Last week’s Pittsburgh news, today #19: holiday vortex

Catch up on some Pittsburgh news you may have missed amid the holidays.


UPMC purges independent pharmacies: A new investigative report reveals how UPMC “dropped over 1,200 pharmacies from its health plan, around half of the stores it previously carried.” Most of the dropped pharmacies were independently owned, and patients now face long commutes for prescription refills. The reason? UPMC is looking to boost its new pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts. When Pat Lavella, president of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, reached out to UPMC and Express Scripts for an explanation, each referred Lavella to the other. Luke Goldstein reports for the American Prospect.

Shell ponders plastic waste responsibility: Internal documents published by the House Oversight Committee reveal Shell PR executives discussing if they should take responsibility for plastic pollution caused by their enormous plastics plant some 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. “Frankly, we do have questions to answer about whether we’re going to take any responsibility for where PennChem’s output ends up,” said one Shell communications official to another in a 2020 email. The plant has the capacity to produce 3.5 billion pounds of plastic pellets annually, and is planned to operate for 30 years. (Meanwhile, over 160 nations are working to establish a binding global treaty to end plastic pollution by 2040.) James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News.

City appeals cop’s reinstatement: The City of Pittsburgh has appealed an arbitrator’s decision “to reinstate a fired police officer who was found, in a civil proceeding, to have committed sexual assault against a colleague.” The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 1, had filed a grievance arguing that the termination of the Zone 5 officer “fell outside of disciplinary time limits outlined in its police contract.” Two of three arbitrators agreed with the FOP, prompting the city’s appeal. Rich Lord reports for PublicSource, in a follow-up to reporting in conjunction with Megan Harris and City Cast Pittsburgh.

Union reps talk PG strike: Sara Wexler sits down with Newspaper Guild leaders Zack Tanner and Erin Hebert, to discuss the Post-Gazette strike 3 months in. Jacobin has the story. RELATED: Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey joined a growing list of city council members, media outlets, union leaders and others who have signed a strike solidarity pledge and vowed not to speak with the Post-Gazette until striking workers’ demands are met:

Warhol’s painter pal passes: Philip Pearlstein, a “poor Jewish boy from Pittsburgh” who studied art with Andy Warhol at Carnegie Tech, died last month, at the age of 98. Pearlstein, a graduate of Taylor Allderdice, was renowned for his nude portraits in the Modern Realist style. He once painted (a clothed) Henry Kissinger for the cover of Time Magazine. He met the painter Dorothy Cantor when the two studied at what is now CMU; they married after college, and lived together in Manhattan until 2018, when Cantor passed away. CMU’s Charlie White writes for the Jewish Chronicle.

Western PA unemployment shrinks: A new economic report indicates that unemployment in the seven-county Pittsburgh metropolitan region fell to 4%, its lowest level since 1976. One major reason? The labor force in Western PA hit a 30 year low last year. An-Li Herring reports for WESA.

Mon-Fayette Expressway advances: After more than 50 years of planning, construction on the last spur of the long-anticipated Mon-Valley Expressway is scheduled to begin this year. Phase one, a 3.1 mile span “from Route 51 to Coal Valley Road in West Mifflin,” is scheduled to be completed by 2026. Ed Blazina reports for the Union Progress.

Vacant lots’ value cost: A new study by Tri-COG Land Bank determined that some 23,000 vacant lots exist throughout Pittsburgh’s Mon Valley and other riverfront communities. On average, these blighted lots cost neighboring parcels $5,145 in value. Kate Giammarise reports for WESA.

Shadow Lounge’s legacy: Justin Strong talks with former WYEP “Soul Show” host, Mike Sauter, about the legacy of Shadow Lounge + AVA, where a young Mac Miller (and many others) got their start. Soul Show Mike has the interview with Strong, the venue’s founder.

Pittsburgh nudists bare all: Nude bowling? Naked karaoke? Trivia in the buff? “Our mission is to celebrate our bodies while promoting naturism in a non-sexual, inclusive, and body-positive context,” says “Brandon,” founder of the Pittsburgh Area Naturists. Michael Buzzelli reports on PAN for QBurgh.

Clemente’s legend at 50: Pirates superstar Roberto Clemente died in a 1972 New Year’s Eve plane wreck while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He remains “one of the most revered figures in Puerto Rico and Latin America 50 years after his death,” Alanis Thames writes for the Independent (UK). (The Pittsburgh Independent was a proud media sponsor of LCLAA Pittsburgh’s ¡Que Viva Clemente! last October.)

Note: In solidarity with striking Newspaper Guild workers, the Pittsburgh Independent will not share news articles from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow striking workers’ news coverage at the Pittsburgh Union Progress.

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He is a 2x 2023 Western PA Press Club Golden Quill award winner, in feature and business reporting. And a 3x finalist in the investigative reporting category.

He is a 2018 first prize winner in environmental reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for reporting on lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

In 2022 and 2021, he was awarded a grant from The Gumshoe Group to support his investigative reporting.