All posts by carldavidson

The Return of the Strike

The picketing GM workers and impending Chicago Teachers Union action suggest a dramatic revival of striking as a tactic.

By Sarah Jaffe
The Progressive

Oct 8, 2019 – Friday night on the picket line at the General Motors facility in Langhorne, Pennsylvania involved pizza reheated over a firepit, supporters dropping by with beers and snacks, and a dance party to Carly Rae Jepsen.

It was the eighteenth day of the strike, which shows no signs of ending as of this writing. Spirits were surprisingly high despite the cold. Strikers in their UAW shirts and supporters were cutting up pallets for firewood, and planning a potluck for the following weekend. “Maybe it’ll be a victory celebration!”

The strike at GM, now at twenty-three days the longest in decades at an American auto manufacturer, came as a surprise even to longtime labor observers like me. Certainly, the workers have ample reasons for anger. GM’s CEO made $21.87 million last year while the workforce is splintered into tiers (new hires who do the same work get paid less than longtime employees) and dotted with permatemps. But because the action of the strike has been all but dead in U.S. manufacturing for decades, a massive strike at one of the Big Three car companies has seemed like a pipe dream.

Yet now, the workers are dug in, holding picket lines twenty-four hours a day and determined to see the end of the tiered system and the use of temps, and a revived though still small left is determined to show solidarity.

Of course, we’re still nowhere near the strike frequency levels seen before Ronald Reagan’s crushing of the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981. Acts of rebellion in recent years have been more likely to be occupations, uprisings, the kinds of dispersed mass protests that spread virally from city to city, as in the Occupy movement and the Movement for Black Lives. The Trump era brought back the mass march, alongside more disruptive actions like the airport protests in response to the Muslim ban. But the strike, long considered gone, is creeping back into favor.

Chicago Teachers Took the Lead

It was the Chicago Teachers Union in 2012 that revived the strike in dramatic fashion, defeating state and city officials determined to make teachers’ strikes a thing of the past. In the process, it provided a template for a reshaping of public sector unions that have allowed those unions to survive the 2018 Janus decision, which ruled that union fees in the public sector are unconstitutional. The teachers struck “for the schools Chicago students deserve,” and rallied the community to their side. They reminded us all what it looks like when city streets are filled with workers making demands. Continue reading The Return of the Strike

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Pennsylvania Is Ready For A Just, Clean-Energy Future

By Colleen Kennedy
OurFuture.org

Oct 7, 2019 – Pennsylvania is ready for a just, clean-energy future. Ever since 1859, when Edwin Drake ushered in the modern era’s addiction to fossil fuels when he struck “rock oil” in Titusville, our state has been at the front lines of the extraction industry’s booms and busts. We are way past ready for a Just Transition to renewable sources of energy and a sustainable future for us all.

For a century and a half, we’ve watched corporations pull poisons from the ground, then leave the health and safety of our communities in ruins as they move on with all the riches. From poisoned rural waterways to the nearly catastrophic explosion at a South Philadelphia oil refinery earlier this year, no part of the state has been left unscathed. But even after a century and a half, the extraction industry still thinks the people of Pennsylvania can be fooled by its false narrative. We won’t.

Rose Tennent, a longtime conservative pundit and surrogate for the Trump campaign, now leads this unholy choir in Pennsylvania. She recently penned an op-ed decrying Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to ban fracking entirely under her presidency.

Presumptuously claiming to speak for all Pennsylvanians, Tennent argues Warren’s proposal will kill the “desirable” jobs that have accumulated in the state as a result of the fracking industry, which she irresponsibly calls “responsible.”

Let’s talk jobs first – because the statistical data Tennent relies on is grossly inaccurate. She overstates the positive impact the fracking industry has had on communities.

Speaker Mike Turzai, Tennent’s extraction-loving wing man in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, doesn’t even bother to remove industry emblems from the handouts he uses to promote fracking. Like Tennent, he touts the number of jobs he says fracking has created in the state. But we need to look beyond this headline to get to the truth. Continue reading Pennsylvania Is Ready For A Just, Clean-Energy Future

DEP Lawyers Up As Grand Jury Investigation Into Shale Gas Moves Forward

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By Don Hopey
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Oct. 3, 2019 – The state Department of Environmental Protection has hired outside legal counsel to deal with the state attorney general’s criminal investigations of “environmental crimes” involving the shale gas industry in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The DEP confirmed Wednesday that it has retained the law firm of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti to represent it in the probe.

The department also said that three law firms have been hired to represent DEP employees.

The criminal investigation was initiated by State Attorney General Josh Shapiro at some point prior to August 2018. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in January this year that the attorney general’s office had accepted referrals from the Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone, assumed jurisdiction over “several criminal investigations” and that a state grand jury has been hearing testimony. Continue reading DEP Lawyers Up As Grand Jury Investigation Into Shale Gas Moves Forward

You Asked Questions on Climate Change in Pittsburgh. We Got Answers.

A recycling container in Construction Junction’s drop-off lot in North Point Breeze. The poster shows the bottles, cans, tubs, jugs and jars that can be recycled in the City of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Teake Zuidema/PublicSource)

From what’s being done to support electric vehicles and composting to how the Green New Deal would affect Pittsburgh’s historic buildings and churches, this Q&A covers it all.

By Juliette Rihl
Public Source

Sept 18, 2019 – As part of the Covering Climate Now global reporting initiative, we asked you, our PublicSource readers, to tell us what you wanted to know about climate change in Pittsburgh. We selected six of your questions and answered them for you below.

1. Is there any chance of a plastic bag ban? How big of a difference would it make?

It’s difficult to evaluate chances for a plastic bag ban but the chances of it happening before 2021 are slim. Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that prevents municipalities from banning or taxing plastic bags until the end of 2020. In the interim, state agencies are researching the potential impact of such bans. Pittsburgh City Council unanimously opposed the legislation in a letter to Wolf on June 27.

Councilwoman Erika Strassburger said city council is looking into ways to decrease plastic bag consumption. If legislation is enacted at the city level after the end of 2020, a focus would be on equity, she said. “If there’s a [plastic bag] fee involved, we don’t want the burden to be on those who have the least ability to pay a fee,” Strassburger said.

Some local organizations and businesses are taking matters into their own hands.

Animal welfare organization HUMANE ACTION Pittsburgh, for example, started an initiative called “no plastic please” to encourage local residents and businesses to reduce their consumption of plastic. Although the initiative has broad community support, director Sabrina Culyba said getting retailers to opt in has been challenging. “A lot of businesses, their bottom line is at stake when it comes to making these switches,” she said. HUMANE ACTION Pittsburgh’s website lists participating restaurants and retailers.

Giant Eagle is currently conducting its own research on how to decrease the use of plastic bags in its stores. “Historically, Giant Eagle’s focus has been on recycling… But as an organization committed to our communities and our planet, we recognize that we have a responsibility to do more,” Dan Donovan, director of corporate communications, wrote in an email to PublicSource.

In a 2019 report by the environmental campaigning organization Green Peace on grocery store chains and plastic pollution, Giant Eagle scored poorly; it was ranked No. 16 out of 20 retailers for its overall practices regarding single-use plastics. Giant Eagle operates nearly 500 grocery and convenience stores.

While reducing plastic bags is one step toward sustainability, it’s not a fix-all solution. Sustainable Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable development in the region, is facilitating cross-sector conversations on how to tackle the problem of single-use plastics in the region. “It’s going to take more conversations to figure out what we can do here,” Executive Director Joylette Portlock said. “Because it’s not just straws, and it’s not just plastic bags.”

And, reusable bags aren’t a perfect solution. Studies show that the environmental impact of producing one reusable bag is the same as producing 131 plastic bags.

2. How much interest or investigation has there been into starting a compost waste program in the city?

The City of Pittsburgh accepts yard debris and Christmas trees at certain drop-off locations, but does not provide disposal of other forms of organic waste. Department of Public Works Director Mike Gable wrote in an email to PublicSource that the idea of a citywide compost program is being discussed, but no plans have been made yet. The City’s “Zero Waste” program aims to divert 90% of waste from landfills by 2030.

The absence of a citywide compost program isn’t due to a lack of interest. Laura Codori, founder of the local vermicompost company Worm Return, said she often gets calls from people asking if there is a compost drop-off site or pickup service. “People want to do this,” Codori said. She recently co-proposed a compost drop-off program to the Department of Innovation with Anthony Stewart of the environmental consulting firm DECO Resources.

3. If the Green New Deal or a similar proposal were to be enacted, what would that mean for Pittsburgh’s historic buildings and churches?

While the version of the Green New Deal that was struck down by the Senate in March doesn’t address historic buildings specifically, it does call for “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States.” However, buildings with historic designation are exempt from the International Building Code’s energy code at this time. They’re not subject to the same energy standards. It’s hard to say if, or how, future legislation could change that. Continue reading You Asked Questions on Climate Change in Pittsburgh. We Got Answers.

Trump Administration’s Snap Change Is ‘Cruel And Mean-Spirited’

Wolf’s State Human Services Secretary Denounces Measure

By J.D. Prose
Beaver County Times

Sept 23, 2019 – Calling the Trump administration’s proposed changes to a federal food assistance program “cruel and mean-spirited,” a cabinet secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that 200,000 Pennsylvanians could lose their benefits.

“The Wolf administration vehemently opposes this change,” said Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller in a conference call with reporters about the possible changes to eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.

Miller’s department estimates that 2,544 Beaver County residents and 1,564 Lawrence County residents could lose their benefits under the plan.

President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed prohibiting states from raising or eliminating income limits that allows them to give federally-funded food benefits to people who would not otherwise qualify.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the change would save $2.5 billion a year, but supporters of the current system say it would hurt struggling low-income families, children, seniors and the disabled.

Trump administration officials have also argued that changing the rule would help reduce cases of fraud, but Miller said that in Pennsylvania the fraud rate in SNAP is just 1 percent and “lower than every other human services program.”

Miller said that a Pennsylvania family of four is eligible for SNAP benefits if it earns a maximum of $40,000 annually. However, under the Trump administration’s proposed change, that same family would only be allowed to earn $32,000 or less to be eligible, leaving many families without access to food.

“SNAP helps low-income families reliably keep food on the table without choosing between basic needs,” Miller said. Continue reading Trump Administration’s Snap Change Is ‘Cruel And Mean-Spirited’

Montgmery Locks And Dams Repairs ‘Should Be Dealt With Now’

Green jobs for cleaner bulk transport

By J.D. Prose
Beaver County Times

USep 17, 2019 – POTTER TWP. — Tuesday offered beautiful weather for a tugboat ride on the Ohio River to view the Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant site, but it was a distressing situation on those same waters that concerned an influential Ohio congresswoman.

After touring the Montgomery Locks and Dam at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17, Mount Lebanon, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, expressed dismay at the crumbling condition of the 83-year-old structure.

“It’s a poster child for why Congress needs to pass an infrastructure bill and why the president needs to sign it,” said Kaptur, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and chairwoman of that committee’s subcommittee on energy and water development.

“This is really serious here,” said Kaptur, noting the cracks in the locks and damn officials pointed out to her on the walking tour. “This should be dealt with now, not five years from now, not 10 years from now. Now.”

A $1.09 million project to temporarily fix the damaged middle-lock wall began about a year ago with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimating that it had a 50 percent chance of failing in the next decade if it were not addressed.

A catastrophic failure would halt all river traffic, officials warned, and would significantly damage the regional economy. With construction on Shell’s $6 billion cracker plant now in full swing, repairing the locks and dam is even more vital, Lamb said.

“Fixing the locks and dams, especially the Montgomery Locks, is one of the most import infrastructure needs of western Pennsylvania, and it’s one that we can actually do,” Lamb said. “It’s cracked concrete, and we know how to fix that.”

Lamb and Kaptur were joined on the tour by officers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mary Ann Bucci, the executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, and Matt Smith, the president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and a former Allegheny County state senator.

The group toured the locks and dam and then climbed aboard a Campbell Transportation Co. tugboat to soak in a river view of the cracker plant before returning to shore.

Smith said keeping the Ohio River navigable for goods and products is essential to the region’s success.

“It’s billions of dollars of economic development,” he said.

Part of Lamb’s job now is convincing House colleagues in leadership roles, such as Kaptur, that the region’s locks and dams must be upgraded immediately.

In an April letter to Kaptur and her subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Lamb and four colleagues — U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14, Peters Township; Mike Doyle, D-18, Forest Hills; David McKinley, R-W. Va.; and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio — asked for the “highest possible increase” in funding for the Corps of Engineers’ account for pre-construction, engineering and design.

The bipartisan group noted that the account was funded at $125 million in the 2019 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, which is $48 million higher than the $77 million requested in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

Appropriating the highest amount would allow for the Upper Ohio Navigation Project to pursue funding. The region’s locks and dams fall under that project.

Kaptur credited Lamb with bringing photos of the Montgomery Locks’ condition to a subcommittee hearing to prove how bad the situation is there.

“A picture is worth a thousand words. We’re all very proud of America and proud of the places that we come from and when you see a cracked and degraded piece of infrastructure it makes you feel a little bit of ashamed,” Lamb said.

“That’s our responsibility as public officials … to maintain and improve that stuff so we can have a good quality of life,” he said. “I think the picture really communicates that, that we’ve let this go on for way too long and its urgent that we fix it right away.”

Pittsburgh Google ‘Contract’ Workers Start Unionization Process, Bosses Prep Union-Busting Campaign

White-collar workers join with United Steelworkers for collective bargaining rights.

By Vasuki R
Liberation News

Sep 11, 2019 – Last week, the Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals filed a petition on behalf of tech employees at HCL Technologies, a contractor for Google in Pittsburgh.

These 90 employees perform essential work for the Google Shopping platform alongside full-time employees, but with reduced benefits, pay and job security. Through this mechanism of sub-contract work, Google has maintained its reputation as a generous and fair employer — despite the fact that temps, vendors and contractors form a “labor underclass” that comprises over half of Google’s global workforce.

Over two thirds of the workers at HCL signed cards seeking union representation. They organized on the basis of directly improving their working conditions, hoping to bargain for better wages and benefits.

HCL employee Josh Borden drew attention to the lack of job security, noting that he and his co-workers “constantly worry about being downsized at any moment while watching our benefits slowly slip away.” With no severance policy and a recession looming, contract workers are stuck in a position of permanent instability. At other contractor sites, the prospect of permanent employment with Google is used to lure white-collar workers into abusive wage theft.

PATP is an arm of the United Steelworkers, formed to fight for better working conditions in the city of Pittsburgh and raise the voices of tech professionals. While workplace activism has long been prominent at Google, this campaign marks a qualitative shift in organizing for tech and contract workers.

Since the announcement of the union drive, USW organizer Damon Di Cicco has seen a surge of interest around the PATP. Unionizing efforts elsewhere in the industry have yet to succeed, but the workers at HCL are demonstrating an actionable path for tech and games workers subjected to miserable working conditions. The date for their union representation election has been tentatively set for the 24th of September.

The path forward will not be without resistance: recently, HCL recently hired consultants from the union-busting law firm Ogletree Deakins. Despite stonewalling requests by workers for better wages, the company is willing to pay exorbitant legal fees to attempt to stop their workers from organizing. Ogletree specializes in defending bosses against discrimination lawsuits, yet was itself sued by a shareholder for gender discrimination before forcing the plaintiff into arbitration.

Forced arbitration is a mechanism by which employees waive their right to a trial as part of their contract, with workplace issues instead adjudicated by third-party arbiters that favor management; ending this loophole nationally has been a key plank of tech worker organizing.

Ogletree has set up space at a hotel near the office, with the classic strategy of trying to create division within the campaign by dissuading workers one by one. Working closely with Ogletree is the Labor Relations Institute, a “preeminent firm in countering union organizing campaigns”, which boasts a client list that includes Kronos Foods and Trump Hotel. These firms have been brought on as “neutral advisors that will educate workers about their rights”, despite overtly advertising “union avoidance” services.

HCL has clearly demonstrated little respect for the legal right of workers to organize themselves, and it remains to be seen whether Google itself will directly intervene with its own anti-worker retaliation apparatus. In these crucial coming weeks, solidarity and militancy will keep the workers united as they fight for democracy and the ability to collectively bargain.

To follow the campaign and stay updated on the best ways to support the workers, sign up for email updates at pghtechprofessionals.org/join