Striking worker struck in the face as Post-Gazette labor angst spills over

click to enlarge Striking worker struck in the face as Post-Gazette labor angst spills over (2)
CP Photo: Jamie Wiggan
Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council, waves a photo of the stricken worker's injured face during a March 13 press conference.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s protracted labor struggle turned violent Saturday during an altercation outside the company’s South Side plant that reportedly left a striking worker hospitalized.

Labor leaders are calling it an “unprovoked attack” within a pattern of heavy-handed tactics they say management has relied on since the walkout began in October.

“I will not let my people be treated like this again, ever,” Darrin Kelly, Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council president said during a press conference Monday. “It took a step up and it's getting out of control. We're asking the Department of Labor to step into this. We're asking the state to step into this. We're asking everybody to look into this before it escalates.”

The Post-Gazette has offered a conflicting account of the incident where it paints the contracted driver as the victim of continued harassment.

“According to an incident report, the driver, who has been the target of repeated harassment by the picketers, was physically and verbally attacked at around 1 a.m. today. Defending himself, the driver pushed the assailant away and then was physically assaulted by a second person,” the Post-Gazette release states.

A spokesperson for the company later clarified the time as 11 p.m. Saturday. She declined to share the report with Pittsburgh City Paper, or state who prepared it. The company has reportedly hired the Phillips Group, a security firm specializing in labor conflict, to monitor the picket lines outside multiple facilities.

A video released by the Post-Gazette appears to show a contracted driver swinging at a striker who approached him yelling taunts.

Kelly called for a district attorney investigation and said he wants to see charges brought against the driver who threw the punch.

“I do ask questions on why this was allowed to take place,” Kelly said during the March 13 conference. “I do ask questions on why this person was not arrested.”

Cara Cruz, Pittsburgh police spokesperson, confirmed in an email that officers responded to the incident around 11:15 p.m. on March 11 but did not disclose further details.

“The incident is under investigation and there are no charges to report at this time,” Cruz added.

Post-Gazette employees have been on strike since early October, after the company proposed new contracts that would, according to strikers, significantly increase health care premiums for many workers.

From the outset, a substantial number of News Guild employees crossed picket lines, allowing much of the newspaper’s local reporting to continue. The Post-Gazette has secured a contract with the Butler Eagle’s printing facility to print limited runs on Thursdays and weekends.

The Post-Gazette claims strikers have demonstrated aggressive and threatening behavior at various points during the six-month walkout.

In November, the company obtained an injunction from the Butler County court system against the picketers outside the Eagle’s printing plant. The company said they had presented evidence of vandalism and violent threats.

Recently, the order was overturned, at least temporarily, by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The company filed a separate injunction petition in February against picketing activity on the South Side plant. A judge has not yet ruled on the case.

Kelly maintained Monday that the strikers have refrained from violence or aggression.

“Up until this point it’s been very peaceful and professional,” Kelly said. “Saturday night was a new escalation.”

Disclosure: Pittsburgh City Paper is owned by Block Communications, Inc., which also owns the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.