Beginning at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, the four-day byline strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by the 150 members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh will cease after successfully alerting the public of contentious contract talks that threaten the operation of the 231-year-old Pittsburgh institution.
That means the names of Guild-represented PG reporters, photographers, columnists and graphic artists will return to the paper, website and other PG platforms as on Monday. While the Guild-requested byline strike is ending, it is possible some members may decide to continue withholding their bylines, which is their contractual right.
“The byline strike was but one mobilization effort in our arsenal. We are prepared to use others. We hope we don’t have to do so,” said Michael A. Fuoco, president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and a PG enterprise reporter. “We will not–we cannot–approve another concessionary contract offered by a highly profitable parent company.”
There was 100 percent participation by Guild members–all who have bylines withheld them and those who toil behind the scenes such and copy and web editors wore stickers and buttons in the newsroom reading “I Support the Byline Strike.”
During the four day protest, a total of 226 bylines–an average of more than 56 a day–were withheld from stories, photographs, columns and graphics that appeared in the print edition. Even more were withheld on the PG website, which typically carries much more content than is published in the newspaper. It is believed the last byline strike at the PG was in the early 1980s.
Since the Guild contract expired March 31, 2017, and during the byline strike which is ending, PG journalists continued to do their jobs with the talent, passion and professionalism they bring to their jobs 365 days a year. The byline strike starkly illustrated the daily contribution their expertise provides the Post-Gazette and is an exclamation point on the Guild mantra “No PG Without Me.”
Guild members are annually cited for their journalistic excellence with national, state and regional awards and the Post-Gazette was named the 2017 Newspaper of the Year in Pennsylvania.
The byline strike’s success precipitated its end, Fuoco said.
“We always planned for it to last only as long was necessary for us to get the word out that the company’s concessionary proposal is completely unacceptable after 12 years and counting of pay, benefit and staffing cuts. In 2018, Guild members earn 10 percent less than they did in 2006. Any reasonable person can see that this cannot continue.
“With the massive national and regional publicity, we are confident that most people now know the fate of the Post-Gazette lies in the hands of parent company Block Communications Inc. of Toledo, Ohio.
“We have received overwhelming support in our quest for economic justice from all sections of the Pittsburgh community–public, political, religious, unionized, philanthropic. Along with them, we call upon the company to do the right thing: Fire its union-busting Nashville law firm, present us with a reasonable proposal and provide us with a bargaining environment of respect and dignity that our talent deserves.”
Should BCI not do so, there will be more mobilizations of increased intensity and escalation, he said.
“We fear the fate of the Post-Gazette hangs in the balance should BCI not become reasonable,” Fuoco said. “We love the Post-Gazette and want it to survive and thrive. For more than two centuries the PG has been ingrained in the fabric of daily life in the Pittsburgh community. And democracy depends upon journalism. BCI must recognize its civic responsibility and public trust by providing its talented staff with wages and benefits commensurate with what they provide.”
During the 12 years Guild members have earned 10 percent less than in 2006, pensions have been frozen, benefits have been cut; health-care coverage has decreased. Yet the cost of everything — including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — has increased dramatically. Still, over the last 10 months, in some of the most contentious contract talks at the paper in history, the company is demanding even more givebacks.
It is true that the Post-Gazette, like most newspapers in the country, loses money. But its highly profitable parent company BCI is able to write off those losses and regularly earns more than $100 million in profits annually. While the Guild typically keeps negotiations confidential, BCI’s refusal to move off its draconian proposal has forced us to go public.
Among the many lowlights in BCI’s proposal:
• Allowing the company the unilateral right to determine the number of hours in a Guild member’s work week, meaning it could be none (all members are currently guaranteed 40 hours a week).
• The unfettered right to use freelancers, managers and third-party vendors to perform work over which Guild members have had jurisdiction for more than 80 years.
• The ability to lay off anyone for any reason at any time and out of seniority (currently, there needs to be an economic reason; the company must meet with the Guild to try to find an alternative; and any layoffs must be by seniority in work categories).
• The ability to unilaterally change health-care benefits at any time (currently, any changes must be negotiated).
Moreover, the Guild recently filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company because, through its union-busting law firm King & Ballow of Nashville, Tenn., it refused to pay a 5 percent increase in the health care premium for 2018, thereby unilaterally cutting our benefits. Companies involved in bargaining are required by federal law to maintain the same level of wages and benefits of expired contracts. It is believed to be the first ULP the Guild has ever filed against the PG but given its disregard for the rule of law, there was no choice but to do so.
“We want to report the news, not make it,” Fuoco said. “It’s up to BCI to determine where we go from here. We want a contract that’s fair and equitable to both sides. We’d like them to show they desire the same.”
Michael A. Fuoco
President, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh
Enterprise Reporter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette