Less than three years ago, Pittsburgh UNITED was a small coalition of union, environmental, faith-based and community organizations committed to making change in low-income communities. Today we’re a formidable—and still growing—coalition responsible for winning the first-ever community benefits agreement (CBA) in the City of Pittsburgh, and passage of a law that requires developers who receive City subsidies to create decent, family-sustaining jobs.
Following the victory of the One Hill CBA in 2008, through the middle of 2009 Pittsburgh UNITED campaigned for another CBA in the city’s Northside, where valuable property on the “North Shore” was being divvied up for private developers. The Northside United CBA Coalition mobilized hundreds of community members for dozens of public meetings and hearings about the proposed North Shore development. At hearing after hearing in city government, residents demanded to have their voices heard. Although the Northside United campaign failed to force the Steelers and their developer to complete an agreement, the campaign showed the entire community how the current system, even when it is “open” to the tax-paying public, usually serves only the narrow interests of rich developers and the politicians they finance.
When the Northside United campaign came to a head in the summer of 2009 with a sit-in outside of the Mayor’s office, City Council’s willingness to open their chambers to the Pittsburgh UNITED coalition created a new opportunity for collaboration and community benefits-oriented policy change. With strong allies in City Council, Pittsburgh UNITED has begun to advance a three-prong “economic development reform” legislative agenda to increase accountability for the City’s economic development dollars.
Pittsburgh UNITED’s city-wide coalition has now won the first piece of its legislative package, a prevailing wage law for service workers. The City’s prevailing wage ordinance, the first multi-industry law in the country, amends the city code to require recipients of subsidies of over $100,000 to pay grocery store workers, hotel workers and building service workers in large developments the market rate for their work. The law also covers workers in City service contracts, such as the security guards who work at the City-County building. This law allows all of these categories of workers to make a family-sustaining wage and receive health benefits. It will ensure that the City does not subsidize poverty-wage jobs.
We’ve begun advocating for the next round of legislation, which endeavors to attach higher environmental standards to subsidized development projects.
Additionally, Pittsburgh UNITED will continue its work to change the rules for City-subsidized development through policies that create more transparent and open processes for City economic development decisions, increasing the public’s ability to hold developers responsible for the public subsidies they receive. If the legitimate demands of communities for whom past development has meant only devastation and bad jobs will not be heard by the City administration, then we have to change the rules.