Loss of Classified Advertising department brought mixed emotions

Editor’s note: The loss of the Classified department at The Buffalo News was a huge blow to the organization as a whole, but particularly to Guild membership. Emotions were high throughout the bargaining process and after the contract was ratified. The members of the Classified department held a small, private gathering on the department’s last day.

Thank you to Irene Bernhard, Margaret “Meg” Black, Rodney Chamberlain, Beverly Gniewiecki, Katherine Gumulak, Mary “Marcy” Lombardo, Renee Mikler, Sharon Steck, Patricia Toepfer, Jolene Rucinski, Alexa Finn and Collette Allen for their service. Jackie Kuma is now working in Accounting.

Bev, Gniewecki, a longtime employee of the department, was asked to write a column to describe how she felt about the loss of the Classified Advertising department at The Buffalo News.

By Bev Gniewecki

Bitterness, anger, disappointment, fear, an odd sense of relief, and in a couple of cases, a conflicted sense of gladness.

Mixed emotions, certainly.

These are just some of the feelings that my 12 colleagues and I have experienced the last few weeks in Classified Advertising. The Guild-represented portion of the department shut down for good on Friday, Aug. 4, a decision that was reluctantly agreed to during contract negotiations early in 2017 and ultimately ratified by the union’s membership in late April. The sales and other related work we performed was outsourced to a company called Media Sales Plus, located in Williamsville and run by a former News Circulation District Manager.

Many tears were shed as we waited for the company to decide on our final exit date.  The wait was painful, stressful, seemingly neverending. As the days and weeks went by, it became more and more difficult to come to the office and perform our jobs.

Employees all over the building told me, again and again, that they “can’t believe The News is actually going to go through with this.” One day, a Classified colleague held out her hands and showed me the fingernails that she had chewed off, worrying about what was going to happen to us. Another sobbed as she spoke about how she began her career at The News as a college student, then re-lived her marriage, the birth of her children, her divorce, and, now, finally, a new relationship.

From the beginning of negotiations, both management and Guild representatives were aware that a small number of Classified staffers, all over 50 years of age, wished to stay and continue working for the paper. That’s primarily one of the reasons why there was an effort by the union to try and save the department. Sadly, the effort failed and only one of the people landed another job in the building. I truly feel for the others.

The younger, less senior, members of the department, were not as upset about the outsourcing as many of the older ones were. They didn’t see a future for themselves in the declining newspaper industry and were anxious to move on and start new careers, in new fields, elsewhere.

And early on, I believed, for a variety of different reasons, that the best thing for me was to leave The News as well.

But after the contract was approved and the outsourcing became a hard reality, my feelings changed and I wasn’t in such a hurry to move on. I began to think about my nearly 37 years working at the paper, the people I met, the friends I made.

I was at The News during the last days of the war with the Courier-Express. (Thankfully, we won.) I was there during the boom times, when the paper was earning a million dollars a week. And I was still there when times weren’t so good and seemed to be getting worse by the month.

I recalled my years of involvement with the Guild. I thought of the many Classified stewards who volunteered their time to represent in the department, and the necessary, important work we did. I thought of the various Guild Presidents and other union activists I interacted with. I appreciated the many different personalities and leadership styles and would like to thank them for all the help and support they provided to me and the rest of the Classified Department.

It has been an honor to be a member of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild. I will treasure the experiences I had for the rest of my life.