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Parents, teachers, students and supporters take #budgetsitin to Gov. Corbett’s doorstep

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One Thousand Protest and Six Arrested Rallying Against Corbett’s Cuts in Philadelphia

corbett and christie protest

(L-R) Kia Hinton, Diane Payne, Ron Whitehorne, Jody Dodds, Andi Perez

Once again, Governor Corbett tried to run from the people that matter. On June 9th, the governor made a rare visit to Philadelphia with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for a private fundraiser for his re-election campaign. But he moved the location at the last minute and then refused to show his face to a thousand protesters outside the Comcast Center, where we held a huge rally demanding the governor reverse his $1 billion statewide education cuts, balance his budget with fair taxes, stop cuts to vital programs, expand Medicaid, and close tax loopholes.

Six protesters refused to get out of the corbett and christie protest 2street and were arrested trying to block Corbett’s cuts.  Police escorted them away as protesters chanted, “Arrest Corbett.”  They wore signs around their necks that read, “I’m sitting in the way of Corbett’s cuts!,” followed by their specific budget concerns, including “Fully fund public education” and “Tax the corporations.”  Those arrested included a Philadelphia public school parent, three retired teachers, and a local community activist.

Our day started at the Union League in Center City, but we soon learned that Corbett and Christie were sneaking into the Comcast Center to throw us off.  Hundreds of protestors, including activists from New Jersey, marched from the Union League to the Comcast Center waving signs and chanting “Corbett and Christie have got to go!” Once reaching the Comcast Center, speakers called on Corbett to adequately tax fracking, stop business tax cuts, close corporate tax loopholes, accept federal money to expand Medicaid, and find other ways to raise the money Pennsylvania citizens need for a functioning state.

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Andi Perez, Youth United for Change,  is escorted away by police.

The governor has cut $1 billion from education statewide since taking office, including $272 million from Philadelphia schools.  He ended the General Assistance program, which provided funds to the temporarily unemployable, including disabled people and others.  Corbett also ended the adultBasic insurance program for low-income individuals (which a Commonwealth Court Judge later found unconstitutional).  He has refused to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, leaving 500,000 working families without access to healthcare.  Medicaid expansion would also add $430 million annually to Pennsylvania’s state budget and add about $3 billion annually to its economy.   A Pennsylvania Economy League study finds that expansion will support 35,000 new jobs by 2016 and 40,000 jobs by 2022.

Helen Gym of Parents United told the crowd, “Philadelphia and Newark are the poster-children for failed education reform policies: a three ring circus of round robin superintendents, school closings and underfunding – and Governors Corbett and Christie are the ringmasters.”

“I sat down in the way of Corbett’s cuts because I’m worried about my daughter’s future and all children’s futures in a school system that keeps getting slashed to the bone,” said Andi Perez, the outgoing Director of Youth United for Change and one of the arrested protesters.  “I have spent a career fighting for Philadelphia public school students, and things are as bad as I’ve ever seen under Gov. Corbett’s massive budget cuts.  We need to say enough is enough.”

Several polls have shown Corbett down over 20 points from his Democratic challenger, Tom Wolf.  The Washington Post and other publications have repeatedly called Corbett the most vulnerable governor in the country.

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Time for PA to “Raise the Wage”!

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Fast food workers STRIKE for first time in Philly! Then they take their message to McDonald’s HQ.

On May 15, Philly fast food workers went on strike for the first time ever.  They joined workers in 150 cities across the US and protests in 33 additional countries on six continents.  Strikes and protests reached more than 230 cities worldwide!

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Big Philadelphia Victories For Fair Wages and Education!

Check out our awesome collection of photos and tweets from Election Day and beyond on Storify!

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Subcontracted Airport Workers Fighting to Earn Decent Wages

poverty wages don't flyClick here to take just a minute to pledge to Vote “YES” on Ballot Question #1 tomorrow, May 20 to give PHL workers and others a raise!

It is a sad fact that Philadelphia is the worst big city in America for deep poverty and is desperate for good jobs.  Our city’s residents need a raise!  The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25/hr since 2009, and some folks make even less because they are classified as tipped workers.  Thousands of these working poor are at one of the city’s economic powerhouses, Philadelphia International Airport.  It’s time for them to get a raise, and we have the power.  Philadelphia voters need to go to the polls tomorrow and vote “Yes” on ballot question one to demand that airport workers and others with city subcontractors aren’t paid poverty wages.

Philadelphia International Airport supports over 141,000 jobs in the Philadelphia region and brings more than $14 billion in economic activity to the area.  Airlines recently reported $12.7 BILLION in profits for 2013.  But airlines at the airport outsource passenger service jobs to low bid contractors to make even more profit. Sub-contracted airport workers who provide vital services to airlines such as cleaning terminals and aircraft, pushing wheelchairs, handling baggage, and performing security services to keep passengers safe make as little as $7.25 an hour with no access to affordable health benefits, including sick days. One of out of five subcontracted airport workers even reported going hungry last year.  These are not the kinds of jobs the city should be supporting.

Onetha Mcknight, a long time subcontracted worker at PHL, has been struggling to get by on low wages. “I have been a wheelchair attendant for six years at the airport. I have never received a raise. I started at $7.00 per hour and still make $7.00 per hour,” she said.  “I find it difficult to make ends meet on the poverty wages. I have a son and five grandchildren. I help out with my grandchildren. There’s not always enough left at the end of the month to pay my bills. At this time, I don’t have any health insurance and I have asthma and high blood pressure. My company offers health care, but there’s no way I can afford it. For about three months now, I have been without my medication. I have had accelerated heartbeats and headaches.”

Outsiders looking in assume working at the airport is a good job with healthcare benefits and fair pay, but that is far from the truth.  An estimated 2,000 airport workers are employed by airline subcontractors.  These workers make as little as $7.25/hr and rely heavily on public assistance. Surveys conducted by National Employment Law Project found:

  • 37.9% of surveyed workers received food stamps.
  •  37.9% of surveyed workers received public health insurance.
  • 16.9% of surveyed workers received childcare WIC.
  • 12.3% of surveyed workers received housing assistance.
  • 12.3% of surveyed workers received gas/electric heat assistance
  • 3.1% of surveyed workers received cash assistance TANF.

Giving these workers the opportunity to earn a living wage will not only benefit them, but it will also benefit the rest of Philadelphia. More money in the pockets of low-wage workers means more spending to help jolt our struggling economy. Raising the wage will also alleviate pressure on tax payers to pay for basic needs workers receive through public assistance.

Wheelchair attendant John Stewart says, “People have asked me: Why don’t you just get another job? The reality is that there are not great jobs just around the corner. I do this job out of necessity to pay my bills. I need to pay rent, for my food, my phone, for my trans pass. After I pay my bills, there is little left over. Living on the minimum wage is not easy. No one would choose to make this little if they had other options.”

You probably heard about Mayor Nutter’s recent executive order giving city subcontractors a raise.  We applaud and support the mayor’s decision to finally give these workers a raise, but we need to make sure this standard is right in the city charterWe can do that by voting YES ON ONE tomorrow.

Tomorrow, Philadelphia voters will have the chance to give Onetha and John and thousands of other airport workers a much-needed raise. You can do your part and cast your vote for airport workers who are fighting to improve jobs and get the economy moving again.

Click here to take just a minute to pledge to Vote “YES” on Ballot Question #1 tomorrow, May 20 to give PHL workers and others a raise!

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Philly Fast Food Workers Stand Up Against Wage Theft

mc dOn April 3, Fight for Philly joined fast food workers and community and faith leaders to protest against systemic and illegal wage theft (video) in the fast food industry.  Fast food workers also kept up their demands for $15/hr and the right to form a union.  Workers from multiple fast food chains stood outside a McDonald’s at Broad and Allegheny with nearly 100 supporters as many cars honked support and passers-by cheered.

Days earlier, the first-ever national poll of fast-food workers showed companies like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s are stealing money from 89 percent of their employees. And a recently-released  video shows two former McDonald’s managers speaking out for the first time about how they were forced to steal from workers’ checks.   The managers talk about how they shaved time off of workers’ schedules, among other practices, so they wouldn’t “blow labor,” or spend more than they were supposed to on workers.Mc d 1

Philadelphia fast-food workers and supporters held signs that read “Stop stealing wages” and “Low pay is not OK” in front of McDonald’s.  They chanted, “Low pay is not ok!” and “We can’t survive on $7.25!”

“I know about wage theft,” said Crystal Lopez, a 25 year old Dunkin Donuts employee in Philadelphia. “A few months ago, our store found money missing from the register.  Nobody knew what happened.  I suggested calling the police, but the owners “didn’t want the trouble.”  Instead, they made all the workers pay it back!  That’s right – they had NO evidence any of us were responsible, but they took $2,000 from workers’ tips.  Why couldn’t they report it and file an insurance claim?  They didn’t want to spend money to have cameras in the store to see where the money really went, so they just made us pay for it!  That’s why I am standing up proud to join my fellow workers in calling for $15/hr and a union! “

Pastor Larry Patrick said, “I am standing in prayer with fast food workers because our city and our communities need good jobs that keep people out of poverty and support families.  We need to speak out against wage theft, which offends our religious and moral values and keeps money from those who need it most.  Hard work is supposed to be a way to get ahead, not a dead-end trap.  These huge corporations can easily afford to pay their workers a living wage and treat them with dignity, and it’s long past time they did.”

Justin Watson, a 29 year-old employee of the McDonald’s, spoke to the crowd. He said, “I barely make enough to support myself, but I also support my kids and try to help my parents and brother. $8/hr is just not enough. I struggle every single day…. I have learned to keep precise records of when I clock in and out and take my breaks. Yet every time I get paid, it is for less than what I think I worked. It doesn’t add up. I’ve been working for a long time and have never had this problem with other jobs. You would think that a company that made $5.5 billion in profits in 2012 alone should be able to pay their workers for all the hours they work!”

The first-ever national poll of fast-food workers, conducted by Hart Research, shows that the wage theft described by the McDonald’s managers pervades the entire fast-food industry. Companies like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s are stealing money from 89 percent of their employees, according to the poll of 1,088 fast-food workers in the nation’s 10 largest metropolitan areas.

In addition to showing that nearly nine out of every 10 fast-food workers experience some form of wage theft, the poll shows:

  • 92 percent of Burger King workers, 84 percent of McDonald’s workers and 82 percent of Wendy’s workers are victims of wage theft;
  • 60 percent of fast-food workers have experienced three or more different types of wage theft;
  • 60 percent of fast-food workers have been required to perform tasks before clocking in or after clocking out;
  • 26 percent of fast-food workers have not always been paid time-and-a-half for overtime hours they worked.

Last month, class-action lawsuits filed in California, Michigan and New York alleged McDonald’s is systematically robbing employees by forcing them to work off the clock, shaving hours off their time cards and not paying them overtime, among other practices. The suits demand McDonald’s, which earned nearly $5.6 billion in profits in 2013, pay back the stolen wages and stop its illegal theft of workers’ pay.

And late last month, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a second settlement with a major fast-food company for stealing workers’ pay. The settlement with Domino’s, which followed one with McDonald’s earlier in March, means that workers have won back nearly $1 million in stolen wages in just the last few weeks.

The fast food worker movement clearly has energy, and Fight for Philly will be supporting workers in their fight for dignity, respect, and fair wages.  Their fight is our fight!

 

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“Trying to get by on $7.25 is not easy,” says PHL Airport Worker Nathaniel Smith

Nathaniel Smith, a baggage handler at Philadelphia International Airport, spoke at the Philly stop of the “Give America A Raise” bus tour last week.  The tour is crossing the country sharing stories of how important it is to raise the federal minimum wage to lift millions out of poverty and help our economy.  Nathaniel is one of the sub-contracted workers at the airport who falls through a loophole in Philadelphia’s 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefit Standard law.  He doesn’t make the $10.88/hr minimum wage that the city requires contractors to pay.  But we’re going to change that on May 20 when we vote to give thousands of airport and sub-contracted workers a raise!

Read our report on poverty jobs at the airport here.

Watch the video below to hear how hard Nate works and how difficult it is getting by on low pay:

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PCAPS Charter Accountability Report and Rally

caLast Friday, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) held a charter school accountability rally at City Hall and announced the release of a new report, “RestoringThe Public Trust: Public Accountability for Pennsylvania Charter Schools.” Teachers, students, parents, and community activists called for commonsense regulation and oversight of Pennsylvania’s charter schools to make sure they are committed to properly educating students. Ralliers chanted and held signs that read “Charter schools should serve all students!” and “Fund public education.” Public school champions State Rep. James Roebuck and State Sen. Shirley Kitchen both spoke on the importance of protecting public education and keeping a watchful eye over charter schools.

Loose oversight of charter schools has allowed them to undermine traditional public schools by draining resources from neighborhood schools. Charter schools are funded with public money, but they don’t abide by the rules of the school district in which they operate. They aren’t required to admit all students, and they aren’t always transparent in their governance and budgeting.  Last year, the office of state Rep. James Roebuck released a report showing investigations or problems at 44 charter and cyber charter schools in PA.

At the rally, Fight for Philly member and charter school parent Sylana Christopher told the crowd, “Public dollars are going into these charter schools, so why are we being left in the dark about how they operate? It is our right as citizens to know what is happening with our tax dollars. The governing board of any charter school in this city should be required to be an open book to the communities they serve. The best ideas for improving schools come from the students, parents, teachers, school employees and volunteers that are in our schools every day. And speaking of these governing boards – they should be elected students, teachers, and parents! We know best!”

PCAPS released a detailed report, “RestoringThe Public Trust: Public Accountability for Pennsylvania Charter Schools” that introduces a platform to establish more accountability and oversight of charter schools operating in the Philadelphia School District.  It’s time we stop giving charters free rein with our money!

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Fight for Philly Stands with Hundreds of Pittsburgh Medical Workers

Fight for Philly members answered the call to join healthcare workers in Pittsburgh in their fight for higher wages and good jobs earlier this month. Over forty FFP members boarded a bus and traveled five hours through the wintery weather to stand in solidarity with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) employees and the entire city of Pittsburgh as they demanded good wages from UPMC, the ability form a union, and that the Medical Center contribute more to the city.

UPMC has been a major economic engine in Pittsburgh for years and is the largest non-governmental employer in Pennsylvania.   But they’ve consistently failed to do right by the citizens of the Steel City. Their non-profit status has allowed them to avoid millions of dollars in taxes while raking in over a billion dollars in revenue over the last three years.  Thousands of UPMC employees work full-time and are paid anywhere from 8% to 30% below what’s needed to make ends meet in Pittsburgh.  UPMC’s starting rate for many jobs is $10 an hour, but a unit secretary at Presbyterian with over 30 years’ experience makes only $13 an hour.upmc

Jim Staus, one of thousands of hospital workers taking a stand against UPMC said, “Everyone told me that if you wanted to get ahead go into the healthcare field, so I did and got an associates’ degree. Almost 20 years later, I’m only making $11.81 an hour and I have to rely on food stamps, heating assistance and food pantries to support my family. I came to work at UPMC because I thought there would be opportunities to move up if I worked hard, but I just feel stuck. Forming a union with my co-workers is what’s giving me hope we can make these jobs good middle-class jobs.”

The millions of dollars in taxes UPMC avoids paying could have erased the budget deficit for Pittsburgh public schools and reversed cuts to education. As the leading employer in the city, UPMC has also failed in providing family-sustaining jobs, even though they made $1.3 billion in profits in the last three years, have $4 billion in reserves, and pay 28 top executives $48.8 million a year.

Many UPMC workers rely on food stamps and even public health care to make ends meet.  Despite being considered a leading American healthcare provider, UPMC offers their employees below-par medical insurance. Many UPMC workers become indebted to the very same hospital they work for because the insurance provided is just too expensive.  Leslie Poston has worked as a medical secretary on the heart and lung transplant floor at UPMC for 10 years. Poston has amassed $15,000 in medical bills that are due to her employer. The bulk of that was for surgery with a $9,000 co-pay!

For two long days, close to 1,000 protestors packed the streets in front of UPMC’s headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh, shutting down streets and making sure the whole city knew we were there. Nurses, janitors, and other UPMC workers, along with clergy, union members, community members, and others chanted “UPMC you’re not a charity, you’re greedy!” Others hoisted signs and banners demanding UPMC allow their blue-collar workers to unionize and increase their hourly wages from $11/hr to $15/hr.  A village with tents, signs, food, and drink quickly filled the street in front of UPMC’s tower, as hundreds of people danced, chanted, rallied, and spoke.  Rapper Jasiri X performed his song “People Over Profits.”

On the final day of the rally, protestors moved from the sidewalk and street into the plaza of the UPMC headquarters. The crowd filled every inch of the plaza, waving banners that read “UPMC = Poverty Jobs” and chanting “Pittsburgh is a union town!” A group of protestors attempted to stage a sit in, but reconsidered after  Mayor Bill Peduto, who was in Washington D.C., sent word that he was cutting his time short in the nation’s capitol and returning to Pittsburgh to address issues between UPMC and workers.  The Mayor’s Chief of Staff read a statement from the Mayor asking UPMC and workers to come together and find a way for UPMC to be a good citizen of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. He then urged protesters to warm up with their families now that their message had been heard.

UPMC could single-handedly lift thousands of workers out of poverty and into the middle class. Instead, it uses its power to bully workers who want nothing more than a voice on the job. UPMC should do better by all the people and communities, and help cultivate a Pittsburgh that works for all.

Want to see more? Click here to see pictures from the rallies.

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