A few years ago we had an organizing drive at the Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph, a former Pulitzer property. When we filed for a representation election, we had signed A-Cards (authorization cards) from about 70% of the would-be bargaining unit. However, in a case that exemplified the need for labor law reform, we saw that support get beaten down over the six long months it took get to an election there. Week by week people were called in and questioned about the union and what they thought about it. They were forced to attend captive audience meetings where videos were shown that vilified union “pushers.” Letters were mailed to homes weekly and, as the election finally neared, almost daily. Bosses – up to and including the publisher – were in the workplace everyday talking to people while they worked. I remember one person telling me how intimidating it was to have the publisher address him by name when they’d never even been in the same room together. Our vocal supporters were harassed, laid off and fired and our not-so-vocal supporters were scared out of their wits. You could see it first-hand on the doors. We would go out in the evening to call on employees at their homes and it got to the point where they would open their doors, look around and say, “I can’t be seen talking to you.” They were so afraid that they didn’t even feel safe standing on their own front porch!
We eventually lost that election and, as I said, the ability of management to delay the process while terrifying employees is reprehensible and calls out for justice. And, while the Employee Free Choice Act never got passed, there are those who still believe that some sort of election reform is in the cards. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s true.
But I couldn’t help thinking about that campaign after hearing about the large bonuses paid to Lee CEO Mary Junck & CFO Carl Schmidt. The reason for that is, back when we were trying to help Pantagraph employees get a union, one of the things that Lee did was put up a website called, “St. Louis wants your dues” which listed all of the things someone could buy with the money they would save by not paying union dues. I don’t remember the exact amount they claimed a person would pay. They knew our people pay 1.6% of their wages, so they put up what they thought would be an average monthly dues payment – let’s say for the sake of argument it was $50 per month – and they listed all of the things that $50 could buy. They also figured it on a yearly basis and, to really inflate it, figured it over three years. So $50 X 12 months = $600 per year X three years = $1800. Then they listed all the things THAT could buy. They listed how many color television sets that could buy (like this was 1966 and color television sets were really something). They also listed how many boxes of macaroni and cheese that would buy (perhaps a nod to Lee’s low wages at that paper).
But I’ve been wondering about all that lately. Lee once asked their employees how much they would save by not being in a union (by the way, the answer to that should be obvious…if it wasn’t for the union everyone would be making a helluva lot less) and what they could do instead with all that money. It’s an interesting concept; at least from the standpoint of whether or not that much money should be removed from a struggling company’s coffers. So let’s turn around Lee’s question and ask employees what they could do with the money, were Junck and Schmidt to come to the realization that leading a firm into bankruptcy probably shouldn’t be rewarded and, in a rare display of conscience, suddenly turned their bonuses over to the employees to do what they pleased.
If you had $750,000 to spend, what could you do to make things better at your paper? Pay down some of that corporate debt? Perhaps you’d do something about furloughs? The Guild is interested in hearing from you. Leave a comment and tell us your ideas.
Oh! I’ve got one………MAC AND CHEESE FOR EVERYBODY!!!