Byline strike ends at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after 4 days

“The byline strike was but one mobilization effort in our arsenal. We are prepared to use others.”

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Lexi Belculfine / The Incline
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A byline strike by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom employees has been called off after four days, the union representing those employees said while hinting at the possibility of future labor actions as contract talks with the paper’s ownership company continue.

“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 Post-Gazette enterprise reporter. “We will not—we cannot—approve another concessionary contract offered by a highly profitable parent company.”

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh represents 150 newsroom employees at the Post-Gazette. All participated in the byline strike which began at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday and which will end at 11:59 p.m. today. The strike saw a total of 226 bylines — an average of more than 56 a day — withheld from news products including articles, photos, videos, columns and more. Newsroom employees without bylines, such as copy and web editors, wore stickers and buttons indicating their support for the strike, the Guild said.

In a statement, the Guild added, “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 strike was initiated weeks after the Guild filed an unfair labor complaint against the paper’s owners at Block Communications, Inc., alleging the company’s refusal to foot an increase in employee health care premiums in the midst of ongoing contract talks amounts to a violation of the law and speaks to a pattern of cutbacks adversely impacting employees there.

The complaint, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, was made against a backdrop of rising public tensions between the Post-Gazette newsroom and John R. Block — the paper’s publisher and editor-in-chief and a member of the family for whom the ownership company is named. Those tensions were stoked during the 2016 presidential campaign following a rumored Post-Gazette endorsement of Trump (one that never happened) and Block being pictured on then-candidate Trump’s private jet.

The tensions resurfaced earlier this month with Block requesting the newsroom remove the word “shithole” from the first sentence of a story about Trump’s reported use of the word — a move that led to a protest tweet being sent up from the paper’s official Twitter account. Then, tensions exploded two weeks ago following the publication of a column titled “Reason as racism,” which defended the president against accusations of racism and argued that the term “racist” had become trite and sensationalized. (The column, which ran at Block’s behest, was slammed by current and former employees of the paper as well as readers. There were other readers who supported it.)

The union said the byline strike was not in response to the “Reason as racism” column, although some Post-Gazette reporters said privately that the column had helped galvanize their support for the idea.

The byline strike was the first at the paper since the 1980s, according to the Guild. The NLRB unfair labor complaint filed by the Guild was the first such action in decades. It is still pending before the NLRB.

The Guild had initially said the byline strike would last for an undetermined period of time.

The strike was called off on Sunday after the Guild said its objective of “successfully alerting the public of contentious contract talks that threaten the operation of the 231-year-old Pittsburgh institution” had been achieved.

“We have received overwhelming support in our quest for economic justice from all sections of the Pittsburgh community —public, political, religious, unionized, philanthropic,” the Guild said in a statement issued Sunday. “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.”

An email seeking comment from John R. Block and a spokesperson for his office was not immediately responded to on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Block gave his first public comments on the “Reason as racism” fallout to the Yale Daily News at his Ivy League alma mater over the weekend, telling the paper, “A newspaper’s job is to comment on the issues of the moment, and that’s what we do. Controversy goes right along with being an independent newspaper, and being an independent newspaper of course means that people on both sides are surprised at times when you take a position that they don’t think is consistent with other positions you’ve taken.”

Block continued, “We’ve always taken a strong stance. We want to explore the possibility that the overuse of not just the word ‘racist,’ but of many other terms that divide this country, that tear us apart, [should prompt us to] consider whether the law needs to evolve to protect people. Of course, the right-wing has a full vocabulary of negative things they call people too, like infamous ‘feminazi’… From where I am, we ought to be having respectful debate and people of good will ought to understand that there is going to be disagreement.”

Block has yet to publicly speak on the contract negotiations with the Guild or on the now-halted byline strike.