Mike Lamb & John Weinstein dismissing LGBT employees needs

This really angers me.  I have personally spoken with City Controller Michael Lamb, City Councilperson Bill Peduto and City Council President Doug Shields among others, ALL of whom have promised me that City County merger would not mean that City employees (or potential employees) lost benefits.

The problem?  Well, the City of Pittsburgh, including most unions, offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried, partnered employees.  I'm going to have dig up the data but the number of heterosexual employees who utilize this benefit is vastly higher than the number of LGBT employees.  Like a 10:1 ratio.  The County of Allegheny does NOT offer these benefits to their employees.  The last time someone went on the record was at the Big Gay Endorsement mtg sponsored by the Allegheny County Democrat Committee in 2006 at which time a representative of Chief Executive Onorato said it was too expensive.

Ahem.  In the magical world of make believe, consider if every unmarried employee left the County and they were replaced by good Catholic people with families and children.  The County would HAVE to pony up the cash to cover those benefits, so this is a very hollow argument.  Not to mention the hard data that shows what a small impact this benefit has on most companies.

Then there is the oft cited Richard Florida perspective that going gay-friendly attracts the best and the brightest.  The HRC data agrees.

In growing numbers, both public and private employers across the country recognize partner benefits as an inexpensive option to attract and retain the best employees and to promote fairness and equality in the workplace.

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So it doesn't really cost more and could help strengthen the workforce (and the region).  The economic arguments all say that the County is behind the curve in meeting the best interests of their employees and the residents of Allegheny County.

Finally, there are the unions.  I was told by LGBT leaders (and labor lawyers) that it “very complicated” because the a union member has to ask for the benefit so the union can bring it up at the bargaining table and blah, blah, blah.  Are you kidding me? The process is the problem?  What complete and utter bullshit.  You can't tell me with a straight face (so to speak) that Dan Onorato, would be Governor, can't have a conversation with the appropriate union folks to make this happen. I refuse to believe it and if it is true, the man isn't fit to be a leader. We are talking about GIVING people more benefits. Since when is it inappropriate for government to extend benefits to people, especially their employees?  If Dan Onorato suddenly decided to GIVE County employees an additional holiday, would there need to be an AFL-CIO convention to make it happen?  No one convened a special union meeting when President Obama extended domestic partner benefits (except health insurance) to federal employees.  Governor Ed Rendell pulled it off (with health insurance) for state employees.  Or maybe they did have the meetings, but the point is they led.  They didn't point fingers or cry about how mean the SEIU is. 

And it is fine if the LGBT folks want to get angry with me for airing the dirty laundry. You should all be ashamed that you remained silent when the 911 merger took place. You should have and continue to be screaming from the rooftops. This is the year 2009 in case anyone forgot.  I think it has been TWO DECADES since the City made this happen. The resounding silence from the LGBT community speaks volumes.  Shame on us. 

What's that?  Oh, back when the City and County decided to merge their 911 centers into one consolidated County run program, all the City employees lost their domestic partner benefits.  They also lost their civil job protections, but Amanda Green righted that travesty this summer. I don't know how many people that impacted, but City leaders who oversaw that merger should hang their heads in regret that they allowed ANYONE to lose benefits, including potential employees. You let your employees down and that's just sad.

So what's the big deal?  Well, the folks most likely to be merged into the County system are probably the lower paid clerical/menial labor staffers, right?  It isn't like City Councilperson to be Daniel Lavelle and County Councilperson Matt Drozd are sharing a desk.  It is the people who can least afford to lose benefits that are most likely to do so.  It shouldn't happen period, but it certainly shouldn't happen to the lowest paid employees. 

But here we go again, according to the Post-Gazette.  They City and County are coordinating tax collections.  Hey, that seems like a smart, cost-saving move.  No word on whether any jobs are being shifted around.  I'm betting the folks on this end of the process aren't exactly raking in the big bucks.  Is some clerk somewhere losing his or her job?  Is a vacant position lost forever in the consolidation?  Will anyone make this information public? 

I'm not anti-merger.  The jury is still out on how that would look in the big picture and I'm okay with sharing services in principle.  I'm not, however, okay with unmarried people being penalized to work for Dan Onorato. It is a discriminatory step and someone needs to address it. 

So, either we have leaders that can put this pesky problem to rest by extending DP benefits to County employees or we have politicians who play the blame game and allow people to lose a hard-won benefit because they can't work out a simple HR issue.

Any gay person who supports Dan Onorato for Governor while he remains a good, Catholic boy on this issue is a fool, a self-loathing bigot and an embarrassment to your community.  And our so-called allies like State Senator Daylin Leach aren't doing us any favors by promoting useless marriage equality legislation while endorsing the dp-benefit deficit that is the Onorato campaign. 

And I, apparently, am a fool for trusting that someone who comes to Pridefest will honor their word. I'm sure they are going to claim this particular merger didn't impact jobs, but that isn't the point.  You are going to back end us into a merger and then tell us it is too late to address the HR issue.  Every service merger is a lost opportunity to have this conversation. 

I won't make that mistake again. 

Major “fail” on the part of the City Controller, City Council and County Council for lack of action and leadership when it comes to this issue. 

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  • Has anyone considered that a County employee might not feel safe asking for these benefits? Do we have to force people to come out to their union bosses to deserve health insurance for their families? How gay friendly is an employer led by someone like Onorato?

  • There is nothing that Grant Street employees like more than gossiping about one another. It's the pastime in the City-County Building, County Office Building and County Courthouse. I've worked in two, my mother worked in the third. Everybody's business was all over the place there, the minute it was told to one person, it was known. Pregnancies, divorces, affairs, orientation, it was all fodder for the rumor mill, much of it coming out of the employees in HR and benefits themselves.
    And let's don't kid ourselves, our “liberal” democrats in this county are majority Catholic and at best don't know/care about LGBT equality issues, at worse, take the Catholic position on it.
    Having been in that atmosphere, I don't think I trust some of the politically connected, essentially unfireable, patronage-in-all-ways-but-name old school county employees to treat LGBT employees in their departments (especially underlings) appropriately. I can understand the perception amongst those working that it's best to just keep quiet and go along and not rock this particular boat.
    But, this is where leaders have to step up. Be an example, make it known that intolerance is not going to be the way things are done, that LGBT employees are going to be treated with fairness and equality to the boundaries of the law, and it's an embarrassment that the county is lagging behind the city in this respect.

  • This seems like circular logic. Employees are supposed to ask for a benefit that they don't know they might be eligible to get. The breakdown in leadership seems to be with the unions.
    What “you can't tell me” is that gay people can't talk to the unions. Amanda Green is a union lawyer. Kevin McCarthy ran on a union platform. Rachel Canning works for a pro-union organization. The lesbian owner of Hoi Polloi works for the AFL-CIO. If these people aren't pushing the unions to ask for these benefits, maybe you should wag your finger at them.

  • It isn't self-loathing. It is self-interest.
    Why would owners of service industry companies like gay bars and bathhouses care about domestic partner benefits? Do you think Images and Pegasus offer health insurance to their bartenders? Some bars don't even pay the bartenders; they work for tips only.
    It is in their interest to have an in with the next Governor. Even if he loses, they still win when he continues to run the County.
    Leadership is not a priority for these people. Profit and power are their priorities.

  • The unions are more homophobic than Onorato. Not everyone who joins a union becomes this bleeding heart liberal. They still shop at Wal-Mart. They still want their friends and family to get the next job. They are as racist, homophobic, sexist and Catholic as most of Pittsburgh.
    Remember, Onorato announced with the Teamsters. A group that supports Onorato and opposes Jim Ferlo is not a friend to poor gay people.

  • I'm more concerned about the debt burden of future consolidation. Higher taxes to support the bloated union pensions are going to keep my family “poor” far more than health insurance benefits.
    Why not give domestic partner benefits to County employees who aren't unionized? They probably need it more.

  • Everyone wants to put down Images and Gary. Well I work for him and he provides any employee that works 20+ hours a week with benefits including dental insurance.
    Recently a staff member was severely hurt. He was in ICU for over 2 weeks and has a long recovery ahead. Luckily he had benefits from working at the bar that has covered his medical expenses.

  • Even the nicest person in the world will be resented for trying too hard and taking things over. We don't need a king, we need community building.
    It's great that he offers insurance; that's moral and financially wise. He has other issues to work on if he wants respect, but that isn't the issue in this thread.
    The issue is that our elected officials, not our would be kings, refuse to take leadership on this matter. I've never heard a City or County Councilperson utter a public word on the matter. Nor has a union spoken out for gay persons. Yes, all of those union affiliated folks came to get our votes and stood one by one claiming to be a union member or have union endorsements. Yet they are quiet too.
    Gay leaders, too. Many of them are highly placed executives. Do they know the HRC ranking of their companies? Does WQED offer domestic partner benefits? Do the law firms? What about the gay friendly churches? We don't know because it never comes up.
    How you can expect elected officials to care when gay people aren't talking about it and gay voters aren't talking it?
    A lot of folks gave money to Tom Michalow, but I never heard that he promised to make domestic partner benefits happen. Maybe he shouldn't. Maybe it is time for Onorato to show progressive leadership to prove to Philadelphia he's worthy of the Governor's seat (that makes me gag just to say that he'd do it for them).
    Everyone is a “fail” to use Twitter speak.
    The only person who benefits is Joe Hoeffel who can prove that his districts have this benefit, that it doesn't cost very much and that he offers it to his own campaign staff. The question will be whether gay people are paying attention to a candidate from the other side of the state.

  • It really is a complicated process involving union bargaining and certain procedures. But that's not an excuse for inaction. If Mr. Onorato put out the word that he wanted this to happen, the unions would respond and put things in motion. Right now, he can take the safe position that no one asked and the unions can take the safe position that he isn't offering. End result? They all look only slightly homophobic, don't offend their Catholic base and can still cling to the Jurassic Era Democrat party.
    Don't let Lamb, Peduto and company fool you. They need the party and they need to make progress on consolidation. They probably have the inside scoop on why Onorato won't budge on this, but either they don't have the guts to make it happen or they aren't willing to pay the price Onorato would exact to do them a favor.

  • WQED has offered partner benefits since 1986 (I think). I know it came about sometime in the mid-80s. Also, AFLAC signs GLBT couples up as partners to get the two-person discount. All I did was ask.

  • They don't even have email.
    http://www.alleghenydemocrats.com/contact.htm
    I think we should all intentionally start calling the Chair, Jim BurnS (makes him nuts) until they put an email address on their website. If they can pay an Executive Director, she can answer some email.
    Meanwhile, the RCAC under the leadership of Monica Douglas has a blog, a Facebook page and multiple email contacts.
    Even grannies use email, Jim. Get with the 1990s and then we can talk about domestic partner benefits.

  • Hi George,
    This conversation is interesting. I'm glad to learn that Images and WQED offer domestic partner benefits (or at least Images offers health insurance — not sure if it covers families). But still … AFLAC is intriguing. When they came to my former employer, they would not give us a family policy citing state law. Now All State provides similar coverage as two individual policies. Is there someone at AFLAC with whom you can put me in touch? I'd really like to get to the bottom of this. Is it state law or company policy?
    Another good example of how marriage equality really trickles down. If health insurance weren't predicated on marriage, none of this would be an issue, right kids? Sheesh. Maybe we should put more energy into Jason Altmire than Dan Onorato.

  • PS.
    The stuff about social media is fascinating, too. Just put that up on FB where I am friends with Monica from RCAC. She should know that people from LGBT community pay attention to this sort of thing. Really quite sad how few gays use new social media, at least the gays in power. Delta is probably far ahead of the curve in using it. I can't think of anyone else who does so effectively. Can you?

  • Haven't you heard? Green is the new gay. Oh, our alies still support us, but the City of Pittsburgh thinks they took care of gay issues 20 years ago. After all, Pridefest is wonderful so things must be just dandy for City homosexuals.

  • Sim, your post is exactly what's wrong with this blog. You impune the character of someone in your original post (“Do you think Images and Pegasus offer health insurance to their bartenders?”) without having any facts. Your only purpose there was to create anger and hatred toward someone in the LGBT community. In essence, you bashed someone by spewing lies.
    Well, ok, you didn't actually lie. You did what Sean Hannity and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh do; they “ask questions” that presume an answer which destroys people or questions their character or motives, etc. And then when someone calles you on it, like “Images Employee” you change the subject (“that isn't the issue in this thread”). Classic RNC/conservative play book tactics. Impune someone's character by inuendo then redirect the issue when confronted about it.
    Also, I'm curious as to where you get your fact that “some bars don't even pay the bartenders; they work for tips only”? What bar would that be? Or are you just trying again to divide the gay community by creating hatred and animosity towards the bar owners?

  • Do you read other blogs? That is what comment sections are for — people spout off. If you don't like the comments, post a response or start another blog to spout off about how awesome the bar owners are. You should read http://pghcomet.blogspot.com where you will see an array of rumors, innuendo, insults, disparaging remarks and general lies. Of course, you can also get that from a City Council meeting. It is called politics and if you expect any segment of the gay community to above that fray, you are too lofty.

  • If Sim hadn't asked that question, I would never have known Images offers health insurance. My opinion of that particular bar owner just went UP. You are too harsh, though, because most service industry jobs do not offer health insurance. It was a reasonable guess.
    Maybe if this conversation was happening in real life, like at a gay Democrats meeting, instead of online I would have a chance to learn about these things.

  • Gay people are just as argumentative and pigheaded as straight people. I guess that's progress for you.
    Michael Lamb made a promise to the LGBT community and didn't keep it. It is very disappointing that he missed yet another opportunity to do the right thing. He has a good record from his staff days in City Council and he's a smart guy who understands the fiscal realities of an inclusive economic development agenda. It doesn't make sense that he is willfully ignoring this issue. Maybe he thinks it is politically smart to wait to bring this to the table?
    He just doesn't understand the message this sends. Lamb will run for higher office and we should remember that when he had the chance, he failed.

  • The RCAC does leave Pittsburgh's LGBT leadership and the local Dems looking like artifacts from the 1980s. These are people who put the word email on a business card just in case you don't recognize what the @ sign means. It is embarrassing how backwards we are.
    It amazes me that we have three Democrats running for Governor and none of them have any significant social media presence. It has never been more clear whose vote they are courting than that simple fact.
    They should watch out. John Pippy tweets early and often which means people are paying attention. Too bad the same can't be said for Chelsa Wagner and Jake Wheatley.

  • Chelsa just had a baby. She doesn't have time to talk with her constituents. Besides do you really want Pat Reilly tweeting? He might accidentally say something is endorsed by Obama.
    Good thing Rendell already put domestic partner benefits into place for state employees cause neither Uncle Jack or Danny Boy would be feeling that.

  • Not really. Unions are pretty conservative. We are still struggling for women and blacks to move into leadership roles or get jobs. Can you name a single gay union figure or leader? There are plenty of gay folks in the unions, but it isn't the safest place to be out.

  • Thanks for writing about this. I have only thought about this stupid merger in terms of my taxes and services. We had no clue people working for the County don't have domestic partner benefits. I don't want to pay for your elected official's pension debt, Sue, but the health benefits seem like a no brainer.
    Gay people who live in the suburbs need to get into this debate because our lack of marriage equality means each discussion about taxes and services is different for us.
    Different = higher taxes, lower quality services.

  • Lamb is no different than Obama. They make promised and then tell us “not now.” I'm more worried about Obama's failure on Don't Ask, Don't Tell than something that impacts 10 people here in Allegheny County.

  • Sim didn't ask a question to get information; she did it to impugn someone's character. “Does anyone know if Images or Pegasus offers health benefits?” would be a question in search of information. “Do you think Images and Pegasus offer health insurance to their bartenders?” is snide and presupposes an answer. That's all I'm saying. Many of these commenters are just verbal bullies who whip up (gay) populist frenzy against individuals they don't like (and probably don't even know…).

  • So because there are other verbal bullies out there it's ok to create inuendo and bash someone's character. Nice. That will really accomplish a lot. I didn't say I didn't like the comments; I said I didn't like people being bullied. I applaud honest, civil debate where folks can agree to disagree. Spreading lies and rumors about people does no one any good.

  • Interesting discussion here. I was kind of tuned out at first because a City-County merger is so far off that I and many doubt it will ever happen — but I didn't read closely enough to realize that consolidations of individual gov't services are indeed happening, in fact they're on the agenda this morning and will be a hot issue (hopefully) for some time.
    There was a side-discussion about blog commenting, and can I just say that sub-ideal commenting is a good way to get a discussion going but will never be as productive as face-to-face stuff. I hope the mayor's LGBTQ Advisory Board wades in to thorny issues like this — in fact, I hope they are meeting and will be active. And I hope your own orgs (Delta, Lambda, what have you) tackle politically charged stuff like this and don't always stick to the easier stuff. That is the drawback of face-to-face dialogue as opposed to blogs; sometimes the tough stuff gets passed over for the sake of keeping everyone friendly and motivated. So I like that we have both. 🙂
    Finally, let me say that although I don't doubt there's an extent to which he's using it as cover, these unions really do drive the benefits discussions. Because if the gov't says it wants to cover domestic partner benefits, then the union leaders could turn around and say, “That's taking money which you've budgeted for benefits AWAY from something else we want even MORE.” So pursuing initiatives to make labor unions more gay friendly is a great idea. Maybe more gay union members should run for leadership posts? Maybe the employees of Images should organize? 😉

  • Thanks for chiming in Bram. I disagree on one point. The unions may drive the benefit discussions, but far too many other leaders have managed to make it happen for me to believe that's a real issue. I can't imagine the County unions are so vastly dissimilar to the unions of state employees, City employees, Pitt employees and the multiple private sector companies that offer domestic partner benefits.
    Either Onorato lacks the capacity to work it out with the unions or he lacks the political will to expend some of his capital on the issue. In both scenarios, he's proving himself unqualified to represent the best interests of the LGBT community as a potential Governor.
    Further, the City leaders shouldn't let him get away with it. Either they have our backs on these issues or they don't. Why should the gay community have to tackle union-based homophobia to protect benefits that were put into place years ago? That's the ultimate passing of the buck — run on a platform of voting to put LGBT benefits and rights in place, then tell us we have to do all the heavy lifting to keep them? No, that's not acceptable.
    I wouldn't suggest Images employees organize. In all seriousness, they have a pretty good benefits package and joining a union might mean they have to ask for something to which they are already entitled without a union.

  • Sue you bring up an interesting perspective.
    Do you think that a “progressive” democrat can win in a statewide race?
    This past election we had quite a few progressive judges that were slaughtered at the polls. Can PA elect a “progressive” governor?

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