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Dam restoration jobs will be union gigs, Deluzio says – Pittsburgh Union Progress



A ceremony marking the formal opening of the Montgomery Lock and Dam along the Ohio River in Beaver County began with a motorboat race at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 29, 1936. The day ended with fireworks. 

There wasn’t much else to celebrate that year, at least not for working folks. The Great Depression entered its seventh full year, with the unemployment rate at 16.8%. Dust storms buried the prairie states, forcing thousands of families to leave their land and move westward, a migration that inspired John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Working people were taking a beating but fought back, making 1936 a year of strikes — a total of 2,100 throughout the U.S., involving a wide swath of the labor force, from distillery workers in Pekin, Illinois, to  rubber workers in Akron, Ohio, to autoworkers in Flint, Michigan, who embarked on a successful sit-down strike against General Motors.

Much has changed in the nearly nine decades that have passed since then. Some things haven’t. Working conditions, as well as wages and benefits, remain relevant issues — recall last year’s wave of work stoppages, now known as the Summer of Strikes. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2023 shows 458,900 workers were involved strikes. Once again, autoworkers were at the forefront, with the United Auto Workers staging a strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers.

We haven’t seen as many strikes this year, but the issue of union work — jobs with worker protections and negotiated wages — continues to make its way into the news.

Just a few days ago, for example, Pittsburgh Union Progress received a news release from the office of U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Aspinwall, highlighting the congressman’s efforts to ensure union workers are hired to complete restoration of the 88-year-old Montgomery Lock and Dam.

The restoration project is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and will require approximately 28,000 construction jobs. It’s expected to cost $857 million. 

To comply with a Biden executive order, federally funded projects totaling more than $35 million require project labor agreements, identified as pre-hire collectively bargained agreements negotiated between contractors and construction unions. These agreements establish the terms and conditions of employment.

Deluzio’s news release, however, states that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not initially complying with this order. So the congressman stepped in to coordinate with local unions, the Biden administration and the Army Corps to make sure PLAs were in place for all work on the Montgomery Lock and Dam.

The release quotes Steve Mazza, council representative at Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters: “We have a chance to lift people and communities up, through workforce development, through Project Labor Agreements, and through union jobs.” 

Deluzio said the agreement at once ensures worker protection and pay and high-quality work.

The PUP is the publication of the striking workers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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