The publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is accused of going on a drunken verbal rampage in its newsroom Saturday night in which witnesses say he threatened to “burn the place down” and “close the whole paper.”
John Robinson Block, the vice chairman of Post-Gazette owner Block Communications Inc., is facing a federal labor complaint over the incident. Employees described Block as “ranting like a madman” as he blasted their union and threatened staff, all while forcibly tugging along his sobbing 12-year-old daughter, according to local news outlet The Incline.
Several employees recounted the scene to the newsroom’s union, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which published the accounts on Wednesday after Block’s company downplayed the situation as “an unfortunate exchange.”
“Block Communications regrets if anyone present may have misconstrued what occurred as anything other than an indication of strong concern and support for the legacy and future of the Post-Gazette,” Allan Block, John Block’s brother and the chairman of BCI, said in a statement to The Incline. “We want the entire staff to know that we will continue to value all of our employees and their contributions to the PG.”
A representative for BCI, which also owns Ohio’s Toledo Blade newspaper, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
According to the published accounts, Block arrived at the newsroom around 10 p.m. and took issue over a sign reading “Shame on the Blocks!” that was posted on the Guild’s newsroom bulletin board. The sign had been posted to protest the company’s refusal to cover price increases in employee health care costs and 13 years without raises.
Block ordered that the union sign be taken down or “he’d close the whole paper,” paginator Alex Miller recalled to the Guild.
When that didn’t happen, Block allegedly grabbed his daughter and ordered that a staff photographer take a picture of them in front of the sign for the next day’s front page.
“She was screaming that she didn’t want to, crying hysterically and red-faced. I felt terrible about what I was watching,” recounted reporter Andrew Goldstein.
“He yelled at his daughter, up to her face: ‘You’re a Block don’t you forget it. You’re a Block, you’re not one of them,’ repeatedly as he firmly jabbed his finger into her shoulder,” web editor Marianne Mizera said. “It was clear he was intoxicated.”
Goldstein also described hearing these comments.
“He was screaming in his daughter‘s face about the Block family legacy: ‘Do you want to be high class or low class? You’re a Block, you’re one of us! You have to learn how to lead!’” he said. “She was shaking and saying that she didn’t want to.”
He was screaming in his daughter‘s face about the Block family legacy: ‘Do you want to be high class or low class? You’re a Block, you’re one of us!'
Miller said the way Block acted would have gotten “any ordinary employee fired on the spot and escorted out of the building for everybody’s safety.”
“He appeared totally out of control. He was loud and violent, and it was frightening to witness because he was so erratic. There was no way for anybody to know what he might do next,” he said.
In addition to creating a disturbance, Block allegedly threatened to fire employees “for engaging in union or other protected concerted activity, and to discourage such activities,” according to the guild’s complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, the Post-Gazette reported.
Block reportedly returned to the newsroom on Wednesday while accompanied by the paper’s editorial director Keith Burris. There was reportedly no apology or acknowledgment to the staff from Block about what happened, according to the Guild.
Burris did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
This is not the first time Block’s actions have made news outside of his paper. Last year he ignited outcry for firing an editorial cartoonist who complained that his sketches that criticized President Donald Trump were constantly being pulled. The firing of Rob Roger drew condemnation from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
The Poynter Institute also reported on Block’s apparent push to move the paper’s content “to the right” last June, while highlighting other of his editorial decisions, including ordering an editorial on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that questioned racism.