Locked-Out ‘Blade’ Workers Take Their Protest to Pittsburgh

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Some 55 unionized Toledo Blade employees traveled to Pittsburgh Thursday for a noon hour picket in front of another paper owned by the Block family, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“We took our message to Pittsburgh because that’s where Blocks are,” Toledo Newspaper Guild President Lillian Covarrubias said in a phone interview while riding a bus back to Toledo with unionized employees. “I hope this sends a message that we’ll take this fight wherever we need to. And today it was their place of business.”

Five of the Blade’s eight unions have been locked out for more than six months in a contract dispute. Like another union, the Guild has not been locked out, and members continue to work under the terms of their previous contract, which expired March 21. The Blade reached a three-year contract earlier in 2006 with the electrical workers union.

For the Blade unions, the Post-Gazette was a logical site to picket not only because some Block Communications executive office there — but because the paper earlier this year reached agreements with all 14 of its unions. The Pittsburgh Guild unit on Feb. 22 voted to ratify the 39-month pact that includes pay cuts, changes to health insurance, and, for some unions, staff reductions.

“Our chant today was, ‘you settled with them, settle with us,'” the Toledo Guild’s Covarrubias said. Many Post-Gazette unionized employees joined the Blade picketers in a “great feeling of solidarity,” she added.

Covarrubias said management negotiators told the Guild at its last confidential meeting in late February that they would get back to the union. “There’s been no response,” she said. “We’re still waiting for them to call us.”

A Blade spokesperson, contacted near the close of business Thursday, did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the picket and negotiations.

While other union leaders have been quoted in local media suggesting their members get other jobs rather than wait for a settlement, Covarrubias said she remained optimistic. “I have to, just because you have to do that, or else you can’t keep on doing the things that will get a contract done,” she said.

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