Procedural and Distributive Justice ... For Whom? A Comparative Investigation of Community Benefits Agreements in Pittsburgh and Cleveland


Athena Last

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cecilia Green

Second Advisor

Gretchen Purser


community benefits agreements;distributive justice;intersectionality;procedural justice;social movements;urban redevelopment

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Rust Belt cities are in the process of redeveloping communities negatively impacted by political and economic processes that prioritize profit-driven development over community needs. To combat uneven (re)development, marginalized communities have partnered with unions to create labor-community coalitions that utilize a broader political agenda, including Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs), to promote intersectional opportunities and negotiation of incremental benefits from proposed projects. I use case studies from Pittsburgh, PA, and Cleveland, OH, to examine struggles for more equitable and inclusive development, particularly regarding to what extent and in what ways local communities are represented in the design and implementation of development projects in low-income urban communities in the Rust Belt region. I examine how the intersection of identities, such as race, class, and gender, impacts struggles, both within labor-community coalitions (internally) and between the community and the political-economic establishment (externally), to achieve procedural and distributive justice, particularly Nancy Fraser’s “parity of participation” and Iris Young’s “model of inclusive communicative democracy.” To shed new light on questions regarding procedural and distributive justice, I use a comparative framework that features two cities with similar “rustbelt” profiles but different histories of labor struggles and community organizing for equitable and sustainable development. Utilizing Fraser’s conceptual framework of “recognition-redistribution-representation” as a guide, I analyze the contributing circumstances to Pittsburgh’s bottom-up model and Cleveland’s top-down model in negotiating the enactment of CBAs. I also compare both models’ ability to foster greater community participation, bridge polarizing competing interests along lines of race-class-gender, facilitate the pursuit of social justice, and exert influence over the future planning process and redevelopment. To effectively investigate these concerns, I conducted fieldwork consisting of archival research, document analysis, participant observation, focus groups, and semi-structured interviews.


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