The case for Guild representation in Rockford

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.