The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Fort Worth Star-Telegram have been recruiting journalists to help break strikes at their respective papers.
Unions representing editorial workers at both papers have launched open-ended strikes in protest of what they say are unfair labor practices. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh started striking on Oct. 18, joining their unionized colleagues in production and advertising who were already on strike. The Fort Worth NewsGuild walked off the job Monday.
In the days and weeks since, the owners of both papers have posted job openings for positions held by striking workers. McClatchy, which owns the Star-Telegram and 29 other dailies, has posted at least five on-call positions ranging from Accountability Reporter to Visual Journalist. Block Communications, the owner of the Post-Gazette, has eight jobs listed including Investigative Reporter and Advertising Sales Rep that contain notices that the offered employment is in place of employees involved in an ongoing “labor dispute.”
McClatchy had warned striking workers on Monday that the company would list their positions the next day and terminate their benefits — including their healthcare plans — at the end of the month. Even if employees choose to return to work in the middle of December, their healthcare plans will not take effect until Jan. 1.
“I think they really hoped that we would all fold and come back,” Fort Worth NewsGuild vice president Kaley Johnson said. “I think they really were just trying to throw everything at us on the first day.”
Asked about these measures, McClatchy spokesperson Julie Pendley referred to a previous statement by Star-Telegram executive editor Steve Coffman that said the paper will continue to serve its readers. Neither Pendley nor Coffman answered questions about the five job listings.
Similarly, Post-Gazette spokesperson Allison Latcheran declined to answer questions about the strike’s impact on the paper and whether the company had hired any strikebreakers. She wrote in an emailed statement that the paper continues to publish every day and that the company looks forward to a “speedy resolution” to the labor dispute.
Open-ended strikes at newspapers are extremely rare. The Star-Telegram is the first paper in Texas to go on strike, according to the guild. Meanwhile, the last newspaper strike in Pittsburgh took place 30 years ago.
Both unions are protesting delays in contract negotiations. The Fort Worth NewsGuild has been at the bargaining table for two years, and the Post-Gazette workers have not had a contract since 2017.
Despite the strikes, both papers remain in operation. At the Star-Telegram, most of the reporting is being done by editors who are not part of the union and staff reporters who chose not to strike, Fort Worth NewsGuild vice president Kaley Johnson said. As of Wednesday, 21 of 23 card holding members are on strike. The newsroom has 27 union-eligible staff.
There has been less support for the Post-Gazette strike. Members of the union there voted 38-36 to strike in October, and Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh president Zack Tanner said roughly 55% of members are currently striking.
Still, the Post-Gazette has had to hire freelancers and run wire stories to fill its pages. Some articles have gone unbylined. The company also has made a few hires since the strike’s start. Though those people may have applied for their positions before the strike, Tanner said he still considers them “scab” hires.
Some Pennsylvania outlets have voiced their support for striking Post-Gazette workers. Spotlight PA, an online nonprofit newsroom, has refused to allow the Post-Gazette to republish its content. And after the Butler Eagle agreed to cross the picket line and print the Post-Gazette, the University of Pittsburgh’s student paper, The Pitt News, decided to stop printing its paper with the Eagle.
Both the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and the Fort Worth NewsGuild are urging journalists not to apply for open positions at their papers.
“I understand the media job availability around the country is tight,” Tanner said. “But taking these positions and even applying for these jobs seriously is really undermining the striking workers’ efforts to secure health care, secure fair wages and secure a contract.”
Federal labor law states that workers striking over unfair labor practices can be “neither discharged nor permanently replaced.” They are entitled to have their jobs back once the strike ends even if the company has to fire the employees who were hired in their absence.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh is also asking readers and businesses to boycott the paper for the duration of the strike. In the meantime, readers can access local news via the union’s online strike paper, the Pittsburgh Union Progress, which has nearly 500 subscribers.
The Fort Worth NewsGuild has refrained from making a similar ask. Johnson said she has received messages from people who have said they canceled their subscriptions, but union members are split on the topic.
“We care about this paper so much and this community that it’s really hard to then tell people, ‘Unsubscribe to your local paper.’” Johnson said. “I think the best way people can support us if they want to is to donate to the strike fund, especially now that some of that money is going to go towards employees’ health care.”
Both unions hope to end their strikes soon. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh will meet with the Post-Gazette to bargain on Dec. 6. This will be the third bargaining session since the strike began.
The Fort Worth Newspaper Guild’s next bargaining session is Dec. 8 though the union hopes to meet with the company before then.