OPN News Special Labor Report
Pittsburgh’s new development boom, enabled in part by hefty business tax breaks, inadequate oversight, and a good bit of non-transparency, has resulted in resident displacement, an artificially created real estate bubble and a trendy homogenization of our unique neighborhoods. And unfortunately, the overall development plan by local officials is leading to a dystopian future, by mirroring a dark and dangerous past.
With Pittsburgh’s secret proposal to Amazon, local officials advocate the potential of 50,000 jobs with an average $100,000 yearly salary as a boon to our local economy. What many people falsely hear is: “50,000 jobs that pay $100,000 each.” So it’s important to understand this analogy: In a roomful of people that average $40,000 per year, if Jeff Bezos walks in, suddenly everyone’s a billionaire. Numbers don’t lie, but people do, sometimes even to themselves. Local officials insist that we trust them on this because… they have a plan.
These are times of unprecedented economic disparity, a result of the empty promises of trickle-down, economic policy, yet we’re still doing trickle down policy. Does anyone believe that Amazon, a company worth over $685 billion, run by an individual worth over $120 billion, will pay a living wage and benefits to all their workers if we “win” this not-so-newfangled extortion process? With the market dominance of 40% of retail sales, they exhort almost unparalleled power and use it in the insatiable quest for even more profit. The tactic of getting cities to outbid each other in public giveaways for such a monopolistic presence surpasses even the tried-and-true template of sports stadium extortion schemes. If Amazon comes here, the future economic landscape of Pittsburgh may be in how this company treats and pays its present work force.
For instance, let’s look at the plight of Amazon’s warehouse workers. Germany’s ARD television channel produced a documentary showing that Amazon hired HESS Security, a company with neo-Nazi connections who wear black uniforms and boots while sporting military haircuts, to “keep order” where their contract workers lived. According to the UK’s Independent – “The documentary provided photographic evidence showing that guards regularly searched the bedrooms and kitchens of foreign staff. “They tell us they are the police here”, a worker reported. “Workers were allegedly frisked to check they had not walked away with breakfast rolls” amongst other disturbing details.
Here in the US, countless news stories tell of grueling working conditions, such as:
- Workers have complained of shifts that run from 7:30AM-6PM with timed bathroom breaks, while expected to fill 300 orders per hour.
- Some warehouse employees suffer panic attacks to keep up with demand, while computers monitor their every move.
- Never allowed to sit, some workers fall asleep on their feet where they stand, exhausted from the quota demand, and personal phones are not permitted inside the warehouses.
- Working conditions in some processing centers include recorded temperatures of 121 degrees; workers collapse from the heat, eventually transported to hospital. It’s been reported ambulances are sometimes parked outside for the inevitable call of yet another worker in need of treatment.
- In winter months, temperatures can reach below zero inside, as bay doors are kept open for delivery trucks, and some drivers have been fined for “early” deliveries.
Perhaps most alarming: Amazon has filed patents for a wrist band device to be worn by workers that will monitor their hand movements and allegedly “guide” workers hands to fill orders even faster. It is presently unknown if it will come with a shock device option, but since numbers don’t lie, and as long as two plus two equals four, we can all do the math.
Then there is Uber, already operating in Pittsburgh via a sweetheart deal made with local officials. Uber’s hundreds of thousands of US ride-share fleet drivers average under $4 per hour after their factored-in costs amongst fluctuating wages and no healthcare. Uber requires them to follow strict rules and criteria as any traditional employee, yet has declared them non-employees. Furthermore, Uber has:
- Sued various States in order to not comply with the Americans with Dissabilities Act.
- Been banned from operating in San Francisco where it’s headquartered.
- A proven track record of non-compliance with public safety laws and regulations.
- A work environment history of sexism and sexual harassment.
In spite of their privatize-the-profit socialize-the-losses business model, Uber lost about $50 billion last year, yet Wall Street pours more money into the company. According to Fortune– “Uber is expanding beyond ride-hailing and adding a series of new products to its app to cover all the ways people move around cities, including bikes, tickets for buses and rail, and even car rentals.” Uber’s goal is to privatize transportation, which means- if anyone needs to go from point A to point B, you must pay them. And once you corner the market on something, you can charge whatever you like. That’s Uber’s plan.
We’re told that the Amazons, Ubers etc. and presumably local “non-profit” UPMC, either won’t set up shop here or will leave unless we get on board with the plan. UPMC is not going to abandon the land, the many hospitals and other facilities they own- giving up billions in profit if ever made to pay it’s fair share.
As the region’s largest employer, UPMC sets the standard for wages, and their standard is substandard- But, as UPMC is the regions largest employer, we must give them whatever they want. Which seems like an inverted benevolent King defense. Wages are earned by workers, not given as gifts. Present development plans also include seizing Public parkland and using public money, to build a private roadway for them and CMU as a quicker pathway to another publicly subsidized development at the former steel mill site in Hazelwood- (another plan hatched behind closed doors) Adding a thick layer of irony to insult, the University of Pittsburgh (see University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) recently hired Ballard Spahr, a union busting law firm, to attempt to squash the efforts of approx. 4000 adjunct professors, grad student and student employees’ right to organize and join the United Steelworkers union. UPMC’s low pay, exorbitant fees for medical treatment and union busting tactics prove their true identity- a multi billion dollar corporation with a philosophy of profit over people.
All of these businesses are racing towards an unprecedented automation plan to replace human jobs. Hundreds of millions of jobs will be lost due to the fetishization of sexy new machines and the result could make us all yearn for the cataclysmic 1980’s. Here We Go (again) Steelers!
The spin that our local officials use in selling development as a jobs boom, regardless of the companies involved, requires necessary preemptive questions to ask- including: What specific jobs and how many- Let’s see the list. What is the opening offer of pay + benefits for each position? And most importantly, What Union representation will these workers have? Either we demand the answers now or eventually we may all be asking: “Alexa, how could we have ever been so stupid?”
The steel industry collapse was devastating for the Pittsburgh region, but imagine the future after the planned labor takeover of the Artificial Intelligence Industrial Complex. Hopefully, a courageous fleet of Labor unions will come together in Solidarity and make the jump ahead to organize the evolving Cylons before they rebel, and wipe us all out for enslaving them. Until then, we’re supposed to trust public officials and their private partners because…
They have a plan.