Some Pittsburgh news workers now have been on strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for more than 365 days.
But that’s not because of a lack of community support, as many of them were buoyed to see and feel at a raucous and occasionally raw rally marking the unwelcome one-year anniversary at 1 p.m. Friday right outside the PG’s North Shore newsroom.
North Shore Drive was blocked by police for a crowd of about 300 people that included strikers and leaders from all five news unions that are on strike, lots of other union members and labor leaders, retired newspaper employees and current members of other media outlets, assorted activists and organizers, and a lineup of regional elected officials that made even the cynical wonder why no one was there covering this for the Post-Gazette.
Those standing with the striking workers included the city’s mayor. At least one city councilor. The deputy running for city controller. A borough councilor. At least one Allegheny County councilor. A candidate for county executive. Several state representatives. Both of the region’s freshman U.S. Congress members.
Allegheny-Fayette County Labor Council President Darrin Kelly reminded everyone that all of these community leaders and others continue to not speak to staffers from the PG until the strike is settled.
U.S. Senator John Fetterman held up a “WANTED: UNION BUSTER” poster of PG publisher John Robinson Block, who owns the PG with his twin brother, Allan Block, the chairman of the PG’s parent company, Block Communications Inc. The hoodies-and-shorts-wearing Fetterman, and can you blame him, opened by criticizing John Block’s signature attire — specifically, his bow tie. But, he said, “The really, really bad thing he does is not doing all of you right.”
Most in the crowd knew how this started: with a disagreement over a $19-a-week increase in health care costs for mailers, pressmen, drivers and advertising workers, who rejected the company unilaterally putting them on its more costly health care plan and who went on strike at midnight on Oct. 6, 2022. Those unions hadn’t had an across-the-board raise since 2006 and haven’t had a contract since 2017.
The journalists represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh — in the same raise-less, contract-less boat and under working conditions, including the company health plan, imposed on them by BCI in 2020 — went on their own unfair labor practice strike on Oct. 18, 2022.
A year or almost that later, the company hasn’t budged in bargaining or otherwise, despite, in the guild’s case, a resounding ruling in January by a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge that the company broke federal law by imposing conditions and not bargaining in good faith; the judge ordered them to do so and, in the meantime, to return to the terms of the last contract.
The company appealed and continued to pay much, much more to its lawyers and for security and replacement workers than it would cost to end the strike, union leaders say.
Meanwhile, the striking workers haven’t drawn paychecks or had work health insurance or been able to invest in their 401(k) retirement plan for 365 days and counting.
“Those 365 days,” said Guild member and emcee Natalie Duleba, “have been filled with inspiration, anger, awe and an undying will to fight for what’s right.”
While she stressed the “disappointment and frustration” strikers feel with the company and the workers and replacement workers — scabs — who are crossing the picket lines, despite strikers sacrificing to also help them, she lauded supporters who’ve helped strikers through the “long year” by donating money, cookies and more. “The things that bring me up each day are the faces I see out in the crowd. … It’s not just our fight, it’s everyone’s fight.”
And those were among the fighting words that consistently sparked cheers for the strikers or jeers for the Blocks and their company.
County Council member-at-large Bethany Hallam dropped a couple of f-bombs while reminding people to not contribute to or read the PG but rather to read the strike “paper,” before closing, “Solidarity forever!”
U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio said, “I know it can’t be easy standing up to these guys. … But there’s strength in solidarity.”
Between bites of picket-line pizza (of course) and musical interludes by the Pittsburgh Labor Choir and the CAPA Jazz Band, words of solidarity also were spoken by several strikers, including guild President Zack Tanner, who recounted strikers’ numerous victories and said, “It’s the workers who have the power here.”
Striking advertising worker Kitsy Higgins reminded supporters to not advertise in the PG for now and to instead advertise for the strikers by taking yard signs and posting them in high-visibility places.
Guild member Andrew Goldstein recounted how, during low-visibility times on the picket lines, he and other strikers have been harassed, threatened and roughed up by security and police officers. But, “We will not back down,” he said. “This is our city. This is our newspaper!”
In a news release following the rally, Tanner called for law enforcement, in the form of U.S. Marshals, to arrest the Blocks for their failure to comply with federal labor law, as recently happened to executives in another NLRB case.
Claude Cummings, the newly elected president of the guild’s parent union, Communications Workers of America, wound things up after about an hour and a half with a brief but fiery speech, starting with, “We are tired of corporate greed!”
(He paused after a relatively mild swear word, saying, “I don’t normally cuss — I’m a deacon — but that one had to come out.”)
But he went on to powerfully pledge his and the national CWA’s full support to do whatever he can to up the pressure on company officials, of whom he said, “They know that they are wrong,” and to continue to stand with the workers. “You deserve, dammit, a contract — a fair contract!”
No one from the PG appeared to be present, with only security guards obviously peeking out of the third-floor windows of the building that houses the PG’s editorial operation. Strikers had formally invited the PG’s executive editor and president Stan Wischnowski, but he was only there on a “WANTED: UNION BUSTER” sign of his own.
A big story happened on its very front porch, and not a word about it was published by the PG.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.