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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Take the survey! Who should run our schools?

Click here to take just a minute to fill out this survey and tell us what you would do to make our schools better moving forward.

As we all know, Philadelphia public schools have been struggling with Gov. Corbett’s massive budget cuts, leading to shortages in teachers, nurses, school staff, supplies, and more.  We’ve joined groups like PCAPS and others to vigorously protest what’s being done to Philadelphia schools.  But there is little local recourse right now because Philadelphia does not have full control of its own schools.

In 2001, the state took over the Philadelphia School District, creating the School Reform Commission (SRC).  The SRC is the board that governs Philadelphia schools, and a majority of its members are appointed by the governor.  The SRC also appoints the Philadelphia schools superintendent.

Do you want to have more local control of our schools?  As a parent or a resident of Philadelphia who cares about the city’s public schools, what are your concerns about Philadelphia education? How do you feel about the state-controlled Student Reform Commission (SRC)?

Click here to take just a minute to fill out this survey and tell us what you would do to make our schools better moving forward.

Click on the image below to begin the survey.

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“Too little, too late” for Gov’s Budget Proposal

photo 1(1)On February 4th, over fifty Fight for Philly community activists boarded a bus to Harrisburg to protest  Gov. Corbett’s annual budget address. Based on the governor’s record, we knew he’d have little good news for the people and plenty of help for big corporations, and we needed to tell him to change his priorities.  Hundreds of other activists from across the state met us at the State Capitol Building to share our message: the governor continues to put big business ahead of working families.

Activists packed the Capitol rotunda to protest the governor’s record of putting corporations before people and cutting vital programs for health and education.  Activists booed and shouted “Governor Corbett tells lies” and “Corporate Corbett” at the television sets airing the budget address. Activists also wore bright orange t-shirts that read “Governor Corporate” on the front, and “Whose side are you on?” on the back.  Later, we found out that people in the chamber where Corbett was speaking could hear us!

Corbett cut nearly $1 billion from education when he took office in 2011. $272 million was cut from the Philadelphia schools. In the governor’s new budget, he is promising to spend $386 million more on education, but this is only a fraction of what was cut.  He is also restricting the way districts can spend the money, adding nothing at all to basic education funding.  Instead, he is proposing one-time fixes and block grants that don’t do much to help budgets. Many education activists say his proposals primarily benefit wealthy districts.

Corbett’s proposal will bring only $29 million in new money to Philadelphia schools, which does very little to restore programs and services lost from the previous budget cuts.  Additional funds for public schools are certainly beneficial, but these funds will not go back into the classroom. Giving schools more money only for special programs instead of basic education is one of Governor Corbett’s gimmicks to better his chances of re-election.

The governor’s decision to increase funding for education is too little, too late. Philadelphia schools have struggled all year, but students and teachers have been resilient. Three of Philadelphia’s best performing high schools exceeded expectations despite the governor’s cuts to school staff and counselors.

Many saw through Governor Corbett’s budget gimmicks. “Corbett’s budget proposal just confirmed for me that he doesn’t care about Philadelphia kids and is proposing a tiny increase in funding just to look good for re-election,” said Fight for Philly member and parent Tara Tillman.  State senator Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the state Senate Appropriations Committee, panned Corbett’s budget speech. “Pretty weak budget presentation,” Hughes said afterward.  “Failed on job creation, failed on education.”

Pennsylvania working families have to keep fighting against the governor’s attacks. Thanks to activists like us making sure everyone knows what he’s doing, the governor’s approval rating is a mere 23%, and he is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP governors in the country. Pennsylvania has a real chance of dumping the Corbett agenda this year.

Check out this awesome video of activists rocking the Capitol rotunda!

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Governor Runs From Mess He Created with Schools

tara tillmanGovernor Corbett showed his true colors on January 17th when he decided to play hooky and ditch an event to honor the achievements of Central High School and three other high-performing public schools in the city.

Central High students and teachers were left dumbfounded when the governor abruptly canceled his visit at the very last minute, leaving students waiting. His visit would have been the governor’s very first trip to a Philadelphia public school during his entire term. Under the Corbett administration, funding for education has been cut by $1 billion, including $272 million in cuts to Philadelphia.  The governor cut $1.4 million to Central’s school-based budget, which means they’re educating their students on just $5,177 per child – the lowest in the entire district.  And last year, Corbett’s draconian cuts led to the closing of 24 Philadelphia schools and massive school employee layoffs.  But the governor couldn’t even go see what his cuts are doing to our schools and our students.

Hundreds of education activists marched from the corner of Broad and Olney to Central High. Activists waved signs and chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho Governor Corbett has got to go!” But as the march approached the school, protesters received word that Governor Corbett had turned tail and bailed on his own event. centralProtestors crowded onto the lawn in front of Central, and official word was given about Corbett’s cancellation, which was met with jeers and boos. Parent, teachers, education activists, and clergy spoke out against Corbett and his blatant disregard for public education.

“You don’t get any credit for our student’s accomplishments!” Fight for Philly’s Tara Tillman, a South Philadelphia resident and public school parent, told the governor.  “The only thing you should get credit for is hurting our schools!”   Tara told the crowd, “Governor Corbett is the root of the education crisis in our city! Why would he highlight the success of our best high schools, when he and administration had nothing to do with it?”

Protesters caught up with Corbett outside his Philadelphia office, where he had fled to present the achievement award to Philadelphia Public Schools Superintendent Dr. William Hite.  Amazingly, Corbett told reporters his reason for the last-minute venue change was not wanting to be “a distraction to the school day.”  Never mind the huge daily distraction of massive program cuts and layoffs caused by his budgets.  Corbett also dismissed the protesters, claiming, “I was not going to engage in the theatrics of what the adults wanted to do.”  Did the governor miss all the students protesting him too?  The governor even claimed,  “We have not received, to my knowledge, any requests to sit down and talk,” from proponents of more public school education funding.  Did the governor miss the invite to our candidates forum, our phone calls, our hunger strike at his office, our visits to the Capitol, and all our protests?  We’d love to talk to him!

In addition to giving the award, Corbett nominated City Councilman Bill Green to head the School Reform Commission.  Bill Green has strongly supported charter school expansion and voucher programs in the past, which worries many public school parents. The fight for full funding for education continues every day.

We’ll be in Harrisburg Tuesday for the governor’s budget address, demanding he give our schools what they need!

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PCAPS talks to Sen. Williams about charter school reform

Bbovf4LIcAAYHGLOn Monday, December 16, Fight for Philly joined Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) in a meeting and rally at the office of State Senator Anthony Williams. PCAPS requested a meeting to talk to the senator about his support for Senate Bill 1085, the “Charter School NON-Reform” bill.  We think SB 1085 will do the opposite of providing the real reform Pennsylvania’s charter school system needs and will instead make it even easier for unaccountable charter schools to grow.  The bill would cut state funding for charter pension costs and make local school districts make up the difference.  It would remove caps on charter school enrollments, leading to unrestricted charter expansion without local community input.  It also strips language requiring charter schools to be models of innovation for public schools, eliminating their intended purpose as laboratories for new teaching methods.

Senator Williams is the only Democratic co-sponsor of the bill and the only one from Philadelphia.

PCAPS is also concerned with provisions of SB 1085 that require direct payment to charter schools, require ten year charter school renewals, and require all school districts to make their “strategic vision for chartering” available on their public websites.  Under state funding trends, these provisions would severely impact school district budgets at a time when districts are struggling financially.

Senator Williams listened politely to our concerns but wouldn’t cancel his sponsorship of SB1085.  He also told us he won’t end his support for removing caps on charter school enrollments.  So we’re still lobbying him and asking you to help.  Sen.  Williams should be focused on getting more resources and funding for the Philadelphia schools instead of pushing the agenda of corporate backers and un-proven charters.

Help us keep up the fight for public education!  Sign here to demand the Senator drop his support of SB 1085 and invest in public education!

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Reclaim Public Education

PCAPSOn December 9, Philadelphia joined over 90 other cities across the country in a national day of action to reclaim public education.  More than a hundred students, teachers, parents, community members and labor activists rallied in front of Governor Corbett’s downtown office, demanding a fair funding formula for Philadelphia public schools.

The root of Philadelphia’s public school crisis is massive spending cuts made by Governor Corbett.  The governor cut nearly $1 billion from state-wide education funding when he took office, including $272 million in cuts to Philadelphia since 2011.  This is the deepest per pupil cut in the state.

The “Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education” was designed to highlight the lack of investment in public education across the country.  Cuts to urban public education are damaging communities and the futures of children.  In Philadelphia, activists “took the street,” marching up Broad Street, holding signs in support of Philadelphia public education, and chanting against Corbett.  Activists then rallied in front of the Philadelphia office of Loop Capitol, at 2 Penn Center.  The Chicago-based investment bank has been blamed for harmful swaps deals that drained money from Chicago schools and is now involved in the deal to sell off and privatize Philadelphia Gas Works.

Public school parent and community activist Kia Hinton told the crowd, “Our most vulnerable children, the ones in my neighborhood, in low income neighborhoods, are the ones that are being affected the most. So we have to fight for our children’s education.”

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Tom Corbett: Turkey of the Year!

MARCH TGOn November 19th,  Fight for Philly members boarded a bus to Harrisburg to present Governor Tom Corbett with the “Turkey of the Year” award.  The governor has refused to accept Medicaid expansion for thousands of working PA families, leaving them without healthcare.  Along with allies from SEIU Healthcare, One Pittsburgh, and others, Fight for Philly marched to the Governor’s Mansion to protest this shameful decision and let the governor know he’s being a big turkey.

Despite guaranteed funding from the federal government, Gov. Corbett has refused to follow the lead of many Democratic governors and even some of his Republican counterparts and expand Medicaid coverage.  Medicaid expansion would extend health insurance to over 400,000 Pennsylvanians who currently lack care.  Governor Corbett still has the power to help uninsured Pennsylvanians get access to the care they need by January 1st by accepting federal Medicaid expansion funding.

Medicaid expansion advocates – some in wheelchairs and walkers – marched to the Governor’s Mansion and called on him to expand Medicaid. Outside of the mansion’s giant iron fence, activists chanted for expansion as healthcare providers and people without insurance told their stories. Anthony, a former nurse, recently sold his house to pay for hospital bills. He explained he suffered a heart attack and then lost his healthcare.  Thousands of folks like Anthony, who lack insurance through no faults of their own, would be helped by Medicaid expansion.  But the heart-wrenching stories didn’t stop there. A resident from Pittsburgh said if Governor Corbett accepted Medicaid expansion, he could finally have the surgery to repair his damaged knee and live without pain.  After the rally, activists presented the governor with the “Turkey Award” and demanded he stop being a turkey and expand Medicaid.

Aside from helping hundreds of thousands of people, Medicaid expansion is a no-brainer for our state’s economy.  Expanding Medicaid will put more people to work in Pennsylvania, creating 35,000 good-paying jobs.  Extending Medicaid will save taxpayers $522 million in 2015 and bring billions of dollars into the state. The January 1st deadline to expand Medicaid is quickly approaching. If Governor Corbett does not follow through, hundreds of thousands of working families will be left without coverage for another year, and the state will lose billions of dollars that could help boost our economy.

Spread the word about Medicaid Expansion here!

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Governor Corbett Leaving PA Families Out In the Cold

corbett makes me sickGovernor Tom Corbett has continued to refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid, the federally-funded healthcare program for low-income people lacking insurance. But a Republican just to our West has decided to be far less cruel.   Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich stunned with his recent decision to do the right thing and expand Medicaid in the Buckeye state.  Governor Kasich has followed the lead of many Democratic governors and even a few Republicans, despite the efforts of Congressional Republicans to block the health care law.  Governor Corbett should follow his lead.

Governor Corbett has refused to accept billions of dollars to expand access to health care for working families in his state, failing to do the right thing for PA’s families and the state’s economy and leaving thousands of people in the cold. Instead of easily accepting the healthcare plan put forth, the governor has proposed a plan of his own using private health insurance. His plan also institutes new requirements for all Medicaid enrollees, including monthly premiums and work search requirements that could make it more difficult for people to access health coverage. The federal government must approve this plan before it can go forward.

Work search requirements add an unnecessary hurdle to getting Medicaid and make little sense when three out of every four uninsured Pennsylvanians live in a household with at least one working adult.

Medicaid expansion is a no-brainer for our state’s economy.  Expanding Medicaid will put more people to work in Pennsylvania, creating 35,000 good-paying jobs.  Extending Medicaid will save taxpayers $522 million in 2015 and bring billions of dollars into the state.

The January 1st deadline to expand Medicaid is quickly approaching. If Governor Corbett does not follow through, hundreds of thousands of working families will be left without coverage for another year, and the state will lose billions of dollars that could help boost our economy.   Corbett should follow the lead of our neighbor to the west and expand Medicaid now.

Spread the work about Medicaid Expansion here!

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Monster March for Full Funding!

tax abatementsLast Tuesday, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools held a Halloween–themed “Monster March for Full Funding” at some of the most valuable buildings in Rittenhouse Square.  PCAPS released a detailed report called “Short-Changing Philadelphia Students: How the 10-year Tax Abatement Underwrites Luxury Developments and Starves schools” and called for redirecting city funds from property tax abatements to education.

Students, teachers, parents, and activists dressed up in costumes and called on Mayor Nutter and City Council to put an end to wasteful tax giveaways for wealthy developers. Philly’s property tax abatement is considered to be the friendliest in the nation.  New development and major renovations get a break on their property taxes for 10 years, with no cap, meaning even huge, fancy new buildings like those in Rittenhouse get a nice tax break.  Just 20 buildings in Philadelphia account for almost $15 million in lost tax revenue that would otherwise go towards schools in 2014.  Overall, property tax abatements are expected to cost the school district $50 million next year.

Following the release of the white paper, education activists had a Monster March to other large buildings that benefit from tax abatements at the expense of Philly public schools. 10 Rittenhouse Square is worth nearly $150 million and contains a condo owned by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. The building’s abatement costs the school district over $1 million annually! Adding more burden on the backs of teachers and students, Comcast Center’s abatement will cost the school district $1.5 million in 2014.

Check out some pictures from the Monster March below! Visit our online album here to see the rest of the photos from the day!

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Full Funding Fridays!

Since the first week of school, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) has held weekly events for the coalition’s “Full Funding Fridays” campaign to empower teachers and students to demand more funding for public schools. Each Friday for the last five weeks, PCAPS has rallied with teachers from various elementary, middle, and high schools to spread the word about the tough conditions they and their students have been subjected to. The campaign will continue full steam into November, keeping pressure on Governor Corbett, City Council, and Mayor Nutter to fully fund Philadelphia Public Schools.

Check out some pictures taken over the last several weeks below! You can view the rest of the album here.  If you would like to be involved in Full Funding Fridays, visit to find out if a school near you will host a Full Funding Friday action.

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