Human Rights Committee Letter to Post-Gazette Executive Editor Stan Wischnowski

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Today the Newspaper Guild’s Human Rights Committee sent a letter to Post-Gazette executive editor, Stan Wischnowski, urging him to hire a person of an underrepresented population in the PG’s national search for a managing editor.

Discrimination and racism by the PG’s previous leadership directly resulted in the loss of talented Black reporters and others from across our newsroom who stood in solidarity with them.

Loss of reporters doesn’t only cause a gap in coverage of our community. Remaining staff members have experienced firsthand a lack of trust and confidence in the PG. We are urging Stan to do his part in helping us #ChangeTheReputation and restore our credibility.

Our hope is that with managers who appropriately represent our newsroom and community, our publication can better cover the issues that matter to our readers and to Pittsburgh. Now is the time for change. Diversity is not a talking point or an accessory. It is a necessity.

Stan,

Welcome to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on behalf of the newly formed Human Rights Committee of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, a group of Guild members working to make sure every individual in this newsroom feels safe, protected and represented. This group, and the members of this newsroom, are committed to creating a workplace that does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind.

As a way of introduction, this letter urges you to consider a diverse pool of candidates to fill the open managing editor position, and to continue to intentionally seek out diverse candidates to staff the newsroom. We urge you to increase the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Our newsroom has been woefully deficient in Black employees and other people of color for decades,and we have lost many of those employees in recent years due to unfair treatment and lack of respect.

Our newspaper has developed a reputation of being hostile to minorities and bypassing important stories on the current racial justice movement. Those actions have led to, among other things, the harassment of reporters and photographers at public events, sources pulling out of stories, and advertisers and retailers shunning the paper.

As the new executive editor, you have the opportunity to change that reputation, to begin repairing years of damage and to create a diverse, inclusive newsroom. The Post-Gazette must take the important step in hiring a managing editor who can provide new perspectives based on race, gender, sexuality and class. Considering candidates from a diverse background and improving racial diversity in our newsroom are matters of urgency.

In addition, the next managing editor should be someone to lead Post-Gazette staff to expand the PG’s coverage of the diverse neighborhoods and residents of our city, and to ensure that a variety of perspectives and voices are heard and included in our news coverage.

You have a powerful chance to make an impact at this paper — from increasing equity and inclusion, to resolving the ongoing labor dispute and fighting for fair working conditions.

The Human Rights Committee and Guild members hope you recognize the importance of bringing diverse candidates into the newsroom – starting from the top. Can we count on you to provide a clear statement that you are committed to finding a candidate with a diverse background and to reinvesting in reporters of color already working at the Post-Gazette?

Sincerely,

The Human Rights Committee of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh

Lacretia Wimbley Elected Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh President

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In a special election to fill the vacant seat of president, Lacretia Wimbley, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, defeated Guild second vice-president Melissa Tkach by a 55-52 vote.

Wimbley will assume the seat immediately and fill out the remainder of the 2020-21 term, which runs through Oct. 31, 2021. 

A native of Jackson, Miss., and graduate of Mississippi State University, Wimbley has been with the Post-Gazette since 2016. In that time, she has worked as a copy desk intern, paginator, and currently works as an early-morning breaking news reporter.

“During my time here in Pittsburgh, I’ve observed from several angles the heroic efforts made by our TNG-CWA Local 38061 leaders as they have advocated for and fought to protect members in contract negotiations, on discrimination fronts and in other disputes,” said Wimbley.

“We are the Post-Gazette, and the legacy of this institution belongs not only to the Blocks, but to us, because we make it what it is. As journalists dedicated to our community, we must maintain our dignity and do so with grace, although not without a fire that signifies our worth.”

The election to fill the vacant seat came at a time of labor unrest at the Post-Gazette, and as the unionized full-time faculty members at Point Park University enter the last semester under their existing collective bargaining agreement.

In August, Guild members authorized a strike against the Post-Gazette with 74% approval after the Post-Gazette and its out-of-town, union-busting law firm, King & Ballow, illegally and unilaterally imposed working conditions onto the Newspaper Guild that eliminated major parts of the previous contract. The strike authorization vote was tied to unfair labor practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board based on bad-faith bargaining, unlawful declaration of an impasse and the unilateral imposition of working conditions.

Since then, Guild members have taken part in several mobilizing actions to build support as they fight to get back to the negotiating table and reach the goal of a fair and equitable contract with the company.

This fight centers around three major pillars: Respecting union journalists, strengthening local news in our region, and creating an inclusive newsroom that reflects that community that Guild journalists represent.

Full-time faculty at Point Park University started working under their first collective bargaining agreement in 2017 after years of court battles and negotiations in their initial organizing, and will be looking to begin bargaining with the university for their next contract in the coming months.

“I will work hard and passionately to lead us with a firm, level headedness – focused sharply on our goals to get the Blocks back to the negotiation table, to continue in efforts to have them remove King & Ballow, and to lift recently imposed conditions,” said Wimbley.

CONTACT: LACRETIA WIMBLEY
PRESIDENT
412-913-4083
CRETIA483@GMAIL.COM

NEWSPAPER GUILD OF PITTSBURGH MEMBERS PICKET OUTSIDE JOHN BLOCK’S SHADYSIDE HOME

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Around 50 Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh members picketed Saturday morning outside Post-Gazette Publisher John Block’s Shadyside home as part of an escalating pressure campaign to convince the company to resolve its ongoing labor dispute.

The Guild took this dramatic step in response to the Post-Gazette bargaining for years in bad faith, illegally declaring an impasse in contract negotiations and unilaterally imposing working conditions on the Guild. Members picketed on Devonshire Street in Shadyside to send a message to John Block that they are fighting to preserve the Post-Gazette, defend their union rights and obtain a fair contract.

In addition to illegally declaring an impasse and unilaterally imposing working conditions, the Post-Gazette has:

  • Bargained in bad faith since 2017
  • Denied raises for 14 years
  • Illegally slashed health care benefits and astronomically driven up insurance costs
  • Created a hostile work environment, forcing members to leave the PG for other jobs
  • Consistently shown intolerance on race issues, including blocking the coverage by a Black reporter of stories related to Black Lives Matter protests
  • Paid millions of dollars to the Nashville, Tenn. union-busting law firm King & Ballow

These imposed working conditions have destroyed the fundamental union rights of Guild members and prompted them to authorize a strike by an overwhelming margin.

Last Friday, local leaders and politicians, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, as well as representatives from various unions, religious groups and social justice communities, joined the Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council and its president, Darrin Kelly, in leading a labor rally on North Shore Drive to put added pressure on the Blocks to get fair contracts for every Post-Gazette union worker.

In the wake of last Friday’s rally, today’s picket on Devonshire Street is intended to be the first of many Guild-led actions that will be taking place around the area until the company shows a willingness to reach a fair contract.

Ultimately, the goal of today’s action is to show John Block, his twin brother Allan Block, chairman of Toledo, Ohio-based Block Communications Inc., which owns the Post-Gazette, and their family, which controls the rest of BCI’s voting stock, that it is not too late to come together and avoid a strike, an event that no one wants to see come to fruition. 

The Post-Gazette is a community asset, and the Newspaper Guild wants to preserve that, but reaching a fair agreement that benefits the award-winning journalists is paramount to maintaining quality journalism in Pittsburgh.

CONTACTS: MELISSA TKACH
2nd VICE PRESIDENT
412-760-9177
MELISSATKACH@GMAIL.COM

ZACK TANNER
UNIT DELEGATE
412-475-8417
ZACK@ZACKTANNER.COM

Newspaper Guild Statement on the resignation of Michael A. Fuoco

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Michael A. Fuoco has voluntarily resigned his position as president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh effective immediately. 

His resignation was communicated to the Guild’s executive committee Saturday night. 

Earlier in the day, officials with our parent unions, the NewsGuild-CWA and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), first notified local union leaders of an investigation into Fuoco concerning allegations of violations of the mutual respect policy to which every CWA member is expected to adhere.

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh is fully committed to upholding the policy, which opposes all forms of discrimination. 

The local is fully cooperating with the investigation that is being conducted by the CWA President’s office.

Local Guild leaders have no evidence either to substantiate or disprove the allegations that are the subject of the CWA investigation.

“Our union does not tolerate discrimination or harassment at any level,” said NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss.

Above all else, this union and the members of the executive committee are in place to guarantee a safe and fair work environment. We are committed to upholding those values. We are committed to making sure every member feels heard and protected.

The trust and confidence of our members is of the utmost importance, especially during this critical time as the Post-Gazette unit prepares for a potential strike and the Point Park University unit enters the last year of its contract. 

Post-Gazette unit leaders and NewsGuild-CWA leaders remain fully committed to preparing for a possible strike.

Anyone with information about discrimination or harassment by a NewsGuild-CWA member should contact their local officials or email guild@cwa-union.org, which will be received by the office of the NewsGuild president.

In addition, the executive committee unanimously decided Saturday to re-establish a human rights committee that will serve as a place where members can report complaints about the conduct of executive committee members or by other people in the membership.

Once again, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any way. We strive to create an environment where members feel comfortable, safe and protected and are moving swiftly to guarantee that members have plenty of outlets to express their feelings, address concerns and ask questions. As a union, as always, we stand stronger together.

Under the local’s bylaws, first vice president Ed Blazina will assume the president’s role until an election can be held.

This statement was unanimously approved by the entire Executive Committee of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which includes its Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Point Park University units.

CONTACT: ED BLAZINA
ACTING NEWSPAPER GUILD PRESIDENT
(412) 559-2092
edguild2019@gmail.com

Newspaper Guild Wins Victory In Federal Court Over Healthcare Arbitration

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A federal magistrate judge Monday rejected the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s attempt to overturn an arbitration award for its journalists union, handing the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh a significant victory in a long-running dispute with its employer over healthcare costs.

The Post-Gazette’s millionaire owners, twin brothers John Robinson and Allan Block, and their Tennessee lawyers have refused to abide by the December award upholding a grievance filed by the Guild. The Blocks’ actions have forced their own employees, who have not had an across-the-board raise in 14 years, to pay more than $70,000 out of their own pockets for healthcare since 2017 — expenditures that they never should have incurred.

In her 34-page report, Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania concluded that the Post-Gazette’s complaint to vacate the arbitration award should be dismissed, the award should be enforced and the Guild’s counterclaim to enforce the order — including reimbursing members of the unionized newsroom — should be granted.

Lenihan’s recommendation comes three days after the executive council of the Guild’s parent union, NewsGuild-CWA, announced that it had unanimously endorsed Guild members’ request to strike in light of bad-faith and surface bargaining by the Post-Gazette, a declaration of a bargaining impasse and unlawful imposition of economic concessions and other onerous conditions on July 27.

“Overturning arbitration awards is very rare, and most practitioners recognize that principle. Unfortunately the Post-Gazette has more money than brains and chooses to spend its millions on trying to destroy a system that has worked for decades simply to  try and beat down their hard-working journalists who have suffered for 14 years without a wage increase and who are now subject to an inferior health care plan during the worst pandemic in 100 years,” Joseph J. Pass, the Guild’s attorney said. “Unconscionable!”  

“The Blocks’ attempt to destroy their employees and families is reprehensible and will not be tolerated,” Pass continued. “In reality, they use the justice system to thwart justice by appealing and appealing, leaving their employees and families with health care bills that they can no longer afford.”

Arbitrator Jay Nadelbach found on Dec. 30, 2019 that the Post-Gazette had violated its contract with the union by unilaterally refusing to pay health insurance premium increases during negotiations for a new contract, leading to dramatic hikes in Guild members’ deductibles.

The Post-Gazette refused to make the additional premium payments in 2018, 2019 and 2020, leading to deductibles rocketing to $2,000 for single coverage and $4,000 for family coverage, up from $850 and $1,700, the levels that existed when the Guild’s contract expired March 31, 2017.

Nadelbach ordered the Post-Gazette to not only pay the amount needed to maintain the healthcare benefits spelled out in the contract, but to make Guild members whole “for any out-of-pocket monies paid as a result of the Employer’s failure to maintain the contractual level of benefits.”

On Feb. 14, the Post-Gazette appealed Nadelbach’s award, which he declared was “final and binding,” to federal court.

“There is no reason why Arbitrator Nadelbach’s December 30, 2019 Award — on a matter of contract interpretation within his core competence, submitted for expedited determination by the parties — should not now be enforced,” Lenihan wrote.

Lenihan determined that the Post-Gazette did not file its appeal within the 30-day statute of limitations. But even if it had, she wrote, the company’s arguments would have failed on the merits.

The Post-Gazette has 14 days to file objections.

Previously, the Guild and five other unions at the Post-Gazette battled against the company’s refusal to pay healthcare premium increases during contract negotiations by filing Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. 

The board’s regional office in Pittsburgh issued a complaint against the Post-Gazette. When the newspaper objected, a hearing was held, and an administrative law judge upheld the decision. The Post-Gazette still was not satisfied and appealed to the NLRB in Washington, D.C. On Aug. 22, 2019, a three-member panel of the board, all appointees of President Donald J. Trump, found in favor of the Post-Gazette and dismissed the complaint.

“Once again, our position regarding healthcare has been upheld, “ said Guild President Michael A. Fuoco, a PG reporter for 36 years. “If only the Blocks and their carpetbagging attorney believed in the rule of law. They would rather spitefully appeal than doing what is right and just. Their actions are ethically and morally bankrupt.”

Despite Nadelbach’s award, the Post-Gazette on Sept. 1 unilaterally forced Guild members onto a different, far more costly health plan as part of its imposition of working conditions after declaring an impasse in bargaining.

The Guild rejects the notion that any impasse exists and continues to seek a diplomatic and amicable resolution to its labor dispute with the Post-Gazette in order to avert a strike.

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh represents 122 journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

CONTACT:

Michael A. Fuoco
Newspaper Guild President
412-576-4665
mfuoco138@gmail.com

Jonathan D. Silver
Post-Gazette Unit Chairman
412-886-4585
bigdelillofan@gmail.com

Joseph J. Pass, Jubelirer, Pass & Intrier
Attorney for the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh
412-281-3850
jjp@jpilaw.com

NewsGuild leadership unanimously approves Pittsburgh strike; New editor starts today, faces immediate challenge

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For immediate release: Sept. 14, 2020

Contact: Sally Davidow
sdavidow@cwa-union.org
202-368-3324

Citing an unrelenting course of bad faith and surface bargaining, untenable and abusive working conditions unlawfully imposed upon NewsGuild members at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a despicable pattern of hostile treatment of workers by the company’s owners, The NewsGuild-CWA Executive Council unanimously endorsed Guild members’ request to strike.

“A decision to strike is never made lightly,” said NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss. “This one comes amid a worldwide pandemic and resulting economic crisis. It underscores the attack on more than 120 award-winning journalists, whose repeated attempts to engage the company in good faith bargaining have yielded no results.”

The 10-member Executive Council unanimously approved the strike vote last week and announced it during an online membership meeting in Pittsburgh Friday. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh will continue strike preparations and present a plan to the Communications Workers of America Executive Board for approval.

Employees have filed numerous unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking intervention from the federal government to correct the employer’s unlawful intransigence that has led to this precarious moment. The union calls on the NLRB to step up, enforce federal labor law and order the employer to engage in meaningful, good faith bargaining needed to reach an amicable resolution.

“The staff of the Post-Gazette was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s top honor, in 2019 for its coverage of the Tree of Life massacre,” said NewsGuild Executive Vice President Marian Needham. “And what’s their reward? An unrelenting assault on the bargaining process, their contract and their careers by Post-Gazette management.”

The assault has been led by King and Ballow, a law firm hired by twin brothers John Robinson and Allan Block. The brothers control half of Block Communications Inc., the parent company that owns the Post-Gazette, Toledo Blade, local TV stations, Buckeye Broadband and MaxxSouth Broadband. 

Bargaining proceeded over more than three years as the employer pushed to reduce benefits and place them under its total discretionary control, making access to health care more expensive – even as the coronavirus death toll nears 200,000 in the U.S. Throughout the bargaining, the employer maintained an arbitrary and inflexible stance aimed at undermining any chance of agreement. The company has refused for 14 years to give its hard-working, talented and loyal employees an across-the-board raise, and its imposed conditions actually continue to maintain significant pay cuts that have been in effect for that time.

Post-Gazette journalists were Pulitzer Prize finalists this year, in addition to winning the breaking news Pulitzer in 2019, and the paper was named 2020 Newspaper of the Year by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

Meanwhile, John Robinson Block, who serves as publisher, promoted Keith Burris, the writer of widely ridiculed editorial “Reason as Racism,” to executive editor last year. NewsGuild leaders called on Burris to resign after he sidelined and disciplined Black journalists who reported on protests following the killing of George Floyd.

Guild members first responded with votes of no confidence in the publisher, of Burris, Block Communications and, most recently, with an overwhelming strike authorization vote on Aug. 10. That followed the Post-Gazette’s July 27 declaration of a bargaining impasse and unlawful imposition of economic concessions and other onerous conditions.

The NewsGuild-CWA Executive Council cannot tolerate such reprehensible abuses of the bargaining process, designed to eviscerate a collective bargaining agreement built up over eight decades of good faith negotiations. The company and the Block family are robbing the city of Pittsburgh of the vigilant, expert journalism that communities throughout the country are depending on in these fraught times.

“We call on the Block family to immediately change its destructive, unlawful and demoralizing playbook and recognize its employees for the essential workers they are,” Schleuss said.

“If any members of the Block family are left who care, they need to get engaged, jettison King and Ballow and start bargaining in good faith,” Schleuss said.

Is the Post-Gazette’s new executive editor, Stan Wischnowski, a sign of a positive change? Wischnowski’s first day is Monday after resigning from the Philadelphia Inquirer in June.

“Stan has a track record of working with the Guild rather than punishing it,” said Diane Mastrull, an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, president of the Philadelphia NewsGuild and regional vice president of The NewsGuild. “Stan used to express disgust over what was happening in the Post-Gazette newsroom. Now’s his chance to do something about it.”

“These unfair and deplorable tactics being used by the Block family and their union busting law firm King and Ballow are not only an assault on the dedicated union members of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette but is an attack on organized labor,” said NewsGuild Regional Vice President Bill Baker.

The NewsGuild calls on the community to join us in condemning the mistreatment of the journalists whose work you rely on.

###

The NewsGuild-CWA represents more than 24,000 journalists and other communications professionals in the United States and Canada, including approximately 3,000 who have joined in the last two years. NewsGuild members work at hundreds of news outlets—including big publications like the New York Times, small papers like the Pottstown Mercury and digital-only sites like Buzzfeed News. The Guild is a sector of the 600,000-member Communications Workers of America. 

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Strike Vote Coverage

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Press Releases

NewsGuild leadership unanimously approves Pittsburgh strike; New editor starts today, faces immediate challenge

Newspaper Guild Members Overwhelmingly Vote To Strike the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Media Coverage

Allegheny County Council approves motion in support of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette union workers
Pittsburgh City Paper | August 19, 2020

Post-Gazette staff votes to authorize strike
TribLive | August 10, 2020

Union Representing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Journalists Votes To Strike
KDKA-TV | August 10, 2020

Post-Gazette union overwhelmingly votes to strike, now awaits OK from union leaders
Pittsburgh City Paper | August 10, 2020

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Newsroom Votes Overwhelmingly To Strike
90.5 WESA | August 10, 2020

News Guild exclusive: ‘We’re fighting for the soul of the Post-Gazette’
NextPittsburgh | July 30, 2020

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette union journalists will vote to go on strike
Pittsburgh City Paper | July 29, 2020

Post-Gazette Union Members To Vote On Whether To Strike
90.5 WESA | July 29, 2020

Post-Gazette newsroom union to vote whether to strike; objects to ‘unfair’ changes
TribLive | July 29, 2020

Possible strike looming at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WTAE | July 29, 2020

Newspaper Guild Members Overwhelmingly Vote To Strike the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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The newsroom staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, overwhelmingly voted 88-31 to authorize union leaders to call a strike at the newspaper. A three-member balloting committee this afternoon tallied the secret ballots that had been returned by members over the last week. Members were immediately informed by email of the result.

Authorization for a strike at the Post-Gazette must now be approved by the Executive Council of the local’s union, the NewsGuild. Approval there would then proceed to Communications Workers of America President Christopher M. Shelton, who has the final say for strike authorization. Two other CWA unions at the newspaper, Pittsburgh Typographical Union #7 and Mailers Local M-22, representing about 40 office and production employees, have both unanimously authorized a strike.

The Guild local, representing 123 journalists, has been attempting to negotiate a new contract with the Post-Gazette for 3 ½ years during which time the newspaper’s anti-union attorney from Tennessee has bargained in bad faith. The company’s attorney, Richard Lowe, unlawfully declared a negotiations impasse. The Guild informed him the sides were nowhere near an impasse and would meet at any time.

Despite that, Lowe on July 27 unilaterally imposed working conditions, based on parts of the company’s final contract offer, illegally eliminating major tenets of the expired contract under which union members had been working. Subsequently, the Guild filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board based on bad faith bargaining, unlawful declaration of an impasse and unilateral imposition of working conditions. At the same time, the local’s 10-member Executive Committee unanimously recommended that members vote by secret ballot to authorize a strike based on those violations of federal labor law.

Guild members have shown their professionalism, talent and loyalty to the iconic newspaper despite the demeaning treatment they have endured from owner Block Communications Inc., a Toledo-based media corporation privately owned by the Block family. The staff won a Pulitzer Prize last year, members were Pulitzer finalists and recipients of numerous other journalism honors this year, and the Post-Gazette was named the 2020 Newspaper of the Year in the state by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

“The newsroom staff has rightfully earned journalistic accolades even as BCI despicably treats its journalists as chattel,” said Guild President Michael A. Fuoco, a reporter at the paper for 36 years. “We are committed to journalism, the Post-Gazette and the community we are humbled to serve and are doing everything we can to avoid a strike.

“We want nothing more than to negotiate a mutually agreed upon settlement. Should the company refuse to rescind the illegal changes to our working conditions, return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair contract for both sides, we are prepared to withhold our talent from the Post-Gazette, to effectively remove the newspaper’s heart and soul.

“The path we take is up to the company – revoke the unilateral changes and return to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith or face the consequences. Clearly, the 234-year legacy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is at a crossroads.”

“Today’s vote clearly shows that our members are fed up with the Post-Gazette’s long-standing refusal to bargain in good faith,” said Guild Unit Chairman Jonathan D. Silver, a 23-year reporter and editor at the paper and a contract negotiator. “Our members fully understand the egregious nature of the company’s wrongheaded decision to unlawfully declare an impasse and impose work conditions without bargaining, and now they have sent a loud and clear message to the Blocks.”

The Guild calls upon readers, advertisers, and political, religious, business, labor and social justice leaders to impress upon the Post-Gazette that they support the union’s desire to have the Post-Gazette revoke its unilateral implemented changes and return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair deal for their employees in order to avoid a strike.

CONTACT:

Jonathan D. Silver
Newspaper Guild Unit Chairman

412-512-0879
bigdelillofan@gmail.com

Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh supports national call for Keith Burris and Karen Kane to resign immediately

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The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh today joined in the call by NewsGuild International President Jon Schleuss that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor Keith Burris and Managing Editor Karen Kane resign immediately for the sake of the paper, its staff and readers.

Given their egregious actions over the past 12 days, both are unquestionably unfit to lead. Both must immediately depart if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has any hope of restoring its credibility with the public and the trust of the newsroom. Burris, Kane and their benefactor Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block have severely undermined the paper’s integrity with this debacle. They have shrugged off any and all criticism for their actions, mistreated their staff and failed at the most basic task of carrying out ethical journalism. The Post-Gazette needs to confront the existence of systemic racism in its newsroom and it cannot believably do that with Burris and Kane in their current posts.

The local union’s demand was unanimously approved this morning by its  Executive Committee, thereby joining its parent union’s demand that the two top editors leave immediately. The 11-member local Executive Committee is elected by the membership. The Executive Committee hopes Post-Gazette readers, subscribers, advertisers, and journalism professionals, academicians and ethicists to join in their call.

“The reprehensible actions of Keith Burris and Karen Kane have so tarnished the 233-year reputation of our beloved newspaper that we fear for its very survival,” said Michael A. Fuoco, a 36-year reporter at the paper and local Guild president. 

“We are truly at a precipice. We want the Post-Gazette to survive. These two top editors have shown they are incapable of quality leadership. For healing and redemption, they must leave now.”

Jonathan D. Silver, chairman of the 140-member unit that represents newsroom employees, agreed: “We desperately need healing in our newsroom now, and Burris and Kane are not the leaders who can make that happen. We need a clean break from this disaster that they’ve created, and the only way to start fresh is for them to step down.”

On June 1, Kane and other editors declared Black reporter Alexis Johnson biased for a humorous, innocuous and wry tweet showing the destructive aftermath of a Kenny Chesney concert and banned her from protest-related coverage in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. On June 5, without explanation, they pulled Black photographer Michael Santiago from protest coverage after he tweeted Johnson’s post as a show of support for her. That same day, management removed from the paper’s website stories written by reporters Lauren Lee and Ashley Murray after they also supported Johnson with tweets. Nearly 100 of their co-workers have also been reportedly banned from protest-related coverage for reposting Johnson’s original tweet although none of them have been personally told that.

Since June 3, the Guild has attempted to resolve the issue amicably, immediately asking management for Johnson’s reinstatement. Kane refused to explain what in Johnson’s tweet showed bias and flatly rejected the Guild’s attempt at resolution, snapping “Go file your grievance.” Things have only deteriorated since then as the Company has made matters exponentially worse, creating a climate of fear and intimidation while abandoning core principles of fair, complete and ethical coverage of the protests. 

Before today’s additional demand that Burris and Kane leave, the Guild presented an easy path to resolving the crisis and chaos:

Publicly apologize to Johnson, Santiago, the staff and readers.
Rescind the ban and allow Johnson and Santiago to cover the largest civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
Stop retaliation against their supporters.
Fulfill the newspaper’s mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
Going forward, foster substantive discussions between the Guild and management to eliminate systemic discrimination of Black employees at the Post-Gazette.

The crisis over racial insensitivity at the Post-Gazette is occurring even as two other large newspapers quickly moved to resolve similar controversies over coverage of protests. Over the weekend, the opinion editor at the New York Times and the executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer resigned in the wake of outrage by staffers and readers over their actions at a time the country is reckoning with systemic racism. At the New York Times, the issue was publication of an inflammatory op-ed piece by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, in which he called for using the military to quell violent protests. At the Inquirer,.the controversy was over a headline “Buildings Matter, Too” on a column by an architecture critic in response to the destruction of property that had resulted in some areas of Philadelphia. 

“Those two newspapers did the right thing and quickly admitted there had been errors in judgment that had caused pain. Conversely, at the Post-Gazette, the response has been to try to defend the indefensible, to double down on the inflicted pain,” Fuoco said.

“In doing so, they are assaulting the very soul of a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper. It must end. The departures of Burris and Kane are a necessary first step to show the staff, the readership, the advertisers that their voices are being heard, that there is a commitment to do better.”

CONTACT: Michael A. Fuoco
Newspaper Guild President
412-576-4665
mfuoco@post-gazette.commfuoco138@gmail.com

Jonathan D. Silver
Newspaper Guild Unit Chairman
412-512-0879
bigdelillofan@gmail.com