Category Archives: Pittsburgh

Trump ‘Sold Out Southwestern Pennsylvania’ With Recent Trade Deal

Sara Innamorato:  Our Democratic Socialist in Harrisburg  Sticking Up for All of Us.

By Sara Innamorato
Pittsburgh City Paper

Frb 14, 2020 – Everyone who grows up in Pittsburgh can narrate the rise and fall of the steel industry: the mills grew as immigrants arrived to take jobs in the blast furnaces, then the Great Strike occurred where industry titans ordered deadly violence upon workers calling for better wages and working conditions; later, the series of federal trade agreements were created, culminating with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that sold out the workers and shut down the mills.

Our city’s population declined by half. Our family-sustaining union jobs crumbled, and our neighborhoods with them. But Pittsburghers are tough — we don’t like to complain, we’ve seen worse. And so we persevered and we adapted, and now Pittsburgh is widely seen as a success story. There is a sense of collective pride in our story of resiliency.

But as I knocked on doors during my 2018 bid for office, my neighbors told a more nuanced story. They told me they were working harder, but making less — getting by day-to-day was a stretch. They told me they were worried about their futures and their children’s futures.

The voters I spoke with, like so many of us in Southwestern Pennsylvania, had watched as previous trade agreements, like NAFTA, pushed local jobs overseas and drove down wages for the jobs that remained. People were fed up, and many voted for President Trump because he said he would “never sign any trade agreement that hurts our workers.”

I am no supporter of President Trump, but for the sake of the people I represent in Allegheny County, I had hoped this was a promise he would keep. Unfortunately, when he signed the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) on Wednesday, he broke that promise, betrayed those voters, and sold out Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Continue reading Trump ‘Sold Out Southwestern Pennsylvania’ With Recent Trade Deal

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

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.

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

U.S. Steel’s Market Value Drops $5.5 Billion Thanks to Trump’s Tariffs 

Pittsburgh City Paper
According to several reports, Pittsburgh’s largest steel company — and the second largest in the country, has lost about 70 percent of its market value thanks to forces put into place by President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs.

Since Trump announced tariffs on foreign-made steel 16 months ago, U.S. Steel’s market value has dropped by $5.5 billion. Even though steelworkers at U.S. Steel lauded the tariffs when Trump announced them last year, the Los Angeles Times points out how the dynamics set in motion by those tariffs actually hurt steel companies with legacy steel mills with blast furnaces, like U.S. Steel.

From the LA Times: “Exuberance over the levies dramatically boosted U.S. output just as the global economy was cooling, undercutting demand. That dropped prices, creating a stark divide between companies such as Nucor Corp., which uses cheaper-to-run electric-arc furnaces to recycle scrap into steel products, and those including U.S. Steel Corp., with more costly legacy blast furnaces.”

The tariffs boosted steel production for all domestic steel producers in the short term, but as actual demand for steel dropped, U.S. Steel struggled to compete with lower-cost competitors like Nucor Corp. With international steel nudged out of the market by the tariffs, domestic steelmakers responded to fill those gaps, but U.S. Steel got beat in the market by steelmakers with more efficient electric-arc furnaces. Basically, the tariffs created a new market of mostly domestic steelmakers, but the new market actually gave more advantages to Nucor and less to U.S. Steel.

Bank of America analyst Timna Tanners told the LA Times it was “ironic” that the tariffs are “punishing some steel companies.” She also noted the dangers of the steel industry to add capacity without sufficient demand.

Since March 2018, U.S. Steel has idled two of its steel mills in Michigan and Indiana. In the past, U.S. Steel had voiced support from Trump’s tariffs.

Another steel company in the region is also claiming negative effects from the tariffs. Last week, steel producer NLMK USA in Mercer County laid off between 80 and 100 workers. According to WESA, the CEO of NLMK USA blamed the cuts on Trump’s steel tariffs, saying that the Russian-owned company faced steep prices on Russian-imported steel slabs.

Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh), who has been critical of Trump’s tariffs, says both situations show the tariffs are not working as promised.

“As out-of-work steelworkers, like those at NLMK in Sharon, can attest, the administration’s protectionist steel tariffs have not resulted in the promised financial gains even for steel companies,” says Toomey. “This outcome demonstrates that imposing arbitrary taxes on imported products can distort prices, disrupt supply chains, destroy jobs, and increase prices for consumers without sufficiently offsetting benefits.”

Even though U.S. Steel has lost most of its market value since the tariffs started, the company still reported a large fourth-quarter profit last year, netting $592 million.

In May, the company announced a $1 billion investment to upgrade its facilities in West Mifflin, Braddock, and Clairton. With the upgrades, these three facilities will become the central source for high-strength, lightweight steel used for the automobile sector.

But with the upgrade comes an increase in efficiency, and experts told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that U.S. Steel will likely cut jobs at the Mon Valley facilities in the future.

And it appears Trump’s tariffs haven’t had that positive of an impact on steel jobs nationwide. According to the Washington Post, the tariffs “didn’t lead to a major increase in manufacturing jobs, largely because modern mills don’t require more manpower to operate at a higher capacity.”

Continue reading U.S. Steel’s Market Value Drops $5.5 Billion Thanks to Trump’s Tariffs 

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