Welcome to the 200th day of the Great Newspaper Strike of 2022-23.
Let me reintroduce myself. I am Stephen Karlinchak, aka Conan the Librarian. I have worked in print journalism for almost all of the past 43 years. For almost 33 years, I have been employed at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a member of the library staff, working as an indexer, researcher, jack of all trades, master of none.
One hundred days ago, the Pittsburgh Union Progress asked me to reflect on the first 100 days of the lockout. So I thought I would give another reflection on the second 100 days. (These numbers are for the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents newsroom workers including me, and that went on strike on Oct. 18. The unions representing production, advertising and transportation workers went on strike Oct. 6, so they’ve been out even longer.)
I had my fourth eye surgery in 18 months. I am fine, thank you. The members of my union were afraid that I might not eat during my recovery, so they sent me a gift card from a restaurant in my neighborhood. Their concern left me without words, which has almost never happened in my 65 years.
Speaking of age 65, I crossed that threshold in February. Thank you, I do look well for a guy my age. I am on Medicare (!), have a senior bus pass courtesy of Pittsburgh Regional Transit, and, in March, I qualified for a full pension at the PG.
Friends and family members keep asking me when I am going to retire. To be honest, I have been looking at brochures from cruise lines as well as airline websites, but …
I don’t think I am ready for that cruise to Barbados just yet. I have always talked about getting a part-time job once I retire from the PG, but I don’t think that the time has come yet, either.
As I wrote 100 days ago, I know that the end of my tenure at the PG is in sight, probably sooner rather than later, but I hope it is the latter. I would like to get back to my desk on the third floor of 358 North Shore Drive. I think there might be some projects for which some people might need my assistance and expertise.
Some miscellaneous thoughts about what I’ve been doing for the past 100 days:
• Keeping up — but just barely — with colleagues from the Pittsburgh Union Progress and new acquaintances from the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle while participating in a tour of the U.S. District Courthouse, Downtown, conducted by PUP’s Torsten Ove. Hey, I am an old man with arthritic knees.
• Saying goodbye to young journalists who decided to move on. I hope that one day that the Post-Gazette managers will realize what they have lost in terms of talent and energy. Some things cannot be replaced.
• Trying not to tear up when Joe Knupsky addressed the Workers’ Memorial Day program at the United Steelworkers Building. Joe is somewhere between the guild’s in-house storyteller and its poet laureate. That Friday, he gave a short oration that had me brushing tears away from my eyes.
• Having a beer or two with colleagues as we reviewed the events of the past seven months. The beer was good, but the fellowship was better.
• Participating in my first May Day event. I hope my conservative Catholic parents aren’t disappointed in me.
• Volunteering to take notes at the 10 a.m. members’ sessions conducted via Zoom. I have to admit that my note-taking skills were somewhat dormant; it has been a long while since I covered a school board or township commissioners’ meeting. I am surprised that I can keep up with the running comments.
• Being a member in good standing of the Sunday morning brunch club. Union vice president Ed Blazina cheerfully presides over the meeting of Guild members who are awake to attend the 10 a.m. Zoom sessions — despite perhaps having a few hours of sleep due to union activities on Saturday nights.
• Admitting to fellow striker Andrew Goldstein that his faith in the Pittsburgh Pirates might not be misplaced.
• Attempting to compile the almost-daily strike newsletter. I hope I spelled everyone’s name correctly when it was my turn.
• Trying to find the adequate words when writing thank you notes to all of our supporters for their financial assistance. Mere words fail when trying to express the gratitude of my fellow workers as well as myself. God bless them all.
You might ask why a 65-year-old man, never married and without children, who owns his co-op unit and vehicle outright, doesn’t just put down his picket sign and take that cruise. Well, it is complicated.
My father worked at the old General Motors stamping plant in West Mifflin, where he was a member of the United Auto Workers. The UAW made sure that the Fisher Body workers got adequately compensated and Dad worked a lot of overtime. Growing up, I had a secure childhood — Cub Scouts, clarinet lessons and Kennywood. As a child, I gave no thought about the food on the table or the roof overhead. When I went to Duquesne University, my parents paid the tuition, room and board, books and other expenses out of pocket — no loans or financial aid. I owe my parents so much and never had a way to thank them for all their sacrifices that they made for me and my brother. I hope that my parents would be proud of me standing with my union.
Likewise, I owe it to the women and men who one day will work at the PG as reporters and copy editors, photographers and artists, clerks and, yes, librarians. These future PG employees and their families deserve adequate compensation and job security for work well done.
I also owe it to my colleagues at the PG, people who work their damnedest so that readers in McKeesport and McKees Rocks, Edgewood and Edgeworth, Sewickley Heights and Duquesne Heights can be informed as to what is happening in their communities, their state, their nation and their world. My admiration for their efforts has no bounds, and the sacrifices that they and their families have endured over the past 200 days lack adequate description.
One last thing: I hope and pray that the lockout doesn’t last another 100 days and require another reflection from me.