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Labor Leaders Accuse Long-Favored Hotel Of Using Non-Union Labor, Ignoring Permit Requirement

At a June 11 protest, labor leaders Darrin Kelly (left) and Frank Snyder (right) say unions were betrayed by management at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel
Chris Potter
90.5 WESA
At a June 11 protest, labor leaders Darrin Kelly (left) and Frank Snyder (right) say unions were betrayed by management at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel

Local unions are no stranger to the Sheraton Station Square: The hotel has long hosted union banquets and other events, and it’s served as the backdrop for campaign kickoff and other events for local politicians.

But on Friday morning, dozens of workers were standing outside the hotel instead, accusing its management of hiring non-union out-of-state workers, and of failing to obtain proper permits for renovation work.

“We cannot sit back and let the public be subjected to cheap labor and dangerous work conditions,” Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council President Darrin Kelly told the workers, who represented unions ranging from the Steamfitters to the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

Employers, he said, “have an obligation and a duty to the men and the women that you oversee that you are not in harm’s way.”

“We have all used this establishment for years. Frankly, I’m stunned,” said Frank Snyder, the secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO. On his frequent visits to Pittsburgh, he said, “I use this hotel myself. My family uses this hotel. … Union members from across the country use this because it has a reputation — had a reputation — of doing things right. “

The dispute apparently began Monday, when union officials got a tip that the hotel was using an out-of-state firm for renovation work. That triggered concerns that the hotel was turning its back on local organized labor.

City Controller Michael Lamb said his office heard the tip from a building trades union, and in such cases often sends a representative to the job site to notify the companies that out-of-state workers are obliged to pay a 1 percent wage tax for work done in the city.

While making that visit, Lamb said, staff noticed the hotel had dumpsters in back, and were filled with “heavier-type construction materials. It wasn’t just carpet fragments.”

“What we found here was pretty egregious in terms of the lack of permits,” Lamb said.

Lamb said his office passed on word of the situation to the city’s Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspection. Records show that on Thursday, a city building inspector cited the hotel for three violations relating to work on guestroom bathroom renovations taking place on floors 10 through 15. The violations included a failure to obtain proper permits for the work, and for failing to properly rebuild fire wall shafts between rooms.

The city posted a stop work order at the hotel’s front entrance, which was viewed by WESA on Friday morning.

The hotel’s management company, Driftwood Hospitality Management, has the right to appeal those citations. Reached by phone, hotel general manager Paul Bazzano said he could not comment. But the Sheraton may pay a price regardless of any enforcement:

“I think we have 16 events that were either talked about or planned to be here because this was our home,” Kelly said. “And that's what we're missing [and why] we're so heartbroken. But guess what? There are multiple union hotels that we do not have to jump through what we're jumping through here. So we are looking at every one of our options ... but I think we all know where we stand.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.