Posted by carldavidson on November 5, 2015
Locked out ATI Flat-Rolled Division workers and family members yell at a tractor-trailer truck driver leaving ATI’s Vandergrift plant during a family picket at the entrance to the plant on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.
By Tom Yerace
Trib Total Media
Nov. 5, 2015 – Anyone going in or out of the ATI steel plant in Vandergrift on Wednesday evening drove through a wall of emotion.
The union workers, whom the company has locked out of their jobs since Aug. 15, were in greater numbers than usual.
That’s because the Wives of Steel, a group of steelworkers’ wives, called a rally at the plant entrance that started at 4:30 and continued for at least two hours.
About 200 steelworkers and their families, most carrying signs demanding a fair contract from ATI, stayed on the move as they picketed. They walked back and forth — slowly — pausing on the driveway when vehicles approached the plant entrance, forcing them to slow down.
At the same time, they hurled verbal abuse and vented their anger, particularly at the vans carrying the people who have taken their jobs. The most frequent insult heard was the ultimate for union members — “scab.”
Yelling into a bullhorn, a steelworker shouted at a truck driver, “Hey dude, you’re a scab! You’re a piece of garbage!”
“Do you think they get the idea that we don’t like what they’re doing?” asked Russ Gainor of West Leechburg, who attended the picket line, even though he retired from ATI in June after 36 years rather than risk the lockout.
A thick white line freshly painted across the edge of the driveway served as the plant’s boundary from the public sidewalk.
As the steelworkers rallied on one side of the stripe, ATI security guards in khaki uniforms and ball caps videotaped the proceedings from inside the plant property.
ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said the company had no reaction or comment on the rally.
When asked if there was any news about contract negotiations resuming, Greenfield said, “We’ve had contact with the mediator about trying to get talks going again, but so far it hasn’t been successful.”
Regina Stinson of New Kensington, who heads the five-member Wives of Steel at United Steelworkers Local 1138 in Leechburg, said the large turnout is an indicator of the stress the steelworkers and their families are dealing with.
The lockout enters its 83rd day Thursday. While some of the locked-out workers have found temporary work, many are receiving only unemployment compensation, which is a fraction of what they normally earn.
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Posted by carldavidson on October 26, 2015
In this photo, Pittsburgh’s U.S. Steel Tower, whose upper reaches bear the initials of the city’s largest employer. Flickr Creative Commons/Adam Sacco
By Cole Strangler
International Business Times
Oct 22, 2015 – The tallest building in Pittsburgh owes its title to the industrial giant that made the city famous. But instead of its floundering namesake, the U.S. Steel Tower now displays the initials of a different sort of employer: the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, or UPMC.
When the signage went up eight years ago, it seemed, as the New York Times noted, to perfectly epitomize the evolution of a city and its labor force — from an economy once world-renowned for its manufacturing might to one focused on “eds and meds”; a place where the working classes flock to booming research institutions and hospitals, not coke plants or blast furnaces.
In the old economy, steelworkers won pay raises and benefits that transformed what used to be a grueling, low-wage job into a virtual ticket to the middle class. But according to policymakers and labor advocates, too many workers in the new Pittsburgh are still struggling to make ends meet.
At hearings slated to kick off Thursday, a newly-formed, city council-backed wage committee plans to shed light on the problem — and consider a potential remedy: Whether to follow the examples set by Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and adopt a $15 hourly minimum wage, more than double the current statewide minimum of $7.25. This is the core demand of the Fight For 15, the protest movement backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“We’ve been talking about the need to increase the minimum wage, but we’ve not really linked that to the benefits it can bring to the city or to workers and their families in a succinct way,” says Reverend Ricky Burgess, the committee’s architect and lone representative from city council. “What I want to do is provide some data.”
In addition to testimony from economists and poverty experts, the data will likely come first-hand from low-wage workers themselves — people like Justin Sheldon, 34. He’s one of 62,000 people who work at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the largest private employer in Pennsylvania, and by far, the largest employer of any kind in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.
Medical residents at the hospitals tend to earn over $50,000 a year, according to the employee review site Glassdoor. But the more than 10,000 service workers — the people who staff cafeterias, transport patients and sterilize equipment, among other things — earn substantially less. They make an average of $12.81 an hour, UPMC said last year. The health care provider did not respond to request for comment.
“My reason [for supporting $15] is pretty simple,” says Sheldon, a housekeeper at the UPMC Presbyterian hospital. “I want to be able to support my family — properly.”
Sheldon makes $12.52 an hour and works 48 hours a week, cleaning doctor’s offices, conference rooms and restrooms. He says he can barely pay the bills for his household, which includes two young children, ages six and four. His wife is visually impaired and receives Social Security disability payments, about $700 a month, he says. They pay $600 a month to rent a house in McKees Rocks, a blue-collar community that overlooks the Ohio River.
“Anything I save up usually ends up getting used” he says. Within a week of the next paycheck, “I’m usually down to $30 or less.”
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Posted in Minimum Wage, Pittsburgh, trade unions | Leave a Comment »
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 »
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."