Saturday, February 15, 2014

Every Student Apartment Is Not Nittany Pointe

Nittany Pointe made the Altoona Mirror again.  Logan Township is apparently considering a student rental inspection program that consists of things like this:
"In the rules outlined in a 25-page document, the township declares that landlords renting to two or more unrelated students in a dwelling will be responsible for disruptive conduct that occurs on their premises." - Kay Stephens, Altoona Mirror
If you check out the Altoona Mirror article you'll see that Logan Township supervisors keep saying "landlords", but it always comes back to Nittany Pointe, and indeed it always will.  Unlike State College, which is a college student's paradise, Altoona has just the one absentee-landlord-student-house-mega-complex: Nittany Pointe.  Hardly a semester, leave alone a year, goes by that there isn't some unseemly fracas up at "the Pointe", as it is colloquially known.  A cursory search at the Altoona Mirror's website associates Nittany Pointe with binge-drinking, rape, riots, and general uproar.  It's hard to imagine how a town like State College, where you can hardly turn around without seeing one of these places, hasn't burned to the ground yet.  And yet, it hasn't.  

While it's certainly true that places like Nittany Pointe should face scrutiny over the unruly behavior of their tenants, it's worth pointing out again that it is the only student focused apartment complex of its size in the Altoona area.  It has, according to the Mirror article, 156 units of much-needed student housing space.  I say much needed because it is not easy to find student housing in Altoona.  On-campus housing has a mile-long wait-list and certain local supervisors always seem to be looking for ways to penalize students just for being students.  

Quick question, do you know why the Happy Valley has such a happy economy?  It's because students have lots of disposable income.  State College knows how to milk them for it, and it's time that Altoona figured it out too.  Unfortunately, some local supervisors are entirely too focused on penalizing all landlords (except let's be honest, students) for unruly tenant behavior at one mega-location.  

Should we give students a pass on unacceptable behavior?  No, absolutely not.  Just because some students engage in this behavior doesn't mean that Logan Township should punish every student that lives in off-campus housing, not to mention every future student that comes to Penn State Altoona.  If smaller landlords have to deal with the threat of extra penalties for renting to students, it's likely that they'll stop renting to students or raise rents.  Either way, students lose and the area loses.  Every extra dollar that students have to pay in rent is a dollar that they won't be spending at local businesses.  Logan Township and Altoona need to work on embracing Penn State Altoona along with its students.  It's best for Penn State Altoona, and it's best for the greater Altoona area.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Altoona Nurses Stand Up For Standards

Since last spring, I've had the pleasure of standing with people like Paula Stellabotte and Maria Wickstrom doing my very small part to help bring community awareness to the impact that UPMC would have on our community.  Yesterday, I stood proudly on the picket lines with Altoona RNs, and numerous members of other unions to show UPMC that the community stands with Altoona nurses.

The crowd was really amazing and it wasn't just Altoona nurses.  Locked out UWUA workers - from Penelec - came down with fire wood and burn barrels to help keep picketing nurses and supporters warm.  AFSCME workers came and the AFL-CIO was represented too.

Union laborers of every stripe stood out in the cold, alongside Altoona RNs to show UPMC that Altoona nurses and our community will not be bullied.  We will stand together and we will stand strong.

Altoona's nurses voted, because of UPMC's insistance on totally unacceptable terms including lower levels of staffing, to have a one day strike on February 11.  They chose a one day strike because, as SEIU Healthcare PA President Neal Bisno said at a rally this evening, "Nurses do not go on strike lightly...Nurses go on strike and nurses went on strike to protect our community and to protect our patients."
SEIU Healthcare PA President,
Neal Bisno
Today Altoona RNs were still on strike because UPMC, rather than coming to the table and bringing their nurses right back to work, contracted with a staffing agency to bring in non-union nurses from as far away as Florida - for four days. UPMC was willing to spend millions of dollars to bring in nurses from outside this community who don't know Altoona or the people of this community, and as Mayor Bill Schirf said tonight, "We don't want substitute nurses."  UPMC is willing to do all this rather than deal fairly with the dedicated nurses that are here in this community.  This isn't surprising though considering that recently the National Labor Relations Board has opened a hearing with UPMC over unfair labor practices in Pittsburgh.  And because UPMC is unwilling to deal in good faith, Altoona RNs were on the picket lines again today and this evening held a highly-attended and high-spirited rally at the Altoona Area High School auditorium.

Altoona RNs, labor, and community supporters heard from a number of speakers, including some of their own.  I can't wait to see the Altoona Mirror's article on the rally.  I wonder if they'll call anyone primitive?  Go ahead, click that link and look for it.  I promise, it's worth it.

People filing into AAHS auditorium

I don't think I'd offend anyone in declaring the everyone's favorite speaker of the evening was Dominic Sgro, Director of AFSCME Disctric Council 83.

Dominic Sgro, AFSCME
 Mr. Sgro brought the room to its feet saying, "As long as you walk that line, AFSCME will walk it with you!"  He decried the upper echelons of UPMC making millions of dollars on the backs of labor, a sentiment echoed by many.

I admit that I've got a couple chapters to catch up on for my Political Opinion class and I need to study for a Spanish test, but being at this rally tonight was well worth my time.  Any time we can stand by nurses who stand by us when we most need support, it's worth it.  If you're not in this fight yet, standing by Altoona's RNs, it's time to get in it.  Look at what UPMC is doing in Pittsburgh and understand that no matter how independent they say that UPMC Altoona's president and board are, they're still a part of UPMC.  It's time to stand up to UPMC and make sure that they understand that we won't let our nurses and our community be bullied.