Protesters demanding jobs hit mayor's office

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A group of about 100 service workers representing different sectors of Pittsburgh's organized labor this afternoon assembled outside Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office in an effort to meet with him.

They hoped to discuss their contention that his administration's economic development policies for key areas like the North Side, the South Side, East Liberty and other parts of the city are undercutting and marginalizing their jobs, their pay, and their quality of life.

Their efforts, however, which started this morning when the doors to the mayor's fifth floor office in the City-County Building were closed and chained in front of them, proved fruitless again as Mr. Ravenstahl was not available to meet with them.

Instead, Mr. Ravenstahl's Chief of Staff Yarone Zober briefed the media in a conference room in the mayor's office.

And the workers, donned in union colors representing the National Union of Operating Engineers, Workers United, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Service Employees International Union, marched into City Council chambers, where they met council members and aired their grievances about the city's subsidization of developers that undermine the essence of unionization.

"All we want is a fair chance and a fair shake," said Joe Balsamo, a union representative of the Pennsylvania Joint Board of Workers United, an affiliate of the SEIU.

In particular, the union workers who represented janitors, cooks, clerks and other service-related jobs in the hospitality and health care industries, among others, said they are opposed to the city's subsidy of developers like Continental Real Estate Co.

A major North Shore developer and the owner of the Del Monte building, Continental is building a hotel on a strip of the North Shore near the soon-to-open Rivers Casino. In recent weeks, community groups, in particular Northside United, have been protesting the developer's activity, arguing that the community as a whole most likely will not benefit from the new developments.

Mr. Zober said the Ravenstahl administration has long supported the core principles of organized labor, but it also understands that economic development cannot be co-opted by the need for shared community benefits agreements every time.

When developers come to Pittsburgh to build hotels and other buildings, Mr. Zober said, their investment in the form of "every dollar created in taxes, those are community benefits themselves."

"We are about making sure that Pittsburgh continues to grow, to create jobs," Mr. Zober said.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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