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How Union Loyalty And Education Reform Shape A Working Family’s Vote

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

Donna and Steve Dzurilla live in a single-story home on a quiet street in Lincoln Place. They’re just barely in the city limits, surrounded by neighboring West Mifflin.

The walls of their home are lined with photos of places not far from their house, places that mean a lot to their families: the steel mills.

This story is part of Essential Pittsburgh, an ongoing series exploring how Pittsburgh lives, and how it's evolving.


Three black and white prints capture the furnace and a few of Homestead Works. A blue filling cabinet in the dining room came from an office at that facility where Steve’s dad worked for 35 years. His last job there was as a plate inspector. In the same room is a shadow box filled with Steve’s father’s old mill ID and glasses.

“When I was in school in the ‘70s, every male member of my family worked in one mill or another – my dad, my brother and five or six uncles on both sides of the family,” he said.  

The couple has been together for 16 years – married for two.

Steve, 55, works at a scrap processing plant and for the United Steel Workers Union where he's been a member for 21 years. Donna, 54, is a research administrator at the University of Pittsburgh. She keeps track of research dollars for the school of medicine’s division of transplantation. 

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Steve Dzurilla's father worked at Homestead Works for 35 years.

She's also had multiple family members who worked in the mills.  

Donna described Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as a loose cannon who makes empty promises.

“I was really upset when he came to Pittsburgh and said he was going to bring steel back,” she said. “Because the infrastructure isn’t even here and he’s just feeding on false hope for people.”

Both originally supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. Both said they are voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election. “I like Hillary,” she said. “She has the experience, the ability to be president. She’s someone I’m happy to have represent me as a United States citizen. I wouldn’t have said the same thing about Trump.”

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Donna and Steve Dzurilla volunteer often for Pump House events. They are pictured here in front of Carrie Furnace.


The United Steelworkers Union endorsed Hillary Clinton once she was nominated by the Democratic Party in June. Steve said that endorsement influenced his vote.

But some of his fellow steel workers are voting for Trump. They think he’s a straight talker, Steve said. He thinks differently though, that Trump is dangerous. And both Donna and Steve said they’re concerned by how many working class families support Trump.

“I really don’t understand,” Steve said. “I don’t understand it. At work I try to avoid it unless, I do try to speak up and say the union endorses Hillary Clinton.”  

Steve voted Republican once – for President George H.W. Bush – who was also endorsed by the union. But if the union endorsed Trump, he said he wouldn’t have supported the GOP nominee. His primary concern right now is the future of blue collar jobs and he believes Clinton will support working families.


UPDATE: 90.5 WESA's Sarah Schneider caught up with Donna and Steve Dzurilla after the third presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. Donna said the contest just confirmed her vote. Listen below.


  “You need jobs like that because not everybody wants to go to college,” he said. “Or can afford to go to college. Having jobs that you can support a family on without a college education, I think it’s important.”

For Donna, it’s student loan debt. She went back to grad school when she was 39. Her son just graduated from Carlow University and her daughter is a student at Pitt. While paying back thousands in loans, she wants to see a systemic change. She said higher education has become a business.

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Pictures of Pittsburgh steel mills line the walls of the Dzurilla's home.

“If you’re going to go into that much debt you should have the ability to earn a wage and repay it and still be able to live,” she said.

For now, they’re both staying quiet. They’re watching the debates in their home and for the most part trying to avoid engaging with family and friends about the presidential election. 

This is the fourth in a five-part series exploring how Pittsburgh-area families experience the debates and dramas of the 2016 election.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.
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