Striking steelworkers, mostly from Ohio and West Virginia, think Mellon Bank Corp. should intervene in a nine-month strike against Wheeling- Pittsburgh Steel.
Last week 600 steelworkers held a rally at Mellon's corporate headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh. The United Steelworkers of America promises the pressure will not be off Mellon or its chairman, Frank V. Cahouet, until the bank tries to persuade the steel company to negotiate with labor.
"We'll go wherever he (Mr.Cahouet) lives, works, has connections," said Ray Abernathy, a union spokesman.
The union wants Mr. Cahouet to convince Wheeling Pittsburgh's parent company, WHX Corp., that the strike of 4,500 workers is hurting shareholders and that the dispute should be resolved. The strike has idled eight plants in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Mellon is one of the largest institutional investors in WHX, holding 1.8 million shares. But a spokesman said Mellon holds nearly all the shares in a custodial or trustee capacity for its customers and it has virtually no direct ownership of the stock.
A letter from Mellon dated May 23 to union officials said the company has voting discretion over only 97,299 shares, or less than half of 1% of WHX's stock.
Moreover, Mellon spokesman Stephen Dishart said the strike is not Mellon's fight and it wouldn't be appropriate to get involved.
The union, however, says it is Mellon's issue. "They're stewards of the stock," Mr. Abernathy said. "Is that what a bank is - a passive repository? Mellon says, 'Bring us your money and we'll make it grow.'"
The union said that WHX and its chairman, Ronald LaBow, have caused the company's stock to plummet by not settling the conflict. The stock closed Friday at $45.875K, up $62.5.
Mellon isn't the only investor being pressured. The steelworkers have targeted 10 major shareholders that own about half of WHX's stock, including Boston-based Dewey Square Investors. Demonstrations, including a rally and a prayer vigil outside the home of Dewey president Peter M. Whitman Jr., began two weeks ago
The union hasn't called for any boycotts, but it knows that Mellon, one of Pittsburgh's biggest companies, must be sensitive to labor issues.
Other targets for future protests include shareholders Merrill Lynch & Co., American Express Co., Barclays Bank PLC, and Franklin Resources Inc. of San Mateo, Calif.
For his part, Mr. LaBow doesn't seem willing to budge. If the striking workers want to picket his shareholders, that's fine with him. "This is the United States of America. They're able to do what they're doing," Mr. LaBow said in an interview Thursday.
"Most of the large shareholders are tremendously supportive," he added. "In fact, they'd probably lynch me if I caved in at this point."
Mellon has no plans to budge either. "We have a responsibility to act in the best interest of our clients," Mr. Dishart said. "We hold securities in many public companies, and we don't comment on the actions of any securities.
It's just not a Mellon Bank issue," he added, "but we hope it's quickly and amicably resolved for the good of the community."