PITTSBURGH — The regional director of the National Labor Relations Board has determined that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette violated federal law by refusing to pay a 2018 increase in the health care costs of 150 members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh while the two parties are involved in contract negotiations. Approximately another 250 unionized employees at the PG are similarly affected.
The Guild filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company on Jan. 12 because, through its union-busting law firm King & Ballow of Nashville, Tenn., it refused to pay a 5 percent increase in the health care premium for 2018, thereby unilaterally cutting health care benefits. Companies involved in bargaining are required by federal law to maintain the same level of wages and benefits of expired contracts. It is believed to be the first ULP the Guild has ever filed against the PG.
“Knowing this law firm and its history in labor relations, their actions aren’t surprising,” said Joseph J. Pass, the Guild’s attorney. “We’re thankful the regional director is willing to issue a complaint as a result of the unfair labor practice.”
The company can either comply with the regional director’s findings or can continue to pay outlandish fees to its Tennessee lawyers by requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge.
The Guild and other unions at the PG have been involved in contract negotiations with the paper for more than a year. Its contract, and those of other unions at the paper, expired March 31, 2017.
Because of extensive wage cuts, Guild members are earning 10 percent less than they did in 2006, the last time there was a raise. Also during that time, pensions have been frozen, benefits have been cut, health-care coverage has decreased. Yet the cost of everything — including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette itself — has increased dramatically.
The Post-Gazette, like most newspapers in the country, loses money but its highly profitable parent company, the family-owned Block Communications Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, is able to write off those losses and regularly earns more than $100 million in profits annually. Still, over the last year, in some of the most contentious contract talks at the paper in history, the company is demanding even more givebacks.
“Our hope is that the NLRB’s decision is a wakeup call to BCI that it should stop listening to King & Ballow and cease wasting money trying to defend its violation of federal law,” said Michael A. Fuoco, a PG veteran reporter and Guild president. “It is time for BCI to negotiate fairly and equitably with the Guild and all unions and to quit wasting money on a law firm that apparently is not interested in negotiating in a substantive way but only in lining its coffers.”
In late January, all Guild members withheld their bylines from their stories, photographs, columns and graphics for four days in protest of the ULP and the more than 12 years of pay cuts and other concessions demanded by BCI. Those who work behind the scenes–copy editors, page designers, web editors and others –wore stickers reading “I Support the Byline Strike.” Participation among the 150 members was 100 percent.
Additional Guild actions are possible should BCI refuse to remedy its current unfair labor practice and to bargain in a fair and equitable manner.
Michael A. Fuoco,
President, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh