UMG members ratify first contract at The Southern Illinoisan

Apr 25, 2019 by

United Media Guild members in The Southern Illinoisan newsroom unanimously approved its first collective bargaining agreement at the Carbondale-based newspaper owned by Lee Enterprises.

That bargaining unit achieved its top bargaining goal of gaining a layoff procedure substantially guided by seniority.

Like every other newspaper in the country, The Southern has suffered round after round of layoffs in the face of declining revenues. Under this agreement, the company can exempt up to 20 percent of the workforce from seniority consideration in a layoff.

Otherwise, the reductions will be guided by seniority. Previously the company cut a long-time journalist and kept a new hire — a move that inspired journalists there to organize.


Other highlights of the contract included:

  • Just cause protection from arbitrary dismissal and a four-st
  • ep progressive discipline system.
  • Pay raises for all of our members with at least one year of service. The increase ranges from 2 percent to double digits.
  • Frozen employee premium percentage share for company-provided health insurance for two years.
  • A 4 cent increase in the mileage rate for employee reimbursement.
  • A $10 monthly increase for cell phone reimbursement.
  • Two additional paid holidays, one additional paid day off in the new PTO policy and one additional paid day off in the bereavement policy.
  • Improved severance pay for lay-offs. Impacted members get a one-week paid notification plus severance ranging from a minimum of four weeks to a maximum of 26 weeks — based on the formula of one week of pay for each year worked.
  • A 12-month rehire provision. That gives laid-off workers an opportunity to fill openings that occur within a year of their lay-off.

UMG members Shawn Anglin, Todd Hefferman and Marilyn Halstead bargained the contract with UMG business representative Shannon Duffy.

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Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger wins Pulitzer Prize

Apr 15, 2019 by

Earlier this year the United Media Guild honored St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger with its Terry Hughes Award for exemplary journalism. His exposure of Missouri’s “debtors prisons” stirred outrage and triggered change.

Monday he won a something exponentially greater for his work: the Pulitzer Prize.

With his series of compelling columns, Messenger told the stories of individuals exploited by the legal system in Missouri.

“It’s a story about how we treat people in our state,” Messenger amid a celebration in the Post-Dispatch newsroom. “It’s a story I’m going to keep telling.”

As the Post-Dispatch noted:

Messenger’s columns led to significant action. The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously said that the state’s judges cannot use their courts to threaten indigent defendants with jail time, nor to collect such debts as court costs. The Missouri House passed a bill that would make all such collections civil procedures. The state Senate is now considering the bill . . .

Hughes Award winner Tony Messenger with past winners Doug Moore and Michele Munz.

Those columns, said Michael Wolff, a retired Missouri Supreme Court chief justice and former dean of the St. Louis University School of Law, tell the story of prosecutors and judges across the state putting people in jail simply because they are poor. 

“It is a rare and beautiful thing when solid reporting so shocks the legal system that change becomes inevitable,” Wolff wrote in support of Messenger’s nomination. “Tony Messenger is making that kind of impact.”

Messenger joined the Post-Dispatch photography staff as UMG members recently winning the Pulitzer, journalism’s most cherished prize. The photographers won in 2015 for their vivid coverage of the Ferguson unrest after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

These award-winning efforts are shining examples of the vital role great journalism plays in our society. This is why we will continue to fight for the craft of journalism and all of the UMG members doing public good at the Post-Dispatch, Peoria Journal-Star, State Journal-Register, Rockford Register Star, The Southern Illinoisan, Pekin Daily Times, St. Louis Review,  St. Louis Labor Tribune and Truthout.

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Pay equity study at the Post-Dispatch identifies disparity

Apr 3, 2019 by

Promoting pay equity one of The NewsGuild’s top national priorities in 2019. Examining the disparity in pay for men and women in the workplace is a mandate for each TNG Local. The United Media Guild conducted such a study at the Post-Dispatch, following the lead of Guild-represented newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

At the Post-Dispatch, our union contract guarantees annual pay step increases to the top of the pay scale for non-commission employees at the paper, and a livable base wage for those on commission. Because of this, we don’t suffer from the massive gender pay disparities that plague other papers like the Los Angeles Times, where the median gap between men and women in newsroom is $14,000.  

There are, however, notable disparities in the data worth discussing. The United Media Guild’s analysis of salaries for union members in the newsroom and advertising departments finds that, for the newsroom, the median salary for women is less than the median salary for men.

Of the 20 highest-paid people in the newsroom, four are women. The highest-paid woman in the newsroom receives the twelfth-highest salary. Women in the newsroom make less than the median base rate of $33.63; the median base rate for women is $33.22. In one year, that’s a nearly $800 difference. The median base rate for men in the newsroom is $34.34.

Advertising data tells a different story. Of the top 20 highest-paid employees in advertising, including retail and classified advertising, and creative, according to base pay, four are men. Sixteen are women. The highest-paid woman in advertising ranks second in the top 20.

Base rates, as opposed to annual salaries, were used to level the playing field for analysis, as some Guild members work on commission and others receive overtime. The study didn’t analyze experience or years of service, as that detail would make it too easy to identify people.

The Guild understands the current financial difficulties in journalism. We encourage management to work to improve gender pay equity at the Post-Dispatch.

The Guild encourages members who feel they are under-compensated to present their cases individually to their managers and ask for raises. The Guild will support the requests by providing information about an individual member’s salary and how it compares to others in their job description. Guild leadership will also assist members with advice in how to best prepare those requests.

The data also reveals that while the Post-Dispatch is almost evenly split on employee gender, we lack racial diversity. The guild hopes management will take concrete steps, such as advertising with and recruiting from groups that represent minority journalists, such as NAHJ, NABJ and others, to create a more diverse workplace and provide perspectives that better reflect St. Louis.

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UMG files grievance with NFFWU (employer of FightFor15 organizers) over layoffs. Calls it retaliation for complaining about supervisor.

Mar 8, 2019 by

Two fast food organizers employed by the National Fast Food Workers Union (an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union) were recently laid off from their jobs.

The United Media Guild organized those NFFWU organizers in 2017 and, following a year of bargaining with that employer, secured a first contract in December of 2018.  It is one of our newest bargaining units with close to 50 workers in roughly 20 cities across the U.S.

Both of the women, who work in the southeast, had run-ins with a supervisor and filed harassment complaints about him with NFFWU Human Resources (the Guild had also previously filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the NLRB because of remarks made by that supervisor regarding one of the laid off women, who is also the Guild steward for that region).

So far the supervisor has not been held accountable for any of his actions and, in February, it was announced that layoffs were in the offing.  The Guild was informed that the layoffs would be based on what we were told was a comprehensive “Deep Dive” analysis of specific data points for each city.  And, when the layoffs were announced, the only cities affected were Atlanta and Greenville.  And that is where those women who filed harassment complaints are employed.  In fact, those women were the ONLY two in the entire  bargaining unit to lose their jobs.

The United Media Guild understands the times in which we live and we realize that there are times when, no matter how much it hurts, an employer may have to make cuts.  But we have a real problem with this.

We have filed a grievance and we have also requested the data study that the NFFWU cited as the reason for their decision.  In fact, in the three weeks since the layoffs, we have requested that information three separate times.  As of yet, it has not been provided.



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National presidential election is looming for The NewsGuild

Mar 6, 2019 by

Los Angeles Times activist Jon Schleuss is running against incumbent Bernie Lunzer for president of The NewsGuild.

Bernie Lunzer

Members in good standing of the United Media Guild — those members who were paying dues at some point in the previous quarter — will eligible to vote by mail in the upcoming national election. Ballots will be sent to their homes.

The UMG executive committee voted not to endorse either candidate, adhering to the precedent set the last time TNG held a contested election for president. (Lunzer defeated incumbent Linda Foley that time around.)

We encourage all our members to learn more about these candidates and make an informed decision on which one should lead our national union forward.


Over the years the UMG has worked closely with Lunzer and his staff in Washington D.C. on a variety of issues, including organizing new units, bargaining first contracts and enforcing our current agreements.

UMG vice president David Carson got to know Schleuss while assisting the successful Los Angeles Times organizing drive. UMG president Jeff Gordon, a TNG regional vice president, spoke extensively with Schleuss and other new unit activists at the TNG Sector Conference in Orlando.

Schleuss is stressing the need to improve member engagement, upgrade TNG’s communication capability and provide more support for local leaders.

You can learn more about his campaign on his website.

Meanwhile Lunzer can point to TNG’s unprecedented organizing successes in recent years and his decades of labor leadership at the local and national levels.

You can learn more about his campaign on his website.

Schleuss will be in St. Louis Monday, March 11, to host a lunch with UMG members at 11:30 a.m. at Missouri Bar and Grill. We encourage members to stop by to learn more about the critical issues facing TNG and our parent union, CWA, in this era of corporate cutbacks.


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Post-Dispatch outsources its copy editing and design jobs

Feb 16, 2019 by

In a move the United Media Guild has long feared, Lee Enterprises announced it would move the design and copy-editing work at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to its design/editing hub in Munster, Ind.

Post-Dispatch management had long resisted the industry-wide trend toward production consolidation. Lee long ago outsourced the design and editing functions of its other newspapers, mirroring the consolidation to design/editing hubs that occurred in Gannett, GateHouse and other chains.

“Such outsourcing inevitably weakens the newspaper, since editors with little knowledge of the St. Louis region will be editing copy, writing headlines and designing pages of the Post-Dispatch,” UMG president Jeff Gordon said. “But our remaining members will do their best to maintain the P-D’s high journalistic standards and keep serving the community.”

The Post-Dispatch was among the last chain-owned newspapers of its size to retain its design and editing jobs. But that fact offers no consolation to the eight Guild members who now face a lay-off due to this decision.

This outsourcing comes at a time when the Post-Dispatch is already offering buyouts to both Guild-represented and exempt employees. These cutbacks came on the heels of Lee’s sale of the Post-Dispatch building and its agreement to move its operation to a nearby building owned by its new landlord.

Why all the slashing?

The Post-Dispatch remains profitable. But its revenues continue declining, as they are across the industry. Lee wants to maximize its cash flow so it can continue paying down its onerous debt at an accelerated rate and refinance it at better terms.

But another challenge has emerged: Dissident shareholder Carlo Cannell has been highly critical of Lee’s management while urging a makeover of the company’s board of directors. His effort could draw the interest of vulture capitalist firms like Alden Global Capital, which is buying up and stripping down newspapers across the country.

Cannell’s initiative has prompted Lee to find more money to defend this attack at the shareholder level. That has also given Lee motivation to run an even leaner operation, since potential bidders like Digital First (backed by Alden) and GateHouse (backed by Fortress Investment Group) target companies they believe they could squeeze more money from.

Lee’s rationale: If there is nothing left to squeeze, maybe the vulture capitalists will leave us alone. But in the meantime, its newspapers suffer.

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UMG honors Tony Messenger, Shawn Anglin and other members at awards dinner

Feb 8, 2019 by

The United Media Guild honored some of its top activists and one of its most accomplished journalists Thursday night at its annual Local Meeting and awards dinner.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger won the Terry Hughes Award for exemplary journalism. UMG secretary Doug Moore, himself a more Hughes Award winner, explained why:

His columns on debtors’ prisons in rural Missouri started with the case of Victoria Branson, a woman from St. Francois County who had been sent to prison because she couldn’t afford court costs in a long defunct child support case. Branson was released from prison after Messenger’s column about her was published. Soon, tips came in from all over Missouri’s rural counties of similar stories, and Messenger worked closely with the state public defender’s office, which was filing appeals in such cases, arguing that a scheme to use the courts as a collection service for expensive jail bills amounted to

Hughes Award winner Tony Messenger with past winners Doug Moore and Michele Munz.

a modern day debtors’ prison.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court held arguments in two of the cases Messenger has written about. Two of the legal briefs filed in the case reference Messenger’s columns as evidence for the court to declare the scheme illegal.

Shawn Anglin, an editor and reporter at The Southern Illinoisan, was honored as Guilder of the Year. Anglin is the unit chair of this newly-organized group. Journalists at The Southern voted 12-0 to join the Guild and they are currently bargaining their first contract.

The Southern unit won the UMG’s Solidarity Award for that unanimous vote and for its

ongoing internal and external mobilization. Sportswriter Todd Hefferman, the unit vice chair, and reporter Marilyn Halstead, the unit secretary, accepted the award.

Retired Labor Tribune reporter Kevin Madden received the Activist of the Year Award for his tireless effort to defeat “Right to Work” in Missouri. Madden, the long-time unit chair at the Tribune, spent long days gathering signatures in support of other progressive ballot initiatives as well.

“Fight for 15” activist Stanley Jackson received the Steward of the Year. He provided invaluable leadership for of UMG’s national unit of organizers who mobilize fast-food workers in the fight for better wages.

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Sinking revenues force more Lee Enterprises cutbacks, draw shareholder scrutiny

Feb 7, 2019 by

The good news for Lee Enterprises: The company continues paying down its onerous debt at an accelerated rate.

The bad news for Lee: Revenues keep declining, prompting cost-cutting that diminishes journalism content, its core product. The company is also drawing the ire of at least one activist shareholder.

United Media Guild members have felt the brunt of this cost-cutting in several ways:

  • Another round of buyouts is underway at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The company is seeking to reduce payroll yet again and we could see more layoffs if the company doesn’t get enough volunteers.
  • The Post-Dispatch building has been sold and the new owner wants to clear the building for renovations. So P-D, which now rents from the new owner, will be moved to another building one block to the east.
  • Negotiations for a first contract for our new members at the Southern Illinoisan have gone slowly. The company has been unwilling to agree to some basic layoff protocols that have worked fine elsewhere.
  • Meanwhile the printing operation at the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale is closing. The newspaper will be printed by the Post-Dispatch, change that will move up deadlines and knock key content (night meetings, Southern Illinois University sports, high school game coverage) out of the printed product.

Against this backdrop, Lee Enterprises is under attack from Carlo Cannell and his Wyoming-based Cannell Capital. He is urging shareholders to vote against incumbent board members, including chairman Mary Junck.

His complaints are familiar: Lee dramatically overpaid for the Post-Dispatch, Junck has earned more than $40 million of compensation since 2002 despite the company’s free fall, and the current board of directors has a friends-and-family vibe.

He also cited the unwillingness of Lee to go all-in on a digital transformation ala the New York Times. But in fairness to Lee, digital transformations have yielded disappointing results beyond a few major outlets with national audiences.

Most of Lee’s properties are in mid-sized and small markets, where the print product has staying power and the digital potential is somewhat limited. Lee has done a better job detaining print revenue than some rival chains.

Cannell’s complaint didn’t reveal much insight into this distressed industry. Still, he told that his actions have drawn inquires from private-equity groups.

That is notable. Might this be the start of a hostile bid for the company?

The consolation of the newspaper industry is ongoing. Lee recently bought the Kenosha News and Lake Geneva Regional News, two Wisconsin properties that are a good fit for the company.

Gannett recently fended off a bid from the company that controls Digital First Media, a chain that shamelessly plunders newspapers for cash flow. GateHouse Media, which owns UMG-represented Illinois newspapers in Springfield, Pekin, Peoria and Rockford, has also remains in acquisition mode.

To combat Cannell’s attack, Lee is spending an additional $425,000 to solicit proxy votes. The UMG is monitoring the situation and we plan on attending next week’s shareholders meeting in Davenport, Iowa.

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