The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has terminated health care coverage for striking newsroom workers weeks after the journalists joined the picket line to protest unfair labor practices.

Members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh who received health insurance through the company’s provider, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, found that their coverage was listed as inactive beginning on Saturday night.

The health plan’s administrator is required to send notice to affected workers about their eligibility for continuation coverage under the federal law known as COBRA after their company-sponsored insurance is dropped. Those notices began arriving in guild members’ mailboxes on Monday.

At least 29 striking guild members were covered by the company-sponsored health plan, and 20 of them have said they have no alternative health insurance options, according to guild records.

Companies nationally have increasingly threatened — or acted — to cut off health insurance as a tactic to break worker strikes, according to Democratic U.S. senators sponsoring federal legislation that would prohibit that practice.

“It’s disgusting that the Post-Gazette would cancel health insurance for the striking workers, something that did not need to happen,” said Zack Tanner, president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh.

“Luckily, in this local and the NewsGuild, we have each other’s backs, and no one will go without coverage. We hope that the company acknowledges the fight of the workers at the paper and comes in good faith to Monday’s bargaining session to end this strike.”

The Post-Gazette, which is owned by Toledo-based Block Communications Inc., already had planned to halt dental and vision coverage for striking workers by Nov. 1. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Reporters, photographers and other newsroom workers began striking on Oct. 18 to protest working conditions imposed by the company in 2020 after the company declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the union. One company-imposed condition moved guild workers onto the Anthem health care plan, which offered less coverage at a higher price than the union’s previous plan.

Distribution, production and advertising workers at the Post-Gazette have been on strike since Oct. 6, in response to the company terminating their health insurance coverage on Oct. 1.

Steve Mellon, a multimedia journalist who leads the local guild’s health and welfare committee, said the company’s termination of health care coverage was not unexpected and the union had systems ready to go so that no striking worker will have to forgo care or bear the costs.

“It’s nerve-wracking when you have some big medical concerns and big medical bills on the horizon, but those things will be covered,” he said. “People are not going to have to miss doctor’s appointments. We’re going to make sure that those things are covered, one way or another.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey co-sponsored a bill in March to protect striking workers from losing their health care.

The Democratic senator from Pennsylvania introduced the bill with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, citing recent cases including when General Motors dropped workers’ health insurance during a national strike in 2019.

“Ending health care for striking workers is an intimidation tactic used to quash workers who are fighting for their rights in the workplace,” Casey said.

“I stand with the Post-Gazette workers striking for a fair contract, and I’m going to keep working with my friend Sen. Brown to pass our bill so health care can no longer be used as a tool to silence workers exercising their fundamental right to organize,” he continued.

Brown added: “What’s happening at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the reason Sen. Casey and I introduced the Striking Workers Healthcare Protection Act to ensure workers continue to receive health insurance while they exercise their right to strike. I will continue to push for the passage of this legislation in the Senate and encourage the Post-Gazette management and workers to reach an agreement that honors the dignity of work.”

The legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions but did not receive a committee vote. Casey sits on the committee.

Laura writes about energy and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Laura Legere

Laura writes about energy and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.