Newsroom workers on strike from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette attempted this week to kick-start contract negotiations with the 236-year-old newspaper, setting up a table and chairs in front of the North Shore newsroom on Friday afternoon.
Zack Tanner, president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, sent a letter Wednesday to Post-Gazette HR official Carolyn Rice, inviting her and other company officials to a bargaining session at noon Friday outside the Post-Gazette newsroom. Workers have been without a contract since 2017, leading to years of bargaining and the company ultimately declaring an impasse and imposing new working conditions in 2020 — the subject of an unfair labor practice charge pending before the National Labor Relations Board.
“Our demands are simple,” Tanner’s letter read. “Rescind the illegally imposed unilateral working conditions; restore the status quo set by the terms of the 2014-17 collective bargaining agreement; return to the table to bargain in good faith for a successor agreement.”
Rice responded Thursday to Tanner’s letter, saying the company was “encouraged” by the request and has been “ready and willing to engage in contract negotiations.”
But Rice questioned the Guild’s “good faith in its attempt to make a spectacle of contract negotiations at a table on a sidewalk of a public street,” and instead suggested that both parties reach out to a federal mediation service and schedule a private meeting “where serious collective bargaining can take place.”
Tanner reiterated in a Thursday reply that the Guild planned to set up its bargaining table on Friday, and invited company officials to attend and bargain. He agreed with the Post-Gazette’s suggestion to involve a federal mediator during future bargaining sessions.
The Guild’s Friday bargaining table included chairs for publisher and editor-in-chief John Robinson Block; Allan Block, the chairman, president and CEO of Block Communications; executive editor Stan Wischnowski; co-managing editors David Garth and Teresa Lindeman; and Kurt Franck, president, executive editor and general manager of the Block-owned Toledo Blade.
Guild members telephoned several managers to see if they would join Guild leadership at the table. Two answered: Garth, who said he would not attend; and Allan Block, who when reached by Guild member Rebecca Spiess, asked if she was contacting him officially on behalf of the Post-Gazette or as a striking employee.
“I said, ‘I’m a striking employee,'” said Spiess, a social services reporter. “He said, ‘Well I’m not going to talk to you,’ and then he hung up.”
While Guild members waited to see if any chairs would be filled, Tanner said the Guild was working on legal maneuvers that could potentially result in the restoration of the Guild’s expired contract and a return to the bargaining table.
“We want to fight to keep this a great union newspaper, and we want it to happen on our terms, not theirs,” Tanner said.
That didn’t happen on Friday. But several other workers spoke about what achieving a fair contract would mean to them.
Mike Pound, a digital editor who expressed his appreciation for the “infectious” energy that newer staff members have brought both to the newsroom and the fledgling strike, said, “Let’s get this done and let’s get back to the work we do so well.”