In warning about crossing lines, Robberson does just that.

Oct 27, 2017 by


Our union has no problem with a newspaper columnist expressing an opinion, for that is the purpose of an editorial section. But Tod Robberson’s decision to run a recent column criticizing colleagues for their use of social media brings up several other matters — ones he either failed to consider or ones he willfully ignored:

First, is this how we now resolve potential policy issues that arise between management and workers, by running columns in the newspaper?

Since Mr. Robberson did not see fit to contact the union which represents workers he criticized, then please allow our union similar space to rebut the assertions he made, without any real evidence, that some of our behavior violated established Post-Dispatch policies.

Or should we assume that from now on, the effective, decades-old method of labor and management sitting down at a table to iron out differences has given way to management, by Robberson fiat, that alleges wrongdoing and policy violations and then flies directly into the face of the objectivity he purports to cherish by not allowing the people we represent to respond in their own defense?

Also, our union has faithfully instructed its members that while we may at times have problems with management policies and practices, we should never resort to “denigrating the product.” But how are we supposed to adhere to that policy, or why should we, when it’s clear that Mr. Robberson sees it altogether fitting to denigrate the journalists who cover, report, write, photograph and edit that product?

Mr. Robberson, by his use of the phrase “reporters and photographers” omits the non-union employees using social media and singles out Guild members in his screed.  We find this troubling and wonder just how deliberate his choice of words are.

Mr. Robberson has warned us about crossing lines by crossing lines himself, and applies a double standard in delivering his sermon about journalistic standards.

In his column, Mr. Robberson declares that he is from the “country of Journalism.” We hope that sometime in the near future, he also opts to reside in the “state of Fairness.”

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lifted from the Illinois Times. . .

Jan 30, 2016 by

Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 09:28 pm

Shove it

SJ-R newsroom rejects contract

Newsroom employees at the State Journal-Register tonight rejected a final contract offer from GateHouse Media, the company that owns Springfield’s daily newspaper.

The vote was unanimous, according to Shannon Duffy, administrative officer for the United Media Guild, which represents newsroom workers. There are approximately 25 workers in the bargaining unit.

Reporters and other newsroom employees have gone without raises since GateHouse purchased the paper eight years ago, and pay increases had been a sticking point in contract negotiations between the company and the union. Employees voted to form a union in 2012.

Management offered $600 annual bonuses for the life of a three-year deal, Duffy said, but that was contingent on an open shop, meaning that employees would not be compelled to join the union or pay union dues. Management and the union had tentatively agreed to a number of working conditions, including rules governing transfers and promotions, leaves of absence, holidays and rules governing discharge and discipline, according to the union.

Clarissa Williams, SJ-R publisher, declined comment.

Union leadership had recommended that the bargaining unit reject management’s latest proposal, which Duffy said was a “last, best and final offer.”

“It (the offer) would not create a better workplace,” union leaders wrote in a Jan. 27 memo to union members. “It would simply codify the one you are trying to change. GateHouse has been buying up properties like it is the Golden Arches of journalism. That doesn’t mean newsroom staffers should be tied to a McDonald’s pay scale.”

The McDonald’s comparison was an obvious reference to the plight of Dean Olsen, an SJ-R reporter and union organizer who took a job at the fast-food chain to make ends meet. Olsen’s moonlighting at McDonald’s, first reported by Illinois Times, received national attention on websites and blogs devoted to journalism.

“How crazy is it that just as the $15 an hour minimum wage movement is building steam for fast food workers, GateHouse insists on a minimum rate of $13 an hour for fulltime journalists and $11 for part-timers?” union leadership wrote in the memo. “Will there be fries with that?”

Union leaders in the memo said that GateHouse was too quick to present a final offer.

“(F)or some reason, this company seems to have given up trying to work out differences on the remaining issues,” union leadership wrote. “Instead, it presented – in our view very prematurely – a final offer, insisting that it get its way on all unresolved issues.”

Although the offer presented by management was a final one, Duffy said that another negotiating session is scheduled for Feb. 11. Presuming no accord is reached, management could declare an impasse and install all or part of the conditions in the final contract offer, Duffy and Olsen said. The union could appeal a declaration of impasse to the National Labor Relations Board, asking for a ruling that no impasse exists, they said. If the NLRB rules that there is no impasse exists, negotiations would continue, they said.

“The ball truly is in their court right now,” Duffy said. “We remain committed to getting a contract.”

If an impasse is declared and the company installs provisions in its final offer that have been rejected by employees, options for the union range from going out on strike to organizing a boycott of subscribers or advertisers or both, Duffy said.

“It gets really interesting from this point forward,” he said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at

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IFJ List of Journalists and Media Staff Killed in 2013

Dec 31, 2013 by


The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today issued a list of 123 people killed in 2013 (link below).  The IFJ classified 15 of those deaths as accidental and 108 were classified as targeted killings.  In releasing the list, the IFJ called for governments around the world to stop the violence.  We who live in the United States often forget just how dangerous it is to work in journalism (even though incidents of harassment here appear to be on the rise).  As this year draws to a close, please hold in your thoughts those who lost their lives in pursuit of the truth.





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Rumor Control (STL Post Dispatch Unit)

Nov 15, 2013 by

There’s a rumor circulating that Lee plans to cut pension benefits.  Retirees are calling the Guild to ask about it.

Here’s the truth:  Lee can’t cut our pension benefits.  That would be illegal.  Even if Lee goes broke, we won’t lose our pensions.

I write a column on personal finance for the Post-Dispatch.  Here’s part of a piece on pensions that I wrote last year.  I’ve updated the dollar amounts and made a couple of other changes to fit our situation as Guild members.

*          *          *

Under federal law, private employers can’t take back pension benefits that workers have already earned. But employers do go broke.

In a bankruptcy, companies try to weasel out of pension and retiree health obligations, and courts usually let them.

So in 1974, Congress created a federal agency to insure private-sector pensions. If a pension sponsor goes belly up – as 152 did last year – the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. keeps the checks coming.

The federal agency limits its guarantee to $4,488 per month for people 65 years old.  That number assumes that the employee is married and opted for his (or her) spouse to get half his pension upon his death.  Nobody in the Guild gets a pension that large.  The guaranteed amount drops with age, with a 60 year old guaranteed $3,213.  Even that amount is bigger than a Guild pension.   That’s fine for underpaid reporters like me, but not for airline pilots and corporate muckety-mucks.

The PBGC has its own problems. It can pay its bills for years to come, but it is $26 billion short on its long-term funding needs. If the agency kitty ever ran dry, the betting is that Congress would bail it out, rather than face mobs of angry retirees swinging their canes.

“There’s very little risk that pensioners would lose out, ” says Jeffrey Brown, finance professor and Director of Center for Business & Public Policy at the University of Illinois. “Taxpayers will ultimately be on the hook.”

For private workers, the biggest worry involves pension freezes and terminations. Normally, your pension check grows with your years of service and rising salary over time. In a freeze, you keep what you’ve earned so far but get nothing for pay and service going forward.

As you recall, our leaders in Davenport, having nearly drown the company in debt, torpedoed the stock price, rung up huge losses and demolished the quality of our newspaper through layoffs, decided to compensate for such failures by freezing our pensions in 2010.

However they can’t reduce what we earned before the freeze (and the pension amount still rises with our age as we approach 65)

Jim Gallagher

former board member and local treasurer

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Post-Dispatch business writer Jim Gallagher weighs in on the announced changes to Lee’s 401-K

Aug 30, 2013 by

Fellow Guild members and Lee employees:

The Guild has been getting a lot of questions from members about changes to our Lee 401(k) plan.  I write our Sunday personal finance column at the Post-Dispatch, so I thought I might share some thoughts with my fellow employees.

Unless you let the plan know otherwise, all of your 401(k) money will soon be moved to the “target date” fund closest to date you turn 65.  The deadline for making a decision was last Friday.  It’s no big deal if you missed it.  Once the switch takes place, you can change back to your old funds if you like.

What Lee is doing is pretty unusual in the retirement plan trade.  Intel did something similar a while back, but few companies are so obviously trying to move employees into the target date option.

Basically, this is Mother Lee telling you how you should invest your money.  In this instance, I think that mother really does know best.

I say this despite my belief that our current top leaders in Davenport have made serious mistakes in other areas that have needlessly damaged the Post-Dispatch franchise and its employees.

I like target date funds for employees who aren’t investment pros.  I explain why in my Sunday column on target date funds, and here’s the link.

The upshot is that, unless you really know what you’re doing with investments, better let the target date manager run the show for you.

Rather than repeat the column here, let’s discuss the Lee plan options.

Lee offers JP Morgan SmartRetirement target date funds. They get pretty good ratings from people who study these things.

BrightScope, a company that helps companies design 401(k) plans, puts the SmartRetirement plans among its “top” target date funds.

Morningstar, an independent analysis firm specializing in mutual funds, rates SmartRetirement fund “silver,” the second highest of five ratings.

Morningstar notes that the funds are a bit more conservative than most as retirement dates draw close. Some other quotes:

“The experienced management team has proved itself adept at staying on top of both these smaller tweaks and larger forces that affect the ultimate success of a target-date series.”

On performance: “Over the past five years through June, 2013, all of the SmartRetirement funds rank in their categories’ top decile on a risk adjusted basis. Calendar year 2012 represented a big rebound from a disappointing 2011 when poor tactical moves hurt the funds. The lineup held up relatively well in 2008 and excelled in the vastly different 2009 and 2010 markets. It’s been more of a slog in 2013, but the funds have held up relatively well.”

On process: “JP Morgan has concluded that investors don’t always follow conventional retirement savings wisdom. As a result the glide path near retirement has been more conservative than the norm to focus on maintaining maximum income throughout retirement. The glide path diverges into asset classes such as REITs, (that’s real estate) high-yield bonds, commodities and emerging markets debt. The underlying equity fund roster features a mix of fundamental, quantitative and behavioral-finance driven funds. Management has done well to select many consistent performers from the JP Morgan universe.”

I put the full Morningstar report on the Guild bulletin board in the newsroom. I’ll get it up to the sixth floor on Monday.

That’s the good stuff. Here’s the bad. The damn expense ratios are high for the far-out target date funds aimed at younger workers – 1.06 and 1.07 percent. The near-dated funds are better at 0.67 and 0.79. Our superiors up in Davenport ought to be able to negotiate for a bigger discount. After all, these are large institutional-class funds, and they don’t cost much to run.

Memo to Davenport: Nationally, the average cost for a target date fund is about 0.58 And Vanguard offers direct-to-the-public target funds for 0.16 and 0.18 percent.

The expense ratio is the percent of your money that the fund managers take for their own profit and to cover the expense of running the fund.

That said, some other funds in the Lee plan are higher; For instance, the Wells Fargo small cap fund swipes 1.42 percent.

Vanguard uses a passive strategy, relying on funds that simply track stock and bond indexes, rather than employing very-well paid people to try to beat the indexes. That’s why they are so cheap.

Below is a link to a comparison of fund performance as calculated by Morningstar. The plus/minus is a measure of riskiness compared to similar funds. It also shows how the fund did compared to others in the same category:

JP Morgan 2015 fund

The retirement plan certainly affects our working conditions. If we have concerns about the company’s recent action, its fund selections or its lack of generosity, we may as a group bring them to Lee’s attention through collective action.

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