Dozens of unionized journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette went on strike Tuesday over their working conditions and the company’s refusal to negotiate a new contract.
The union representing the journalists, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, voted to authorize the strike on Monday and presented the company with a list of demands: lift the impasse on contract negotiations; reinstate the terms of their previous contract, which expired in 2017; and return to the bargaining table. After the company refused to meet those demands, the union walked off the job at noon Tuesday.
“Our demands continue to be the same,” said guild president Zack Tanner. “As far as the timeframe goes, nothing can be certain in the strike, but we think our demands are pretty reasonable.”
Some journalists have continued to work, however. The Post-Gazette reported that roughly 40 of the union’s 100 members will continue working during the strike, and several of those people had taken the extra step of resigning from the union. Tanner confirmed that some members had resigned but could not provide an exact figure. He also did not know how many people are currently on strike.
“That number (from the Post-Gazette) to me sounds high from what we’ve been told,” Tanner said. “I don’t have a count on how many people are still working and how many people are striking.”
The Post-Gazette, which is owned by Block Communications, was already embroiled in a labor conflict with its unionized advertising, design, production and distribution workers, some of whom are represented by the Communications Workers of America. Those workers started striking Oct. 6 after the company terminated their health insurance. At the time, Post-Gazette journalists withdrew their bylines in solidarity but did not hold their own strike.
Last Friday, the CWA, which is also the parent union of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, requested that the journalists join their colleagues on strike. If they refused, they could lose their union charter, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh held a strike vote Monday that passed by a slim margin, 38-36. Several members opposed to the strike told Pittsburgh City Paper they felt as if the CWA did not care about their opinions and that they were rushed into taking a vote.
Tanner said that though CWA had requested the newspaper guild to strike in solidarity, they had their own reasons for striking.
“We’re not on a solidarity strike with them. We took our own vote, and we’re out on our own,” Tanner said. “Our demands are in line with theirs. We’re all there standing together.”
A CWA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh’s contract negotiations with the Post-Gazette stalled in 2020 when the paper declared an impasse. Since then, the company has imposed new working conditions including wage reductions and changes in health insurance plans without the union’s consent.
In April, the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that helps enforce labor law, issued a complaint against the Post-Gazette, finding that it had “bargained with no intention of reaching agreement” by prematurely declaring an impasse and insisting upon proposals that would be “predictably unacceptable” to the union.
The NLRB and the Post-Gazette went before an administrative law judge earlier this month and last month to argue over the issues outlined in the complaint. It is unclear when the judge will issue a ruling though the union predicts one will come in early 2023, Tanner said.
Post-Gazette director of marketing Allison Latcheran wrote in an emailed statement that the newspaper will continue to serve its readers and advertisers despite the ongoing strike.
“We currently await the ruling by the National Labor Relations Board regarding the Newspaper Guild’s claim of unfair labor practices by the Post-Gazette and are confident that the company will prevail,” Latcheran wrote. “Over the past three years, Guild employees’ top wage scales have increased 8%. For the workers from the production, distribution and advertising unions currently on strike over healthcare, the Post-Gazette has offered several proposals, one of which included a 9% wage increase and enrollment in the company’s healthcare plan, which currently covers 2,600 Block Communications employees, including several unions, company executives and staff at the PG. None of these solutions were accepted.”
On the second day of the strike, a mix of bylined and nonbylined local stories could be found on the Post-Gazette’s homepage and e-edition. A substantial number of the paper’s stories, however, came from wire services or other publications.
Meanwhile, the workers who are on strike have held pickets outside the offices of the Post-Gazette and its advertisers.
“Nobody takes striking lightly, and nobody wants to be on strike,” Tanner said. “We’re doing this to earn our contract back and to get back to the bargaining table to bargain our next contracts. Those measures will ensure that the Post-Gazette stays strong for years to come.”
Correction, Oct. 19, 2022: This story was updated to correct the number of journalists who are on strike.