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Pittsburgh's Labor Day Parade Canceled Again, Amid Rising Coronavirus Cases

Keith Srakocic
Then Vice President Joe Biden, center, walks with United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, center, left, and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, left, in the annual Labor Day parade on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh.

For the second year in a row, the coronavirus has forced the cancellation of Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade — among the country’s largest and highest-profile celebrations of the union movement.

"Our parade has always been about solidarity and family," said Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council president Darrin Kelly, announcing the cancellation of the Sept. 6 event at a noon press conference held on the portico of the City-County Building. "During this pandemic the safety of this region and the health will always be our number-one priority. Our focus will continuously be helping out the region, maintaining a healthy work force, and seeing to it that all of our children go back to school safely.

“We want our children to go back," he later said. "I’m not going to have a parade that has 1,000 teachers on it when they’re going back to the schools” and risk further infection.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald agreed. "As much as this is a great, great tradition and we're going to miss it," he said, "I do think it's a responsible thing to do." He cited the fact that many union members traveled by bus, with their families — including children under the age of 12 who are not eligible to be vaccinated.

"Hopefully next year we’ll be back to normal,” Fitzgerald said.

The parade has traditionally been among the largest in the country, with estimated attendance in the mid-five-digit range. Owing to those crowds and the city’s labor history — as well as to Western Pennsylvania’s political significance in national elections — the event has drawn a number of high-profile guest marchers over the years, among union-friendly Democrats in particular.

As former vice president, Joe Biden marched with workers Downtown in 2018, and in two of the three years before. Kelly said that Pittsburgh's parade was on the short list of events that President Biden might have attended this year: "“I’d be lying to you to say that Pittsburgh wasn’t one of the final selections," he said.

But it was not to be.

Last year’s parade was also scrubbed due to the virus, for the first time in the local march’s history. Instead, unions held a “Weekend of Service,” in which union members helped out the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, and pitched in for park clean-up and other projects.

Similar efforts are already being planned for this year, headlined by a September 3rd blood drive at PPG Paints Arena.

“We are committed to servicing our community," Kelly said. "We will do our park clean-ups, like we did before. We will do our monument beautification like we did before. Our parade is only one of our traditions.”

Chris Potter
90.5 WESA
Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council president Darrin Kelly speaking at a press conference about the cancellation of the 2021 Labor Day parade.

The move comes amid a resurgence of COVID-19 powered by the highly transmissible delta variant. And it reflects the ongoing struggle to return to some sense of normalcy as the ruinous effects of the virus persist.

It was just one month ago — a time when the county saw an average of fewer than two dozen new COVID cases a day — that Kelly announced the parade would return.

“We are back, stronger than ever. And we can’t wait to be back in the streets of Pittsburgh, celebrating our history and the heroic work that so many of our people have done to help us get through this public health and economic crisis,” Kelly said in a July 14 statement.

But since then, cases have spiraled both nationally and in Allegheny County, where roughly 200 cases of COVID-19 are now being reported on average each day.

The city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade — which typically takes place in the spring — had been postponed until September 18 this year, in hopes that summer’s low case totals would hold. At the press conference, Fitzgerald said he had not heard from organizers, but parade spokeswoman Ciara Crossey Brandetsas
said, "Our plan at the moment is that we are proceeding as long as city officials ... and everyone who helps us host the parade feel that is safe to do so."

She said organizers were in regular contact with officials about those plans, and that the parade would follow health guidelines and encourage attendees to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

This story was updated at 12:58 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 18 to provide additional details.

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.
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