PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With lots of chants, “We are one!” “What do we want? A fair contract,” thousands of steelworkers and their supporters rallied in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday, shutting down a number of major thoroughfares for a short time.
Protesters marched from the United Steelworkers headquarters on the Boulevard of the Allies to Allegheny Technologies or ATI headquarters in PPG Plaza to U.S. Steel headquarters on Grant Street.
“This company and every other company was built on our blood, sweat, and tears,” Fran Arabia, president of United Steelworkers Local 1196, told the crowd. “But today they want to take it away. They want to forget about labor history. They think they’re writing the history. They’re wrong. The history is today, and we’re taking a stand for American jobs.”
The demonstration comes as ATI has locked out over 2,200 steel workers and 30,000 workers nationwide as U.S. Steel and Arcelor Mittal continue to work without a contract.
The union accuses company leaders of making big salaries and bonuses, while demanding give-backs from workers.
With all the focus on a new Pittsburgh with high technology and the like, it’s easy to forget that Pittsburgh’s roots are really as a blue collar, union town.
Today’s demonstration was designed to demonstrate that.
Erin Kramer, of Squirrel Hill, is a member of no union, but says the future of all working families depends on solidarity.
“I have two kids. We want to live in Pittsburgh, have a third kid, stay in Pittsburgh,” Kramer told KDKA money editor Jon Delano. “We want to make sure it’s a city that works for everyone, and not just the people that run the companies.”
Middle class workers out marching pledged, “We’ll be back. We’ll be back.””
For old-timers, Tuesday’s labor demonstration was reminiscent of an earlier era when Pittsburgh was strictly a blue collar steel city.
Union leaders said ATI and other steel companies are unappreciative of earlier sacrifices labor made to build these companies.
“They needed the union’s help. They needed the politicians’ help. And what do they do to us today. They forget about it. They throw us away, and they want to take everything away from us. And we’re not going to let it happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not never,” said USW’s Arabia.
It’s a frequent refrain from middle class workers — both union and non-union — who feel they’ve been left out in the cold while corporate executives and high tech entrepreneurs make the big bucks, squeezing everyone else.
“We want better wages and respect. We really want the respect. They don’t want to give us — they want to make us work more hours, no overtime. They want to get rid of all our benefits,” noted Joann Uhing of Sarver.
If there’s one politician clearly identified with the new glitzy, high tech, young, modern, non-union Pittsburgh it’s Mayor Bill Peduto.
But the mayor, the grandson of a steelworker, showed up in solidarity with labor, saluting Pittsburgh’s blue collar roots.
“What they were building was the middle class of this country. And today we stand on their shoulders, and we don’t give in for them,” said Peduto.
“We remember those who sacrificed in building this. We didn’t only build every skyscraper, and every bridge in this country. We built the middle class in Pittsburgh.”
A modern Pittsburgh beholden to its blue collar past.