A look back at 2012: Guild accomplishments in tough times

We all know we work in a very uncertain time in the newspaper industry.

Profits are declining, staffs are getting smaller, and the employees left are working harder while making concessions in wages and benefits.

This is a huge challenge for unions, including The Guild.

People have come to look at unions with apathy or resignation. They question what unions can do for them, especially when their representatives can’t deliver pay raises.

This is occurring as organized labor is under attack across the country.

More states are passing so-called right-to-work laws, a misleading term for anti-union measures that are really about creating a right to allow employees to be free-loaders, getting the benefits of union membership without paying for them. Such laws ultimately weaken unions and lead to lower pay and benefits.

By the way, ever wonder how the right to work movement started? Read this Institute for Southern Studies article for a perspective on its racist and anti-Semitic roots.

All of which is why, as we start a new year, it’s important to take a moment to consider the importance of sustaining unions, including your Guild.

Unions have been a force for positive changes that many people now take for granted, including the eight-hour day, weekends off, sick leave and paid vacations, job-safety laws, the minimum wage, and child labor laws.

Studies show that in the 20th century unions in the U.S. raised compensation for all workers — union and non-union — contributing to a strong middle class. Contrast that with how today’s decreasing union membership coincides with the increasing wage inequality in the country.

We often hear that the decline of unions is inevitable — the result of globalization and automation. But that’s not the whole story. Why then do unions remain strong in other countries subject to the same forces?

Another major factor usually gets left out of the conversation: the successful decades-long effort by corporations and others to weaken the nation’s labor regulations on collective bargaining and organizing rights. Unions are getting weaker — they now represent only about 7 percent of private employees — because it’s a choice we are making in government policies.

Under the circumstances, The Buffalo Newspaper Guild has done a good job of maintaining wages, benefits and working conditions.

Despite constant financial pressure over the years, we’re probably the only major newspaper left in the country where workers can still get employer-paid health insurance. We have largely avoided layoffs or major pay cuts, as is the case almost everywhere else.

Union membership doesn’t guarantee we always get what we want. It’s about having the opportunity to fight for better wages and benefits. People who don’t belong to unions don’t have that opportunity.

Union membership is also about sticking together through good times and bad. And, a look back at 2012 is a testament to the things Guild members have done to maintain a sense of solidarity when it would be easy to point fingers or throw up your hands in

Among other things we:

  • Introduced the UnionPlus program that provides discounts to Guild members on many products and services.
  • Conducted a successful three-day leadership conference in East Aurora that attracted Guild representatives from many other newspapers.
  • Followed through on efforts to engage more members, including a special informational session for part-time employees and a playing card initiative to promote Guild events and activities.
  • Expanded our community service efforts by participating in the cleanup of Red River Jacket Front Park, and raising money to benefit breast cancer treatment and the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
  • Conducted a special planning session for the Guild’s executive committee to discuss the challenges facing our local and the larger Newspaper Guild and what we can do to address them.
  • Re-started a Labor Management Committee to improve communication between management and the Guild.
  • Provided a chicken wing lunch to the staff of the Danbury News-Times, the daily newspaper that covers Newtown, Conn., where the school shooting took place on Dec. 14 in which 20 students and six adults were killed.
  • Quietly, behind the scenes, represented many members in a host of issues that never get much attention but that are a key part of the work we do on a regular basis.

While we plan for contract negotiations in 2013 and work with The News to help improve our newspaper business, let’s not forget that collective action can still make a positive difference.