Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Public officials heed calls to end communication with Post-Gazette until strike demands are met

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Several elected officials and candidates are condemning the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as its workers enter their third month on strike.

Members of the newspaper’s editorial, production and distribution unions first walked out this October in an effort to force management to negotiate better health care, wages and new union contracts. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents journalists at the Post-Gazette, and management have been embroiled in a drawn-out labor dispute since the last contract expired in 2017.

The unions and the National Labor Relations Board have, on several occasions, accused the paper of bargaining in bad faith and unilaterally imposing work conditions. Newsroom employees with the Newspaper Guild voted 38-36 to authorize the unfair labor practice strike.

As 45 workers remain on strike, some local officials have gone so far as to end all communication with reporters who cross the picket line. Dozens of previously dues-paying members of the guild, which represented nearly 100 unionized journalists prior to the strike, have since resigned from the guild to continue working for the paper.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

City Controller Michael Lamb said his office would release public information to the Post-Gazette, just as it would for any person under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law. But he is also running for Allegheny County executive and said when it comes to his campaign, information will be withheld from the paper and strikebreaking journalists.

“That doesn't mean that my name doesn't appear in the Post-Gazette sometimes with stories. It's just something that I'm not driving,” Lamb explained.

Workers with the guild have asked community members to show their support for the strike by refusing to speak to the Post-Gazette until their demands are met. Their request accompanies an online pledge, which was initiated shortly after Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid declared it would stand in solidarity with the union by declining all interviews from the paper earlier this month.

In joining the pledge, signatories agree they instead will speak with the Pittsburgh Union Progress, the guild’s strike publication, as well as ask others to join them in canceling their Post-Gazette subscription until the strike is over.

While the paper did not respond to multiple requests for its most recent circulation numbers, its website states that circulation stands at 100,000 on Sundays and 73,000 on Thursdays for print and digital readers combined.

As of Thursday, Lamb and Allegheny County Controller Corey O’Connor have signed the pledge alongside incoming Congressman Chris DeLuzio, several incumbent and recently elected state legislators, Allegheny County councilors and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

“In these volatile and uncertain times, quality journalism is more important than ever. It is the foundation of our democracy,” SEIU President Matthew Yarnell wrote in a statement. “It is unconscionable that Post-Gazette management and Block Communications, owners of the Post-Gazette, would refuse to bargain in good faith with their award-winning staff and put the legacy of the Post-Gazette in jeopardy. Their readers and their staff deserve better.”

Four of the City of Pittsburgh’s nine councilors—Deb Gross, Bobby Wilson, Erika Strassburger and newly sworn-in representative Barb Warwick—have also signed on to support the strike.

While he hasn’t officially pledged support, Mayor Ed Gainey said he stood in solidarity with the union shortly after the strike began. According to an article published earlier this week by the Post-Gazette, the mayor’s office failed to respond to the reporter's inquiries.

In a statement Thursday, the paper’s senior leadership accused public officials who agreed to freeze them out of limiting the information their constituents’ have access to.

“Although a few of our community’s elected officials have chosen not to speak to us, that has not deterred us from serving our readers with fair, accurate and thorough journalism,” wrote Allison Latcheran, the Post-Gazette’s marketing director. “Public officials who prevent journalists from gaining access to them are doing a disservice to their constituents who deserve objective and reliable news reporting.”

Warwick and Strassburger say while they weighed that possibility in their decision, there are a number of other local news outlets providing information daily, including the strike publication.

“In my mind, there is an alternative for people to go,” said Strassburger, who represents Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and Oakland. “They can subscribe to the news that is being produced by these striking workers and have a place where information can be sought out and found.”

With the proliferation of alternative media and online platforms, candidates who typically try to drum up support with interviews and political ads in legacy newspapers no longer must rely on traditional media to get their message out. Twitter and Facebook give them a more direct line to voters than ever.

“We learned a lot, obviously, during the pandemic about how to communicate with each other,” Lamb added. “And so between that, the new technology that's available, all the various avenues that we have to communicate with the citizens of this region — we're using all of them. Except, for right now, the Post-Gazette.”

That same information is available for anyone to retweet or reprint, strikebreaking reporters included.

In the race for county executive, early candidate Erin McClelland said while she also signed the pledge, there is more for contenders to worry about than whether or not their messages are carried by the newspaper, its history and circulation aside.

Five people have declared their candidacy so far, and there won’t be any larger races on the presidential or congressional level that sparks voter engagement for the primary race in May.

“We have a lot of issues as far as separating and differentiating ourselves as candidates,” said McClelland, a project manager in the county’s Department of Human Services. “I don't see one media outlet being this sort of omnipresent issue that we're constantly grabbing at, trying to overcome.”

The union and the paper’s management are expected to meet for another round of contract negotiations on Tuesday.

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.