Thursday, December 20, 2007

Health care cost hike helps union effort

The Guild's $500,000 campaign to unionize workers at the combined Contra Costa Times-ANG newspapers wasn't attracting much interest from employees until last month when their health care premiums jumped, the SF Weekly reports. Employees quickly discovered that the increase wasn't as sharp for unionized employees at the Mercury News, which is also owned by MediaNews. Now, the unionization effort is gaining momentum, the SF Weekly reports. The Weekly quotes one unnamed Contra Costa Times employee as saying she might become the newsroom's Norma Rae, who would lead the effort to organize workers like the textile worker played by Sally Field in the 1979 movie. The would-be Norma Rae is quoted as saying:
    "Every day some new crap happens that nobody can believe. We always felt protected here because the Times was profitable, but health care increases showed us how vulnerable we are. MediaNews is going to do what suits them and we really don't matter."
Now Chronicle reporter and union organizer Carl Hall (pictured at Guild headquarters in San Francisco) says he is convinced he has enough support to call for an official vote, which requires 30 percent of BANG employees to sign cards saying they want the Newspaper Guild to represent them. But actually winning a vote is much more uncertain. "If we held the election today, we'd have 100 votes," he says. "We need 50 more." By the way, Hall is taking six months off from his job at the Chronicle in order to work full time on organizing the Times-ANG news operation.

The SF Weekly says management held a Nov. 5 seminar for top editors to give them talking points if the union campaign comes up: Editors first assure the employees that it is absolutely their right to unionize. Next, they should seamlessly segue into the poor financial health of the newspaper industry and how there is nothing a union can do about that. Finally, they should politely bring up how the ANG union did so little for its members. Wages and benefits in the previously unionized ANG newsroom were about the worst in the Bay Area.

The Guild says it wants to cooperate with management and work to reinforce quality journalism. MediaNews chief executive Dean Singleton is skeptical, saying:
    "I've been in the newspaper business for three and a half decades, and I've never had a union work for me. Management has its own responsibilities, and for the life of me, I've never seen a union contribute to those."
(Photo credit: Jen Siska, SF Weekly)

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