We were somewhere along Superior Street near the edge of the Toledo Blade property when the solidarity began to take hold.
Jacob Klinger and I were building Pittsburgh Post-Gazette strike solidarity yard signs in the back of his silver pickup truck when passersby began to ask what we were doing.
We had made the four-hour journey Friday from Pittsburgh to Glass City to strengthen our relationship with the members of the Toledo NewsGuild, which represents workers at the Toledo Blade newspaper. The Block family owns both the Blade and the Post-Gazette, where I am one of more than 100 workers who have been on strike since October after the Blocks effectively stripped health insurance from a group of union employees.
Block Communications Inc., the Block family’s multimultimillion-dollar company that owns the newspapers as well as several electronic communications companies across the country, including Buckeye Broadband — Northwest Ohio’s largest cable and telecommunications company — is also based in Toledo.
“The guy that owns the cable cut off his workers’ health care?” said one friendly passerby, perplexed by the situation.
Jacob, our NewsGuild staffer, and I had loaded his truck earlier in the day with extremely dangerous anarchist materials. The back seat and bed of the pickup looked like a mobile picket line. We had four boxes of strike solidarity yard signs, a bag of union buttons, two stacks of informational pamphlets, 30 picket signs, two boxes of “Wanted” posters we created about Allan Block — the chairman of BCI better known for his burger bag assault — and two staple guns, about a dozen rolls of tape and other assorted supplies.
As we waited for Lillian King, the newly crowned Toledo NewsGuild president, a number of other people stopped by the truck and inquired as to what we were doing.
One woman, a member of United Auto Workers Local 12 in Toledo, took a couple of yard signs and a pamphlet. Another man grabbed some of our union buttons. We hadn’t even been in the city for an hour, and we already had friends. Indeed, Toledo, like Pittsburgh, is a union town.
Lillian soon arrived with Lou Greico, a NewsGuild staffer based in Detroit. Jacob and I had only met Lillian over Zoom, and so we greeted each other for the first time in person then quickly moved to initiate our plan.
We were going to infiltrate the Blade newsroom with our anarchist materials (i.e. the “Wanted” posters and some union buttons). But a security guard stopped the four of us just after we got inside the door.
“Blade employees only,” the guard said.
Lillian asked when that policy started, as sources and other guests are often invited into newsrooms. But the guard said he was just doing what he was told. Lillian guessed that the policy had been fabricated in the previous 10 minutes after someone in Blade management discovered an attack team from Pittsburgh was nearby.
So instead of the four of us, Lillian went inside, pinned our “Wanted” posters to the various union bulletin boards throughout the building, and handed out buttons to guild members who were in the office.
I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get into the Blade newsroom. I had planned on causing a scene by doing my best Gordon Ramsey impression as Lillian showed me all of the leaks in the ceiling and mold on the walls that the union was fighting the company to have cleaned and repaired.
“OH, DISGUSTING!” I had intended to shout. “I wouldn’t make an intern from a non-Ivy League school work in conditions this filthy!”
The Blade is housed in a magnificent, dignified old building in the same neighborhood as Toledo’s imposing courthouses, but, like so much else in their empire, the Blocks have allowed it to fall into disrepair. Meanwhile, the Blade’s employees have received similar treatment from the Blocks as we have in Pittsburgh — years of bad faith bargaining and union busting — although they haven’t yet reached the point of a strike.
As Lillian moved through the inside of the building, Lou and I worked on the outside, taping Allan Block “Wanted” posters to telephone poles around the area, plastering a screenshot of the chairman’s face from the infamous burger bag slap video all over the place with text that read in part:
“Your neighbor, Allan Block, just so happens to be one of the country’s most ruthless union busters. He refuses to settle a strike at his newspaper in Pittsburgh for pennies on the dollar, and would rather spend money on out-of-town, union-busting attorneys to squash workers’ rights. … If you see this man, tell him: Bargain in good faith with your workers and stop trying to bust the unions!”
The rest of the evening was spent building camaraderie with our comrades in Toledo.
Lillian, Lou, Jacob and I, along with two other Toledo Blade staffers — religion and features writer Sarah Readdean and general assignment reporter Eric Taunton — attended the Toledo Mud Hens game at Fifth Third Field. The Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers just so happened to be playing the Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates farm team.
We sat seven or eight rows behind home plate, drank beer, ate popcorn and pretzels, talked and watched the game on and off. I was especially excited to see Pirates top prospects Endy Rodriguez and Nick Gonzales. At one point, Endy beat out an infield ground ball for a single. He eventually made his way around the bases and scored on a close play at home. I stood up and yelled, “Nice hustle, Endy!” He looked at me and smiled as he jogged back to the dugout.
The Indians won the game, 6-3, but there was still more team building to do. The six of us walked back to Lillian’s grand loft, located in an old downtown Toledo department store that was converted to apartments, marveled at Lillian’s video game and book collection, and met her cats, Goblin, a black cat, and a light-colored cat named Hank after Hank Hill from “King of the Hill.” (Incredibly, striking Post-Gazette copy editor and designer Erin Hebert also has a cat named Hank after Hank Hill.)
On the advice of my NewsGuild staffer, I’m going to omit the details of what was discussed in this late-night meeting of the minds as we strategized about the next day and the future of the partnership between our unions as we ate pizza from Vito’s, a Toledo restaurant chain. I think it’s safe to say that a good relationship between our unions is bad news for the Blocks and their allies.
The following day, Jacob and I headed to the Toledo NewsGuild office to reconvene with the Blade staff. I know it’s challenging to get people to participate in union actions, especially on gorgeous weekend days, so I didn’t know what to expect.
It was sunny and in the high 60s. I spent the morning walking along the Maumee River and enjoying the public art in Promenade Park, and I figured many Toledoans would want to do something similar.
But all of a sudden, nine Toledo Blade staff members led by Lillian came marching around the corner, ready to canvass with us.
We split up into four teams and spread out around the city. Sarah, Vincent Lucarelli, a reporter on the Blade’s local news desk and the secretary of the Toledo NewsGuild, and I walked to the city center, where we fastened so many Allan Block “Wanted” posters that we ran out of tape.
Some businesses allowed us to tack the posters to their community bulletin boards. Others took strike solidarity yard signs to display in their windows. An electrical worker who saw our materials stopped us on the street to ask about the strike and whether he could take a yard sign. We gave him two because he had a friend who he thought would want one. A bartender at Downtown Johnny’s who described Allan Block in a way that shouldn’t be published in a family strike “newspaper” such as the Union Progress took a yard sign for herself, saying she lives on a busy street.
After a couple of hours, everyone met back up at the guild office for a debriefing. We talked about what happened, what we could do better next time, and why it’s necessary for all of us — Pittsburgh and Toledo guild members — to move forward together.
“This is functionally one fight,” Jacob said.
“Your fates are linked,” Lou added. “What you’ve done, this is the start of something important.”
I thanked the Toledo NewsGuild members deeply. They could have done anything they wanted on this beautiful Saturday, and they chose to help people they barely knew in a far-off town inch closer to justice. That’s solidarity. It brought a tear to my eye.
I promised them that as long as I was standing, and as long as the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh exists, I would be there for them. I would return the favor when they were in need. And I said I would be back to Toledo with a larger force from Pittsburgh. Allan Block can no longer hide unperturbed in Toledo while trying to get away with the wrongs he’s committed.
The group went to Carlos Poco Loco, a local Mexican-Cuban joint, to celebrate the day. We talked about what it meant to be a journalist, and a union member, and a union journalist. We talked about our lives, where we came from, and what we hoped to do in the future.
It was great sharing a final meal with the Toledo crew. Most of them were in their mid-20s, about five years younger than me, and it reminded me so much of the fun I used to have with my colleagues at the Post-Gazette in the years before the strike.
I long for those days, and I hope that I have more in the future. But we have a war to win first.
We said our goodbyes to the Toledo crew, and Jacob and I headed back toward Pittsburgh. Not far outside of town, I recognized the area on the Ohio Turnpike where, as we drove home from another trip to Toledo in late January, our attorney, Joe Pass, called Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh President Zack Tanner to tell him that we had won a massive case at the National Labor Relations Board against the Post-Gazette.
As we prepared to head to Toledo this time, Bob Batz Jr., the interim editor of this publication, demanded that we have Joe Pass call us with good news on our way home again. Unfortunately, we were unable to make that happen. (Thankfully, that will not affect how much I’m paid for this story.)
On the way home, Jacob and I listened to “The River,” by Bruce Springsteen, which brought us down, and a remix of “Bella Ciao,” an anti-fascist war song from World War II, to bring us back up. We also listened to a podcast about the Haymarket Affair of 1886.
The one topic Jacob and I couldn’t stop talking about was how proud we were of our Toledo brethren. The Pittsburgh and Toledo guilds had always supported each other, but we were now well positioned to take it to the next level.
Of course, there was still business to take care of in Pittsburgh. There was a picket late Saturday, and Jacob and I decided we would attend.
So, we set our course and prepared for battle. The fight continues.
Correction: This story originally gave an incorrect Toledo NewsGuild title to Vincent Lucarelli.