Nine people shielded themselves from the rain as they crossed Steel Plaza shortly after noon on Wednesday and headed toward the lobby of the U.S. Steel Tower, Pittsburgh’s tallest building and a symbol of wealth and power in the region for more than half a century. Moments earlier, during a brief meeting outside a coffee shop across the street, they had wondered aloud, “Could this small delegation have an impact on the decisions made in those fancy upper-floor offices?”
The nine who ventured into the building, which now houses UPMC’s corporate headquarters, were members and officers of the union representing Post-Gazette journalists. They departed the building 40 minutes after entering, somewhat optimistic that their voices had been heard and determined to continue their efforts to compel the PG to bargain in good faith and bring an end to a strike that’s now entering its fifth month.
Once inside the massive lobby, they approached a receptionist and asked to speak with Leslie C. Davis, president and chief executive officer of UPMC. They wanted to ask Davis to discontinue the health care giant’s ad spending with the Post-Gazette until the strike’s end.
The receptionist made a phone call. Within several minutes, a security guard arrived, then a supervisor. The striking workers explained their reasons for requesting a meeting with UPMC leadership. UPMC has the ability to put pressure on the PG to bargain in good faith with its unions, they said.
(UPMC has in the past canceled advertising in the PG, citing what UPMC considered unfair treatment in the paper’s editorial pages.)
Moments later, UPMC security official Kimberlee Sweeney arrived. She greeted the strikers, then engaged in a conversation that lasted more than 20 minutes and caught the attention of business people and visitors passing through the lobby. Security officials several feet away photographed the group.
“I have a 4-year-old son, and he needs health care,” said striker John Santa. He asked to speak with someone with the authority to make decisions that would compel the PG to resolve its issues with the unions so everyone could return to work. “Is there someone up there we can talk to?” he asked.
“There’s nobody here today,” Sweeney replied. She then expressed sympathy for the workers’ situation.
“I understand, I feel for you guys,” she said. She assured the strikers that the decision-makers at UPMC were aware of the strike. “The situation is being looked at,” she said.
Sweeney asked for a few pamphlets and said she’d deliver them to UPMC executives and let them know of the strikers’ presence. Striker Andrew Goldstein and several others continually pressed Sweeney to give the union an update in the next day or so.
“I’m telling you now I’m going to notify people and make some calls,” she said. “They’re going to have to take it from there.”
“You’ve got a bunch of journalists; we’re going to have questions,” Santa said as he and the others prepared to leave.
“Have a good day, guys,” Sweeney said. “Stay out of the rain.”
Wednesday’s action is one of a series of events that union leaders say will continue as they urge UPMC to temporarily suspend ad purchases at the newspaper.