PITTSBURGH: Workers demand boost in minimum wage

“This is a day to celebrate the American dream,” roared an angry Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. “But right now, the minimum wage won’t buy you two gallons of gas.”

The USW leader spoke to a rally following this city’s Labor Day parade, in which an estimated 65,000 workers, family members and friends marched through the streets with signs calling for the defense of Social Security, national health care and a boost in Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.

Joining labor leaders on the speakers’ platform was Gov. Ed Rendell, who pledged support for a bill that would increase the current $5.15 an hour minimum wage to $6.15, with a cost-of-living escalator. Rendell said increasing wages for the lowest-paid workers would pump new life into the state’s sagging economy.

All unions — including those who never joined the AFL-CIO, like the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and those who recently left it — lined up and hit the downtown streets.

Teachers, carpenters, Teamsters, hospital workers, janitors, food workers, electricians and asbestos workers filled the streets. As workers entered Steelworker Plaza, union members collected donations for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

DETROIT: Motor City supports Northwest mechanics

United Auto Workers Local 2334 President David Sole stepped onto a makeshift stand, pulled his bullhorn to his mouth and called on the 47,000 workers marching down Woodward Avenue on Labor Day to not fly Northwest Airlines.

More than 100 Northwest mechanics, members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, participated in the annual parade for the first time. At day’s end, over $2,000 had been collected for the mechanics’ strike fund.

Northwest mechanics struck on Aug. 20 to oppose the company’s bid to slash jobs and cut their pay. The airline carries 60 percent of passengers out of the Detroit airport.

As in Pittsburgh, all unions, including those who have left the AFL-CIO, marched together. Steelworker Tonya Embrey added her demand for labor unity. “Unions can be strong once again, if we stick together,” she said.

SAN FRANCISCO: Police arrest hotel workers

Mass picketing is back. Civil disobedience is back. On Labor Day, Sept. 5, hundreds of hotel workers, members of Unite Here Local 2, marched on the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Union Square demanding a contract that saves their health care benefits and raises their wages. Led by Mike Casey, Local 2 president, 61 workers sat down in the lobby. The hotel called the police who cuffed and arrested all 61, including Casey.

For over a year, the union has been at the table with the San Francisco Multi-Employer Group trying to hammer out a new contract. On Labor Day, action replaced talking.

The union is also holding the line for a common expiration date with unionized hotels in Chicago, New York, Toronto, Monterey and other cities.

CLAIRTON, Penn.: Steelworkers fight forced overtime

Overtime is a tough issue for steelworkers in an industry where corporations spend time, energy and money closing down and moving out.

USW Local 1557, representing 1,120 steelworkers at the largest coke producing facility in the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. Steel Clairton Works, responded to rank-and-file demands and initiated a campaign Sept. 2 to force the state Legislature to outlaw mandatory overtime.

Coke, a carbon-rich distillate of coal, is a critical ingredient in steelmaking.

Local 1557 President Andy Miklos said US Steel disciplined workers for taking time off to take their children to the doctor, even after those workers had worked three 16-hour shifts in one week.

Carolyn Gallick, 47, thought she was going home to her family after her 4 p.m. to midnight shift. But her boss forced her to work another eight hours. “I could come in here tonight and they (US Steel) could make me do it again. They’ve done it before,” she said.

“Would they want their wives doing it or their kids doing it? Hell no!”

SACRAMENTO, Calif.: Legislature passes Wal-Mart Accountability Act

State lawmakers passed a bill that will force Wal-Mart and similar employers to report the number of its workers who have to rely on state-paid health care rather than company-funded health programs.

“When you have Wal-Mart, the most profitable corporation in the world, relying on $32 million in Medi-Cal subsidies for their workers, that’s something people should know about,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California AFL-CIO. California does not stand alone. Eighteen other states have already enacted similar legislation.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696@aol.com).