Category Archives: Organizing

Despite Trump, State Progressives Advance Pro-Worker Policies

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While the president goes on the attack, Democratic-controlled states and municipalities forge ahead

By Justin Miller
American Propect

July 11, 2017 – In the face of the Trump administration’s predictably antagonistic stance on pro-worker policies, coupled with the escalating onslaught against worker power in Republican-controlled states, progressives are racing ahead to enact innovative labor laws to help working people in the places where they can.

Over the past eight years, Democrats’ control of government has receded to 1920s-levels, severely hindering progressives’ ability to advance pro-worker labor policy in Washington, D.C., or in the states. As of now, the Democratic Party controls the governorship and legislature in just six states, while progressive power is most concentrated in a few dozen municipalities.

It’s in those places in recent weeks that lawmakers have pushed forward a number of innovative labor laws that present a clear contrast to the Chamber of Commerce-influenced, deregulation-driven labor agenda in the White House.
Improving Home Care

Last week, Hawaii passed a law establishing a cash assistance program for people who are struggling to take care of a sick or elderly family member while maintaining a full-time job. The policy, the first of its kind in the country, takes aim at the increasingly urgent elder care crisis as the massive boomer generation ages and their children struggle to care for them.

“Every eight seconds, somebody turns 65 in America,” Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, a group that advocates for policies that improve home care, said on a call with reporters Monday. “It’s a great thing; we’ve extended longevity. And we are wholly unprepared for what the implications are in terms of care.”

Fully half of the workforce will be called on to provide care for an elder within the next five years, the group says. And that’s not a small commitment. Of the 45 million people who currently provide some level of unpaid home care to a relative, more than half are spending about 20 hours a week while also holding down a full-time job.

The Kapuna (the Hawaiian word for elder) Caregiver program would establish a fund to provide full-time workers who are providing care to a dependent elder $70 a day to help offset the burden. A recipient could use that money to help pay for health care, a caregiver, or transportation to a doctor’s appointment.

There are more than 150,000 unpaid caregivers in Hawaii currently, according to estimates by the AARP. And while in-home care or assisted living is expensive, costing between $5,000 and $10,000 a month in the state, the $70-a-day benefit is a small step to helping caregivers balance their lives.

The legislature has provided an initial $600,000 for the program and advocates say they will return to the statehouse next year to bolster funding. Continue reading Despite Trump, State Progressives Advance Pro-Worker Policies

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‘Day of Disruption’ Protests in Pittsburgh Target McDonald’s, UPMC, Giant Eagle

Workers’ demands include $15 minimum wage, union rights

By Katelyn Sykes

WTAE Reporter

PITTSBURGH — No 29, 2016 – Thousands of workers are walking off the job and marching Tuesday in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, where morning protests will be followed by a larger downtown rally in the afternoon.

The Service Employees International Union is targeting McDonald’s restaurants and UPMC with marches demanding a $15 minimum wage and union representation.

Organizers began their "Day of Disruption" marches at McDonald’s on Penn Avenue in East Liberty. Demonstrators went inside to voice their demands, then began circling the restaurant outside and chanting slogans like "Hold your burgers, hold your fries. We want wages supersized."

"I want to be able to take care of my family, to take care of myself, to pay bills," McDonald’s employee Aaron McCollum said. "You can’t possibly do that on $7.25, $7.35 an hour."

The protest then moved to a McDonald’s restaurant on North Euclid Avenue.

"It’s about workers, but it’s also recognizing that workers are more than who they are in between when they clock in and clock out, but that they’re our community members, they’re our neighbors, they’re humans," said Kai Pang, an organizer with Pittsburgh United. "We should have the right to not only survive but thrive in this city."

The group plans a similar protest near a McDonald’s and the federal building downtown during the evening rush hour.

"I’m just trying to fight for something that I believe in," McCollum said.

A press release on behalf of the group added, "Giant Eagle workers will also join the Fight for $15 today, asking that the company start paying family-sustaining wages and stop interfering with Giant Eagle employees’ right to organize."

The union contends UPMC shuttle bus workers have also gone on strike seeking union representation.

UPMC previously announced plans to increase the minimum starting wage for entry-level jobs at most of its facilities to $15 per hour by 2021.

But the union says UPMC needs to move faster, and it accused the network of trying to silence workers and union organizers.

UPMC hasn’t commented on Tuesday’s activity.

"I think more now than ever that we’re standing up for worker’s rights, for economic justice at a time when income inequality is very high and only grows higher," said Pang.

Faculty Organizing at the University of Pittsburgh: Why a Union, and Why Now?

By Anupama Jain

New People

Oct 22, 2016 – There’s something in the air in Pittsburgh! From Robert Morris to Point Park, Steel City-area faculty are organizing to join the ranks of unionized labor. To some, this might be little surprise: Pittsburgh, is a city with a rich history of labor organizing. At the same time, when one thinks of Pittsburgh labor history they might think of workers smelting steel or armed Pinkertons at the Homestead steel mills. This isn’t entirely off base: in fact, Pittsburgh-area faculty are organizing with the help of the United Steel Workers including faculty at the University of Pittsburgh.

But why unionization, and why now? There are many reasons, but three important ones are: 1) labor contingency and uncertainty worsens learning conditions, 2) teachers and researchers need a stronger voice in negotiations with administration, and 3) academic freedom is an increasingly valuable commodity in an age of emerging social consciousness about inequality.

Focused, appropriately compensated teachers can do their best work,but one class of teachers, adjuncts, teach on a pay-per-class basis. Because the compensation for these classes is very low, adjuncts often teach at several different universities, and many must work other jobs. Moreover, these positions are renewed on an ad hoc basis, often with little lead time before classes start. One colleague of mine would teach two classes at Pitt a semester, a few more at Point Park, and also tended bar in the evening. The only job he could count on having come next semester was the gig tending bar. For many, teaching is a vocation chosen not for monetary benefit, but for the value of teaching itself. But running around town, barely making ends meet is not a recipe for the best teaching. The unpredictability wears both on the teachers —who struggle tol pay their bills—and students, who may be excited about particular instructors and their classes, only to scroll through the catalogue and see no hint of the instructors because they have not yet been renewed. For other, less-contingent faculty, increasing demands for service and research also eat into teaching time. Appropriately compensated faculty are more capable of directing time and effort into education.

Continue reading Faculty Organizing at the University of Pittsburgh: Why a Union, and Why Now?

Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

A community farm in Detroit, which has been a leader in green urban renewal.

Gary, Indiana is joining Detroit and other fading U.S. industrial centers in an effort to turn abandoned neighborhoods and factory sites into gardens, parks, and forests. In addition to the environmental benefits, these greening initiatives may help catalyze an economic recovery.

By Winifred Bird

Beaver County Blue via Environment 360 Yale.edu

May 31, 2016 – Depending on how you look at it, Gary, Indiana is facing either the greatest crisis in its 110-year history, or the greatest opportunity. The once-prosperous center of steel production has lost more than half its residents in the past 50 years. Just blocks from city hall, streets are so full of crumbling, burned-out houses and lush weeds that they more closely resemble the nuclear ghost town of Pripyat, near Chernobyl, than Chicago’s glitzy downtown an hour to the northwest. Air, water, and soil pollution are severe.

Yet in the midst of this, Gary has quantities of open space that more prosperous cities can only dream of, and sits on a stretch of lakeshore where plant biodiversity rivals Yellowstone National Park. Now, the big question for Gary, and for dozens of other shrinking cities across the United States’ Rust Belt — which collectively have lost more than a third of their population since the middle of the 20th century — is how to turn this situation to their advantage.

The answer that is beginning to emerge in Gary and other cities of the Rust Belt — which stretches across the upper Northeast through to the Great Lakes and industrial Midwest — is urban greening on a large scale. The idea is to turn scrubby, trash-strewn vacant lots into vegetable gardens, tree farms, stormwater management parks, and pocket prairies that make neighborhoods both more livable and more sustainable.

These types of initiatives have been evolving at the grassroots level for decades in places like Detroit and Buffalo; now, they are starting to attract significant funding from private investors, non-profits, and government agencies, says Eve Pytel, who is director of strategic priorities at the Delta Institute, a Chicago environmental organization active in Gary and several other Rust Belt cities. “There’s a tremendous interest because some of these things are lower cost than traditional development, but at the same time their implementation will actually make the other land more developable," she said.

Or, as Joseph van Dyk, Gary’s director of planning and redevelopment, put it, “If you lived next to a vacant house and now all of a sudden you live next to a forest, you’re in better shape.”

Van Dyk noted that city planning in the U.S. had long been predicated on growth. But, he added, “That’s been turned on its head since the Seventies — Detroit, Cleveland, Youngstown, Flint, Gary have this relatively new problem of, how do you adjust for disinvestment? How do you reallocate your resources and re-plan your cities?”

Detroit, which has at least 20 square miles of abandoned land, has been a leader in envisioning alternative uses for sites that once would have been targeted for conventional redevelopment. The city has 1,400 or more urban farms and community gardens, a tree-planting plan so ambitious the local press says it “could serve as a model for postindustrial cities worldwide,” and $8.9 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement green infrastructure projects and install solar panels on other vacant lots.

But while demolition itself has added an estimated

$209 million to the equity of remaining homes in Detroit, Danielle Lewinski, vice president and director of Michigan Initiatives for the Flint-based Center for Community Progress, said hard data on the value of greening projects is more difficult to come by.

“There’s opportunity in Detroit to see an impact in surrounding property values, and therefore people’s interest in that area,” said Lewinski, who has been involved in land-use planning there. “The key, though, is that it needs to be done in a way that is strategic and links to other attributes that would attract a person to move into a neighborhood. My concern is that green reuse, absent a connection to a broader vision, may not be nearly as successful from an economic value standpoint.”

In Gary, the broader vision is to concentrate economic development in a number of “nodes,” each of which would be surrounded by leafy corridors of “re-greened” land. The corridors would separate the nodes, helping to give each neighborhood a more distinct identity, as well as bring residents the benefits of open space and serve as pathways for wildlife moving between existing natural areas. A land-use

plan for preserving Gary’s core green space is already in place, and officials are currently revising the city’s Byzantine zoning regulations to make redevelopment of the nodes easier. Continue reading Hard-Pressed Rust Belt Cities Go Green to Aid Urban Revival

Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up in Pennsylvania

Meagan Gemperlein, 25, is a part-time tipped worker at Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey. Wigle owners say they pay each of the workers at least twice the tipped minimum wage of $2.83.

By Molly Duerig
Beaver County Times

Sept 1, 2015 – PITTSBURGH — Cori Shetter is a college graduate and aspiring actress who’s worked minimum-wage jobs for 15 years.

“It’s like swinging from Tarzan vine to Tarzan vine. One vine’s about to end and break, so you just grab the next one, but you’re never really putting your feet on solid ground,” said the 31-year-old Pittsburgh resident.

Living in her Lawrenceville home is only possible because her parents own it, and Shetter pays them as much of the mortgage and other expenses as she can.

The one major thing she could do to further her career goals — auditioning — has fallen by the wayside as she invests most of her time in serving jobs for small, but reliable, paychecks. She supplements that by cutting hair for up to 10 clients a month at home.

Many servers, like Shetter, earn Pennsylvania’s tipped minimum wage of $2.83 per hour. The standard minimum wage, both state and federal, is $7.25.

Many believe the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with the times, and movements to raise it are being led by grassroots groups and governments in communities across the nation. In June, Los Angeles became the biggest city in the country to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Nineteen U.S. cities and counties experienced mandated wage increases this year; 29 states and Washington, D.C., already require employers to pay workers more than $7.25.

Pennsylvania isn’t part of this group – yet.

There are five bills pending in the state Legislature proposing to raise the minimum wage, with different methods and standards ranging from $8.75 to $15. Some politicians and business owners said they worry that putting this mandate on employers could mean fewer job openings and other cutbacks in the business community.

“If minimum wage is hiked, many of these jobs will vanish, or work hours will be drastically cut,” state Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, wrote in an email. “Employers simply find less costly alternatives, either through automation, technology or other means.”

Even economists, who also have opinions, disagree about the impact. Although some studies indicate a minimum-wage increase would cause job losses, other studies show just the opposite, said Sean Flaherty, the economics chair at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

“There’s just no strong consensus evidence that this is a significant problem when you have a modest increase in the minimum wage, done in stepwise fashion,” Flaherty said.

The proposals

The federal wage hasn’t increased since 2009, when it rose from $6.55 to $7.25. In 2008, it rose from $5.85.

Several states, counties and cities are taking the matter into their own hands.

In Pennsylvania, the most ambitious proposed bill is from Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Delaware, Montgomery. His “One Fair Wage” bill would raise the wage to $15 an hour and tie it to inflation across the board, for regular and tipped employees.

Continue reading Minimum Wage Debate Heats Up in Pennsylvania

300 Union Members Rally outside ATI’s Midland Plant after Lockout Begins

By Jared Stonesifer
Beaver County Times

Aug 17, 2015 – MIDLAND — More than 300 United Steelworkers union members locked out from the Allegheny Technologies plant rallied Monday morning not just for a fair contract, but for the chance to get back to the negotiating table.

ATI, which has 12 plants and employs more than 2,200 USW workers across the country, locked out the union members Saturday night as a result of a failure by the two sides to reach a contract agreement.

Union workers since July 1 had been working on a day-to-day basis after the last contract expired at the end of June, and negotiations had been progressing but hit a wall when union leadership failed to bring to a vote ATI’s “last, best and final” contract offer in early August.

Tony Tepsic, president of the Midland contingent of USW workers Local 1212, said more than 300 people marched through Midland on Monday morning demanding a new contract.

“We are on an official lockout as of now, and we’re spending our time picketing,” he said.

He called the rally “very productive” and said USW leadership attended, as did Beaver County Commissioner Joe Spanik.

Spanik, who worked in the union for many years, said it’s imperative to get local workers back on the job and railed against the fact that ATI plans on bringing in nonunion workers during the lockout.

“We want to see this resolved so the folks who live here in Beaver County can get back to work as quickly as possible,” he said. “We need to get them back to the negotiating table to try to settle a fair contract.”

Spanik said the march went through Midland down to the union hall and back up to the work site.

The commissioner said he also plans to contact Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to work on a solution to get workers back on the job.

Spanik said other union rallies are planned for the ATI plant in Brackenridge, Allegheny County.

A representative from ATI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Pittsburgh: Bernie Sanders for President: Yes, He Could!

Pia Colucci, right, of Oakland waits for Bernie Sanders to begin speaking during a telecast broadcasted at a meet-up held in Lawrenceville on Wednesday. Supporters of the Democratic presidential hopeful gathered across the country to watch the telecast. Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette

By Tony Norman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

July 31, 2015 – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has more than a few fans in Pittsburgh, judging by the turnout for his first televised meet-up since his poll numbers began shifting in a positive direction nationally. The muggy Wednesday evening air did its best to discourage a line from forming outside the Spirit Lounge on 51st Street in Lawrenceville, but 350 supporters squeezed into the former Moose Lodge that had once been the home to many a studio ’rasslin’ night.

After ponying up the suggested $5 donation at the door, the cross-generational crowd of Democrats and fellow travelers jockeyed for the best vantage point in front of a projection screen on the east end of the hall. Mr. Sanders would televise his remarks to 3,100 similar gatherings across the country from an apartment in Washington, D.C., shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern time.

According to organizers, Mr. Sanders would be addressing as many as 100,000 supporters nationwide — a number that should concern the complacent Democratic establishment, even though the insurgent candidate trails former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by as much as 40 points in some polls.

Still, Bernie Sanders has roughly the same level of name recognition that Sen. Barack Obama had at this point in his underdog campaign against Mrs. Clinton. Unlike Mr. Obama, who was still trying to justify his candidacy to skeptical black leaders already committed to Mrs. Clinton in the summer of 2007, Mr. Sanders is drawing more energetic and enthusiastic crowds than Mrs. Clinton — a sign that the party’s progressive and liberal base is hungry for something it isn’t getting from its presumptive front-runner.

There is still time for Mrs. Clinton to ignite the passion of grass-roots Democrats, of course, but Bernie Sanders is on fire right now in ways no other candidate for the nomination can remotely claim. When he finally appeared on screen to make his speech, there was a collective roar from the crowd that felt almost primal — a mix of sweat, genuine giddiness and exasperation that it has taken so long for a candidate who shares their deepest convictions and disappointment with the status quo to finally emerge.

Technical difficulties with the live stream signal on Pittsburgh’s end prevented him from being heard at first, but when his Brooklyn-forged accent finally broke through the buffering silence, the crowd was primed to hear the candidate declare his allegiance to their issues and priorities.

“The American people are saying loudly and clearly — enough is enough,” Mr. Sanders said after ticking off a series of priorities that would occupy his days in the White House. The candidate would return to this mantra many times after promising to reverse 40 years of middle-class decline and income inequality, raising the minimum wage, affordable college education and combating the “real unemployment rate” he insisted was over 10 percent.

“Maybe, just maybe, instead of higher rates of incarceration,” he said referencing minority youth, “we could provide them with education and jobs.” In a tip-of-the-hat to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that heckled him a week earlier, Mr. Sanders pledged to fight against institutional racism. Just as he was beginning say something about instituting a campaign finance system that didn’t reward corporate bribery, Mr. Sanders’ image froze on the screen, prompting someone in the crowd to shout: “It’s a conspiracy!”

Continue reading Pittsburgh: Bernie Sanders for President: Yes, He Could!