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Labor Activists Invite Pittsburghers to Say Thanks

Members of Working America, a nonprofit community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, gathered Downtown Thursday to preach the gospel of two magic words: "thank you."

As part of the AFL-CIO's "Work Connects Us All" campaign, a new multimedia labor movement, the group distributed blank thank you notes to passersby and encouraged them to fill out and present the cards to workers they encounter day to day.

"We really believe that folks deserve to be thanked for the work they're doing, and that they need a reminder that they and others are doing work that's valuable and connected," said Catherine Balsamo, member coordinator for Working America.

"Work Connects Us All" is a long-term effort to re-engage the public, particularly young people, in the labor movement at a time when the public approval rate of labor unions is historically low — 52%, according to a 2011 Gallup poll. Union membership has also declined to 12% in 2011 from 20% in 1983, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Balsamo said now is the perfect time, given the strong national attention being paid to the Occupy Wall Street movement, for re-introducing conversations about what it means to be a worker.

Most of those who stopped to learn more Downtown were receptive to the idea.

One West End resident, Idris Delaney, wrote a note for the employees at a Downtown fast-food restaurant, where he usually stops on his way to work. "I wrote 'I just want to thank you for serving your customers,'" he said. "Sometimes it gets hard working a job like that. … I think it's a blessing to be able to say thanks to them once in a while."

Another passerby, Brian McCarty, a construction worker from Youngstown, OH, said, "This is a great idea, because a lot of people don't get thanked daily for what they do. It helps out and makes you want to keep working."

Other parts of the campaign, which launched in Austin, TX, and Portland, OR, earlier this year, include an interactive website and television ad featuring Pittsburgh workers. The ad presents a multicultural cast of characters, including a construction worker, pilot, schoolteacher, and barista, sharing the message that "Work doesn't separate, it's what binds us together: I teach your kid. You fix my car. He builds my city. She keeps it safe. Work is what connects us."

"This campaign obviously speaks to younger people but it's really for everybody, whether your name is on your front pocket or the front office," Balsamo said.