One week ago today, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management banned Black reporter Alexis Johnson from protest-related coverage because they claimed she showed “bias:” in a clever and benign tweet. Subsequently, members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh put that tweet on their own Twitter accounts to show support for their colleague. The Post-Gazette responded by pulling two published stories from its website written by reporters who had shown Alexis support and two stories scheduled the next day by other reporters were killed.
Without explanation, the PG then pulled Black photographer Michael Santiago off a previously scheduled assignment to cover protests on Saturday and didn’t staff them with a photographer. On Sunday, no photographers were assigned to protests happening that day. On Monday, a photographer who does not have a Twitter account and therefore could not tweet support for his colleagues, was assigned to shoot an early morning protest.
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh finds these discriminatory, retaliatory actions to be unconscionable and morally and ethically bankrupt. Management’s actions have nationally embarrassed and demeaned a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper. Statements of condemnation have been issued by the local’s parent unions, the Communication Workers of America and the NewsGuild and the National Association of Black Journalists, among others. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other prominent individuals have publicly supported the Newspaper Guild. And the public has expressed its ire at the actions — as of early today, more than 2,500 letters of complaint have been written to the Post-Gazette on an ActionNetwork app.
The letters to management support the Guild’s demands:
- Rescind your ban and allow these Black journalists to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
- Stop retaliating against their supporters.
- Fulfill your mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
Additionally, we call upon advertisers large and small to contact the Post-Gazette to express their support of the Guild’s position and ethical journalism.
Only in this way can management resolve a crisis of its own making and can the Post-Gazette go back to truly reporting the news rather than sadly making it.
A demand that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management reverse their recent actions:
Rescind your ban and allow these black journalists to cover the most monumental civil rights movement in more than 50 years.
Stop retaliating against their supporters.
Fulfill your mission by adequately and ethically covering the protests and related issues.
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.
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 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 email@example.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.
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
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:
- 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 – firstname.lastname@example.org
- BCl Chairman Allan Block – ablock©blockcommunications.com and email@example.com
- Executive Editor Keith Burris – firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.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.”