UMG settles two grievances, earns settlements for 14 members

Sep 15, 2014 by Jeff

The Guild has settled two grievances with the Post-Dispatch, resulting in financial settlements for seven journalists and seven salespersons.

In the salesperson case, the company agreed to return a significant portion of the digital sales penalties against certain salespersons in Periods 4 and 5.

The Guild agrees the company has the right to modify sales commission and bonus plans. The Guild understands the urgency to build digital sales, since print advertising in newspapers continues to decline nationwide.

But we argued the company did NOT have the right to take away money our people earned on the print side if they failed to meet goals on the digital side.

At best, this penalty was a punitive form of motivation who must meet challenging goals to get paid.

At worst, this penalty was another way to increase the profit margin on print advertising sales.

The company ended this practice after our members protested through collective action. Business representative Mary Casey did a tremendous job working with our members  as well as company management to resolve this problem.

Our salespeople received tremendous support from their colleagues in the newsroom on this matter. Post-Dispatch unit chair Joe Holleman did an excellent job rallying the troops.

The Guild proceeded with a grievance, claiming the company should return the penalties it deducted.

To settle this case, the company agreed to pay the seven salespersons $3,115. Most of them will regain 75 percent of the earnings the company took away from them.

In the newsroom case, the Guild argued that copy editors work in a higher classification than reporters. We made that claim because our top wage scale for copy editors is $15 per week more than our top scale for reporters.

In our view, that put copy editors into an “A-plus” classification.

We argued that A-scale reporters forced to work on the copy desk should be paid an additional $6 per shift for working in a higher classification. We also contended that reporters could not be asked to work desk shifts after one year, based on the following language in Article 6, No. 5:

“No employee shall be assigned to work in another classification on a regular basis in excess of (12) consecutive months unless otherwise agreed to by the employee.”

The company argued that the editor classification is no higher than the reporter classification, despite the differential. But to settle the grievance, the company agreed to pay seven of the impacted reporters the $6 differential for the shifts worked up until the point the grievance was filed.

The settlement — which does not include the three reporters who were already earning above-scale wages — adds up to about $3,100.

As part of the settlement, our only member who actually grieved this matter, will not be required to work copy desk shifts for the duration of the current contract.

To settle the case, the Guild agreed to relinquish its claim that copy editing is a higher classification. So reporters forced to work copy desks shifts going forward will not be eligible for the $6 differential.

The Guild feels strongly that reporters should report and copy editors should edit copy. The Guild believes the P-D should staff its copy desk with trained and experienced editors.

We will revisit this topic when negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement begin next year.

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GateHouse units march for good journalism

Sep 4, 2014 by Jeff

The United Media Guild served as Grand Marshal at the Springfield Labor Day parade. Members of our Springfield unit marched with their banner and raised public awareness about their fight for a first contract at the State Journal-Register.

Our unit in Rockford marched in their parade as well with a nifty homemade banner. Way to go Paula Buckner!

Community members are supporting the effort of our members at every turn. They understand the importance of maintaining a quality newspaper in the state capital.

 

The “Save the SJ-R” campaign is about more than getting overdue raises for long-suffering  journalists. This campaign calls on GateHouse Media and its parent company, New Media Investment Group, to commit the resources needed to produce great products on all of its platforms.

The State Journal-Register newsroom has been slashed to a fraction of its former size on GateHouse’s watch, reducing its ability to cover the community well.

The same story is true in Rockford. Like the Journal-Register, the Register Star outsourced its copy desk and slashed the number of reporters and photographers. The Register Star is taking the cutting to a new level by demanding the right to eliminate the photo staff and use only free-lancers.

These newspapers are profitable. GateHouse is free from bankruptcy and its parent company, New Media, is generating positive cash flow.

This company promotes its newspapers as “trusted news sources” in its community — but it won’t foster an atmosphere that encourages journalists to stick around, build contacts and provide in-depth reporting on critical issues.

Springfield and Rockford deserve better. Our members get that message every time they speak to public groups about this scenario.

And they heard it loud and clear at their parades.

 

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UMG members invited to march Monday in Labor Day parades

Aug 28, 2014 by Jeff

United Media Guild members have an opportunity to march in Labor Day parades in St. Louis, Springfield, Ill., Peoria and Rockford.

In St. Louis, UMG members will march with their colleagues in our parent union, the Communication Workers of America. The CWA is gathering at 8 a.m. on Sept. 1 at the corner of Olive and 23rd in downtown St. Louis. The parade, which begins at 9 a.m., moves east on Olive to Tucker, then south to Market, then west on Market.

The first 200 CWA marchers will receiver free T-shirts. The Greater St. Louis CWA City Council will provide hot dogs and refreshments after the parade. This year’s theme is “Unions Built This City!”

In Springfield, the parade begins at 10 a.m. in downtown. The parade proceeds from Jefferson to Fifth, Fifth to Capitol, Capitol to Sixth, and Sixth to Washington.

Our Springfield unit will serve as Grand Marshal of that parade — another sign of its tremendous activism in the community.

In Peoria, the parade will start at 10 a.m. in front of the fire station on Monroe and end at the Peoria Courthouse. Following the parade there will be a Labor Day Picnic at Riverfront Festival Park. This year’s theme is “50 Years — United as One!”

The Rockford parade begins at 10 a.m. from Seventh and Railroad. The parade will proceed north on Seventh to E. State, west on State to Wyman and south on Wyman before ending at the Cedar Street entrance to Davis Park. This year’s theme is “Standing United to Secure our Future.”

 

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UMG to hold Local-wide meeting Sept 13

Aug 25, 2014 by Jeff

The United Media Guild will hold its next quarterly Local Meeting at 1 p.m. Sept. 13 at Kelleher’s Pub & Eatery in Peoria.

Kelleher’s comes highly recommended by Peoria unit char Phil Lucianp. It is on the riverfront at 619 SW Water St., Peoria, Il 61602.

This meeting is open to all members of the UMG. We believe this will be an especially good time for our members at GateHouse newspapers in Illinois  to come together and discuss the challenges ahead.

Our Springfield and Rockford units are negotiating first contracts. Pekin’s first collective bargaining agreement is up and the folks there are trying to negotiate a new deal.

Springfield unit chair Dean Olsen recently sent this update for this folks:

“Several things are obvious based on the comments from the GateHouse negotiator at the bargaining table: If it were up to GateHouse, there would be no raises for several more years. There would be higher health-insurance premiums. There would be a lower mileage reimbursement rate. And the company would have continued unfettered right to expand the use of freelancers — just in case more employees leave and GateHouse wants to further increase its profits by not replacing them.

“The message GateHouse is sending to its hard-working newsroom employees is this: Just be grateful you have a job. There is no more money for you, so shut up. And those positive messages you may be hearing about the advertising department’s performance? The negotiator says we should basically ignore them. The additional money the SJ-R is earning for GateHouse, he says, needs to be funneled to corporate to prop up other newspapers elsewhere and acquire more newspapers elsewhere. In other words, GateHouse wants to keep the gravy train flowing for GateHouse executives through six- and seven-digit bonuses for them and dividends for stockholders, most of whom are GateHouse officials themselves.

“We are butting up against the issues of pay and benefits at the bargaining table, and unless the company feels more pressure from us and the community, nothing is going to happen in our favor. Absolutely nothing!

“Labor Day will kick off a new level of pressure we plan to put on GateHouse — through new literature we will distribute during the Springfield Labor Day Parade, and through a schedule of events and activities that we will hold over the next few months. It all will start with the parade, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Sept. 1 in downtown Springfield.

“I am asking labor leaders, rank-and-file union members throughout the community, civic leaders and faith leaders to stand beside us and advocate on our behalf at upcoming events. There are people out there willing to help us, but we need to continue to show the community we’re willing to help ourselves.”

Expect similar escalation in Pekin and Rockford, two good labor communities that support working people.

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KSDK-TV unit ratifies new three-year contract

Aug 22, 2014 by Jeff

The United Media Guild’s KSDK-TV unit has agreed to a new contract with Gannett.

Our members approved the deal with a unanimous vote Thursday afternoon. Here are the highlights:

  • Signing bonuses of 4 percent of annual pay for full-time employees upon the signing of the contract. (Although there are no prescribed raises in the contract, our full-time employees have been receiving regular annual raises from the company.)
  • Enhanced severance pay for employees whose jobs are outsourced.
  • Enhanced severance play for employees who lose their jobs due to technological advancements.
  • Two extra days bereavement leave, from three days to five, for the loss of a spouse or child.
  • The opportunity to explore alternate health care options to gain better coverage or lower costs.

The UMG staff is working with health care brokers to see if our members would be better off getting out of Gannett’s plan, which features very high deductibles.

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Newspaper Guild decries mistreatment of journalists in Ferguson

Aug 18, 2014 by Jeff

Reporters covering the civil unrest in Ferguson have harassed, threatened and arrested. This aggression continued Sunday night with another round of incidents as police struggled to keep the situation from getting out of control.

The Newspaper Guild sent a letter of protect to Ferguson officials, signed by TNG president Bernie Lunzer, United Media Guild business representative Shannon Duffy and UMG President Jeff Gordon.

Here is the content of that letter:

“As the nation’s largest union of journalists, including a large unit of St. Louis Post-Dispatch employees, we are writing to express our deep concern about how your city’s police officers have treated journalists covering the protests in Ferguson. We would like to meet with you to discuss strategies to prevent a repeat of these incidents.

“On Wednesday, Aug. 13, two journalists were arrested, despite clearly identifying themselves and their news organizations (The Wash­ington Post and Huffington Post), and a crew from Al Jazeera America appears to have been targeted with tear gas and rubber bullets. Other journalists also have reported unnecessarily confrontational behavior by officers.

“News reporters and photographers have the First Amendment right to record and photograph these very public events. Detaining jour­nalists, jailing them, targeting them or interfering with their work is an unacceptable violation of their rights and responsibilities. Our members cannot do their work in handcuffs or holding cells.

“We understand that large protests can be chaotic situations for officers, who must make rapid decisions to protect themselves and public safety. In other cities, including Oakland, Calif., we have successfully worked with police and city leaders to identify policies that protect journalists without compromising officer safety. We urge you to enact one such measure immediately: To instruct all local officers and those brought in for mutual aide to immediately call in a supervising officer in any conflict situation in which someone identifies as a working journalist. A PIO or supervising officer can assess the validity of the claim, and you will have avoided an em­barrassing and unconstitutional detainment.

“We want to work with you to find solutions. We request that you contact us as soon as possible to arrange a time to discuss these issues further.”

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State Journal-Register campaign gains momentum at Illinois State Fair

Aug 11, 2014 by Jeff

Several of our members at the State Journal-Register in Springfield manned an informational booth at the AFC-CIO Pavilion at the Illinois State Fair this weekend. They met with other union leaders, discussed their fight with fairgoers and gathered hundreds of support cards.

The UMG is in the second year of our fight for a first contract at the newspaper. Many veteran reporters have gone more than seven years without a raise at the GateHouse Media-owned newspaper. The newsroom has suffered drastic staffing cuts in recent years and production of the paper was moved to Peoria.

As unit chair Dean Olsen told his folks in an e-mail, “Every one of those cards represents a conversation, sometimes a fairly detailed conversation. These cards will be used in a campaign that we already know is beginning to wear on GateHouse officials and will help us negotiate a fair contract.”

Our Local is also negotiating contracts with GateHouse newspapers in Pekin and Rockford. At the fair UMG leaders also had a chance to speak to folks who read the Daily Times and the Register Star as well. Almost to a person, the readers we talked noticed the decline in quality of their newspapers since GateHouse took over.

Many of those people appear ready to support our efforts to get fair contracts that reward the work of quality journalists and help maintain the quality of those publications.

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GateHouse/New Media rewards shareholders, not employees

Aug 4, 2014 by Jeff

New Media Investment Group, parent company at GateHouse Media, has delivered on its promise to reward shareholders with dividends.

The second quarter produced free cash flow of $19.6 million, or $0.65 on a per-share basis. So the New Media Board of Directors voted to issue a 27-cent quarterly dividend.

An analyst participating in New Media’s quarterly earnings call wondered if that dividend was a bit generous. CEO Michael Reed noted that New Media’s plan all along was to pay strong dividends.

Indeed, from the outset New Media has aimed to convert free cash flow into dividends. The goal was to stand apart from similar media companies still grappling with crippling debt.

That makes sense, but the company is holding a firm economic line in negotiations with the United Media Guild at the The State Journal-Register in Springfield, the Pekin Daily Times and the Rockford Register Star. The company’s position is that is has the money to offer raises in its collective bargaining agreements but chooses not to do so at this time.

In fairness to company, it is also using some of the free cash flow to fund acquisitions. This certainly is smarter than borrowing heavily to buy new properties, a practice that plunged GateHouse and other media companies into bankruptcy.

And the pending purchases of the Providence Journal could bolster New Media in several ways. Its strong position in New England will became even stronger.

But . . . the failure to reinvest in New Media’s core product of  “compelling, high-quality local news”, as Reed likes to put it, could cause long-term audience erosion.

The UMG hears the old “if you don’t like it, leave” refrain when it presses GateHouse officials about its treatment of journalists. Churning the newsroom is a bad business strategy. That practice erases institutional knowledge and severs connections in the community.

Excessive staff reductions are also a bad idea. The profitable Rockford Register Star has proposed language that it would allow it to replace its two surviving staff photographers with free-lancers.

That would represent still another harmful cut to a newsroom decimated by lay-offs on GateHouse’s watch.

Since the foundation of New Media’s newspaper business is “strong and trusted local brands”, as Reed likes to say, diminishing the product doesn’t seem like a great long-range strategy.

We have been engaging readers in Springfield, Pekin and Rockford to see what they think of their local newspapers. Consumers notice the product erosion and many are willing to support our efforts to maintain quality journalism.

As for New Media, the company offered earth-shattering revelations during its latest earnings call. Here were a few highlights:

  • New Media recently gained more favorable financing for past, ongoing and future purchases.
  • Print advertising was down again in the second quarter, but digital advertising was up slightly (4.4 percent) and classified advertising stabilized.
  • Revenues from Propel Marketing more than doubled in one year, up to $4.5 million.
  • Circulation revenues remained stable. (But how long will readers be willing to pay more for less?)
  • Commercial printing revenues rose nearly 15 percent.
  • GateHouse/New Media remains in acquisition mode, although Reed declined to offer specifics. Disclosing how much money he had in the acquisition “pipeline” could hurt the company during purchase negotiations.

Elsewhere on the GateHouse/New Media front:

GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis made nice with Providence Journal readers with a full-page ad.

New Media Investment Group apparently will not honor existing collective bargaining agreement when its purchase of the Journal  becomes final. The seller, A.H. Belo Corp., will pay the severance on up to 40 employees who lose their jobs due to this purchase.

Folks in Providence wonder what will  become of  The Journal now that it is in the GateHouse/New Media family.

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