavidson on July 14, 2015

PDA’s Conor Boylan with Bernie Sanders

Thanks to social media campaigns and behind-the-scenes work from the Progressive Democrats of America, Sanders’ chances at president have become a reality.

By Theo Anderson
In These Times

"Bernie is a no-nonsense guy who says what he believes and has legislation to back up what he believes."

July 13, 2015 – In late April, when he announced that he would enter the presidential race, Bernie Sanders was the relatively unknown junior U.S. Senator from Vermont. Now he’s everywhere.

Though the “Sanders surge” seemed to come from nowhere, it was long in the making. Sanders’ rapid rise in the polls, and his increasing visibility over the past few weeks, are in part the result of behind-the-scenes work by organizations like Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).

PDA was founded in 2004 by progressives at the Democratic National Convention who were disappointed with the party’s presidential nominee, John Kerry, but were unwilling to give up on electoral politics. One evening, at the convention’s conclusion, about 200 people met to chart a path forward.

“PDA was founded that night with an inside-outside strategy—to bring outside energy inside the party,” said Conor Boylan, who began working for PDA in 2009 and has been its co-director since 2014. “It was almost an insurgency: We’ll be members of the party, but we’ll also form our own chapters and hold the party accountable.”

PDA now has about 90,000 people on its email list. Of those, about 35,000 members actively support and participate in its work. It is funded by donations from its membership.

In early 2014, PDA began a petition drive to persuade Sanders to run for the presidency. When Sanders attended its tenth anniversary celebration in May of that year, PDA presented him with the petition. That event marked the beginning a strong push by the organization to encourage him to run for the Democratic nomination.

The effort paid off this spring when Sanders announced his candidacy. “We’ve just caught fire since then,” Boylan said. “So it has grown from this small idea—that we have to get Bernie to run—to him actually announcing. And I’m starting to think now that he could actually win this thing. It’s been amazing the way it’s gone the past 15 or 16 months. And where’s it going to end?”

Along with its sister organization, People Demanding Action (which focuses on advancing a policy agenda rather than electoral politics), PDA’s priorities are healthcare reform, campaign finance reform and environmental and economic justice.

House parties are central to PDA’s work. Its website allows people interested in volunteering for the Sanders campaign to sign up to organize a party or find one that’s scheduled near them. PDA sends organizers a kit with information on the basics of hosting a party and assigning people to different tasks, like handing out flyers and maintaining a social media presence. (Continued)

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Sanders Draws Roars and Cheers from Union Retirees

Posted by carldavidson on July 11, 2015

By Mark Gruenberg
People’s World

July 10 2015 – WASHINGTON (PAI) – Hundreds of retirees, in D.C. for the legislative-political conference of the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA), gave a warm welcome to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., who is challenging Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. They began with chants of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” and interrupted his speech with several long – and unprompted-standing ovations.

The enthusiasm of the ARA delegates is important: The union-backed organization has 4.3 million members in every congressional district nationwide. And those retired unionists in turn represent the consistently largest and most-active political constituency in the U.S. – Democratic, Independent or Republican – the elderly.

ARA delegates gave Sanders — a down-the-line supporter of unions, workers and their rights, the elderly, Social Security and Medicare — thunderous applause as he reiterated those stands. After his speech, delegates spent their afternoon lobbying for those causes, too.

Sanders knew what the crowd wanted, which is what he has preached for his 24-year career in Congress and what he gave to the ARA on July 9: An active endorsement of their goals. He and the delegates are led by protecting and expanding Social Security – by scrapping the wage cap on income taxed to provide for benefits and using that money to pay more to beneficiaries. The American people want that, too, Sanders declared.

“Because of the ARA and other groups like it and because of the trade union movement, there was a poll two weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, where 61 percent of the people said ‘lift the caps,’ while 20 percent opposed,” he added, to cheers.

“But the struggle is not only to extend and expand Social Security,” he said. “It’s to have Medicare for all” – he specified it should be a single-payer government-run health plan – “and a national standard of living with dignity, raising the minimum wage to be a living wage, and to have pay equity for woman workers.” (Continued)

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Trumka Works to Control Trade Unions’ Sanders Momentum

Posted by randyshannon on July 3, 2015

AFL-CIO’s Challenge: Tempering Unions’ Embrace of Bernie Sanders

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Friday, 03 Jul 2015 10:42 AM
AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka with Sen. Bernie Sanders

AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka with Sen. Bernie Sanders

AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka is warning labor leaders to hold off on endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the presidency, saying the federation’s bylaws specify that such endorsements are to be left up to the organization on a national level.

Trumka, in a memo sent out this week, reminded groups that they are not allowed to “endorse a presidential candidate” or even work on statements or resolutions that indicate a preference for any candidate, reports Politico. Further, he said that “personal statements” are also forbidden.

“Because in years past, and already this year, a number of questions have been raised,” Trumka said, “I want to remind you all that the AFL-CIO endorsement for president and vice president belongs to the national AFL-CIO.

“State federations, central and area labor councils, and all other subordinate bodies must follow the national AFL-CIO endorsement regarding president and vice president.”

Under the organization’s procedures on endorsement, a political committee makes its recommendation to the executive council in Washington, which then submits it for ratification by leaders of its member unions. A two-thirds majority is required to approve the endorsement.

Trumka said the AFL-CIO had sent out questionnaires to both Democrats and Republicans, with a Friday deadline, and plans to interview candidates during its July executive council meeting.

National union leaders, though, are drawn to the party’s more progressive side, represented by Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination, and groups in South Carolina and Sanders’ home state of Vermont have already passed resolutions that support him. Some union leaders in Iowa are also calling for a resolution to be passed at their convention in August to back Sanders.

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