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Raise the Wage because Black Lives Matter

raise the wage sign being held

In honor of the legacy of Dr. King, One Pittsburgh spent an afternoon together and went to see Selma. We were inspired and also a little  saddened. There is so much to learn from and celebrate in the legacy of MLK and other SCLC and SNCC organizers. The movie brought to life the real voices of an era that changed the course of this nation. Sadly, we also know too well that deep economic and racial injustice prevent our communities from really thriving today.

We’ve been thinking about the deaths of Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and countless others, and we see that the people who suffer in the low wage economy, who attend under-resourced public schools, and who are bullied by employers are far too often the same people who suffer violence from the police, in the courts, and in our polling places. We understand that economic and state violence have a deep relationship.

That’s why in 2015, the demands of 1965 echo in our hearts. We are still fighting for an end to police brutality, racial profiling and poverty. We are still advocating for a living wage for all working people, fair and resourced education and the right to vote unencumbered. We are in this together and when we stick together we can make real change.

In 2015, we intend to make progress on living wages.

We believe that a living wage is required for our communities to thrive. We also understand the historically racist policies that create systems of poverty and create a captive and disposable workforce. Corporations have recorded exponential profits for decades while we fall further and further behind. Wages are stagnant and people of color are losing ground faster than their white counterparts. A living wage is, and always will be, a civil and human rights issue.

#notlovinracism

Fast food workers showing support for workers who were fired for being black in South Boston, VA.

In 2015, we intend to call a halt to racial discrimination

One Pittsburgh activists stand in Solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter movement sparked in in part by the protests in Ferguson, and we also stand with the fast food workers, the UPMC workers and Walmart workers in the Fight for $15. We stand by the work of We Change Pittsburgh pushing back against police violence in Pittsburgh. We stand with these movements fighting for change because they are inter-connected.

Dr. King once asked, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

That’s the question we need to be asking today as we fight to end racial and economic inequality. That’s the work of One Pittsburgh in 2015.

If you haven’t already–please sign the petition to Raise the PA Minimum Wage to $15 and we will continue to stay in touch on what’s next for One Pittsburgh.

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Who’s really paying taxes in Pennsylvania?

Does it feel like the tax structure is rigged and the odds are against you? The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report this week proving you right.  Unless, of course, you’re super rich.

This is a chart of the national average of percentage of income paid in state and local taxes.

This is a chart of the national average of percentage of income paid in state and local taxes.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP)releases studies on our country’s taxation and economic policies. Their most recent findings has shed a light on what One Pittsburgh has been saying all along, that it’s time for the rich to start paying their fair share.

This interactive map details the tax structure in all 50 states. In Pennsylvania the bottom 20% of income earners (people making $20,000 or less a year) pay a total of 12% of their income to state and local taxes, while the top 1% of income earners in Pennsylvania (people making more than $426,000 annually) pay only 4.2% of their total income to state and local taxes.

The people who can most afford to contribute pay way less, as a percentage of their income, than the lowest 20%. Let that sink in for a minute.

The system is broken and the cracks are starting to show. Pennsylvania’s state budget is on track to have a $2 Billion deficit in 2015. We have an education system which is sorely underfunded and infrastructure needs that are downright scary.

It’s time for corporations, and their wealthy CEOs, to start paying their fair share in Pennsylvania. Not one more school should close so that one more rich man can count his profits. Not one more bridge should crumble while corporations pad their bottom line.

We are organized and we have worked hard to elect new leadership in Harrisburg. Governor Wolf wants to turn this tax structure on its head but he can’t do it alone. He’s facing a Republican led legislature who are committed to his failure. Republicans in Harrisburg have already said that they want to protect corporate interests and take another whack at working people with cost cuts and pension reform.

We, as an organized community, need to continue to let Wolf, and the legislature, know that we expect all of them to do the right thing.

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OUR 2015 Resolutions for Harrisburg

WP Featured Image For EK

On January 6, legislators were sworn into office in Harrisburg. At the same time dozens of students, teachers, parents and community activists braved the chilling weather in order to let those incoming legislators know that we expect some changes in 2015. One Pittsburgh was joined by Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT), SEIU 32BJ, and the Black Student Union at CAPA High School, as we released our resolutions for the coming year.

Those resolutions are:

-Invest in education by restoring the $1 billion cut by Gov. Tom Corbett  We are committed to ensuring that every child in Pennsylvania has access to a great public school. We will have to restore Corbett’s cuts from education funding and raise even more money to improve Pennsylvania’s future. That’s why One Pittsburgh helped start Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh and joined the national Alliance to Reclaim our Schools (AROS)It’s time to put PA’s future first and start investing in our schools again.

-Increase access to healthcare with real Medicaid Expansion It’s time to use the federal dollars set aside for PA to expand Medicaid and provide 500,000 Pennsylvanians with affordable healthcare. It’s the right thing to do and will make PA healthier and wealthier in the long run.

-Raise the minimum wage to $15.  Every single state surrounding PA has raised their minimum wage, leaving working Pennsylvanians behind. Right now, $7.25 and full time adds up to about $15,000 a year. For an adult with only one child, that means they still qualify for government subsidies like food stamps and housing. People who work full time should be able to support themselves without having to rely on government programs. It’s time to raise the wage in PA.

-Close the Delaware Loophole The Delaware Loophole, which allows corporations to open a POBox and register their company in Delaware, avoiding PA income taxes, cost the commonwealth hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue every year. The problem is so bad that 74% of corporations in PA pay zero state income taxes.

-Make Marcellus Shale drillers pay their fair share. Pennsylvania is one of the only states that does not charge an extraction tax for natural gas. Oil companies are making more money than ever, they could certainly afford to pay their fair share. Taxing Shale Gas at the same rate as our neighbors in Ohio, goes a long way to fixing our state budget.  

Below is a speech, which tells the story of school funding cuts. Alexis Payne, a member of the Black Student Union, and a senior, at CAPA wrote and delivered these remarks. We were so moved by it we thought we would share.  

If you are similarly moved and want to send a note to Alexis just email us at info@onepittsburgh.org.  We will make sure that she gets it.

Good afternoon. My name is Alexis Payne and I am a 12th grade student at Pittsburgh CAPA. My school is right across the street from you. It is different from a lot of schools in this district. We have one of the highest graduation rates and the environment at my school is something that is rarely found in other places; it is generally positive and the students in my classes generally really want to learn. We are not at all superior students. We come from the same neighborhoods as the kids at our home schools. The only difference between our school and others is that we have art.

Alexis PayneHistorically and through my own observations, I have learned that art has the capacity to make people see the world in a different way.  It produces an unprecedented amount of empathy for the struggles of others and it makes people see things outside of themselves and gain a much wider scope of the world.

At other schools however, arts programs are being cut completely. Students not only lack opportunity to study things like music and dance and creative writing but they also lack the opportunity to study in healthy environments. I have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be in a classroom with more than thirty students. Teachers are unable to teach effectively and students fall significantly behind because of the lack of specific attention given to them.

The most ridiculous thing about all of this though is that the schools that are most affected are the schools that need the most help. The schools in minority and lower-income neighborhoods are the ones where education cuts affect the most. The students who need the most attention in order to succeed are forced to be in classes where teachers don’t have the time or the resources to teach. Some of these same students are often given few creative outlets and resulting in a significantly  more narrow worldview.

In this way, the issue of budget cuts to education is largely an issue of racial and class equality. While students in wealthier districts with often predominately white populations have opportunities to study art in classes with 15 students, students in districts like this one are placed inside four walls with dozens of other young people with little opportunity to look beyond the realm of their own existence.

In this legislative session, please consider these issues, please remember these students and please consider the effect that your votes have on their lives.

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#fastfoodglobal

Big thank you to all of you that showed up in support of the fast food strikes yesterday. Adjunct professors, UPMC workers, janitors, union members, community leaders and faith groups stood together in the global fight for workers’ rights and living wages–it was truly amazing.   Yesterday was historic. Fast food workers walked out on strike in 250 cities across the United States and in more than 33 countries across the globe. While workers in the U.S were standing up for $15 and a union, Denmark McDonald’s workers demanded to know why they earn $21 an hour and their brothers and sisters in the U.S. live with poverty wages. Untitled           The media coverage and social media reach is astonishing. International coverage has shown how the fast food worker movement is blowing up around the world. This USA Today story has a lot of interesting details about how workers in other countries are joining the fight. The spread of the movement worldwide was the lead story in the New York Times’ influential mobile morning news briefing. Here are a few photos from international media coverage and social media. You can see the latest at fastfoodglobal.org and by searching for the hashtag #fastfoodglobal. Below are links to clips from Pittsburgh. Attached are clips from around the globe, including Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Macedonia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and Venezuela. Untitled1               KDKA WPXI Post Gazette Tribune Review The Rick Smith Show   Japan Untitled3               Korea Untitled4               New Zealand Untitled5               Mumbai Untitled2

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Love Thy Neighbor on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day. It’s the day of love. In our culture, Valentine’s Day is pretty tightly focused on romantic love, but we are all touched by love of some kind.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 2.48.53 PMThe Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, known as PIIN, has a campaign, called Love Thy Neighbor, built on the concept of community love. PIIN’s mission statement explains– they are an organization “committed to drawing together people of faith to act powerfully on local and regional issues of justice and fairness.”

The Love Thy Neighbor campaign calls on people of faith in Pittsburgh and throughout southwestern Pennsylvania to take an interest in the needs of their neighbors. Neighborly love is an idea that is central to every religion I know of. The Bible exhorts us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” In Islam, the prophet Muhammad stated that “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

Though we may come from different backgrounds and faiths, I think we know that “love thy neighbor” is an appeal to our better selves — an appeal to do with our lives what we should. We are called to take an active interest in our neighbor’s well-being. We are called to treat people with dignity, love, and respect.

But we don’t view our neighbor as the object of our permanent charity. We work with our neighbor to make sure everyone can provide for their families and have a safe place to live. In the words of Muhammad, if you love your neighbor, you want everything for them that you would want for yourself.

As another section of the Bible would tell us, real love is not selfish. An unselfish love means not asking, how does my love for you benefit me? You want the best for the person you love and don’t feel that this love and support takes anything away from your own life. However, unselfish love has a funny way of coming back around – when we lift each other up, we are lifted up in return.

In Pittsburgh, many people across our city are asking UPMC, Where’s the Love? PIIN is calling on the region’s largest employer, UPMC, to do right by its employees and the community it’s meant to serve.

Think back to when you were in kindergarten, when Valentine’s Day meant sending cards to your entire class rather than singling out an individual person. Now imagine taking that spirit of community and extending it to last all year. That type of love is what Pittsburgh needs to thrive.

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We Shall Overcome: Choosing Our Power

iamamanWhen I listen and really understand your story there is an opportunity for both of us. An opportunity to connect, to get angry, to learn, to relate. In that way, you help me and I help you to find our voices and lift them together. We empower each other to take action.

Empowerment means change. Something in the way things currently are has to give. So it can be hard. In my life, I have learned to place a high value on self-determination.  This value is based in a few basic beliefs: first, that everyone is uniquely qualified to understand their own story, and second, that any lasting change in a person’s life has to be the result of their own decisions.  You and I must choose to be powerful.  We must choose to overcome what holds us back.

When 1300 Memphis sanitation workers walked off the job in 1968, after years of poverty and mistreatment by their bosses, they made a choice.  They chose between continuing to work for poverty wages in inhumane, dangerous conditions, for poverty wages; or standing together to demand to be treated like men.

They chose to stand together; they chose to strike. In the face of brutality from the police and local government, sanitation workers took to the streets, marching with signs declaring the simple truth: “I Am A Man.”

Dr. Martin Luther King lent his support to the sanitation workers’ movement, sharing in their insistence that they be treated as men, worthy of dignity and respect. In an address given on March 18, 1968, Dr. King stated that “work that serves humanity…it has dignity, and it has worth…it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” A few weeks later, on the eve of his death, he reminded the workers and the people of Memphis that “the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.” Though King was assassinated onApril 4th, the legacy that he helped to build remained. To this day, we speak of our rights to make our own choices and stand up against the forces that prevent us and our communities from achieving dignity.

We can look to these lessons to inform our actions in our own communities, by listening, learning, and thinking about what holds us back. Listen in Pittsburgh, and people are talking about UPMC.  What stands in our way is UPMC.

UPMC employs 60,000 people across the state of Pennsylvania; it is the largest private sector employer in the state. UPMC is the biggest landowner in the city of Pittsburgh, and the city’s largest charity, meaning that everyone in our city pays something to support UPMC hospitals.

UPMC has billions in revenue and billions in reserves, so it can afford to pay 27 executives $1 million or more in compensation; the top 22 made $47 million last year – approximately half of what they give to charity care in the region. They also spent $55 million on the private airplane that they purchased in 2013 – approximately the other half of the value of their charity care.

While executives make top dollar, the largest group of UPMC employees, service who keep UPMC running on a daily basis, make an estimated median wage of $12.18 per hour–between 8% and 30% below what would be a family-sustaining wage in the city of Pittsburgh. Unsurprisingly, UPMC is third in the state for employers whose full-time employees receive Medicaid and food stamps, just after Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.

What are workers doing? Let’s listen to Christoria Hughes, an employee of UPMC. Christoria is a grandmother with primary care of her grandchildren. When her granddaughter was struggling to finance her education at Pitt, Christoria moved her family to Pittsburgh to provide support and began working for UPMC. Christoria proudly saw her granddaughter graduate from Pitt with honors; however, she has found it a struggle to make ends meet in Pittsburgh on the wages paid by UPMC. Though she works as much overtime as possible (she has coworkers who work up to 70 hours per week), Christoria is one of many UPMC workers who has to rely on federal housing assistance to keep a roof over her family’s head.

Faced with the choice to accept conditions as they are or to fight back, Christoria has chosen to reach out to others who are struggling and to build a common fight. She is one of the many workers of UPMC fighting to grow the middle class in Pittsburgh inside the state’s largest employer. Her choice is not without risk. Coworkers who are vocal in supporting the union face intimidation, harassment, and discrimination. Some union supporters have been fired. By giving us her story, Christoria helps us understand the choice.

As we approach MLK Day and remember that great man, we should look to our own movements, really hear our own stories, get angry, and choose to overcome.

On Monday, January 20th, from 9-11:30 AM, PIIN will be hosting an action and prayer vigil as part of their larger campaign to fight for equality in Pittsburgh. The action will starts on 5th Avenue, across from Presbyterian Hospital, 1025 Liverpool Street. Please join us!


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Huge Victory: PA Voter ID Struck Down in Court

In a landmark decision for voting rights in PA, a judge has ruled that the PA’s Voter ID law, signed into law by Governor Corbett in 2012, is unconstitutional because it “unreasonably burdens the right to vote.”

The law was first put into place to “stop voting fraud’ despite reports of voter fraud happening so seldomly in the US that it is not believed to be a problem. From 2002 to 2005 only .00000013% of votes for federal candidates resulted in convictions for voter fraud.

7676681418_b3a7261ffdIt’s been believed by many that the law was put into place to suppress critical votes by the elderly, minorities and the very poor who often vote Democrat.  Republican state Rep, Mike Turzai made a statement that Voter ID would ‘help Mitt Romney win Pennsylvania’ which did little to dispel that notion.

This is a HUGE win not only for voters across Pennsylvania, but also for the One Pittsburgh activists that have worked hard for almost two years to have this law overturned.

We’ve worked so hard that One Pittsburgh was recognized in the Post-Gazette for our efforts.

Screenshot 2014-01-17 12.16.55

Voter ID laws are just one of the many issues that threaten the 99%, but as we move towards economic justice by taking on Fast Food corporations, the minimum wage, UPMC’s charity status, Gov. Corbett and more it’s important to look back and realize that when we fight for what’s right we can win.

We expect 2014 to be a big year, and seeing an undemocratic laws like this struck down is a good sign.

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http://www.post-gazette.com/news/state/2014/01/17/AP-Pennsylvania-judge-strikes-down-state-s-voter-ID-law/stories/201401170131

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Tell Corbett You Want Real Medicaid Expansion

At the end of last year Corbett unveiled his “Healthy PA” alternative to Medicaid expansion. Instead of accepting full funding now to cover anywhere from 400,000 to 700,000 he declined to do so unlike 25 other Governors.

Now as vulnerable people wait to see whether or not they will get healthcare we have a chance to use our voice.

The Department of Public Welfare is hearing public comments until January 13th.

Please click the link and tell the Corbett administration that simple Medicaid expansion is the right choice!

http://statevoices.salsalabs.com/o/58/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=744

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2013 End of Year Retrospective Slide Show

2013 was an incredible year where One Pittsburgh activists have pushed themselves and done more than they ever have to make Pittsburgh a place that works for everyone with good jobs, good schools, good healthcare and good communities.

Check out this slideshow retrospective of the last year and get fired up for 2014!

 

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Why We Fight: The Power of Personal Narrative

In organizing, our causes and tactics may vary, but every effective movement begins with personal narrative. As Elie Wiesel once said, “people become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.” When we tell our stories, we give our struggles a name and a face and invite others to be part of our fight.

I’ve wanted to be a social worker for most of my life. When I was a freshman in high school, my history teacher told us stories of his time as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was hooked on the idea that someone could dedicate their lives to helping others; as I grew older, I realized that social workers did the same thing, only here in our country. I envisioned myself working with troubled youth as a case manager or a counselor, something where I could make a difference in someone else’s life, and I went off to college with that goal.

A month after graduation, I started working with kids in the juvenile justice system. I counseled teenagers who had been placed on house arrest as an alternative to juvenile detention. The clients were great. The job, however, was not at all what I expected. I got into social work because I wanted to help clients make changes in their lives, but everywhere I turned, all I found was barrier after barrier. One of my clients, a fifteen-year-old girl, resisted talking to me for weeks. One day, we had an emotional breakthrough. She agreed to start talking to a therapist about what she was going through. The problem: her mom refused to pay the copay for the visits. She could afford it, but she wouldn’t pay “one red cent” for treatment she didn’t think her daughter needed.

I was livid. I called her probation officer, I talked to the mom directly, I talked to everybody I could think of to try and get this kid some help. I ended up in my area supervisor’s office, insisting that there had to be something we could do. While she wasn’t unsympathetic, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “It is what it is, y’know?” And I swear to you, I have never hated a phrase in the English language more than I hated “it is what it is” in that moment in time.

I got laid of from that job because of funding issues. “It is what it is.” Kids lose their teacher. “It is what it is.” Legislators try to deprive people of their right to vote. “It is what it is.” ETCETC.

But here’s the thing. Things are what they are because people made them that way. But to paraphrase the great Nelson Mandela, our problems are not natural. They are man made. And if they are made by people, they can be fixed by people. Fixing them is called justice.

All around me, I see people who are refusing to accept that things just are what they are. Some of them caught the justice bug in their teens, some did it in college, some on the job. Our stories aren’t identical, but they have a common theme. That moment when we know that things can change and we’re ready to be part of making in happen. We don’t accept barriers at face value, and if our neighbor is suffering, we don’t let them go it alone. As the chant goes, “what do we do?” “Stand up! Fight back!”

Carrie Hallum is an intern at One Pittsburgh working on a dual masters in social work and public administration. Her blogs are dedicated to sharing her journey through social work and social justice here in Pittsburgh.

 

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