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Pittsburgh Labor Day Parade Canceled, To Be Replaced With 'Day Of Service'

Keith Srakocic
Pittsburgh's Labor Day parade has often drawn big names. In 2015, Vice President Joe biden spoke at the annual event and marched alongside union workers.

Pittsburgh will not be hosting its annual Labor Day parade this year, as one of the nation’s largest union gatherings – and a political touchstone in a crucial Election Year – joins the long list of events canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local unions will instead host a series of community-service events culminating in a “Labor Day of Giving” that will be marked with a blood drive and food distribution.

“This has not been an easy time, but this was the right decision,” said Allegheny Fayette Central Labor Council leader Darrin Kelly at a press event outside the council headquarters on Saw Mill Run Boulevard Friday morning. “Pittsburgh takes so much pride in its labor history, and in nothing more than our crown jewel: the Labor Day parade.”

Still, he said, “We could have a quarter-million people in downtown Pittsburgh. Knowing that, your responsibility has to be that right decision.”

"Safety will always be the No. 1 priority for our members, our families, and our community," he said. And with the event attracting not just labor members but retirees and children, “We would have put a lot of people in harm’s way that feel it’s their duty to stand.”

Labor instead will spruce up area school buildings and infrastructure like park trails, which Kelly noted had been stressed by increased use as other forms of recreation were shuttered by the virus. School teachers, he said, will hold virtual reading sessions on labor history. Capping the activities will be “a massive blood drive in honor of all of our front-line workers” and a food distribution similar to those the council has previously held in concert with area food banks.

The parade is held to be among the country’s largest, and given western Pennsylvania’s status as a key battleground, the vent figured to be a key political backdrop for the 2020 Presidential candidate. But that was before the coronavirus hit. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has made only limited public appearances, and President Donald Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Tulsa last month drew a lot of empty seats and concerns that it may have worsened the spread of the disease.

Mr. Biden last attended Pittsburgh Labor Day event in 2018, marking the third time in four years that he’d done so. Asked whether he knew of any plans to do so again this year, Kelly smiled visibly through his mask..

“Let’s put it this way: not as of yet. But I think everybody knows the importance of what Pennsylvania brings. … We’ll see where that goes. “

At Friday’s press event, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald acknowledged that giving up the parade was a “sacrifice.” He noted that among the first steps local officials took in response to the coronavirus was canceling the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which also ranks among the largest of its kind.

“We know in these last number of months, many great traditions have been foregone in this year,” he said, “and hopefully only for this year.”

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.