Category Archives: Pittsburgh

‘Unfortunately in Pittsburgh, We Have a Tale of Two Cities.’

Local filmmaker Chris Ivey stands at the entrance to East Liberty, now marked by new development. - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL

Local filmmaker Chris Ivey stands at the entrance to East Liberty, now marked by new development

Pittsburgh is poised for growth for the first time in 60 years. Will the city’s African-American community grow with it?

By Ryan Deto

Pittsburgh City Paper

It used to be that community activists, politicians and developers would fight over allowing the gentrification of city neighborhoods. If you eliminated affordable housing and replaced it with housing that was not as affordable, most people agreed it was at least the start of gentrification.

These days, the battle is apparently a little more nuanced. 

On Nov. 5, for example, Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted: “So far Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood has avoided gentrification while reducing crime & improving investment,” with an accompanying study by local analytics firm Numeritics.

The study claims gentrification is “obviously not the case in East Liberty” because all new market-rate development happened on vacant land, and because neighborhood demographics from 2010 to 2013 remained the same.

However, Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey feels differently.

“The [report authors] certainly knew the story they wanted to tell and chose to ‘back up’ that story with the facts that happen to support it,” wrote Ivey, who documented the demolition of an East Liberty housing project in 2006, in an email to City Paper.

Ivey notes there has been a demographic shift in East Liberty since 2000, with the numbers of blacks declining three times as fast as whites, according to U.S. Census data. Census data also indicate that the northern tract of East Liberty lost hundreds of African-American residents since 2000, and that the median black income there went up 14 percent as a result — or, as Ivey puts it “poor blacks moved out.”

Another statistic foregone by the study was homeownership. According to statistics compiled by Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG), from 2011 to 2014, East Liberty saw 55 homes purchased by whites, while only three homes were bought by blacks.

So while some may argue whether what’s gone on in East Liberty and other city communities is gentrification, one fact is uncontroverted: African Americans are leaving some of their long-time Pittsburgh neighborhoods in droves because they can no longer afford to live there, and that urban flight could get worse before it gets better. 

With thousands of residential units slated for development, the city is seemingly poised for growth for the first time more than 50 years. But will Pittsburgh’s black population grow with it?

Historically, many African Americans came to Pittsburgh in the years between World War I and World War II. During this era of black migration, African Americans settled in the city neighborhoods of South Side, Garfield, East Liberty and Homewood, with the Hill District becoming the preeminent black neighborhood.

Continue reading ‘Unfortunately in Pittsburgh, We Have a Tale of Two Cities.’

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As Pittsburgh Grapples With A Changing Workforce, The Fight For 15 Comes To Town

 

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In this photo, Pittsburgh’s U.S. Steel Tower, whose upper reaches bear the initials of the city’s largest employer. Flickr Creative Commons/Adam Sacco

By Cole Strangler

International Business Times

Oct 22, 2015 – The tallest building in Pittsburgh owes its title to the industrial giant that made the city famous. But instead of its floundering namesake, the U.S. Steel Tower now displays the initials of a different sort of employer: the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, or UPMC.

When the signage went up eight years ago, it seemed, as the New York Times noted, to perfectly epitomize the evolution of a city and its labor force — from an economy once world-renowned for its manufacturing might to one focused on “eds and meds”; a place where the working classes flock to booming research institutions and hospitals, not coke plants or blast furnaces.

In the old economy, steelworkers won pay raises and benefits that transformed what used to be a grueling, low-wage job into a virtual ticket to the middle class. But according to policymakers and labor advocates, too many workers in the new Pittsburgh are still struggling to make ends meet.

At hearings slated to kick off Thursday, a newly-formed, city council-backed wage committee plans to shed light on the problem — and consider a potential remedy: Whether to follow the examples set by Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and adopt a $15 hourly minimum wage, more than double the current statewide minimum of $7.25. This is the core demand of the Fight For 15, the protest movement backed by the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

“We’ve been talking about the need to increase the minimum wage, but we’ve not really linked that to the benefits it can bring to the city or to workers and their families in a succinct way,” says Reverend Ricky Burgess, the committee’s architect and lone representative from city council. “What I want to do is provide some data.”

In addition to testimony from economists and poverty experts, the data will likely come first-hand from low-wage workers themselves — people like Justin Sheldon, 34. He’s one of 62,000 people who work at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the largest private employer in Pennsylvania, and by far, the largest employer of any kind in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

Medical residents at the hospitals tend to earn over $50,000 a year, according to the employee review site Glassdoor. But the more than 10,000 service workers — the people who staff cafeterias, transport patients and sterilize equipment, among other things — earn substantially less. They make an average of $12.81 an hour, UPMC said last year. The health care provider did not respond to request for comment.

“My reason [for supporting $15] is pretty simple,” says Sheldon, a housekeeper at the UPMC Presbyterian hospital. “I want to be able to support my family — properly.”

Sheldon makes $12.52 an hour and works 48 hours a week, cleaning doctor’s offices, conference rooms and restrooms. He says he can barely pay the bills for his household, which includes two young children, ages six and four. His wife is visually impaired and receives Social Security disability payments, about $700 a month, he says. They pay $600 a month to rent a house in McKees Rocks, a blue-collar community that overlooks the Ohio River.

“Anything I save up usually ends up getting used” he says. Within a week of the next paycheck, “I’m usually down to $30 or less.”

Continue reading As Pittsburgh Grapples With A Changing Workforce, The Fight For 15 Comes To Town

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!

Pittsburgh’s Mayor Supports Chief McLay’s Embrace of Anti-Racism Message

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay on New Year’s Eve, holding a sign offered by the local activist group What’s Up?! Pittsburgh. The photo was widely circulated on social media. What’s Up?! Pittsburgh

City police union president objects to chief’s appearance in social media and effect on officer morale

By Michael A. Fuoco
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jan 4, 2015 Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was at home with his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve when he glanced at his smartphone and saw a Facebook posting of a photograph of Police Chief Cameron McLay holding a sign reading “I resolve to challenge racism @ work. # end white silence.”

“I thought, ‘What a great way to begin the new year,’ ” the mayor said, and he showed his girlfriend the photo. It had been taken by activists from What’s Up?! Pittsburgh, who approached the chief in a coffee shop during the city’s First Night festivities and asked him pose with their sign.

So pleased was Mayor Peduto with his new police chief’s action that he quickly posted the photograph on his own Facebook account, adding his support to restoring trust between the police bureau and the communities it serves, a stated goal of Chief McLay.

“I thought there was very little chance for someone to say this was the wrong message to send,” Mr. Peduto recounted Saturday.

He was wrong.

The photo, which continues to be shared on social media, has drawn cheers from numerous groups and individuals, but Fraternal Order of Police President Howard McQuillan isn’t among them.

KDKA-TV quoted him Friday as saying the photo amounted to the chief labeling the police force as racist. And in an email to the chief, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Officer McQuillan wrote that the chief’s actions raised “serious concerns. … By Mayor Peduto labeling us ‘corrupt and mediocre’ and now our current Chief insinuating that we are now racist, merely by the color of our skin and the nature of our profession, I say enough is enough!”

Moreover, Officer McQuillan accused the chief of violating the bureau’s social media policy and of being “hypocritical” for disciplining two officers who violated it.

In response, Chief McLay sent an email to the entire bureau Friday with the subject line “Race and Police” in which he apologized “if any of my PBP family was offended,” adding “I saw no indictment of police or anyone else in this sign.”

Continue reading Pittsburgh’s Mayor Supports Chief McLay’s Embrace of Anti-Racism Message

Pittsburgh: Worker Coalitions and Organizing around Public Transit

By Alicia Williamson

USW.org

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Pittsburgh: Worker Coalitions and Organizing around Public Transit

Young People Take to the Street in Solidarity with Ferguson, Garner and vs. other Killings

Pittsburgh police give Downtown protesters their space

By Liz Navratil

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dec 4, 2014 – Julia Johnson let out a piercing scream on the steps of the City-County Building on Thursday afternoon.

“Stop killing us!” she yelled next. Then, she screamed loudly once more.

Below her, on the steps leading to the Downtown building, dozens of people lay on the ground, their limbs splayed outward as if they were dead. Later, some would be outlined in chalk, and Ms. Johnson would scatter flower petals over their bodies.

On the outskirts of the protest — which at times swelled to include about 100 people — were Pittsburgh police officers on bicycles and on foot, some in plainclothes. Most of them stood silently or chatted with one another while the crowd — over about two hours — chanted slogans such as “no justice, no peace” and “no racist police.”

Their message was being echoed at similar demonstrations across the country — they decried a New York City grand jury’s decision not to indict an officer who killed Eric Garner in a chokehold this year and lamented a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge an officer who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

20141204MWHprotestLocal17-1 Protesters rally against police brutality and racism by marching with their hands up along Liberty Avenue, Downtown.

Protesters rally against police brutality and racism by marching with their hands up along Liberty Avenue, Downtown. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

But this demonstration, unlike some in other cities, ended peacefully and without arrests.

Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Eric Holmes stood on the fringes of the protest as groups blocked traffic at four intersections and as one of his officers coordinated with demonstrators to clear the path for a woman driving her child to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

The issues discussed, he said, were important to many officers on the force. “I obviously recognize that I’m an African-American male, so I’m going to come to the discussion on both sides.”

Cmdr. Holmes said he took a “passive approach” to working with the demonstrators. “I allowed them to block the street, and I made that call, so that decision rests with me. We wanted to make sure that individuals are allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights and we do recognize that with that comes a cost, and today that cost was [the] disruption of traffic.”

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, watched as the group gathered outside the City-County Building. She praised the police and the protesters for the way they acted. The 2009 G-20 Summit aside, she said, Pittsburgh residents and police have a long history of peacefully interacting with each other at protests.

Still, tensions at times were high. Iyanna Bridges, who is black, yelled in the street at a white man who she said described their protest and stories as “funny.”

Continue reading Young People Take to the Street in Solidarity with Ferguson, Garner and vs. other Killings

Peace Rally in Pittsburgh

Rallying in suppport of Palestinians in Gaza Rallying in suppport of Palestinians in Gaza, protestors including Tavia LaFollette of Shadyside, left, and Susanne Slavick of Ross Township, right, cradling sheets wrapped to look like dead children

Rallying in suppport of Palestinians in Gaza, protestors including Tavia LaFollette of Shadyside, left, and Susanne Slavick of Ross Township, right, cradling sheets wrapped to look like dead children. Bill Wade/Post-Gazette

Oakland protesters rally for Palestinians against Israeli attacks in Gaza

By Amy McConnell Schaarsmith

Beaver County Blue via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

July 19, 2014 – Protesters cradling sheets wrapped to look like dead children rallied in Oakland on Friday to call on the United States to withdraw financial support for Israel over that country‘‍s military assault in the Gaza Strip.

The group of about 100 protesters waved signs and Palestinian flags, and chanted slogans such as, “Make a choice, Obama, human rights or apartheid!” in front of the University of Pittsburgh’‍s Hillman Library on Forbes Avenue as evening traffic rushed by, with some cars honking in support. Holding the sheet-wrapped figures — one of which included what looked like the dangling legs and shoes of a young girl — the group then marched along Forbes and Fifth avenues to draw attention to their cause.

“Residents of Gaza have been under siege for such a long time, they‘‍re barely living to begin with,” said 21-year-old Pitt senior Hadeed Salaameh, a native Palestinian who said she helped organize the protest. “We as humans, we have to speak out, it’‍s our responsibility, and as Americans have to speak out because our tax dollars are funding this.”

Continue reading Peace Rally in Pittsburgh