Illinois labor leaders support SJ-R contract quest

Here is the report from our Springfield unit on how organized labor is supporting State Journal-Register journalists in their fight for a fair first contract with GateHouse Media:

Members of Springfield’s labor community gave a warm welcome this week to one of the area’s newest unionized workforces at a “meet-and-greet” reception for the Springfield Unit of the United Media Guild.

The event was graciously hosted by the Springfield and Central Illinois Trades and Labor Council at IBEW 193 Hall, 3150 Wide Track Road.

Even though it was a busy Wednesday night, almost half of the entire Springfield Unit turned out, including State Journal-Register education reporter Molly Beck, political columnist Bernie Schoenburg, health-care reporter Dean Olsen, sports writer Dave Kane, general-assignment reporters John Reynolds and Chris Dettro, crime reporter Jason Nevel and columnist Dave Bakke.

Local labor officials pledged strong support for the United Media Guild members as they strive to negotiate their first contract with GateHouse Media with the help of United Media Guild business representative Shannon Duffy and UMG President Jeff Gordon.

Guild members described difficult times at the SJ-R, including going almost six years without raises while top GateHouse officials at the corporate headquarters in New York state continued to receive six-figure and seven-figure bonuses.

Members also talked about their frustration with a two-tiered wage structure that has left many younger, award-winning staffers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees earning as little as $30,000 -$35,000 a year, with little hope of ever earning more. We hope to change that through the new contract.

Union officials from the Springfield area expressed dismay at GateHouse’s treatment of its Springfield workforce, as well as the company’s decisions in recent years to fire the SJ-R’s unionized pressmen and its unionized mail-room employees when the paper’s printing operations were moved to Peoria. The most recent bloodletting took place last year, when GateHouse fired most of the paper’s copy editors and moved most of the critical layout functions to GateHouse’s Design House in Rockford.

Springfield union officials said they feel like most SJ-R readers: They believe the paper is “their” paper, not GateHouse’s, and they agree with Guild members that now is the time to send GateHouse the message that quality jobs, and quality journalism, must be preserved in Illinois’ capital city.

Among those in attendance at the meet-and-greet included Bill Looby, political director of Illinois AFL-CIO; Jeff Bigelow, regional director of  AFSCME 31; Terry Reed, labor board chairman and field-service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers; Glenn Baugh, business manager, and J. Paul Moore, assistant business manager, of IBEW Local 193; Shane Austin, business manager of Iron Workers Local 46; Deb Russell, area vice president for Local 4408 of the Illinois Federation of Public Employees; retired SEIU activist Al Pieper;  business manager Shane Austin, Illinois Federation of Public Employees Local 4408; and labor activist and “trouble maker” Jim Dixon.

After voting only last fall in a National Labor Relations Board election to unionize, members of the Springfield Unit have been gratified by the overwhelming support from our brothers and sisters in the labor community and thankful for the backing of officials from the United Media Guild HQ in St. Louis and The Newspaper Guild in Washington, D.C.

To follow developments in the State Journal-Register negotiations, check out the Springfield unit’s blog.