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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers end byline strike

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, 7:24 a.m.
The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the North Shore on March 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the North Shore on March 20, 2017.

The bylines are back at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper and website.

At 11:59 p.m. Sunday, 150 Post-Gazette employees, who are members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, ended a four-day byline strike. They pulled their bylines Thursday in protest of stalled contract negotiations between the Guild and newspaper's owners, Block Communications, Inc. of Toledo, Ohio.

The decision to remove bylines from stories and photos involved “all reporters, photographers, videographers, graphic artists, columnists and others.”

“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,” Michael A. Fuoco, president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and a PG enterprise reporter, said in a press release. “We will not — we cannot — approve another concessionary contract offered by a highly profitable parent company.”

Earlier this month, the union filed an unfair labor complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, contending Block Communications violated labor laws by refusing to pay for a 5 percent increase in health care premiums for 2018. The contract for union members expired March 31.

The byline removals had 100 percent participation from Guild members, 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,” Fuoco said. “In 2018, Guild members earn 10 percent less than they did in 2006. Any reasonable person can see that this cannot continue.”

A Guild press release said 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,” the press release said. “While the Guild typically keeps negotiations confidential, BCI's refusal to move off its draconian proposal has forced us to go public.”

Besides owning the Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade, Block Communications own five television stations and several cable systems, according to its website.

The Guild also shared some of Block Communications proposals for a new contract:

• 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).”

Calls to Block Communications were not immediately returned.

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