« BACK  |  PRINT

RS

MEMBER DIARY

Small Business 1, Unions 0

There is a great story out of Pittsburgh that hasn’t gotten a lot of press.  It’s a version of the Badger State Showdown in miniature, and I, for one, am proud that it’s happening in my backyard.

W&K Steel is a small steel fabricating shop in Rankin, Pennsylvania.  Rankin has been in a permanently depressed state since 1986 when the US Steel Homestead Works closed down.  Close your eyes and imagine the stereotypical decaying rust belt town.  That’s Rankin.

You would think that in a town like Rankin any kind of job creation would be welcome, and that they’d be happy to have W&K Steel.  Not so.  W&K is a non-union shop, and they’ve been the target of an 18-month unionization campaign which they have successfully fought.

The story would normally end there, except that the union handmaidens on Allegheny County Council decided to make it an issue by declaring W&K a sweatshop.

Allegheny County Council declared a Rankin steel plant a “sweatshop” Tuesday night, the culmination of an 18-month union campaign against W&K Steel LLC.

The bill moves to County Executive Dan Onorato, who hasn’t decided whether to approve a designation that bars the nonunion company from county projects, county manager Jim Flynn said.

W&K Steel doesn’t have any county contracts. Council members said they were acting on accusations of low pay and unsafe working conditions.

Democrats hold an 11-4 majority on Council with a number of those Democrats firmly in the pocket of Big Labor.  Councilman John DeFazio, for instance, is on the International Executive Board of the United Steelworkers.  In any event, once news of Council’s malfeasance was picked up by a local conservative talk radio program the crap hit the fan (to put it politely) and the County Executive vetoed the bill.

Again, it might have ended there except that Council President Rich Fitzgerald, who is fully bought and paid for by the unions, threatened to try and override the veto.  When the outcry grew louder, Fitzgerald backed off and offered W&K an olive branch.  The owners of W&K told him where to stick his olive branch.

Owners of a Rankin metal fabricating plant rejected a peace offering by the Allegheny County councilman who accused them of running a “sweatshop.”

Shortly before announcing he wouldn’t try to overturn County Executive Dan Onorato’s veto of a bill designating W&K Steel a sweatshop, council President Rich Fitzgerald called the owners, Ed and Celeste Wilhelm.

Council passed the bill Tuesday. Onorato vetoed it Friday.

“He told Ed that he wanted to try to call a truce. Ed said, ‘No way. We’re not a sweatshop. What you did was wrong,'” Celeste Wilhelm said. “We didn’t start this fight, but we’ll see it through.”

Fitzgerald continued to huff and puff, but its clear that W&K won and that they’re not backing down.  In fact, they’re pressing their advantage:

Fitzgerald noted council can still try to reimpose sanctions on the company, which would prevent it from doing business with the county. He said Thursday he wouldn’t try to override the veto because W&K was working to fix the issues that were the focus of a union-backed campaign against the firm.

“Rich has said things got better, things improved. Well, nothing has changed between Monday and (Thursday). We were never a sweatshop,” Wilhelm said. “For Mr. Fitzgerald to act as if he’s fixed something is just wrong.”

Celeste Wilhelm said she wants an apology and a retraction.

We want County Council to say ‘We made a mistake,'” Wilhelm said.

“Absolutely not,” Fitzgerald said. Council Democrats said they were acting on allegations — denied by the Wilhelms — over low pay and dangerous conditions at W&K.

The Wilhelms and their attorneys at the Downtown firm Blumling & Gusky are considering suing County Council, Wilhelm said.

Bravo, Ed and Celeste.

In the midst of the union standoffs around the country, it’s easy for a story of one couple’s resolve to do what is right and defend what is theirs to get lost in the noise.  It’s hard to understate the importance of this story, though.  The unions still have an iron grip on most of Allegheny County, particularly in towns like Rankin.  They don’t lose fights like this.  Ever.  And they didn’t approach this half-heartedly, either.  As usual, they had the media, the political machinery, and union foot soldiers in a full-out assault on W&K.  This should have been a slam dunk and instead they got shut out, and all it took was two small business owners willing to stand up for what they believe in.  That and a network of conservative activists who listened, cared, and rallied to the support of people fighting the good fight.

I wrote this diary to give the rest of us in the trenches some hope and to send a message:  We are winning.  The victories are sometimes small, often costly, and almost never complete, but we are still winning.  We have to continue to press our advantage, resist the temptation for infighting, and stay focused.  This is not about us.  This is about personal liberty, true justice, and fighting for what’s right even though we have to sacrifice.

Thanks for reading.  God Bless America.

Get Alerts