The newsroom staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh/CWA 38061, today took the unprecedented act of voting “no confidence” in PG Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and newspaper owner Block Communications Inc. (BCI) for their escalating unconscionable treatment of employees, union members and managers alike.
In further protest of this hostile work environment, PG journalists will withhold their bylines from stories, photographs and graphics beginning Wednesday and continuing indefinitely. Members who work on the copy and web desks and therefore who do not have bylines will wear buttons reading “I support the byline strike.”
Additionally, all members will wear “No Confidence” buttons in the newsroom as well as stickers supporting mistreated managers and decrying BCI’s cruelty.
Both the no-confidence vote and byline strike were overwhelmingly approved by Guild members at an emergency membership meeting today.
“Keith Burris, John Robinson Block and his twin brother Allan, BCI chairman, have declared an unprecedented scorched-earth war on their employees and the culture of the PG newsroom,” said Michael A. Fuoco, a 35-year PG reporter and Guild president of the local representing 140 journalists.
“They have created a culture of fear, hostility and intimidation in the newsroom. They have transformed a previously collegial, pleasant and enjoyable workplace — one conducive to Guild members fulfilling our journalistic calling — into a tense, toxic environment, bereft of joy and respect.
“We must take a stand against this orchestrated attack on the very soul of the newspaper we love. We find it hypocritical of Burris to opine in his columns about the need for civility in society when his treatment of employees is so outrageously uncivil.”
Burris, whose controversial appointment as executive editor occurred nine months ago, has:
- Fired or forced out three beloved newsroom managers with combined service of nearly 100 years to the PG because they stood up to his dictatorial actions. Four other managers have left this year and one departure is pending.
- Cultivated hurt and bewilderment among his staff through his belittling behavior toward individual Guild members. This has led to turmoil and uncertainty among the remaining staff and has contributed to a desperate exodus of 16 talented journalists from the 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper over the last six months.
- Retaliated against certain Guild members and leaders by reassigning those who have challenged him in any way to positions that adversely affect their lives or their work on behalf of the union.
- Abused and refused to work cooperatively with or even speak to Guild leadership.
- Triggered an unprecedented number of grievances and Unfair Labor Practice charges filed by the Guild never before seen in the union’s 85 years at the PG.
- Has deliberately set about to destroy a collegial, creative, efficient, enjoyable and safe workplace culture.
These anti-union, anti-employee actions are not happening in a vacuum. The Guild and other unions at the PG for three years have been embroiled in contentious negotiations for new contracts with King & Ballow, BCI’s union-busting Tennessee law firm. A pending labor action by the Guild accuses the law firm of bargaining in bad faith.
The unions have not had a raise in 14 years. Union employees have lost more than 27% of the buying power they had in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And because the unions, in an effort to aid the company and to help pay for health insurance, have voted to give back 8-10% of their salaries over that period, their purchasing power has actually declined more than 35% from 2006 levels. Additionally, pensions have been frozen and the company has for two years and counting refused to pay for increases in health care premiums as required by union contracts.
While the Post-Gazette, like most newspapers in the country, is losing money, Toledo-based BCI is making tens upon tens of millions of dollars in profits annually on its reported 2018 revenue of $564 million from cable systems, TV stations and other media holdings.
Burris and the Block twins are no strangers to controversial actions that have garnered unflattering national headlines. Over the past two years:
- Burris, at the time the editorial director at the PG’s sister paper The (Toledo) Blade, also embroiled in contentious negotiations with King & Ballow, penned the notorious editorial, “Reason as Racism,” that defended Trump’s comments about “shithole” African nations. Block published it in the PG on Martin Luther King Day 2018. It was immediately condemned as racist by civil rights groups, foundations, politicians, the public, journalists including the Guild and even members of the extended Block family.
- John Block reacted to the national controversy by naming Burris head of both the PG and Blade editorial departments.
- Months later, Rob Rogers, the paper’s most prominent personality, was fired for his anti-Trump political cartoons.
- David Shribman, the PG executive editor for 15 years — he won a Pulitzer Prize with the Boston Globe and steered the Post-Gazette to a Pulitzer this year for its coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting — was unexpectedly removed in December 2018.
- John Block manhandled his 12-year-old daughter late on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in front of more than a dozen journalists in the PG newsroom. During his tirade, Block tried to demean his employees by calling them “working class;” ranted about firing Shribman and threatened to do so to other managers and top Guild officers; and said he would shut down the paper unless the Guild removed a federally protected sign reading “Shame on the Blocks” that was hung in response to the PG’s refusal to abide by the contract and pay health care premium increases. To date, there have been no consequences for Block’s threatening actions despite the Guild’s attempts to hold him accountable. A Guild ULP charge is pending.
- Nine days later, Burris was named PG executive editor.
“This reign of terror continues but we stand united in staunch opposition to this unprecedented mistreatment. We will not quit fighting until these horrific actions end,” Fuoco said.
“We will fight for our right to work in an environment free from hostility. And we vow to continue to produce journalism worthy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and our readers, even as we are daily under siege by Burris and the Blocks.”
CONTACT: Michael A. Fuoco
Newspaper Guild President