A federal judge ruled overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh in its disputwith the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over the company refusing to pay increases in health care premiums during ongoing contract negotiations.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn J. Horan’s ruling rejected all seven points the Post-Gazette raised when it appealed an arbitrator’s Dec. 30, 2019, ruling in favor of the Newspaper Guild. She ordered enforcement of the arbitrator’s order, which requires the Post-Gazette to reimburse about 140 members of the Newspaper Guild for higher deductible payments they incurred because the company’s refusal to pay insurance increases reduced the level of coverage for union members. The Newspaper Guild estimates members are owed more than $70,000 in extra costs they were forced to pay since the company refused to pay increases for three years beginning in 2018.

“This is a tremendous victory, but it is one the Newspaper Guild expected because we have been successful at every level,” said Ed Blazina, acting president of Local 38061. “We hope this decision brings the Post-Gazette to its senses and causes it to pay legitimate costs to provide health care for the unionized members of its Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom staff rather than pay millions to a union-busting Tennessee law firm on a losing legal issue.

“So far, they have been more willing to pay an out-of-town lawyer only interested in padding his firm’s pockets rather than investing in the union members who make the Post-Gazette.”

Judge Horan upheld U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan’s recommendation rejecting all seven of the Post-Gazette’s issues challenging an arbitrator’s award in favor of the Newspaper Guild on all issues. That included technical points such as missing the deadline to file an appeal and having no grounds to appeal an arbitrator’s decision as well as the legal merits of the case because the Post-Gazette violated its contract with the Newspaper Guild by refusing to pay for health care increases during contract talks. 

“This is a fruitless effort by the Post-Gazette to hurt its dedicated employees,” Blazina said. “Our unionized newsroom continues to produce awarding-winning journalism despite regular mistreatment by the company. This ruling is another indication of the Post-Gazette’s bad decisions in how it treats union employees.”

The Newspaper Guild’s contract with the Post-Gazette expired March 31, 2017 — more than 3 1/2 years ago — and the two parties met more than 20 times in fruitless negotiations where the company has been unwilling to move at all on any of its positions. Despite not awarding a general raise to union members in 14 years, the Post-Gazette’s contract proposals demanded additional concessions. In July, the company decided to quit bargaining, declared an impasse in contract negotiations and unilaterally imposed onerous working conditions that, among other things, forced members onto a more expensive healthcare plan partway through the year, eliminated a guaranteed work week, gave managers free rein to do union work, rejected daily overtime, removed the right to demand arbitration of disputes, and allowed the company to lay off employees without regard to seniority.

The Newspaper Guild has filed claims with the National Labor Relations Board alleging the company acted illegally by declaring an impasse and unlawfully imposed conditions. In August, Newspaper Guild members overwhelmingly authorized a strike that was approved by the national NewsGuild. The Newspaper Guild is pushing the Post-Gazette to return to the bargaining table, but the union also is continuing preparations for a strike if that is unsuccessful.

“We don’t want to strike because Pittsburgh deserves quality local news coverage that only Newspaper Guild staff can provide, especially during this national health emergency,” Blazina said. “But unless the Post-Gazette changes its position, that’s where this situation is heading.”