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WESA Daily Briefing: September 7, 2020

Erin Keane Scott

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.


5:46 p.m. - Commonwealth Press voluntarily unionizes

Labor unions have struggled for decades, even in Pittsburgh. But one local printer unionized voluntarily earlier this year.

Commonwealth Press is best known for Pittsburgh-themed merchandise, like its “Rudolph the neb-nosed reindeer” Christmas sweater. And last winter it offered a unique spin on yet another Pittsburgh tradition: it unionized at the request of management. 

Dan Rugh admits that the move took even union officials by surprise.

“Even the president when he came in, was like ‘don’t’ let management know.’ And I was like ‘no, I’m the owner, and he goes ‘well, that’s different,’” Rugh said. “In the process, I was like ‘well where’d you get your shirts printed?’”

Rugh hopes the union will help the company do right -- and do well. Pittsburgh’s unions need T-shirts and other print jobs – and they want to buy union. So do many politicians. 

Shop steward Dave Kaule says until that point, many workers had little experience with unions.

“One time it was, ‘My uncle was in a union and he hated it. And another person was, ‘my uncle was in a union and he loved it.’ What it took was understanding what our union was going to be,” Kaule said.

But Commonwealth’s 14 print-shop employees joined the Pittsburgh Typographical Union, part of the Communications Workers of America. And Darrin Kelly, Western Pennsylvania’s top AFL-CIO, says unions are interested in working with their newest local. 

“This company made an investment in its future by making an investment in its employees and that’s what makes it a great story,” Kelly said.

In fact, Kelly has already bought some Commonwealth t-shirts for himself.

4:40 p.m. - Steelers sign All-Pro Cam Heyward to 5-year contract

Cam Heyward is getting his wish. The veteran All-Pro defensive tackle is set to be a Pittsburgh Steeler for life. The Steelers signed Heyward to a five-year contract on Monday worth around $75 million. The 31-year-old was entering the final season of a six-year deal he signed in 2015.

The new contract gives the nine-year veteran and longtime defensive captain a sense of stability. Heyward is coming off a stellar 2019 season in which he had nine sacks while helping Pittsburgh's defense become one of the league's best.

12:39 p.m. - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hires new executive editor

Stan J. Wischnowski is the widely respected former top editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He resigned from the Inquirer in June during controversy over a headline that seemed to belittle the Black Lives Matter movement.

Wischnowski was among a group of editors who apologized for the headline. At the Post-Gazette, he replaces Keith Burris, who will continue to oversee the paper's editorial and opinion pages.

12:02 p.m. - Latest COVID numbers

The Allegheny County Health Department reports 39 new cases in the region out of a total of 536 tests. The median age of new cases is 30. Statewide, Pennsylvania health officials report 547 new positive cases. The state now has a total of 139,863 cases.

10:38 a.m. — Biden visiting PA on Labor Day

Democratic candidate Joe Biden is collecting a trio of Labor Day endorsements from organized labor while running mate Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence are set to campaign in Wisconsin as the 2020 presidential race, disrupted for months by the pandemic, enters its final phase.

Biden was heading Monday to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for an AFL-CIO virtual town hall with union President Richard Trumka. President Donald Trump planned an afternoon news conference from the White House.

Read more.

9:15 a.m. — "Shared-Work" program gets little use despite averting layoffs, benefiting employers 

The coronavirus crisis has forced companies across Pennsylvania to cut workers’ hours. But thanks to a little-known program called “shared work,” some of those businesses have kept their staff off the unemployment line.

In a shared-work arrangement, an employer can avoid laying people off by temporarily reducing hours for an entire department or shift. Each of the affected employees then receives unemployment compensation for the hours they lose.

“So instead of having one employee still working 40 hours and another one being cut, they … both work 20 hours,” said Susan Dickinson, director of compensation benefits policy for Pennsylvania’s Office of Unemployment. “Everyone gets to keep their jobs, even at a reduced amount of work. And employers can then continue filing the [unemployment] claims for them every two weeks to have them receive payments.”

Read more.