An assault on striking Post-Gazette workers Saturday night marked an escalation in a labor dispute that’s “getting more and more close to a full eruption” because of the newspaper’s refusal to negotiate, said Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council.
At a Monday morning news conference in front of the PG’s North Shore headquarters, Kelly asked for the release of all video footage from the incident, which occurred on a picket at the newspaper’s South Side distribution center. A PG driver who’d crossed the picket line punched two striking workers, one of whom suffered a broken jaw that required surgery.
“I want to know why statements were not taken from all parties that were there,” Kelly said. “So what I’m asking for is all surveillance film and body camera from its start to finish turned over to the district attorney to see if charges need to be filed. I’m asking the Department of Labor to step into this before this escalation turns out to where someone is killed or seriously hurt. This is enough.”
More than 100 Post-Gazette workers representing five unions began an unfair labor practices strike last October. The action was triggered by the PG’s refusal to pay a $19 per week per employee increase in health care, which resulted in a loss of coverage for production, distribution and advertising workers.
Kelly called into question a short video of the incident published by the PG, calling it “garbage” and misleading.
“We believe in the system; let the system play itself out,” he said. “I want to see footage from when the truck came in to when this was over; I want to see the conduct on how the whole thing went.”
Witnesses say the PG video fails to depict the entire sequence of events. The video shows the truck driver punching a picketer who steps toward him. It doesn’t show a prior punch that ignited the altercation, they said.
“A Teamster with his hands in his pockets walked up to the truck driver and the two began a brief but heated discussion,” said striking PG reporter Andrew Goldstein, who saw the incident. “Then the driver lunged at the Teamster and punched him in the face, cutting him near the eye.”
Union attorney Joe Pass called the assault “despicable.”
He said picketers had in the past been targeted with bear spray at the Butler Eagle newspaper facility, where the PG is being printed during the strike. The PG, claiming damage to vehicles and “threatening” behavior by strikers, sought and was granted an injunction severely limiting pickets at the Butler site, but that injunction was last week suspended by the state Supreme Court.
The PG has also sought an injunction against picketing at the South Side facility.
“They’re looking to enjoin us, they need to be enjoined,” Pass said.
He said the unions will seek appropriate criminal and civil action against the PG and the driver. And he asked readers to stop subscribing and businesses to discontinue advertising with the newspaper until the strike is resolved. That was a theme echoed by Kelly.
“Anybody who subscribes to the Post-Gazette buys into this,” he said, holding up two pictures showing the cut and bruised faces of strikers who were punched. “There are no more companies that are labor friendly if you stay with this garbage.”
About 50 people, including several labor leaders and political leaders, attended the news conference.
Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at email@example.com.