Lee Enterprises closes Missoula Independent after it unionizes

Sep 13, 2018 by

Journalists at the Missoula Independent organized with The NewsGuild hoping to save that alternative weekly.

But rather than negotiate a first contract with journalists at the Independent, Lee Enterprises decided to shut it down.

Last year Matt Gibson sold the Independent to Lee, which owns the daily Missoulian newspaper in that community as well as several other Montana newspapers. At the time, Gibson said he hoped the arrangement would allow the Independent to gain the efficiencies needed to continue on.

But did Lee buy the newspaper with the long-term plan of shutting it down to eliminate competition?

“It certainly seems like the direction things were headed almost from the time Lee Enterprises purchased the Indy, and certainly once the Indy staff unionized,” Lee Banvill, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Montana, told the Missoulian.

Did unionization doom the newspaper?

“It might have changed the timing,” Banvill told the Missoulian. “It took the debate about the future of the alt-weekly public and it also clearly rankled Lee Enterprises to have to deal with a union. It may have sped things up.”

The United Media Guild has developed a good working relationship with Lee Enterprises in recent years. We have worked with the company to maintain strong journalism at the Post-Dispatch in the face of declining industry revenues.

But we find its shutdown of the Independent most disconcerting. More newsrooms will be organizing in the months ahead. Journalists are coming together seeking to preserve their craft and fight for the survival of their newspapers.

Lee Enterprises, GateHouse, Tronc, Gannett and Digital First must realize the Guild is not going away regardless of what tactics the company uses to discourage unionization.

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GateHouse guts Peoria Journal Star newsroom

Sep 13, 2018 by

GateHouse Media announced the layoffs of five Peoria Journal Star journalists represented by the United Media Guild last week, adding to its massive reduction of that newsroom workforce.

The casualties included reporters Chris Kaergard, Thomas Bruch and Aaron Ferguson as well as copy editor Shannon Countryman. Copy editor and page designer Wes Huett, will be laid off on September 21.

Veteran reporter Pam Adams left previously and the Journal Star also lost sports editor Kirk Wessler, editorial page editor Mike Bailey and assistant city editor Brad Erickson.

These cuts mirror the relentless cost-cutting that has diminished other GateHouse newspapers, including the Rockford Register Star, State Journal-Register and Pekin Daily News.

This all is part of the GateHouse Media business plan, as devised by Wes Edens and Co. at Fortress Investment Group. GateHouse slashes costs to maximize cash flow — which its parent company, New Media Investment Group, uses to pay big dividends, fund new acquisitions and pay hefty external management fees to Fortress.

These cuts accelerate the decline in circulation and advertising, which leads to more cuts . . . which maintains the cash flow to pay dividends, fund new acquisitions and pay hefty management fees to Fortress Investment Group. Wash, rinse, repeat.

At this rate once-vibrant newspapers in the GateHouse chain won’t be viable within a few years. Community after community will lose essential news-gathering operations and our society will suffer greatly as a result.

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Post-Dispatch unit sets priorities for bargaining

Sep 10, 2018 by

The United Media Guild’s Post-Dispatch unit held its first meeting to set objectives for our upcoming bargaining for a new contract. Wages, advertising commission/bonus plans, health care, layoff procedure and parking were among the key topics.

Our contract expires Sept. 30, but it remains in effect through its “evergreen clause” while we negotiate with the company.

Lee Enterprises has indicated it might be willing to engage in expedited bargaining on limited issues, as we did on the previous contract. As UMG unit chair Joe Holleman noted during our meeting, it’s possible we could go that route again.

But that would depend on what the company’s issues are. Before choosing expedited bargaining, UMG leaders would hold another unit meeting to discuss our options with members and allow them to guide our course.

Thus far the company has given little indication of what its issues are. The UMG is making its standard pre-bargaining information request to Lee Enterprises and we expect to learn more shortly.

It would be our preference to negotiate a contract sooner than later and without the acrimony that engulfed our bargaining with GateHouse Media — which has featured workplace actions, radio advertising campaigns, public protests, reader and advertiser outreach, a successful shareholder motion, a vote of no-confidence for the board of GateHouse’s parent company and a Strategic Industry Fund grant from CWA to conduct a coordinated campaign against that company.

Here are our top concerns, as defined by our members:

Wages: While the previous Post-Dispatch contract included three 2 percent raises to our pay scales, that only restored earlier cuts to the scale. So we are back to where we were in our 2004-2009 contract — minus inflation, of course. Because we have far fewer people working at the Post-Dispatch, surviving employees are more critical to the operation. In most cases individuals are doing more work with much less support.

Advertising sales: Our members are concerned about the goal-setting process and the punitive shifting of accounts and/territories. Additionally, there are concerns about supervisors and non-union salespersons selling into accounts managed by Guild salespersons.

Health insurance premiums/plan design: Members relying on insurance through Lee Enterprises keep paying more out of pocket for health care. We need to limit those increases and offset them with compensation increases.

Layoff procedure: UMG was willing to give the company a number of “skips” to exempt certain employees from seniority consideration during a layoff. As the newsroom got smaller, so did the company’s number of skips, as spelled out in our contract language. But given the small number of surviving employees, we believe that number should be smaller still.

Parking: With the sale of the Post-Dispatch building, we are becoming tenants. Members are concerned they will their lose free parking. Paid parking could amount to a pay cut, if it’s not accounted for in the next contract. Also, our members are concerned that shifting parking to more distant lots would create a safety hazard.

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Come out on Labor Day and march with our CWA sisters and brothers!

Aug 29, 2018 by

This year CWA is THIRD in line because it’s our 80th anniversary of marching in this parade!

So it’s safe to say that we’ll be heading out at 9:00 a.m. sharp!  But you’ll need to show up earlier than that if you want to grab one of the awesome free T-shirts that we’ll be handing out!

We’ll be lining up at 14th Street and Tucker. . . See you there!

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UMG to hold Post-Dispatch unit meetings, discuss bargaining

Aug 20, 2018 by

The United Media Guild will hold two Post-Dispatch unit meetings to discuss upcoming contract negotiations.

The first meeting will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at Missouri Bar and Grill on Tucker Blvd. The second will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8, at The Urban Chestnut Grove Brewery and Bierhall, 4465 Manchester Ave.

Thanks to everybody who filled out our questionnaire on bargaining priorities. P-D unit chair Joe Holleman and other UMG leaders are assessing that information.

Lee Enterprises has expressed an interest in holding expedited bargaining focused on a limited number of issues – as we did during our previous contract negotiations. But thus far we don’t know what the company’s issues are, so it is difficult to determine if that will be feasible.

We expect to hear a lot more from Lee Enterprises before we hold those unit meetings.

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UMG members, top CWA officers joined Missouri’s fight against “Right to Work”

Aug 9, 2018 by

Members of the United Media Guild were on the front lines of the fight against “Right to Work” in Missouri.

Some of our retiree members helped gather signatures the more than 310,000 signatures that forced the issue to a state-wide ballot.

CWA president Chris Shelton.

Our Labor Tribune unit played a key role in the anti-RTW messaging. Members of our Missouri Jobs with Justice unit got out into our communities explaining why RTW would be bad for the state’s workers.

And top officers in  the Communications Workers of America — the parent union of The NewsGuild and UMG — joined the phone bank effort from their office in Washington D.C.

CWA president Chris Shelton and CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens were among those reaching out to voters.

Ultimately “Right to Work” lost in Missouri by a resounding 2-to-1 margin. Voters rejected this attempt to weaken the labor movement by allowing workers to benefit from union representation without paying dues.

Such legislation erodes worker solidarity and diminishes the resources unions need to gain and enforce contracts.

“This has never been about workers receiving an extra 25 cents an hour or a 401k match,” UMG business representative Shannon Duffy wrote in an essay published on the Labor Notes website. “That’s small potatoes to them, an annoyance. This is the result of planning on a grand scale. It has to do with keeping workers disorganized and, if possible, at each other’s throats—because a disorganized workplace, where workers feel powerless, prevents our ability to act collectively in the broader struggle for social and economic justice.”

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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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