Workers at Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh make vital contributions to the region’s high quality of life.

They provide medical care to cherished pets, find new homes for orphaned animals, give injured wildlife a second chance and conduct education programs that build young students’ respect for nature.

But the veterinary assistants, educators, animal caretakers and others at HARP can only perform this labor of love at a world-class level if they also take care of their families and gain a real voice on the job.

About 100 workers at HARP recently filed for an election to join the United Steelworkers, citing a need to better advocate for themselves and the hundreds of animals they safeguard around the clock at two shelters and a wildlife rehabilitation center.

They’re among a growing number of workers at community-forward organizations in Pittsburgh who are forming unions to gain fair wages, decent working conditions and the resources essential to fulfilling their missions.

Their fight is everyone’s fight. Union workers like these build a stronger, more livable community for all.

Today, on Labor Day, it’s important to recommit to these and other labor battles now being waged and to remember that many workers still face appalling mistreatment just for exercising rights won long ago.

While the workers at HARP await their union election, for example, about 20 workers at Hello Pittsburgh continue their own efforts to join the USW so they can better assist the refugees and immigrants who call Pittsburgh their new home.

Sadly, instead of recognizing the many advantages of an empowered workforce, management at Hello Pittsburgh chooses to conduct a brutal anti-union campaign that flies in the face of the organization’s humanitarian purpose.

The USW filed unfair labor practice charges to hold management accountable for illegally firing three union activists and violating other workers’ labor rights.

Despite the harassment they face, the workers at Hello Pittsburgh continue standing strong together for a contract that will afford them a seat at the table, build a more inclusive work environment and give them the tools they need to ensure their clients not only thrive but also contribute to Pittsburgh’s prosperity.

Workers at some of the city’s best-known institutions — such as the Persad Center, Carnegie Museums, and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — are already showing how the union difference enhances the region’s vitality.

Workers at Persad, who serve the LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS communities, joined the USW in 2019 and secured a first contract that delivered wage and benefit enhancements while also affording them new opportunities to put their expertise, insights and experiences to work for clients.

After voting for USW membership in 2019 and 2020, respectively, hundreds of library and museum workers negotiated agreements with raises, protections against unfair treatment and a greater voice. Library workers, for example, secured minimum staffing levels, protocols for managing unruly visitors, and other provisions to ensure the 19 branches operate efficiently and safely.

The wave of organizing in Pittsburgh’s civic, service and nonprofit sectors reflects a nationwide trend.

For example, workers at the Utica Zoo in New York last year organized to gain a bigger say in animal care. In July, counselors at a Denver shelter for unhoused youths unionized to address burgeoning caseloads and other issues affecting clients.

And just two weeks ago, about 500 conservators, educators, archivists and others at the Art Institute of Chicago and its school ratified a contract after becoming the first workers at a major museum in that city to unionize.

None of this is surprising in the wake of a pandemic that underscored how much all workers need unions to level the playing field and watch their backs.

Researchers found that union members earn, on average, $1.3 million more over their lifetimes than nonunion counterparts.

In addition, unions fight discrimination, helping to narrow racial- and gender-based pay gaps by 40%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Union workers also have access more often to quality health insurance, paid sick leave and retirement plans, all of which contribute to strong families and robust communities.

And unions even help to safeguard democracy because members are highly engaged in the political process. They advocate for worker-friendly legislation, vote in large numbers and hold their elected officials accountable.

America is only as strong as its workers, and the USW continues to negotiate groundbreaking contracts for workers in steel, aluminum, glass, paper and other traditionally union industries.

But it also stands at the forefront of the movement to welcome social-service, nonprofit and other workers into the ranks of labor, in Pittsburgh and across the country.

As they forge brighter futures, USW members from many walks of life draw strength and power from one another. The USW prides itself on being everybody’s union.

Tom Conway

Tom is international president of the United Steelworkers.

Tom Conway

Tom is international president of the United Steelworkers.