Q&A: NewsGuild President Bernie Lunzer

As The Buffalo News prepares to begin bargaining next month, Guild member Mark Sommer sat down for a chat with The NewsGuild President Bernie Lunzer on April 23 at the TNG-CWA Multi-Council Meeting in Cleveland.

Sommer: We’re starting contract negotiations next week. We don’t know all the issues yet, but we know health care will be on the table. We still have 100% company-paid health insurance. How unusual is that?

Lunzer: Very. You may be the only one left. Off the top of my head I can’t think of another, actually.

Sommer: So that alone is been quite an achievement.

Lunzer: It’s really phenomenal, it’s great. It shows solidarity, and it shows the members have really stood behind the contract.

Sommer: You’re very familiar with our Guild. Would you say we have more than held our own in recent negotiations?

Lunzer: Absolutely. I have always felt the Buffalo Guild is a unique place where the culture keeps recreating itself, and it really is a culture of involvement. The leaders will change, but the strength remains. For whatever reason, the culture has maintained itself, and that’s where the real strength is.

Sommer: It’s helped that we haven’t had layoffs, had our benefits slashed or seen the other kinds of cuts so many other papers have had.

Lunzer: Buffett is famous for picking newspapers that I call basically isolated and successful and that are still profitable, and in areas that advertisers still want to be in. I think he learned that in part in Buffalo.

Sommer: It took us 18 months to get our last contract. We turned back all of the concessionary proposals, but it was very time consuming and we’re now gearing up to start the next period of bargaining.

Lunzer: All managements are going to test the Guild right now. The best situation is when a management finds a weak Guild and they are able to get what they want. Sadly, and this is going on with the Verizon strike – issues that in the past would come off the table near the end employers are leaving on the table. The unit should recognize it may run into a more difficult time in this round.

It’s not because you’re not profitable, it’s just because, let’s face it, culturally in America right now everything is swinging for management still, and you have to push back against it.

Most newspapers are feeling the pinch, no question about it. Some of it is self-imposed, some of it not. I think that if they show us the numbers and they need accommodations, that’s fine, but those days are almost over. They don’t show us the books, and they want things just because they want them.

Sommer: Anything you’d like to say to the younger members?

Lunzer: Journalism is changing and I think younger people understand that better than anyone. I would say that they should always make sure that they are getting wages that are respectful of who they are. In Buffalo they probably are, but in a lot of places they aren’t.

The important thing for younger journalists to understand is they are the ones that are going to preserve and fight for the quality of the craft. The publishers are not. So it’s really up to the journalists, and especially the younger journalists.

Sommer: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Anything else?

Lunzer: You’re going through a time of transition. Someone stole Tammy, your past administrative officer – uh, we did – but as I said before, you’ve always had great people in your unit, you constantly renew yourself, so stay strong, come to the National with any help you need, and you’ll get through it.