Leaders of four unions that have been on strike for about six months at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette met again with representatives of the company Wednesday, and nothing remarkable happened, except this:

For prolonged stretches, people on both sides were exchanging information, and mostly agreeably, including a slew of signatures on individual bits and pieces of contract proposals considered to be TAs — tentative agreements.

Going first in contract negotiations for advertising workers, Don McConnell of Pittsburgh Typo 7/CWA 14827 announced that rather than present a new proposal for the company to take away and consider, he wanted to go through the company’s last proposal and identify areas of agreement “right now.”

“That’s novel,” said PG lawyer Richard Lowe, signaling he was willing.

“I just want to find a way to move forward a little bit,” McConnell said.

And so, with both of them flipping page by page through their own copies of the proposal, McConnell pointed out items to which his union could agree. Lowe asked him if he wanted to literally sign off on them.

“Might as well make it official,” McConnell said. Lowe walked around the company’s long table to the long table where union leaders sat and handed McConnell the page for him to sign — once, twice, three times.

McConnell: “There you go.”

Lowe: “Thank you.”

They agreed to pass over and come back to issues that are still “open,” and there are plenty of those, but they found so many on which they already agree that, after the fifth time Lowe stepped over for his signature, McConnell quipped, “Starting to get dizzy from this.” And they kept going, joking that Lowe was getting his exercise.

If it was disheartening that one clause of contention dates back to 2017, at least the two were both open to talking about it, with McConnell saying, “There might be a compromise somewhere down the line.”

The back-and-forth over contracts for the pressmen and the mailers was less breezy, but those proposals were discussed, the latter with Lowe’s King & Ballow colleague Michael D. Oesterle, who joined for that part of the session.

But pressmen’s union president Chris Lang was visibly frustrated to still be talking about issues that date back to 2020, which is the year of the company’s last proposal, and years before that — things that parties on both sides had trouble remembering.

Teamsters leader Joe Barbano had to leave before their contract proposal could be discussed and cracked that he needed to update his estimate that this bargaining process would take until 2050 to until 2060. His union joined the production and advertising workers in going on strike Oct. 6 after the PG effectively stripped them of their health care.

Newsroom workers of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh walked out on Oct. 18 on their own unfair labor practice strike that is subject to an ongoing National Labor Relations Board case. Four members of the guild attended Wednesday’s session at the Omni William Penn Hotel, but the guild is to officially bargain with Lowe there on Thursday morning and has asked the company to deliver it a new proposal, having already presented proposals since a half-dozen bargaining sessions began in mid-November 2022.

The past two possible bargaining sessions, organized by federal mediators at the end of March, were not attended by the company, which objected to the presence of a new mediator and said it would no longer bargain with federal mediators present, and so none were there on Wednesday.

But Lowe and production operations director Rob Weber were joined by a fresh face, Block Communications Inc. director of corporate benefits Ryan McAlees, who freely explained aspects of the company health plan that the PG wants all employees to be in, and into which it put newsroom workers when it imposed conditions in 2020 after declaring an impasse negotiating the guild’s contract that expired in 2017.

Having gotten answers to questions he’s had for several sessions since the strike began, Communications Workers of America District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney cracked, “You’re being way too helpful here,” and followed that up with a sincere, “We’ve gotten further along in this conversation than we have in seven years.”

He presented the company with a proposal for a 90/10 health care plan design that all the unions could live with, whether the company wants to administer it or return to the previous administrator. The unions’ original health care plan is “an awfully long distance” from the company’s proposal, but, “We believe this is moving in the company’s direction” and he asked that the company run the numbers on what it would cost workers. Lowe warned that adding any new plan design to the company’s would be “problematic.”

The bargaining started around 10:30 a.m. and ended around 3:30 p.m.

At the end of the typos’ part of it, McConnell agreed to prepare and present a contract counterproposal and said to Lowe, “Well, that felt like a little progress — what do you think?”

“Well … ” Lowe started, and stopped himself at “Thank you.”

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at bbatz@unionprogress.com.

Bob Batz Jr.

Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at bbatz@unionprogress.com.