“Pittsburghers want French fries with their sandwich, not the flu.”

Councilman Corey O’Connor, author of a new bill that would mandate paid sick days for all workers in the city, held nothing back at a gathering held outside of the Pittsburgh City Council chambers today in support of the legislation. More than 150 people from more than 15 allied groups packed the lobby to champion the bill’s introduction, and I was proud to be there representing Working America and our members who overwhelmingly support this legislation.

“No worker should have to make the choice between going to work sick or staying home without badly needed pay, and right now there are 50,000 Pittsburgh workers without paid sick time,” said Barney Oursler of Pittsburgh United, underlining why so many diverse groups have come together to support paid sick days.

Councilwomen Deborah Gross and Natalia Rudiak, who co-sponsored the bill and garnered support from all four women on the City Council, highlighted the disproportionate impact lack of paid sick days has on women in the workforce, many of whom are often the primary caregivers for their families and struggle to care for sick family members.

Several workers shared personal stories at the event, detailing the difficulties they face on their jobs when they get sick. I was struck by how similar their stories were to stories I often hear from Working America members when I canvass neighborhoods around Pittsburgh.

One worker—a waitress named Taylor—shared testimony that echoed Rachel’s story, another server I met recently. Like 77 percent of all service workers, she currently has no paid sick time. Too often, she has had to choose between serving food to the public while sick or staying home and losing wages that she needs to pay her rent. Lack of paid sick leave is particularly challenging for service workers, many of whom currently are only compensated at the hourly tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour.

Lack of access doesn’t just affect workers; it’s a public health concern with implications for the entire community. One parent in Greenfield told me how her child became ill because another child’s parent did not have paid sick days and was forced to send their child to school with the flu. The new proposed law would stipulate that paid sick days can be used to care for an ill family member, as well.

The proposed bill would also protect workers who already have paid sick leave from retaliation. Theresa, a career nurse, spoke during the event about a time she got sick and needed to take paid time off to protect ill patients with compromised immune systems in her unit. Even though she had accumulated the time, her employer tried to discipline her for missing too many consecutive days of work. Though Theresa fought back and was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, the message she received from her employer was clear: Don’t get sick when you’re scheduled to work. Her story is not unique. One of our members in the Brookline area once told me how her company had written her up for not giving at least 24 hours’ notice before using a paid sick day. That’s why the current bill before the Council would set the right tone and allow workers to use their earned sick time without fear of reprisal.

Today’s rally reminded me that, in the end, it’s the stories of people like Theresa and Taylor and Rachel—who face these difficult choices far too often—that drive home why we need to pass paid sick days in Pittsburgh. Everybody gets sick, and it’s not easy to simply lose a day or two of pay and still come out ahead at the end of the month. This bill is an important step in the right direction for Pittsburgh, and our members will continue to mobilize to make sure the City Council does the right thing by Pittsburgh’s working people.

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Working While Sick in Pittsburgh?

Members of more than 15 local organizations came together on the steps of City Hall today and called on the Pittsburgh City Council to pass a law granting all Pittsburgh workers the chance to earn paid sick days.

While labor groups that fight year-round for workers’ rights were well represented at today’s event, it wasn’t just the usual suspects calling on the City Council to take action. Groups as diverse as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and the Women and Girls Foundation showed up to remind everyone this isn’t just a worker’s issue, it’s a public health issue.

Nearly 50,000 of our neighbors, friends and family members currently lack any paid sick time in Pittsburgh. That’s around 40 percent of our total workforce—50,000 people forced to make a choice between going to work sick or staying home and losing badly needed pay.

That’s a situation that definitely needs to change, according to Rachel, one of the attendees I met today. Rachel has worked in the service industry 22 years, the last 13 in Pittsburgh and the last eight at the same establishment. She is a member of the Restaurant Opportunity Coalition, an organization that is also supporting the paid sick days legislation.

No one wants to think about sick people handling their food. Food service workers don’t want to show up at work sick, either. In fact, it’s actually the rule at her restaurant that employees aren’t allowed to come to work sick. It says so right in the manual. But Rachel had this to say about her workplace: “Probably not a day goes by without at least one person showing up to work sick.”

So if no one wants it to happen and it’s even against the rules, why is it the case that people are showing up to work sick anyway?

Sadly, the answer is really simple. If you don’t have paid sick days, you can’t afford to take a day off work. So even though Rachel says her own boss is generally OK with people taking time off when they are sick, it doesn’t matter all that much when you have bills to pay at the end of the month.

Rachel related a time when she had an injured foot that required stitches. She was thankful her boss was OK with her taking some time off, but she went back to work a week earlier than she should have because she couldn’t afford not to.

No one should have to hobble around at a job that requires people to be on their feet for the entire shift because she has no other choice. No one should be required to stay home due to illness but left with no way to make up the lost pay. “It’s makes us feel like second class citizens who don’t matter. It’s like we’re expendable,” Rachel told me. Management has access to paid sick days. So do 60% of workers in Pittsburgh. So why shouldn’t everyone?

But even those who aren’t compelled by the moral argument to do the right thing to help someone else should take note of the fact that they’d really be helping themselves.

“I’d think everyone would like the peace of mind to go out to eat without being afraid of catching something,” Rachel says. She related instances where after one person came to work with the norovirus, a common stomach flu, almost every employee had gotten sick within a week. What are the odds that some customers got sick as well? At one past job, she even saw a sick line cook having to take regular breaks to run to the restroom due to illness, and being asked by the manager to stay and keep cooking despite the fact she was throwing up.

Check, please?

“Everyone deserves paid sick time,” Rachel says. “It’s even more critical for those working with food.”

Sadly, those working in the food service industry are among the least likely to have it. The same can be said for custodial workers, grocery workers and even home health care workers. These are the industries in which you least want someone showing up at work with a contagious illness. But the pressures of low wages and lack of paid sick time mean that these are the same industries in which you’re more likely to find it taking place.

And as Rachel told me, it’s time for all of that to change.

All Pittsburgh workers deserve the chance to earn paid sick time. We all stand to be happier and healthier as a result.

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When Workers Come Together, We Win: Working Families Victory Roundup

Letter Carrier Michael Shea from Georgia. Photos via Letter Carriers, NALC.

Working people scored major victories over the past several months, organizing new workplaces and winning fights to raise wages.

Here are some highlights of recent working families victories:

ORGANIZING VICTORIES

Texas Machinists Win Back-to-Back Organizing Drives: Union growth continues in Texas as members from the Machinists (IAM) successfully organized their second consecutive workplace in Texas this month, adding nearly 1,000 new members.

Point Park University Faculty Organize Hundreds to Gain Benefits: More than 300 part-time faculty members at Point Park University in Pittsburgh are on the road to a union voice after voting to certify with Adjunct Faculty Association-United Steelworkers (AFA-USW).

Missouri EMS Workers Win Organizing Fight: An overwhelming majority of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) professionals in Independence, Missouri, voted to join EMS Workers United-AFSCME, strengthening the local union and providing essential protections for Missouri workers.

RAISING WAGES VICTORIES

Massachusetts Workers Help Push Minimum Wage Hike: Working people in Massachusetts scored a big win as Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation that will increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017.

Newark, N.J., Paid Sick-Leave Ordinance Goes Into Effect: A new paid sick-leave law in Newark, N.J., will allow full and part-time employees to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick-leave per year. Similar paid sick-leave laws have passed in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.

Momentum Builds for Minimum Wage Hike in Nebraska: Workers in Nebraska put a measure on the 2014 ballot to raise the minimum wage to $9 and hour by 2016.

California Workers Benefit from Minimum Wage Increase: An increase in California’s minimum wage to $9 an hour has taken effect, with the wage set to increase again in 2016 to $10 an hour. Meanwhile, efforts continue in Los Angeles to increase the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour.

COMMUNITY VICTORIES

Philadelphia Building Trades Go to Work with New Housing Deal: A deal between Philadelphia building-trades unions and the Philadelphia Housing Authority will put people to work in union jobs while creating new affordable housing for Pennsylvanians.

Letter Carriers Complete Successful Food Drive: Members of the Letter Carriers (NALC) completed their annual food drive, collecting more than 72 million pounds of food for families in need.

Union Volunteers Help Aspiring Americans Earn Citizenship: On June 28, at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., volunteers helped nearly 100 people through the U.S. citizenship process, enabling them to file paperwork with the help of legal and immigration experts.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Fighting For Pittsburgh: We Need A Fair Budget And Medicaid Expansion

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On Saturday, June 28th, Working America Pittsburgh’s Community Action Team (CAT) held their campaign’s culminating event.  The CAT wants to move Gov. Corbett and the PA State Legislature to pass an economically just state budget that would strengthen funding for public education, higher education, and social services by expanding Medicaid and requiring corporations to finally pay their fair share of taxes.  As a part of the team’s strategy to raise community awareness, build public support, and speak up to decision-makers, the team organized a press conference followed by a site canvass.

During the press conference, community members spoke up about the importance of an economically just budget to Pennsylvania and to everyday community members.  Emcee Sarelm Brooks – who is a student at the Community College of Allegheny County, Eagle Scout, and a Working America member – expressed:

“I don’t know you, but I know your story. I know exactly who you are. You’re the teacher spending your next forty years teaching children, 12- and 13-year-olds basic algebra, geography, English, Spanish, only to be robbed of a chunk of your pension when you’re 70 years old. You’re the student on your own for the first time in college, but you can’t afford it, so you’re going for student loans, but you can’t afford your groceries, so you’re using your student loans to pay for those, and it goes on and on and on in circles. You’re the mother of four who can’t pay your electric bill, who can barely afford your rent. So you spend your time praying that you find a way to scrounge for the money that you need, to get by another day, another month. What do you have in common with her, with him, with each other? You all have those stories. None of those stories are fair.

We avoid those stories by having an economically just state budget. We avoid those stories with a budget that strengthens public education, so students do not have to rely on crushing student loans. We avoid those stories by expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania, by demanding that corporations pay their fair share of taxes. That is what we are here for: to make certain that Gov. Corbett knows that he can’t ignore Pennsylvanians, that he and every politician in Pennsylvania is there to represent everyday Pennsylvanians, not corporate lobbyists. We are here to demand a fair state budget.”

 

Rallying B

 

Jasmine Collington, a member of the United States Army National Guard, student, and  Working America Member, stood up against a gross economic injustice – the lack of Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania – which is harming her and half a million other Pennsylvanians by leaving them without access to healthcare.  As Jasmine explained:

Growing up my mother always made sure I had proper health coverage. When I turned twenty-one my healthcare was discontinued.  I am now still uninsured because Gov. Tom Corbett has not expanded Medicaid.   I cannot get proper medical attention when I need it.  I suffer from ovarian cysts, which are very painful.  When I had an ovarian cyst rupture recently, causing alarming pain in my abdomen, I was charged $1200 for a 20-minute hospital visit for it.  That visit didn’t even include treatment, because there was nothing that could be done.

Because Gov. Corbett has not expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians are suffering.  The majority of them are working, like I am, but they’re uninsured and unable to see a doctor without getting a hefty bill.  That is not what the American Dream is about.”

For many residents, Gov. Corbett’s refusal to expand Medicaid restricts access to the American Dream by blocking Pennsylvania from receiving the savings and revenue that expansion would generate.  That funding could help vulnerable Pennsylvanians by strengthening the struggling public schools and social services.

Speaker Reverend John Welch, who serves as the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Vice President for Student Services and Dean of Students, also delivered powerful remarks at the event, highlighting the moral necessity of an economically just state budget.

After the press conference, team members gave local community members the opportunity to speak up through vivid petitions about their desire for an economically just state budget.  Those petitions were addressed to a key budget decision-maker, Gov. Corbett, and they were delivered to Gov. Corbett’s Pittsburgh office on Monday.

The deadline for our elected officials to pass a state budget was yesterday, but our elected officials still haven’t finalized a budget.  In effect, the fight for an economically just state budget is not yet over.  We can still make a difference if we act now.  Check out this short but urgent budget update from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and take the enclosed opportunity speak up now for an economically just state budget.

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Call Me Radical, But I Think A Good Budget Requires More Than “Spirit”

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The following is a guest post from Pittsburgh Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

I participated in a press conference on Tuesday with the local chapter of Working America,  a national economic justice organization, to call for a Pennsylvania state budget that favors education and social services over corporate tax cuts.

A few hours later, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett presented his vision for the state budget, which was not expected to be anything to cheer about. Now, I am a newcomer to Pennsylvania, and I am not going to write in-depth about Pennsylvania-specific politicians and issues. What I am more interested in here is the disconnect between legislation that is both feasible and favored by a majority of citizens, and the legislation that is proposed by Corbett.

Why politicians who face abysmal approval ratings (23 percent for Corbett last week) still try to get reelected is beyond me, but Corbett’s budget proposal is clearly aimed at garnering support this year. And even though most self-identified progressives would rather drink West Virginia’s water than see Corbett reelected, his attempts to pass legislation that appeals to the majority could still be a good thing. Unfortunately, his actual budget proposal makes that very unlikely.

In his speech, Corbett said that his budget sets the agenda in the “spirit” of expanding public education, which…niceBut the state budget doesn’t have a column for spirit, and very few of us have managed to exchange spirit for goods and services.  So where is the money for education coming from?

Mainly from a highly unlikely projected increase in state revenues.  Despite having predicted a budget deficit by the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year just a couple months ago, and despite revenue having come in short even of that projection in January, Corbett’s spending plan is dependent on a 4 percent increase in revenue this year.

In contrast, the budget that Working America and community members across the state support would see education and social services funded mainly by closing corporate tax loopholes, like the well-known Delaware tax loophole that deprives many states (except Delaware) of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

We presented this proposal before the release of Corbett’s plan because we wanted to make it clear that there is a viable alternative to empty, feel-good promises and more of the same political floundering that leaves the majority of us, in Pennsylvania and around the country, in a perpetual state of disadvantage. Crafting a state budget is undoubtedly a complex matter, but in the face of complexity, let’s turn to logical and equitable solutions, not “spirit.”

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

Photo by onepittsburgh on Instagram

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She Worked in Health Care for Almost 50 Years, And She Has a Message for Gov. Corbett

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Georgeanne Koehler is one of our longtime members in Pittsburgh. We wanted to share her letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Healing hope for Medicaid” in its entirety because she expresses so well in a few paragraphs what a hundred health care coverage statistics cannot.

Please read the letter below and remember that our politicians’ actions–or lack of action–have consequences that affect real people, not just headlines.

Healing hope for Medicaid

This letter is in memory of my brother, who had a pre-existing condition and died after he was unable to receive care because of lack of health insurance.

I worked in health care for close to 50 years before I retired. I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics.

The hope of recovering from one’s illness was easily found because, up until 12 years ago, medicine was about ethics and the healing of body, as well as mind. When St. Francis, Mercy, Braddock and many small community hospitals closed their doors or were bought out by huge health care systems, I saw with my own eyes and I knew, through my broken heart, that medicine had changed. Ethics were simply thrown away and healing was replaced with profit. When that happens, the hope of recovering from one’s illness depends on whether the person has a health insurance card in his or her pocket.

If I were a betting woman I would take the bet that the banker has one of those cards but not so much the baker, the candlestick maker or the pizza delivery driver (the working poor) — folks too rich to be enrolled in Medicaid, as we know it today, and too poor to qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. This means hundreds of thousands of working poor Pennsylvanians and their children will remain uninsured, and that is not acceptable.

The time is now for Gov. Tom Corbett to open his eyes so he can see that Medicaid expansion is the morally right thing to do for the citizens of Pennsylvania, for within Medicaid expansion is hope.

GEORGEANNE KOEHLER

Bloomfield

Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.

Photo by ryleaxx on Instagram

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Gov. Corbett, Give Pennsylvanians a Reason to Be Thankful

Thanksgiving is coming up!  As I reflect on what I’m thankful for, one of the many things is the healthcare that my family and I had while I was growing up. My dad, a waiter, is in a union, and unionized workers at his restaurant collectively bargained for the healthcare that kept my family secure.

But not all workers and their families can give thanks for their healthcare this Thanksgiving, because some workers don’t have healthcare.

As of January 1st, 613,000 uninsured low-income Pennsylvanians—the majority of whom are working—could gain access to healthcare if Gov. Tom Corbett embraces the opportunity to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania.

Thus far, Gov. Corbett has been playing politics instead of taking effective action.  Instead of simply welcoming federal Medicaid expansion funds, Gov. Corbett is pushing a cumbersome and cost-inefficient plan that may take an alarmingly long time to implement.

It’s easy to be distraught, frustrated, or flat-out furious about Gov. Corbett’s current approach.  But the process of getting involved and holding Gov. Corbett accountable can be genuinely uplifting, as Working America member Georgeanne Koehler’s experience shows.

Georgeanne personally knows the weight of Gov. Corbett’s decisions about Medicaid expansion, as her brother passed away at the age of 57 because he couldn’t access the healthcare he needed.  Georgeanne has since fought to ensure that no one has to go through what her brother or her family went through.

On Halloween, Georgeanne participated in Working America and One Pittsburgh’s Medicaid expansion event in front of Gov. Corbett’s office.   She highlighted what’s truly scary: being uninsured.  After the event, Georgeanne wrote about her experience at the event:

On October 31st, 2013, I got up and headed to downtown Pittsburgh to attend a Working America rally to Expand Medicaid. Although I was early, soon I was joined by Working America members, One Pittsburgh members and a few PHAN members.

There were handshakes and hugs, “How are you?” and “What’s been going on with you?”, and smiles all around. I knew most of the folks that came to the rally. These are folks that struggle every day to get through their day, and when the sun sets on that day, they are able to pat themselves on the back because they found a way to made it through another day. Some grieve, just like me, for a family member who was lost because of our broken healthcare system. They know that nothing they do will bring their loved one back, but everything they do will be done to keep another American from knowing that grief.

The folks at the rally have one goal: to make America the best she can be. They know that to meet that goal they have to stand up for fairness and justice, and they do it so well. When the rally ended and the last “See you soon” was said, I found myself filled with overwhelming pride. On Oct. 31, 2013, for a few hours, which seemed like a minute, I stood with true-blue red, white and blue heroes. Oct. 31, 2013 I was the luckiest girl in the world!

You’re invited to join us as we continue to stand up together for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and their loved ones.  Contact me, Catherine Balsamo, at [email protected] or 412-456-2985 to get involved.

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It’s Our Job To Tell Her She Can Still Take Gymnastics

A beat-up van pulls to a stop just up the road. A creaky screen door opens from the apartment at the end of the building. A young African-American girl runs out toward the van, barely hanging onto a large gym bag that was obviously not meant for such a pint-sized carrier. The driver of the van, a middle-aged white man with glasses and a beard, throws the passenger door to the van open and the little girl tosses the bag onto the floor before climbing in. The apartment door, which had banged shut in the meantime, creaks open again as the girl’s mother waves goodbye.

“Be good. Have fun,” she tells her daughter.

“I’ll have her back by eight,” the driver replies as the little girl shuts the van door and waves goodbye to her mom.

As the van pulls away and disappears around a turn up the street, the girl’s mother allows herself to slump against the door frame for just a moment. She lets go of a long sigh that betrays just how tired she is. She almost doesn’t notice me as I approach her door to introduce myself.

I ask her how she’s doing. I tell her I’m out in the community tonight with Working America to gather support for public education in Pennsylvania.

Even if you don’t live here, you probably know the story. Governor Tom Corbett and his allies in the legislature have cut nearly a billion dollars from public education, hiked tuition at state universities up to 40 percent, and pushed a voucher plan that will further gut public schools. I don’t have to tell this young mother.

“I know,” she says. She glances in the direction of the van’s departure. “My daughter does gymnastics after school. Loves it. They told us they’ll probably have to cut back next year.” She pauses a moment, perhaps considering just what that means. “I can’t afford to send her to a private dance studio. What’s she going to think when I tell her she just has to quit? What are any of our kids going to do after school when they cut all these programs?”

I can tell there’s another question she’s probably too proud to ask, which is, “What am I going to do when there’s no more gymnastics class?” She works all day. She obviously came home and made sure her daughter had dinner and did her homework and had everything ready for the gym. The long sigh as the van pulled away and the moment she allowed herself to rest against the door frame were the first moments she’d had to herself all day. I feel bad for interrupting it.

But she is more than eager to help. She signs up to become a member of our fight for Pennsylvania’s public schools. She writes out a letter by hand telling her state senator what she had just finished telling me. She asks him what she’s supposed to tell her daughter when she can’t send her to gymnastics anymore.

And then she thanks me. Wishes me luck. I can only thank her and tell her we’ll be doing all we can to make sure that’s a question she never has to answer.

As I walk away, I wonder if “all we can” will be enough and if it will be in time for this proud, tired woman and her energetic, hopeful little girl.

This is just one story that I have to share from my first week in training to be a field organizer for Working America. The office is an hour’s drive from where I’m currently living and I’ll probably have to move for the second time in a year to keep at it. But the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard in just my first week of training have convinced me that it’s the absolute right decision. I’ve spent too much time reading from books and pondering the possibilities. It’s time to get on the ground and join in the fight. And it’s a fight we absolutely have to win.

One street over from the mother and her little girl, I pass by building after building of empty apartments. Many have huge padlocks on doors decorated with the faded, tattered remains once brightly-colored utility shut off warnings and notices. Some of the windows are boarded up, but through the broken ones you can see the evidence of a place long abandoned. Paint peeling off the walls. Piles of trash on the floor. A broken stair. But this place was abandoned long before the apartments were empty.

I am surprised as the first door in a long time actually opens. A middle-aged white woman tells me her story.

She’s about to lose her job. Not because she’s lazy or incompetent or because she’s unwilling to work. She’s about to lose her job because she can no longer get to work.

It’s not just education that’s being cut here. They already cut back on mass transit. This small, previously middle-class community no longer has bus service.

“I don’t have a car,” she says. “Always took the bus to work.” She’s done things “the right way.” She never asked for a government handout. She worked at a low-wage job to support herself. It was enough for a small apartment and to pay the bills, but it wasn’t enough to buy a car – let alone afford the state mandated insurance payments on one on top of it. She’s been getting rides from friends or family when she can now, but she’s already missed work several times. Now her boss is saying she’s “unreliable.” She confesses she probably doesn’t have much time before she joins the ranks of the unemployed.

She, too, is very helpful. She signs onto our fight for education and good jobs and quality healthcare, even though she says she doesn’t believe it will change anything. She, too, writes a letter to her state senator. She, too, thanks me before I can thank her.

I’m touched as I walk away. I know this is a battle we have to fight even if we lose. I shudder at the thought of walking down this same street a month or a year from now and seeing a padlock on this woman’s door.

A few nights later, in a neighborhood consisting of streets lined with small suburban houses with well-kept front yards and even tiny little back yards where neighbors still gather together on front porches or out on their lawns, one could see the planted battle flags of the plutocracy in the “for sale” and “foreclosure” signs stamped into the yards of houses that are now empty. Fewer padlocks here, of course, and more spread out. Perhaps I should have done an accurate statistical tally. One in fifteen houses, maybe? Perhaps on the way to one in ten? After all, I talked with several people who had been laid off and were nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. No new jobs to be found, at least not jobs that could keep up with a house payment. And no, we’re not talking about people who went out and bought McMansions with loans they could never have paid back. We’re talking about very modest middle-class homes affordable on modest middle-class incomes. We’re talking the stuff of the old American Dream.

These people in the middle are waking up. Sure, there are some in those neighborhoods that have bought into Fox News and seem intent on punishing themselves and their neighbors with brutal budget cuts, all while worshiping the idle rich who dance across their television screens.

But most people in these middle-class neighborhoods realize they are getting screwed by the big corporations and the political power they wield. They know for a fact that they’re not lazy, that they’ve worked hard, that they’ve done all the things that they’re “supposed” to do. And yet many are just barely hanging on for dear life. Many are in danger of sliding down into those boarded up, vacant apartments just a mile or two away. And they voiced their support for those of us going door to door fighting for a quality public education for every Pennsylvanian. Their own kids and grandkids will be the ones who suffer if we lose it.

Just a little further west live the people who have fled these suburban, middle-class ghettos. In isolated communities with names like “Whispering Woods” you find winding streets lined with huge cookie-cutter mansions. It’s just a few miles from that neighborhood of abandoned apartments where you could film a post-apocalyptic movie without having to do much to dress the set. But it’s an entirely different world.

People with BMW’s parked in their driveways and huge plasma TV’s complain that government spends too much money. We all have to tighten our belts, they say. My kids go to private school. Why should I have to pay for public education? The unions have too much power. Teachers are overpaid. One person even went so far as to say, “Close the public schools. They’re worthless. The sooner we shut ‘em all down the better.”

If I could take one of them by the hand and walk up and down Juniper Street and Delaware Avenue where I began this diary, would they see? Would they really still demand more tax cuts if they were the ones who had to tell a little girl she had to give up gymnastics? Would they still demand drastic budget cuts if they had to tell that quickly aging single woman to walk five or ten miles to work alone?

There’s only one road leading out to the world of abandoned, padlocked apartments. There are only two leading into Whispering Woods. And now there are no bus stops in either. When will these people ever see each other face to face?

It’s our job to make the introductions. It’s our job to stand up and fight. It’s our job to head to the front lines and build support. It’s our job to bring communities back together again. It’s our job to take up a pen as a sword and a clipboard or iPad as a shield and to hold the line.

It’s our job to tell a little girl she can still take gymnastics.

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Endorsement: Mark Critz for U.S. Congress (PA-12)

Before he represented Pennsylvania’s 12th District, Mark Critz managed economic development issues for longtime Congressman Jack Murtha. It shows: when it comes down to who will roll up his sleeves and do the unglamorous grunt work that puts Pennsylvanians in jobs, Mark Critz is the clear choice.

Since his election, Pennsylvania has added 195,000 jobs, despite the reckless public sector cuts made by right-wing legislators in Harrisburg. That’s because Rep. Critz has the experience attracting investments and businesses to Western Pennsylvania – and the knowledge of what hurts development. He voted to cut the payroll tax, saving more than 5.7 million Pennsylvanians an average of $1,000 in 2011. Representing an area that has been battered by outsourcing, Rep. Critz co-sponsored the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and create incentives for returning production to the United States.

The 12th District also has a large population of retirees and seniors, and Rep. Critz has stood by them at every turn. He voted against the “Paul Ryan budget,” and voted against the repeal of Obamacare, saying:

“It would be wrong and irresponsible for Congress to go backwards and allow insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, to kick young adults off their parents’ health insurance plans or to re-open the ‘doughnut hole’ which will force seniors to pay more for medicine.”

Certainly, it’s a commonsense statement. Yet Critz’s opponent, corporate attorney and former Bush Administration official Keith Rothfus, wants to repeal Obamacare.

Our questions for Mr. Rothfus are many. Why does he want to re-open the ‘doughnut hole’ for 12th District seniors? Why does he want to return us to a time where insurance companies can deny coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions? And why does he support the Romney-Ryan plan to voucherize Medicare, which AARP says would double out-of-pocket costs for seniors?

Mr. Rothfus’ out-of-touch views don’t end with healthcare. He is committed to protecting tax subsidies for oil companies. He supports a plan that would give millionaires a $250,000 tax cut while raising taxes on 2 million Pennsylvania families by an average of $900. He has even taken the Grover Norquist “don’t think” pledge that will prevent him from closing tax loopholes that incentivize companies to outsource American jobs.

It would seem that Mr. Rothfus absorbed the wrongheaded economic views of the Bush Administration during his time in Washington that put us in the economic mess we are in now. Meanwhile, Rep. Critz is a tireless advocate for economic development in the region.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in their endorsement: “Mr. Rothfus has built a campaign on hopes and promises in which the details don’t add up. Mark Critz is a real-world congressman who wants to help his district and solve the nation’s problems.”

We urge a vote for Mark Critz for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania’s 12th District. Plan your vote now.

Photo by USDAgov on Flickr

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Why You Should Thank A Worker

Despite all the political discord in this country, we can’t avoid a simple fact: everybody is either working or wants to be working. Whether you’re a “nine-to-fiver,” a home office-goer, or on the night shift, all of us spend the majority of our week hunkering down at a job or a job hunt.

That’s why Working America canvassers urged passers-by in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday to do a simple act: say “thank you” to a worker you encounter during the course of your day.

“We really believe that folks deserve to be thanked for the work they’re doing,” said Catherine Balsamo, our Member Coordinator in Pittsburgh, “This campaign obviously speaks to younger people, but it’s really for everybody, whether your name is on your front pocket or the front office.”

Jennifer Pfifer, who covered the event for 90.5 Essential Public Radio in Pittsburgh, wrote that the response was positive. While we all have different jobs, we all go through a similar slog.

One West End resident, Idris Delaney, wrote a note for the employees at a Downtown fast-food restaurant, where he usually stops on his way to work. “I wrote ‘I just want to thank you for serving your customers,’” he said. “Sometimes it gets hard working a job like that. … I think it’s a blessing to be able to say thanks to them once in a while.”

Another passerby, Brian McCarty, a construction worker from Youngstown, OH, said, “This is a great idea, because a lot of people don’t get thanked daily for what they do. It helps out and makes you want to keep working.”

So why is this important? Here’s one way to think about it. Part of the problem with the American economy right now is how disconnected our thinking is when it comes to work. Our small business owners struggle for paying customers, but then don’t speak out when right-wing legislators strip fair share rights, which leads to lower wages. Executives bemoan the lack of qualified candidates for technical position, but fall silent when funding for job training is cut and school budgets are slashed.

A car dealer in Miami wonders why business is slow – but the waitress who was going to get a new Ford is too nervous to make that investment while the debate in Tallahassee revolves around cutting her wages. Same goes for the nurse in Orlando, who wanted a new Chevy but is now required by the legislature to contribute more of her paycheck to her pension and healthcare.

Like Catherine said, this matters whether your name is on your front pocket or your front office. We don’t need to be economists to know that businesses need customers, managers need employees, and workers need wages, training, and a pathway to succeed if anything is going to function.

That business owner who wants paying customers? She’s not a “special interest.” The construction worker who wants an hourly wage high enough to afford health care for his kid? He’s not a “special interest” either. These are people exercising their common sense.

That’s why the folks in downtown Pittsburgh were so willing to write a thank you note to the workers they encounter every day. They know that work, whether you are seeking it or surviving it, connects all of us. The more that our elected leaders understand that concept, the better off we’ll all be.

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