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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Must Halt Layoff Plan and Arbitrate (1)

Nov. 29, 2019, 4:35 PMUpdated: Nov. 29, 2019, 8:04 PM

The publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette may not implement its plan to imminently lay off 30 unionized employees, strip 40 of health insurance, and change work schedules for dozens more, a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled Nov. 27.

Federal courts have the authority to preserve the status quo to protect parties’ rights to arbitrate labor disputes, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania said.

Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan issued a preliminary injunction to stop the changes at the request of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local Union No. 211. The union’s collective bargaining agreement with PG Publishing Co., which publishes the Post-Gazette, expired March 31, 2017, according to the court.

“It’s a very good decision,” said attorney Joseph Pass, who’s representing the Teamsters in the case. “It’s well-written and it follows precedent set in the Third Circuit. We are very delighted with it.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has authority over federal courts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Attorneys for PG Publishing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Post-Gazette announced Sept. 30 that it would eliminate two days of print newspapers and close a distribution center, the court said. The following day, the Post-Gazette sent a “best and final offer” to the union local, The Newspaper, Newsprint, Magazine and Film Delivery Drivers, Helpers, and Handlers.

It later rejected the union’s proposed compromises and said it intended to implement the layoffs, health-coverage termination, and shift changes by Dec. 1.

Approximately 10 employees would be eligible for health coverage under the company’s new proposal while another 40 or so workers would lose health benefits, according to Pass. “There’s nothing in our contract that allows that—nothing,” the attorney said.

The union filed a grievance, and it filed suit to enforce the grievance procedure, including maintaining the status quo pending resolution of the grievance. The Post-Gazette challenged the court’s jurisdiction and its authority to enforce the expired agreement.

The court has subject matter jurisdiction to hear the contract dispute under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, Ranjan said. And the rights at issue aren’t ones the union would take to the National Labor Relations Board, he said.

The court has the authority to issue an injunction if the underlying dispute is subject to a mandatory grievance or arbitration procedure and if the requirements for injunctive relief are met, he said.

Here, the parties have an implied-in-fact CBA because they’ve followed the terms of the lapsed CBA since its expiration, he said. And the dispute over the proposed changes is covered by its grievance provision, he said.

The union is likely to succeed on the merits; will be irreparably harmed without an injunction, particularly through the risk of its members being denied adequate health care; and would bear the greater harm without an injunction, the court said.

Jubelirer, Pass & Intrieri represented the union. Littler Mendelson PC represented the Post-Gazette.

The case is Teamsters Local Union No. 211 v. PG Publ’g Co., 2019 BL 457941, W.D. Pa., No. 2:19-cv-1472-NR, 11/27/19.

To contact the reporters on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at mbarash@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com