In the pieces that I wrote for this publication to mark the 100-, 200- and 300-day anniversaries of the strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where I am a 33-year employee of the information center/library/morgue (where I earned the nickname Conan the Librarian), I mentioned the fact that I have had some health problems.
I have developed a new one: insomnia. There are days when I haven’t fallen asleep until 5:30 a.m. or later. I have gone more than two-plus days without sleep. I am surprised that I haven’t burrowed holes in my mattress from all the tossing and turning I do through the night.
I am working with my primary care physician to remedy the situation. But I don’t know if my insomnia is physiological (I do suffer from sleep apnea) or psychological or genetic (my late mother as she got older would wake up at 3 or 4 a.m.).
At age 65, I spend time, maybe too much, examining and re-examining my life. What did I do wrong? What did I do right? What would I do differently if I had the opportunity? Is this why I cannot fall asleep?
One thing I know isn’t responsible for my insomnia — my conscience.
One year ago, when most members of my Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh union voted to walk out of the Post–Gazette, the question I faced was would I walk out with one set of friends and colleagues or would I cross the picket line and scab with another set of colleagues? My answer was yes to the former.
To be honest, had I crossed the picket line I probably wouldn’t have had any sleep over the next 365 days.
The guilt would have been too overwhelming to consider and not just because I am a famously guilty Catholic.
As I have said about this work stoppage and will until I am blue in the face, it isn’t about me. It is about those who came before me, about those with whom I work with today and those Post-Gazette employees who will come after me.
In July 1990, when I started at the PG, then local President Harry Tkach stopped by my desk and handed me my union card. Another guild member, Barb Vancheri, stopped by my desk later to suggest that I subscribe to the Guild Reporter, the union newspaper. Both encouraged me to get involved with one of the local’s committees. The next thing I knew I was a member of the pension board.
(A piece of PG history: The guild set up a 401(k) retirement program for its members years before PG management phased out its defined benefit pension plan and replaced it with a 401(k). With my retirement being closer than I might wish, I am most thankful for having had a 401(k) head start.)
To those PG employees who were hired to replace me and my colleagues during this strike, please read the above paragraph. Among other things, the guild also fought to get maternity leave for its members. Dear strikebreakers, whatever benefits you receive at the PG, it is because the guild fought like hell to get them.
Future PG workers, please read the above two paragraphs and remember that unions are the reason you have a weekend.
Those readers who have read my three previous essays know my story. I am 65 years old, never married, no children. I own my co-op and my vehicle outright. I have a fully vested pension and Medicare and can take early Social Security.
I am damn lucky. I could be a 20-something cub reporter trying to pay both rent and college loans. I could be a 30-something beat reporter with a kid, another on the way and a mortgage payment. I could be a 40-something graphic artist with a mortgage and no money in the kids’ college funds. I could be a 50-something photographer, glad that the mortgage is paid off but looking at college for the kids in the future and retirement further down the road. I could be that 60-something copy editor with not much saved for retirement.
They are people that I and my fellow strikers give a damn about. We want them and their families to feel and be secure. They earned their salaries and benefits covering long boring school board meetings; taking photos at early-morning fires; designing complicated diagrams, charts and maps; and trying to make rookie freelancers’ pieces readable.
We want to ensure they don’t spend long nights tossing and turning about their jobs.