Protecting the 40-hour work week

Feb 23, 2013 by

Media companies are demanding newsroom employees to do more with less. But as a veteran editor noted before resigning last year, “You can’t do more with less. You can only do less with less.”

This is the challenge our members at GateHouse Media properties face. The company is expanding its reach and opening new revenue streams with its digital initiatives.

The Guild applauds GateHouse’s ambitious approach. But after drastically reducing the workforce in its newsroom, the company has put journalists under duress and forced us to intervene.

Here is the dilemma:

  • Journalists are asked to do more than ever before. Reporters are asked to produce high story counts, shoot and edit videos, blog on the newspaper websites and post updates through social media.
  • GateHouse’s content management system operates at a crawl. Editing and posting content is often a time-consuming process.
  • Newsroom managers at GateHouse properties are working under a “pay no overtime” directive. This is hardly unusual in the media industry today. Budgeting is tight.

So what are journalists to do? Doing quality work is more difficult than ever before, due to the emphasis on quantity.

Many journalists work lots of unpaid hours just to keep up. “With no overtime to do it, we have people who are working and not claiming overtime,” Pekin Daily Times reporter Sharon Harris said. “If you walk out before a story is ready for the next day, that can get you fired. Our people are caught in a Catch-22.”

At the State Journal-Register in Springfield, some employees found themselves working 50 to 60 hours per week to meet all their responsibilities.

This was a big reason why newsroom employees there sought union representation, voting in the Guild by a 26-4 margin last year. The first thing we did was raise the unpaid overtime issue with GateHouse at the corporate level.

Federal law prohibits companies from working reporters more than 40 hours per week without paying them overtime. GateHouse quickly reminded Springfield managers not to let this happen.

After that directive, State Journal-Register reporters began working with their editors to define a realistic 40-hour workload.

The Guild is working with our Pekin members to do the same. Our collective bargaining agreement at the Daily Times prohibits a work speed-up.

“GateHouse recently announced a no overtime policy that exceeds its past stance of avoiding overtime, yet the workload continues to increase,” said Harris, our unit chair at the Daily Times. “In the newsroom, reporters are required to do their regular work of gathering news and writing it, attending meetings of various boards and events and so on.

“Over the past year or so, reporters are now required to shoot video, post two News Now items on the web (briefs that we must hunt down or rewrite from news releases), post to Twitter and the latest — Seen on Scene.

“Seen on Scene requires us to go to non-news worthy events and take 15 pictures of people attending and then posting them to the web. That took me 45 minutes last week for one event.”

Earlier this week Harris and UMG business representative Shannon Duffy met new Daily Times general manager Carla Spotser to address the problem. We hope to work with management there to find constructive solutions.

The Guild seeks to protect good journalists and good journalism during these changing times. Our work with GateHouse employees underscores the value of union representation.

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