Springfield prepares to launch public campaign

Here is the update from our Springfield unit on the slow-moving negotiations at the State Journal-Register:

It’s obvious from the slow pace of negotiations between the SJ-R Newspaper Guild and GateHouse Media that the company is in no hurry to agree to a contract that includes fair pay and benefits and preserves the quality of our journalism.

The company continues  to oppose the Guild’s proposed language protecting the quality of work performed by our members for the benefit of the public in Springfield and the rest of central Illinois.

Surprisingly, the company even refuses to insert language in the contract that would prevent reporters from being forced to write advertising. And GateHouse has signaled that it is more than willing to form a separate company, hire nonunion employees for that entity and move more and more of the journalism produced at 1 Copley Plaza away from the newsroom. This is all from a company that has outsourced the printing operations of the SJ-R to Peoria, newspaper design functions to Rockford and advertising design to overseas locations.

Despite the fact that the local economy — and the SJ-R’s profits — continue to improve, the company so far has outright rejected the Guild’s proposal to establish a salary schedule for low-paid younger employees to help them receive guaranteed raises and afford to remain in journalism.

The company also has rejected our plan to bring the pay of SJ-R newsroom employees to parity with another GateHouse property, the Journal Star in Peoria, even though the SJ-R’s website receives the heaviest traffic in the entire company and SJ-R journalists are known throughout the state and Midwest for the high quality of their work. This is demoralizing to newsroom employees, who haven’t received a pay raise in six years while health-insurance premiums and other costs have gone up. All the while, GateHouse top executives have received six-figure bonuses.

The Guild is trying to be reasonable and fair. We have not demanded that all of our  proposals be accepted or rejected as a whole. But the company’s tactic of slowing the progress of negotiations to a trickle is indeed troubling. What’s encouraging is that many sectors of the Springfield community have reached out to newsroom workers in support of our efforts to achieve a fair contract or aired concerns about GateHouse’s handling of the SJ-R. We expect that this support will reveal itself in more public ways in the coming weeks. Perhaps GateHouse will use this opportunity to do the right thing in labor negotiations. So stay tuned!