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A New Solidarity Needed Most Right Now

UFCW Local 1776 President Wendell Young III talked about the effect of various liquor privatization proposals at a roundtable discussion in Northeast Pennsylvania this week. At left is Michele Kesler, UFCW Local 1776 secretary treasurer. Click here to see more photos of the Pittson event.

Facing numerous
threats from an administration indifferent to the struggle of working families, labor leaders in northeastern Pennsylvania agree that union members have too often focused on their own particular problems instead of recognizing their common struggle.

At my fourth roundtable discussion marking the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, labor leaders have discussed how worker rights established after the Great Depression are being eroded in the wake of the Great Recession. 

Part of the problem has been a  right-wing strategy to divide workers and pit their interests against each other.

Property-tax paying construction workers have often been unsympathetic to the massive job losses among teachers who, in turn, see little importance in who builds the schools they work in.

“It is the support of all of us together that will make this state and country better,” said Jeff Ney, PSEA Northeast Region Vice President “We can’t keep fighting all of our own little fights. We have to fight all of our fights together.”

The state General Assembly today is considering numerous bills that affect the quality of life of thousands of workers and their families across the state.

And the interests of those workers intersect in our schools, on our roads, in government offices and in our retail shops.

As I’ve traveled across the state talking about the progress of the middle class over the first half of the 20th century, and the erosion of that progress over the past three decades, a few common themes have emerged.

The first is that working families have not done well enough at recognizing and supporting the interests of other working families.

Selling off the state liquor stores might make it easier for one blue-collar worker to get a late-night bottle, but the 5,000 jobs at risk are supporting families like his.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision helped create a unified corporate voice against the rights and welfare of workers from teachers to nurses to electricians.

Without an equally unified and organized response, corporate money will continue to pit the interests of working families against each other. 

“We can’t be self-serving,” said Roxanne Pauline, of the Northeast Area Labor Federation. “This has to be one movement.”

As the state General Assembly considers legislation dealing with pensions, liquor stores, prevailing wage and unemployment compensation, the middle class has to stand together to retain the standard of living that their fathers and grandfathers fought so hard to achieve.


Liquor Bill Likely to See a Vote This Week

It appears likely that the state Senate will consider some version of liquor privatization
legislation in the coming week. 

The various ideas being considered will affect not only the thousands of families potentially affected by this corporate gift-giving, but every taxpayer in Pennsylvania stands to lose from the giveaway.

The combination of over-inflated estimates of revenues with low-balled costs of administering the giveaway, could result in an immediate loss in excess of $100 million up front and $100 million a year forever.

Senate Republicans are trying to drum up support for a watered down version of House Bill 790, but the idea of losing thousands of jobs as Pennsylvania continues to lag behind the rest of the nation in job creation is giving some in the GOP a little heartburn. The Senate version of the bill will likely be amended into Senate Bill 100.

A compromise bill could “be the difference between everybody losing their job in 18 months or everybody losing their job in three years,” said Wendell Young III, president of the UFCW.

Senate Democrats have offered a better plan (Senate Bill 800), that would increase the revenue produced by the liquor system, preserve the jobs, protect small businesses from big-box stores and continue the high standards for liquor law enforcement.

My colleague, Sen. Jim Ferlo, has a succinct comparison of this plan vs. the House Republican bill.  Click here to see it.

PA Apprentice Awareness Day

Apprentices and their supporters from across Pennsylvania came to the Capitol to celebrate the most taxpayer friendly education system in the state. Click here to see more photos.


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