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With 1 Post-Gazette union member hospitalized, labor leaders demand investigation

  • Jillian Forstadt/WESA
  • Julia Zenkevich/WESA
Standing alongside Democratic elected officials, Allegheny County Labor Council President Darrin Kelly calls on local authorities to investigate a punching incident outside the Post-Gazette's South Side distribution facility Saturday night.

 Jillian Forstadt / 90.5 WESA

Standing alongside Democratic elected officials, Allegheny County Labor Council President Darrin Kelly calls on local authorities to investigate a punching incident outside the Post-Gazette's South Side distribution facility Saturday night.

Leaders with the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council are calling on local and state offices to investigate an altercation outside the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s South Side distribution facility over the weekend.

Representatives with the paper’s striking employees say a contractor hired to distribute newspapers during the strike assaulted two union members outside Gateway View Plaza on West Carson Street early Sunday morning, sending one to the hospital with a broken jaw.

“What I’m asking for is all surveillance, film and body camera [footage] — from its start to finish — [be] turned over to the district attorney to see if charges need to be filed,” said ACLC President Darrin Kelly outside the Post-Gazette’s North Shore offices Monday.

The incident comes nearly six months after the paper’s unions first went on strike last October. While union leadership and the paper’s management have come to the negotiating table on several occasions, little movement has occurred.

“As the Block family refuses to negotiate, this volcano is getting more and more close to full eruption,” Kelly said. “This is it. I’m asking for members of our elected officials to step into this and get this settled.”

Locals representing production, advertising and distribution workers walked off the job after Block Communications, owner of the Post-Gazette, stripped more than 40 unionized employees of their existing health care by refusing to pay the additional $19 a week per employee required to maintain that coverage, according to the unions.

Kelly said one of the men allegedly assaulted, a member of Teamsters Local 205, must undergo surgery, despite losing his health insurance.

“He’s had to have this part of his face rebuilt, and guess what? The funny thing is, he doesn’t have any health care to do it because this scumbag up here took his health care from him,” Kelly said, pointing to the offices behind him.

Police and EMS responded to the scene Saturday, though no arrests were made. While no charges had been filed as of Monday afternoon, Pittsburgh Police spokeswoman Cara Cruz said the department is investigating the incident.

The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the Post-Gazette, the contracted driver involved in the altercation was the target of repeated harassment by picketers.

“Defending himself, the driver pushed the assailant away and then was physically assaulted by a second person,” representatives of the paper said in a press release Sunday evening. “Both the contractor and the second assailant fell underneath the truck and the driver’s clothing was ripped and personal property, including a cell phone, went missing.”

Officials with the paper released a 25-second video they say depicts the second assault described, but Kelly said no conclusions can be made until all footage of the incident is handed over to the investigating authorities.

Joe Pass, an attorney representing the paper’s unionized employees, said they intend to press both civil and criminal charges against the Post-Gazette.

The paper has repeatedly accused strikers of blocking the building’s sole entrance and exit, as well as slashing tires, shining flashlights in drivers’ eyes, threatening violence and verbally harassing people.

Its lawyers asked the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas to issue an injunction to prevent members and supporters of the five unions from what it called “trespassing” at Gateway View Plaza last month.

The petition follows a similar injunction granted by a Butler County court last year, which limited the number of in-motion picketers allowed outside the Butler Eagle, where the paper has been printed since the beginning of the strike, and restricted access to public sidewalks around the facility.

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling last week, however, suspended the injunction while the union awaits a decision regarding its appeal of the lower court decision.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Post-Gazette filed a legal motion asking the courts to compel Mayor Ed Gainey, acting Pittsburgh Police Chief Thomas Stangrecki and Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and Director of Public Safety Lee Schmidt to prevent the alleged “trespassing” at the South Side facility.

On Monday, Court of Common Pleas Judge Mary McGinley scheduled a status conference for next month. McGinley will not hear evidence on the matter until later this year.

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