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Rights groups agree to pay Pittsburgh half of UPMC protest costs

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Representatives of labor and human rights groups that picketed outside UPMC's Downtown headquarters agreed to pay half of what it cost the city to provide them with police protection.

They considered challenging the $15,000 bill in court, saying they should not have to pay for exercising free speech rights, but backed off because they didn't want to engage the city in a legal battle, said Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh United.

“Their concern was about this becoming the focus,” he said. “They wanted the issues to stay on workers and workers' rights.”

Hundreds of pickets protested the wages UPMC pays its service workers, snarling morning traffic on Grant Street on March 3 and 4. They also lobbied for the workers' right to organize.

City code requires groups that stage large events such as parades and protests to pay half the costs when they total more than $750. The city will waive those costs if a group can prove it is indigent.

Police wages and overtime totaled about $30,000, according to Mayor Bill Peduto, who has met with UPMC about the workers' concerns. Peduto described the city's portion of the bill as the “cost of having a democratic society.”

“It's a fair system,” he said. “They agreed to pay it. Hopefully, the check's in the mail.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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