Representatives of the Post-Gazette and four of the five unions that have been on strike since October attempted to negotiate new contracts Friday in a room dominated by a 4-foot square black-and-white photograph of the original H.J. Heinz house, elevated by screw jacks and supported by wood blocks as workers prepared to move the structure in 1904. A sign draped from the house advertised the moving company’s slogan, “If we had room to move, we could move the world.”
Perhaps screw jacks and wood blocks would have been useful in moving Friday’s session forward at Downtown’s Omni William Penn Hotel. Little else seemed to work. After several hours of work, nothing was resolved, and the session ended with little hope of ending the strike involving more than 100 PG workers.
At one point during a discussion about a pressmen’s contract, union head Chris Lang noted that several paragraphs of a 2020 contract proposal labeled as having been agreed upon were mislabeled. The union had in fact not agreed to those passages, Lang told PG attorney Richard Lowe. The discussion went on for several minutes, with Lang pointing out to Lowe paragraphs labeled “agree” that are still under dispute.
In the midst of this discussion, Ed Mooney, vice president of the Communications Workers of America District 2-13, addressed federal mediator Fulton Miklos, who sat silently at a far table. “Just in case you’re wondering why we haven’t made any progress,” Mooney said to him, “there you go, my man.”
A few seconds later, the Teamsters’ Joe Barbano dryly quipped, “We should have this done by 2050.”
Still, some things happened.
The mailers’ and pressmen’s union presidents handed updated contract proposals to Lowe and PG production operations director Rob Weber. The head of the typographical union had to leave for another appointment before he could hand over that union’s updated contract proposal but intends to do so at the next meeting, which could be scheduled for next week. The Teamsters’ president with Pass talked about a previous agreement.
Speaking for all four unions, Mooney gave Lowe and Weber a health care proposal, as he said he would at those unions’ last bargaining session, on Feb. 8, and said he would deliver more specific numbers to go with that when he gets them. Mooney also had several questions about the company’s healthcare plan for which he asked Lowe to get answers, and quickly, saying, “We know we have people whose lives are at great risk …”
The strike started for these workers on Oct. 6, after the PG refused to pay an additional $19 per person per week for their health care plan. Those workers were joined on strike Oct. 18 by newsroom workers represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, whose president, Zack Tanner, sat in on this session.
The unions are trying to get some 100 of their members back to work after four months. The guild, which met with the company last Friday, still says that to end the strike, the PG must return health care coverage to the other workers, restore the terms of the guild’s last contract that expired in 2017 and negotiate in good faith a new contract.
On Jan. 26, a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge ordered the company to get back to the bargaining table with the guild, saying that the company didn’t negotiate in good faith, illegally imposed working conditions and unlawfully surveilled workers engaged in union activities.
The judge also ordered the company to rescind the unilateral working conditions, restore the union’s previous contract and “make its employees whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits that resulted from its unlawful unilateral changes.”
The company has said it will appeal.
The fact that the unions’ and company’s talking, and not talking, has dragged out for so long led to some heated disputes during this session. The unions’ attorney Joe Pass acknowledged that there might be “mistakes” in some of the contract proposals. “We haven’t talked in years,” he said. “Some things might have fallen through the cracks.”
Pass voiced frustration over how for less than all the money that the company is spending on lawyers, “You could have solved these contracts five times over.”
But there’s a lot still to be agreed to, which the pressmen’s Lang demonstrated as he pointed out holes in the company’s last proposal, which dates back to June 2020.
“I’m just trying to refresh your memory, Richard,” Lang said.
Lowe replied, “I’ll have to refresh yours, sir.”