Charges against clergy protesting UPMC dismissed

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This morning, charges were dismissed against nine local clergy members cited Feb. 27 for protesting at UPMC headquarters for fair treatment of service workers.

Specifically, the clergy men and women -- of different congregations but all affiliated with the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network -- were cited for obstructing the entrance of the USX Tower, which is private property, and refusing to leave. In the hearing, Rabbi Ron Symons of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill said he and his fellow protesters were acting in civil disobedience for a cause that they believe to be “sacred and moral.”

“We believe the time has come to advocate for people to move into the middle class,” Rabbi Symons said.

The judge decided to forego a community service order for the group, but set a total fine for the group at $500. He urged the clergy members to be more conscious of not causing obstructions in future demonstrations.

Attorney Mike Healey, who represented the clergy members, said in similar cases, charges are often dismissed with a community service order, but he is not sure why it was deemed unnecessary in this case. He said most of the $500 already has been paid to the court.

Outside of the courthouse, PIIN members and supporters of the arrested men and women held a rally, repeating chants like “Love thy neighbor, pay a living wage” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, [UPMC CEO] Jeffrey Romoff’s got to go.”

Following the hearing, many clergy members spoke at the rally, emphasizing that their fight was not over.

“We will make our voice ever louder … whether you push a broom or serve a hamburger, you deserve to feed your family,” Rabbi Symons said.

The Rev. Ron Wanless, retired, had a personal connection to the issue, as his son, who works for UPMC, needed treatment for ocular melanoma that cost Rev. Wanless and his wife $6,000. He took a more direct approach in addressing Mr. Romoff.

“If you don’t repent … your wealth will rot your soul!” Rev. Wanless shouted at the rally into a cheering audience.

Sydney Householder, a community organizer, said she was excited to stand up for the arrested men and women, and for the service workers themselves. Although she had no affiliation with PIIN and is not personally connected with any service workers, she said she supported them as fellow members of her community, and as her “brothers and sisters.”

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