TOLEDO, Ohio — Zack Tanner, the lanky 6-foot-4 president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, was squeezed into the back seat of a green Subaru headed eastbound on the Ohio Turnpike just outside of Toledo when his phone buzzed around 5 p.m. Thursday.

He and seven of his union colleagues, all of whom have been on strike for more than three months, had spent the day on the cold streets of Toledo, attempting to get the attention of those who control their employer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Now they were all headed home in four vehicles spread out over miles on the turnpike. For them, it had been a long day.  Tanner looked wearily at his phone. On the line was Joe Pass, the guild’s attorney. “Oh my God,” Tanner wondered, “What’s this all about?”

He pressed the phone to his ear. Pass said, “I have some news for you.”

An administrative law judge from the National Labor Relations Board had issued a stunning decision in the union’s favor, Pass said. The judge ruled the PG violated federal labor law in a number of ways — by bargaining in bad faith, illegally changing work conditions and surveilling union workers.

The news left Tanner speechless. He’d later declare the ruling the most important in the union’s 89-year history, but it took a moment for that realization to sink in. During a break in his conversation with Pass, Tanner relayed the development to those riding with him, guild members Erin Hebert and Andrew Goldstein, who was then driving in a snowstorm. Both erupted in whoops and cheers.

“Goldy almost crashed the car,” Tanner said. “He was yelling,  ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ ”

The news traveled quickly to the three other vehicles filled with returning union members, who in turn began placing calls to alert co-workers and family members. For the eight guild journalists on the turnpike, an already memorable day had, in an instant, become the stuff of history.

They’d arrived in Toledo the night before after learning the board of Block Communications Inc., which controls the Post-Gazette, was scheduled to meet in the northwest Ohio city the next day. Their goal: to talk to board members and urge them to negotiate an end to the strike. They realized it wouldn’t be easy.

By 10 a.m. Thursday, the eight guild members were standing on a sidewalk outside an art deco skyscraper called the PNC Bank Building, site of the board’s get-together. Would any members of the Block family make an appearance? Or would they attend via Zoom? Guild members watched the entrances.

An hour passed. One Toledo driver exiting a parking garage glanced over and saw members Alex McCann and Ed Blazina holding handmade signs in the falling snow.

The driver slowed, rolled down his window and asked, “Hey, what are you guys doing?”

McCann and Blazina told him about the strike and handed him a union pamphlet. The driver voiced his support and said, “If you’re dedicated enough to stand out in this weather,” he said, “it’s got to be something important.”

Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh President Zack Tanner, left, asks a question of Diana Block as she walks through the atrium of the PNC Bank Building in Toledo, Ohio, on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The members’ one interaction with a Block family member occurred shortly after noon, when Diana Block drove into the parking garage and then walked through the skyscraper’s public atrium. As she descended a staircase, Tanner greeted her and asked, “Does the board know that, for $66,000, 110 people can go back to work?” (The monetary amount refers to the cost of settling the labor dispute, the guild maintains.)

Holding  a cellphone to her ear, Block smiled and waved as she walked past Tanner and another guild member. She entered a private area of the building without responding to the question while a large security guard loomed nearby.

Guild members remained outside the building for a few more hours in a fruitless effort to catch up with PG publisher John Block or his brother Allan, CEO of Block Communications.

Guild members didn’t wait alone. Toledo NewsGuild representatives and local activists stopped by to join in the vigil and offer support. Lillian Covarrubias, past president of the Toledo guild, wore “Strike Unity” buttons offered by Goldstein, himself adorned with an array of colorful union ornaments.

“Nobody is safe from their greed and their tactics,” Covarrubias said as she jabbed a thumb toward the building in which the board was ensconced.

Lillian Covarrubias, center, past president of the Toledo NewsGuild, joins CWA Local 4319 president Erika White in supporting union members outside the PNC Bank Building on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

A few moments later, Erika White arrived, hugged Covarrubias and introduced herself as president of CWA Local 4319 and vice president of the Greater Northwest Ohio AFL-CIO. The latter organization, White said, had just donated $500 to the Pittsburgh guild’s strike fund.

Retired physician Johnathon Ross, representing the organization Jobs for Justice, stood with guild members for nearly an hour. He received some good-natured ribbing from his friend White for wearing a University of Michigan cap in Ohio. Jobs for Justice is a volunteer organization that works to improve workers rights.

Later in the day, guild members discussed the strike with a delivery driver carrying packages into the skyscraper. What a coincidence, the driver said. He carried a package destined for Block Communications. Members gave him a few union pamphlets to pass out while inside the building.

After completing his deliveries, the driver told guild members he’d seen Block board members on an upper floor and that the union’s presence was indeed noted by those who worked in the office.

Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh members and their supporters stand in the snow outside the PNC Bank Building in Toledo on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

This news buoyed the union journalists, whose legs were by then stiff from the cold. After all, they’d accomplished their goal of engaging with a member of the Block family and bringing the issue of the Pittsburgh strike to the board’s attention. Perhaps those board members would urge brothers Allan and John Block to order their attorney to negotiate a settlement.

Standing in a circle on the sidewalk, the guild members declared the day a success — one small step in what’s been a long and exhausting struggle to persuade the company to negotiate a contract. All raised their hands and voted to end the action and head back to Pittsburgh.

A short time later, guild attorney Joe Pass received an email while sitting in his office on Fort Pitt Boulevard in Downtown Pittsburgh. The subject line indicated the email contained notification of the administrative law judge’s decision.

“My heart started pounding,” Pass said. He wondered, how did the judge rule?

Pass opened the email and read the decision, then picked up his phone to call Tanner.

Pass has been a union attorney since the 1970s and doesn’t get too excited these days. His reaction to the news that ignited a celebration on the Ohio Turnpike was notably understated.

“We’re very satisfied with the decision,” he said.

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at