Category Archives: labor

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

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). 

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

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

SEIU President Rallies Workers in Pittsburgh on Labor Day

By Marylynne Pitz

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union for nearly 10 years, organized health care employees during the late 1990s at a major Catholic hospital system in California.

Before Pittsburgh’s Labor Day Parade began, Ms. Henry urged local union members during a rally at Freedom Corner in the Hill District to continue fighting, despite the legal odds.

“The right to organize doesn’t exist any longer in the U.S. We have an 80-year-old law that is broken,” Ms. Henry on Monday told a large crowd that included boilermakers, carpenters, journalists, postal carriers, shipbuilders and steamfitters.

“UPMC workers have been trying to form a union since 2012. Ten thousand hospital workers have been trying to get to a bargaining table,” Ms. Henry said.

UPMC has announced that its hourly workers will earn $15 an hour in 2021.

The SEIU’s plan, called Unions for All, envisions workers organizing and bargaining across industries instead of the workplace-by-workplace system currently used in the U.S.

“Bargaining by industry, where workers from multiple companies sit across a table from the largest employers in their industry to negotiate nationwide for wages and benefits, is standard practice in almost every developed country in the world,” Ms. Henry said.

The SEIU also wants to ensure that every public dollar creates union jobs and that every federal worker and contractor earns at least $15 an hour and has the chance to join a union.

One of the UPMC employees who marched in the parade was Nila Payton of East Hills, who belongs to Hospital Workers Rising.

A UPMC receptionist for 13½ years, Ms. Payton said a union survey found that at least 5,000 UPMC employees are in debt to their employer for medical care.

“They steer us to Medicaid. Some of us make too much to get Medicaid. Some people are actually scared of going to the doctor for fear of going into medical debt,” Ms. Payton said.

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, said federal labor law is “in urgent need of an update” because employers can play “lots of tricks” to delay bargaining.

“We need to level the playing field, ” Mr. Lamb said.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock, served as the parade’s grand marshal. Other politicians attending included Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

Marchers walked down Grant Street, past the historic marker for Henry Clay Frick, just outside the building named for the industrialist.

Many trade unionists remember Frick for provoking violence by hiring 300 Pinkerton agents armed with Winchester Rifles during the bloody Homestead steel strike of 1892.

On the Boulevard of the Allies, where the parade ended, marchers passed the Red Door, where volunteers at St. Mary’s Parish were giving sandwiches to the homeless.

Continue reading SEIU President Rallies Workers in Pittsburgh on Labor Day

USW Condemns Cruel Treatment of Migrant Children

 From Fred Redmond

United Steel Workers

PITTSBURGH—The United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo Gerard released the following statement in response to the reporting from the Mexican border on the shocking conditions of our country’s migrant detention centers:

“The USW prides itself on the morality of our core values and its mission of being a collective voice for the voiceless. Therefore it is our duty, as a union that stands with workers and families everywhere, to condemn the cruel and inhumane treatment of migrant children in our nation’s overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers.

“Our global alliances with organizations and unions like Los Mineros in Mexico serve as a reminder of the common ties that bind nations together.  It is also important to remember that the plight of the people fleeing Mexico and Central America is partly a result of our own country’s failed trade policies that have wrecked their economies and their livelihoods.

“At the end of the day, this is not a partisan issue. This is about human decency. This is about recognizing that many of the people coming to our borders seeking asylum are workers. They are our members’ families. They are Americans in waiting. They deserve humane treatment and a real shot at becoming contributing citizens of our great country.

“The labor movement likes to say, ‘An injustice to one is an injustice to all,’ and we must stand firmly in that belief today.”

The USW represents workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining and the service and public sectors. 

The Road Not Taken

The shuttering of the GM works in Lordstown will also bury a lost chapter in the fight for workers’ control.

By Sarah Jaffe
The New Republic

June 24, 2019 – Illustration by Nicolas Ortega Chuckie Denison took the podium at the United Steelworkers hall in Canton, Ohio, in his ever-present blue Good Jobs Nation T-shirt, flanked by people holding protest signs. One handmade sign read “Promises Made, Promises Broken”; it featured a likeness of President Trump, who’d flown into Ohio that day for a big-money fund-raiser at a nearby country club. Another sign pointed out that Lordstown, home of the iconic General Motors auto plant, was only 49.4 miles away. Still another read, “We will lose 43,000 jobs because of Lordstown closing.”

Denison leaned into the microphone and told the assembled crowd his story, introducing himself as a third-generation GM autoworker. “I started in Dayton, Ohio. I watched that plant close. I went to Shreveport, Louisiana. I watched that plant close. I come here to Lordstown, Ohio, happy to be back in my home state. I’d never have thought that Lordstown would close.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Denison said, Trump came to northeast Ohio and promised better days. “He looked the people in the eyes and told them, ‘Do not sell your homes. The jobs are coming back.’”

The jobs never came back. When GM announced, last November, that the Lordstown plant would be closed as part of a restructuring plan, the community held out hope that the company would decide to retool the plant, and rehire some of the laid-off workers. But the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the Lordstown assembly line on March 6—a no-frills white model that workers draped in an American flag and posed behind for a last photo.

Variations of this scene have played out in countless shuttered plants and deindustrializing communities over the past four decades. But with the closure of Lordstown, workers are losing more than paychecks, retirement plans, and long-term job security; they’re also burying a lost chapter in union organizing—the moment in the early 1970s when the militant leaders of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at the Lordstown facility briefly revived the demand for greater control in the workplace. With the specter of Trump, the self-advertised mogul-savior of the manufacturing sector, lurking offstage, the last days of Lordstown feel like a parable about what becomes of workers in a political economy that hinges on their systematic disenfranchisement—on the factory floor and in the public sphere alike.

And as a twenty-first–century parable of the workplace, it naturally involved Donald Trump spouting off on Twitter. Nearly two weeks after the last car left the plant, Trump fired off a couple of tweets telling David Green, president of UAW Local 1112, to “get his act together and produce.” That outburst, combined with the news that Trump was heading to Ohio but skipping the plant, led to the press conference where Denison had laid into GM and Trump.

At the same event, Ohio Democratic Representative Tim Ryan—who’s mounting a 2020 run at the presidency—spoke about how plant closures destabilize the entire community. “You hear from a football booster, ‘So-and-so had to transfer. He was treasurer of the football boosters. So-and-so had to transfer. They ran this Boy Scout group,’” he said. “That’s what workers are…. They put their time in. You do everything right and then when you get home, you go coach Little League.” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten joined him in calling for GM to reopen the plant. “If parents lose their jobs, it devastates the community,” she told me afterward. “Teachers understand that; they are in some ways the first responders.”

Alyssa Brookbank is one of those teachers and the president of the Lordstown Teachers Association. She’s seen the effects of the shutdown up close. “Students know they are going to have to leave some of their family and close friends behind,” she said. “They don’t know how to handle it, and it is not their fault. It is a lot to put on the shoulders of young kids. This is much bigger than just GM. It is going to affect other businesses in ways we don’t even realize yet. It is going to have a ripple effect.”

Denison has the words “Union Thug” tattooed across his forearm in sweeping script. Higher up on his arm, he told me, he has a tattoo of the state of Ohio. He returned to Ohio, to work at Lordstown, just in time for the bottom to fall out of the economy in 2008. By that time, he had enough seniority with GM—having hired on right out of high school in 1998—to survive the wave of layoffs that came with GM’s bankruptcy filing in the wake of the crash. “The biggest thing wasn’t the money,” he says now. “It was the fact that I had a pension.” Because of those benefits, he was able to retire this year after 20 years of factory labor. He’s one of the lucky ones. Continue reading The Road Not Taken