Labor puts it all on the line. 2022 was a banner year for union membership, walkouts and strikes


Editor’s Note: In late January, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued its ruling, finding that the owners of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had acted in bad faith during its negotiations with the Guild. The company was ordered to resume negotiations within 15 days of the ruling. A spokesperson for Block Communications provided E&P with the following statement in response: “We strongly disagree with the Administrative Law Judge’s decision and will appeal the decision to the NLRB in Washington and, if necessary, to the Court of Appeals.”

There’s something palpable happening across the U.S. news media landscape. 2022 was a year when unions gained momentum and seized new leveraging power. They deployed tactics like social media campaigns, lobbying, walkouts and strikes to garner public support and implore news publishers to the bargaining table.

Last year, members of the One Herald Guild walked off the job at the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, protesting stalled labor negotiations with McClatchy, their owner. Later in the year, union members at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram went on strike for 24 hours after talks with McClatchy stalled, too. On December 22nd — 24 days later — the strike ended when negotiations proved more productive.

It made local news when Gannett’s Rochester Democrat and Chronicle guild workers held a one-day strike in November. It caused a much bigger splash when The New York Times editors and reporters went on strike for a day.

Under the byline, “The New York Times,” the publisher reported on the December event: “The contract between The Times and The New York Times Guild expired in March 2021, and about 40 bargaining sessions have been held since. Negotiators have failed to come to an agreement on salaries, health and retirement benefits, and other issues,” the article read.

Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan held a December town hall at The Washington Post with employees. Erik Wemple, the Post’s media critic, wrote a column about it titled “Holiday gloom at The Washington Post.” Ryan had warned layoffs loomed in the new year — the equivalent of 9% of the staff, or about 100 people, Wemple calculated. The Post had just shuttered its Sunday magazine and laid off its staff of 10.

Ryan didn’t take questions at the town hall, instead remarking, “We’re not going to turn the town hall into a grievance session for the Guild,” Wemple reported.

Former media attorney and news executive, now principal of Gallatin Advisory, Richard J. Tofel, dedicated the January 12, 2023, issue of his “Second Rough Draft” newsletter to “Thinking About Newsroom Unions.” He offered advice to news media’s C-suite offices: “For newsroom leaders anxious, as many are today, to forestall the spread of unionization, the practical implications are clear. The more you both attend to your colleagues and appear to do so, the less union pressure you are likely to face. This means not only market wages but also competitive benefits, not only humane and equitable policies and practices, but also transparency about them. It also likely means a prevailing modesty in the tone of management itself. Elon Musk at Twitter (and perhaps beyond) is probably as good an advertisement for the harm that can come from the absence of a union as can be imagined.”

Pittsburgh on strike

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh voted to strike in October 2022. (Photo by Pittsburgh Union Progress)

As the NewsGuild/CWA president, Jon Schleuss keeps an office at the union’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. But he’s spent much of the past six months living in Pittsburgh and working his way around the country, advocating for local unions and lobbying for legislation. The NewsGuild/CWA’s members hail from a number of industries — news media, among others. He reported to E&P that 2022 was record-setting for memberships among media.

“I definitely wore out some shoes getting around the country,” Schleuss said. “We had more strikes, one-day walkouts or longer than we've had maybe ever in the history of the Guild.”

Asked to what he attributes that growth and the particularly contentious year between news business owners and labor, Schleuss cited several factors: consolidation, “bad owners” and the startling number of jobs lost over a decade or more.

“People are standing up and fighting back, saying, ‘Enough is enough. It’s time for us to be treated fairly,’” he said.

“In Pittsburgh, we’re literally fighting for healthcare and respect at the bargaining table,” Schleuss said.

The Toledo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are owned by Toledo, Ohio-based Block Communications, Inc. (BCI), a privately-held family-owned media company with cable television and broadband brands, too. Their newsrooms — and the Block family — are no strangers to controversy.

Post-Gazette management was criticized for prohibiting Reporter Alexis Johnson from working on stories related to Black Lives Matter because of one satirical tweet. Three days after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, reporters at the Toledo Blade told The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani, media reporter, that their work was being edited to be more “pro-Trump” and softer on depictions of the insurrectionists.

Guild President Zach Tanner and labor attorney Joe Pass are seen here prior to negotiations at the Omni William Penn on Nov. 14, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Pam Panchak / Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Zach Tanner is the president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, representing guild members at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and full-time faculty members at Point Park University. Tanner is also an interactive designer with the Post-Gazette, where he’s worked since 2014.

Under Tanner’s leadership, guild members voted to strike in October 2022. He cited a few reasons for the strike, including the “cancelation” of health insurance coverage for production, distribution and advertising employees. Block Communications contends that the company offered an alternative plan, but the union counters that it was a regressive offer beyond what employees can reasonably afford. Stagnant wages and the company’s refusal to earnestly negotiate with the union were other concerns.

Without a contract in place, senior employees had lost a week of vacation time; the guarantee for a 40-hour work week went away, and management “opened the floodgates” to freelancers and non-union members, Tanner told E&P.

The strike vote wasn’t a slam dunk for either position — for or against. The union voted by a narrow margin, 38-36, in favor of a strike.

They’ve asked the owners to reinstate health insurance coverage, set some cost caps and revert to a prior contract that was in place from 2014 to 2017. The union alleges that the owners aren’t negotiating in good faith and that they’ve prematurely declared an impasse. The parties have a case pending before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

A mere 24 hours after they declared the strike, their “strike solidarity fund” had $23,000 in donations. By January, it was over $200,000, according to Tanner.

Striking Post-Gazette employees and spectators enjoy live music on a beautiful fall day in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The union has had public support from Pittsburgh’s mayor and city council members, county elected officials and other local unions, like Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers. They’ve asked the public and local business owners to sign an online pledge to snub the Post-Gazette when asked for comment and advertising — speaking to and supporting, instead, the Pittsburgh Union Progress (PUP). Striking reporters and photographers launched the digital news site, with neighborhood-level coverage seen through the lens of workers, Tanner explained. It is a “bright spot in the strike,” he said.

PUP is also handy for keeping the public apprised of the strike

When E&P spoke with Tanner a few weeks into the strike, he was hopeful for a resolution.

“On previous union contracts, there was a page printed in the back of the book that says, ‘The Post-Gazette is a great employer.’ … Regardless of the reasons that these labor battles started and that this contract hasn’t been resolved yet — regardless of those reasons — we can set all of those aside and come to the table with good faith and really work toward a strong collective bargaining agreement. And maybe we could print that on the booklet again: This is a great employer,” Tanner said.

In late October 2022, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. spent some time with picketing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers. (Photo by Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Months later — after four unproductive bargaining sessions, an injunction against the union, and a notorious viral video that appeared to show Allan Block “slapping” a union representative with a bag of fast food — Tanner was clinging to that optimism.

“We’re still feeling energized. Being on strike is a lot of work, but it’s really fulfilling work,” he said.

The picket line is a little smaller than when it started. Tanner reported that two former union members have crossed the picket line and returned to work. Another “handful” from their ranks left to pursue other careers entirely or tapped out because they didn’t want to cross the picket line but needed to earn a wage.

“It’s awful to lose those people because they’re really talented journalists who aren’t going to be at the Post-Gazette even when the strike is over,” Tanner said.

On Jan. 4, 2023, Cars Holding, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Block Communications, Inc., announced it was acquiring the Pittsburgh City Paper — the city’s alt-weekly, published for the past 33 years.

Asked for his reaction to the acquisition news, Tanner said it was “extremely disappointing and concerning” and “monopolistic.”

E&P sought comment from Block Communications about the guild’s account of negotiations, the strike and the company's acquisition of the Pittsburgh City Paper. Our invitations were declined; we were referred to their press releases.

The standoff in Pittsburgh isn’t emblematic of what’s happening elsewhere. There have been contract resolutions to celebrate. Just before the new year, McClatchy reached a three-year agreement with guild workers at the Kansas City Star. It included raises, higher minimum newsroom salaries and other “workplace protections.”

Communications Workers of America (CWA) union members at Reuters — several hundred employees, according to the union — now have a new three-year agreement after bargaining for two years. The new contract increases parental leave time and bans non-compete clauses.

Down in Dallas

Dallas News Guild leader David Tarrant speaks with a crowd of DMN journalists and community members outside the newsroom building before the group counted union support cards. The Dallas News Guild won its union election by 75% in October 2020 and is currently negotiating its first contract. (Photo by Smiley Pool)

Leah Waters reports on equity and housing for The Dallas Morning News. She also chairs the Dallas NewsGuild, which has been in the thick of negotiating a newsroom contract with the owner DallasNews Corporation. E&P spoke with Waters in mid-January, when she felt a contract agreement could be settled within weeks.

Asked what compelled her to assume a leadership role, Waters said she came to it by virtue of numbers and a need. “We’ve had a lot of turnover in the past year and a half,” she said.

She is passionate but pragmatic about journalism today. “We’re in a tough spot. The market is really tough. Our newsrooms — the industry — feel like it's in the slowest, most painful freefall,” she said.

In the position of leading negotiations now, Waters remarked how the role doesn’t always come naturally.

“There is a culture of fear that has been indoctrinated in newsroom workers, particularly ones who are older and have lived through horrific discrimination, horrific layoffs,” Waters said.

She recounted two incidents that led up to forming a union at The Morning News, with a 75%-Yay vote.

“In January 2019, employees walked into the office after a holiday break to emails that said, in 15 minutes, they’d find out whether or not they still had a job, and then 40 of them didn’t. These were deep, wide cuts,” Waters recalled.

“That process inspired and agitated our newsroom enough to unionize, and it galvanized up to want to have a say in that process. We might not have been able to prevent the layoffs, but at least we’d have a say in the process,” she explained.

Before the layoffs, the company outsourced copyediting and production roles, which proved unfavorable among the employees and unfruitful for the company in the end; Waters reported that all of those roles are now back in-house and are union jobs.

E&P requested an interview with DallasNews Corporation’s CEO Grant Moise; however, through a spokesperson, he declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations.

“None of this is personal,” Waters said. “None of this about our boss. None of it was about our owners. I deeply respect our editors here. I deeply respect our owners here and the publishers. I find that Katy Murray [president and chief financial officer] especially has been a person who we’ve gained trust with in our bargaining process. I trust her as a competent, thorough manager, and I’m glad to work under her. No, this is about the machine of the industry of journalism that demands growth; it demands return. And when you have an industry completely founded on a return on investment, you have to cut when you are not producing the return — and so the industry cuts workers. That is what they do. They have continued to cut into our pay and working conditions, and the journalism suffers.”

“Our subscribers, the people who depend on us? Those calls never stop,” Waters said. “The need never stops. Our local journalists want to serve them, but it’s so hard when we also have to fight for what we feel are basic standards. … My colleagues and I have something to fight for, and that’s the preservation of local journalism, and we believe our employer also has that goal in mind. That’s why we’re bargaining. We have shared goals, and how we get there is under negotiation right now.”

The union is asking for a minimum entry salary of $55,000. The company has argued that’s higher than the “market rate,” but Waters said the guild based their figure on the cost of living. They’ve asked for new language about “just cause” firings and a progressive discipline policy.

Regarding paid family leave, the union has advocated for a more liberal policy, and not only did the publisher agree to it, the benefit was rolled out company-wide.

“When it’s a good decision, and they’re able to do it, they do it. And that’s why we’ve had faith in the process so far. We have rebuilt some of the trust we had lost after the layoffs. Not everything is amazing, by the way. It’s tough. We’re in the middle of really tough negotiations,” Waters said.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers rally passersby support from the picket line. (Photo by Pam Panchak / Pittsburgh Union Progress)

As with Pittsburgh and other communities concerned about losing their local papers, the people of Dallas haven’t been shy about weighing in. “They generally fall into two camps. There are the anti-union folks who insist the union is causing the ship to sink faster. And there are a lot of those people because Dallas has a particularly pro-business culture. “Everyone must sacrifice for the good of the business,” Waters said. “The problem is that not everyone is sacrificing for the good of the business. The workers are sacrificing.”

She feels the public is broadly supportive of the guild’s efforts.

“There is a certain fear in our community of losing our paper and our journalists. There are people who truly depend on our coverage, and it terrifies them that we’re being treated this way — so much so that we’d either leave or be forced to unionize. They deeply want us to survive,” Waters said. 

When E&P spoke with Waters in mid-January, she was hopeful for a resolution: “We can see the finish line, and we are racing toward it.”

“We want to save local journalism, and we’re asking for a path to do that with the company,” she concluded.

Gretchen A. Peck is a contributing editor to Editor & Publisher. She’s reported for E&P since 2010 and welcomes comments at


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