Jessica Benham Endorsed by Pittsburgh Trades Union

Jessica Benham - PHOTO: COURTESY THE CAMPAIGN

Photo: courtesy the campaign: Jessica Benham

Following Democratic committee snub

Pittsburgh City Paper

Disability-rights advocate Jessica Benham (D-South Side) has been running for Pennsylvania state House District 36 for several months and picked up a number of Democratic endorsements along the way, including Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail Smith (D-West End) and state Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-West View).

But on Sunday, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee (ACDC) endorsed Benham’s opponent Heather Kass (D-Carrick) despite Kass’ past social media posts where she praised Donald Trump, decried the Affordable Care Act, and shared a far-right meme about Hillary Clinton.

The Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council issued a rebuke of the ACDC endorsement of Kass, saying, “There is no room — in the labor movement or in the Democratic party — for someone who trashes the Affordable Care Act and pushes propaganda from right-wing think tanks that exist to attack unions, hurt workers, and help corporate interests.”

WESA reported that AFLC didn’t endorse any candidate, but that Benham came closest to the threshold of votes needed to get the labor council’s endorsement.

Today, a local union that sits within the AFLC has announced it is endorsing Benham in the District 36 race.

Operating Engineers Local 66 is backing Benham and Local 66 business manager Jim Kunz says in a press release that Benham “will be an advocate for our workers and for family-sustaining union jobs in the natural gas industry, ensuring that our members will have a voice in conversations about jobs and the environment.”

OE Local 66 represents more than 7,900 members in 33 Western Pennsylvania counties as well as three counties in Ohio. Members complete construction and other work for contractors, private businesses, and municipalities. OE Local 66 members are currently working on the ethane cracker plant in Beaver County and a power plant in Lawrence County.

“In my ongoing conversations with them, we have discussed the necessity of a public policy that protects our environment without leaving workers behind,” said Benham in a press release.

“When I talk about clean air and water, I want to center everyone who is impacted.”

Benham says she looks forward to working with unions, community members, and environmental advocates to move the region toward a sustainable energy future.

Continue reading Jessica Benham Endorsed by Pittsburgh Trades Union

More Turmoil vs. Rightwing Dems in Allegheny Party

Breaking: State Rep. Austin Davis Resigns As Vice-Chair Of Allegheny County Democratic Committee

jessica Benham
Jessica Benham and Austin Davis. (Photo from the candidate’s Twitter.)

By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com

Last week, several elected officials called for the resignation of Allegheny County Democratic Committee Chair Eileen Kelly for press-conference-turned-shit-show in which she defended the endorsement of a candidate who thinks all addicts should OD and then making offensive comments about the past addiction struggles of County Councilor Bethany Hallam.

And while Kelly has refused to step down, there was a resignation today from a high-ranking party official, Vice-Chair Austin Davis of Mckeesport. Since last Sunday’s endorsement, Davis has thrown his support behind two unendorsed candidates, Jessica Benham and Summer Lee, which is a violation of the ACDC charter.

In a letter to Kelly, first reported by WESA’s Chris Potter, Davis said:

“I believe in the Democratic Party and the people that make up the party! It has become clear that I cannot best serve the party and its people as the vice-chairman of the ACDC. Please Accept this letter as my official resignation as vice-chairman of the ACDC, effective immediately.

The events of recent days have crystalized that we do not share the same values and hold vastly different views in the direction that this party should be moving!

“I will always be committed to the values of the Democratic Party and I will work tirelessly to support and elect people who support those values.

“However, I can not remain in this position under your leadership.”

The issues surrounding the party began in mid-January when Heather Kass, a little-known South Hills Democrat was hand-picked by retiring, Conservative state Democratic state Rep.Harry Readshaw to run for his seat. However, hours after the endorsement, the Pittsburgh Current found several Facebook posts from Kass that not only supported Trump but also called people on public assistance “lazy idiots,” and said addicts needed to “OD” so there would be “less shit in the world.”

 

Her posts began in 2015 but she continued to post offensive content as recent as last summer when she posted this image of her husband:

The party endorsed Kass, angering many in the party, not just those considered progressive. But under party bylaws, ACDC committee members were expected to support the endorsed candidate without fail, however, many quickly defected to Kass’ progressive opponent, Jessica Benham., including Davis, the then-vice-chair. Then last week, Kelly had a press conference in which she doubled down her support for Kass and said this about County Councilor Bethany Hallam:

Kelly says that Bethany Hallam went through a hard time with drug addiction and was forgiven … but when Heather Kass apologized for posting critcisms of Obamacare, etc. in a moment of hardship, no one forgives her: “Why is it good for them and not for her?”

Davis’ resignation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those following this story. This past weekend, Davis spent time knocking doors and canvassing with Jessica Benham:

But this isn’t the only issue to rise out of the Feb. 16 endorsement process. At that meeting, only one incumbent did not receive the endorsement and that was Summer Lee, the region’s first black woman elected to the state legislature. She faced an opponent backed by Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald. And while Kelly supported Kass, she ripped Fitzgerald for damaging the party for not backing Lee. Many people are upset about Lee’s treatment by the committee, however, there were some voices who couldn’t understand why Kelly supported Kass,

Since then Support around lee has been growing. In a Monday press release, Lee reported a surge in endorsements and fundraising from organizations, unions and many long-time elected officials. The complete release is below:

“Western Pennsylvanian State Rep. Summer Lee (D-34) has received a surge in donations and a growing list of new support from labor unions, community organizations, and elected officials following news of her primary challenge by Chris Roland, a North Braddock councilman. Rep. Lee won her seat by defeating a long-term incumbent in 2018 and is the first Black woman to represent Western Pennsylvania in the state house. 

Last week the Working Families Party endorsed Rep. Lee, and is providing strategic support to her race. She has received a surge of grassroots contributions. To date, she has raised $108,176 for her reelection, with an average donation of $83.45. 

“Rep. Summer Lee is committed to fighting for working families in western Pennsylvania, and that is why we’re committed to fighting for her,” said Nicolas O’Rourke, Organizing Director for Pennsylvania Working Families Party. “We need allies in Harrisburg who support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, who care about fighting climate change in our backyard, and who run for office because they genuinely care about the communities they serve, not just their high-dollar donors.” 

Lisa Rhodes, Chair of the PA Democratic Black Caucus, State Senators Katie Muth (D-44), Larry Farnese (D- 1), Lindsey Williams (D-38)  and state representatives Frank Dermody (D-33), Dan Frankel (D-23), Austin Davis (D-35), Ed Gainey (D-24), Jake Wheatley (D-19), Malcolm Kenyatta (D-181), Joe Hohenstein (D-177), Chris Rabb (D-200), Elizabeth Fiedler (D-184), Danielle Otten (D-155), Sara Innamorato (D-21) have also endorsed Lee

“I enthusiastically support Rep. Summer Lee because she is a bold new progressive voice in Harrisburg. In her first term in office, she has unwaveringly lifted up the concerns and priorities of poor and working class people, and all Pennsylvanians who value racial, economic and environmental justice,” said Rep. Chris Rabb (D-200).

“Rep. Summer Lee is a strong Democratic legislator who inspires us to do better things in Harrisburg. She made history by winning two years ago and her voice is needed at the Pennsylvania Capitol.” said Rep. Frank Dermody (D-33). 

Amongst labor, Rep. Lee is endorsed by several labor unions, including SEIU HCPA, SEIU 32BJ, and SEIU State Council. “We will not let such a champion of everyday working people get pushed out of office,” said Gabe Morgan, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU for Pennsylvania and Delaware. “Rep. Summer Lee is committed to making sure that workers across this state have the right to organize and join a union, and that workers get fair wages and strong contracts. 32BJ will knock on thousands of doors to ensure Rep. Lee returns to the Pennsylvania State House.”

Rep. Summer Lee has received the support from progressive groups like Democracy for America, Collective PAC, Make the Road Action, Free The Ballot, One Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Stands Up, Pennslyvania Young Democrats, Young Democrats of Allegheny County, and Black Voters Matter. While many of these groups have not gone through their endorsement process, all are voicing their support for Lee’s performance in office so far. 

“We support Rep Summer Lee because she is a champion of criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania,”  said Robert Saleem Holbrook, Free The Ballot, which has endorsed Lee. “It is important that our communities have a representative who believes in the values of restorative justice, and recognizes that the communities most impacted by violence are also the ones most impacted by mass incarceration.”

“One PA members knocked on thousands of doors in 2018 to support Summer Lee because of her clear vision for Western PA. In the short time she’s been in Harrisburg, she has established a track record of alignment with our members’ values,” said Erin Kramer, Executive Director at One Pennsylvania. “Summer makes sure that underserved and under resourced communities in Allegheny County get the resources and representation they need to thrive. Our members are headed back into their endorsement process soon and we will only support candidates who are accountable to the people and not corporate interests.” 

Rep. Lee has been a champion on the issues that matter most to working families since before taking office, and she’s continued to champion issues like ending mass incarceration, full and fair funding for our schools, labor rights, $15 as a minimum wage, immigration rights. Since taking office in 2018, Rep.Lee has sponsored over 71 bills and helped generate over two million in state grants to her community.

The Working Families Party is a grassroots political party that recruits, trains, and elects the next generation of progressive leaders to office. In 2018, the WFP helped Rep. Rabb in his first bid for reelection, defeating a very well funded Democratic primary opponent, and going on to earning the most votes of any state representative in the general election. In 2017 the WFP knocked on 70,000 doors to elect District Attorney Larry Krasner. And in 2018, the WFP helped Liz Fiedler win her 4-way primary race with 51% of the vote. In 2019 the WFP recruited and helped elect Kendra Brooks for City Council At-Large, the first city-wide third-party victory in Philadelphia history. 

In 2019, the WFP helped elect longtime tenants organizer and progressive champion Jumaane Williams as Public Advocate in New York City, swelled the ranks of Chicago city council progressive caucus, helped make Stephen Mason the first Black mayor of Cedar Hill, Texas, helped insurgent Latinx LGBTQ social worker Candi CdeBaca oust a longtime incumbent on the Denver City Council, and elected other council members from Morgantown, W.Va., to Phoenix, Ariz. 

Continue reading More Turmoil vs. Rightwing Dems in Allegheny Party

Pittsburgh Dems Oppose 1st Black Woman State Rep from Western PA for Re-Election

Both UE and SEIU Still Back Summer Lee

State Representative Summer Lee (photo courtesy of Pa House Democrats)

Payday Report

The decision of the county party to oppose Lee came a week after the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council voted to oppose Lee. However, UE and SEIU have both backed Lee.

Lee, a former organizer with the Fight For $15, has drawn fierce opposition from the region’s building trades for her opposition to fracking in her district and her support of the Green New Deal. Already, the region’s more conservative unions have pumped more than $67,000 into her opponent, pro-fracking North Braddock councilman Chris Roland.

On Sunday, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee met and voted overwhelmingly to endorse Lee’s opponent, Roland. Much like the Labor Council’s endorsement, Lee was the only incumbent not to endorsed by the labor-dominated Committee.

In addition to opposing Lee, the Committee voted to oppose progressive challenger Jessica Benham vying for a South Side based state representative’s seat. Instead, they choose to endorse Heather Kass, who openly bragged on social media that she supported President Trump.

For Lee, who defeated a 20-year incumbent by a margin of 68%-32% to become state representative in 2018, the snub was yet another sign of the false promises of the white-dominated political machines of Western Pennsylvania.

“The Democratic Party claims it wants more “diversity.” Claims it respects the Black ppl who form its base. Claims it supports women leadership. Claims it trusts the Black women who propel it to victory every time,” wrote Lee on Twitter. “The lie detector test determined…..that was a lie.”

Since the announcement that the local Democratic Party would oppose her re-election, Lee says she has received more than 200 individual donations and an outpouring of support. She says that dozens of people have signed up to volunteer, and the campaign’s grassroots capability is growing as a result of the backlash against the white-dominated Western PA political establishment.

“We know they never wanted us at their little table. We’re still eating, though!” wrote Lee on Facebook.

(Full Disclosure: My father, Gene Elk, is the elected Director of Organization of the United Electrical Workers (UE), which has endorsed Summer Lee’s campaign. Representative Lee and I both attended Woodland Hills High School together, while it was still under federal desegregation orders in the early 2000s). 

Fracking-Well Blast 60 Miles From Pittsburgh Leaked More Methane Than Some Countries Emit In a Year

By Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh City Paper

Dec 17, 2019 – In 2018, a natural-gas well exploded near Powhatan Point in Ohio, a small town that sits along the Ohio River, just 60 miles from Pittsburgh as the crow flies. The fracking well was owned and operated by a subsidiary of oil giant Exxon.

According to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this single explosion emitted a gargantuan amount of methane into the atmosphere. Over the 20 days it took for Exxon to plug the well, more than 57,000 metric tons of methane was released, at a rate of about 120 metric tons of methane per hour.

This figure, from one well in less than three weeks, eclipsed the annual amount of methane that is emitted by the oil and gas industries of France, Norway, and the Netherlands combined. The Ohio blast is now the largest known methane leak on record in the U.S. and was twice as large as the previous largest leak that occurred at an oil and gas storage facility in California in 2015.

@NaomiAKlein: Terrifying story about a blowout in Ohio that released “as much methane as the entire oil and gas industries of some nations release in a year.” EDF – which has aggressively pushed NatGas as a “bridge fuel” – explains that this could be happening every day https://nyti.ms/34tdR7f

The findings mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas sites worldwide.

Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. Studies vary, but methane is generally considered to be between 25-84 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The study determined the scope of the leak using satellite technology, and the authors praised the mapping system to reveal just how damaging the incident was in terms of how much greenhouse gas was emitted. Continue reading Fracking-Well Blast 60 Miles From Pittsburgh Leaked More Methane Than Some Countries Emit In a Year

Donald Trump Campaigned on Restoring Manufacturing Jobs in Pennsylvania

Steel plant in Clairton, PA

Has He Kept That Promise?

By Laura Olsen
The Morning Call / Lehigh Valley

Dec 9, 2019 – Booming. Thriving. The best economy ever.

President Donald Trump loves to tout job numbers, particularly when he’s in Pennsylvania. When he returns to the state for a campaign rally Tuesday, fresh off a national jobs report showing strong gains, expect to hear a lot about the economy and manufacturing during his tenure.

“Since President Trump’s election, Pennsylvania has added 157,800 new jobs, including 2,900 manufacturing jobs,” Michael Glassner, the chief operating officer for Trump’s re-election campaign, said in a statement ahead of the rally. “President Trump is delivering on his promises.”

Democrats, however, have sketched out a much different economic picture in Pennsylvania. They point to a report showing Pennsylvania had lost the most manufacturing jobs of any state in the country — roughly 8,000 — between August 2018 and August 2019.

So who is right?

The data

When Trump took office in January 2017, Pennsylvania had 561,200 manufacturing jobs, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s roughly the same number as in 2009, after employment plunged amid the Great Recession. State manufacturing crept back to 570,000 jobs by late 2014, before dipping again over the next two years.

During the first two years of Trump’s term, manufacturing jobs showed gains in Pennsylvania, peaking in October 2018 at 572,500. But the trend reversed, dropping back to 561,600 in July of this year before ticking back up again to 562,800 in October.

The Trump campaign’s 2,900 figure for manufacturing jobs gained counts gains made during the months between his November victory and January, when he actually became president. Pennsylvania had 559,900 manufacturing jobs in November 2016, according to BLS figures.

Looking beyond manufacturing, overall job growth in Pennsylvania has shown a steadier upward climb during that same period, rising from 5.9 million jobs in January 2017 to nearly 6.1 million jobs in October. Unemployment in the state has fallen since 2017, hitting a record low in April at 3.8% before rising slightly to 4.2% in October.

Tariff ripple effects

One factor that has caused uncertainty for employers in manufacturing and other sectors has been the Trump administration’s escalating trade war and broad use of tariffs. Continue reading Donald Trump Campaigned on Restoring Manufacturing Jobs in Pennsylvania

The White Nationalist in the White House

Stephen Miller sent 900 emails to Breitbart that spell out his white nationalist sympathies

By Tony Norman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Columnist

Nov 19, 2019 – White House senior adviser Stephen Miller has a white nationalism problem. Nine hundred recently uncovered emails he wrote to Breitbart.com in 2015 and 2016 reveal him to be a white nationalist sympathizer and a promoter of racist anti-immigration ideas.

At the time Mr. Miller wrote the emails, he was an adviser to then-Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, an extremist who could do little harm to America outside the confines of Alabama.

A weird and solitary figure even by the standards of the then evolving alt-right, Mr. Miller took it upon himself to educate the folks at Breitbart about the nuances of bigotry that they simply weren’t astute enough to pick up on their own.

He sent emails to favored reporters at the site he believed would push his “tips” into the mainstream. Among his favorite ideas was the “white genocide” conspiracy theory that animated the Tree of Life shooter in Pittsburgh in 2018.

In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, death row inmate Rodney Reed waves to his family in the Bastrop County District Court in Bastrop, Texas. Supporters for Reed, who’s facing lethal injection in less than two weeks for a murder he says he didn’t commit, are mounting a final push in the courts and on social media to stop his execution, which is being called into question by lawmakers, pastors, celebrities and the European Union.

Of course, we wouldn’t know about his intellectual freelancing if it weren’t for the investigative work of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC acquired the 900 emails from disgruntled and fired Breitbart editors eager to show the extent of Mr. Miller’s dalliance with white nationalist racism and ideas.

Mr. Miller wrote the emails before he became the architect of President Donald Trump’s brutal anti-immigration policies. The politics of separating families at the border and the scheme to cut non-white European immigration to a trickle codified into law the rhetoric of what were once alt-right fever dreams mere months before he joined the White House.

In any other administration, the existence of 900 emails exposing a senior aide’s secret life as a cheerleader for white nationalism would’ve resulted in a full-throated rebuke, a swift firing and a televised escort from the White House grounds by the blackest Secret Service agents on staff. Continue reading The White Nationalist in the White House

‘We’re the Sacrificial Lamb’: Lordstown Workers On the UAW Plant Closures

By Carter Eugene Adams
Organizing Work via Portside

 

Nov 11, 2019 – The Monday after Thanksgiving last year, workers at the General Motors Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio were called in for a 9 a.m. meeting. This was a rare occurrence.

“I don’t know, was it three sentences long maybe? ‘Hey, you’re unallocated.’ …No one had ever heard of ‘unallocated’,” says John Sandquist, Jr., a 25-year employee of GM. “We didn’t know what that term meant… Basically, it meant ‘you guys are closing.’”

The Lordstown plant is the former home of the Chevy Cruze and 1,600 workers. For almost a year now, no product has been coming out of the plant, with workers transferred, forced into early retirement or just out of work. Over the past year, GM has transferred over 700 workers from Lordstown to various plants across the country, mostly out of Ohio. According to the tentative agreement between GM and the UAW, the plant closure will be permanent.

Sonya Woods, a 25-year employee of GM, who was transferred to Bowling Green Kentucky, says she had to either move, or lose everything she’s worked towards.

“Gotta go or I lose my pension, lose my benefits,” said Woods. “They got us screwed. There’s a big group that have ‘95 seniority, 25 years, and we lose a lot if we don’t follow it. We don’t have much choice.”

Last week, outside of the shuttered factory, four workers held the picket line, along with 49,000 other GM employees still on strike, even as news of the proposed agreement between GM and the UAW started to circulate. The four were getting ready to transition to other plants when the strike was called. The locals at their new plants allowed them to come back to Ohio to do their strike duty at their home plant, as the Lordstown plant closure was one of the issues on the table between GM and the UAW.

At the picket, workers stood around a burn barrel. Harsh orange streetlamps illuminated an empty, fenced-in parking lot. The 6.2 million-square-foot behemoth factory acted as an eerie monument to what was once an industrial hub in northeastern Ohio. It was silent except for the drone of trucks driving by on the Ohio Turnpike.

“This used to be non-stop traffic, non-stop. Look, nothing!” said Agnes Hernandez, a 23-year GM employee.

“This is the truck gate,” added Sandquist.

“There would be lines, remember?” replied Hernandez. “We’d have lines of trucks coming out here.”

After a moment, Hernandez realized Sandquist didn’t have his signature clothing item: his orange vest.

“Go get your vest on! Come on, OVS!” Agnes jokingly shouted.

This group of friends, who spent nearly every day together in this plant for decades, called themselves the “Orange Vest Society.” The orange vest is standard attire for workers in the plant. But whether or not a given worker was wearing orange was semantics. Those in OVS felt they had another layer of protection between them and management. Having the solidarity and at times friendship of those on the shop floor gave workers a sense of “you watch my back, I watch yours.”

The origins of this group are vague, but as Dan Santangelo, a 25-year employee of GM put it, the roots of it are solidarity and comradery. “Management would start something with one of us, and it just started as a joke: ‘You mess with one person in Orange Vest you mess with us all.’ We don’t know who came up with it, maybe it might have been Jeff” — OVS member and fellow worker on the picket line – “came up and said, ‘we should call ourselves the Orange Vest Society.’ So, that’s what we did. On our last day here, we spray painted it on the wall behind out team center.”

The proposed contract appears set for ratification. Besides the plant in Lordstown, it cements the closure of two more GM facilities — Warren transmission and Baltimore transmission — three of the four that were on the table.

GM’s stated the reason for the Lordstown closure was the Cruze’s poor sales performance in the United States, with consumers opting for larger SUVs and trucks. But months after the shuttering, GM announced the production of a strikingly similar vehicle , the Onix, to be built and sold in Mexico. GM has also announced its revitalized production of the Chevy Blazer in Mexico, shortly after shuttering the Janesville, Wisconsin plant where it used to be made.

Workers think the production of the Onix could have taken place at Lordstown Assembly and kept the plant open. Sandquist feels the continued closure of Lordstown has little to do with the product they produced and more to do with GM attempting to fracture worker power and solidarity.

“This community, this plant — we’ve always built a good product here for 53 years,” said Sandquist. “I believe it’s something personal they have against the local 1112, it’s something personal against this plant because the union was strong here and we cared about the community. They’re more concerned about profits.”

For workers in Lordstown, transfers to plants hours from home, buyouts and early retirements are their consolation prize.

In 2007, workers were understanding of concessions needed to keep the company alive and acted accordingly. 12 years later, with record profits recorded and salaries for company executives in the tens of millions, workers want what they’re owed.

But trying to negotiate that has been difficult. The six weeks of the strike have seen agreements proposed and then removed in the same day. Negotiations stalled, started and stalled again. The latest draft of the proposed contract is four volumes long.

As Parma, Ohio UAW Local 1005 President Mike Caldwell explains, it’s necessary. “Every single thing in [our] shop was negotiated,” said Caldwell. “At one point in time, someone had to fight for it and negotiate for it.”

The new contract between the UAW and GM meets many demands that sent workers to the picket line. Those include a revised healthcare plan; gradual wage increases and a path for temporary workers to be hired on full-time.

By not pushing further on running product through Lordstown, UAW officials in Detroit have affectively abandoned shuttered plants in pursuit of other demands. Lordstown assembly, Warren transmission and Baltimore transmission plants are the union’s biggest concessions.

“We’re the sacrificial lamb in this one,” Sandquist said. “They’re gonna sacrifice Lordstown for the good of the whole, and the whole UAW membership. I get their point, but it sucks for us, and I’m pissed off about it.”

Caldwell weighed in on Lordstown remaining closed after members of local 1005 voted to ratify the contract, 438 for, 404 against. “It’s still kind of a sad spot for everyone that that plant is still slated to close,” he said. “It’s very disappointing, with that plant closing, that destroys that entire community.”

Keeping the Lordstown plant closed means workers have a difficult decision to make: either lose their jobs or transfer to another plant. Workers who did not qualify for early retirement were given the one-time offer to transfer and continue working until they’re eligible to collect their pensions and retirement benefits. The new proposed agreement offers a buyout, but according to the highlights of the agreement, distributed by UAW, that buyout doesn’t offer much.

For workers who choose the buyout option, they agree to terminate their employment and benefits, save for some pension benefits. In return, they’re offered a sum of money, between $7,500 and $75,000, based on years of service.

While that may seem like a lot offered, that money is just that: money. No benefits, no health care. And for people living paycheck-to-paycheck, those benefits are all they have. For those with more seniority, they’re choosing between cash or decades worth of pension and retirement benefits.

The four members of the Orange Vest Society decided to transfer so they can make it to their pension and keep their benefits. They’ll be eight hours from Lordstown in Bowling Green, Kentucky and six hours away in Bedford, Indiana — leaving their families and their community.

“It sucks. Every one of these people right here around this burn barrel is going through that,” said Sandquist. “He has a family that is here and he’s gonna be eight hours away, same with Agnes, same with this man Dan over here. He’s got a wife, two kids. Agnes has got grandkids now for Christ’s sake, she ain’t gonna see them grow up.”

“What do I do now? Facetime?” said Hernandez. “I mean you can’t see everything on Facetime. You know, it’s like my grandson, he’ll be two in January and he looks at me through the phone it’s almost like he has to do a double-take to see and hear my voice. Just so he knows me, I have to keep repeating who I am. It’s so, it’s horrible. It’s like, ‘oh my god, he’s gonna forget me.’ Being that young he’s gonna forget who I am, you know, and that to me is just heartbreaking.”

In addition to uprooting their entire lives and leaving family here in Ohio, this also means the end of the Orange Vest Society.

Even off the shop floor, through the upheaval of the plant closure, OVS became a way for workers to look out for each other.

“I went through a very bad time before I had to go to Bedford (Indiana), I was almost as low as killing myself, that’s how low I was.” said Santangelo, as a result of having to leave his family, his home and his community. “Not only did my blood family reach out to me, but these guys did as well,” he said. “Jeff would call every other day to check in. ‘How you doing?’ He would try to get me talking. That’s. That’s the Orange Vest Society.”

 I think this was our mentality.We came to work to have fun and to work. In that order,” explained Santangelo. “We made it enjoyable. We made it worth our while to be here.”

“Yeah, but the place is so miserable you had to do something,” added Sandquist.

As the night goes on, the conversation shifts and changes, from heated discussions about the proposed contract to jokes about how many liquor bars and sex shops there are in Kentucky. The remaining OVS members talk about home, about what, and who, they’re leaving in order to provide. There are also long moments of silence on the picket line, between the jokes and contract talk. Against the backdrop of the shuttered plant, there’s this feeling that this is the end of an era.

“It was like a second family,” said Hernandez. “I mean we hung out together, we’ve known each other for 2o-plus years. These are my brothers.”

Agnes and Jeff go into the Styrofoam cooler next to the wood pile under a small nylon canopy. After a few minutes the two emerge with plastic cups. Dan had declined the offer earlier and joins the toast emptyhanded.

After the toast, the group sits and talks for a while longer before slowly, one by one, leaving.

Shortly after midnight, Sandquist is packing up his chairs and getting ready to head back to the union hall to sign out before finally going home. Before he heads out, he reflects on the future of the Orange Vest Society. “We might end up having a little chapter down in Bowling Green, one in Bedford, some of our friends up in Toledo will have a little — there’s a couple of us everywhere but the original core group is split up,” he says.

“That’s the stuff that pisses you off even more, you know, it’s the friendships, your family, your secondary family. You’re not gonna spend time with them no more, or you know, have them relationships. Talk on the phone or text, see what’s up with them but not like you use to. Kinda at the end, it’s over and it’s sad.”

Continue reading ‘We’re the Sacrificial Lamb’: Lordstown Workers On the UAW Plant Closures

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