The steelworkers union has called for a boycott of Mellon Bank Corp., hoping the company will intervene in a strike against Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel.
The boycott would be the second stage of a campaign to force the $42.6 billion-asset Mellon into the middle of the dispute.
About 600 United Steelworkers of America members picketed Mellon's headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh last month after Mellon chairman and chief executive officer Frank V. Cahouet refused to try to persuade the steel company to negotiate with the union.
Mellon officials said the strike by 4,500 steelworkers is not an appropriate issue for the bank to be involved in.
But union spokesman Ray Abernathy said the banking company has a role to play because it is a major shareholder in Wheeling-Pittsburgh's parent, WHX Corp.
Mellon could suffer as an investor in Wheeling-Pittsburgh if the manufacturer experiences revenue losses due to the strike, Mr. Abernathy said.
"They have a fiduciary duty even if they don't care about the 4,500 families that have been suffering," Mr. Abernathy said.
Mellon has said its 1.8 million shares of WHX are virtually all held in either a custodial or trustee capacity.
Mellon has voting discretion over 97,299 shares, or less than half of 1%.
Mr. Abernathy said the union doesn't plan to give up. Beginning this week, the striking workers plan to rally around the cry, "Don't Bank on Mellon. Don't Bank With Mellon," Mr. Abernathy said.
"It's going to be a very big effort," he added.
"We're going to get the word out to locals of all the unions in Pennsylvania."
He predicted the union would mail between 500,000 and 600,000 notices across the state to publicize the Mellon boycott.
Although the striking workers are mostly from Ohio and West Virginia, the union has tried to embarrass Mellon in its hometown and force its hand. It wants to get its message across in all of Mellon's Pennsylvania banking markets.
In addition to Mellon's retail customers, the union hopes to appeal to small businesses that bank with the Pittsburgh-based company.
"I recognize it's an emotional issue, but the bargaining table is the appropriate place to resolve this," said Steven Dishart, a Mellon spokesman.
James Schutz, an analyst with ABN Amro Chicago Corp. and a former Pittsburgher, said the union will not have much of an impact on Mellon Bank.
Mr. Schutz recalled a similar demonstration against Mellon in the mid- 1980s when steelworkers accused the company of financing steel mills overseas.
"They were putting dead fish in deposit boxes," he said. "There was a lot of brouhaha, but it didn't seriously hurt business."
Mr. Schutz predicted even less of an impact from the current campaign because organized labor is considerably less powerful than it was a decade ago. "It wasn't a big deal then, and it isn't a big deal now," he said.
Mellon is not the only company being pressured by the United Steelworkers. About 500 members rallied outside Merrill Lynch's New York headquarters last Thursday, and they are expected to call for boycotts on all financial services companies that hold major stakes in WHX.
That group includes American Express Co., Barclays Bank, Dewey Square Investors, and Franklin Resources Inc. So far, none have given in to the union's requests for aid.