Union rallies to protest right-to-work
Taking a stand against a right-to-work law in Pennsylvania, more than 400 labor union representatives marched in Pottsville on Saturday and gave speeches outside the Schuylkill County Courthouse.
"We were hoping for 500, but I believe there's more than 400 here. And there's at least representatives from 20 unions in the crowd," Liz Bettinger, Pottsville, a staff representative with District 10 United Steelworkers International Union, said.
They decided to make their stand in Pottsville because one of its prominent businessmen, Richard L. "Dick" Yuengling, president and owner of D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc., reportedly announced his support for such a law in August.
When reached for comment Saturday afternoon, Yuengling said, "I have no comment," and refused to discuss his views on the matter or comment on the rally in Pottsville.
Right-to-work bills prohibit requirements that employees join a union or pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. There are 24 states that have right-to-work laws. Pennsylvania is one of the 26 "forced-unionism
states," according to the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation website at www.nrtw.org.
According to The Associated Press, at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon on Aug. 26 at the Harrisburg Hilton, Yuengling said the state would attract more business if it adopted a right-to-work policy.
In response, on Aug. 29, Gary Martin, Pottsville, vice president of Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, called for a boycott of Yuengling's products.
Since then, union representatives in the region have been planning a rally, Bettinger said.
"There's a draft of legislation in Harrisburg. It didn't go anywhere yet, but it's real and we're concerned. Dick Yuengling made his views known. We come from a very strong labor heritage here in this county and this is a good place to bring the argument," Bettinger said.
Union representatives began to assemble about 9:30 a.m. on Mahantongo Street.
City police blocked off the section of Mahantongo between Third and Fourth streets at 10 a.m. Union supporters set up a staging area there and prepared to march.
This is a block away from Yuengling's brewery at Fifth and Mahantongo streets.
Union supporters carried colorful banners advertising their unions and signs featuring pictures of Yuengling and Gov. Tom Corbett with red lines through their faces.
They even made stickers featuring those images.
Tim Seip, Washington Township, a Democrat who served as state representative of the 125th District from 2007 to 2010, was wearing them on his jacket.
At 10:15 a.m., Linda Christman, Lehighton, a delegate with the Carbon County Central Labor Chapter, put on a red, white and blue top hat, got up on a step ladder and encouraged the group to learn chants for the rally.
"Organize, don't fool around. Pottsville is a union town. Union town, through and through. You for me, and me for you," she shouted, and the group followed along.
"Richard Yuengling, rich and rude. We don't like your attitude. Hey, hey, ho, ho. Right to work has got to go," they shouted in unison.
At 11 a.m., the group marched north on Third Street, from Mahantongo Street to Laurel Boulevard, then east on Laurel to the steps of the Schuylkill County Courthouse.
Pottsville police worked traffic control, with deputies from the Schuylkill County Sheriff's Office assisting.
A podium with a microphone was set up on the steps on the south side of the courthouse. Speakers included: Martin; Bettinger; Seip; Edward Pawlowski, mayor of Allentown; John DeFazio, director of United Steelworkers, District 10, Pittsburgh; Gregg Potter, president of the Lehigh Valley Labor Council; and Irwin Aronson, an attorney for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Harrisburg.
"Right to work for less will affect all of our working families, people who want to take care of their families, earn a living and contribute to their communities. It's going to make our workplaces less safe, less efficient and less competitive with overseas jobs. We need to fight against right-to-work legislation," Seip said to the crowd.
"It's going to eliminate anything that has to do with organized labor. We can't afford this in Pennsylvania. Small businesses in the commonwealth depend on the dollars spent by those who make good, family-sustaining wages. Without these wages, that money could be dragged out of our communities. It could kill our local economies. It's a morally bankrupt position. And I am sick and tired of politicians in Harrisburg and in Washington trying to blame the economic problems of this country on the men and women in the labor movement," Pawlowski said to the crowd.
In September, Pawlowski started a state-wide tour in a bid to become Pennsylvania's next governor.
"We need to send a clear message here today to the extremists groups, to the right-winger politicians and their corporate backers who want to weaken the fire of the workers and their unions in Pennsylvania. I say 'no' to right to work. I say 'no' to Dick Yuengling. And I say 'no' to Governor Corbett." DeFazio said.