Newspaper Owner Slaps Union Organizer With Burger Bag At Ohio Rest Stop Amid Labor Strike
10:15 AM EST on November 22, 2022
On Saturday evening, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher and co-owner John Robinson Block celebrated his wedding at a swanky downtown Pittsburgh venue called the Duquesne Club. Inside, Block, along with his twin brother and newspaper co-owner Allan Block were said to be marking a joyous occasion. Outside the club, more than than 120 Post-Gazette employees, newspaper guild members, and community supporters rallied to protest the Block family's cartoonishly villainous strangling of a vital regional news source.
For years, the Block brothers—staunch conservatives who inherited the family news business, Block Communications—have been parodies of greedy news media moguls. The Blocks, who are facing multiple unfair labor practice charges for violating workers' rights, haven't issued across-the-board raises for employees in more than 15 years, unilaterally imposed new working conditions of staff, and eventually cut workers' healthcare, all while blowing what the union estimates to be millions of dollars on anti-union consultants and lawyers. John Block is best known for a 2019 incident in which he reportedly showed up inebriated to the Post-Gazette newsroom late at night with his pre-teen daughter in tow, screamed at workers for wanting a fair contract, and told his crying child, "Do you want to be high class or low class? You’re a Block, you’re one of us! You have to learn how to lead!" Allan Block, meanwhile, the CEO of Block Communications and Republican mega-donor, was—until yesterday, at least—best known for talking to an Observer reporter about his pilgrimages to Manhattan to hunt for a wife. ("I think the female part of the population has been waging a war against the male part. There was never a deliberate effort to hold women down. Feminism is basically wrong," he said in 1999.) He now evidently spends his time sharing far-right theories with CJR and attempting to denigrate his own workers, who he characterized as wanting to "lead the revolution."
In reality, Post-Gazette workers would settle for a fair contract, affordable healthcare, and for ownership to bargain with workers in good faith.
"Throughout this whole process, before the strike, we gave the company the opportunity to meet some pretty basic demands of lifting the imposed work rules that they illegally put onto us, and giving us our old contract back and just getting back to bargaining," Pittsburgh Guild President Zack Tanner told Defector. "[If they had] the strike wouldn't have happened."
This was the message expressed during the rally at the Block wedding, which turned out to be a lively afternoon for the workers, who have been on an unfair labor practice strike for more than a month, during which time they've been picketing newspaper offices, publishing a strike publication called Pittsburgh Union Progress, and encouraging readers to cancel their Post-Gazette newspaper subscriptions. Last week, the union had two bargaining sessions with ownership representatives, the first in two years. Tanner said lawyers for the company ignored the union's asks, namely to reinstate the terms of the 2014-2017 contract, and instead attempted to present a collective bargaining agreement that the workers had already rejected two years ago.
"The only difference was that they scratched out a couple of dates and references to things that has happened either in 2020 or 2021 and therefore just weren't relevant anymore," Tanner said. "It had absolutely no wage increases in it, all it did was enumerate the current wage scale. It had absolutely no changes to the healthcare plan, a healthcare plan that is wildly expensive and unaffordable for workers who haven't had a raise since 2006."
Those assembled outside the wedding were joined by scabby the rat in a veil and they unboxed a wedding cake that read "congRATS John R. Block," though event security declined to allow workers to deliver the cake to the reception. While picketers didn't come face to face with the barricaded Blocks on Saturday, a chance meeting at a rest stop the following day provided a golden opportunity.
Nolan Rosenkrans, a union organizer with the NewsGuild of New York and a former staffer at the Blade of Toledo, which is also owned by the Block family, was driving back from Pittsburgh, where he had attended the wedding rally, to Toldeo where he lives. He pulled off the highway to use the bathroom at a rest stop.
"I came outside and I ran into Allan Block, who I guess decided to stop at the same rest stop that I did," Rosenkrans told Defector. "I was so surprised, I didn't know what to say. I literally just went, 'Allan Block!' He said, 'Go to hell! Go to hell!' And then he walked over to Wendy's and met up with his wife, Susan Allan Block. I waited for them to order and picked up my phone. I knew I had to say something."
Rosenkrans said he approached Block when he left the fastfood counter.
"And then you see what's on the video recording," he said.
Rosenkrans asked why Block won't reach an agreement with his workers to which Block snarled, "Fuck you," while swiping at Rosenkrans's phone with his burger bag. He repeated "Fuck you" and lashed out again, this time making contact with Rosenkrans, who continued to record. Block then sputtered something about Rosenkrans not having permission to film, Susan Block said workers' claims about healthcare is "all a lie," and then said if workers don't like their job they can just leave. "How about you be ethical owners?" Rosenkrans asked on the recording as the Blocks walked silently towards the parking lot.
"I got hit with a bag of fucking burgers by Allan Block!" Rosenkrans told Defector. He plans to report the slap to police, as he said ownership and newspaper management have been quick to call the cops on workers for doing things like taping fliers on executives' doors.
A company spokesperson declined to answer Defector's questions about Block hitting a union organizer with a fast food meal; instead, she sent a statement about how the union workers are using intimidation tactics.
Such a response was, as Tanner put it, par for the course given management's attitudes toward workers.
"If, at the bargaining table, they're going to ignore us. And while we're on the streets, striking and picketing the facilities, they're going to ignore us there," Tanner said. "You know, we're going to have to make noise in other ways."
He emphasized the importance of the workers ramping up their actions.
"I think it's pretty clear that when the CEO slaps a NewsGuild rep with a bag of hamburgers at an Ohio turnpike rest stop, they're paying attention," Tanner said.
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