Pittsburgh UNITED: Putting Pressure Until CBAs are Finalized

December 20, 2007 -- Pittsburgh UNITED

By Natalie Greene, Pittsburgh UNITED Researcher

One Hill CBA Coalition Campaign
Pittsburgh UNITED is currently negotiating our first CBA in the Hill District.  More than a hundred community groups and organizations representing thousands of residents came together beginning in April 2007 to form the One Hill CBA Coalition, a community-driven organization with a platform to make the Hill District a more livable community.  The One Hill CBA Coalition went through an exhaustive and transparent process to engage residents and stakeholders of the community to provide input into this platform for creating a community benefits agreement.  Every Hill resident received mailed flyers inviting them to upcoming forums and meetings, and a large subset of the population was door-knocked and surveyed. 

Khari Mosley, Pittsburgh UNITED Campaign Manager, clearly remembers the “dot” exercise in July 2007 when 200 residents from the Hill District attended a community meeting at the Hill House to prioritize the list of CBA asks.  The list was narrowed down from 39 to seven.  As one of many opportunities for residents to be involved, the event highlighted just how much the community was driving the CBA process.

After determining their CBA planks in August 2007, One Hill began negotiations with the Pittsburgh Penguins, City officials, County officials, and the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA) in early September.  One Hill drafted and named their CBA the “Blueprint for a Livable Hill,” which includes seven aspects:

  1. Comprehensive and community-driven master plan to build a livable community;
  2. Livable hill community improvement fund;
  3. Family sustainable jobs & first source career opportunities that would promote local hiring, training and support for hill residents;
  4. Establishment of a community grocery store as the Hill District’s economic anchor;
  5. State-of-the-art community/multi-purpose center;
  6. Historic preservation and green space; and
  7. Policy commitments for a livable hill to ensure CBA enforcement.


Should negotiations be drawn out and not be completed by the time the Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the new arena on January 15th, One Hill intends to do everything in their power to hold up the vote until a final CBA is agreed upon by all parties.  In early December, about 15 community residents led by Carl Redwood, chair of One Hill, staged a media-covered demonstration outside the Mellon Arena before a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game to bring attention to the request by the community for a CBA.

In a very short amount of time, Pittsburgh UNITED has met some important goals in the Hill District: built a coalition of over 100 organizations in the Hill, drafted our first CBA, and began negotiations on the CBA.  While initially experiencing some difficulty entering a community with a great deal of historical conflict and divisions, we have sought to build greater cohesion and expand our coalition with more organizational support both inside and outside of the Hill District to have a larger pool of influence and greater chance of having our CBA signed by all parties.

Northside United Campaign
During strategic planning sessions, Pittsburgh UNITED identified the need for more active community involvement and community benefits guarantees from the development of a large Majestic Star Casino on the Northside.  As a result, Pittsburgh UNITED has been organizing a community-driven campaign on the Northside since July of 2007.  The coalition of about 20 community stakeholders have dubbed the coalition “Northside United” to reflect the unity among all the Northside neighborhoods that we seek to achieve through the CBA process.  Like the One Hill CBA campaign, Northside United is actively looking to bring more partners and supporters onto the campaign.

To ensure that we are gathering support and input from a broad cross-section of Northsiders, over 25 Northside public meetings were convened, many individual neighborhood forums were held, and over 1000 surveys were collected through grassroots canvassing efforts.  In the surveys, people were asked to identify what they think are Northside’s four most pressing needs from a list of 13 issues.  The results show clear support for the four planks our coalition has been developing for the CBA: (1) Jobs, Training, Economic Development; (2) Affordable Housing; (3) Environmental Mitigations; and (4) Quality of Life Improvements.  Member groups of the coalition are now chairing taskforces on each one of those CBA planks to draft the comprehensive list of Northside community needs.  At an upcoming Town Hall Meeting & Unity Celebration on December 13th, Northside United coalition partners will be unveiling our findings from our meetings and surveys as well as inviting more residents and partners to join the campaign.

While the Northside United campaign has not progressed as rapidly as the One Hill campaign, Pittsburgh UNITED has succeeded in creating a growing coalition of partners, gaining media coverage of the campaign, and determining the CBA planks based on the specific needs of the community residents.  At a Northside event in late September 2007 hosted by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl but failing to appear, distraught community members brought public attention to the need for a CBA in the development of the casino on the Northside.  Rachel Canning, Pittsburgh UNITED Organizer, describes the event as a “catalyst” for the Northside United campaign.

Conclusion

With 2007 almost at an end, the following list outlines what Pittsburgh UNITED hopes to accomplish in 2008:

  • Win both campaigns with positive, comprehensive and enforceable CBAs in place;
  • Build organizing capacity in communities where economic development is occurring;
  • Develop strong community networks;
  • Raise regional awareness of the economic development process and its impact on local communities;
  • Advocate for CBA-enabling public policy, such as community impact study legislation; and
  • Build a broad and strong regional coalition around economic development projects and CBAs.


Overall, the work we are doing at Pittsburgh UNITED provides each of us with a sense of purpose as we collectively seek to improve the lives of working people in the Pittsburgh area, especially people of color and women, and stand for social and economic justice.  The Partnership for Working Families has been very instrumental to our start-up organization by providing planning, strategy and legal support.  We thank the national staff and the support of Partner organizations for all their assistance.

Written by Natalie Greene with assistance from Tom Hoffman, Rachel Canning and Khari Mosley.