We kicked off the convening at the United Steelworkers headquarters on the Boulevard of the Allies in Downtown Pittsburgh. The meeting location contextualized the vibrant and powerful history of Pittsburgh’s labor movement and the political, economic and equity-centered community development opportunities for the city.
Rob Stephany, Community & Economic Development Director at The Heinz Endowments, graciously welcomed everyone by highlighting the strength of partnership and the community leaders being the true leaders.
He shared that “the most important piece of learning is to know that you don’t know everything." He lifted up that “one of the most important things happening is that it’s a coalition of funders working to move beyond strategic reluctance to something with more bravado."
Fred Redmond, International Vice President of United Steelworkers, provided thoughtful insights reminding us that the meeting venue for the evening was the “house of labor and open door for community groups and allies”. USW has a strategic role being on Pittsburgh United board and he shared the value of building faith, community, and labor leadership is the key to rebuilding a social and economic movement.
“It’s also very critical for organized labor to be a part of a movement of social and economic justice," he said. "We need to work together to address the issues we are facing in these serious times.”
Lauren Jacobs, Deputy Director of the Partnership for Working Families, grounded our discussion highlighting the recent verdicts of the jury acquitting the Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges in the shooting of Philando Castile. “I’m filled with a fierce sense of urgency because this work is about so much more than a raise or rent stabilization," she said. "All of those are important, but they are just slices. This work is about who belongs, and who is about we the people”. She urged the audience to be bold and as courageous as we can because so many lives depend on it. The reality is the Pittsburgh economic boom is not booming for everyone.
“Displacement is not like some tornado that landed down, it’s a series of policies and decisions that greatly impact thousands of residents," she said. "With no wage increases and rents almost doubling, we all know what the results will be: African Americans and Latinos are experiencing these impacts at a faster rate than whites in the city.”
Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania District Leader of 32BJ SEIU, gave additional insight into Pittsburgh United campaigns, history and the development of the coalition. As the elected Western PA District Leader of the largest property services union in the country, SEIU Local 32BJ, Sam represents more than 165,000 property service workers in 12 states and Washington, DC. As a co-chair board member to Pittsburgh United, he highlighted the tools of direct actions, organizing at scale and building a stronger coalition. Since 2007, Pittsburgh United have spearheaded and supported campaigns for:
Community benefits agreements to ensure equitable economic development in the Hill District and Northside
City ordinances that make sure publicly-funded development projects don’t contribute to air and water pollution,
Policies that guarantee affordable housing for all and protect residents from displacement
Building coalitions that worked to pass The Paid Sick Days Act and the ordinance enabling the creation of The Housing Opportunity Trust Fund for quality, affordable housing creation and maintenance in the City of Pittsburgh
Our final presenter of the evening was Carl Redwood, an Organizer with, and the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of, the Hill District Consensus Group. He served on the first Board of Directors of Pittsburgh United. Working with Pittsburgh United, the One Hill Neighborhood Coalition negotiated the first ever Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in Pittsburgh. This agreement came after nearly a year of negotiations with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA), the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. This historic first step begins the process of ensuring that major economic development projects provide concrete benefits to the communities where they are located.
In his remarks, he mentioned that Black led organizing receives relatively little funding from foundations and should be supported comparable to intermediary and coalition Alinsky-style organizing groups like Pittsburgh United. He shared that funding development without displacement efforts such as tenant union organizing and community land trusts should be a priority.
Lastly, he shared that funders should consider reading and using in their grant making, “The Case for Funding Black-Led Social Change” by Susan Taylor Batten, President & CEO of ABFE: A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities, and Nat Chioke Williams, Executive Director of Hill-Snowdon Foundation.