Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pittsburgh workers walk off jobs and rally Downtown to protest for higher wages

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 12:12 PM

On Nov. 29, hundreds of protesters took to the Downtown streets demanding that local fast-food restaurants, Giant Eagle grocery stores, and UPMC hospitals increase their minimum wages to $15 an hour and allow workers to form unions. The march was part of a national Day of Disruption, where cities across the country are protesting workers rights. 

More than 200 marchers shut down Liberty Avenue outside of the federal building and marched throughout Downtown to the McDonald's restaurant on Stanwix Street where CP News Editor Rebecca Addison reports some protesters were arrested.

Right before the march started, traffic was disrupted and more than 20 buses lined up on Liberty Avenue waiting for the march to start. More than a dozen police officers were present during the march. They provided escort for the marchers on motorcycles and bicycles. None were in riot gear.

Glenn Grayson of labor coalition One Pittsburgh spoke to the crowd before the
Protesters fill Liberty Avenue, Dowtown - CP PHOTO RYAN DETO
  • CP photo Ryan Deto
  • Protesters fill Liberty Avenue, Dowtown
 march about the frustration with stagnant wages for workers in the service industry. “Enough is enough with business as usual,” said Grayson. He also expressed anxiety that the group’s fight will be even harder when President-elect Donald Trump assumes office in January. “Our future president has declared that the current minimum wage is too high.”

One of the workers to walk off the job today to protest was Erika Lee, a shuttle bus driver for UPMC who currently makes $13 an hour. She lives in Mckeesport with her three children. Lee said she had to take a stand to fight for her and her co-workers’ rights, specifically allowing them to form a union, which UPMC has blocked for years.

“There has been no progress on forming a union,” said Lee. “There is constant intimidation. Many of us stood up today, but not all of us. Some of us, they feared retaliation.”

Linda Zinkhan works at the Market District Giant Eagle in Robinson Township. Her catering department recently joined United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 and was drawn to protest because of the hardships she and six other employers went through in joining UFCW. Zinkhan said that management stalled contract talks and made workers attend anti-union meetings.

“It has been a clawing fight,” said Zinkhan.

Protesters outside the Stanwix Street McDonald's - PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • Photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Protesters outside the Stanwix Street McDonald's

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pittsburgh undocumented immigrant could be released from detention next month

Posted By on Tue, Nov 15, 2016 at 2:08 PM

More than 100 protesters fill Liberty Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh to demand that Martin Esquivel-Hernandez be released. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • More than 100 protesters fill Liberty Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh to demand that Martin Esquivel-Hernandez be released.
The fight to keep Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, in Pittsburgh may be turning. Esquivel-Hernandez has been detained in a private, for-profit prison in Youngstown, Ohio, for more than six months. He has no prior criminal record, has been an advocate for immigrant rights here in Pittsburgh, and traveled more than 5,000 miles over eight months to reunite with his family in the Steel City. And now there is a possibility he will be released and returned home early next month.

Currently, his lawyer Sally Frick is negotiating a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney that would lower Esquivel-Hernandez’s felony re-entry charge to a lesser offense that could remove him from a list of priorities that keep him detained, according to Antonia Domingo, of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), who is advocating on behalf of Esquivel-Hernandez. A change of plea hearing is scheduled on Dec. 8.

However, even if his charge were to be downgraded, Esquivel-Hernandez would still need to have his U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer dropped, or he could be subject to an immigration court hearing and possibly still face deportation.

Esquivel-Hernandez’s supporters took to the streets on Nov. 15 to continue to tell his story and to demand that ICE Pennsylvania Field Officer Thomas Decker release Esquivel-Hernandez’s detainer. More than 100 protesters marched from Mellon Square in Downtown Pittsburgh to the federal office building on Liberty Avenue, where they occupied the street and chanted “Bring Martin home.”

LCLAA president Guillermo Perez spoke outside the federal building and pleaded to ICE to release Esquivel-Hernandez. “People like Martin make an important contribution to the community,” said Perez. “The undocumented are part of the American Dream. … Decker has the power to give prosecutorial discretion and return a good man to his family.”

The Pennsylvania ICE Field Office did not return request for comment by press time.

Shayla Esquivel-Hernandez speaking at a rally in support of her father - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Shayla Esquivel-Hernandez speaking at a rally in support of her father
Esquivel-Hernandez's oldest daughter Shayla, who is 10, also spoke at the rally about the negative effects her father’s long absence is having on the family. “It is affecting me and my whole family,” said Shayla. “It’s getting harder to lie and tell my little brother that his dad is still just at work.”

Joining the campaign was a group of labor advocates that swelled the numbers, normally in the 10-15 range at previous rallies, to more than 100 marching through the street. Groups supporting Esquivel-Hernandez now include the Thomas Merton Center, Fight for $15, Casa San Jose and Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. Kai Pang, of labor-coalition Pittsburgh United, said that labor supports all workers, including the undocumented.

“It’s more urgent than ever for us to protect the immigrant community, since there is a lot of uncertainty moving forward,” said Pang before the rally. “I feel compelled to stand with the most vulnerable, and I know a lot of people in the labor movement feel the same way too.”

However, LCLAA's Perez is concerned about Esquivel-Hernandez and other undocumented immigrants moving forward because of the campaign promises of President-elect Donald Trump. "What we face before us is concerning to say the least," said Perez. "The president-elect waged a campaign based on racism and xenophobia."

Trump has since walked back promises of a deportation force to round up and deport all 11 million or so undocumented immigrants, but other immigration policies are uncertain. But Esquivel-Hernandez does have an ally in the federal government with U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills).

Doyle sent a representative to the march to offer support for the Esquivel-Hernandez family. “Congressman Doyle wanted to express his support, and he appreciates the role Martin has played in the community,” said Bridget Barrett of Doyle’s office.

Perez capped the rally with a typical chant used when communities advocate for Latino undocumented immigrants who face deportation. “Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos,” said Perez. We are here, and we are not going anywhere.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Verizon, CWA agree to contract; little guy's news story is pulled

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 2:08 PM

  • Photo by William Ludt

Everybody remembers their first one — the first story they report on when they’re hired at a newspaper. At my university’s paper, my first story was on the new Chick-Fil-A opening on campus. Here at the City Paper, it was a story on the Communication Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ strike against their employer, Verizon. So, let’s just call that an upgrade in terms of subject matter.

As reporters, we’re expected to sprint after a story — pen and notebook in hand. We attempt to hurdle over other news organizations; grill corporate spokespersons for a quote; and take complicated ideas and put them in layman's terms. All the while, we slowly turn to dust waiting for the records we requested back when Jesus was in grade school.

Then we struggle to get our damn audio recorder on for an interview, and we end up spilling that day's 12th cup of coffee all over ourselves. (Full disclosure: I don’t drink coffee, but hopefully you’re picking up what I’m putting down.) It can be thankless work. And sometimes the story evolves. In the case of this CWA strike story, that’s what happened.

This past weekend, after spending most of Friday afternoon walking the streets of Cleveland (yes, Cleveland. What of it?), I made my way to my favorite dive bar for what was going to be a weekend of loud, angry music. It was a great week so far. I was riding high on the anticipation of my first story, as a news intern, being published in the City Paper — my first reporting position outside of a university newspaper.

I was sitting at a booth on the back patio of said bar, catching up with a friend and talking about punk music. That’s when I received a Google Alert about the strike. It stated that the unions and Verizon came to a tentative contract agreement. I slunk down a bit in my seat and thought about what that agreement could possibly mean for what I’d written earlier that week.

I thought about the workers on the sidewalk 24 hours a day outside the Verizon technical center next door to our office. I thought about the interviews and b-roll a coworker and I shot of said workers, as they shook pom-poms and blasted an air horn at passing traffic. I thought about the Verizon representative I spoke with who couldn’t tell me anything about contract negotiations — as well as the union rep who couldn’t say anything either. And, I thought about the union workers I met one Saturday afternoon, who rallied with friends and family members outside a call center in the pouring rain, cheering with a chorus of car horns — still jovial after a full month of picketing.

  • Photo by William Ludt

The following day, I checked my inbox again. I received yet another update: The unions were going back to work. After 45 days of picketing, the largest strike in recent U.S. history ended, thus nixing my story.

Prior to the contract agreement, there was silence on both sides of the strike, so I hadn’t a clue when this was all going to end. The previous CWA strike in 2011 lasted 15 days, but contract negotiations carried on for months after. In this case, it seems that negotiations moved much faster.

Despite the whole triumph of the little guy over a corporation, I was disappointed finding out my story was pulled.

  • Photo by William Ludt

I was back in Pittsburgh after that weekend. I sat in my room — joints swollen, ears ringing — trying to cope with the heat. I moped around my apartment and attempted to achieve catharsis through eating a lot of pretzels and playing violent video games. But to no avail.

I’ll avoid cliche as much as my vocabulary permits, but that’s the way the news-cookie crumbles. One day, folks are standing outside of their employer’s corporate offices, with torso-length signs tethered around their necks, marching up and down the sidewalk, demanding that their wages and benefits return to what they once were. Then the next day, they find out that they’re returning to work.

Regardless of whether my story was printed or not, I put in the legwork. And I’m certain that something I report is bound to be published in the paper ... eventually.

My superiors at the City Paper suggested that I react to having my first full-fledged story pulled from publication by writing this blog post. And it also gives me the opportunity to show off some of the photos I shot between interviews. So, why not?

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Allegheny County Council urges Pennsylvania lawmakers to raise the minimum wage to $10.15

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2016 at 2:26 PM

With the state’s largest employer, health-care giant UPMC, announcing they will be raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 and even Pa.’s Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate debating wildly about the minimum wage last night, Allegheny County Council has also thrown its hat into the minimum wage debate.

Yesterday, council passed a motion urging the Pa. General Assembly to increase the state's minimum wage to at least $10.15 an hour by a vote of 10-4 with one abstention. (Yays were all Democrats; Nays and abstention were all Republicans). The motion has no effect on Allegheny County’s minimum wage, and instead asks that state legislators increase the minimum wage with "deliberate speed."

Allegheny County Councilor Nick Futules speaking to council. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Allegheny County Councilor Nick Futules speaking to council.
Democratic county councilor Nick Futules of Oakmont was the prime sponsor of the motion and said “this is us agreeing that $7.25 does not cut it anymore.” He told council an anecdote of visiting one fast-food establishment for breakfast and meeting a young woman who worked there. He later grabbed some dinner at a different fast-food restaurant for dinner and ran into the same young woman. She told Futules she worked two shifts a day to make ends meet.

“I believe the state and federal government should at least follow the cost of living guidelines and increase the minimum wage,” said Futules during the meeting.

Futules says he has received support from Pa. House minority leader Frank Dermody, who represents the state's 33rd legislative district and shares many constituents with Futules, and that he was following Gov. Wolf’s lead, when Wolf signed an executive order granting state workers a minimum wage of $10.15 an hour.

Republican at-large councilor Sam DeMarco voted in opposition to the bill. He commended Futules for paying more attention to the minimum wage law, but said that increasing the state minimum wage would result in the loss of thousands of jobs. He also noted that the market is already making some minimum wage decisions for itself, citing the recent news that UPMC is raising their minimum wage.

However, some of the motion’s biggest supporters, Democratic councilors Michael Finnerty of Scott and DeWitt Walton of the Hill District, disagreed with DeMarco’s claims.

“To say that jobs have decreased as part of minimum-wage increases is totally false,” said Finnerty. “It depends on what stats you are looking at.”

Finnerty went on to say that the driving force behind minimum wages not rising has been billionaires refusing to share their profits with workers. “If a corporation is making millions and billions, they should be thinking of sharing some of that.”

Walton also criticized large corporations that have low minimum wages for workers and said he would discourage those kinds of corporations from moving to the region. “If there is a corporation paying poverty wages that is coming to Allegheny County, I would stand up and say ‘don’t come,’” said Walton at the meeting. “I will not let companies continue to pile on the poverty problem.”

The next Allegheny County Council meeting will be held at April 19 at 5 p.m. in the 4th floor Gold Room at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pittsburgh's Mixtape becomes latest business to raise wages for employees

Posted By on Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 4:39 PM

Owners Katie Molchan and Elaina Holko's Mixtape is Worker Approved - PHOTO BY REBECCA NUTTALL
  • Photo by Rebecca Nuttall
  • Owners Katie Molchan and Elaina Holko's Mixtape is Worker Approved
Today, Mixtape, a Garfield dance lounge, music gallery, cafe and event space, announced it had joined the ranks of local businesses that are raising wages for their employees and providing paid sick leave.

"[We're] giving our employees a work environment where they can be comfortable knowing no matter what day they come in, they'll be able to pay their bills, that it's going to be a stable wage." says owner Katie Molchan. "Obviously it does mean as a startup it's going to take us longer to reach a point of profitability, but we felt really strongly that was a really important to send a message to our staff and our team. They shouldn't have to bear the brunt of losses if we have a slow day."

Today's press conference is part of a local movement to increase wages for service workers and improve employee benefits like paid sick leave. Today's speakers highlighted what they see as problems with the current system that allows tipped workers to be paid below the minimum wage. 

"The same people who put food on our table can't afford to put food on their table," said Jordan Romanus, lead organizer with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Pittsburgh. "In Pennsylvania, the medium income for a tipped work is less than $13,000. To top it all off, the tipped minimum wage hasn't been raised in over 17 years. That's an entire class of workers who haven't seen a raise in nearly two decades."

According to a study by the mobile-payment application Square, Alaska — the state where the minimum wage for tipped workers is $8.75 an hour — actually tips more than any other state. In Delaware, the state that tips the least, the tipped minimum wage is $2.23.

"Our solution to this problem is simple. We need to support businesses like Mixtape who do right by their employees, and secondly, we need to eliminate the tipped minimum wage. In the seven states that have done away with the two-tiered system, their poverty rates are lower, the restaurant receipts are actually higher, menu prices are not higher, and tipping is even better."

The press conference also marked the launch of Pittsburgh City Councilor Deb Gross' Worker Approved Businesses initiative, which is designed to highlight local businesses "paying family sustaining wages and treating their workers well." 

"It's a part of the essence of Pittsburgh that we're all fighting for. We invest in each other. We are determined to be a community, and that means having a commitment to one another," said Deb Gross. "I hope that all of us will make it a priority to patronize businesses like Mixtape because they are investing in us."

This initiative follows several workers'-rights measures passed by city council, including an effort to promote small businesses that have raised their wages to $10.10 an hour. And last year, Mayor Bill Peduto signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour over the next six years. 

Last year, council also passed legislation for mandatory paid sick leave, which is currently being challenged in Commonwealth Court by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association. The City of Pittsburgh has until April 11 to file its appeal, and the case is expected to go to trial this summer.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fast-food workers joined by hundreds during rally Downtown Pittsburgh in protest for $15 wage

Posted By on Wed, Nov 11, 2015 at 1:44 PM

The protests started around 6 a.m. yesterday with a sign posted on the door of McDonald’s on Stanwix Street saying the restaurant was closed due to a strike. According to Jen England, spokesperson for advocacy group Action United, the workers at the Downtown McDonald’s were on a morning rush-hour strike. The effort was part of a strike in 270 cities nationwide.
Protesters yesterday spill into the intersection of Grant Street and Sixth Avenue. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYAN DETO
  • Photo courtesy of Ryan Deto
  • Protesters yesterday spill into the intersection of Grant Street and Sixth Avenue.

Later in the afternoon, more than 300 supporters joined the fast-food workers and marched through Downtown streets calling for a $15 wage and the right to form a union, an ongoing battle for many service workers. The protests were held on a cold and soggy November afternoon as a reminder that one year from now, Americans will head to their polling places for the 2016 elections.

According to a release from SEIU Heathcare, 64 million Americans, including more than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians, are paid less than $15 an hour.

The march was generally cordial, except for a three-minute stretch when marchers overtook the Grant Street and Sixth Avenue intersection and police vehicles blared sirens to get them to exit the middle of the road. At the next intersection (Grant and Fifth), one officer appeared to be on edge, turning on his sirens and honking his horn continuously while protesters were crossing the street, even though they had a walk signal.

Once under the arches of the City-County Building, the chants and drums grew louder as workers from hospitals, nursing homes and fast-food restaurants filled the space around the recently erected giant Christmas tree. Ashona Osborne, a single mother from East Hills, spoke to the crowd about her struggles and why she and her fellow workers are fighting for an increased wage.

Osborne works two part-time jobs, one at McDonald’s in Penn Hills, the other at the Pittsburgh Zoo. She works seven days a week and averages less than $8 an hour. “I am protesting so I can maybe work just one shift each day and have more time to take care of my son,” she says. “I deserve to have some sleep and afford a vacation.”

Osborne’s friend Lena Germany also works at McDonald’s and repeated many of the same sentiments. The 23-year-old works in the North Side and commutes more than an hour from McKeesport. Germany, like Osborne, has a 5-year-old son, but she says she was forced to give him up for adoption because she could not afford his medical bills. Germany says her son suffers from chronic illness.

Service workers fill the entryway of the City-County Building as protesters and elected officials speak. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYAN DETO
  • Photo courtesy of Ryan Deto
  • Service workers fill the entryway of the City-County Building as protesters and elected officials speak.
According to Germany, she makes a little more than $300 every paycheck and she struggles to save money. “Once I am done paying all my bills, I have nothing left over,” she says. “Sometimes I am ready to break down and I cry, but I have to keep going.”

In response to the protests, City Councilor Ricky Burgess and Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, spoke to the large crowd. Other politicians, like Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty, have recently shown their support for a $15 minimum wage, too.

“We are not gonna let any industry stand in the way to [allow you] to unionize,” said Burgess over a loudspeaker.

Acklin acknowledged the mayor’s executive order earlier that day that requires all city workers to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour. He also called for legislation to require the same for workers contracted by the city. He says such moves are a victory for the city and its citizens.

“We come here to work on your behalf,” said Acklin to the crowd in front of the City-County Building. “What keeps me coming to work today is the fight for 15.”

However, Acklin added, he recognizes that “this is just the starting line, we still have a long way to go.”

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Friday, October 30, 2015

UPDATE: Janitorial workers reach agreement with employers

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 10:44 AM

Earlier this week City Paper reported on a potential strike for janitorial workers in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. On Oct. 27, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ voted to give union leadership the authority to call for a strike if a contract agreement wasn’t met with the Managers, Owners and Contractors Association (MOCA), the organization that handles negotiations for local offices and buildings.

But last evening, two days before their current contract was set to expire, SEIU reached a deal with MOCA. According to SEIU, the agreement "includes a fair wage increase and maintains benefits at their current level," for 1200 local employees.

In a statement Western Pennsylvania District Leader Sam Williamson said: “We are showing that employees and businesses can work together effectively to reach a fair agreement. This is a win-win for everyone. We are glad that the day-to-day operations of these buildings will continue. We are happy these hardworking men and women can continue making a family-sustaining wage which allows them to support their families and make our city’s economy stronger. These are good jobs. Together with our commercial office cleaners and newly organized security officers, we are strengthening the middle class."

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Labor Union also takes issue with Pittsburgh's Delta Foundation

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 11:27 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Shawn Foyle
  • IATSE's LGBT Pride t-shirt
This week City Paper reported about the apparent lack of progress with the Delta Foundation since the protests at Pittsburgh Pride by smaller, local LGBT groups. Protests were sparked by the selection of Iggy Azalea as headliner (the rapper had a history on social media of making comments that many felt were racist or homophobic), but protesters felt the issues went beyond that (Azelea later dropped out and was replaced by Nick Jonas). Demonstrators demanded more inclusive practices at Delta, particularly the participation of trans and people of color in Pride.

But another, less-reported group also engaged in the protests, calling out Delta for another issue: the exclusion of union stagehands at Delta events, particularly Pride.

Shawn Foyle of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 3 says he has been reaching out to Delta for years trying to convince them to hire union stagehands for their events. Foyle says that union stagehands should be considered for Pride because it is a large event held on public land and because labor unions have historically been allies to LGBT organizations.

Foyle says that despite a “cordial” meeting in April 2012, IATSE has not spoken with Van Horn or anyone at Delta since. “We don’t have a relationship,” he says.

Since the initial 2012 meeting, Foyle says he has written multiple letters and emails requesting a follow-up discussion on the possibility of including up to four union stagehands for Pride events. After receiving no response year after year, IATSE joined in on the 2015 Pride protests and handed out leaflets detailing their frustration.

Since their protest, there has appeared to be some falling out between Delta and some of its labor support. Adanjesus Marin of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania says SEIU dropped out of marching in the 2015 Pride parade and barred Delta from marching with SEIU in Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade after he learned Delta had been ignoring IATSE. 

“We [at SEIU] decided to not march in the Pride parade after Delta turned its back on labor,” says Marin. “This is frustrating because Delta has been supportive of labor for years before this.” (Delta marched in the 2013 and 2014 Labor Day parade with SEIU.)

Marin, who is also the co-chair of LGBT union organization Pride at Work, says that SEIU tried to contact Delta with a letter about the IATSE issue before Pride, but Delta president Gary Van Horn ignored the letter. This is when SEIU decided to pull out of the Parade and to discontinue donations to Delta, Marin says.

“The fact is that [Delta] spends tens of thousands of dollars to bring in high-end entertainment,” says Marin. “They should be able to pay a living wage to the people who set up the stage. It would be a simple fix. we are talking about less than a handful of people.”

Foyle says that other IATSE unions march in Pride parades in places like Toronto and Portland and that IATSE Local 3 would be happy to march in the Pittsburgh Pride and donate to Delta, but not under the climate that currently exists.

Delta spokesperson Christine Bryan told CP in an email that Delta does not hire stagehands for their events but instead hires contractors to set stages, lighting and sound equipment. “We have asked [IATSE] to provide us with names of union shops in Pittsburgh that can provide these services and have been told that there are none,” wrote Bryan in an email.

Foyle says the response does not truly address the stagehand issue. He says contractors don’t usually have union stagehands as full-time staffers and that stagehands are hired as needed to assist contractors in preparing the stage and equipment for entertainment events.

Foyle says if experienced stagehands are not hired, then the contractors either put up the stage themselves or use “whatever help is necessary” to put up the equipment. Foyle says in the case of Pride, this extra help is usually volunteers, which can lead to potential problems.

“They don’t want to engage local people who actually do this for a living,” says Foyle. “It is easier and cheaper for Delta to pass the buck.”

Foyle also points out that if volunteers get hurt when helping to put up stages, they typically do not have any legal protections.

Bryan says that recently there have been attempts to improve communications between the feuding organizations. She says that Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman set up a meeting between Delta and IATSE, but the union cancelled the meeting.

Foyle says IATSE turned down the meeting because they had still not received a direct response from Delta after writing to them around Labor Day, and so they were skeptical of anything productive occurring at the sit down.

“We don’t believe that anything constructive would come out of this,” says Foyle. “We can read between the lines. The sit down was not happening for the right reasons.”

Foyle says IATSE would be willing to start discussions with Delta when the large LGBT nonprofit shows a desire to use some union stagehands for one of their events.

“This is what we do, and we do it right here in the Cultural District,” he says. “We support [LGBT] efforts. It would be nice if [Delta] included us.”

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Local janitors vote to strike if contract demands aren't met

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 4:18 PM

Following a rally earlier today, janitors with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have voted to strike if they fail to reach a contract agreement with local office buildings.  

"We're here to lift our employees up. We're bargaining for 1200 people here in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas," says Paul Griffin, a janitor at One PNC Plaza. "Whenever you raise people's standard of living, their communities benefit. I'm so proud to belong to a union that recognizes that connection that good jobs build strong communities."

According to SEIU, 250 of the 1200 members locally voted today to strike if contract negotiations between SEIU and Managers, Owners and Contractors Association (MOCA) aren't resolved. MOCA is a group that negotiates collective bargaining agreements on behalf of local buildings like U.S. Steel Tower, Gateway Center, PNC Plaza and Bayer headquarters.

Griffin, a McKeesport resident who has worked as a janitor for 29 years, says the union is looking for "an agreement that contains a decent wage increase, affordable healthcare and other fringe benefits that would add to their quality of life, like vacation days." The current contract expires at midnight on Saturday, Oct. 31.

"The one thing that struck me about this counter proposal is you have very low potential pay increases and they're asking us to pay more for healthcare," says Griffin. "When you combine the two, we're going backwards in a serious way."

According to SEIU, citing a report from MIT, downtown office cleaners earn $16 an hour on average. In surrounding areas, they  earn on average $11.25 an hour. The living wage for one adult supporting one child in Pittsburgh is $21.07 an hour. 

"I've seen what taking good jobs out of the community can do to families," Griffin says. "When you bargain for family sustaining jobs, it's good all the way around. We're looking for a family-friendly contract."

Even if an agreement isn't reached by Oct. 31, Griffin and SEIU communications specialist Traci Benjamin say today's vote does not guarantee a strike will start on Nov. 1.

"The vote today gives Paul and the other members of the bargaining committee the right to say when the strike would be," says Benjamin. "It gives them the authority to call for a strike."

And a strike would be detrimental to not only the employees who would lose wages, but the employees of local office buildings and the local economy as a whole, Griffin says. He cited a 1985 strike by Pittsburgh janitors that he believes played a role in securing worker's rights today.

"Today we're standing on the work they did," says Griffin. "We're trying to address the needs of employees that are presently in this industry, and we're looking to sustain this industry for the future. I want this to be an industry where young people can get jobs in the future."

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Monday, October 26, 2015

U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty visits Pittsburgh, declares her support for $15 minimum wage

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2015 at 7:05 PM

U.S. Senate hopeful Katie McGinty claps along as local workers chant "I believe we will win," after she announced her support for a $15 minimum wage. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • U.S. Senate hopeful Katie McGinty claps along as local workers chant "I believe we will win," after she announced her support for a $15 minimum wage.
U.S. Senate hopeful Katie McGinty stopped at the United Steel Workers building in downtown Pittsburgh today to spread her message about a fair minimum wage for the nation.

"We're here to stand with hard-working families," McGinty said, as a crowd of local Fight for $15 advocates stood around the podium beside her, "and to stand against the reality that we have today that people are working 40 hours a week in the this country and still living in poverty."

McGinty said that she is "joining more than 200 economists" in calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour and to be phased in by 2020.

She invoked the arguments that the minimum has not been adjusted for inflation in several decades and that increasing the purchasing power of those in minimum-wage jobs would bolster the economy.

"When you put money in people's pockets that's how you grow the economy," McGinty said.

Two speakers that McGinty invited to the podium highlighted quality of life issues associated with working multiple jobs and making low wages.

"I have a five-year-old son, and the fact that I work two back-to-back, I don't really get to see him," said Ashana Osborne who says she works at the Pittsburgh Zoo until 5 p.m. and then reports to her shift at McDonald's at 7 p.m. She said her pay at those respective jobs is $7.25 and $8.25. "I should be at home doing homework with him."

McGinty was the second Democrat to join the Senate race to see who would take on incumbent Republican Pat Toomey. She joined former Congressman Joe Sestak and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman later entered the race. McGinty is no stranger to local voters. She ran for governor in a crowded primary last year that saw Tom Wolf prevail and eventually beat Tom Corbett. McGinty served as Wolf's chief of staff before departing to begin her run for Senate. And if you wonder where McGinty stands on other social issues, check out our election guide from last May. 

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