WASHINGTON — Ten of the Post-Gazette newsroom workers who’ve been on strike for nearly five months drove this week to the nation’s capital with one specific goal: to stand on a sidewalk outside C-SPAN headquarters and call for the network to remove Allan Block from its board of directors.
Block is bad news for workers, they told a crowd of several dozen supporters attending a rally Wednesday less than a half mile from the U.S. Capitol. As chairman and CEO of the PG’s parent company, Block Communications Inc., Block flouts labor law, refuses to bargain in good faith and interfered in coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection to downplay the involvement of Trump supporters, the workers said. The crowd chuckled at a reminder that an angry Block once whacked a former employee with a Wendy’s fast food bag.
But as the rally progressed, speakers from other unions voicing their support revealed another theme: The Pittsburgh dispute is a key battle in a larger struggle taking place across the country, one that reaches beyond labor and strikes at the core of American values.
“This isn’t just a fight about a new contract or good jobs,” said Keturah Johnson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “It’s about saving our country. Labor justice is interconnected with the fight for affordable health care, the right to vote, racial justice, disability justice and every movement that centers around those most marginalized.”
U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pittsburgh, hustled from her duties at the Capitol to address the crowd. She connected the Post-Gazette strikers with other workers in a growing national labor movement that’s becoming increasingly more diverse.
“Whether you are with CWA, whether you are with our guild, whether you work in a coffee shop or a factory, whether you are a writer or a building tradesman or a nurse, whatever you may do we will stand here with you because when we fight for one workplace we are here standing for workers all over this country,” said Lee, who represents Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District.
Sara Steffens, the secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America and a former reporter for the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, said the strikers’ efforts, both in Pittsburgh and Washington, are pushing back against trends in media ownership and control that could prove damaging to the country.
“Democracy doesn’t work without quality journalism,” she said. “We can’t allow owners like Block to ruin community newspapers, and we certainly can’t allow Allan Block to ruin C-SPAN, which so many American citizens rely on to understand what’s happening in our democracy.”
She called for C-SPAN to “stand up for democracy and the rule of law” and remove Block from its board.
The rally was part of a long-running effort by striking workers to get C-SPAN’s attention and demand Block’s ouster. Over the past few weeks, workers and their supporters phoned C-SPAN’s staple call-in shows and urged the network to drop Block. The sometimes flustered hosts responded by saying Block had no influence on the network’s programs.
Wednesday’s efforts were direct and loud. The gathering of about 50 strikers and supporters repeatedly chanted “Drop the Blocks,” their collective voices echoing off the glass and concrete walls of the Hall of the States building, home to studios for NBC News and Fox News as well as C-SPAN. At times, people appeared on the building’s roof and looked down on the gathering. The strikers passed out flyers and buttons to curious passersby.
Mike Pound, a striking digital editor, noted that PG owners could have settled the health care issue that triggered the strike by spending a little more than $60,000. He alleged Block is behind an effort by BCI to destroy the newspaper’s unions.
“It’s outrageous that Allan Block would sit on the board of an organization that stands for integrity and impartiality,” Pound said.
Striking PG political reporter Julian Routh described himself as a longtime politics nerd who grew up watching C-SPAN programs and said he’d always viewed the network as a “beacon on the hill.” He’s appeared on the network’s shows in his capacity as a journalist, he said, and now wonders why C-SPAN would jeopardize its credibility by hanging on to Block.
“We like what C-SPAN normally does,” Routh said. “We’re doing this not just for ourselves, but for future generations of not just journalists but also of consumers of news.”
He asked the network to “stand for democracy and stand for the workers of this country. Is that too much to ask?”
Routh asked those in attendance to email C-SPAN and urge Block’s removal, and volunteer to phone C-SPAN shows during the union’s next call-in action.
Other supporters on hand included Ameenah Salaam, assistant to the president of the CWA, and Charlie Braico, president of the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians, as well as staff from U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Aspinwall.
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 email@example.com.