Block brothers use artificial intelligence against Pittsburgh News Guild
Striking Post-Gazette workers finished Pittsburgh's annual Labor Day parade with chants and cheers on Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. | Pittsburgh Union Progress/Steve Mellon

PITTSBURGH —Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at this, given their nasty reputation as exploitative and dictatorial bosses, but the right-wing Block brothers, owners of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have apparently become the first corporate moguls to use artificial intelligence (AI) to take away a worker’s job.

It’s happened only once, but once was enough for The Pittsburgh News Guild, whom the reigning duo at the paper forced to strike, along with four other unions, more than a year ago. So the Guild filed a grievance, under its contract, against the Blocks and the paper.

The grievance involves “use of artificial intelligence to create an illustration published in the Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, print edition of the newspaper,” the Pittsburgh Guild reported.

“A formal grievance and information request were filed by the union to PG executive editor Stan Wischnowski on Monday morning,” the Guild added.

“The Post-Gazette’s attempt to replace our labor with artificial intelligence is a serious concern to journalists not just in Pittsburgh, but all across the country,” said Pittsburgh News Guild President Zack Tanner. “As newsroom jobs continue to disappear due to corporate greed and mismanagement, we stand firmly against any use of AI that takes work out of union members’ hands.”

The paper’s advertising, production and distribution workers were forced to start a labor law-breaking–formally called unfair labor practices–strike against the Post-Gazette 16 months ago. The Blocks unilaterally ended the health insurance plan for those workers on Oct. 6, 2022, by refusing to pay the premiums of $19 per month per worker.

Twelve days later, the News Guild workers had to start their own ULP strike after “the PG’s years of bad-faith bargaining and unilateral gutting” of their contract. The contract technically expired in 2017 and the staff worked under its terms, as labor law mandated, while talks were supposed to occur. Then the Blocks killed the insurance. That forced the strike.

The Blocks have hired at least 26 strikebreaking scabs since the newsroom strike commenced, before using AI to replace one of the paper’s unionized illustrators. The Guild called it “yet another slap in the face to worker’s rights” at the newspaper. The Blocks also unilaterally declared an impasse in bargaining, a tactic an NLRB administrative law judge later decided they illegally invoked. The judge ordered them back to negotiations. They refuse.

The Blocks’ use of AI comes after prior run-ins with the 100-member news staff, even before the duo forced the strike. One of the most notorious occurred when the Blocks ordered pro-Trump changes in news stories about the Trumpites’ Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol invasion, insurrection and attempted coup d’etat. As the old contract allowed, that led to a mass byline strike.

“As the PG resists working with us to put an end to this strike, they continue to sink to new lows in an effort to crank out whatever product they can cobble together,” Jen Kundrach, a page designer and illustrator on strike, told the Guild.

“That they’ve resorted to the use of inferior, AI-generated images rather than custom art by a staff illustrator shows how little they must value the talent of their Guild staff. They’d rather squander that talent and put out a subpar newspaper than come to the table and reach a fair agreement with us.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.