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The National Labor Relations Board intervenes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s 5-year labor fight

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wed., April 27.

The National Labor Relations Board has stepped into the bitter labor dispute at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that has stretched on for more than five years.

In a complaint issued last week, the board accused managers at the Post-Gazette of refusing to bargain in good faith with the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents the paper’s roughly 100 unionized journalists. Instead, the filing said, the Post-Gazette unilaterally altered policies on matters ranging from wages to hours worked, days off, and insurance coverage.

Federal labor law requires the company to negotiate such workplace conditions with the union, the board said in its complaint. It scheduled a hearing on the dispute for September 12 before an administrative law judge.

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Acting Guild president and Post-Gazette transportation reporter Ed Blazina welcomed the board’s involvement in the case.

“It shows that what we've been claiming for several years — that the company has not been bargaining in good faith and has not been doing everything it can to try to reach a contract agreement with our members — is absolutely true,” he said. “We now have an outside party saying that that is indeed the case.”

A representative of the Post-Gazette did not comment on the labor board’s allegations.

The newspaper’s last contract with the Guild expired in March 2017, and following unsuccessful negotiations over a new agreement, Post-Gazette leadership declared an impasse in the summer of 2020.

Blazina attributed a wave of staff departures to the fractious environment at the paper. In the last three years, he said, his union has lost about a third of its members, some of whom accepted buyouts in exchange for leaving the Post-Gazette.

“Many of those people are no longer with the Post-Gazette because they don't want to work there anymore,” Blazina said.

In its filing last week, the labor board said that for more than a year leading up to the 2020 impasse, Post-Gazette managers had “bargained with no intention of reaching an agreement,” instead “insisting upon proposals that [were] predictably unacceptable to the union.”

After “prematurely declaring impasse,” the board said, the Post-Gazette implemented new workplace policies in July 2020 without the union’s consent.

The complaint also accuses Post-Gazette managers and contractors of illegally photographing and filming union members who demonstrated outside the paper’s North Shore headquarters and at the Squirrel Hill home of the company’s publisher, John Block, at various points in the fall of 2020. The workers demanded that the Post-Gazette return to the bargaining table and improve working conditions.

The labor board described the alleged surveillance of the protests as interference, coercion and restraint that infringed upon employees’ rights to take part in union activities. Blazina said it threatened to have a "chilling effect" on Guild members.

If the administrative judge rules against the Post-Gazette, the board said, the paper should be required to resume contract talks and compensate employees and the union for any losses stemming from the stalled bargaining process.

Blazina said the Guild has offered to settle the dispute for $4.5 million, an amount that Blazina said would cover the union’s legal fees as well as the vacation days, health care coverage, and other benefits that employees have lost since their contract expired five years ago.

Last week’s complaint followed a federal court ruling in February that required the Post-Gazette to reimburse workers for more than $100,000 in health care costs the paper had refused to pay for nearly four years.

Editor's note: Reporter An-Li Herring was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette in 2017.