Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Guild accuses MediaNews of retaliation

The Guild today filed an unfair labor practice complaint against MediaNews in response to last Friday's firings of union organizers at the company's East Bay papers. Those terminated included Contra Costa Times reporter Sara Steffens, newly elected chair of the Times' Guild unit.

The following is from the Guild's release:
    The union's charges were filed with the Oakland office of the National Labor Relations Board following the layoff of 29 members of the 230-member BANG-EB bargaining unit, which includes the Contra Costa Times and the Oakland Tribune. Among those targeted was Sara Steffens, newly elected chair of the unit and the main Guild organizer in the Walnut Creek newsroom of BANG-EB.

    "I think they wanted me out of the newsroom," Steffens said. "They wanted to keep me from continuing to engage co-workers as we push for our first contract and they hoped this would send a message to scare people away from further union activity. But they made a big mistake -- so far it's only made our newsroom understand why it's important to have a contract to protect us."

    Guild Representative Carl Hall said the union plans to present evidence showing a "clear pattern of anti-union discrimination" against the bargaining unit. At least 20 of the 29 who were fired had been visibly supportive of the Guild organizing. No active opponents of the unionization effort were let go.

    The union's charges include three key violations by the company: selecting employees for layoff in retaliation for their protected union activities, discontinuing its merit pay system without bargaining with the union, and soliciting employees to waive their rights under the National Labor Relations Act in order to be eligible for the severance package.

    The BANG-EB unit voted for Guild representation in an NLRB-supervised vote on June 13 following a 10-month campaign. During the drive, company managers conducted surveillance, held captive-audience meetings, and made no secret of their hostility, threatening to cut benefits and freeze pay if the Guild was voted in.

    Union activity is federally protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

    The BANG-EB management denied the firings were motivated by anti-union policies.

    Representatives of the union met with management prior to the dismissals and presented alternative ways of cutting staff. The Guild did not argue against the need or timing for staff cuts.

    The Guild and management also agreed on a minimal severance package for those let go, including one week's salary for each year of service up to 12 weeks, along with three months of health benefits. The dispute at hand concerns how employees were selected for layoff.

    The NLRB will now embark upon an investigation of the Guild's charges. If the agency determines the charges have merit, it could issue a complaint seeking reinstatement and back pay for those improperly laid off.
If the company issues a statement in response, the Press Club will post it.

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