Layoffs Hit Post-Dispatch Newsroom

Jun 19, 2018 by

With revenues at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch continuing to decline, Lee Enterprises laid off four reporters and one photographer at the newspaper Monday.

UMG’s contract with the Post-Dispatch allows our members to volunteer to take the layoff in place of an impacted employee.

Members hired before the 1994 contract can collect 26 weeks severance for volunteering to leave. Those hired after that can collect one week’s pay for every year worked.

Our members have two weeks to decide whether they want to take a voluntary departure. Anybody with questions should contact UMG business representative Shannon Duffy or P-D unit chair Joe Holleman.

The laid off journalists will be paid for the next two weeks while this process plays out.

One of the impacted reporters was already leaving the newspaper. And we know there is at least one journalist interested in retiring, so we’re hoping to bring at least one of the laid-off journalists back.

 

Unfortunately there is little UMG can do to prevent lay-offs, other than to seek voluntary departures and raise public awareness of the news operation’s downsizing. The Post-Dispatch remains profitable but its parent company Lee Enterprises, like GateHouse Media, is maximizing cash flow at its properties. While GateHouse uses that cash flow to pay big dividends to investors, fund acquisitions and pay massive management fees to the money guys behind it (Fortress Investment Group), Lee is using the cash flow to aggressively pay down its crippling debt.

With revenues declining 10 to 15 percent per year in the industry, Lee is slashing the corresponding percentage in costs to maintain debt repayment. As a result, papers like The Southern Illinoisan can barely operate and the Post-Dispatch operation just keeps shrinking.

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The Southern Illinoisan newsroom votes to join UMG

May 17, 2018 by

Newsroom employees of The Southern Illinoisan voted unanimously Thursday to join the United Media Guild.

The 12-0 vote means the eligible employees will be represented by the UMG as it bargains for its first labor contract with the newspaper’s owner, Lee Enterprises.

“I’m excited to take the next step in our newsroom, earning a bigger voice at The Southern Illinoisan,” said Todd Hefferman, a sports reporter at the newspaper covering Southern Illinois University athletics. “Today is a big win for local journalism.”

The Southern Illinoisan joins the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune and Missoula (Montana) Independent as Lee-owned newspapers with unionized newsrooms.

Thursday’s election was administered by the National Labor Relations Board and required a simple majority of those casting ballots for a union to be approved. Contract negotiations between the Guild and Lee Enterprises are expected to begin in coming weeks.

“I’d like to thank our hard-working and dedicated newsroom staff along with Jeff Gordon, Dean Olsen, David Carson and Shannon Duffy from the United Media Guild,” said Shawn Anglin, a copy editor who has been employed at The Southern Illinoisan since 2012. “Their expertise, guidance and support are what helped make this process go smoothly, and for that we are grateful.”

The organizing effort began in earnest after Jan. 31, when a corporate directive resulted in an unannounced mass layoff at The Southern Illinoisan. The layoffs totaled 18 percent of the newspaper’s overall workforce, three of whom were newsroom employees.

A mission statement drafted by The Southern Illinoisan’s newsroom organizers notes that the effort is not simply about benefits for the new union’s members, but about preserving the newspaper’s ability to serve as a watchdog for the region as a whole. The publication’s coverage area includes as many as 16 counties, and the cumulative effect of cutbacks over the past several years has challenged the staff’s ability to serve the region.

UMG president Jeff Gordon, a sportswriter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said: “We are thrilled the newsroom at The Southern voted to join the Guild and our fight to preserve quality journalism. We are eager to negotiate a first contract and build a constructive relationship with Lee Enterprises, just as we have here at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.”

The Southern Illinoisan’s organizing committee would like to recognize members from AFSCME Council 31, Laborers’ Local 773, Southern Illinois Central Labor Council, and newsroom organizing members from Casper, Missoula, Chicago and Los Angeles for their help and support throughout this process.

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Southern Illinoisan moves to join UMG

Apr 27, 2018 by

The United Media Guild welcomes the journalists of the Southern Illinoisan, who formerly requested representation from the local Friday.

The newsroom at the Southern will join another Lee Enterprises newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in the UMG.

Here is the news release issued by the organizing committee:

“Journalists at the award-winning Southern Illinoisan today formally announced their intention to form a union dedicated to preserving quality journalism amid cutbacks and mounting financial pressures in the newspaper industry.

“The employees have filed documents with the National Labor Relations Board stating their desire to be represented by the United Media Guild, which is affiliated with The NewsGuild-CWA. The filing will trigger an NLRB-monitored election, likely in the next 20 to 40 days.

“‘The Southern Illinoisan has provided a voice for the region for over 100 years, but I’m deeply concerned with the direction of the newspaper under the Lee Enterprises business model,’ said Todd Hefferman, a reporter at The Southern since 2003.

“If a majority of those voting cast ballots in favor, the newsroom will unionize and begin working with The Southern’s corporate owner, Lee Enterprises, to negotiate a first labor contract.

“‘Negotiating a good contract will help us continue to be a watchdog for the region and produce the quality journalism Southern Illinois demands from us,’” Hefferman said.

The organizing effort began after an unannounced mass layoff further destabilized the newsroom in late January.

“’We believe those losses went beyond the obvious human impact,’ said Greg Keller, a copy editor with The Southern since 2014. ‘We believe cuts to local journalism run counter to our mission statement of being a force for positive change in the communities we serve.’

“The fault doesn’t fall on local management, organizers of the unionizing effort said. These decisions have been imposed on the newspaper by distant decision-makers with little direct connection to southern Illinois, the organizers said.

“‘The United Media Guild is thrilled to represent the newsroom at The Southern,” said Jeff Gordon, president of the St. Louis-based United Media Guild. “Our new members there are dedicated to maintaining this important institution for the region. They join our members in St. Louis, Springfield, Pekin, Peoria and Rockford in fighting for the craft of journalism in the face of corporate cutbacks.’

“Organizing committee members have received local support from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME is the largest union representing public employees in the United States, and AFSCME has a major presence in southern Illinois.

“‘The Southern Illinoisan plays a vital role in chronicling developments of importance to those who live and work in southern Illinois,’ said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31. ‘As with any enterprise, its greatest resource is the employees who make it happen. You deserve respect and fair treatment. Congratulations on taking the surest path to assuring such treatment by coming together to form a union.’

“The Southern’s news and sports sections stands in solidarity with fellow journalists at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune and The Missoula (Montana) Independent — two other Lee papers where successful newsroom organizing campaigns have taken place in recent months. The Southern’s staff also supports newly unionized journalists at the Los Angeles Times and backs the recently announced unionizing effort at the Chicago Tribune.

And here is the mission statement crafted by committee:

“Our mission is to help safeguard the future of The Southern Illinoisan by having a voice in preserving jobs and quality journalism.

“The Southern Illinoisan is an essential provider of news, sports and advertising throughout the region. We take pride in our newspaper and its nearly 125-year history, striving every day to serve our communities and our readers.

“However, the newspaper industry is changing. More and more owners — such as Lee Enterprises, which owns The Southern Illinoisan — are making decisions based solely on the bottom line. They are siphoning away profits instead of investing in local news, sending those profits to corporate offices to reward top executives for stripping down the newspapers that mean so much to their communities.

“We, the employees, need a more formal voice in the workplace to counteract that corporate mentality and to help ensure that The Southern Illinoisan remains strong going forward. We want to form a union and affiliate with the United Media Guild. This organization represents our fellow journalists at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the State Journal-Register in Springfield, the Journal Star in Peoria, and more.

“Years of health-insurance premium increases without pay raises have resulted in the loss of talented staff members, depriving readers of their institutional knowledge and expertise about the region. For those who remain, repeated layoffs have further destabilized the newsroom, making it difficult for The Southern Illinoisan to fulfill its watchdog function and provide in-depth coverage. Staff reductions have had a direct effect on the amount of quality journalism we are able to produce, the extent of our coverage area, and even the distribution of our print edition.

“Joining the Guild is a crucial step toward being better advocates for ourselves, and, in turn, our readers. With a union and a good labor contract, we can institute more fairness and democracy in our workplace to help ensure stability.

“Our goal is the long-term success of The Southern Illinoisan. We look forward to working with our local management in achieving that goal. We are asking Lee Enterprises to recognize the United Media Guild as our representative.

— The Southern Illinoisan Organizing Committee

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Lee Enterprises-owned Casper Star-Tribune votes in the Guild

Feb 28, 2018 by

Congratulations are in order for the newsroom of the Casper Star-Tribune, an award-winning newspaper in the Lee Enterprises chain. Journalists there voted overwhelmingly Feb. 27 to join the Denver News Guild.

The United Media Guild represents employees at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the largest newspaper in the Lee Enterprises chain. Our members there have benefited from having a strong voice in the workplace during these challenging times in our profession.

Now the journalists at the Star-Tribune will have a voice in their newsroom, too. The Casper organizing committee posted the following statement through social media after the election:

“We at the Casper News Guild are pleased with the result of this vote. As we have said from the beginning, our goal is to protect and strengthen the future of the Star-Tribune, as well as Casper and Wyoming’s news, for many years to come. Since filing for an election earlier this month, communication between newsroom employees and management has been open and respectful. We look forward to furthering that cordial relationship in the months to come as we bargain with the Star-Tribune’s corporate owner, Lee Enterprises, to reach a collective bargaining agreement that benefits both the newsroom and the company.”

The Star-Tribune is just the latest newspaper to join a local within the NewsGuild, which is a sector of the Communications Workers of America. Recently journalists at the Los Angeles Times voted in the Guild.

“Journalists are taking a stand across the country,” TNG-CWA president Bernie Lunzer said. “We are fighting for quality journalism and a voice in our future.

“The media landscape is changing. Corporate owners are slashing staff and cutting resources as ad revenue shifts to Google and Facebook. But in this time of turmoil, quality journalism at the national and local level is more important than ever.”

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Lee Enterprises loses revenue, cut staff, rewards top executives

Feb 22, 2018 by

As you would expect, Lee Enterprises executive chairman Mary Junck offered optimistic spin on the state of the company Wednesday at its annual shareholders meeting.

“We have proven ourselves to be flexible and nimble at rethinking, repositioning and redeveloping all aspects of our business,” Junck told shareholders. “We see a bright future for Lee.”

Chief executive officer Kevin Mowbray was similarly upbeat. “With our proven track record of transformation, we are well-positioned and experienced to seize new opportunities and thrive in the future,” he said.

That sounds great, but revenues keep plunging. The company keeps unloading employees while still managing to pay its top executives more — including a $900,000 boost for Mowbray.

Here is the state of the company in a nutshell:

  • Revenues keep plunging due to the precipitous decline in print advertising across the industry.
  • Digital revenues were up 8 percent in the year ending Sept. 24, 2017, but not nearly enough to offset the loss of classified (12.2 percent decline) and retail advertising (10 percent). Digital advertising represented just 28 percent of total advertising. No thanks to Facebook and Google, the digital advertising boom has never arrived in the newspaper industry.
  • Circulation revenue is becoming a bigger piece of the revenue pie, 34 percent in 2017. That revenue source has remained stable, for now, but the company keeps charging more for a print product that keeps getting smaller. Digital and full access subscriptions offer some growth potential — but, again, newsroom staffing cuts keep reducing the quantity and quality of content.
  • Because Lee primarily publishes in small to mid-sized markets, its properties face less competition for content and advertising. So its revenue losses aren’t as severe as newspaper companies focused on metropolitan markets.
  • Aggressive cost-cutting across the board — news gathering, production, administration — has kept Lee profitable. The company reduced its workforce by 8.5 percent last year.
  • The company uses the bulk of those profits to pay down its debt, which shrank to $532 million at the end of 2017. Lee paid down $67.5 million in debt last year, $313 million since its last refinancing, in March of 2014 and more than $1 billion since the 2005 purchase of Pulitzer Publishing. Interest payments continue to shrink, including a $6.6 million reduction last year.
  • Lee hopes refinance some or all of its debt in the near future, with a First Lien Note due next year.
  • Lee’s stock continues to flounder. It closed at $2.55 per share Wednesday, down from a high of $5.42 in early 2014 but up from $1.15 in early 2016.
  • Lee continues to reward its executives well for all of that cost-cutting. According to its Proxy Statement, Mowbray collected more than $2.2 million in salary, stock awards, bonuses and such last year — up about $900,000 from the year before. Junck collected a shade under $2 million, up about $100,000 from 2016.

The UMG represents employees at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lee’s only metropolitan newspaper. Our ongoing challenge is to maintain the best possible news-gathering operation and most effective advertising sales force possible under difficult industry circumstances.

Our members produce the content and our members monetize that content by selling print and digital advertising and marketing services. They are the Post-Dispatch, after all, and Lee must keep investing in them to enjoy the “bright future” Junck speaks of.

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Lee Enterprises newspaper in Wyoming votes to unionize

Feb 20, 2018 by

The United Media Guild salutes employees of the Casper Star-Tribune for seeking representation from the NewsGuild.

The Star-Tribune has absorbed staff cut after staff cut ordered by its parent company, Lee Enterprises. Journalists realized they needed to gain a strong voice in their newsroom.

“We appreciate some of the benefits of being part of a large media corporation,” the organizing committee stated after filing for an election with the National Labor Relations board. “However, Lee Enterprises’ obligations to its shareholders often clash with the interests of our readers in Casper and Wyoming, who rely on the Star-Tribune for vital news and information.

“Organizing the newsroom is our way – as journalists dedicated to the communities we cover – to strengthen the local control over Wyoming’s largest media organization.

“Negotiating a collective agreement for the Star-Tribune’s newsgathering staff will allow us to create more stable reporting jobs in Wyoming, attract more experienced journalists and incentivize them to stay longer. It will also allow us to have a voice in the event of future layoffs or cost-cutting measures. Finally, it will enable us to speak directly to our readers so that any business decisions by Lee Enterprises that hurt Wyoming will not go unnoticed.”

The UMG can appreciate Casper’s concerns. We represent employees at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the largest newspaper owned by the Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises.

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UMG negotiates raises, increased benefits at Jobs with Justice

Feb 20, 2018 by

The United Media Guild achieved many economic gains with its tentative three-year agreement with Missouri Jobs with Justice.

“The staff of Jobs with Justice works very hard to advance the rights of workers,” unit chair Richard von Glahn said. “Having an employer that recognizes and values that work only drives us to work even harder and build JWJ into a successful and powerful organization.”

Business representative Shannon Duffy and von Glahn negotiated the new contract which, if ratified this week, will include:

  • A new minimum base pay of $40,000, which will result in significant raises for several employees.
  • Average salary increases of 15 percent over three years.
  • Family health and dental insurance provided with no premium costs to employees.
  • The employer will contribute $800 a year into the CWA retirement and savings account for each employee and match up to an additional 4 percent.
  • Part time employees will be eligible for health and retirement benefits at a pro-rated basis.
  • Employees will get $1,000 every Jan. 1 in a Health Savings Account.
  • Employees will receive a cell phone on the JWJ plan or up to $65/month in reimbursement for the cost of their personal plan.
  • Employees can sell back up to 40 hours of unused vacation a year at a rate of $15 per hour.
  • Employees working in “campaign mode” will earn 8 hours of vacation for every week they are in such mode.
  • The employer will establish a pre-tax flexible savings program if feasible.

Also, Jobs with Justice and the UMG will establish a labor-management process to help resolve concerns.

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UMG honors Bill McClellan, top activists

Feb 7, 2018 by

Bill McClellan and previous Hughes winner Joel Currier.

Guilder of the Year Joe Holleman addresses his fellow UMG members.

Stanley Jackson accepted the Solidarity Award on behalf of our Fight for 15 unit.

Steward of the year David Blackford.

The United Media Guild honored its top activists and celebrated great journalism at its Local Meeting Feb. 6.

Longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan won the UMG’s Terry Hughes Award, which is judged each year by a panel of former winners of the award.

Ms. Hughes, a columnist for the Post-Dispatch, was 36 when she died of breast cancer on July 22, 1991. Her writing was clear, witty and descriptive, with a flair for portraying society’s underdogs. The same could be said for McClellan’s work.

He sat near Hughes in the Post-Dispatch newspapers and was a great admirer of her work. If she were still alive, McClellan said, “she would have served as a mentor for our young journalists, especially the women.”

McClellan received his award from last year’s winner, Post-Dispatch reporter Joel Currier.

Columnist Joe Holleman, chair of our Post-Dispatch unit, was honored as Guilder of the Year. He has long been a strong advocate for all of our members at the Post, not just those in the newsroom.

David Blackford of the Pekin Daily Times was named Steward of the Year. There have been no shortage of issues to address at that newspaper — it is owned by GateHouse Media, after all — and he has helped us resolve many problems. Blackford noted that as a former UAW member in the auto industry, he learned the value of unionism and the need to step up for co-workers.

Rockford Register Star reporter Kristen Zambo was named Activist of the Year. Like Blackford, she works for GateHouse. Like Pekin, Rockford has had no shortage of problems to address while continuing its fight for a fair first contract. Zambo stepped as acting unit chair after the previous chair, photographer Max Gersh, moved on to a new job in Florida.

Our members of the “Fight for 15” campaign were honored with the Solidarity Award. That is a new UMG unit with members spanning the contiguous United States. The unit’s St. Louis-area steward, Stanley Jackson, took a bow for the group.

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