Recruiting new members and mobilizing for strong contracts were major themes at The NewsGuild Multi-Council Meeting held over the April 22-24 weekend in Cleveland.
The gathering of 60 TNG representatives was hosted by the Great Lakes District Council. It occurred as union workers at newspapers and digital operations continue to be under assault by media owners who demand more work from fewer employees who often are having to endure pay cuts, see their benefits taken away and their job security threatened.
Despite the tough times, Guild activists at the conference displayed a strong sense of unity and commitment in continuing to fight for fair compensation, benefits and working conditions, and to uphold high standards of work.
Mobilization: The Buffalo Newspaper Guild’s Colin Dabkowski and Tammy Turnbull, former service rep and now TNG-CWA sector rep, recapped, with a power-point presentation, how the Guild mobilized last year for a contract that continued company-paid health care, provided two bonus payments and staved off elimination of the Classified Department.
The 22-minute presentation included questions from others wanting to learn from Buffalo’s experience.
The presentation served as a reminder of how TNG-CWA provided $24,950 to support the Buffalo Newspaper Guild’s mobilization efforts in 2014. Another $27,860 was given in 2011 to support mobilization.
The Pittsburgh Guild also shared its successful mobilization approaches – some of which the Buffalo Guild “borrowed” – that helped them get their first pay increase in years.
There was considerable discussion, including role-playing (with the message of “answer, affirm, redirect”), on how to talk to new employees about the benefits of joining a union in workplaces that are open shops. While this is not a problem at The Buffalo News, it’s one that confronts many Guilds around the country.
- The Providence Journal is having a fierce battle with notorious GateHouse Media. Its “OUR Fight is YOUR Fight” leafletting campaign recently made four points: staff cuts threaten “necessary watchdog journalism;” advertisements are built “out of state and out of the country;” a Texas design center (where copy editing is being outsourced) is “creating a product with more mistakes;” and while GateHouse is buying newspapers around the country, the Journal staff “has not had a raise in 8 years and hasn’t had a contract in 1½ years.”
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer has seen its unit drop from a peak of 350 in 2000 to just 75 today, despite operating in a much larger city than Buffalo. In July 2013, Advance Publications, the New York-based corporate owner run by the heirs to former owner S.I. Newhouse, eliminated a third of the newsroom staff through layoffs and buyouts in July 2013. A contract concession that is now a big issue concerns coverage of the Cavaliers by the non-union and separate website, cleveland.com. An arrangement allowed that reporter to supplement print coverage, but management has now eliminated the print beat reporter and is refusing to provide information requested for the Guild’s grievance.
- The Albany Times-Union is declaring an impasse after living under 7 years of imposed conditions, and more than 8 years without a raise. The Guild is demanding full contract negotiations.
- The New York NewsGuild has been battling the Writers Guild of America, which has spread falsehoods about TWA, for new members.
- The Baltimore Sun approved a three-year contract extension. There were no wage increases, but job security was preserved.
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has seen its ranks drop from 180 to 120 in the past six months, after 45 buyouts were accepted and 15 others left. The local also suffered the loss of all 25 members at a small paper in Monessen, Pa., after it was shut down.
- The Toledo Blade is in its 22nd month of bargaining. The Guild has not had a raise in 13 years, seen lost vacation and sick time, its pension frozen, health care costs skyrocket, a two-tier wage and vacation system implemented and a 14% pay cut. The Guild reports that the company has indicated a willingness to move on several issues, and is cautiously optimistic.
- In Philadelphia, the merged Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and philly.com have merged into one newsroom after suffering the latest round of 46 layoffs. Four employees have been awarded wage and benefits totaling $450,000 through arbitration.
- TNG President Bernie Lunzer stressed the need to build alliances with social justice groups and clergy. He urged that those who can should support fellow CWA Verizon members who are on strike. There is also self-interest at work, too, Lunzer said: “You can’t expect others to help you if you don’t help them.”
- Diversity was an issue. Only two of the representatives at the meeting were African American, and the TNG leadership, while diverse by gender, has few African Americans on staff, an issue Lunzer spoke of at length.
- A Dow Jones diversity study shows a preponderance of top-paying jobs going to men. Guilds were urged to do the same and challenge management by demanding greater equity.
- A study in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News newsrooms found new hire salaries for women reporters were 16% less than newly-hired male reporters, 28 of the top 30 salaries were men and average salaries for women were lower.
- TNG-CWA has introduced an adjustable pension plan that it believes will offer greater incentive to employers to participate and provide long-term security to Guild members.
- Organizing digital media workers is a priority. TNG-CWA gave a Growth Fund grant of $478,000 to pursue the organizing of digital media workers and two-full-time special assignment organizers.