Guild conference reflects hard times

Two thousand members lost.

Twelve newspapers in bankruptcy.

Is it any wonder why attendance at this year’s annual Newspaper Guild conference was low?

I was one of the 112 Guild members from 38 locals who did attend the TNG-CWA conference in Washington D.C. last month and I can report back that, despite the subpar turnout, the union’s business is getting done.

One of the most contentious issues addressed during the conference goes to the very root of who we are: The name of our union.

A proposal to change it from The Newspaper Guild (TNG) to The Media Guild (TMG) failed but not before a heated debate broke out.

The debate focused on whether it’s wise to remove “newspaper” from our name at such a crucial time in our industry’s history. Many saw it as a vote of no confidence in our future.

In the end, the name change was overwhelmingly voted down.

Members also debated the wisdom of holding the Guild’s annual conference in Washington, a relatively expensive convention market, two out of every three years.

Delegates authorized the union’s Executive Board to investigate the idea of separating the Guild conference from the larger CWA convention, as well as ending the union’s regional meetings, normally held at various locations in the Spring.

The alternative would be a single annual meeting outside Washington.

Conference delegates also approved resolutions on alternative newspaper ownership, the Employee Free Choice Act, federal shield law, kidnapped and imprisoned journalists and training and education for union activists.

As always, the conference featured a series of reports from Guild locals across the country that offered real-life glimpses into the state of the newspaper industry. Here are few examples:

  • A new two-year contract at the Washington Post preserves benefits for Guild members but does not include pay raises. It also gives the paper more flexibility in laying off senior employees by exempting 25 percent of any group from seniority layoff protection.
  • Guild members in Eugene, Oregon recently authorized their local leadership to engage in concessionary bargaining. The result was layoffs last month, but with new protections for younger workers.
  • The Portland, Maine Guild has put together an Employee Stock Ownership program with the new owners of several community papers in Portland.

There was some good news for labor at this year’s conference.

More than 1.5 million people nationwide have signed cards endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act.

Leiser, a member of the local’s Executive Committee and chief steward of the Inside Circulation Department, was Buffalo’s representative at this year’s annual Guild conference.