Union members at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette voted overwhelmingly to go on strike Monday after years of stalled contract negotiations and multiple complaints of labor law violations by Block Communications Inc., the company that owns the newspaper. The announcement to strike was accompanied by strong words for the employer.
“We want nothing more than to negotiate a mutually agreed upon settlement,” said Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh President Mike Fuoco. “Should the company refuse to rescind the illegal changes to our working conditions, return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair contract for both sides, we are prepared to withhold our talent from the Post-Gazette, to effectively remove the newspaper’s heart and soul.”
Newsroom staffers at the Pulitzer-prize winning paper voted 88-31 in favor of the strike, which must now be approved by the union’s executive council and the national president of the Communication Workers of America. Two other unions at the paper, the Pittsburgh Typographical Union #7 and Mailers Local M-22, which represents around 40 employees, also authorized the strike unanimously.
In July, the company announced it would unilaterally implement portions of a new contract, saying negotiations had reached an impasse. A lawyer for union members said that was not true, and that they were still willing to sit down and negotiate.
“Today’s vote clearly shows that our members are fed up with the Post-Gazette’s long-standing refusal to bargain in good faith,” said Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh Guild Unit Chairman Jonathan Silver. “Our members fully understand the egregious nature of the company’s wrongheaded decision to unlawfully declare an impasse and impose work conditions without bargaining, and now they have sent a loud and clear message to the Blocks.”
The decision is just the latest development in a long and fraught labor dispute. The two sides have been at odds for more than three years and have been working under an expired contract during that time. Union members have filed multiple complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. The newsroom has gone through cuts to its print publication (now just three days a week), cuts to health care benefits, and several rounds of buyouts – 14 people left in July alone.
“The path we take is up to the company – revoke the unilateral changes and return to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith or face the consequences,” Fuoco said. “Clearly, the 234-year legacy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is at a crossroads.”
Other demands from union members have gone unanswered too. This summer, two Black journalists at the paper were barred from coverage of antiracist protests against police brutality over objectivity concerns by management. One of those journalists, Alexis Johnson, filed a lawsuit against the paper. The other, photojournalist Michael Santiago, has since gotten a new job at Getty. The union asked the paper to apologize and allow Johnson to cover the protests, but the company has yet to respond to those requests.
The Post-Gazette did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.