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No News is Fake News

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All sides are saying less and less about the labor negotiations between the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's ownership, Toledo-based Block Communications Inc., and the daily's nine unions, whose contracts end on Dec. 31.

The quiet may be a positive sign. But union leaders also say they're making plans to take their views public if negotiations collapse.

"I don't think there's been any major strides yet," says Mike Bucsko, head of the Pittsburgh Newspaper Guild.

Tracey DeAngelo, the P-G marketing director designated as company spokesperson, would say only that "talks are progressing." But it's clear the company is asking unions for different degrees of sacrifice.

"Progress is in the eye of the beholder," says Joe Molinero, head of another prominent P-G union, Teamsters Local 211. Will the Dec. 31 deadline be met? "You never know," he says. "All I can tell you is we're meeting."

Each union "is in a different position, a different stage," Bucsko says. The paper's newsroom staff are "just talking about work rules ... but the other unions are talking about manning" and other issues concerning staff levels and work hours.

Indeed, among craft unions -- the newspaper's printers, delivery drivers and other blue-collar occupations -- Block is calling for staff reductions based on their own efficiency study.

"They didn't do that with the white-collar unions," Bucsko adds. "But that doesn't mean they don't want to cut stuff with us. If they want to get something done, we can get it done. But it's going to take a lot of work and, obviously, time is running out here."

And his union has bought Web domain names, should it need to campaign publicly for the unions via the Internet after Jan. 1 -- and more domains should they desire an alternate venue to report Pittsburgh news. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News staffs, currently contemplating a strike against their ownership as labor negotiations continue, have prepared www.philapapers.com as an emergency news outlet.

In any case, "We have contingency plans -- I'll tell you that," Bucsko says, though he won't reveal the names of the sites the Pittsburgh Guild has purchased. "We're ready to do some things if necessary. Right now we're holding them in abeyance."

In this respect, Pittsburgh employees are looking to their colleagues at their Block-owned sister paper, the Toledo Blade. Several craft unions there have been locked out for months, although the Toledo Newspaper Guild remains on the job. The unions have created their own anti-management Web site -- stoptheblade. "Do you want the Blade and it's [sic] non-union, non-family, non-American values turning this city or country into CHINA?" the site asks. "This is what the Blade wants!"

Block is countering with two Web sites of its own: starttheblade.com and truthattheblade.com. Oddly enough, truthattheblade.com depicts someone reading a fake Blade issue, featuring reports of a hurricane that, the union says, has never existed, and a fictional back page headlined "THE BACK PAGE NEWS."

As for the fake paper at the "truth" Web site -- and the climate in Toledo, which some Pittsburgh employees see as a bellwether for negotiations here -- Bucsko concludes: "I'm hoping somebody comes to their senses out there too."

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