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

Posted by carldavidson on November 29, 2016

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.

Posted in labor, Low Wage workers, Organizing, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by carldavidson on November 24, 2016

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.

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Posted in Education, labor, Organizing, trade unions | 1 Comment »

What Pennsylvania’s Faculty Strike Means for the Future of Labor

Posted by carldavidson on November 6, 2016

By Neil Cosgrove

The New People via Portside

Nov 1, 2016 – The faculty of the 14 Pennsylvania state-owned universities went on strike from October 19th to the 21st, 2016, somewhat less than three days.  Around mid-afternoon on the 21st, a tentative contract agreement was reached with the State System of Higher Education (SSHE), ending the strike.  As part of the agreement, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) "agreed to a salary package that was significantly lower than that of the other unions" that had recently bargained with the State System.

As labor battles are traditionally viewed, making concessions on salary and benefits would have to be considered a defeat.  But the faculty union regards the result of the strike as a clear-cut victory, a victory that preserved what many regard as one of the best university faculty contracts in the country.  For the 16 months since the system’s previous contract with the faculty had expired (June 30, 2015), the Pennsylvania State System had tried to destroy that contract, but was forced by the strike to withdraw most of the 249 changes the Chancellor and Board of Governors had sought.

The most significant of those withdrawn changes, the ones that ultimately forced the faculty to strike, were obvious attempts to break the union by driving a wedge between tenured and tenure-track faculty and the growing number of temporary and adjunct faculty.  What makes APSCUF a strong union is that adjuncts work under the same conditions, including teaching loads, benefit packages, and salary scale as so-called "regular" faculty.  Adjunct faculty at State System schools like IUP, California and Slippery Rock generally regard themselves as an integral part of the universities in which they work, not as an exploited proletariat paid a ridiculously low per-course stipend, without access to offices or benefits, and forced to teach each term at multiple institutions in order to make a low-income living.

Moreover, APSCUF’s 2011-15 contract limited the number of temporary faculty a university could employ to 25% or less "of the full-time equivalent of all faculty members employed at that university." Compare that to estimates of adjuncts constituting close to half of the faculty at colleges and universities across the country.  In 2015, median per-course pay for adjuncts was $2700.  At Pennsylvania State System universities, full-time temporary faculty at the bottom of the salary scale received a 2014-15 salary of $46,610.  If such a faculty member taught only a quarter, half, or three-quarters of the normal teaching load of four class sections per term, they would receive the appropriate fraction of the stated salary.  Moreover, the contract required that temporary faculty members who had "worked at a university for five full, consecutive academic years in the same department" would be given tenure-track status if approved by the department. 

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Posted in Education, labor, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

First Faculty Strike in PA.State System History Begins

Posted by carldavidson on October 19, 2016

By Susan Snyder
Philly.com

Oct 19, 2016 – Faculty in Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities are on strike, the first in the system’s 34-year history.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties union announced shortly after 5 a.m. that a strike could not be averted, likely bringing education to a halt for 105,000 students in the state system universities.

The decision followed five consecutive days of bargaining that went into last evening and broke off after 9 p.m.

"At 11:35 p.m., we made a last attempt to negotiate through back channels," said union president Kenneth M. Mash, a political science professor at East Stroudsburg University. "We waited until 5 a.m. We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phone will be on, should the state system decide it doesn’t want to abandon its students."

Mash said he would be picketing outside the Dixon Center in Harrisburg, where the chancellor of the state system, Frank T. Brogan, has his office.

There is no limit on how long a strike could last. Mash said faculty will return when negotiators reach a contract.

The state system has said it intends to keep campuses open, including residence halls and dining facilities and operate as close to normal as possible. But it does not intend to hire replacement workers. It remains to be seen how many, if any, faculty cross the picket lines to work.

"I think none of us ever wanted it to end up here," said Amber Holbrook, a West Chester social work professor who was among the more than a dozen faculty members picketing outside the system’s Center City campus. But, she said, the system’s proposed changes would make it "hard to recruit and retain faculty."

Negotiations broke down over health insurance costs and salary increases

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Posted in Education, labor, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

Beaver County Nursing Home Workers Rally for $15 Hourly Wage

Posted by carldavidson on April 16, 2016

By Kirstin Kennedy

Beaver County Times

Apr 15, 2016 —- The national fight for a $15 minimum wage made its way to the courthouse steps Thursday when nursing home workers from across Beaver County rallied for increased hourly pay.

Renee Ford, a certified nursing assistant at Beaver Elder Care in Hopewell Township, joined about 12 other nursing home workers and community members in the protest. She said she’s fighting for wage increases so that full-time workers won’t have to live in poverty.

A 2015 Keystone Research Center study revealed that nearly 15,000 nursing home workers across the country qualified for public assistance.

"(We’re) the core of the nursing home," said Ford, who has worked for Beaver Elder Care for nearly 30 years. The facility, which is owned by Guardian Health Care, is in active negotiations with workers.

While Ford currently makes above the minimum wage, she feels its important for all of her co-workers to receive an increase in their pay to reduce worker turnaround and provide better care to residents.

Protesters held signs along the courthouse lawn and chanted for better-paying jobs. Two Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders supporters briefly joined the group.

Beaver County Commissioners Sandie Egley and Dan Camp greeted the protesters to learn more about their cause and to welcome them to the courthouse.

While some local workers remain in negotiations, others have reached resolution.

Last week, the Beaver Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in South Beaver Township joined 41 other facilities across Pennsylvania in reaching new contract agreements with workers.

Posted in health care, Seniors, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

Steelworker Families Support ATI strikers in Vandergrift

Posted by carldavidson on November 5, 2015

Locked out ATI Flat-Rolled Division workers and family members yell at a tractor-trailer truck driver leaving ATI’s Vandergrift plant during a family picket at the entrance to the plant on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.

By Tom Yerace

Trib Total Media

Nov. 5, 2015 – Anyone going in or out of the ATI steel plant in Vandergrift on Wednesday evening drove through a wall of emotion.

The union workers, whom the company has locked out of their jobs since Aug. 15, were in greater numbers than usual.

That’s because the Wives of Steel, a group of steelworkers’ wives, called a rally at the plant entrance that started at 4:30 and continued for at least two hours.

About 200 steelworkers and their families, most carrying signs demanding a fair contract from ATI, stayed on the move as they picketed. They walked back and forth — slowly — pausing on the driveway when vehicles approached the plant entrance, forcing them to slow down.

At the same time, they hurled verbal abuse and vented their anger, particularly at the vans carrying the people who have taken their jobs. The most frequent insult heard was the ultimate for union members — “scab.”

Yelling into a bullhorn, a steelworker shouted at a truck driver, “Hey dude, you’re a scab! You’re a piece of garbage!”

“Do you think they get the idea that we don’t like what they’re doing?” asked Russ Gainor of West Leechburg, who attended the picket line, even though he retired from ATI in June after 36 years rather than risk the lockout.

A thick white line freshly painted across the edge of the driveway served as the plant’s boundary from the public sidewalk.

As the steelworkers rallied on one side of the stripe, ATI security guards in khaki uniforms and ball caps videotaped the proceedings from inside the plant property.

ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said the company had no reaction or comment on the rally.

When asked if there was any news about contract negotiations resuming, Greenfield said, “We’ve had contact with the mediator about trying to get talks going again, but so far it hasn’t been successful.”

Regina Stinson of New Kensington, who heads the five-member Wives of Steel at United Steelworkers Local 1138 in Leechburg, said the large turnout is an indicator of the stress the steelworkers and their families are dealing with.

The lockout enters its 83rd day Thursday. While some of the locked-out workers have found temporary work, many are receiving only unemployment compensation, which is a fraction of what they normally earn.

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Posted in labor, Steelworkers, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by carldavidson on October 26, 2015

 

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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.”

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Posted in Minimum Wage, Pittsburgh, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

The Average American Worker Earns Less Today Than 40 Years Ago

Posted by carldavidson on September 28, 2015

It’s not just unemployment that matters. Many full-time workers take home less money, after inflation, than in decades.

 

Because most everything we buy gets more expensive over time, we have to earn more money each year just to maintain our existing standard of living. When we’re not given raises that keep up with this rate of inflation, we’re effectively suffering a pay cut.. That’s why many American workers are actually poorer today than four decades ago. They may be earning more money. But, in real terms, they’re getting less for it. Measured in 2014 dollars, the median male full-time worker made $50,383 last year against $53,294 in 1973, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures.

At $50,383, the figure is the lowest it’s been since 2006. It’s also $450 lower than in 2013. Women have seen bigger increases in real pay in the last few years, though from a lower (unequal) base. The median female worker earned $30,182 in 1973 (in 2014 dollars), but $39,621 last year.

As we explored in our income inequality series recently, technology, globalization, and reduced union bargaining power are all factors behind stagnating wages. The economy has been getting bigger, driven by continuing increases in productivity. But, for one reason or another, workers haven’t been sharing in those gains. But they’re not just disappearing: They’re making a small group of people very, very rich. What are we going to do about that?

[Top Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images]

Posted in Austerity, trade unions | 2 Comments »

Bernie Sanders Draws Blue-Collar Workers in Iowa

Posted by carldavidson on September 8, 2015

Bernie on the picket line in Iowa

By Vaughn Hillyard
Beaver County Blue via NBC News

DES MOINES, Iowa, Sept 7, 2015 — A picketing president? Bernie Sanders said it could be him.

"Yeah, I might. That’s right. Why not," Sanders said when asked about the possibility after addressing AFSCME union members on Saturday in Altoona, Iowa.

The day before, Sanders picketed outside a Cedar Rapids plant that produces specialized starches alongside union workers engaged in a battle with the plant’s parent company, Ingredion, over new contract negotiations.

And to a crowd of 400 on Thursday in Burlington, Iowa—an old, union town hit hard over the last three decades by shuttered factories—Sanders emphatically stated: "The bottom line is: For millions of American workers, wages in this country are just too damn low."

Since announcing his candidacy, Sanders has zeroed in on blue-collar voters, consistently addressing low wages, unemployment issues and the country’s trade policies in stump speeches—pushing back against the notion that the economic recovery is as strong as often touted.

"I assumed I would be a Hillary supporter—and rightly or wrongly, probably because I feel like in the last twenty years, the greatest time we had between financial stability was during Bill Clinton’s run," said Ron Lowe, 52, of Grinnell, Iowa.

But Lowe said he will caucus for Sanders in February. He drove 45 minutes with his mother-in-law last Thursday to see the Democratic candidate at a rally.

"I feel like he’s not a filthy rich millionaire," Lowe said. "He wants to take on the rich, powerful people that seem to make all these decisions without any regard to the people in the middle to lower class. And it’s so obvious that the rich keep getting richer."

Lowe, a father of four, is unemployed after losing his job three months ago. He worked in Grinnell’s Donaldson plant—since the age of 24—manufacturing mufflers for agricultural equipment. But over the years, the company moved jobs to Mexico and other states, where Lowe said non-union facilities gave the company a cheaper option. Its last employees are expected to be out of work by the end of the year.

At a time when Democrats tout the economic recovery, Sanders harps on the economic data point of real unemployment, a point often used by his Republican counterparts. Despite a decrease in nationwide unemployment to 5.1 percent, the unemployment rate does not account for individuals who are underemployed, have given up looking for work, and others who are working part time but would like to work full time. Including those individuals, the unemployment figure is 10.3 percent.

"It is absolutely imperative that we stop the hemorrhaging of decent paying jobs because of our disastrous trade policies," Sanders said. ‘You are looking at a Senator and former congressman who voted against [North American Free Trade Agreement], against [Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement], against permanent trade relations with China. And you’re looking at a senator who is going to do everything he can to help defeat this disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Sanders provides a contrast to Sec. Hillary Clinton on trade—without naming her directly. Though she hasn’t taken a stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Clinton helped kickstart the negotiations, and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law.

"To simply blame the Republicans for that would be unfair," Sanders said on Saturday. "Democratic presidents have been involved in that trade policy. It has been bipartisan. It has been wrong."

Matt Richards, 56, of Newtown lost his job in 2007 when the town’s Maytag plant closed, putting more than 2,500 employees out of work. Richards worked at the facility for 23 years as an oiler, doing jobs like greasing conveyer lines.

"It’s a whole different town now. There was a lot of money here when Maytag was here," Richards said. "The crazy part of it is these jobs—for a small town like we are—was awesome pay, good benefits, you had some vacation time…It makes it tough in this small town."

Richards—though not ready to fully commit to a candidate—says Sanders’ message resonates.

"A lot of people like Bernie. He has a lot of good ideas," Richards said. "And what he talks about, getting our wages up there, you got to let a guy make a living wage to take care of a family. You know, nine bucks an hour isn’t going to cut it or ten bucks an hour. You’ve got to let a guy get to where he can make some money."

Last month, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, called Bernie Sanders "a warrior" at a labor forum hosted in Iowa.

"I want to say thank you for being a warrior for working people—not just lately but for your entire career," Trumka said to Sanders in front of 200 union workers. "All of us are living a little bit better because of that. And we want to say thank you for those efforts. You’ve earned them."

Trumka, however, made it clear on Meet the Press this Sunday that he will not personally endorse a candidate and likes both Clinton and Sanders.

Another former Maytag employee and United Auto Workers union member, Lonnie White, 66, a porcelain sprayer at the time, sat in the back row of Sanders’ event on the Meskwaki Settlement in central Iowa on Thursday.

"I think that he’s what the Democrats used to be," White said. "I think the Democratic Party used to be exactly what he represents. Taking care of each other. I think we’ve gotten away from that and gone to the middle."

Posted in 2016 Election, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by carldavidson on August 18, 2015

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.

Posted in labor, Organizing, Solidarity, Steelworkers, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

 
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