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Teamsters union, which led strike against Post-Gazette, accepts settlement and agrees to dissolve

Building that reads Pittsburgh Post-Gazette along the top
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The settlement by Teamsters Local 211/205, which represents Post-Gazette truck drivers, has set off a firestorm among the four other unions who remain on strike, including the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh.

The local Teamsters union that has led a more than year-and-a-half-long strike against the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has voted to accept payment and dissolve itself as part of a settlement with the parent company, Block Communications.

The settlement by Teamsters Local 211/205, which represents Post-Gazette truck drivers, has set off a firestorm among the four other unions who remain on strike, including the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh. The Guild represents the editorial staff, including reporters and photographers, and was pressured to join the strike in support of the Teamsters and the two other newspaper production unions at risk of losing its own union charter.

"After 18 months on strike, standing on the picket lines all day and late into the nights with Teamster drivers represented by Local 211/205, it's extremely disappointing to see this unit fall for the company's divide and conquer strategy," said Zack Tanner, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh president, in a press release.

Tanner estimated that the new settlement agreement would decrease the total number of workers on strike at the Post-Gazette from between 80 and 90 to just over 60 members, including 31 active members from the Newspaper Guild.

Joe Barbano, a trustee and business agent for the local Teamsters 211/205, said his union was backed into a corner. The union’s membership had fallen from around 150 when the Post-Gazette was still publishing seven days a week (the Post-Gazette cut publication to five days in August 2018 and three days in fall 2019), to just 30 in 2022 when the union first went on strike. Barbano said only 23 members were left as of this week and a majority of them voted to accept a severance payment and dissolve itself.

“A majority of them said we would take some type of a settlement, we'll move on with our lives,” Barbano said. “And that's what we did.”

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Barbano denied the accusation that the Teamsters had let down the Newspaper Guild, which voted to go on strike and support the Teamsters two weeks after Teamsters announced their strike in 2022. Barbano said it was the Guild’s membership that had undermined the strike.

“To be honest with you, the Guild, [around] 50% of their membership crossed the picket line,” Barbano said. “And they wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and they were able to get a paper out because of that.”

Tanner said the members who did go on strike have been fully supportive. “I can say that personally on Teamster picket lines, I was bear-sprayed. Cops have physically dragged me around on the picket line,” he said. “There was a fight that a News Guild member broke up famously where a member had his jaw broken last year.”

Barbano said that there were rumors the Post-Gazette will cut its delivery schedule to one day a week. “We have no future if they cut another day of print, which they were hinting that they are,” he said. “We are out of business.

The four unions still on strike chafed at how the local Teamsters negotiated a settlement on their own. “By selling out in secret, the Teamsters have not only damaged their own credibility but have also jeopardized the possibility of a fair settlement for all the unions involved,” said Mike Davis, the vice president of CWA District 2-13, one of the unions still on strike.

Barbano said that the local Teamsters union had presented the idea for this settlement about six months ago to the other unions but the other unions didn’t move on it, so the Teamsters decided to move forward on their own. The reason the Teamsters negotiated in secret from the other unions on strike was because that was a requirement made by the Post-Gazette, he said.

“The Post-Gazette wanted to keep it that way,” he said. “And in order for us to get a deal done, we needed to do that.”

Barbano said it was a local decision to settle but that his boss agreed. He didn’t share details of the amount each member would be paid but said it would be based on their years of service and would differ from member to member. The settlement agreement is not yet official, he said.

The Post-Gazette and Block Communications didn’t issue a press release. However, a business reporter for the Post-Gazette who chose not to go on strike with the majority of the Guild in 2022, wrote an article about the settlement, saying he received a statement from Post-Gazette management.

“The Post-Gazette and Teamsters Local Union 211/205 have amicably settled their strike, which began October 6, 2022,” the reporter wrote, saying it came from a Post-Gazette statement. “The parties ended the strike by executing a Labor Dispute Settlement Agreement. The Labor Dispute Settlement Agreement resolves, to the satisfaction of the Local Union and the Post-Gazette, substantially all strike-related issues and health care, including any outstanding National Labor Relations Board actions.”

Allison Latcheran, the director of marketing for the Post-Gazette, said the paper did not have any comment beyond what was published in the Post-Gazette story.

The Post-Gazette has hired replacement employees during the more than 18-month strike. Some local politicians, including Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, have chosen not to give interviews to the Post-Gazette until its labor dispute is resolved.

Tanner said the union membership was extremely disappointed by the Teamster’s decision but that they were positive they would reach a successful outcome to the strike.

“This is a fight for the workers and this is a fight for the community,” he said. “And we are in this, and I think we're going to see a win, a big win soon.”

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.