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City Council, Labor Leaders Push for 'Second Bill of Rights'

Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to endorse a "Second Bill of Rights" that calls on the federal government to guarantee American citizens additional rights related to employment, voting, education and healthcare.

The nonbinding Will of Council document will be sent to the White House and to Pennsylvania's congressional delegation, according to sponsoring Councilwoman Darlene Harris. She said the members of the state legislature would also receive a copy.

The Second Bill of Rights asks for Americans to be granted the right to full employment and a "living wage," as well as freedom of association in the workplace. The document demands that Americans also receive quality education, full participation in the electoral process, and "baseline" levels of healthcare, unemployment insurance and retirement security.

Council Members and union leaders spoke outside the Council Chamber on the need to adopt further protections against "brazen attacks" on the nation's middle class.

"It's like we're hanging on by the skin of our teeth, without going in and saying to those employers that are making a tremendous amount of money, 'Hey, look, we need a raise!,'" said Jack Shea, President of the Allegheny County Labor Council. "When they're making a lot of money, they're asking for your pensions, they're asking to change the way they pay you, and they're asking for a reduction in wages."

The document's proponents said the idea of a Second Bill of Rights was first proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union address.

Councilman Ricky Burgess said he's glad to support the Will of Council document, but he hopes Council will pass his bill to actually set a higher minimum wage for city-contracted employees.

"We have people who clean our buildings, we have people downstairs who give us food who are making less than a living wage," said Burgess. "It is, I think, an intolerable situation. I think it is inappropriate, in this land that has so much, for people to work for so little and without healthcare coverage."