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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette appeals decision ordering good-faith bargaining with unions

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Attorneys for the Post-Gazette filed an appeal of a ruling issued by an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board Thursday.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is pushing back against a decision that found the paper violated federal labor law by failing to bargain in good faith with the newsroom’s union.

Attorneys for the paper Thursday filed an appeal of the ruling, issued by an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board in January.

The decision, handed down by administrative law judge Geoffrey Carter, ordered the Post-Gazette to resume contract talks with union members and restore the bargaining agreement that expired in 2017, as well as rescind “unlawful, unilateral changes” to the work agreement imposed on union members in 2020.

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Carter also ordered the paper to “make its employees whole” for loss of earnings and benefits that resulted from those alterations, including changes to union members’ health insurance benefits.

Joseph Pass, an attorney for the five unions representing Post-Gazette employees, said — when accounting for unilaterally imposed changes to the unit’s health insurance compensation and diversions of raises, as well as cuts to vacation and sick time — members could be eligible for roughly $4 million in restitution.

In their appeal, the Post-Gazette’s attorneys refute claims that the paper failed to negotiate in good faith and say the conditions implemented in 2020 resulted from a lawful impasse.

The appeal lists 297 unique issues the Post-Gazette has taken with Carter’s decision, arguing the judge ignored the paper’s reasoning for its proposals as it “transitioned to a digital newspaper in order to survive.”

A representative for the paper declined to provide any additional comment on the proceeding.

The ruling will now go to the NLRB’s Board, a quasi-judicial body made up of presidentially appointed members, each serving five-year terms. From there, the parties may appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“They told us at the bargaining table that they’d be appealing as far as they could,” said Zack Tanner, president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents newsroom members. “It’s disappointing that they’d rather pour money into attorneys and fighting us than getting us all back to work.”

The paper has employed attorneys from King and Ballow, a Nashville-based firm that has long represented media organizations in labor disputes with employees. Its lawyers represented management during a 1985 strike at the Chicago Tribute and in the early 1990s at the New York Daily News.

The firm was also brought on to represent Block Communications Inc, which also owns the Post-Gazette, during a work stoppage at the Toldeo Blade stretching from 2006 to 2007.

In an obituary published by the Post-Gazette following founding partner Robert Ballow’s death in December 2022, BCI chairman and CEO Allan Block praised Ballow for what he called strong advice that resulted in “more equal relations” between management and newspaper employees."

Among unions, King and Ballow continue to have a reputation for hardball negotiations and union busting, according to Howard Stanger, a professor of management at Canisius College in Buffalo.

“Their tactics at the bargaining table are more hard-line tactics. [They] try to avoid a settlement,” said Stanger, who studies labor disputes at media organizations in the last century.

When a company hires King and Ballow, he continued, unions typically know what's coming their way: dragged-out negotiations and few concessions.

“Time delays, both in organizing and in collective bargaining, work to the advantage of the employer,” Stanger added.

Tanner said parties are scheduled to meet for another bargaining session on Wednesday.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.