By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Despite being happy for Joe Biden’s win last November over Donald Trump, newly sworn-in state Rep. Jessica Benham is taking issue with a union-busting law firm being allowed to sponsor a virtual state inauguration event for the President-Elect on Wednesday.
“As a newly elected state representative, I would like to celebrate, too. I have heard that the event is being run by the Biden campaign – and of course, I wish our President-Elect well – but unfortunately, this partnership with a union-busting law firm to host the event reflects poorly on the PA Democratic Party. Ballard Spahr fought against my efforts, and those of other graduate workers, to organize a union at the University of Pittsburgh,” said Benham of the event held jointly by the Democratic parties of Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Benham was a member of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh until 2019. As the Pitt News reported in early 2020, the University of Pittsburgh had paid Ballard Spahr more than $1 million dollars to oppose the unionization efforts of graduate workers and faculty. It’s not the first time Ballard Spahr has shelled out money for Biden. In late 2019, the firm had raised $25,000 for a campaign kick-off event hosted by former Gov. Ed Rendell, currently a partner at Ballard Spahr.
After four years of living under a Donald Trump Presidency that was filled with support for white supremacists, attacks on free speech, two impeachments, and, most recently, an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it would be easy to take a deep breath and relax during the beginning of Biden’s first few months in office. But Benham tells the Pittsburgh Current, that the change many are seeking in a post-Trump world is in “our people-powered movement” which includes making sure the new President is held accountable for his decisions.
“As with every president we elect, it is our job to hold President-Elect Biden accountable for the promises he has made,” Benham said. “As an organizer whose union was busted by Ballard Spahr, I’m certainly disappointed – but my hope for change was never in Joe Biden, it has always been in our people-powered movement. I will also add that this comes as no surprise, given the contributions of people associated with Ballard Spahr and similar firms to Biden’s campaign. We have always known we would need to hold him accountable.”
Benham ended her written statement condemning “in the strongest of terms, this betrayal of the interests of working people.”
“I ran for state representative to fight for the interests of the everyday Pennsylvanians in my district. It is unconscionable that the PA Democratic party, which claims to reflect the interests of working people, would be associated with an elite law firm that so strongly opposes Organized Labor,” Benham concluded in her written statement. “As an organizer, I condemn, in the strongest of terms, this betrayal of the interests of working people. I am calling on my party leadership to, at the very least, acknowledge the harm of partnering with Ballard Spahr and to meet with the leadership of organized labor to discuss a path forward.”