Striking for jobs we can afford – Pittsburgh Post Gazette Workers Still on Strike

When I was in college studying photojournalism, my dream was to one day work for one of the big union papers in Cleveland, Detroit or Pittsburgh. Those were the papers I saw as doing the best, most important photojournalism in this part of the country. I spent about ten years working my way up from a small paper in Ohio to larger papers in Michigan and York, Pa. before finally making my way to the Post-Gazette. I have spent the last 25 years here documenting the community through my photos and being paid enough that I could afford to stay and build a life in this community.

The Post-Gazette, like any workplace, has had its challenges over the years, but on the whole, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have spent the majority of my career in a city I love as a working photojournalist. It is what I dreamed of doing as a young photojournalist and when I look back on the last quarter century, I’m proud of what I’ve done and grateful for the opportunity to do it.

You might think I mean that I’m grateful to my employer for giving me my job, and you’d be partly correct. I am grateful to the owners and editors of the past for giving me the chance to do this work, but most importantly, I’m grateful to my union for fighting over the years to make the job I took be one that paid a fair wage and provided sufficient benefits so that I and my co-workers could afford to build our lives here — to stay here rather than hopping around from place to place in order to chase the hope of a living wage. If us and our union predecessors hadn’t worked to make these jobs good ones, far fewer of my colleagues would have stayed as long as they have. And THAT’S why I’m on strike. I’m on strike to make sure that others who follow me have the same opportunities that I have had. None of us have gotten rich at the Post-Gazette, nor did we expect to. We had a fair deal that worked for us and worked for the owners. Until they got greedy and vindictive.

Since 2017, Post-Gazette employees have been working without a contract. And while the terms of our expired agreement were to remain in place, the PG instead broke the law to imposing worse working conditions on us in 2020. In October, some Post-Gazette workers had their health care effectively stripped away after the company refused to pay an increase in costs on a plan that the PG had already agreed to.

At some point you have to draw a line in the sand. More than six months ago, we reached that point. I’m sad that it has come to this, but we really had no choice. You either fight for the jobs you want, or you watch them become jobs you can’t afford to hold.

When I explain the long and difficult negotiation process for a fair contract people ask me the same questions. Why didn’t you take one of the buy-outs that were offered in earlier years? Why don’t you move on and find another job? Why are you putting up with the stress of this when you could just walk away and do something else?

Journalism is one of those jobs that is more than just a job. It sounds trite, but it is a calling. It’s who we are. Communities need professional journalists. They need professional journalists who stay long enough to know the lay of the land and to build a network of contacts that enable them to cover their community with experience and understanding. That’s why I’m on strike.

We have been 28+ weeks without a paycheck or benefits, and we are not stopping our fight to make sure that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is home to experienced, fairly-paid journalists for many years to come. Pittsburgh deserves no less, and PG workers deserve no less.  

In Solidarity,

Pam Panchak

PG photojournalist


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