On the Road: Pittsburgh Steelworkers On Strike

In Pittsburgh, Steelworkers Local 5032 has been on strike for seven weeks. They want a pension plan and health care and fair trade. The economy worked better, they say, under Bill Clinton.
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View flickrs from the Local 5032's picket line here.

Along the Ohio river and near one of Pittsburgh's many bridges is a heavily industrialized island, home to the Calgon Carbon Company and United Steelworkers Union Local 5032.

You will also find the issues at the center of the Democratic Party campaign.

United Steelworkers is the largest industrial labor union in North America. Just outside the gated entry of Calgon Carbon are makeshift tents, where members of 5032 picket, 24 hours a day. Yesterday marked the seventh week members have been on rotating six-hour shifts, due to a company lock down.

For nearly two months, Local 5032 members have refused to sign a contract they say is "unjust" for replacing pensions with retirement 401Ks and not offering the healthcare policies sought by the union. The Steelworkers were addressed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at a forum in Pittsburgh on April 14.

"[The contract offers] is a slap in the face," said Jerry Morton, who joined Local 5032 in 1979, and is currently president of the Calgon Unit. Morton explained the company has enjoyed steady profits.

Jim Allen, a native of Pittsburgh and a Local 5032 member for 35 years, said his co-workers just want a decent contract. Member Dan O'Hara said the stalemate was a result of "corporate greed." Allen and O'Hara, and other members, work together at one of two Calgon Carbon Company locations. The other is just up the street, where Local 5032 members also picket at the gated entry, on rotating shifts.

Other unions in the area have shown support for Local 5032 by periodically dropping off firewood, food and drinks. Although it was unusually warm yesterday, in the 80s, there have been many cold nights in the last seven weeks. Occasionally, passersby will honk in support. Trucks rumble along the side of the road, but the noise soon fades like a distant echo against the vast open spaces cleared for industry here during the boom times.

Signs in support of any of the presidential hopeful candidates were absent on the island. But union members readily shared how they felt about the candidates and the upcoming primary.

Clinton's "for the workin' man, more than anyone else, I think," said Allen who is leaning toward the New York Senator. O'Hara, a father, said he hadn't made up his mind yet, but added he would like to see Clinton and Obama on the same ticket, even though he has not liked all of the "dirt-slinging," that has gone on between them.

John Mifflin, a Local 5032 member for 35 years, said he supports Clinton, too, because of the way the economy was when Bill Clinton was President. Morton is first and foremost a John Edwards supporter. The USW endorsed Edwards last year. Morton explained there were no answers for the working class, which he said began in the years the late President Ronald Reagan was in office. "We just want fair trade," said Morton.

Not all who were on lockdown shift supported a Democrat. Chas Rafalowski is a Republican. Rafalowski, who served time in the United States Navy, said John McCain is the best choice to lead the country. "I would like to have a military man in office. A strong country needs a strong leader."

As the sun set and the sky faded to pink on Friday, these men sat in their chairs, and waited and talked. Saturday they will do it all over again. And probably the next day and the next.

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