Statement on the Alexis Johnson situation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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On Sunday, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh member Alexis Johnson posted a benign tweet deemed so controversial and biased by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management that it barred her the next day from all protest-related coverage. The logic was absurd and specious. The move stifled one of the few black reporters at the paper.

On Wednesday, Guild President Michael A. Fuoco and Unit Chairman Jonathan D. Silver, both longtime PG reporters, met with Managing Editor Karen Kane and two other managers to demand that they reverse course and immediately reinstate Alexis to protest-related coverage. They refused and wouldn’t explain their rationale. We filed a grievance alleging they violated our contract by disciplining Alexis without just cause. That grievance, one of many filed over the past three years, is pending. 

On Friday, in a show of solidarity, dozens of Guild members throughout the newsroom tweeted Alexis’ tweet on their own Twitter accounts under the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis. By Friday night, in our view, the company’s retaliation began.

Protest-related stories by two staffers — city hall reporter Ashley Murray and general assignment reporter Lauren Lee — suddenly disappeared without explanation from the PG’s website shortly after they tweeted support for Alexis. Ashley and Lauren were baffled, and queries to management were met with silence. To us, the cause and effect is clear.

The PG simply does not remove stories, ever, for any reason. It is a longstanding policy in journalism and at the PG that you do not remove published material; it is simply unethical to do so. The proper course of action is to correct any factual errors and include an editor’s note in the story explaining the reason for any changes. But in this case, we believe that Ashley’s and Lauren’s stories were purposely removed. In fact, one of our staffers heard Kane on Friday evening order the city editor to kill a story.

Similarly, one of our photographers of color who tweeted support for Alexis has been barred from covering protests. This is after risking his personal safety and being gassed by police in order to bring PG readers news about what was happening in their city.

(June 7, 2020 Addition) The PG has also instructed the entire photography staff to not cover protests happening in the region.

The PG took other troubling steps. As if it wasn’t bad enough to kill stories and restrict journalists who expressed solidarity with a union colleague under siege, management told several Guild members that protests would no longer be covered, period. And protest-related stories scheduled for Saturday were killed without explanation.

By this morning, the paper’s position had changed again. The original two stories that had been killed on the web reappeared — this time in severely shortened versions and without bylines. And a Guild member who had not joined in the Twitter backing of Alexis and was not previously scheduled had been assigned to cover the day’s protest.

A Twitter post this morning  indicates that Kane responded to an inquiry from someone by claiming that “nothing has been removed.” The response also praises Alexis for being a “valued part of our great staff.” It’s fair to say Alexis does not feel that way right now.

It is abundantly clear to the Guild that PG managers are trying to gaslight us. We have no doubt that the Blocks and their top lieutenants are doing their best to crush our union, stamp out free thought and punish our members for exercising their federally protected rights.

We’ve encountered this before when publisher John Robinson Block went on an unhinged tirade on a Saturday night in February 2019 in our newsroom, manhandled his daughter and threatened to fire Guild leaders.

In trying to explain away Block’s despicable behavior, witnessed by more than a dozen Guild members, the PG/BCI crafted an explanation for the media that was filled with lie after lie. They have never admitted fault for coming after the union. 

We are more than three years into contract negotiations with an intractable company that has hired a union-busting Tennessee law firm to do nothing but stall and wring every last cent from the Blocks, all while our members suffer economically.

No raise for 14 years. Significant pay cuts. Vile attacks on our health care, a situation that now is tied up in federal court. And our Guild brethren at The (Toledo) Blade likewise owned by the Blocks are suffering equally.

The PG’s latest assault on our union is possibly the worst yet because it strikes at the very heart of journalism: truth and transparency. Guild leaders are not entirely sure yet what is happening, but we are dedicated to finding out and correcting it.

What kind of news publication ousts a black reporter from covering the most important race-related story of the current generation for posting a tongue-in-cheek tweet, all without due process or explanation? The PG.

What kind of news publication installs an executive editor who wrote a repugnant, racially insensitive editorial called “Reason as Racism” that attracted universal condemnation, even from members of the very family that owns the paper? The PG. 

What kind of news organization bars members of its Pulitzer Prize-winning staff from covering protests because they refused to stay silent when their colleague was muzzled? The PG.

That’s why we find ourselves in proverbial Vietnam today. And as in that war, PG managers wrongly think they need to destroy the village in order to save it. They couldn’t be more wrong.

There’s an easy way out of this quagmire: Top management must apologize to Alexis, remove the ban they placed on her coverage and let talented, dedicated, loyal PG journalists do our life’s work to the benefit of our paper, our readers, our community, our democracy.

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.

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh to offer two $2,000 scholarships to journalism students in Western Pennsylvania

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The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh Local 38061 is offering two scholarships for $2,000 each to fourth semester undergraduates – and up — majoring in journalism or related fields, with a strictly local focus.

Those who have completed at least three semesters and live in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington or Westmoreland Counties – or attend colleges or universities in these counties – should submit an application and supporting materials by Fri., March 6, 2020.

Applications may be sent through the mail, but email packages will also be considered. Send digital copies to scholarship chairperson Matt Moret at mmoret@post-gazette.com.

Scholarship winners will be announced in mid-March and a reception will follow.

Since 1996, the Guild has awarded more than $50,000 in cash to undergrads preparing for careers in journalism.  Funding for the Sally Kalson Scholarship awards comes from the annual production “Off the Record,” staged by the Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists.

Visit our scholarship page for more information about the Sally Kalson Scholarship from the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh or to download requirements and an application.

Federal Judge Orders Post-Gazette & Teamsters to Status Conference

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U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan has ordered top Post-Gazette and Teamsters representatives to appear Thursday, Jan. 9 at 3 p.m. in Courtroom C on the Sixth Floor of the Federal Courthouse for a status conference on the Post-Gazette’s refusal to follow his court order of Nov. 27 that he reissued for clarity Dec. 27.

Attorney Joseph J. Pass, representing the Teamsters, has petitioned Judge Ranjan to find the Post-Gazette in contempt of court for not following his orders to fully reinstate 24 Teamsters who were discharged on Nov. 10 and 47 others who were reduced to part-time so the company could avoid paying for their health care benefits.

It is expected that Judge Ranjan will rule on the Teamsters’ petition (see below), which asks him to find the Post-Gazette in contempt; to order the company again to immediately follow his court order; and to impose fines on the Post-Gazette of $10,000 for the first day of non-compliance with his order, and thereafter an amount that would double every day of non-compliance.

Pass, Teamsters Local President Joe Molinero and officials of other unions who have been involved in protracted contract negotiations for nearly three years with the Post-Gazette will be available for interviews after the status conference.

Download the motion filings for this case

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 Marks Seven Days of Byline Strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with 100% Participation

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The newsroom staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today marked seven days of its indefinite byline strike in protest of the severe mistreatment of union members and managers by PG Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and his twin Allan Block, chairman of Toledo-based PG owner Block Communications Inc. (BCI).

Since Nov. 20, reporters, columnists, photographers and graphic artists represented by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh have withheld a total of 313 bylines and credit lines from the print and PGe digital editions of the newspaper — 100 percent participation. Countless more bylines have been absent from the PG’s website, mobile app and PGNewsSlide.

Page designers, web and copy desk personnel, librarians and clerks who do not have bylines are wearing “I Support the Byline Strike” buttons in the newsroom. Moreover, PG journalists are wearing “No Confidence” buttons and have placards reading the same on their desks to illustrate their unanimous vote last week of “no confidence” in Burris and the Blocks.

PG freelancers, who are not union members, have withheld their bylines in support. Additional backing has come from readers and unions from across the United States who likewise decry and are appalled by the hostile work environment created by the Blocks and Burris and the economic oppression of nearly 14 years without a raise and unilateral cuts to their health care. The Guild and other PG unions have been mired for nearly three years in fruitless negotiations for new contracts with BCl’s carpetbagging, anti-union attorney from Tennessee who is seeking additional cutbacks in wages and benefits from newspaper workers.

“We are unified and resolute in protest of the unprecedented, unconscionable atmosphere of fear, hostility and intimidation that Burris and the Blocks have created in the North Shore newsroom. And we stand united in our quest for economic justice,” said Michael A. Fuoco, a 35-year PG reporter and Guild president.

“In stark relief, this byline strike shows that we journalists are truly the Post-Gazette – not Burris, executive editor for only nine months, and the multimillionaire Blocks. There is no Post-Gazette without us. There will be no Post-Gazette without us.

“We will continue this fight for a non-hostile workplace and economic justice, even to the point of the most extreme measures.”

The last byline strike at the Post-Gazette was in January 2018 when the Guild prosecuted a four-day protest of what was then two years without a contract and the company’s decision for the second year to defy contracts and not pay premium increases for health-care coverage. Union presidents recently received letters indicating the company will not pay for increases in 2020, decreasing health-care benefits for the third straight year. Before January 2018, there had not previously been a byline strike at the paper since the 19803.

“The Blocks and Burris have no moral compass and a total lack of appreciation for the legacy of the Post-Gazette and the loyalty of talented journalists,” Fuoco said. “Their actions are shameful and despicable.”

They include:

  • The firing or forcing out of three beloved newsroom managers with combined service of nearly 100 years to the PG because they stood up to Burris’ dictatorial actions. Four other managers have left this year and one departure is pending.
  • Cultivating hurt and bewilderment among the staff through Burris’ 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.
  • Retaliating against certain Guild members and leaders by reassigning those who have challenged him in any way to positions that adversely affect their lives and/or their work on behalf of the union.
  • Abusing and refusing to work cooperatively with or even speak to Guild leadership.
  • Triggering 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.

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

“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,” 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.”