Labor Officials To Seek Injunction Against Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If granted by a judge, the injunction would be a major boost to the newspaper’s workers who’ve been on strike for 18 months.

Labor officials have received a green light to pursue an injunction in federal court against the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper for allegedly violating its employees’ rights.

A spokesperson for the National Labor Relations Board confirmed to HuffPost that the agency approved a request by a regional director in Pennsylvania to seek the temporary injunction. The petition is likely to be filed in federal court in the coming days.

Journalists and production employees have been on a grueling 18-month strike amid a battle with the newspaper’s owners, Block Communications.

An administrative law judge at the NLRB ruled last year that the Post-Gazette failed to bargain in good faith, and that it illegally imposed work conditions on the newsroom’s union, an affiliate of the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America. The union says the company left workers with significantly higher health care costs, less vacation time and weaker job protections.

“It’s been a long wait, but this is a big relief for us.”

- Natalie Duleba, striking Pittsburgh Post-Gazette worker

Depending on the scope of the injunction request, the labor board could ask that a judge order the newspaper back to the bargaining table with the union, or force the paper to rescind changes it made to employees’ work terms without the union’s approval.

“It’s been a long wait, but this is a big relief for us,” said Natalie Duleba, a designer at the paper who’s on strike and serves as the local union’s secretary. “The ultimate goal is us getting back in the office. That’s always been the goal ― to get back to work, just under fair working conditions.”

The board tends to seek injunctions against employers only under special circumstances, when officials believe they need to stop ongoing “unfair labor practices” while a case is being litigated.

A spokesperson for the newspaper did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The union’s contract with the Post-Gazette expired in 2017, and the two sides were unable to come to terms on a new agreement. In 2020, the newspaper announced they had reached an “impasse” and imposed working terms on the union, according to labor board filings.

The administrative law judge found the newspaper had declared the impasse prematurely and refused to bargain, and that it had led union activists to believe they were being illegally surveilled. The latter finding stemmed from an incident involving security guards at a 2020 protest outside the home of publisher John Block.

In a separate case, an arbitrator ruled that the Post-Gazette had to reimburse employees for higher health care premiums. The company challenged the finding, but a federal judge and an appeals court later ruled in the union’s favor. The company was ordered to pay out more than $100,000 to employees.

The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh on Aug. 26, 2016.
The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh on Aug. 26, 2016.
Raymond Boyd via Getty Images

More half of the newsroom walked out when workers went on strike in October 2022, said Zack Tanner, president of the newsroom union. The paper hired at least two dozen replacement journalists ― “strikebreakers” or “scabs” in union parlance ― to continue publishing, according to Tanner.

Strikers have been getting by on $400 weekly strike pay from the union and, in many cases, new work they’ve had to take on. The union has also distributed money through a hardship fund it’s raised with donations.

Strikers have continued doing journalism through their strike publication, the Pittsburgh Union Progress.

Tanner said the work stoppage has been difficult for people not just financially but emotionally as well.

“Seeing the [labor] board finally moving on this is a real shot in the arm to everybody,” he said. “The Blocks are going to have to pay for what they’ve done here.”

The Post-Gazette strike has involved five separate unions ― the one for the newsroom and four others representing production, advertising and distribution workers.

One of those unions, a Teamsters affiliate, reached a deal with the company last week in which it agreed to dissolve itself, Pittsburgh NPR affiliate WESA reported. An official for that union told the station there were only 23 members left and they wanted to accept severance pay and move on with their lives.

WESA reported that the agreement had been negotiated in secret, infuriating the other unions that remain on strike.

Given the recent events, Duleba said the board moving for an injunction against the paper serves as a real “pick-me-up.”

“We all believe in our eventual victory here,” she said. “That hasn’t waned for me, even with last week.”

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