They marched and they rode — in pickups and flatbed trucks, on Segways, Harleys, buses and fire engines.
Sporting bright red Variety Club T-shirts, a contingent of physically challenged children pedaled their individually customized adaptive bikes as onlookers cheered. They all joined the tens of thousands of union members and supporters who filled Downtown streets in Pittsburgh’s annual display of union solidarity.
Trish Wilds rides a bus with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers during the Labor Day parade today in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette)
The weather smiled on the marchers and spectators. A driving rain that had persisted through the morning halted just as Monday’s Labor Day Parade headed off from its staging area near Consol Energy Center. Sunshine bored through the lifting clouds as the throng headed onto Grant Street.
Tom Wolf, the Democratic nominee for governor, started out near the front of the procession, piloting his trademark Jeep. But he soon left the vehicle in the custody of his wife, Frances, as he got out to walk and greet the parade audience that was, as always, vastly outnumbered by the marchers.
By the time Mr. Wolf reached the reviewing stand in Gateway Center, his blue, oxford cloth button-down shirt was splotched with sweat.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf greets the crowd along Boulevard of Allies today during the Labor Day parade in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette)
His opponent, Gov. Tom Corbett, was spared the effort of the march by the edict of parade organizers who banned him from the route in protest of his administration’s policies. Mr. Corbett appeared instead at rallies in Downtown and in Banksville hosted by two unions that have endorsed him.
Leading the march was the AFL-CIO’s national president, Rich Trumka, long familiar with the route he had walked in years past when he was president of the United Mine Workers. Mr. Trumka said he chose to return to the familiar streets this Labor Day because “Pittsburgh is symbolic of workers who have taken some hard knocks and are fighting to come back.”
After years of steady erosion in the proportion of the workforce represented by unions, he said, “the American labor movement is fighting back for all workers, trying to raise workers’ wages, organize workers and give them a voice on the job.”
Among the many politicians who joined him were U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair; state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and city Controller Michael Lamb. County Controller Chelsa Wagner marched with the United Steelworkers.
Mr. Wolf met a seemingly warm reception along most of the route, but as he rounded the corner of the Boulevard of the Allies, he was greeted by catcalls and repeated shouts of, “Stop the war on coal,” from watchers wearing the gray T-shirts of Boilermakers Local 154, one of the unions in the Corbett camp.
Speaking later, in a makeshift news conference behind the parade’s reviewing stand, Mr. Wolf challenged the premise of the protests.
“I have no war on coal; coal is really important in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Discussing the proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations to curb climate change — a focus of sharp criticisms from coal mining interests — Mr. Wolf said, “The EPA regs gives the states a lot of leeway … we need to make sure we implement these rules in accord with Pennsylvania reality.”
In response to another question, he offered a sense of resolve, but no specifics, on dealing with the state’s chronic pension issues.
“We can’t kick that can down the road anymore. I’m going to work with the Legislature,” he said. “My only promise is that we will not kick the can down the road.”
Mr. Corbett got his chance at a Labor Day appeal just after noon, at a rally and picnic lunch hosted by the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania, his only other announced labor ally at this point in his re-election campaign.
Gov. Tom Corbett addresses the Laborers District Council after today's Labor Day parade in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette)
Phillip Ameris, the group’s president and business manager, praised the Republican as “a man of his word” for working to successfully revive the highway construction legislation projected to boost employment for his members.
“He’s the reason we are working; make no mistake about it,” Mr. Ameris said.
“The highway bill was not the easiest thing to get done, but we got it done,” said Mr. Corbett, who was wearing a Pirates golf shirt for the rally by the Allegheny River. “It’s good to have someone have your back. I’ve been having your back and you have my back.”
Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Corbett said he was disappointed at the parade organizers’ decision to banish him, but, citing Mr. Ameris’ praise, he said, “My record’s been clearly favorable to labor.”
Jack Shea, the president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, the parade’s sponsor, said earlier that he had “no pushback whatsoever” for his decision to disinvite the governor, and he dismissed media reports that the issue showed a division among local labor leaders. Mr. Shea said that despite their different assessments of the Corbett record, he and Mr. Ameris had been in close, regular contact on the parade, where a sizable contingent of laborers marched, and on other union issues.
“I don’t care about the politicians today; I care about the workers,” Mr. Shea said. “That’s what today is about, and that’s all I’m concerned about.”
Austin Schmidt, 3, left, and his brother Ryan, 4, of McKees Rocks, sit on a truck with a Pittsburgh Public Works employee and watch the Labor Day parade today. (Julia Rendleman/Post-Gazette)
Politics editor James O’Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562. First Published September 1, 2014 10:30 AM