Strong Workers, Strong People, Strong Middle Class

To Wabtec

Want strong workers? You’ve got them in Erie, Pennsylvania.

When General Electric’s business boomed, they hired some of the best, hard-working, skilled labor from all over the city. Other manufacturers were angry. GE enticed some great workers to leave their jobs and come work for them. They added some of the city’s best skilled labor to their own great workforce, and the result is these strong men and women now stand arm in arm in sub-zero wind chills fighting to keep middle-class jobs in the city they love.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have strong workers who are weak people. These individuals will help your company thrive. Be glad for their strength. They want your company to succeed. They want sustainable work for future generations.

They want to work.

Negotiate. Get them back to their jobs. Let them prove themselves.

To economic leaders

Do you want more jobs in Erie? Tell manufacturers and corporate America about the strength of our region. For once, the country is watching Erie, Pennsylvania. Don’t waste this opportunity.

Get economic leaders who feel Erie’s skilled labor are paid too much away from the table. We don’t need their negativism. The truth is, corporate America would like nothing more than to push skilled labor like ours out of the middle class and into the working poor.

Yes, unions are not perfect. But they are absolutely necessary to sustain the middle class. Without them? Our country will erode into two classes: the rich and the working poor.

Please, sit down with our unions today and use this brief yet vital opportunity of being in the lime light to show a unified effort to attract businesses. Showcase Erie as strong, skilled and resilient. Sell our work ethic. Our love of our region. And if you don’t believe Erie is strong, skilled, and resilient, at least get out of the room and let the rest of us fight for our lives.

To the union workers

Stay strong. The strength of a man doesn’t show in his economic status. It shows in his soul. This fight is bigger than all of us. Whether you know it or not, you are in the fight of your lives to help keep the middle class, not only in Erie, but in our entire country.

When you get back to work, and hopefully you will soon, work your tails off. Show them just how strong Erie is.

God bless.

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Cyndie Zahner has lived in the Erie community her entire life. She is a retired grant writer/administrator, and now writes fiction novels. Her husband, brother-in-law, and nephew-in-law work at Wabtec. Her brother, Mike Filutze, is a GE retiree. Her father-in-law, Edwin Zahner, was a proud GE employee for thirty-seven years. Follow Cyndie on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon. See her BookCircle Online interview at here.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/cyndiezahner/

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When Words Hurt

Why Your Words Hurt, Mr. Grunke

For a moment in the morning he wakes up, and everything is fine. Then he opens his eyes and remembers the nightmare.

He’s on strike.

More thoughts run through him. How long will this last? What about the mortgage? Should he pull his son out of hockey? His daughter from dance? Where is gas cheapest? Will his first-grader come home from school upset, again?

Because they do, the little ones overhear people talking about the strike. They come home and ask, “Will we run out of money?” “Can I still go to my school?” And their parents pick them up, smile, and assure them everything will be all right. They hope they aren’t lying.

An Impression on Wabtec and other business Interests

The Wabtec employees, old and young alike, want jobs. They want living-wage jobs. They want to make a great impression on business interests so their children have jobs. Their hopes for this city are the same as economic leaders’ hopes.

But they are not willing to step back in time and relinquish total control of their lives to an employer.

In order to assure they do not do that, UE506 refused to ratify a contract with flexible schedules and mandatory overtime stipulations.

A historic point of view

Dr. John Olszowka, Ph.D., a professor at Mercyhurst’s Thomas B. Hagen Department of History teaches the history of labor.

“From a historic standpoint, the issue of an eight-hour work day was one that was a central goal and objective that drove American workers since the advent of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. There’s an interesting historic (autobiographical) novel that speaks to the mental fatigue, physical exhaustion, and coercive force of the excessive work hours that once existed in the United States.”

The book Dr. Olszowka uses in his class, Out of the Furnace by Thomas Bell, discusses the old steel industry when employees were forced to juggle shifts while working twelve-hour days seven days a week. On the last day of the week, which they called “The Turn,” their shift changed and employees were forced to work twenty-four hours.

Back then, unions didn’t exist. Steel workers received no overtime pay.

“Conditions were dangerous, and unsafe to say the least—injuries and death were not uncommon.” Dr. Olszowka said. “These conditions were permissible because employers looked at workers as little more than interchangeable parts.”

The bad conditions inspired workers to ask for standard eight-hour days.

“It was about recapturing their dignity, fighting for their lives and safety,” Dr. Olszowka said.

Like strikers and unions today, the steel workers met with criticism.

“At the time, to outsiders, these efforts to change the work condition were seen as a threat. Critics complained it would hurt the companies, financially. They would want to leave the region,” Dr. Olszowka said. “One of the constant comments I still hear is how the labor unions destroyed the American Steel industry with their “excessive demands”—which is completely false. It was about having a degree of control over their lives; and raising their lives to a quality worth living.”

UE506 and Wabtec employees feel accepting flexible schedules and mandatory overtime is relinquishing too much control back into the hands of an employer.

The Mandatory Overtime Stipulation

Embedded in the proposed Wabtec contract is the following reference to mandatory overtime:

  1. B.3. Overtime Assignments. Employees will be required to work overtime including, but not limited to, work performed before and after shifts, on weekends, and on holidays, as necessary depending on the needs of the business.

In this country, if you refuse overtime, you can be fired. As long as your employer pays you in accordance with the law, there is no limit on the amount of overtime they can require.

Sign on that dotted line, and UE506 ratifies a contract where an employer has absolute power over the amount of time an employee must spend at work. Family wedding? Child’s recital? Soccer game? Vacation? Family reunion? Unless those events land during shutdown, there is no assurance they’ll be able to go.

Let me restate Dr. Olszowka’s words. “It was about having a degree of control over their lives; and raising their lives to a quality worth living.”

What can we do?  

Right now, seventeen hundred families are in the fight of their lives. They will do anything to keep these jobs in Erie—anything except go back in time.

If you do not understand their plight, then at least be kind.

Political leaders, your words are powerful. Walking that cold Wabtec picket line are first, second, and third generation GE workers. Please don’t accuse their fight for personal dignity as making a bad impression on business interests. They have a vested interest in this city. Unlike you, Mr. Grunke, most of them grew up here. They love Erie. They want their kids to stay here, and they are desperate to make a good impression on business interests.

They are hard-working people who will work overtime when they can to make Wabtec successful, but they are not going to sign their lives away.

They are not interchangeable parts.

 

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Cyndie Zahner has lived in the Erie community her entire life. She is a retired grant writer/administrator, and now writes fiction novels. Her husband, brother-in-law, and nephew-in-law work at Wabtec. Her brother is a GE retiree. Her father-in-law, Edwin Zahner, was a proud GE employee for thirty-seven years. Follow Cyndie on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon. See her BookCircle Online interview at here.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/cyndiezahner/

https://www.facebook.com/cyndie.zahner

https://twitter.com/TweetyZ

 

The Flagship City Book Fest & Little Pink Miracles

Do you believe in little pink miracles? The simple kind? I do…my belief was inspired by an innocent, little message from Diana…

The Flagship Fest

The first of, what I hope to be, many Flagship City Book Fests was held on September 28th and 29th, 2018. The event, hosted by the Erie Downtown Development Corporation, brought authors, readers, and book store owners together on a stretch of road in the four-hundred block of State Street. During the festival, customers paged through books, children gathered on the steps of the Erie Art Museum for activities, Mayor Schember  stopped by, and readers relaxed in comfy chairs of an outdoor makeshift reading room.

Being a brand-new author, I gratefully participated. As a tool to draw readers to my little Cyndie and Mayor Schmberspace in the Erie writing world, I raffled off my books to someone who stopped by to sign my list.

A few hours into the festival, I received a Facebook message from Diana.

Diana and I grew up in the same Parade Street Boulevard neighborhood and had reconnected on Facebook. She wanted a chance to win my novels, but she couldn’t come. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to undergo treatment.

Little Pink Miracles

I only had to think for a moment before deciding to open the raffle to my online followers. I posted a message on Facebook stating if people were unable to come to the Flagship City Fest, they could simply message me their name and telephone number, and I would sign them up. A few people took me up on the offer. Diana was one of them.

I’m sure the reason I did not draw the name of the person who won my novels on Sunday, as I promised I would do, was a simple little “pink” miracle. On Monday, October 1st, I remembered the raffle, hurried to my laptop, and brought up a number through a random-number generator program. The number 33 appeared on my laptop.  I ran my finger down the raffle list to number 33.  And the name Diana Dodson Bool smiled up at me.

You may say, ah, coincidence. I don’t. Not only was October 1st the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it was also Diana’s first day of breast cancer radiation therapy.

Diana

Growing up, Diana lived in the house next door. She walked me to kindergarten and helped my mother with my birthday parties. Four years my senior, I remember her as the nicest “older” kid in the neighborhood. She was kind, sweet, and always looking after the younger kids.

Fast forward fifteen years and Diana became a teacher. (No surprise there.) She worked in this capacity for a total of thirty-two years, the last twenty at Rolling Ridge Elementary School, before retiring seven years ago. Then, this past August, Diana received the bad news; she had breast cancer.

She said she surprised herself with a calmness that she can only attribute to her faith.  “I am a Christian, and I know God was with me.  I have an inner peace like I’ve never quite felt before.  To this day, I still have not cried,” she said.

During Diana’s first visit with her surgeon, Dr. Engel, he told her, “You’re not going to die from this.”

For Diana, those words were comforting. “I thought, okay, well let’s get on with this then.” Although she does admit that, at home, when her husband asked if he could get her anything, “I thought for a minute and then answered, ‘a scotch and water and chocolate chip cookies.’”

With this, Diana laughs, and as she does, I remember that boisterous laugh from childhood—from Diana, strong, sweet, optimistic Diana—now a grown woman whom I’m beginning to realize is the type of woman who is sure to weather most any storm.

The SAVI Brachytherapy treatment

Diana’s three choices included a lumpectomy, breast reduction, or a mastectomy. She elected the lumpectomy and because she did, she was a candidate to receive the SAVI Breast brachytherapy. Typically, radiation includes five or more weeks of five-day-a-week radiation treatments. With SAVI brachytherapy, SAVI catheters deliver radiation to the lumpectomy site.  That treatment occurred in a much shorter time frame–two times a day for five consecutive days.

After several doctor appointments, screenings, and consults, Bool was determined to be a viable candidate.

“I was so fortunate to qualify,” she said. “I still can’t believe how blessed I am.”

In this procedure, a tiny radiation seed travels through each catheter to deliver a precise dose of radiation, customized for the exact size, shape or location of the tumor cavity.  (https://www.ciannamedical.com/savi/how-it-works/)

Rather than the burning sensation that sometimes accompanies radiation to the outside of a woman’s body, Diana said the SAVI therapy produced no pain. She attributes some of the painlessness of the procedure to the care of her doctors and clinicians who continually made sure she was comfortable.

The people who matter

Diana said the loving support of her daughters, Katie and Meghan, and her husband, Chuck, have helped her through this period in her life, and she believes her six-month-old granddaughter, Samantha, Dianas granddaughterwas the best medicine ever. She’s sure they are a part of the reason she’s come through this so positively.  She feels blessed to have them, and other family and friends who delivered flowers and meals, in her life. She also said there were a myriad of medical professionals who were encouraging.

“My family physician, Dr. Debra Radder, is an angel. She is the one who reminded me I was behind in my mammograms,” she said. Other medical personnel in the community who went above and beyond were the radiologist, Dr. Thomas, the Regional Cancer Center’s Medical Oncologist and Radiation Oncologist, the nurses and technicians at the various health facilities, the home health care worker, and her surgeon, Dr. Engel.

“Dr. Engel spent an hour and a half with us at my first appointment,” she said. “Everyone treated me like I was their only patient.”

And while Bool is realistic, her positivity is hard to combat.  “Yes, it could come back,” she said. “But breast cancer is not usually a death sentence. Women have to remember that.” What she wants to relay to other women is: “You have to be good to yourselves. Don’t be afraid. Schedule that mammogram. And remain positive.”

Bool refuses to bring her family and friends down.  “This has to be a positive experience. If I can show other people how wonderful the medical personnel in Erie were and how a good attitude helps, then maybe women will be less afraid.”

Positive words of encouragement from a woman who used to hold my hand when I crossed the street. Her love, strength, and kindness are still apparent.

And what about the festival

So, back to the festival. Was the first annual Flagship City Fest a success?  It was for me—in so many ways. Flagship Book Fest 2018

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Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is an author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake, of which Diana Dodson Bool is currently reading. Follower Zahner on her website at www.cjzahner.com, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, goodreads and Bookbub.