Friday, May 2, 2008

Majority signs union cards at CC Times

A "strong majority" of newsroom workers at the Contra Costa Times and other papers that are part of Dean Singleton's Bay Area News Group-East Bay have signed cards indicating they want to be represented by the Guild, according to union organizers.

Organizers didn't give an exact number of those signing cards in the 250-person bargaining unit.

"We are well above the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win a secret-ballot election. We waited to file until our margin got big enough that we knew we would win," organizer Sara Steffens said in an e-mail to the Press Club.

"The former Contra Costa Newspapers have always been non-union, so this is a really big step for everyone here," said Steffens, a CC Times reporter.

Management has said that it will not recognize the union based on a counting of cards, so an election with secret ballots will take place this summer, the statement said. Here's the complete statement issued today by Steffens and fellow reporter Karl Fischer, who are leading the unionization effort:
    OAKLAND -- Journalists leading a guild organizing effort at the Bay Area's largest newspaper chain petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for formal recognition as a union today.

    A strong majority of newsroom workers employed by Bay Area News Group-East Bay (BANG-EB) signed guild authorization cards in recent weeks. The organizing campaign's leaders submitted those cards and other paperwork at the NLRB office in downtown Oakland.

    "I'm incredibly proud to be part of our newsrooms today," said Steffens, an award-winning reporter at The Contra Costa Times and a co-chair of the campaign. "It's heartening to see so many of us come together, during these turbulent times in our industry, saying 'We deserve a seat at the table.' Tough decisions need to be made, but we want to be part of building our future."

    About 250 guild-eligible employees work at the chain's publications, which are owned by Denver–based MediaNews Group and include nearly every daily newspaper that circulates in the Bay Area. Those signing guild cards seek representation by the Northern California Media Workers Guild, a local of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America.

    A separate Guild local already represents MediaNews employees at The San Jose Mercury-News.

    Last August, MediaNews merged the former ANG Newspapers, which included the Oakland Tribune and four other dailies, with the non-union Contra Costa Newspapers. The shift allowed the company to dissolve a 20-year-old guild bargaining unit that represented ANG and end in-progress contract talks with workers.

    In response, journalists from across the newly consolidated East Bay chain have formed a new union, dubbing their campaign "One Big BANG: One Guild Universe."

    Because BANG-EB management has already stated that it would not recognize the union based on a simple counting of the cards, the NLRB will likely oversee a secret-ballot polling of workers this summer to ensure most support the guild.

    "A strong majority has spoken. We must work together more actively to solve the problems facing our company and our industry," said Richmond police reporter Karl Fischer, a co-chair of the organizing committee. "We can help to make our papers both excellent and efficient. We know our managers share those goals."

    More details of the organizing campaign can be found on the campaign's Web site: http://onebigbang.org.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

When McClatchy bought Knight Ridder, CEO Gary Pruitt then had to decide which papers to sell off to pay down some of the debt he was taking on. He decided to sell off the unionized papers because they were worth less. That included the Merc, but not CCN. The Merc was unattractive for other reasons, too, such as its dismal sales in what is otherwise a strong advertising market. Nobody wanted to take the Merc off of McClatchy's hands. Pruitt decided to package other Knight Ridder assets in the area including the Contra Costa Newspapers with the Merc to create a more attractive package for buyers. It was a painful decision for him, he said, because McClatchy could have used a sister paper to the south of the SacBee. But the CCN was seen as a winner for a lot of reasons including its non-union shop.

Now, after what a year and a half of Singleton's management, CCN has the same problems as the Merc. CCN employees think they're being screwed by Singleton, but imagine what his investors must be thinking right now.

George said...

If you want to be fair in your reporting, you should follow up another story about how there is a budding effort at the newspapers to keep our publications union free.

Employees wear buttons every day that say "union free."

***One of our biggest concerns: The union bosses at our newspaper may force us to be fired if we don't join the union.

***Another concern: We anticipate that the union bosses will kill our pay raises because that's the typical outcome during negotiations for a first-time contract. We will continue to receive performance reviews. Some of those reviews could easily be quite positive. However, we would no longer actually receive any pay raises.

Knight Ridder and the newspaper guild killed pay raises at the Monterey Herald, and that practice continued under MediaNews.

MediaNews and the Newspaper Guild killed pay raises at ANG during the first contract. People went 11 years with no pay raises.

And MediaNews and the Newspaper Guild killed pay raises at the York, Pa. papers. I believe those pay raises remain dead in York at this time.

And the union bosses who control the workers at the York paper continue to insist that journalists be fired if they do not formally join the union bosses.

Things indeed look ominous for journalists in the East Bay. Journalists must ponder the prospect of union bosses demanding they be fired if they don't join the union, and union bosses enabling the death of pay raises for journalists.

-George Avalos - Bay Area newspaper reporter

Comment by George Avalos - May 7, 2008 @ 06:12 PM

Anonymous said...

George, no question the guild is totally screwed up. Look at the reasons behind the ouster of Linda Foley. The fact that your fellow employees would feel it is necessary to join such a messed up organization should tell you how desperate they are! They feel that they have no choice. Singleton's reputation as a cheap skate who runs newspapers into the ground is well known.

If the CCN were a standalone business, would it be on the verge of Chapter 11 right now?

The only way to stand up to him is form a union. It's either that or quit. And they're quitting too.

As for those "union free" buttons---I'd wear one too so that my bosses would think I'm on their side. That's called buying insurance. But fortunately this is a SECRET BALLOT. I suspect most non-management types wearing "union free" buttons will be voting for the union. They just fear retaliation and will keep their true feelings secret.

George said...

*****
Anon:
George, no question the guild is totally screwed up.
*****
George: I completely agree

*****
anon:
The fact that your fellow employees would feel it is necessary to join such a messed up organization should tell you how desperate they are! They feel that they have no choice.
*****
George: There is a choice. People can choose to remain union free.


*****
Anon:
Singleton's reputation as a cheap skate who runs newspapers into the ground is well known.
*****
George:
What should definitely be well known is the newspaper union's reputation for capitulation to management.

Just ask the hundreds of folks who have been sent out the door as a result of deals made by union bosses at the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and Alameda Newspaper Group.



*****
Anon:
If the CCN were a standalone business,
*****
George: What ifs are for children.

The reality is that the standalone horse fled the barn, went over the hill, headed out to the plains and started a family in a Knight Ridder galaxy long long ago and far far away.

*****
Anon: would it be on the verge of Chapter 11 right now?
*****
George: Our paper is still profitable, stand-alone or otherwise.

*****
Anon: The only way to stand up to him is form a union. It's either that or quit. And they're quitting too.
*****
George: Free markets, free minds

*****
Anon:
As for those "union free" buttons---I'd wear one too so that my bosses would think I'm on their side. That's called buying insurance.
*****
George:
so when people buy auto insurance, they're being deceptive?


*****
Anon: But fortunately this is a SECRET BALLOT.
*****
George: I agree. That way the union bosses will find it more difficult to intimidate people who don't agree with them.

*****
Anon:
I suspect most non-management types wearing "union free" buttons will be voting for the union. They just fear retaliation and will keep their true feelings secret.
*****

George: I personally know numerous folks who want to be union free and wear their buttons or make their views well known. I can assure you that these folks are not afraid of anyone. They're not afraid of the president, they're not afraid of the senators who are running for president, they're not afraid of the dog catcher, and they're not afraid of anyone in-between.

So they're certainly not afraid of management. And they're certainly not afraid of a union that can't shoot straight and has demonstrated it is completely ineffective in producing any meaningful change.

If you ask specific questions of the union bosses in the East Bay, or the union bosses on Natoma Street in San Francisco, or the union bosses in their fancy offices in their Washington, D.C. high rise, all you will get are vague replies. "We'll check with the members" "We'll have to see" "That would be for contract negotiations"

I would ask the union bosses these questions, none of which they have been able to answer:

1. will the union bosses demand that our newspapers fire rank-and-file workers if they don't want to pay dues to the guild?

2. will the union bosses cancel pay raises for ordinary, hard-working journalists year after year?

3. Will the union bosses, after a decade of negotiations, simply capitulate -- like the union bosses did the first time at ANG -- and just say "Sorry. We know this contract sucks. But this was the best we could get."

If they don't -- or won't -- answer, shouldn't that trouble you?

-George Avalos
Bay Area News Group
925-977-8477