Author Archives: Joe Doc

SEPTA Union May Strike on Election Day: Local 234 will vote Sunday on whether to authorize a strike that could last through November 8th

By Jared Brey

– The union representing SEPTA bus, subway and trolley operators will be asked to authorize a strike in the event that a new contract isn’t in place before November 1st, according to a report in PlanPhilly.

The 5,185-member Transport Workers Union Local 234 will vote on Sunday. Union president Willie Brown told the website he expects the members to authorize the strike. A “yes” vote wouldn’t make a strike inevitable, but it would give Brown the authority to call one if contract negotiations stall.

The negotiations don’t seem to be going that well right now. The union and management can’t even agree on where to meet to hold negotiations, Brown told PlanPhilly. SEPTA management downplayed the threat, saying that it isn’t unusual for unions to vote to authorize strikes during contract negotiations. (That’s true. Last month, faculty members at 14 state colleges and universities voted to authorize a strike in the event that negotiations fail, but no strike has been called yet.)

If the strike is authorized and Brown decides to go through with it, it could end up lasting through Election Day. While most people vote close to their homes, any shutdown of SEPTA service tends make getting around the city exponentially more difficult.

The threat of a strike on such an important day also gives the union leverage in these negotiations, and gives both sides an incentive to reach a deal quickly. The last SEPTA strike was in 2014, when Regional Rail employees stopped work. The bus and trolley workers also threatened to strike ahead of the World Series in 2009, when the Phillies faced the Yankees. But they ended up holding off until after the Phillies lost.

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Trump Taj Mahal closes in Atlantic City, nearly 3,000 workers lose their jobs

By Joe Hernandez

– Slot machines were still flashing their neon lights inside the Trump Taj Mahal early Monday morning as workers barricaded the doors shut with cut-down wooden boards.

The casino and hotel, which Donald Trump dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when he opened it in 1990, closed for good just before 6 a.m.

About 3,000 workers lost their jobs.

“It was like burying a loved one. You don’t want to let them go,” said relief cook Chuck Baker.

Current owner Carl Icahn decided to close the Taj Mahal after failing to reach a contract agreement with unionized workers, who had been on strike for months to protest their health and pension benefits.

“Today is a sad day for Atlantic City. Despite our best efforts, which included losing almost $350 million over just a few short years, we were unable to save the Taj Mahal,” said Icahn, in a statement. “Like many of the employees at the Taj Mahal, I wish things had turned out differently.”

The Taj Mahal is the fifth Atlantic City casino to close since 2014, when gambling houses began to shutter amid slipping profits and increased competition from neighboring states.

But Unite Here Local 54 president Bob McDevitt claimed that Icahn closed the casino to retaliate against workers who walked off the job in July.

“There is no way that Carl Icahn made the decision based upon finances,” said McDevitt. “This was an attack on workers who stood up to him.”

Although Trump no longer owns the casino, his presence was felt on the boardwalk Monday morning — and not only because the building still bears his name.

“Carl Icahn’s economic policies are the same as Donald Trump’s,” said Tina Condos, a former cocktail waitress at the Taj Mahal, just hours after the second presidential debate. “If you want to make America great again, let’s try to make this city — and the building with your name on it — great again.”

Condos said the casino closure was a sign that owners no longer cared about the rights of workers, whom she said helped make Atlantic City the destination resort it is. “They came. They took. They sucked out the money. And they left all the workers here.”

Atlantic City resident Michael Gesualdo was one of the last gamblers to place a bet inside the Taj Mahal. “My heart’s hurting,” he said as the doors closed behind him.

When asked what the Taj Mahal meant to him, Gesualdo replied, “Everything! Food, the atmosphere, living life. Come on, man! It’s the center of the universe.”

But now-jobless employees like relief cook Chuck Baker were nevertheless hopeful the casino would reopen someday, like others that have recently gone under.

Showboat, which closed in 2014, has since reopened as a hotel. The new owner of the Revel, which also shuttered in 2014, hopes to debut a new resort there soon.

“They’re burying Taj Mahal, [but] maybe it’ll rise from the ashes and the dust again to the grandeur that it once was.”

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Philadelphia Orchestra on strike; gala concert canceled

– By Peter Dobrin, Culture Writer

– The Fabulous Philadelphians are on strike.

Friday night, a crowd of about 1,000 sat in Verizon Hall waiting for the orchestra to appear for the scheduled start of the Opening Night Gala.

But no Philadelphia Orchestra appeared on stage. Unbeknownst to most in the audience, the 96 musicians and two librarians belonging to American Federation of Musicians Local 77 had decided to go out on strike about an hour before curtain time.

Finally, about 20 minutes after the scheduled start, orchestra president Allison B. Vulgamore came out on stage to say that no labor agreement was in place for “one of the world’s greatest orchestras, if not the greatest,” and the performance would not happen.

Last-minute efforts to save the concert were launched backstage. Both sides tried to hammer out an agreement even well after the 7 p.m. curtain time, but those talks failed.

When the entire audience had filed out, musicians came out from backstage into the lobby of the Kimmel Center carrying picket signs. Audience members applauded and cheered them, while several philanthropists and members of local arts boards booed.

“Shame on you,” shouted a couple of elderly donors at musicians, who walked past them stony-faced.

“I’m disappointed — I think they could have chosen another night,” said one orchestra donor who declined to give her name.

Sarah Darrow of Center City, who had bought a last-minute $20 conductors’ circle ticket, was likewise disappointed, but philosophical. “I assume that this great institution will go on and I’ll hear them another night,” she said.

Negotiations earlier in the day over a new labor deal —the first formal talks in more than two weeks — ended Friday afternoon with musicians bitterly unhappy with the offer.

Friday night’s gala was not scrapped, creating a strange dissonance: revelers celebrating an organization now at war with itself. The Philadelphia Orchestra Association’s gala dinner for a crowd of about 550 in black tie and gowns went on as planned in the Kimmel lobby.

Musicians picketed on Broad Street in a light rain.

The gala concert — one of the biggest fund-raisers of the year — was to have featured conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading the orchestra in works by Bernstein, Gershwin, Ravel, and Respighi.

No new talks are scheduled. All of this weekend’s concerts have been canceled. Immediately hanging in the balance are two early October concerts with conductor Simon Rattle scheduled for Philadelphia and Carnegie Hall.

It is the orchestra’s first strike since 1996, when musicians were out for 64 days. Philadelphia’s players found unfortunate commiseration on the other side of the commonwealth, where another first-rate orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, also went on strike Friday.

Musicians here had been playing without a new contract since the old pact’s expiration Sept. 12, while both sides agreed to a “play and talk” deal. The initial proposed deal offered players no raises in the first three years, and 1 percent raises in each of two years after that, with no commitment to restore the size of the ensemble to pre-bankruptcy levels.

Players called management’s initial offer “regressive.”

The last-minute pact both sides were arriving at on Friday evening was a two-year deal, with a 2 percent raise in the first year. Management proposed a 2 percent raise in the second year, and musicians wanted 3 percent. The difference in their positions ultimately came to a total of only about $90,000 over the life of the contract, said Melvin S. Schwarzwald, the musicians’ Cleveland-based lawyer.

Philadelphia Orchestra Association vice president Ryan Fleur did not dispute that amount, but said that when management would not agree to the higher percentage raise, the musicians walked out.

“Things were close,” said Fleur, but he said that arriving at a framework still would have left the many parts of the labor agreement to be worked out, including work rules, the question of adding more players to the orchestra, and other details.

The strike comes at a time of frustration with the pace of recovery since the orchestra emerged from bankruptcy in 2012.

Fund-raising has gone slower than expected, and management still has not been able to close a $5 million gap in the annual budget. The last contract was an unusual, stopgap deal, one year in duration, while arts consultant Michael Kaiser completed a report examining some of the underlying causes of the orchestra’s financial troubles, while recommending some course corrections. The orchestra’s board has not approved Kaiser’s plan, fueling musicians’ dismay.

Musicians say they are seeking to remain among the top-paid in the country. The base minimum for players in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, without seniority or other extra pay, will be $152,672 at the end of this season. With no raise in Philadelphia, the minimum would be $128,544.

One backstage negotiation offer from management for a new three-year contract would have brought the base pay to $135,000 a year by the third year, the Association said in a statement.

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Harry Reid, citing Atlantic City casino worker, calls Donald Trump a racist

By Amber Phillips, The Washington Post

– Here’s what the Senate minority leader said on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, according to a C-SPAN transcript:

“Virtually every time Donald Trump says or does something discriminatory — and that’s often — the media has a bunch of words to describe his actions. The press uses words like “prejudice” and “bigot” to name but a few. Yet there’s always one word that many of the press conspicuously avoids: “Racist.” They never label Trump as a racist. But he is a racist. Donald Trump is a racist. Racist is a term I don’t throw around lightly. … We’ve all, with rare exception — I don’t know who it would be — but have said things that are not politically correct. But I don’t know of anyone that, when that happens, doesn’t acknowledge it and, if necessary, apologize quickly. But Donald Trump doesn’t believe the racist things he does and says are wrong. He says them with full intent to demean and denigrate. That’s who he is.”

Reid’s message was hard to miss. Out of the 11 sentences that we excerpted from the Nevada Democrat’s (much longer) speech, Reid said the word “racist” five times — all of it in the context of calling Trump one. And then he repeated his claim on Twitter, linking to a Huffington Post article declaring some of Trump’s comments “racist.”

Reid also cited the comments of a former worker at one of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos:

“In the 1980s, Trump took his racism to Atlantic City… He was accused of making his African American employees move off the casino floor when he didn’t want to see them, which was any time he came to the casino. One employee, Kit Brown, said, “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor. It was the eighties, I was a teen-ager, but I remember it: they put us all in the back.”

This, perhaps, doesn’t come as a surprise. Reid has long been one of Trump’s most outspoken and colorful critics. In a speech in June, he blamed the Republican Party for creating the Trump phenomenon:

“For years, Sen. McConnell and other Republican leaders embraced the darkest elements within their party. The Republican Party made anti-woman, anti-Latino, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-Obama policies the norm. Trump is the logical conclusion of what Republican leaders have been saying and doing for 7 1/2 years.”

Reid is retiring at the end of this year after three decades in Congress, and the insults he hurls at Trump have become much more colorful of late. He recently called Trump a “con artist,” “a spoiled brat” and a “human leech.” Oh, and he body-shamed Trump at a news conference: “Take a look at this character that’s running for president. … He’s not slim and trim. He brags about eating fast food every day.” Several days ago he made an unsubstantiated claim that he knew why Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns.

But Reid is far from the only person — on either side of the aisle — to criticize some of Trump’s remarks in the context of racism. After Trump said he didn’t think a federal judge could preside fairly over a Trump University lawsuit because of the judge’s “Mexican heritage,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Trump’s comments fit “the textbook definition of racism” — a fact Reid cited Monday to bolster his point.

Still, this is the first time this year a high-profile U.S. political leader has flat out called the Republican presidential nominee racist. And that’s a notable moment. Reid is not just saying that something Trump said or a policy he championed is racist. Reid is saying the problem is the candidate himself.

Reid has found himself critiqued for his own language on race. In 2010, he apologized following revelations that during the 2008 campaign he had referred to Obama as “light-skinned” and as having “no Negro dialect.”

In an interview with CNN 10 days ago, Reid was offered the chance to call Trump a racist. At that point, he declined. “I don’t know,” he said in response to a question from CNN’s Manu Raju about whether Trump is a racist. “All you guys have a job to do. You make that decision. I’m not going to. I’m just telling you what he’s done and we’ve seen it. He’s a man of no morality.”

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Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale Testifies on Lack of Safety Standards for Public Sector Workers

By The Pa. AFL-CIO

– Today, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale testified before the PA House Labor and Industry Committee in support of House Bill 1082, the Jake Schwab Worker’s Protection Bill. The bill, introduced by Representative Patrick Harkins, extends the safety standards and workplace protections put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to public sector employees.

President Bloomingdale remarked on OSHA’s success in reducing workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. He also highlighted the double standard for employee safety. Currently, only employees in the private sector are protected by OSHA’s federal safety standards, leaving public sector employees at a disadvantage. Our Commonwealth and its political subdivisions employ over 500,000 workers; these men and women are not afforded the same protections under the law as their private sector counterparts.

With his testimony, President Bloomingdale encouraged the State to apply the same workplace safety standards and protections to its public-sector workers that it does for private-sector employees. “It is a fundamental right of all employees to work in an environment that is safe”.

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