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Pittsburghers Demand Protections For Immigrants, Transparency From Uber

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA

It was a busy day of protest in Pittsburgh.

In support of the rights of immigrants, more than 100 people linked arms and marched into a South Side intersection on Saturday, blocking traffic for 15 minutes. 

While cars honked, protesters switched between chants: “Get up, get down, Pittsburgh is an immigrant town,” “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all,” “Ni una más deportación,” (Not one more deportation).

The demonstration was prompted by what organizers said is an increase in raids on the Latino community by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

“We have heard of at least four that were taken away this week. People are saying there are more,” said Brenda Solkez, of ANSWER Coalition. Solkez said there were rumblings that ICE was organizing large-scale deportations around the city. ICE officials were not immediately available for comment.

Guillermo Perez, with the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said while undocumented immigrants have felt under attack for some time now, President Trump’s rhetoric and recent executive orders have made them targets. The executive order regarding undocumented immigrants states that its purpose is to “ensure the public safety of the American people.”

Increased raids, or the threat of them, is bad for public safety, said Perez.

“People in this community now are going to be reluctant to call the police when they’re victims of crime, when they witness crime, it’s going to drive people further into the shadows," he said. 

Addressing the crowd, Solkez said raids tear families apart, doing unimaginable harm, and, she added, the threat of raids is crippling.

“They are really scared, they are stuck into their houses, afraid, asking for updates because they’re not going out at all today or tomorrow," she said. 

After marching to an ICE office on the South Side, Perez told the crowd, “The city has an initiative, it’s called Welcoming Pittsburgh, right? It’s for immigrants. Let’s be clear. It’s not just for doctors and computer programmers. What about working families, what about undocumented working families? La lucha sigue, sigue. The struggle will continue.”

Protesters broke into smaller groups, and headed home. 

But it wasn’t the day’s only protest. At noon, in the Strip District, about 30 people marched on Uber’s offices along Smallman Street. Organizers demanded that the ride-hailing company be a fair partner to immigrants, working people and the cities where it operates.

Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Protesters marched on the offices of ride-hailing company Uber. They called for Uber to denounce anti-sanctuary city legislation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, pay a living wage to drivers, allow workers to unionize, and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Uber set off a wave of protests last week when it seemed to undermine a New York taxi strike. That strike was called to show support for people affected by President Trump’s travel ban. Though CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the White House’s economic advisory council this week, and has pledged support to the company’s immigrant drivers, protesters in Pittsburgh said that’s not enough.

Sean McGrath is a network engineer for the United Steelworkers and drives for Uber to make ends meet. He’s glad he can earn money with the company. But he said just because it’s valuable to him, and a valuable service, doesn’t mean they can’t do better.

“This is a partnership. We’re both here to make money," he said. "And the overriding idea of talking with other drivers is, we want to make this process better.”

To McGrath, that means a transparent pay scale and a way to work with the company to solve grievances. Protesters called on Uber to pay drivers a living wage, comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and allow workers to unionize.

Tom Conroy, a Port Authority bus driver and a board member for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, agreed. He said as Uber’s technologies displace jobs, the company has an obligation to ease the transition.

“They make money in our cities," he said. "So they need to contribute to our cities to help keep the cities healthy that make them wealthy.”