A letter from Nina Esposito-Visgitis, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President

Newspaper Guild Brothers and Sisters,

The struggle faced by Newspaper Guild members in Pittsburgh certainly mirrors that of their brothers and sisters in Toledo. We’d like to share a story and (unpublished) letter to the editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that demonstrates our understanding of your frustration — so that you know you are not alone!

We are the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Local 400, the 3,100-strong union of teachers, paraprofessionals and technical-clerical staff within Pittsburgh Public Schools — the second-largest district in Pennsylvania. Chartered in 1935, we are part of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers and a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Several months ago, our union, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and many of our state officials were vocally lobbying to include teachers in the “first wave” of COVID-19 vaccinations in Pennsylvania.  In response to this outcry, the Post-Gazette Editorial Board published a brash backhanded editorial that characterized union teachers as being greedy, pushy and rather thoughtless about wanting to be part of the vanguard of vaccine recipients so that schools could reopen faster but safer.

The link below will take you to that editorial opinion in full; however, the title of their piece truly says it all: Teachers strong arm their way into shots.

This affront demanded a response from us. And the more we thought about it, the more we realized that this editorial position should not have surprised us, because disdain for unions goes back a long way with the Post-Gazette.

We’ve seen over the years that Post-Gazette owners consider their own workers’ rights, benefits and protections to be nothing more than nuisances to be ignored or exploited.  We’ve seen the paper squash diversity in its ranks as well as in their publicly expressed opinions. And we’ve watched the paper become a citywide symbol of bad-faith negotiation with Newspaper Guild brothers and sisters.

“ … What was once a thoughtful, trustworthy source of balanced debate for serious Pittsburgh issues has devolved into a bitter, often extreme  right wing bullhorn hell-bent on attacking unions, undermining workers  and parroting the right’s bullet point of the day …. ”

Read the unpublished letter in its entirety for the first time, here.

We believe our letter in rebuttal wasn’t published simply because we dared to use the paper’s history of bad faith with Guild members as a way to illustrate the owners’ disdain for unions in general.

The point is — the point of all of this is — wherever union brothers and sisters are being oppressed by intransigent management, it is our duty as union members to speak up and speak out on their behalf.

Our newsrooms need rich, deep diversity, now more than ever. Print journalism must be powered by fairly compensated workers who are both secure in their positions and valued as professionals so that free and fair reporting can flourish rather than fade. 

If we’ve learned anything from the nightmare fiasco of the Jan. 6 insurrection, it is that real news, generated by real newspeople, may ultimately be the difference between democracy and decimation.

We stand with you, Pittsburgh.  We stand with you, Toledo.

In solidarity,

Nina Esposito-Visgitis
President, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers