AFL-CIO president touts Pittsburgh movements

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Pittsburgh, the cradle of the American union movement, is now nurturing a new generation of union workplaces.

“There’s more organizing drives going on in Pittsburgh than in any other city of the country,” said Richard Trumka, the national president of the AFL-CIO, in Washington, D.C., who came home to Pittsburgh Thursday to address the 41st Constitutional Convention of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

Mr. Trumka, a former mine worker who grew up in Nemacolin, Greene County, said in his speech that there are 45,000 people who are in the midst of organizing campaigns at their workplaces in Western Pennsylvania.

In addition to the SEIU campaign targeting health care provider UPMC, there are high-profile campaigns at Duquesne, Robert Morris and Point Park universities. An effort to organize workers at the Rivers Casino is under way, as well.

Part of the change in unionization efforts has been that instead of various unions organizing businesses on their own, unions have come together to help each other.

An example of that in Pittsburgh has been the support from the United Steelworkers for the Service Employees International’s unionization drive at UPMC.

“The whole city is coming together like it never has before,” Mr. Trumka said during his speech to a crowded ballroom at the Wyndham Grand Hotel, Downtown. “The solidarity that exists right now in the labor movement is probably greater than it has been for the last three or four decades, and it feels real good.”

On average, Mr. Trumka reminded the crowd of union members and activists, union workers make $200 a week more than their non-union counterparts.

The former coal miner who went to law school said back when he got started in the labor movement, it was made up of people who made things and moved them. Now, he said, the faces of unions have changed. Workers in the service industries are the new members.

“The face doesn’t matter because the principals have remained the same: it’s about solidarity, it’s about trust, it’s about unionization,” he said.

“We will stand with you when it’s easy, but we will also stand with you when it’s hard,” he said. “We’re Pennsylvania workers, that’s us. This is ground zero for solidarity. The American middle class grew up from right here in this area.”

In a change from past policies of simply endorsing Democrats, Mr. Trumka told the Pennsylvania assembly that the organization would, in the future, only stand with candidates who firmly stand with workers and are vocal about the need to raise wages. That will help the economy because 72 percent of the economy is dependent on consumer spending, he said.

“Raising wages is our top priority item,” Mr. Trumka said. “Raising wages will make our economy strong.”

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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