When Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff walked off the job over a year ago, they had been working without a contract since 2017 and hadn’t gotten an across-the-board raise in 16 years. Sixteen months later, they’re still on strike.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers march on September 4, 2023. (Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh / X)

Bob Batz Jr thought it would end quickly.

“It’s kind of cute now, that we thought getting into last December [2022] and January was a long time,” Batz said. “Little did we know. [We said] ‘Oh, it’s Christmas and we’re still on strike. We can’t believe it.’”

Batz is one of thirty-one Newspaper Guild workers striking the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, owned by the family company Block Communications, Inc.

Journalists at the Post-Gazette have been on strike since October 2022 — making this strike the longest media strike of the digital age — along with four other units: mailers, advertising workers, and Teamster truck drivers and pressmen.

Chipping Away at a Block

The Post-Gazette is the largest newspaper serving that metropolitan area and the surrounding Pennsylvania counties.

Journalists have tried a litany of tactics to sway the Block family, which owns the Post-Gazette as a holding of Block Communications, Inc.

They’ve picketed the wedding of the publisher, John Block. They’ve placed pro-union yard signs in the neighborhood — and even the yard — of the executive editor. They’ve asked C-SPAN to remove owner Allan Block from its board.

“It’s like chipping away at a rock and you don’t know what chip is going to actually break it in two until you hit that one,” Batz said of the tactics.

But the Post-Gazette shows no willingness to negotiate.

Post-Gazette Keeps Printing

Forty-five journalists joined the picket line at the beginning of the strike, while thirty-eight continued to work. According to Ed Blazina, vice president of the union and a transportation writer, the paper hired about thirty replacement journalists after the strike began. Three of the initial strikers crossed the picket line and returned to work; a handful of others have sought employment elsewhere.

So the Post-Gazette is still able to produce its paper, printed twice weekly and read primarily online.

Still, “all these little actions, tiny behind the scenes, public and bigger, publishing the strike paper — we just try to do everything we can,” Batz said. “We don’t look like we’re very effective, in terms of still being on strike, but it’s not really like that. We’re still in the game.”

Solidarity From Struggle

The strike has brought difficult times. Talented young reporters left to pursue employment elsewhere. Workers have suffered reduced health care and wage losses. And they’ve sat through endless bargaining sessions where management refuses to move.

But in these long months, workers have also forged a sense of solidarity and community. Blazina got to know his coworkers on the strike line. He said that he would “easily stand in front of a bus for” coworkers he’s had the pleasure of meeting over the course of the strike.

Workers have been surviving on $400 a week in strike pay from the international union, as well as a strike relief fund fed by donations from individuals and other unions. They’ve also helped each other search for freelance jobs.

One colleague, who turned out to be a dedicated Ohio State fan (“I’ll forgive him for that,” Blazina said) provided tailgating equipment for a barbecue to raise strikers’ morale. The young daughter of another striker drew a picture featured in their strike paper, the Pittsburgh Union Progress, to celebrate the New Year.

According to Batz, there has also been solidarity from beyond the newsroom. The mayor of Pittsburgh, along with two Pennsylvania congressmembers, refuse to talk to reporters from the Post-Gazette.

In Sympathy

While the production units struck first on October 6, primarily over health care coverage — which they lost when the Post-Gazette refused to pay an additional per employee/per week fee to maintain existing coverage — the journalists had a longer list of grievances.

They had been operating without a contract since 2017 and had not received an across-the-board raise in sixteen years. And in June 2020, the Post-Gazette had declared an impasse in contract negotiations — later found illegal by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — and imposed terms on the workers that cut their vacation time and wages, reduced their health insurance coverage, and charged them more for it. Newsroom workers joined the strike on October 18, twelve days after the production units walked off.

The journalists’ strike was partly in sympathy with the other units. NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss told Pittsburgh NPR station WESA that that international union’s executive board had ordered the Pittsburgh guild to join its sibling unions on the picket line, regardless of whether workers voted for or against the strike. Indeed, the journalists favored the strike by a slim margin of two votes.

The Post-Gazette has created conditions that have made it quite difficult for the journalists to secure a deal. Before this bargaining began in 2017, journalists and production units operated a Unity Council and bargained jointly on economic issues.

“In 2017, the company said, ‘We’re not dealing with you collectively,’” separating bargaining by the units, said Zack Tanner, an interactive designer at the Post-Gazette who has been the Pittsburgh Newspaper Guild president since 2022. “That is just a full-on union busting tactic to prolong things and make things harder for the workers to get to an agreement.”

The Post-Gazette has also refused to accept even the journalists’ most flexible concessions on jurisdiction, job security, and health care.

“They didn’t have any counter to [the proposal we offered] other than the same proposal that they had given us back in June 2020,” Tanner said. “So if we want to talk about why things have stalled, that’s why. We and the other groups have made major concessions in those areas and the company has not bought that.”

Post-Gazette executive editor Stan Wischnowski has also declined to speak to union representatives, and pressed trespassing charges against Blazina for placing a sign in his yard. (Blazina was found not guilty.)

Batz said the 2022 NLRB ruling, which mandated that the Post-Gazette bargain in good faith, offered a glimmer of hope. The company has appealed it.

“The movie ending is that someone gets a call from NLRB and it’s going to go to a court, and a judge is going to decide this,” Batz said, “but we’re not giving up until then.”

Working With Passion

Shortly after the strike began, journalists founded an independent paper: the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Without pay, they publish news related to the strike and the greater Pittsburgh area, operating from a downtown office provided free of charge by the Steelworkers union.

Writing for the paper has been a welcome solace.

“It’s the one bit of normalcy to the day,” Blazina said. “It helps me forget about the other crap that’s going on. And what we need right now as much as anything, is some normalcy.”

The paper has also worked as a mobilization tool, as the reporters observed and reported on bargaining sessions.

“The brilliant part about that is that anyone from our union could show up for the bargaining sessions, and they couldn’t be kicked out — and that included a reporter for the strike paper,” Batz said. “They’re meant not to be reported on. We reported on every single one because we figured that was one of our missions. . . . Who better to tell our story than us, and who else was going to tell it?”

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