Democratic gubernatorial nominee in spotlight at Labor Day Parade
The boos began as Tom Wolf approached the corner of Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies, and grew louder as the gubernatorial candidate rounded the bend.
“Stop the war on coal! Stop the war on coal!” dozens of members of Boilermakers Local 154 yelled at the York Democrat.
The momentary divide on Monday at the midway point of the Labor Day Parade, Downtown, showed that while organized labor marched in lockstep through the streets of Pittsburgh, some unions march to a different beat when it comes to their preferred candidate for governor.
“I have no war on coal. Coal is really important in Pennsylvania,” Wolf, 65, told reporters at the end of the parade in front of the United Steelworkers building. “Coal is a huge deal. There is no war on coal.”
Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, emphasized the divide before the parade when he rescinded an invitation to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Corbett attended separate events Downtown and at the Boilermakers' headquarters in Beechview.
Shea led a rally in the lobby of the Steelworkers' building, where he called Wolf “the right person for the right job as the governor of Pennsylvania.”
Differences in union politics contrast sharply.
Philip Ameris, president of the Laborers' District Council of Western Pennsylvania, credited Corbett with pushing for the state's $2.3 billion transportation law signed last year. The law provides money to fix crumbling roads and bridges, and mass transit paid for by increases in the wholesale gasoline tax and vehicle-related fees.
“If we didn't get a highway bill, our pension and welfare funds would have (drained). We couldn't have cut them anymore than we cut them. Gov. Tom Corbett reached across the aisle and put his hand out, and he is the reason why we're all working,” Ameris said. “I couldn't be more proud of any candidate we've ever endorsed than Gov. Tom Corbett. He is the reason why we are working, make no mistake about it.”
Corbett, 65, of Shaler addressed some of the policies that have drawn the ire of other unions, including pushes for pension reform and the privatization of the state liquor stores.
“My record has clearly been friendly to labor. I think the opposition was the fact that I wanted to see the state stores go private. That was one union, and I'm not against the union, but I wanted to give the people of Pennsylvania, including all the guys here, a choice, the choice to go and buy in a grocery store or buy in other stores.”
Wolf, who opposes state liquor store privatization, said that, if elected, he will focus on establishing an “economically vibrant” Pennsylvania.
“I want to create jobs — good-paying jobs. I want to invest in education. I want to invest in a level playing field. I want to make sure the gas industry is the game changer it should be for our economy and creates great jobs in Pennsylvania.”
Corbett said he understands there will be difficulties with pension reform but said taxpayers can't afford to continue the status quo.
“The teachers union right now, the existing teachers and retirees in everything we recommended, nothing was going to be changed. The future teachers would need to go into a new system, so there's a difference of opinion in how to get there, but there is no difference of opinion … that there is a pension crisis with $50 billion underfunded,” Corbett said.
“If we don't do something soon, you're going to continue to see property tax increases across Pennsylvania, and you're going to continue to see people looking for revenue in order to pay for the pension crisis we have.”
Wolf said he will work with the state Legislature to pay down the debt, but he didn't have a specific plan.
“My only promise is that we will no longer kick the can down the road as we have for the last 14 years,” he said.
Although politics divided the unions, Neal Bisno, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said he saw a lot of unity at the parade, which featured thousands of marchers.
“We are in a moment where workers from many different sectors are standing up together,” Bisno said.
Employees at UPMC, Rivers Casino and fast-food restaurants are in the process of trying to unionize, and adjunct faculty at Point Park University unionized in June.
“Many of us are tremendously united and excited about a candidate who works for everyone,” Bisno said. “This was a pretty exciting Labor Day.”
Adam Brandolph and Bobby Kerlik are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com.