Dozens of community activists and union supporters picketed outside the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday. They were upset with the way the Block family, which publishes the paper, has treated its employees.
“Investigative journalism … is the foundation of any healthy, inclusive democracy,” said Helen Gerhardt of Just Harvest, who helped organize the protest. “We will continue to stand strong with [union employees] and pressure the Blocks.”
Union employees at the newspaper will have been working without a contract for two years as of March 31. The company has not followed the expired contract while a new one is being negotiated, which is a violation of federal labor law. Union members filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board last fall. The Post-Gazette challenged the decision.
“I think the pressure is getting to the Blocks,” said Bernie Lunzer, union president of the Newspaper Guild of the U.S and Canada, who came to the protest. “I think we can get a settlement by summer, and that’s what we’re determined to do.”
Contract negotiations have stalled completely, with no upcoming negotiations scheduled.
Lunzer said that while union disputes at newspapers are not necessarily notable, the Post-Gazette is in a unique position, due to the recent behavior of its publisher, J.R. Block.
“We have seen some of this—with the possible exception of some of the behavior of the publisher,” he said.
Block visited the newsroom late one Saturday night in February, according to multiple eyewitness accounts, shouting that the newspaper was “going to hell,” and that he’d “burn the place down.” Union employees again filed complaints with the NLRB. The newspaper’s parent company, Block Communications, refuted the employee accounts.
“The real danger right now, is – is this paper going to be destroyed somehow by the Blocks?” said Lunzer. “That’s our fear. They’re just draining the money out of it. The reporters can’t go on like this forever.”
Lunzer and Gerhardt said the last thing they want people to do is cancel their newspaper subscriptions.
“We don’t want to give up on the paper – in fact, quite the contrary. People should keep their subscriptions but should be sending letters to the publisher saying, ‘we’re keeping our subscription despite you. We know this is a quality paper. It matters to us,’” Lunzer said.
Officials at the Post-Gazette did not immediately return a request for comment.