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 firstname.lastname@example.org.