Amid a seemingly never-ending strike of roughly 100 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette employees, now approaching its fifth month, workers and their supporters have set their sights on the paper’s owner, embarking on a concerted effort to get him removed from C-SPAN’s board.
The coordinated call-in campaign, which ramped up over the past week, comes on the heels of a letter sent by the Communications Workers of America late last year urging the nonprofit television service to drop Allan Block, chairman of the family-run media company that owns both the Post-Gazette and its sister publication the Toledo Blade.
Both the letter and the participants of the recent call-in effort cite Block Communications’ refusal to bargain in good faith with the striking Post-Gazette employees as the main reason the C-SPAN board should give Block the boot.
Additionally, they note the Block family’s attempts to manipulate their papers’ coverage to be sympathetic to former President Donald Trump, arguing this contradicts C-SPAN’s commitment to objectivity and transparency.
Neither C-SPAN or Block responded to a request for comment.
One caller, for instance, told C-SPAN anchor Pedro Echevarria that the network is “truly a beacon on the hill” when it comes to fairly covering the news, but that could all change if the station allows Block to remain on its board.
“Allan Block’s arms reach very long, and those tentacles have slowly but surely impacted coverage in Pittsburgh and Toledo,” the caller from Vermont said last week. “He supported the Jan. 6 insurrection, and this is an embarrassment for C-SPAN.”
At the same time, C-SPAN’s hosts have brushed off the deluge of calls, insisting that Block’s position on the board “doesn’t affect anything we do editorially here at the network.”
While several Pittsburgh news guild members and their supporters continue to take part in this campaign, they’ve also suggested that their calls for Block’s removal from C-SPAN’s board would cease if he returns to the bargaining table and delivers acceptable health care and contract proposals.
The strike, which features workers from five labor unions at the Pittsburgh newspaper, initially began last October after Block Communications refused to pay an additional $19 per week per employee to keep their existing health insurance plan. Instead, the paper’s management attempted to get workers to agree to health coverage that included a $14,000 deductible, which was rejected by employees over its unaffordability.
Additionally, unionized Post-Gazette workers have been working without a contract since 2017, with many employees claiming they haven’t received pay raises in 16 years. After the previous contract expired, the company declared an impasse in negotiations in the summer of 2020 and unilaterally imposed working conditions that had not been agreed to by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and other unions at the paper.
After not bargaining with the guild since Dec. 20, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board handed the union workers a big victory last month, ruling that the Post-Gazette didn’t negotiate in good faith, unlawfully surveilled workers on the picket lines, and illegally imposed working conditions on employees. The NLRB also ordered Block Communications to resume bargaining with the guild within 15 days of the union’s request.
Since then, the Newspaper Guild and Post-Gazette have engaged in bargaining sessions, but very little progress has been made. Furthermore, the paper is appealing the NLRB ruling.
The CWA, which is the parent union of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and represents tens of thousands of workers nationwide, sent C-SPAN its letter in December amid the stalled union talks. The letter was signed by 20 of CWA’s leaders, including NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss.
Arguing that Block’s presence on C-SPAN’s board is tarnishing the network’s reputation due to his treatment of the paper’s workers, the letter also links to a video of Block slapping a reporter with a bag of fast food after being questioned about cutting employees’ health care. Block’s wife, Susan Allan Block, also tells the reporter that workers should “go work elsewhere if they didn’t like it.”
C-SPAN President Patrick Esser dismissed the union’s letter in late December, noting that Block has been a member of the network’s board since 1991 and the 17-member board has “helped preserve” the channel’s objectivity by “codifying in its bylaws” provisions that prevent directors from influencing editorial content.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Schleuss—who wrote the December letter—said that while they did have some strikers call C-SPAN after the letter was sent late last year, the call-in campaign really kicked into gear last week. And now, instead of just union workers, they have supporters of the strike calling into the network demanding Block be removed.
The union has likely helped build up support for the striking workers via a petition they began circulating in recent months, which also flagged the Block family’s strong pro-Trump ties and partisanship when it comes to running their news outlets.
“Allan Block’s place on the C-SPAN board of directors combined with his editorial meddling in coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection, his brother’s grip-and-grin glam shots with the likes of Donald Trump and Mehmet Oz, and his refusal to comply with a judge’s order over his continued violation of American labor laws deeply compromises any pretense of “nonpartisanship” at C-SPAN,” the petition reads.
“Should we trust Allan Block on the board of C-SPAN, ever—much less at a time when democracy itself hangs in the balance? No,” the letter continued, urging supporters to contact C-SPAN.
Some of the guild members participating in the campaign told The Daily Beast that they “believe in what it’s all about” and what the union is “trying to accomplish with that,” especially as Block is “damaging political journalism” and “spending millions of dollars” to fight his striking workers over basic worker entitlements.
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“So by having this board position at such a prestigious journalism institution, he’s being honored and trusted in a position that he’s sort of failing at in his own backyard,” Post-Gazette photojournalist Alexandra Wimley said. “And so we’re trying to get these men to hold him accountable for what he’s doing by removing him from the board.” At the same time, though, she acknowledged that if Block were to come to a reasonable agreement with the paper’s unions, the campaign would stop.
“I think the reason we want him off the board is because he’s not helping us reach an agreement. And, like I said, that’s hurting journalism,” Wimley declared. “He should not be honored with this position on the board of an institution that is supposed to present journalism to the entire country.” She added: “So if he moved and helped us get back to work and to end up having a healthy, robust, independent newspaper in Pittsburgh, we will no longer want him removed from the board because he would have done what he should be doing in his position of power.”
Just days after the Capitol riots, Block’s twin brother John Robinson Block—who is the publisher and editor-in-chief at both the Post-Gazette and Blade—came under fire from journalists at both papers for editing the Blade’s coverage of the insurrection to appear more favorable to Trump.
“You have management manipulating reality, and it’s just so unbelievably unethical,” a Blade reporter told The Daily Beast at the time. “To know that managers in the newsroom with decades of experience would ever allow something like that to happen is so embarrassing.” Furthermore, a day after the violent MAGA attack on the Capitol, Susan Allan Block blasted out an all-caps social media tirade in which she blared “NO PEACE” and promised retribution against the incoming Biden administration.
“NO CONCESSION! NO LEGITIMACY TO A STOLEN ELECTION! THERE ARE 70 MILLION TRUMP SUPPORTERS WHO WILL NOT FALL IN LINE. THERE WILL BE NO ‘HEALING,’” she wrote. “WE WILL DRAG THIS ILLEGITIMATE PRESIDENT, HIS WHORE VP, AND ALL OF THE DEMOCRATS THROUGH THE SAME SHIT THEY DRAGGED PRESIDENT TRUMP & HIS SUPPORTERS THROUGH FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS.”