The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has filed a complaint to vacate the arbitrators award to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, submitted on December 30, 2019, and filed with a full opinion on January 21, 2020.
You can view their five count filing here.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has filed a complaint to vacate the arbitrators award to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, submitted on December 30, 2019, and filed with a full opinion on January 21, 2020.
You can view their five count filing here.
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.
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.
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
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:
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:
“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.”
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.
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:
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.”
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:
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:
“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
How is the contract situation at the PG?
Not good. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh’s contract expired March 31, 2017. Since then, we’ve been negotiating with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and its highly profitable Toledo-based parent company, BCI. As of January 2020, we’re in the 35th month of negotiations.
That sounds like a long time.
It is! BCI and its owner, Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block and his twin brother, BCI Chairman Allan Block, have sicced on the Guild the pricey, union-busting Nashville, Tenn. law firm King & Ballow. Their representative at the bargaining table is firm partner Richard Lowe.
What does the Guild want?
A fair and equitable contract. The dedicated journalists who put out the news around the clock every single day for the greater Pittsburgh community have not had a raise in 14 years. Meanwhile our members have given back millions of dollars in concessions — part of the tens of millions of dollars the Blocks have received from all of the PG’S unions — as part of years-long pay cuts to help keep the Post-Gazette afloat.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh today released a recently received eyewitness account of the unhinged behavior of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Publisher John Block beginning about 10 on the night of Feb. 9, 2019, in the PG newsroom. The frightening event included the manhandling of his pre-teen daughter and threatening and menacing behavior toward Guild members and two managers who were on duty that night.
This eyewitness account is among 14 that have been provided to the Newspaper Guild since the event in which Block physically and emotionally traumatized his pre-teen daughter, reducing her to tears, and verbally abused and intimidated newsroom staff. All of the accounts were compiled independently by journalists–professionals trained in accurately and fairly reporting events. All are strikingly similar in their recounting.
Four accounts have already been released to the media. This account was not available at the time the others were released–it only recently was provided to the Guild.
“This latest account of that horrible night is so chilling it is beyond description,” said Michael A. Fuoco, Newspaper Guild president and a veteran Post-Gazette reporter. We release it only because BCI continues to peddle lies by downplaying and minimizing the situation, claiming that Block’s actions were ‘misconstrued’ and amounted to ‘an unfortunate exchange.’ We will not let their lies go unchallenged.
“In addition to these first-hand reports by their own journalists, despite photographic and video evidence that unequivocally support the accounts, BCI is refusing to deal with a human relations crisis in order to protect John Block. This is not going to go away until they do the right thing.”
Fuoco said the Guild is steadfast in its demand that Block receive the same treatment any other employee would receive if they manhandled a child and terrorized staffers in the the PG newsroom.
“We want Block to get the help he apparently needs. He appears to be having a problem and we want him to be physically and mentally well before he returns to the newsroom,” Fuoco said.
“We have continually asked BCI to bar him from the premises until he is evaluated and is shown to present no danger to himself or his employees–and by danger we not only mean that of a physical nature but verbal threats, intimidation and retribution.
“By not dealing with this crisis in a professional way, by putting its employees at risk, BCI is complicit in Block’s abhorrent behavior.”
Below is the report. For context, Tim McDonough is the Sunday editor; Sally Stapleton is the managing editor; Steve Spolar is the vice president of Human Relations for BCI; Shribman is David Shribman, the former executive editor; John Craig preceded Shribman as executive editor.
Jim Mendenhall, Photo Editor
Account of events on Saturday Feb. 9 at the Post-Gazette
Around 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, I was leaving my desk when the Publisher’s incoming phone call rang on a manager’s desk. A manager typically answers that special phone. It must be answered within three rings or the Publisher hangs up.
When I returned a couple minutes later, I asked someone what the call was about, and I was told the Publisher was trying to enter the building but could not open the new gate outside the front door.
I returned to my desk and saw manager Tim McDonough, who had gone downstairs to open the door, walking with the Publisher and his daughter through the newsroom. The Publisher went to the corner where a sign hung on the union bulletin board that read: “Shame on the Blocks.” John Block started screaming hysterically to his daughter: “This is what they think of us! I could shut this place down!” As he struck the sign, he yelled: “This is Shribman!”
He was out of control. He continued screaming at top of his lungs and seemed impaired.
He screamed: “This is what they think of us! I fired Shribman! I fired him!” This was repeated several times.
“I fired him because he thinks the Blocks are crazy. Well, the Blocks are not crazy! We never should have hired Shribman! We never should have hired John Craig!”
“Where’s a manager?” he screamed. “I want a manager in here until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.! I want Sally in here until 1 or 2 in the morning on Saturday night. Manager Tim McDonough walked over to him. “I want Sally (Stapleton) in here in ten minutes,” the Publisher yelled as if he were trying to be heard across a football field. “I might fire Sally in the morning. I might fire Sally, too.”
“I want 40 or 50 people in here on Saturday night! Where’s a photographer? Call a photographer! I want my photo taken with this sign and put it in the paper!”
At about 10:10 p.m., as he continued to rant and yell, hit the sign and kick things, Manager Tim McDonough approached me and said, “The Publisher wants a photographer to take his picture.”
I went to a locker and pulled out a camera.
The Publisher was standing in front of the sign waiting for his picture to be taken. When I raised the camera from a few feet in front of him, the Publisher told his daughter to come to be in the picture.
She said, “I don’t want to be in the picture!”
Now comes a violent move which elevated the entire event in my mind to a real crisis.
When she declined to join him at the sign, he moved with the swiftness of a martial arts master, really, and closed the gap of two steps between them in one motion while simultaneously thrusting his forearm and elbow at her forehead. He stopped just as quickly about a foot from her eyes and did not strike her, but it looked like might at any moment. With his right forearm parallel to her forehead and clinched fist, he said, in a hushed but forceful tone, “You are a Block! You need to be in the picture!”
I was stunned by the physical attack on this frail child who, at that point, had still managed to maintain her composure, although I was behind him so I could not see her face because his right forearm in his suit sleeve was blocking my view.
Then he went on in hushed but hostile voice, “You are a Block! Your mother,” he hesitated briefly, “she is nothing! He hesitated again before continuing, “She is from Appalachia!” Another pause. “But you are a Block!” he said, emphasizing the name.
He grabbed her by the right arm and dragged her in front of the sign. She pleaded not to be in the picture, saying over and over again: “No, please, I don’t want to be in the picture. No, please, no!”
He was forcefully pulling her and she was trying to resist as she was facing me, leaning as far away from him as she could while begging: “No, please, please, please, no!” Her right hand disappeared into the arm of her coat as she tried to pull away, but he yanked the coat arm in the opposite direction toward the sign. It was a tug of war and her body was the rope.
At that point, I made two exposures. Then I thought if I stopped taking pictures he might leave her alone, so I lowered the camera, walked away and stood still in the center of the circle of desks while not looking at them, hoping he would change his tactics. I sort of blanked, just staring into space briefly and I wasn’t listening as if ignoring them would stop the attack.
This went on for one minute, according to the time stamp on the photos, before I looked back and saw the Publisher standing in front of the sign alone. I thought if I took a photo of the Publisher in front of the sign, he would be satisfied, so I raised the camera and made an exposure. The Publisher was looking right at me and, seeing the camera was in position again, immediately walked a few steps rather than leaping as before to his daughter.
He grabbed her around her shoulders and she began to twist and writhe in an attempt to escape while pleading “No! Please. No!” He overpowered her and dragged her backwards to the sign. The photos show he had grabbed each of her hands with each of his and he had them pinned under her armpits as he dragged her backwards.
She repeated several times “Please! No! I don’t want to be in the picture!” Her eyes were wide, her mouth was contorted and her face was red. She winced, writhed, and grimaced, her teeth clenched as she tried to get away. These details are clear in the photos.
Her knees buckled and she was thrown off balance as her upper body was yanked backward toward the sign. Her elbows were sticking out in an unnatural upward position because her hands had been pinned at her armpits. His jaw jutted out in a fierce grimace, his face was contorted in rage. His arms tightened around her, as he locked her hands against her torso.
This was too much to allow it to continue. I was extremely upset watching this and began to contemplate taking action when manager Tim McDonough approached the Publisher saying, “This is not going to look good. This is not going to look good.” McDonough held out his hand toward the Publisher as if trying to stop traffic.
As McDonough jutted his hand toward the two, I made another two exposures then lowered my camera because the Publisher was gripping his daughter tighter and the little girl looked to be in more distress as her response escalated. She seemed to panic, while crying that she did not want to be in the photo.
She continued to try to squirm away from him I looked away from them and left the area, knowing McDonough was there to intervene if necessary, and thinking if no camera was present, the Publisher would have no excuse to continue to torment the little girl and that he may calm down.
I’ve covered much violence in my career as a photojournalist including riots in three cities. I thought, “This little girl looks like a hostage.” This was more distressing and continues to be more distressing than anything I witnessed in riots. Just as I did in Miami when I was sent there to cover Super Bowl XXIII and a riot broke out, when the police I was with came under sniper fire, I made photos of them reacting first then got out of the line of fire by jumping into their cruiser. I followed the same instincts.
An editor, Marianne Mizera, joined the scene and removed the little girl from the area, which relieved me a great deal.
At that point, the Publisher continued in a frustrated manner to slap and hit the sign and he kicked something. Some items went flying off a desk that was in front of the sign. As he continued to rant, I heard objects hitting the floor and it appeared that he picked somethings up and replaced them on a desk.
The drama subsided slightly and he checked a cell phone. While he was waiting for Sally Stapleton to arrive, he mumbled and stood still alternately walking a few feet in one direction then the other while looking at the phone.
I texted Stapleton: “Prepare for the worst here.” It was 10:13 p.m. To clarify the threat, I texted again: “He is abusing his daughter.”
So, we all waited in stunned silence for Stapleton to arrive which was about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, I had contemplated what do, wondering if I should I pull the fire alarm which I knew went directly, also, to police dispatchers. But, the Publisher was relatively quiet at this time, and so I waited. It seemed like perhaps the worst may be over and I thought of all the other businesses in the building and how everyone would be forced to stand out in the cold night on the sidewalk which had happened a couple of times recently when the water pressure in the building had triggered the fire alarm and everyone was forced to exit. He continued to look at his phone.
I did not have a digital card reader, and I feared that the Publisher would be more irate if I could not download the pictures from the camera, so I called a photographer and asked her to come into the office with a camera and card reader. I told her that this was a worst-case scenario and the Publisher had gone into a rage demanding a photo and abusing his daughter.
Sally Stapleton arrived around 10:30 p.m. and approached him. He spoke loudly but was not screaming as before. I could hear much of what he said from across the room. He pleaded his case with her and talked about how the sign must be removed and he slapped it or pounded on it a couple more times. She calmly listened and quietly made some comments and eventually they moved toward her office, away from the sign toward the perimeter of the room.
Steve Spolar, an executive from BCI Human Resources, joined them in the manager’s office.
I concealed my camera in a hood so he would not see it if the Publisher came my way.
The Publisher and Steve Spolar spilled out of the side office and stood toe to toe. I could hear the Publisher say something, then the HR executive said, “Resign? Resign for you? I am not going to resign! You need to go. Go to your office and sit down.” Then he said something like, you need to leave now.
They were shouting. The exchange was repeated a few times and they were eye to eye, facing each other.
After several minutes to half an hour someone brought the little girl back into the newsroom. I was surprised to see that the child was still in the building. I had hoped other family members had been called to pick her up.
A much lower volume of discourse transpired, and as they were on the opposite side of the large room near the elevator, I could not hear what was being said.
I was shocked that the girl had been reunited with the Publisher and wondered how on earth that could have happened, why she was leaving with someone who was impaired, recently out-of-control, and had just abused her in front of witnesses. Then they all made their way out of my line of site.
Sally Stapleton and Steve Spolar then walked around the room listening to what everyone had to say.
It was 11:30 p.m. and as that was my end of my shift, I left the building after having talked to the two of them and shaking the hand of the HR person and thanking him for intervening.
I went home and tried like hell to sleep, but all I could think of was the violent way the Publisher handled his daughter. When I did sleep, it came in fits. Through that night and subsequent nights, I woke up with a start, haunted by the image of the Publisher dragging his daughter across the room, his face twisted and distorted, his jaw jutting forward, and his elbow thrown inches from her face as she struggled to escape, begging for release. Her face frozen in sheer terror.
Over and over through the night, I tried to go back to sleep as I wrestled with my conscience wondering at what point would I have had to physically confront him to protect the child. I was awake for hours off and on contemplating options and trying to erase the images of him attacking her from my mind which came to mind every time I woke up. But that did not work. It still doesn’t.
After much careful consideration, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has decided to release some of the eyewitness accounts of the incident involving Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block and his daughter that transpired on the night of Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 in the paper’s North Shore newsroom.
Our reason for doing so is solely to refute the false narrative presented earlier this week by BCI Chairman Allan Block — John Block’s twin brother — in his comments to NEXTpittsburgh, comments that, incidentally, were not provided by the company to the Guild.
We are sensitive to the fact that this situation involved a minor, and we want nothing more than to protect her. It is without any pleasure that the Guild is releasing these accounts, and it is certainly not fueled by any animosity or ill will toward the Blocks. However, this situation played out in full view of more than a dozen journalists in their work place and cannot be ignored.
In his statement, Allan Block said:
“The frustration over financial and other challenges in the newspaper industry led to an unfortunate exchange with employees of which I have been made aware,” Allan Block, the chairman of Block Communications Inc., told me in a emailed statement.
“Block Communications regrets if anyone present may have misconstrued what occurred as anything other than an indication of strong concern and support for the legacy and future of the Post-Gazette,” he continued. “We want the entire staff to know that we will continue to value all of our employees and their contributions to the PG.”
There was no “unfortunate exchange.” Nothing was “misconstrued.” And there is no Guild member who feels that BCI executives “value” them. To blame John Block’s erratic, menacing and disturbing conduct on “financial and other challenges in the newspaper industry” is cowardly, despicable and a blatant lie.
The Guild believes that John Block has personal issues that must be addressed before he is allowed to return to the newsroom and be around his employees, both for our safety and his. We are distraught over his interaction with his daughter and are highly concerned for her well-being. We are dismayed that Allan Block’s only response was to try to whitewash this incident and politicize it by blaming it on corporate financial stresses (we think it is no coincidence that we are mired in contentious contract negotiations and that Nashville attorney Richard Lowe, BCI’s representative at the bargaining table both in Pittsburgh and in Toledo, at our sister paper, The Blade, was brought in to advise BCI about this situation). We are disgusted that Allan Block did not immediately come to Pittsburgh and address the staff at the Post-Gazette about his brother’s conduct or, as far as we know, personally check on the welfare of his brother and his niece. And we are frustrated that as of this writing, the PG has not yet: 1) Provided crisis counseling for its staff; 2) barred John Block’s access to the newsroom; 3) sought to formally interview any of our members, as would be expected in any business setting where such a situation has occurred.
These are accounts from four Guild witnesses who have authorized us to release their statements for attribution. They are free to comment further but will likely refer any requests to Guild President Michael A. Fuoco.
As you will see, the accounts are consistent — as are the additional seven accounts in the Guild’s possession. Our members’ accounts also comport with the photographic and video evidence in the PG’s/BCI’s possession.
For reference, Tim McDonough, a former Guild member, is a manager, as are Lillian Thomas and Virginia Linn. Sally Stapleton is the managing editor. Steve Spolar is BCI’s Vice President, Human Resources and Labor Relations.
Michael A. Fuoco, president (412-576-4665)
Jonathan D. Silver, unit chairman
1. MARIANNE MIZERA, web editor
On the evening of Saturday, Feb. 8, 2019, John Robinson Block, the publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, called into the newsroom (via the phone specially designated for his incoming calls) around 9:50 p.m.
The manager on duty that evening, Tim McDonough, answered the phone, spoke to Mr.Block, then hung up and went downstairs to let Mr. Block and his daughter into the building through the front door and up to the 3rd floor. The two entered the newsroom around 10 p.m.
As Mr. Block stepped off the elevator and proceeded to walk briskly — in a slightly stumbling, awkward manner — through the newsroom toward the “web hub” area, he was immediately yelling about various topics, pointing and waving his finger repeatedly up in the air and swinging his arms.
He was very angry and irate. The entire newsroom could hear his voice.
As he got closer to the hub area, he walked straight to the Guild bulletin board, and pointed to and touched the Guild “Shame on the Blocks!” sign.
It was clear he was intoxicated.
Mr. Block yelled at Tim to immediately call Sally Stapleton, which Tim did and told Mr. Block that she was on her way.
He shouted that he wanted a picture of himself and his daughter taken in front of the Guild sign and demanded it run on the “front page of tomorrow’s paper.” He fervently demanded the photos be taken NOW, right away and forcefully grabbed his daughter’s forearm, pulling her into the picture as she tried her best to pull away from him. She was crying, shaking and pleading with her father that she did NOT want to be in ANY photograph.
She screamed, “Please, please Daddy, no!” multiple times. And multiple times he yanked on her arm, trying to pull to his side so a photo could be taken of the both of them.
The photo editor on duty, REDACTED, snapped a few photos to placate Mr. Block as he continued to pull his sobbing daughter to his side.
Mr. Block, through his threatening posturing and verbally abusive tone, appeared extremely annoyed and growing angrier by the minute that Sally had not yet arrived, despite Tim’s repeated reassurances that Sally was on her way.
In his heightened agitated state, Mr. Block continued to walk back and forth in front of the Guild bulletin board and continued with his belligerent behavior. He did not and would not calm down: He repeatedly shouted out rude comments about various current and former managers, mocking them (saying some had “gone to the dark side”), the newsroom staff (what he called “the working class”), and his ex-wife, and bemoaned what he called a loss of millions of dollars on the part of the company.
He yelled at his daughter, up to her face: “You’re a Block don’t you forget it. You’re a Block, you’re not one of them,” repeatedly as he firmly jabbed his finger into her shoulder.
I started to shake. Other members of the staff were rattled and didn’t know what to do about the situation unfolding. During this time, I texted Guild officer Jonathan Silver to let him know what was going on and that staffers working that night felt threatened and that he should get down to the newsroom as soon as possible, if he could.
Mr. Block continued pace back and forth as he railed against the newsroom staff, chastising them for the Guild sign and shouting that he will get rid of certain Guild officers.
He continued to shout numerous insults and offensive comments about the managers and staff at his daughter, naming various specific individuals.
At some point, I stood up from my desk and, putting up my hand, told Mr. Block “Stop. This has to stop.” He let go of his daughter, who he was holding firmly by the wrist as she was sobbing and stepped away for a bit. I sat back down.
A few minutes later, in an attempt to help get his daughter away from this traumatizing scene, I got up again and approached Mr. Block. I asked him if it would be all right if I took his daughter to our little cafeteria area to get her some water. He angrily asked me where exactly I was taking her. I said “just down this way to the cafeteria and we’ll be right back.”
He said, “OK go with her.”
As I walked away with his daughter, she was visibly shaking and crying. I got her some water and we went back into the newsroom about 10 minutes later. I told her to sit wherever she’d like, pointing to areas away from her father, who was still standing near the Guild sign. She asked if she could sit near me. I said sure and let her sit at REDACTED’s desk near my desk.
She was crying during the entire time she and her father were in the newsroom.
Sally and Steve Spolar then showed up together in the newsroom and took Mr. Block into Sally’s office. He continued to yell and at various times asked Steve for his resignation. A shouting match ensued. His daughter was also in the office.
Guild officers Jonathan Silver and Mike Fuoco arrived in the newsroom around 10:50 p.m.
Sally and Steve were able to bring Mr. Block into the cafeteria area and crystal palace meeting room to calm him down. An Uber was called and he eventually left down the front stairwell with his daughter.
2. ANDREW GOLDSTEIN, night cops reporter
I had just finished eating in the breakroom and was walking back toward the hub when I heard a lot of yelling and what sounded like someone pounding on the wall. I quickly recognized JR’s voice and walked around him as far as possible to avoid whatever was going on.
But when I got back to my desk, I realized there was no avoiding the disturbing situation playing out in front of me. JR was ranting like a madman and his daughter was visibly terrified. Additionally, everyone in the newsroom was gawking at the travesty, unsure of what they should do. I know I felt horrible for his daughter, disturbed by whatever JR was doing, and utterly powerless to do anything about it.
He was going crazy over the “Shame on the Blocks” sign on the guild bulletin board and demanded that someone take a photo of him and his daughter in front of it. She was screaming that she didn’t want to, crying hysterically and red-faced. I felt terrible about what I was watching.
JR proceeded to rip the cell phone out of his daughter‘s hand because he thought she was trying to call her mother. He was screaming in his daughter‘s face about the Block family legacy: “Do you want to be high class or low class? You’re a Block, you’re one of us! You have to learn how to lead!” She was shaking and saying that she didn’t want to. …
Then JR started ranting about guild leadership, Shribman and other managers. He said he was “going to get rid of the bad guys, Jonathan Silver and Fuoco and … Shribman! I fired David Shribman! I fired David Shribman!” He continued to rant about Shribman — he said Shribman went to the “dark side” — then he complained about John Craig, and how John Craig hated the Blocks.
Thankfully, Marianne swooped in and took his daughter back to the break room to get a drink.
He went off about the lack of managers in the newsroom on Saturday nights. (Apparently, he didn’t realize there were at least two there.) He said he wanted more managers there on Saturday night and at least 40 or 50 people working in the office on Saturday until 1 or 2 a.m.
He said he was going to fire Virginia Linn and Lillian Thomas. He also talked about firing other managers — those were the only two names I heard specifically — but he ranted about how he wanted to get every trace of Shribman out of there.
Meanwhile, he was slapping and kicking the wall near the “Shame on the Blocks” sign, and pounding his fists.
Finally, Sally showed up after what seemed like 20 or 30 minutes, and he continued ranting and raving to her. He told her that she was going to be in the office until 1 or 2 a.m. every Saturday. He told her that the newspaper was “going to hell” and that he was “going to burn the place down.”
Sally eventually coerced JR into her office, where the yelling continued, though I couldn’t hear what was being said.
A few minutes later, Steve Spolar showed up and quickly got into a shouting match with JR at the threshold of Sally’s office. Steve told JR that he was in no condition to be in the office. JR told him to resign and said he was going to fire a new HR manager.
At one point, I heard Steve yelling “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” Then JR said “Then get out of my way!” and barrelled past him out of the office. I believe he shoved Steve’s arm to escape the office.
Sally told me that JR “fired” Steve “about 50 times” while they were in her office.
Eventually, Steve took his daughter back to the break room. (She had seen in Sally’s office for that whole ordeal.) JR and Sally went into the Crystal Palace, and although I couldn’t make out what was being said, I heard a lot of yelling.
That’s when Jon Silver and Mike Fuoco showed up. And after another 20 or 30 minutes, JR left with his daughter.
The incident was highly disturbing, and prevented many people from working for close to an hour. Marianne quipped to me that she couldn’t work as the situation was unfolding.
Personally, I was horrified by what I witnessed. I was extremely concerned for his daughter‘s safety, and I actually noticed that my heart was racing. It was sickening and one of the worst things I’ve ever had the displeasure to witness, certainly in an office setting.
Having to watch as JR terrorized his teenage daughter — with his hair disheveled and his face twisted — was something I’m never going to forget. I wish there was something I could have done, but I, like pretty much everyone else in the office, was stunned by what I saw.
3. CARL REMENSKY, sports desk (former city editor)
The commotion started around 10 p.m., I looked up to see John Block standing at the Guild bulletin board outside of Jim Iovino’s office, very animated and shouting. He said he wanted the ‘Shame on the Blocks’ poster taken down. His daughter was with him. She kept walking away from him and wandered around the desks bordered by the area where the sports stringers sit at night and Sally Stapleton’s and Linda Parker’s offices. He followed her, shouting about the Guild and how he had fired David Shribman for disloyalty, and John Craig for the same reason.
Eventually he got his daughter in front of the same Guild bulletin board. At one point she appeared very distressed and I saw he had hold of her, with his arms around her waist, trying to pull her back in front of that bulletin board. She appeared to be crying and yelling and appeared doubled over as she tried pull away from him. She got away and Block remained standing at the bulletin board, shouting and slapping the ‘Shame’ poster.
Marianne Mizera walked over to the sports desk, where I sit, near tears, and told REDACTED she was on the verge of calling the police.
All this happened on Sunday (2/10/2019) deadline as approached. Very difficult to concentrate. NOTE: REMENSKY MEANT SATURDAY 2.9.19)
After that, John Block stalked around the newsroom, yelling about the Guild. One thing I saw/heard him turn to the sports stringer desk ( he was close to the Web desk area at this point) and loudly shout ‘Are you in the Guild?’
Things sort of calmed down when Sally Stapleton arrived, and really calmed down when Steve Spolar (who was called by Sally) defused the situation following a shouting match in Sally’s office.
4. ALEX MILLER, paginator
Here’s my account of what happened in the newsroom Saturday night. It was wild.
A few minutes after we’d shipped the front page Saturday, a phone rang, and Tim McDonough answered it. I overheard Tim on the phone with somebody who was downstairs and unable to operate the door to get inside the building. Tim went down to let him in, and when he came back upstairs I saw that it was JR Block and his young daughter. JR immediately started yelling. He was angry that so few people were in the newsroom on a Saturday night. He was angry that Sally wasn’t working, and he yelled at Tim to get her on the phone and and tell her to be at the office in 10 minutes.
The “Shame on the Blocks” poster upset him greatly. He said he wanted it torn down. He pulled his daughter over to it, and I heard him tell her that the message of the poster was directed at her, too, because she was a Block. Then he yelled for a photographer to take he and his daughter’s photo in front of the poster so he could run it on the front page. His daughter, who sounded scared and on the verge of tears, told him she didn’t want to be in the photo, and she tried to get away from him, but he grabbed onto her and wouldn’t let her leave. This went on until Tim said something to diffuse the situation.
After that, JR paced back and forth in front of the poster. I could hear him punching and slapping the poster and the wall. He yelled again that he wanted the poster to come down. He said he’d lost $300 million on the newspaper, and then he said (I think to Tim) “Do you know how much money $300 million dollars is?” Followed by, “No, of course you wouldn’t.” JR yelled that the poster was all David Shribman’s fault. He said he’d fired Shribman for insubordination and because he was disloyal to the Blocks. He said he never should have hired Shribman. He said the previous editor, John Craig, never should have been hired. He said, “No man is more hated by the Blocks than John Craig.” He said next he was going to fire Mike Fuoco and Jon Silver. He said he’d close the whole paper unless we took down the poster.
A little later, Sally showed up and spoke to him. They moved the conversation into Sally’s office, where he began shouting at her. That’s when Steve Spolar arrived. He went into Sally’s office, and he and JR got into a confrontation that spilled out of her office. Spolar told JR to go to his own office, but JR refused. Spolar told JR to leave the building and that he would call an Uber to take him home, but JR wouldn’t leave. After that, Sally, Steve and JR went into the Crystal Palace to talk, and things must have calmed down because I didn’t hear any more shouting.
I’ve been working in newsrooms for more than a decade, and this is most bizarre thing I’ve seen. JR behaved in a way that would get any ordinary employee fired on the spot and escorted out of the building for everybody’s safety. He appeared totally out of control. He was loud and violent, and it was frightening to witness because he was so erratic. There was no way for anybody to know what he might do next.