A heartfelt thanks is offered to Clarke Thomas on his refreshing perspective about the positive value and role that organized labor has played and continues to play in the Pittsburgh area ("What About the Unions?" Aug. 6 Perspectives). All too often, the invaluable contributions that labor has made to improving working conditions for all men and women, regardless of their union or nonunion affiliation, are forgotten or overlooked.
Forty-hour work weeks, child labor laws, living wages and benefits, the creation of the middle class, and safe working conditions are just a few of the tangible benefits brought about largely as the result of organized labor. And while it would be nice to think that such conditions would be sustained without the presence of unions, it also would be terribly naive. The ever-growing disparity between corporate executive salaries and the wages of their workers along with the growing use and exploitation of illegal immigrants are all the proof needed to demonstrate the type of greed that would dictate the working conditions of the American worker if unions did not exist.
Mr. Thomas' recognition of the valuable training programs offered by union building trades and their affiliated contractors is also right on target. In addition to providing outstanding career opportunities for local residents, these programs also enable the Pittsburgh area to maintain a skilled work force, which is paramount to businesses when considering where to locate.
Organized labor has a proud history in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. With Pittsburgh 250 upon us and Labor Day approaching, it ought to be recognized and thanked for the contributions that it has made and will continue to make on behalf of us all.
JASON A. FINCKE
Upper St. Clair
Someday we might live in a world run by common sense, but that is not today. The Port Authority is in trouble -- what else is new? This is supposed to be a self-run entity, yet like all the other authorities it is lifted up time and again by "big brother" government. Taxing the little people. Fighting about how to do it.
I personally would like to know what happens to all the "extra money" the Port Authority gets, for example, the ads on buses?
As someone who has to pinch pennies, here might be a solution: While giving seniors free rides on the buses is nice, why can't they pay half-price like handicapped riders? This would generate money while putting the "burden" in the right place on the Port Authority and the buses. Even charging 25 cents or 50 cents might generate the money needed to get the taxpayers off the hook.
I know this will generate a lot of protest, but seniors own homes, go to restaurants and bars and, yes, at times have need of rental cars, all of which have been chosen targets for taxation. If you feel the need to tax for the glory of the Port Authority, then put it on the bus!
LOLA J. STANLEY
In response to Harvey Gottshall's Aug. 19 letter, "All Have Self-Interest," I have to point out that Mr. Gottshall, well, missed the point.
In his letter he writes, "Is it a surprise that Russia would not be hostile to new missile sites on its borders or foreign involvement in its sphere of influence? As despicable as Russian intervention is in Georgia, remember our response to Cuban missiles and our current intervention in Iraq."
The key distinction Mr. Gottshall fails to make in his attempt to make a moral comparison, is that the Cuban missile crisis was the result of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles intended as a first-strike capability on the United States being placed just 90 miles from our soil.
Russia, on the other hand, is reacting curiously to the placement of Patriot missiles intended as a first line of defense against ballistic missiles fired at the United States or our allies. I find it most curious that Russia has a visceral response to a weapon of defense. One can only imagine why someone would be angry about the placement of a weapon whose sole purpose is to shoot down other missiles.
Could it be that Russia would hate to have one of its own missiles fail to reach its target?
Now do you really feel that Russia faces the same "crisis" as America did in 1962, Mr. Gottshall?
Upper St. Clair
Tax credit priority
Kudos for your editorial rebuking the Steelers' effort to put the taxpayers on the hook for one-third of the $12 million entertainment complex price tag and the reminder that two of Pittsburgh's major sports franchises have already shared more than $350 million in taxpayer subsidies ("Stage North: The Amphitheater Needs No Public Subsidy," Aug. 19 editorial).
In these hard economic times, we need to prioritize struggling families over sports franchises. What we really need is for the U.S. Senate to pass an expanded child tax credit (S. 3335). Right now hard-working Pennsylvania families with earnings less than $12,050 don't qualify for the tax credit.
Already this year Sen. Arlen Specter has passed up four chances to help those earning between $8,500 and $12,050 get more from the credit so that parents engaged in back-breaking but noble work in nursing homes, child-care centers, hotels and agricultural fields might have a little extra cash to lighten the load.
In September, the Senate should pass the expanded child tax credit so that more than 91,000 Pennsylvania children would become eligible for the tax credit and another nearly 317,000 children would receive a larger credit. It's long past time for the U.S. Senate to step up to the plate and go to bat for the children of hard-working, struggling low-income families.
Tax Credit Campaign Organizer
I was disappointed with your Aug. 18 headline "When Bicyclists Break the Safety Chain, Driver Complaints Mount" with a picture of a cyclist waiting in a legal manner for a traffic light. The article did not report an increase in bike-related complaints but only related anecdotes from two motorists who encountered cyclists breaking the law.
Inexcusably, some cyclists do behave badly, endangering their own safety and that of drivers. But in 40 years of commuting on two wheels and four, my experience is that the vast majority of bad actors on our roads are driving automobiles. They are particularly dangerous in our pedestrian and cycle-dense neighborhoods. Recent news stories have not documented complaints against cyclists but are reporting growing numbers of injuries and deaths of pedestrians and cyclists caused by cars.
City government has recognized that streets are increasingly used by nonautomobile traffic and that signage, access and lanes need to be adjusted. Before we conclude that irresponsible bicycle riders are the source of our traffic problems, we should all start following the traffic laws, put down our cell phones, make eye contact and adjust our expectations of what driving in Pittsburgh is.
Sharing the road is not a generous gesture made when you are not in a hurry -- it is a fact of life.
The care of our patients is paramount
As president of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, an organization representing more than 1,700 psychiatrists across the commonwealth, I have read with interest the exchanges between the Department of Public Welfare, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and mental health advocates concerning adverse events suffered by persons with mental illness reported in your paper.
Like all caregivers, I grieve for the patients, as well as their families and friends who must pick up the pieces after a loved one suffers a bad outcome because of mental illness. It is important, however, not just to grieve, but to try to understand, plan and act to reduce, as much as possible, such outcomes. Regardless if these sentinel events occurred based on lack of access to adequate treatment, or as an indirect correlation to the closure of Mayview State Hospital, the core issue at stake is access to appropriate levels of care in the community.
The Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society does not oppose the closure of state hospital beds. Our primary concern is that the community infrastructure is in place prior to a closure to ensure that every patient leaving a state hospital is able to live a safe, fulfilling life in the least restrictive setting.
While some patients may thrive in the community setting, for others the risks may be simply too high. As psychiatrists, the care of our patients is paramount, including protecting their rights and freedoms while ensuring that they are receiving the proper treatment regardless of the physical location. We support DPW's careful review of these serious incidents to minimize future problems. However, we remain concerned about community readiness in the Mayview State Hospital catchment area, and will work tirelessly to ensure patient safety, access and treatment are provided for those suffering from mental illness.
MARY ANNE ALBAUGH, M.D.
Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society