More than 60 workers have stayed home since walking off the job last Thursday, days after their health coverage lapsed amid ongoing negotiation breakdowns with management. The strikers say they haven’t had raises in years and lost their health plans because their employers “refused to pay an additional $19 per employee per week to maintain the existing coverage."
A week on, union leaders say, it’s time to up the ante.
“It's time for people to make a decision,” said John Clark, president of the Mailers Local 22 during a press conference this afternoon. “We are asking people to boycott the newspaper, to cancel their subscriptions. And we're asking advertisers to also cease to advertise.”
Five units representing workers in the paper’s design, printing, distributing, advertising, and accounts departments have all joined in on the strike. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which covers its reporters and other content producers, have been withholding their bylines but continue to work.
The guild is currently awaiting the verdict of a labor dispute hearing overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
But workers spurn the suggestion its labor tactics are driven by legitimate business concerns.
“What is so wrong in your business that you would rip the health care off of hardworking men and women who are just trying to feed their family and clothe their children,” said Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette County Central Labor Council, during today’s conference.
In a statement to City Paper, Allison Latcheran, the Post-Gazette’s marketing director, said, “We welcome our employees back at any time,” but did not expand on the terms.
“The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will continue to serve the Pittsburgh community, its readers and advertisers by publishing seven days a week,” Latcheran said.
Latcheran said the company "offered several proposals to rectify the healthcare situation, one of which included a 9% wage increase and enrollment in the company’s healthcare plan," but "none of these options were accepted by union leadership."
Workers say any gains made by accepting the raises would be offset by high premiums offered in the plan, which they say could cost families up to $14,400 per year.
Joseph Pass, a lawyer representing the unions, said instead of bargaining in good faith, Post-Gazette management has hired lawyers to fight back against workers’ demands.
“Instead of taking care of these workers, they have hired an out-of-own law firm from Tennessee, bringing Tennessee's values to Allegheny County,” Pass said.
One of several local officials at today's conference, State Rep. Dan Miller, (D-Mount Lebanon) urged the community to remember its labor roots.
"Where do you think you are? You're in Pittsburgh," Pass said. "You're in Allegheny County, we're a union town, we're going to stay a union town."