By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
The workers in the mailroom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette may have the highest concentration of employees with the most longevity.
Of the 38 employees, half of them have more than 40 years of service with the company. The other 50 percent are newbies, they only have 25 years or more at the paper. For those unfamiliar with the job, these workers handle the paper once it comes off the press. They put in inserts, they bundle the product and they get them to the truck. And they do that for every publication printed at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (including the Pittsburgh Current in the pre-COVID world).
These workers are old school newspaper people. They’ve been around and they’ve watched the industry change over the years. So, it only made sense that when the union held a strike authorization vote over the weekend, it was done old school.
“We met in a parking lot,” said Steve Stasenko, president of the Pittsburgh Mailers Local 22/CWA Local 14842, and a 43-year veteran of the paper himself. “We told them where we were in terms of negotiations and told them that the company said it made its last best offer. The offer isn’t a good one, I asked if they wanted to hold a hand vote on whether or not to authorize a strike. They said yes and a strike authorization was approved unanimously.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going on strike, necessarily, but it’s certainly the first step in that process.”
Labor issues at the Post-Gazette are nothing new. In fact over the past few years, things have been downright nasty. The last contract expired in 2017. Employees across the board haven’t had a raise in 14 years and have actually given back salary in the form of benefit compensation. And while things have been bad for awhile, all indications are that they are probably going to get a lot worse.
In mid-May, the P-G announced it was offering buyouts in an effort to cut the newsroom by 24 employees. By the mid-July deadline, 14 employees decided to leave including features writer Sharon Eberson, columnist Brian O’Neill, Photographers Darrell Sapp and Michael Santiago, courts reporter Paula Reed Ward, and business writer Steve Twedt. At this point, there is no word on layoffs are coming, but the newsroom is in the process of taking a strike authorization vote of its own.
On July 27, Post-Gazette management declared an impasse in negotiations with the Newspaper Guild, which represents editorial employees. They then imposed working conditions that Guild President Mike Fuoco says, “strips us of many of the rights and benefits the Guild has negotiated in good faith over the last 85 years. We no longer have a contract.”
What they have done — bargain in bad faith for more than three years, declare an impasse when there was none, impose conditions based on a non-existent impasse — is not only morally wrong it is not lawful under the National Labor Relations Act but they do not believe in the rule of law,” Fuoco said. “We have filed Unfair Labor Practices charges about their actions but as we’ve seen in the past, even if we receive a positive ruling from the NLRB’s Pittsburgh regional office, they will appeal and appeal and appeal until they get a ruling to their liking from the Trump-appointed board in Washington, D.C.”
The P-G ran a small un-bylined story about the newsroom impasse on July 28 entitled “Post-Gazette implements new contract.” And while an impasse was declared with News Guild members, Stasenko says that final ultimatum has not yet been issued to his union, and he says while the union wants to continue negotiating, he would not be surprised if an impasse is declared by the P-G against his bargaining unit.
Both unions have the same problems with the company’s “final offer.” That offer includes major cuts and increased contributions to healthcare benefits, a reduction in vacation and sick/personal time and the ability of management to layoff employees at will and with a total disregard for seniority and without severance.
It’s not a good deal for workers, Stasenko says, and it effectively eliminates unions at the paper.
“We have negotiated concessionary contracts with the company between 2007 and 2013,” Stasenko says. “I think we have a proven track record of good-faith negotiating.
“But this final offer isn’t a reasonable offer at all. If we were to sign this deal, then there’d be no reason for us to collect union dues because this offer eliminates any right that we have to collective bargaining. It would essentially kill the union.”