PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The union representing journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is taking a strike vote. It follows 3 years of contentious contract talks. It has many concerned about the future of the paper — which has a history going back 234 years.
It’s been a crazy three years at the Post-Gazette. They’ve faced embarrassing national headlines about employee-management relations, and at the same time, they won a Pulitzer. But now, the Post-Gazette may be on the brink of a strike by its newsroom employees.
For more than two centuries, the Post-Gazette has been a respected Pittsburgh newspaper. But recently, they’ve made national headlines following allegations of racism, harassment and unfair labor practices by management.
Andrew Conte studies the future of journalism at the Center for Media Innovations at Point Park University.
He says it’s gotten ugly.
“It’s become national news — the kinds of things that are embarrassing. At the same time the Post-Gazette is winning a Pulitzer — a finalist for a Pulitzer this year — they’ve also been embarrassed by so many things that have happened over that time.”
The president of the Newspaper Guild, Michael Fuoco, says they don’t want to go on strike.
“We’ve never wanted to go on strike,” he says. “We hope that by doing so, if we do, if the membership hopes to do that, then this will be a wake-up call to the company.”
Fuoco is a long-time reporter at the Post-Gazette and president of the union that represents more than 120 newsroom employees.
“We are the heart and soul of the Post-Gazette,” says Fuoco. “We deserve dignity and respect for our loyalty, our commitment, our talent.”
The strike vote was prompted after the Post-Gazette declared an impasse in the negotiations and implemented parts of their final offer. The Post-Gazette, which partners with KDKA-TV, declined to talk on camera, but released a statement.
The Post-Gazette says it has implemented certain portions of its final offer including wage increases totaling 8 percent over three years and says employees will now participate in the company’s insurance plans.
But Fuoco says the raise doesn’t nearly cover the pay cuts they’ve taken over the past 15 years or the increased costs of health insurance.
“We don’t want a king’s ransom. We want to negotiate a fair and equitable contract for both sides. We’re willing to do that at any time,” he says.
Meanwhile, the company is gearing up for a strike. An internal email obtained by KDKA appears to encourage employees to cross the picket line, saying in part:
“In the event of a strike, the company will continue its normal operations. There will be plenty of work available for those who desire to work. Employees can strike or continue to do their work and earn a living.”
The union members are still voting. If they approve a strike, the guild’s governing union still has to ok it. But right now, both sides appear to be unwilling to budge.
“The last time Pittsburgh had a labor strike against newspapers, one of the newspapers didn’t re-emerge from it,” says Conte. “That’s one of my concerns here. Can the Post-Gazette actually survive a newspaper strike?”