NLRB investigating complaints

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The National Labor Relations Board is investigating claims that Downtown's safety ambassadors have been intimidated against union organizing.

Nine safety ambassadors -- whose work serves members of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership -- are overseen by the contractor Block by Block, which also oversees and pays the yellow-clad "clean team" that sweeps street trash.

The puzzlement to the safety crew -- who help pedestrians to their cars at night, supply directions and other services -- is that the clean team is unionized, while their own efforts are being stymied.

Tim Finucan, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union-Local 32BJ, said the ambassadors came to the union for representation last fall.

Jim Burnett, executive vice president of Block by Block's parent company, SMS Holdings, said the company "intends to look out for its workers."

Mr. Finucan said there are "many ways outside an NLRB election that allow you to form a union" and that safety ambassadors have signed cards. "Once a union files for an election, a company can defer the vote for a year."

Mr. Finucan accompanied four safety ambassadors to testify before City Council yesterday. Several safety ambassadors told the council that police were called while they were handing out informational leaflets in front of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and Block by Block offices last fall. They said they were prohibited from talking to the media and wearing union buttons.

Stanley Zawatski, acting regional director for the National Labor Relations Board, said the board is currently investigating SEIU's charge alleging Block by Block has interrogated and threatened safety ambassadors, in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

Ambassadors have to pay for their own medical coverage, have no time off for a family emergency or funeral and get no personal days.

Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1626.


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