Post-Gazette Guild members want publisher banned from building or searched before entry

By February 12, 2019 One Comment

By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor

Members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh have asked that Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block be banned from the building or searched for weapons before entry following a weekend newsroom tirade that witnesses described as “berserk.”

You can read our full account of the incident here from yesterday’s story. But a portion of the memo reads: “Block was screaming at the top of his lungs, raving like a lunatic and repeatedly and loudly slapping the Guild bulletin board with his hand. Block threatened to fire various managers, get rid of Mike and me and, most significantly, shut down the paper if the “goddamn Guild” did not remove the sign by Monday or Tuesday.”

A memo was sent from Guild President Mike Fuoco and Jonathan Silver, unit rep, to managing editor Sally Stapleton and Lisa Hurm, P-G vice president and general manager, on Monday. The memo came two days after Block entered the paper’s newsroom at 10 p.m. Saturday night. Block wasn’t alone on his trip, he also had his pre-teen child with him following a dinner at the Duquesne Club. Block’s goal, according to Silver’s email, was to take the child’s picture next to a newsroom sign that read, “Shame on the Blocks!” Guild members anonymously told the Current that the sign was put on a bulletin board controlled by the Guild in protest of negotiations over healthcare benefits. Block’s demeanor worried employees enough that they called union reps, Stapleton and the company’s head of HR.

In the memo Fuoco and Silver write:”On the advice of our attorney, please consider this notice that members of the Newspaper Guild who are fearful for their safety will report to work from home unless and until:  A.) John Block’s employee badge is deactivated, preventing him from entering the building and the building guard is instructed to not allow him to enter. B.) Or, in lieu of that, he consents to a search for weapons by an independent third party of his person and his office.

“Newspaper Guild members are ready and able to fulfill their duties as employees of the Post-Gazette as per the contract and will do so off-site if need be. Please know that this action, should it be taken, has nothing to do with contract negotiations and labor relations. It is solely and exclusively because people are fearful of another Capital Gazette newsroom rampage in light of John Block’s unhinged, threatening and abusive conduct. It is incumbent upon the Company to make sure all employees, managers and union alike, are afforded a safe environment in which to work. Given the events of Saturday, it is clear that John Block’s actions are unpredictable and aggressive and that he has antipathy for “the goddamn Guild.” It is not unreasonable for Guild members to fear that his hostility could could morph into violence.

“Should we not hear back from you with a definitive action plan by 9 p.m. today, we will notify our members that if they are in fear of their personal safety and they feel coming to work is a potentially hazardous working condition, beginning tomorrow they should report telephonically to their supervisor to inform them they will be working from home until this issue is resolved to the Guild’s satisfaction. Please be aware that in the absence of a concrete commitment by BCI to protect Post-Gazette newsroom employees, the Guild will have no other option but to pursue other means to safeguard our members and, by extension, our managers.”

Fuoco told the Current this morning that at lease two employees chose to work from home this morning. Fuoco reiterated that the measures and requests made by the Guild are purely about safety ad not negotiations. He said he was compelled to stress that comments made to Next Pittsburgh by John Block’s twin brother, Allan, the chairman of Block Communications, who described the newsroom blowup as a bi-product of the paper’s financial difficulties.
“The frustration over financial and other challenges in the newspaper industry led to an unfortunate exchange with employees of which I have been made aware,” Allan Block, the chairman of Block Communications Inc., told Next Pittsburgh’s Andrew Conte in an emailed statement. Block Communications regrets if anyone present may have misconstrued what occurred as anything other than an indication of strong concern and support for the legacy and future of the Post-Gazette. We want the entire staff to know that we will continue to value all of our employees and their contributions to the PG.
Fuoco took exception to the email’s attempt to make what happened about negotiations. Fuoco said they want Block treated as any other employee who had done something like this. He says any other employee would be sent home and evaluated and put into any necessary treatment before they were allowed to return to work
“This is not about financial issues, this is an issue of humanity,” Fuoco said. “We want him to get the help that he needs and deserves.
“I really take issue with Allan’s statement; he’s trying to somehow put this on Guild members. Nobody misconstrued anything that happened. We turned over photos, videos and employee statements that all match what happened that night. “This was not eccentric behavior; this was irrational behavior. Unfortunately his brother doesn’t recognize that or is in denial.”

One Comment

  • W T Koke says:

    The Guild went to far by publicizing this situation. The difficulties facing the owners and employees in labor negotiations are not helped by making
    things personal.
    I hope they didn’t poison the well.

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