Pittsburgh: Worker Coalitions and Organizing around Public Transit

By Alicia Williamson

USW.org

Dec 27, 2014 – I first got involved in transit-related activism in 2010 through my support for organized labor. A major public funding gap threatened the solvency of Pittsburgh’s public mass transit system, and—in line with so many recent attacks we’ve seen on public-sector unions—the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) was taking the brunt of the blame for the projected 30% cut.

The myth of the “overpaid” bus driver as an excuse and scapegoat for draconian government austerity measures was hardly unique to Pittsburgh (see, for example, Oregon, Madison, and New York). The gross exaggeration in such accounts of the $100K-per-year driver is beside the point.

It’s a line of classist rhetoric that depends upon invoking a sense of meritocratic rage against decent compensation for workers who are perceived to be “unskilled.” Most frustratingly, it shows how easily workers can be divided against one another in a climate where most accept neoliberal economic scarcity as a given.

Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT) was founded as a coalition of riders and drivers to fight rampant layoffs, service cuts, fare hikes, and privatization while building solidarity among the working people who operate and use transit. Indeed, public transit is essential to Pittsburgh’s urban labor force, and over half of all workers in the city’s major employment centers use it for their daily commute, accounting for 86% of all ridership. Service cuts were tantamount to job losses not only for drivers but also for many riders. And yet, the same riders often did not see union drivers as allies in the fight to save their service, lower their fares, and improve the system as a whole.

Continue reading Pittsburgh: Worker Coalitions and Organizing around Public Transit

Advertisements

Agencies of Social Change Often Wear a Clerical Collar

Faith making a difference in Aliquippa

Resurrecting Aliquippa: Faith

Kevin Lorenzi/The Times: Chris Ingram speaks to a church gathering at a "Black Lives Matter" service Dec. 14 at New Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Aliquippa.

By Tom Davidson

Beaver County Times

 tdavidson@timesonline.com |

ALIQUIPPA — Beyond the facts and figures in the sheaf of 150 pages that is the city’s Act 47 recovery plan are the people who live and do business here.

They’ve endured decades of economic downturns and slow decay since the industrial lifeblood of the community — Jones & Laughlin Steel and its successors — left with the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.

But the city’s people have leaned on another institution, one that many say is even tougher than steel: their churches and what springs forth within them, namely their faith. Despite the city’s financial woes, it has a strong spiritual foundation, and scores of people of all faiths are working to help the city resurrect itself.

"We see united … clergy like we’ve never seen before" crossing congregational and racial boundaries to unite for the city’s common good, said Rich Liptak, pastor of Wildwood Chapel in Hopewell Township, just across the border from Aliquippa.

"There’s genuine love and care for each other. It’s been great," he said.

More than 300 people attended a September service billed as Aliquippa Celebrates Faith, and for five years, each Saturday morning, a group of clergy has gathered to pray at various places in the city, Liptak said. He remembers times when there would be a shooting or stabbing on a Friday night, and the next morning they’d gather to pray near the scene of the crime.

But in the five years, the Saturday group has prayed in every neighborhood of the city, and it’s made a difference. After a stretch of more than a decade where there was at least one homicide each year in Aliquippa, the city saw a 16-month stretch in 2012 and 2013 without a murder, Liptak said.

"We see answer to prayer," he said.

He himself been a witness to the demise of the mills and the jobs they provided. His father, uncle and grandfather were all steelworkers. "It’s been a slow spiral downward" is how he puts it.

Liptak has listened to people longing for the mills to come back since they were shuttered. But the mills haven’t come back, and for 30 years, the city has been stuck in the state’s Act 47 program for financially distressed communities. The city’s latest recovery plan was approved earlier this year, and city officials are working to exit the program and foster a renaissance in town.

"I think we’re poised for improvement," Liptak said. He serves as president of the Greater Aliquippa Ministerial Association, a vibrant group of pastors who work together to make a difference in Aliquippa.

Making an impact

There are also groups including Aliquippa Impact that work to help youth.

Steve Rossi, executive director of Aliquippa Impact, said its main aim is to "foster tangible hope to youth" in the city.

"It’s not just spiritual in nature; it’s practical," Rossi said.

Aliquippa Impact has an after-school program at Linmar Terrace, a one-on-one mentoring program, a city camp, arts education and several summer programs for youth in the city. They try to teach kids what they can do themselves to ensure they have a bright future, Rossi said.

"A lot of it is common-sense stuff," he said. "We want you (the youth they serve) to own it."

The youth in the city are full of potential, he said, and they try to teach kids that they have the answers to the problems they face.

Many of the people involved with Aliquippa Impact, including Rossi, aren’t Aliquippa natives. They came to serve and not to "fix Aliquippa," he said, but to help the people there "fix themselves."

"It is a long-haul ministry," he said, with the long-term goal being that the kids served now will one day be a part of the ministry’s leadership.

A big part of it is "just showing up" to be there for the kids. "We can go so far through love," Rossi said. "It brings hope to families."

Offering coffee — and hope

Another group that’s active in Aliquippa is Uncommon Grounds, a coffee shop and ministry program based on Franklin Avenue downtown that was founded in 2005 by Church Army evangelist John Stanley, an Australian who has since returned to his native land.

The ministry lives on, thanks to Herb Bailey, whose first impression of Aliquippa differed from the persistent negative perceptions of the city that are common in Beaver County.

Continue reading Agencies of Social Change Often Wear a Clerical Collar

PA Top Court: Wal-Mart Must Pay $188 Million in Workers’ Class Action Suit

From Reuters

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Wal-Mart Stores Inc to pay $188 million to employees who had sued the retailer for failing to compensate them for rest breaks and all hours worked.

Wal-Mart said on Tuesday that it might appeal the decision, which upheld lower court rulings, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Monday’s ruling on the class-action lawsuit will reduce Wal-Mart’s earnings for the quarter ending on Jan. 31 by 6 cents a share, the company said in a securities filing. That amounts to roughly 4 percent of its profit forecast of $1.46 to $1.56 for the period. Family of Ohio man shot and killed in Walmart sue company, police

Wal-Mart shares were up 0.5 percent at $84.39 in midday New York Stock Exchange trading.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a 2007 lower court ruling in favor of the workers, who said Wal-Mart failed to pay them for all hours worked and prevented them from taking full meal and rest breaks.

Continue reading PA Top Court: Wal-Mart Must Pay $188 Million in Workers’ Class Action Suit

Memo to Tom Wolf and Harrisburg: An Eye-Opening Description of Pennsylvania’s Failed School Funding System

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post

Dec 11, 2014 – Many school reformers today like to say that “money doesn’t matter” in making schools work and that holding students and teachers more “accountable”   — largely through standardized test scores — is what is needed.

Certainly a great deal of money can be used poorly but that is not the same thing as money doesn’t matter. It is, however, a good mantra for people who want to ignore the severe and consequential funding inequities that persist in the U.S. public education system across the United States.

According to this 2013 report on school funding by the Education Law Center:

    In fiscal year 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, state governments, on average, funded 43.5 percent, or $259.8 billion, of the total amount spent on public education. School districts and other local sources were responsible, on average, for almost 44 percent of all public school spending or $261.6 billion. The federal government, on average, provided almost 13 percent of the total revenue received by public schools, or $75.9 billion.

With most of the money coming from state and local sources, disparities are inevitable, especially because in most places local sources are dependent on property taxes, meaning that poor areas have less money to spend on schools. Federal money given to low-income areas doesn’t close the gap.

So how inequitable can school funding be within a single state? Let’s look at one of the most troubled in this respect, Pennsylvania.

Here’s some testimony from Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, given to a public hearing of the Basic Education Funding Commission in Pennsylvania about school funding:

    Pennsylvania’s system of funding schools is a failure by every criterion: equity, adequacy, predictability, fairness. Too many students in too many schools are unable to meet state standards of what children should know and be able to do. Too few are going on to college or are prepared for well paying jobs. No one is responsible to calculate how much it will cost districts to provide the necessary instruction and support. The inequity of the system is glaring: the amount of public resources spent on preparing a child to succeed in the adult world varies from $9,000 to $27,000 a year, which is a quarter of a million dollars difference over a school career from K to 12th grade. But it is not only unfair to children, it is unfair to taxpayers where the tax burden can vary from the equivalent of 8 to 36 equalized mills of tax effort for homes with the same value. And in the ultimate insult, the districts bearing the highest tax burdens frequently have less dollars to spend on their students than districts with tax burdens half the amount.

    The reasons for these multiple failures are simple:

    1. Too few state dollars result in too high reliance on local dollars;
    2. The system does not take into account how much it costs to educate children.
    3. State dollars are distributed on a basis which does not reflect the tax effort of the district.

Continue reading Memo to Tom Wolf and Harrisburg: An Eye-Opening Description of Pennsylvania’s Failed School Funding System

Progressive Democrats in Congress Oppose Gov’t Funding Deal

Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Statement on Government Funding Deal

keith ellisonWASHINGTON-Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), released the following statement ahead of a House Rules Committee hearing on a deal to partially fund the government through September of next year.

“We support a government funding bill that invests in creating jobs and American families. Unfortunately, the CROmnibus fails to do that.

“Republicans, who learned nothing from the financial crisis of 2008, included a provision that allows Wall Street to engage in some of the same risky practices that crashed the world economy. The short-term funding of the Department of Homeland Security sets up another government shutdown battle in February and is motivated by Republicans who refuse to fix our broken immigration system.  Continuing cuts to education and environmental protections while spending billions on endless wars is the wrong priority for American families.  Sneaking in last minute provisions, like turning our democracy into an auction house by raising campaign contribution limits, is the wrong way to govern.

“Republicans are once again using a potential crisis with the federal budget to hurt working families. The Progressive Caucus stands with the American people and opposes the bill.”

Gov-elect Wolf Appoints John Hanger Sec’y for Policy and Planning

December 10, 2014

Randy Shannon

Its hard not to get a little hopeful about the incoming administration of Governor Tom Wolf. He has appointed John Hanger, an opponent in the primary that we supported, as the Governor’s Secretary for Policy and Planning.

John Hanger certainly has a lot of connections among progressives in PA. He visited Beaver County as a guest of our Progressive Democrats of America chapter and he walked the picket line downtown with UPMC workers early this year.

What we need to do now is work for a hike in the PA minimum wage, protection of our water, expansion of medical care, and boosting our educational sector. While doing that we must find some good candidates to run in our local legislative districts. Wolf and Hanger will have a hard time getting a lot done with the right wing dominating the PA Republican Party.

tom-wolfGovernor-elect Wolf announces key staff

December 10, 2014 by Wolf Transition Press

York, PA – Governor-elect Tom Wolf today announced key staff that will join him in the Office of the Governor. Wolf announced that John Hanger will serve as secretary of planning and policy, Mary Isenhour will serve as secretary of legislative affairs, and Obra S. Kernodle IV will serve as deputy chief of staff and director, Office of Public Liaison.

“I am proud to announce that John, Mary, and Obra will be joining my staff in the governor’s office,” said Governor-elect Tom Wolf. “As governor, I intend to get things done on behalf of all the people of Pennsylvania. These senior members of my team will be key to this mission because they are seasoned and have deep relationships on both sides of the aisle. I look forward to working with them to move our commonwealth forward.”

John Hanger – Secretary of Planning and Policy

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, John Hanger came to America in 1970 as an immigrant from Ireland. After graduating from Duke University in 1979, where he majored in Public Policy and History, John attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and then became a legal services attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

John was appointed as the Public Advocate for customers of Philadelphia’s municipal utilities prior to being nominated by Governor Casey as a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. John served as commissioner at PUC from 1993 to 1998, where he expanded low-income and energy conservation programs and led efforts to restructure Pennsylvania’s electricity and gas industries.

From 1998 to 2008, John was the president of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and then served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from 2008 to 2011. Since then, John has been an attorney at Eckert Seamans. John resides in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Mary Isenhour – Secretary of Legislative Affairs

Mary Isenhour began her career as a staffer in the Kansas House of Representatives, where from 1991 to 1995, Mary was chief of staff to the Democratic Leader. It was here where Mary worked across party lines to advance legislation that improved the lives of the citizens of Kansas.

In this role, Mary worked with leadership and committee members to develop and implement committee and floor strategies, and she worked on developing legislative strategy and building coalitions that resulted in legislation in numerous areas. Mary also served as liaison between the Leader and other elected officials, agencies, and political entities.

From 1995 to 1999, Mary served as a national political director for the Washington, D.C. based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and from 1999 to 2003, Mary served as executive director of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC). Following her time at HDCC, Mary served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and as state director for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign.

Mary owns a consulting firm and served as senior strategist to Tom Wolf for Governor. Currently, Mary is co-chair of Governor-elect Wolf’s Inaugural Committee.

Obra S. Kernodle IV – Deputy Chief of Staff and Director, Office of Public Liaison

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Obra S. Kernodle IV is a graduate of Roman Catholic High School. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Education from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University in 2002.

Before serving in his current position as senior advisor for Governor-elect Tom Wolf’s transition team, Obra played a key role on the Wolf campaign as both deputy campaign manager and political director.

Before joining the Wolf for Governor campaign, Obra worked in Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s Administration as deputy of legislative affairs, helping to coordinate the city’s Actual Value Initiative. In 2012, Obra was part of President Obama’s reelection effort as the Pennsylvania southeast political director. Obra previously served as the political director for both Mayor Nutter’s 2011 reelection bid and District Attorney Seth Williams’ race in 2009.

http://www.wolftransitionpa.com/

Bernie Sanders Lays Out Economic Agenda

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, laying out his new 12-point plan for rebuilding the middle class. Steve Kornacki speaks to Sanders about his efforts to make his party more progressive as he considers a bid for president.