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UE Backs
Living Wage Bills
In Pittsburgh Region


John Hovis John Lambiase
John Hovis John Lambiase

The week Harvard University students ended their three-week sit-in to demand a living wage for the university’s lowest-paid workers, UE leaders lent their weight to efforts here to enact living wage legislation.

On May 12, Genl. Pres. John Hovis submitted a statement to the Allegheny County Council in support of an ordinance; on May 8, District Six Pres. John Lambiase testified on behalf of similar legislation pending before the Pittsburgh City Council. (Allegheny County encompasses Pittsburgh and adjacent cities and towns.)

Living wage legislation is currently pending statewide in Vermont and in five or more cities in states including California, Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.


Beginning in 1994, unions, religious and community organizations have attempted to raise workers’ wages above the federal poverty level for a family of four — to a living wage — through legislation at the city and county levels. UE was active in support of living wage campaigns in Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles, among other cities.

The Allegheny County bill, for example, would impose a $9.12 an hour wage, or $10.62 if employers failed to provide health insurance. Each of the city and county laws around the country vary somewhat; the Allegheny County proposal would apply to the county’s service contractors as well as those companies that receive subsidies or other benefits from county government. An estimated 4,000 low-wage workers would benefit immediately.

Pres. Hovis emphasized that economic development in the Pittsburgh region has been built on the labor of low-wage workers — workers who are also county taxpayers. "This region’s working people have a right to fair compensation," Hovis stated.

The UE leader pointed out that living wage legislation would be a form of economic development, pumping money back into the local economy, promoting productivity and encouraging stability.


Lambiase, president of the union’s western Pennsylvania district and a Pittsburgh resident, made a similar point. He shared with Pittsburgh councilors the union’s experience in organizing a low-wage shop in Erie in the early 1990s. Wages were so low, he said, that potential hires were given public assistance forms along with the job application forms. With organization came not only higher living standards for workers but workplace stability.

"There is no excuse to have poverty wages in our community," Lambiase declared.

After decades of "trickle-down" and "voodoo" economics, the District Six president said, it’s time for some "trickle-up" for a change. He insisted that the city council enact the ordinance as "the only right thing to do."

Harvard students had taken direct action to force the university administration to recognize that about 400 of the posh school’s 13,000 employees earn less than $10.25 an hour. Harvard had previously said the issue was closed, but due to the sit-in, agreed to re-examine university wage policies.

Unions actively backed the students, sometimes acting as a go-between with the administration. Showing respect for the janitors whose cause they adopted, the protesting students left the administration building they had occupied for three weeks neat and tidy.

UE News - 05/01

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