Full Award and Opinion in Newspaper Guild’s health care arbitration against the Post-Gazette

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On December 30, 2019, arbitrator Jay Nadelbach delivered his ruling that the Post-Gazette violated our “collective bargaining agreement by failing to maintain the agreed-upon health care benefits”.

The ruling stated that the Post-Gazette must “pay the amount necessary to maintain the specific health insurance benefit levels” as well as make our members “whole for any out-of-pocket monies paid as a result of the Employer’s failure to maintain the contractual level of benefits”.

Today, the Newspaper Guild received the full award and opinion on the case. You can download it below.

Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh wins health care arbitration

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The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh is pleased to report that we have prevailed in our arbitration regarding the Post-Gazette’s failure to pay for health-care premium increases for the past two years (and planned to do so again in 2020).

As you know, we won the same issue at the NLRB until it was thrown out by three Trump appointees to the board in Washington. We had feared that would happen which is why we chose a two-pronged approach, a federal unfair labor practice AND a contract grievance that we took to arbitration. As it turns out,  this strategy was sound, necessary and successful.

Below please find the email that the arbitrator sent to Joe Pass’ son, Joseph S. Pass, who so brilliantly argued our case with his father as one of our witnesses, and PG attorney Richard Lowe. 

“The arbitrator’s ruling shows in no uncertain terms that our position was right all along,” said Michael A. Fuoco, PG reporter and Guild president. “If the company wasn’t paying millions for bad legal advice from a union-busting attorney — as evidenced by this ruling and a recent federal court ruling regarding the Teamsters — we would have had fair and equitable contracts long ago.

“Our hope is the Blocks finally wake up and see there will be no union busting and it’s time to cut their losses, get rid of Lowe and negotiate in good faith. The future of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is at stake and we want to save it.”

Full ruling of arbitrator Jay Nadelbach

By agreement of the parties, I am providing the below Award in the above matter (as promised, by the end of this calendar year), with a full Award and Opinion to follow by mid-January, on or before January 21, 2020.

AWARD

1) The grievance is arbitrable. The threshold arguments of the Employer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, regarding timeliness and the doctrine of laches are rejected.

2) The grievance is upheld. The Employer violated the parties’ collective bargaining agreement by failing to maintain the agreed-upon health care benefits established in Article XX and as set forth in Exhibit B of the agreement.

3) The Employer is directed to pay the amount necessary to maintain the specific health insurance benefit levels set forth therein (ie., all increases that may be required to keep the contractual level of benefits), subject to and until a new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated and reached between the parties.

4) Employees shall be made whole for any out-of-pocket monies paid as a result of the Employer’s failure to maintain the contractual level of benefits.

5) This Award is final and binding. I shall retain jurisdiction, however, for the limited purpose of resolving any disputes that may arise in the implementation of the remedy granted in paragraph #4 herein.

Dated: December 30, 2019
New York, New York
Jay Nadelbach

Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh to end successful byline strike

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The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, representing journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has decided to end its successful byline strike at the end of the day Tuesday, Dec. 17, one month after the protest of economic injustice and a hostile workplace began.

Through Sunday, 1,406 bylines were withheld from stories, columns, photographs and graphic illustrations, a daily average of 54 bylines. The final figure will include bylines withheld from Monday and Tuesday’s editions, likely another 100 or so. Bylines will return to new work by the journalists published on Wednesday. The number of bylines withheld were from the Post-Gazette‘s print and digital newspapers. Even more bylines were withheld from breaking news stories and photos on the PG’s website and mobile app, but those numbers were not included in the total.

There was 100% participation in the protest that began Nov. 20 by writers,
photographers, columnists and artists. Guild members whose work is not credited with bylines – such as page designers, web and copy editors, librarians and clerks – joined in the protest by wearing buttons reading “I Support the Byline Strike” in the newsroom.

“A month was the right time to end it because our message of mistreatment at the Post-Gazette is now known locally and throughout the country,” said Michael A. Fuoco, a 35-year employee and Guild president. “We never thought that our byline strike would cause owners Block Communication Inc. to end their despicable tactics of denying talented journalists a raise for 14 years, slashing our health care during three years of bad-faith bargaining and creating a toxic environment of fear, intimidation and retribution in the newsroom.

“What the byline strike showed in vivid detail is that we 140 journalists in the Guild are the heart and soul of this 233-year-old newspaper and without us there is no Post-Gazette. The sheer volume of stories, graphics, photographs and columns without bylines has exposed that to the public and the owners noticed as well.”

Jon Schleuss, newly elected international president of the NewsGuild, the Pittsburgh local’s parent union, said the solidarity and commitment shown by Guild members at the Post-Gazette to fight for a fair contract, a non-hostile work environment and the newspaper’s survival is inspiring to journalists throughout the country.

“Total participation in the recent byline strike shows just how dedicated the workers of the Post-Gazette are to its long-term success,” Schleuss said. “It’s time for the Blocks to come to the table and work with the Guild to forge a path forward.

“Our entire membership is dedicated to the success of the Post—Gazette because it’s an essential part of the community and a pillar of our democracy. The leadership of the NewsGuild stands with everyone at the Post-Gazette.”

Among the Guild’s grievances are:

  • 14 years without a raise.
  • Nearly three years of stalled contract talks designed to break the union.
  • Relentless slashing of health benefits
  • Mounting federal unfair labor practices and contract grievances.
  • Millions spent on union—busting lawyers.
  • The punitive reassigning of reporters, including Guild officers.
  • The firing of dedicated editors.

On Nov. 18, Guild members overwhelmingly took the unprecedented act of voting “no confidence” in PG Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and his twin Allan Block, chairman of newspaper owner Block Communications Inc. (BCI), for their escalating unconscionable treatment of employees — union members and managers alike. At the same meeting, Guild members voted for the byline strike.

The Guild, which has been a fixture at the Post-Gazette for 85 years, continues to seek support for the kind of journalism that earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize this year, and is calling upon the public to express its outrage at the repulsive actions of the PG’s owners and top editor by emailing:

  • Publisher John Block – jrblock@post-gazette.com
  • BCl Chairman Allan Block – ablock©blockcommunications.com and ablock@accesstoledo.com
  • Executive Editor Keith Burris – kburris@post-gazette.com and kburris@theblade.com

“The end of the byline strike in no way signals an end to our battle to save our jobs and a newspaper we love and to be treated with dignity,” Fuoco said. “The byline strike has only motivated us to redouble our efforts in fighting back against their oppression. Only when they cease will we cease.”

Newspaper Guild to leaflet outside of Post-Gazette sponsored event

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Unionized employees of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom will be leafleting outside of a company-sponsored event Wednesday at Heinz Field at 5:30 p.m.

Guild members will be informing the guests, who are attending a “millennial”-focused happy hour and panel discussion, about the way the Post-Gazette treats its employees.

“Our generation values a workplace where employees are treated well, and we value work that makes an impact on society. I think event attendees will be shocked to learn how Post-Gazette management is treating its Pulitzer Prize-winning employees,” said Ashley Murray, a member of the Newspaper Guild’s mobilization committee.

Wednesday’s company-sponsored event titled “Level Up” is targeted ’for millennials looking to improve
their overall health and wellness,”— but it probably doesn’t include the fact that the company has refused to pay contractual healthcare premiums for its employees for the past two years.

Additionally, the leaflets distributed by Guild members will let attendees know that the Post-Gazette’s hardworking journalists have endured.

  • Nearly 14 years without a raise.
  • Nearly three years of stalled contract talks.
  • Mounting federal unfair labor practices and contract grievances..
  • Millions spent on lawyers to break the union.
  • The punitive reassigning of reporters.
  • The firing of dedicated editors.

On Nov. 18, Guild members overwhelmingly took the unprecedented act of voting “no confidence” in PG Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and his twin Allan Block, chairman of newspaper owner Block Communications Inc. (BCI), for their escalating unconscionable treatment of employees, union members and managers alike. An indefinite byline strike for the same reason began Nov. 20 and continues.

“Imagine no raise in 14 years, including give-backs to the company, while at the same time, the Post-Gazette has continued to fight its contractually agreed-upon obligations with a union-busting attorney,” said Sharon Eberson, a 40-year PG employee and member of the Guild mobilization
committee. “Despite demoralizing tactics and the firing of several top editors, I am so proud that our union has stood together and helped raise public awareness through actions such as leafleting and a byline strike.”

Guild members continue to work with integrity and diligence to cover our region, and we will work equally hard for fair treatment in the workplace and at the bargaining table.

To illustrate the resolve of Guild members, today marks a year of spreading public awareness through leafleting.

Today also marks the beginning of the third week of the byline strike by Guild writers, columnists, photographers, and graphic artists. Through the first two weeks, 689 bylines were withheld from stories, columns, photos, and illustrations in the print and digital newspaper editions, most by Guild members but some from freelancers who support us. And that doesn’t include innumerably more bylines withheld from the PG website, PG mobile app and PG NewsSlide.

Those who don’t have bylines—web and copy editors, page designers, librarians and clerks—are wearing buttons in the newsroom reading “I Support the Byline Strike.” They and others are also wearing “No Confidence” buttons. Placards reading the same are on newsroom desks and on Guild bulletin boards.

“The volume of work that is being uncredited shows that Guild members, and not multi-millionaire owners and a neophyte executive editor, are the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,” said
Guild President Michael A. Fuoco, a 35-year PG reporter. “From the beginning through today, participation by our members has been 100 percent.

“We are united and gratified by the tremendous support for our cause from readers, journalists and unions across the country.’

The Guild is calling upon the public to express its outrage at the repulsive actions by emailing:

  • Publisher John Block—jrblock@post-gazette.com and ir block@post-gazette.com
  • BCI Chairman Allan Block– ablock@blockcommunications.com and ajblock@accesstoledo.com
  • Executive Editor Keith Burris kburris@post-gazette.com and kburris@theblade.com
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The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh is calling upon the public to email its outrage at the repulsive treatment of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalists — creating a hostile work environment and not providing a raise in 14 years — to those responsible for the unconscionable actions:

“We will continue to serve our community, even as the Blocks and Burris attempt to stand in the way of our commitment to our calling as journalists,” Guild President Michael A. Fuoco said. “We hope and pray that the Blocks and Burris come to their senses before they permanently destroy an iconic newspaper whose roots go back to reporting on passage of the US. Constitution.”

Newspaper Guild Votes “No Confidence” in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and owner Block Communications Inc.

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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
412-576-4665
mfuoco@post-gazette.com