A press release by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation warned of labor storming the Pennsylvania State Capitol on January 28. With activists lining the mezzanines, it looked more like the Rotunda was being defended. The event was not a rally though, but a press conference in opposition to House Bill 1507, a "Paycheck Protection" bill currently in Committee in the Pennsylvania House.
The press conference was organized by the State AFL-CIO, and began with an invocation from a Pittsburgh priest. A firefighter from Altoona and a corrections officer voiced their solidarity with the other public and private sector workers. "This legislation will make my job more dangerous. It makes it harder for workers and employers to work together to find safe and cost-effective solutions. This legislation will take away my rights and my voice,” said Bill Jones, an employee at the Lancaster County Corrections Facility.
The State President of the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police Association, Les Niri, went on the offensive and debunked many of the myths that groups like the Commonwealth Foundation have spread about payroll deductions.
The African-American community, remembering the role that Pennsylvania's unions played in the opposition to the "Voter ID" bill, made their voice heard. A Harrisburg minister remarked that Jim Crow had been replaced by "James Crow, Esq". The head of the Harrisburg NAACP remarked that it's a matter of "A, B, C, anyone but Corbett!"
Pennsylvania Teamsters President William Hamilton warned that union members would remember who voted for and against workers. He also linked this bill to legislation that passed in Wisconsin and Michigan.
At points the press conference did take on the feel of a rally; with chants of "We are one", "Whose house? Our House", and "One term Tom!"
The workers who gathered in the rotunda were but one group gathered. An additional thousand-plus people were literally left in the cold; State AFL-CIO treasurer Frank Snyder addressed that crowd after the main rally:
If this were about ethics they would support raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits to unemployed workers whom are still looking for a job. No this isn’t about ethics this is all about distractions, more smoke and mirrors and playing political games instead of solving our problems: creating jobs, expanding the middle class and putting Pennsylvania back to work. We won’t be fooled!
A third group of one hundred workers gathered in the East Wing of the Rotunda. James Knuz, of Operating Engineers Local 66, used a microphone from a separate conference to rally those gathered there.
After the conference, some participants took to lobbying thier State Representatives. A link to e-mail the Governor and your Representative can be found here.