The case for Guild representation in Rockford

May 30, 2013 by

Newspaper Guild representation has been extremely valuable to journalists caught in the historic upheaval in the media industry.

Journalists in Rockford and Freeport should compare their experiences to what happened down south at the Peoria Journal Star and Pekin Daily Times, two neighboring GateHouse newspapers represented by the United Media Guild.

When GateHouse demanded sweeping concessions in the most recent collective bargaining agreement at Peoria, our members at the Journal Star responded with internal and external mobilizing. The newsroom pulled together to make a stand.

They took that message to the public, building a community campaign that drew widespread support from organized labor, clergy, politicians and other civic leaders. Unit chairman Phil Luciano and UMG business representative Shannon Duffy took our message directly to GateHouse chairman Michael Reed.

Peoria earned a new collective bargaining agreement that prevented the outsourcing of the copy desk for the duration of the contract. They gained enhanced severance for members of the circulation department who lost their jobs through outscourcing. They gained signing bonuses for newsroom members and maintained their progressive salary scales.

With GateHouse dragging its feet in negotiations for a first contract in Pekin, our members at the Daily Times rallied public support for a fair deal. Employees didn’t get raises in that contract, since raises were contingent on revenue gains that have not occurred during the length of the contract.

But our Daily Times members gained outsourcing restrictions that helped maintain jobs through the length of the contract. It is important to note that Pekin still has a viable newsroom operation while Freeport does not.

Our Daily Times members gained the same basic protections that Guild-represented employees at other GateHouse newspapers received. That has allowed the Guild to address dozens of employee issues at that newspaper.

Our Pekin unit faces big challenges moving forward. So does our Peoria unit. Our new Springfield unit, which joined the UMG with 26-4 vote by newsroom employees at the State Journal-Register, faces a tough fight to get a first contract.

The public campaign is just getting underway there. SJ-R members have met with labor leaders and activists in Springfield to explain their quest. The public response thus far has been very encouraging.

Should journalists at the Register Star vote in the Guild, we would encourage you to start a similar campaign in Rockford.

The textbook company plan is to drag out negotiations to maintain cost cuts, demoralize the membership and diminish union solidarity. The textbook union plan is inspire activism that energizes and empowers its members.

Internal and external campaigns allow members to channel their years-old frustration into constructive action. The more active the group becomes, the more likely it will build solidarity for the long haul.

We have traveled that road many times before. We are prepared to travel it again.

Ultimately the United Media Guild’s role is to help our members help themselves, improve the quality of their newspapers and enhance their ability to serve their community.

We aren’t looking for ugly fights. We aren’t eager to see our members riding another toilet bowl float to chide the company at another parade.

We want GateHouse to succeed. We want each of these newspapers to succeed. We have maintained good working relationships with the company at each of these units.

Every major GateHouse executive we have dealt with – from CEO Michael Reed on down – has been responsive, forthright and professional. We respect the leadership’s commitment to reorganizing and reinventing the company to create a better future in all their markets.

GateHouse says all the right things about the value of its journalists and the vital role they play moving forward. But the UMG’s role is to make certain the company follows through by respecting their work in meaningful ways.

We believe a good collective bargaining agreement actually improves the employee-manager atmosphere. A good CBA ensures better communication. It creates more consistency on how situations are resolved. It creates sensible guidelines.

Stewards in a Guild-represented newsroom often address issues before they become a big deal. A really good steward will help keep the gears turning smoothly.

Ultimately, the folks in Rockford and Freeport will have to decide two things:

1) Do they firmly believe the Guild could help them help themselves in these difficult times?
2) Are they ready to take an active role in creating a better future for themselves and their newspaper?

If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then the United Media Guild is looking forward to working with those folks.

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Organized labor protests Koch Brothers’ Tribune Co. bid

May 29, 2013 by

Elsewhere around the county, organized labor is protesting the potential sale of the Tribune Co. newspapers to the Koch Brothers. Labor activists fear this sale would compromise the journalistic integrity of major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun.

Newspaper Guild president Bernie Lunzer offers this take on the situation:

“The Guild continues to research and assess the possible sale of the Tribune Company newspapers. We played a key role in the bankruptcy, sitting on the creditors committee for more than three years and affecting different outcomes.

“You’ve heard that there’s a chance the Koch Brothers might purchase all of the papers. This is pure speculation at this point, and we’ve heard varying rumors. There is reason to believe that the Kochs are interested. We also hear that Tribune is using this rumor to push up the price. We’re also hearing from some in the investment community that a sale is not imminent.

“Many in the labor and progressive community have joined together to campaign against the Tribune selling to the Kochs. As the Guild we recognize that our ability to affect what will be a private sale is limited. We have called for Tribune to require any owner to maintain a firewall between the news pages and opinion. The real fear is that the Kochs will use the papers the way that Murdoch uses Fox News, to distort and propagandize.

“That may sound political to some, but we believe this is a fair concern that fits within the core mission of the Guild. We addressed this in Portland, Maine, when Donald Sussman (widely regarded as progressive) purchased that paper. What we believe and have always believed is that democracy requires good, credible, quality journalism, which requires well paid, professional journalists. Yes we embrace the blogosphere, including citizen journalism and other freelance journalism. We just don’t believe it replaces what we do.

“May 29 is a day of action for the coalition fighting the Kochs. You’ll see many demonstrations around the country aimed at stopping a purchase of Tribune properties. We are not actively blocking or promoting these actions, but have shared information with SEIU, the AFL-CIO and others who are involved. Guild locals are free to decide whether or not to participate.”

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Rockford newsroom to vote on Guild representation

May 26, 2013 by

Newsroom employees at the Rockford Register Star and Freeport Journal-Standard are getting their chance to vote for Guild representation.

The National Labor Relations Board will supervise a representation election June 21 in the second floor conference room at Register Star from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Register Star and Journal-Standard employees are getting their chance to join their GateHouse colleagues at the Peoria Journal Star, the Pekin Daily Daily Times and the State Journal-Register in Springfield as members of the United Media Guild.

Guild representation has never been more important for journalists, especially those working for financially strapped companies like GateHouse.


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GateHouse shifts design house amid Register Star organizing

May 14, 2013 by

Shortly after employees at the Rockford Register Star signed authorization cards seeking representation from the United Media Guild, GateHouse Media announced plans to move its design house from Rockford’s building (upstairs from the newsroom) to a yet-to-be-determined location next year.

This design house and the other in Massachusetts will be replaced by an ambitious-sounding Center for News and Design somewhere in the United States. None of the Rockford design house employees were involved in the current Register Star and Freeport Journal-Standard organizing effort.

Writing on the American Copy Editors Society website, Charles Apple had this take:

“GateHouse Media — which is still in the process of centralizing production for its 280 newspapers in hubs in Rockford, Ill., and Framingham, Mass. — ordered a reverse course of sorts Monday.

“The new plan is to open a new, singular design hub in a location yet to be named, the company announced. All management can say is: The new center “will not be based in an existing GateHouse Media facility.”

“The Rockford ‘Design House’ — which started operating less than a year ago for daily GateHouse papers — will cease operations in late January 2014. The Framingham center — which specialized in weeklies and started operating less than a year ago — will close down next April.

“From what I’m hearing from sources who understandably wish not to be named: The rollout over the past year has not gone as well as expected. It’s not that the front-end system, Saxotech, didn’t work. The system itself worked quite well, I’m told. The problem was the cloud-based nature of the system required more speed than the GateHouse papers and hubs seemed to have access to.

“The result: A glacially slow system, persistent computer freezes and frequent production delays. The rollout was halted in October and never really resumed, I’m told. My sources weren’t able to estimate what percentage of GateHouse papers — 79 dailies, 257 weeklies and 95 “shoppers” — were eventually hubbed and what never made it to hub production.

“All this would seem to explain a paragraph seemingly parachuted into the middle of the official announcement:

On a related note, we are increasingly confident that Saxotech is adjusting to our size and needs and will continue to be our primary vendor.

“This isn’t the first time GateHouse reversed course on its consolidation system. In January 2012, the company announced it would place production hubs in the suburbs of Boston and Chicago. The former was Framingham, of course. But the latter was meant to be corporate headquarters in Downer’s Grove, Ill., west of Chicago.

“Three weeks later, reports surfaced that the daily hub would instead be placed in GateHouse’s large — and fairly empty building — in Rockford, Ill.

“According to the Nieman Journalism Lab, GateHouse was considering going into bankruptcy this year — not surprising, given its $600 million in debt. What is surprising — and disappointing, but all too common these days — is the way management has treated itself. Top executives gave themselves $1.4 million in bonuses last year, reports Randy Turner of the Huffington Post.”

The UMG also represents journalists at the Peoria Journal Star, Pekin Daily Times and the State Journal-Register in Springfield. So we’re hopeful that GateHouse’s ongoing transformation and reorganization leads to much better days ahead for all those employees.


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Rockford journalists request representation

May 13, 2013 by

The vast majority of newsroom employees in the Rockford Register Star newsroom signed authorization cards last week seeking representation from the United Media Guild.

The UMG asked Register Star to recognize our union and begin collective bargaining. We expect GateHouse Media will opt for a National Labor Relations Board- supervised election this summer.

This process will give these journalists their opportunity to vote in Guild. Once that happens, we will begin bargaining a first contract for the Register Star and its associated publication, the Freeport Journal-Standard.

The UMG represents employees at three other GateHouse newspapers, the Peoria Journal Star, the Pekin Daily Times and State Journal-Register in Springfield. We are currently negotiating a first contract with at the Journal-Register, when journalists voted in the Guild by a 26-4 margin.

You can follow our Rockford campaign here.

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