By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
In a statement issued Thursday evening, Block Communications, the owner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, says they have “conducted a review” of the Feb. 9 incident in which Publisher John Block entered the paper’s newsroom and went on a nearly 60-minute tirade against the publication’s union and its employees.
But according to that review, the company says John Block merely expressed his frustration to the newsroom staff about several issues of concern to him. we disagree with the characterization of Saturday evening’s events as expressed by the Newspaper Guild. No one in the newsroom was physically threatened contrary to published reports.
“We highly value our employees, and consider their safety and security a top priority. We have and will continue to provide a safe work environment. The Publisher expresses his sincere regrets over his conduct that evening and did not intend his actions to upset anyone,” the staement continues. “Because the Newspaper Guild has filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board concerning these events, we will not be making any further comment on the matter until those proceedings are resolved. “
However, according to a Pittsburgh Current review of statements made by the Guild and its members since news of the incident broke Monday, claims of physical abuse were never made. In a statement released Thursday night, Guild President Michael Fuoco and rep. Jonathan Silver disagreed with the company’s findings.
“The statement issued by Block Communications, Inc. late Thursday continues its peddling of outright lies and a bare-minimum effort to address a corporate crisis over the abhorrent actions of John Block in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom late Saturday,” the Guild Statement read. “BCI is offering a false narrative by blithely claiming that Block was merely expressing his frustration about several areas of concern. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no exchange with newsroom staff but only Block’s ranting and his disturbing actions–pounding and kicking the wall, smacking a Guild poster, yelling about the “goddamn Guild”–that were menacing, threatening and irrational.
“The Newspaper Guild NEVER said that Block had physically threatened employees, as the BCI statement contends. What we did say, and what the statement ignores, is that he manhandled his own terrified, crying pre-teen daughter until she was rescued by a Guild member. And that in his tirade he threatened to “burn the place down” and fire union officials and some managers.
At 10 p.m. on Feb. 9, Block entered the Post-Gazette newsroom and, according to the email, “went berserk.” Block wasn’t alone on his trip, he also had his pre-teen daughter 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. “His stated goal was to have the picture published on our front page. Block ranted about the sign and how its sentiment is now part of the family’s legacy. He lamented the several hundred million dollars he said the Blocks have lost on the Post-Gazette over the years and criticized the Guild for trying to take money out of the family’s pockets,” according to an email to Guild members Monday. “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.”
Eyewitness accounts from Guild members also outlined how Block interacted with his daughter, who was reportedly “terrified” during the incident. Following the incident, Guild officials asked that Blocked be barred from the building or searched for weapons before he was allowed to enter the building. The Guild has also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board regarding Block’s behavior.
The Guild’s statement continues:
“Despite saying it conducted a “review,” that certainly DID NOT include any interviews with the more than a dozen Guild witnesses to Block’s out-of-control behavior. Moreover, the photographs and videotapes that both BCI and the Guild possess corroborate witness reports and are most disturbing” Fuoco and Silver write. “They show Block terrorizing his daughter and his unhinged tirade. How this indisputable evidence is being ignored by BCI is beyond comprehension. Anyone who sees the videos of his railing and particularly the photographs of his interaction with his daughter will be shocked and sickened.
“The fact that the publisher of the newspaper, who witnesses said appeared to be intoxicated, was ordered out of the building by the director of human relations after a heated confrontation captured on video shows just what a dangerous situation this was for all involved.
“Finally, the only way employees have learned that Block has offered “sincere regrets”–five days after the fact–was through media accounts. These “regrets” were not issued to the staff either in written form or verbally by Block who has been in the newsroom the past two days. The Guild stands by its position that the company is showing no regard to providing a safe working environment by allowing John Block onto the premises without having a third party determine that he is not a threat to employees or himself. The notion that BCI “values its employees and considers their safety and security a top priority” is patently false and would be laughable if their situation were not so serious.”