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 the pressmen?s union, the Guild has not been locked out, and members continue to work under the terms of their previous contract, which expired March 21. In addition to editorial employees, the Guild represents workers in the circulation, accounting, advertising, and finance departments. The Blade reached a three-year contract last summer 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.”
Blade spokesperson Luann Sharp said management did not have any specific reaction to the demonstration, which she said she did not know about until news organizations contacted her seeking comment. ?I believe in freedom of speech, or else I wouldn?t be working here, so I have no reaction other than it?s their right.?
Sharp said there are no new negotiating sessions scheduled, nor any of the confidential meetings the paper held earlier with the Joint Council of Unions, which is negotiating on behalf of the five locked-out unions and the Guild and pressmen. ?We would prefer to negotiate with each union individually because there are different issues with each of them,? she said. ?Unfortunately, we?re about right where we were 12 months ago.?
While other union leaders have been quoted in local media suggesting their members get other jobs rather than wait for a settlement, the Guild?s 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.