Chanting “One Union, One Tier” and carrying a banner reading “Don't Derail Our Future,” over 50 UE members and allies picketed Wabtec's shareholder meeting in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday, May 17. Wabtec continues to demand a “two-tier” wage structure at the Erie locomotive plant where members of UE Locals 506 and 618 are in negotiations for a new contract.
Under Wabtec's two-tier proposal, new hires — or anyone recalled after more than a year on layoff — would be stuck permanently on a lower wage scale, making as little as 60 percent of the worker next to them. In this multi-generational plant where many workers have parents and grandparents who worked there, UE members are resolved not to sell out future generations of workers, and the economic future of their community.
Local 506 executive board member Matt McCracken that the Erie plant is highly profitable, and that “there’s no reason for them to gut our wages other than just raw corporate greed.”
“They want every new hire to come into that factory at sixty percent” of what current workers make, McCracken said, hitting Wabtec’s two-tier demands. “If they can make $2 billion a year paying me what I make, they can hire someone to work right next to me, pay him the same rate … and make $2 billion per year.”
Rosanne Barker of the Northwest Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation praised Erie UE members’ solidarity with the community. “They have given millions of dollars to the community. They have done projects to benefit the children, the veterans, others unions. They really know the meaning of solidarity and that it why our unions are here with them today.”
Retired Wabtec worker and former Local 610 chief steward Kent Buchholz, who helped lead the 6½ month strike against concessions demanded by Wabtec (then Wabco) in 1981-2, told the crowd that “it has always been our task and our duty [as trade unionists] to push the message in front of these corporate giants that without a dedicated, good-paying workforce, shareholders don’t share in the profitability of the company, and customers get shortchanged.”
As UE Eastern Region President Donna Morgan was getting up to speak, a black Suburban pulled up across the street with a Wabtec logo. Morgan suggested the picketers give the shareholders “a nice wave” which prompted a round of “shame on you!” chants from the crowd.
“The reason we’re here, in a very small sentence, is: greed, greed, and greed,” Morgan said. “That’s it!”
UE General President Peter Knowlton denounced Wabtec’s demands for two-tier wages as an attack not only on UE members but on the Erie community and the country. He pointed out that of the 32 plants shut down by General Electric in the last 40 years, 30 of them had agreed to two-tier wages and concession bargaining. In these instances, he said, workers who agreed to concessions had not saved jobs, but merely financed the closure of their own plants.
Two-tier wages, Knowlton predicted, would kill not only the Erie community but would kill the company itself — a prediction backed up by a story about wages on NPR’s Morning Edition the following Monday, which reported that the two-tier wage structure pushed by many companies “proved to be a disaster for morale. It created friction among workers on the factory floor and resulted in poor-quality work. The three big automakers discarded the system, and others followed.”
Local 506 and 618 members received support from across Western Pennsylvania. Members of Erie County United, the Erie County Young Dems and Keystone Progress joined UE members in travelling to Pittsburgh for the picket. Members of Pittsburgh-area UE Locals 610, 625, 667, 690 came out to support Locals 506 and 618. They were also joined by members of other unions: SEIU Healthcare PA, USW District 10 & USW national, the Northwest PA Area Labor Federation, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trade, SAG-AFTRA, AFSCME, SEIU, CWA and the IWW. Many bus drivers, members of ATU Local 85, honked in support as they drove by.
Supporters from the Pittsburgh community came out as well: Pittsburgh United, the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, Just Harvest, the Battle of Homestead Foundation, Healthcare for All PA, DSA, Socialist Alternative and the Green Party of Allegheny County all joined UE members on the picket line. Retired steelworker and Pittsburgh-area singer-songwriter Mike Stout raised the spirits of the picket line with both original and traditional union songs.
Photos from the picket are available on the UE Facebook page.