Executive Committee Meeting Minutes: April 4, 2022

President Sandra Tan called the executive committee meeting to order by Zoom at 5:05 p.m. Monday, April 4, 2022.

Motion/Second/Carried Besecker/Portman to approve the March 7 executive committee meeting minutes.

Mobilization Report

Vice President for Mobilization Aaron Besecker said the Guild is preparing to set up a text-messaging system, through the Action Network platform, to reach members. There’s a modest monthly cost and no limit on the number of messages the Guild can send but members will have to opt in to receive them. Besecker said he’s been considering how best to launch the service, to make sure more members opt into the service, and sought the input of committee members. He said the text messages will supplement and amplify Guild emails. The typical email the Guild sends out is read by just under 70% of its members. Internal data show 76% of members engage often with Guild emails, 9% engage sometimes and 10% engage rarely.

Administrative Officer Kim Leiser said there is a problem with some Guild emails going into members’ spam folders, where they sit unseen.

Tan said she sees the value of using text-message alerts to alert members to important emails and job actions. Editorial delegate Mark Sommer agreed that it’s worth trying anything to get more people to open and read their emails.

Tan then shifted the discussion to the question of the flyers the Guild still prints out and shares with members within The Buffalo News building and sought feedback from committee members. Secretary Steve Watson said, based on how many of the flyers pile up on desks in the newsroom, printing them now is a waste of paper and money and handing them out is a waste of those members’ time. District Manager steward Joan Portman agreed that it’s a waste of paper and no one looks at the flyers. Vice President of Contract Administration Scott Scanlon said, with the text-message system soon to start up, this method of communication is redundant.

Tan did say the Guild might need to employ one-one-one outreach to members who consistently don’t open emails.

Editorial delegate Mike Harrington said those members probably aren’t reading the flyers, either, while Scanlon said you can only try reaching people so many different ways.

Leiser said the Guild doesn’t have a cell phone for every member, so we’ll have to work on that.

Besecker said the next issue of the Frontier Reporter will be coming out soon.

Tan said, based on the consensus of the executive committee, the Guild won’t print out flyers on a widespread basis anymore but they’ll still be posted to Guild bulletin boards.

Grievance Report

Scanlon said Tan recently sent an email regarding Erik Brady to a group of managers including Vice President Tammy Turnbull, Deputy Managing Editor Denise Jewell Gee, Assistant Managing Editor Bruce Andriatch, Sports Editor Josh Barnett and Gusto Manager Geoff Nason. Brady is a freelance columnist for The News and the Guild has received numerous complaints from sports reporters that Brady has stepped on their toes in writing about topics that they would normally cover as part of their beats. These include recent columns involving Rick Jeanneret’s looming retirement, NCAA Tournament action and history and the announcement of the Buffalo Bills stadium deal. Tan argued the editors need to start saying no to Brady’s pitches, in cases where they inappropriately impinge on Guild territory, and they need to have a better process to ensure all editors and reporters are aware of who’s covering what. This situation is complicated, to a degree, by the fact the Guild doesn’t have exclusive jurisdiction online.

Scanlon noted this issue would be resolved for the most part if The News made him a digital content coordinator, but the company has resisted this.

Tan said this has been a frustrating process and an issue since Brady began writing for The News.

Editorial delegate Rachel Lenzi said there’s been a lack of communication from the sports editors.

Tan said she will follow up with Deputy Managing Editor Margaret Kenny to address this further.

Finally, on an unrelated topic, Tan said there was a recent example of an unlabeled sports betting item on the Buffalo News homepage. She said she’d end it along to Scanlon.

President’s Report

Tan pointed out The News was planning to hire four reporting interns this summer, including one through a Dow Jones intern program. But, she added, Lee Enterprises is making more money available to hire additional interns, as part of a company-wide diversity effort, as many as three more: on city side, in sports and in photo.

Tan said The News still plans to hire to fill numerous open reporting and editing positions in the newsroom. Some of these positions were budgeted for and were previously posted. She said she will try to get an updated list of the positions the company plans to fill.

Regarding bargaining for a new contract for Prepress employees, Tan said the Guild has had one meeting with Turnbull and Astrid Garcia, Lee’s vice president for human resources and legal. Turnbull and Garcia reiterated that the company wants to outsource nearly the entire department affecting nine workers.

The Prepress bargaining team has met to work on a counterproposal that would offer enhanced severance for workers who lose their jobs and for raises for workers in the department until and unless their positions are outsourced, Tan said. She said the Guild is waiting for more information from The News and will be meeting again with the company soon.

New Business

The Guild has received official notification, as required in the new contract, from the company that it intends to outsource positions within Inside Circulation. This shift would affect about 12 employees who take calls from customers.

Lee is offering the Inside Circ employees the chance to work remotely, handling Buffalo News callers, but only a few have accepted, Tan said. The employees will receive enhanced severance.

Leiser said the outsourcing will take effect in August.

Sommer pointed out how there’s hardly anyone left working in large sections of The News building and it’s impossible to reach anyone in customer service.

Tan said The News has offered a buyout to its six photographers, not counting its chief photographer. All six eligible photographers have requested paperwork on the buyout. The company wants at least two of them to accept the buyout. If more than two accept the offer, Tan said, the company has committed to hiring replacements.

Tan requested approval to hire Level Financial Advisors, as the Guild has done in the past in similar instances, to offer financial advice to members in Prepress, Inside Circulation and on the photo desk.

M/S/C Besecker/Sommer to approve hiring Level to provide this service to those members.

Tan said The News is eliminating the digital content coordinator/multimedia producer position in the Features department. That’s Guild member Ben Tsujimoto. The News has agreed to shift Tsujimoto to the vacant general assignment reporting position within the newsroom.

Leiser said Guild officers have gone back and forth with News management on some issues related to Tsujimoto’s transfer, including the length of the probationary period and when and at what level of seniority/pay Tsujimoto would shift from his “E” classification to the standard reporters’ “D” classification.

Tan said the Guild was preparing a counterproposal to The News’ latest offer. Scanlon noted Guild officers have coordinated with Tsujimoto throughout this process.

Finally, Tan updated the committee on the Guild’s efforts to hold another meeting of the Labor Management Committee with News leadership. While the Guild sought to have as many News managers as possible attend the meeting, along with numerous Guild representatives, the News shot this down. The News said only Turnbull and Kenny will meet with the Guild, which only can have Tan and Leiser in attendance. Tan said she’s disappointed by this lack of cooperation from the News.

District Manager steward Joan Portman said there are still a number of “down” delivery routes, and the News still is having trouble finding carriers, but the problem is better than it was previously. Portman, Tan and Leiser discussed issues related to newspaper delivery, district managers and the recent promotions of three DMs to management-level positions.

Tan noted the Guild was holding two general membership meetings on Wednesday April 6.

Scanlon pointed out that the newly redesigned Buffalo News website, following a template similar to that of Lee’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was going live soon.

The executive committee will next meet at 5 p.m. Monday, May 9.

Tan adjourned the meeting at about 6:25 p.m.

Attendance: President Sandy Tan, Secretary Steve Watson, Vice President Contract Administration Scott Scanlon, Vice President Mobilization Aaron Besecker, Editorial delegate Mike Harrington, Editorial delegate Mark Sommer, Administrative Officer Kim Leiser, Editorial nightside steward Mike Pesarchick, Editorial delegate Rachel Lenzi, District Manager steward Joan Portman, ABC steward Alva Hill, Treasurer/Typographical nightside steward Hilary Osborn.

Excused: None

Absent: Typographical nightside steward Mark Hanover, Sun Newspapers steward Francesca Bond, Editorial delegate David Robinson.