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Will the strike end? Post-Gazette union members and management to meet again Thursday

“We're not asking for the moon here,” said Zack Tanner, president of the News Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents striking workers at the Post-Gazette. He is one of several news guild members meeting with newspaper management Monday to negotiate a new union contract.
Emma Furry
/
90.5 WESA
“We're not asking for the moon here,” said Zack Tanner, president of the News Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents striking workers at the Post-Gazette. He is one of several news guild members meeting with newspaper management Monday to negotiate a new union contract.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette management met Monday with the newspaper’s striking workers for the first round of contract negotiations in more than two years. Talks concluded early in the afternoon as the two parties review each side's proposals before meeting again on Thursday.

Zack Tanner, president of the News Guild of Pittsburgh, said the attorney representing the paper’s management presented the same offer given to union members during negotiations in July 2020. Management declared an impasse at that time, and implemented “unilateral changes to working conditions”, according to the union.

“Basically all they did was change some dates, scratch a couple of things off and hand us the exact same final offer that they implemented back in Summer 2020,” Tanner said Monday.

According to Tanner, the paper’s proposed contract would not include any wage increases—one of the union’s primary demands.

The union's proposal includes restoring the contract that was in effect from 2014 to 2017, which Tanner says includes protections the company "decimated" after the agreement expired in 2017. Since a subsequent bargaining agreement was not reached afterward, the union members have operated without one until now.

Tanner said if the management were to reinstate the 2017 contract as it is written, then union members would bargain solely for the economic measures.

In a brief statement, Post-Gazette marketing director Allison Latcheran called the negotiations constructive, saying the company is “encouraged” and looks forward to meeting again on Thursday.

Present for the negotiations was the lawyer representing the paper's management, Richard Lowe, and Carolyn Rice, a human resources and labor relations representative at the company.

Tanner said the absence of newsroom management, such as executive editor Stan Wischnowski, was expected but remained discouraging.

"We don't feel like they came in good faith today," Tanner said. "Printing out the same terms that we've been working under and handing them to us to sign is not a good faith bargaining session, in my opinion, but we hope that that can change in the bargaining sessions on Thursday and moving forward, the company will come in good faith."

"We deserve better"

Monday's meeting to negotiate a contract marks the first in nearly two years.

Members of the paper’s newsroom went on strike on Oct. 16, shortly after distribution, production and advertising workers walked off the job early last month. The work stoppage marks the city’s first newspaper strike in 30 years.

Union organizers held a rally in Mellon Square before heading into the Omni William Penn Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh, where negotiations occurred Monday.

“The company is in there and they have ignored us for far too long. They consider us low-class,” Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh secretary Alex McCann, a striking editor for the Post-Gazette, told the crowd. “We're not low-class. We’re the working people of America.”

Guild members also say they are asking for what they call fair pay, disability leave and vacation policies.

Kitsy Higgins, a striking advertising account representative, said she and her colleagues are asking for policies in place at newspapers nationwide: health insurance and a yearly wage increase.

"We want to be back at work. We want to be doing it for the Post-Gazette, no one else," Higgins said. "Unfortunately, we are here because this is our only option and we deserve better."

“We're not asking for the moon here,” Zack Tanner, president of the news guild, added. “We're asking for pretty reasonable things that any good faith employer would be happy to provide to their employees.”

When asked to comment on the negotiations, the newspaper’s management said the following:

“We are encouraged because this is the first request for negotiations the Guild has requested in more than two years,” Latcheran, the marketing director, said in a statement Monday morning.

To that, News Guild president Zack Tanner said union members have called on the paper’s owners to bargain in good faith multiple times.

“When the company unilaterally declared an impasse to bargaining and illegally implemented their terms in July 2020, the Guild filed multiple unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, which cumulated in a hearing in front of an administrative law judge in September and October,” Tanner said Monday. “The Guild never stopped bargaining and has always been ready to talk. We’re confident that we’re going to fight and win back our contract for all of the PG workers and get a new deal that keeps the paper strong for the community.”

Chanting “Pittsburgh is a union town,” leaders from United Steelworkers, Communication Workers of America and several other local and regional unions attended the rally in support of the striking workers.

“I want you to know what your being out here today means to people like me, who do not live and work here,” said Sandy Tan, president of the Newspaper Guild of Buffalo. Tan and another member of the guild, which represents workers at the Buffalo News, drove down to support the strike and picket with union members outside the Post-Gazette offices after the rally.

The Buffalo guild, which provided pizzas to strikers on the picket line last month, is also making a financial contribution to the Pittsburgh union's strike fund, Tan said.

“The only person who can dictate your worth is you,” Tan continued. “Long after this strike is over, no matter how this strike is resolved, that will always stick with you. Never forget it.”
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Jillian Forstadt