Regarding the SJ-R vote:

Jan 30, 2016 by

Three ballots were distributed at last night’s contract ratification vote in Springfield, IL.  Two dealt with how parts of the contract – should it be ratified – would unfold.  The first set of options was to determine how the bargaining unit wanted to ‘catch up’ with the premium rates the other (non-union) SJ-R employees are paying (because, during bargaining, our people have not their premiums increased) and our members voted unanimously for the less expensive ramp up.

The second ballot was to determine if our members wanted to receive a $600 bonus upon signing the contract and then another $600 next year and the following year.  Or they could vote to have a union shop and dues check off.  The message from GateHouse was clear and unmistakable:  We’ll give you $1800 to have an open shop and a weak union.  And again, UMG members voted as a bloc  – and REJECTED the attempted bribe.

Finally, the third ballot was to accept or reject the contract – with whatever options the membership had chosen.  And once more, the vote was unanimous (ed note:  The vote was conducted by secret ballot with election tellers who were not part of the bargaining team).

We are scheduled to sit down with GateHouse again in Springfield at 10:00 a.m. on February 11.



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lifted from the Illinois Times. . .

Jan 30, 2016 by

Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 09:28 pm

Shove it

SJ-R newsroom rejects contract

Newsroom employees at the State Journal-Register tonight rejected a final contract offer from GateHouse Media, the company that owns Springfield’s daily newspaper.

The vote was unanimous, according to Shannon Duffy, administrative officer for the United Media Guild, which represents newsroom workers. There are approximately 25 workers in the bargaining unit.

Reporters and other newsroom employees have gone without raises since GateHouse purchased the paper eight years ago, and pay increases had been a sticking point in contract negotiations between the company and the union. Employees voted to form a union in 2012.

Management offered $600 annual bonuses for the life of a three-year deal, Duffy said, but that was contingent on an open shop, meaning that employees would not be compelled to join the union or pay union dues. Management and the union had tentatively agreed to a number of working conditions, including rules governing transfers and promotions, leaves of absence, holidays and rules governing discharge and discipline, according to the union.

Clarissa Williams, SJ-R publisher, declined comment.

Union leadership had recommended that the bargaining unit reject management’s latest proposal, which Duffy said was a “last, best and final offer.”

“It (the offer) would not create a better workplace,” union leaders wrote in a Jan. 27 memo to union members. “It would simply codify the one you are trying to change. GateHouse has been buying up properties like it is the Golden Arches of journalism. That doesn’t mean newsroom staffers should be tied to a McDonald’s pay scale.”

The McDonald’s comparison was an obvious reference to the plight of Dean Olsen, an SJ-R reporter and union organizer who took a job at the fast-food chain to make ends meet. Olsen’s moonlighting at McDonald’s, first reported by Illinois Times, received national attention on websites and blogs devoted to journalism.

“How crazy is it that just as the $15 an hour minimum wage movement is building steam for fast food workers, GateHouse insists on a minimum rate of $13 an hour for fulltime journalists and $11 for part-timers?” union leadership wrote in the memo. “Will there be fries with that?”

Union leaders in the memo said that GateHouse was too quick to present a final offer.

“(F)or some reason, this company seems to have given up trying to work out differences on the remaining issues,” union leadership wrote. “Instead, it presented – in our view very prematurely – a final offer, insisting that it get its way on all unresolved issues.”

Although the offer presented by management was a final one, Duffy said that another negotiating session is scheduled for Feb. 11. Presuming no accord is reached, management could declare an impasse and install all or part of the conditions in the final contract offer, Duffy and Olsen said. The union could appeal a declaration of impasse to the National Labor Relations Board, asking for a ruling that no impasse exists, they said. If the NLRB rules that there is no impasse exists, negotiations would continue, they said.

“The ball truly is in their court right now,” Duffy said. “We remain committed to getting a contract.”

If an impasse is declared and the company installs provisions in its final offer that have been rejected by employees, options for the union range from going out on strike to organizing a boycott of subscribers or advertisers or both, Duffy said.

“It gets really interesting from this point forward,” he said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at

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UMG honors journalism, activists at Local Meeting

Jan 29, 2016 by

The United Media Guild honored journalist MicheleMunz Munz and several of its activists at a Local Meeting Thursday night in St. Louis.

Munz won the Terry Hughes Award for her distinctive reporting and writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A panel of past Terry Hughes Award winners selected her work to be honored.

Hughes was a Post-Dispatch columnist who died of breast cancer in 1991 at age 36. Her columns included the perspectives of everyday people and their struggles.
The judges noted that Munz often writes stories about the sick and disabled, people who typically remain out of view from the quick pace of modern journalism. She wrote about a deaf 22-year-old woman who learned she would also go blind; a Ballwin mother who makes capes to make children with illnesses feel like superheroes; and a Washington University physician who created a charity to give school-age girls in Ethiopia sanitary pads.

The following awards were given to UMG activists:

Steward of the Year: Our unit chair at the Pekin Daily Times, reporter Miranda Henderson, was honored for her diligent work in enforcing our contract at that GateHouse Media property. Among the recent issues she assisted us on: getting employee bonuses paid properly, as dictated by our latest contract, and integrating employees of other GateHouse publications in the area into the Pekin unit.

Solidarity Award: Our members at the Mid-South Organizing Committee — the organizers of the “Fight for 15” movement for fast food workers — were honored for sticking together through the negotiation of a more comprehensive collective bargaining agreement. The unit has members working across the Midwest and the South. Unit chair Shawnte Poynter, currently working out of Little Rock, accepted the award for the group.

Activist of the Year: Photographer Max Gersh, our unit chair at the Rockford Register Star, was honored for his persistent leadership in the face of company harassment. Twice the UMG filed unfair labor practice charges against the companies for actions against Gersh. To settle the charges, the company not only withdrew its disciplinary actions, it agreed to progressive discipline language that took effect while we are still bargaining our first contract. Gersh first joined the Guild as an intern for the Post-Dispatch.

Guilder of the Year: Our highest activist honor went to UMG treasurer John Mues, a member since 1972. He is on his second lengthy tour on our Executive Committee. He has served on our Post-Dispatch bargaining committees, been highly active on our corporate campaigns, assisted on various organizing drives, participated in countless social justice actions and most recently assisted our efforts to streamline our Local administrative operation. In short, John has always been there for the Guild and his co-workers whenever help is needed.

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GateHouse Media’s utter disregard for quality journalism

Jan 10, 2016 by

It’s never good news when New Media Investment Group, the parent company of GateHouse Media, buys your newspaper.

Wholesale newsroom cuts and outsourcing come next, as we have seen at five UMG-represented newspapers: The Peoria Journal-Star, State Journal-Register of Springfield, Rockford Register Star, Freeport Journal-Standard and Pekin Daily Times.

The Columbus Dispatch is a classic example. After New Media/GateHouse bought the newspaper, it set out to slash $10 million in costs within two years.

The Providence Journal has suffered similarly suffered under New Media/GateHouse ownership. After the newspaper changed hands, the Journal immediately laid off prominent journalists and scheduled the outscourcing of its entire copy desk.

Like so many other New England newspapers the company owns, the Journal is losing its identity through all the consolidation. Then there is the issue of advertorial content and the newsroom pressure to produce stories about advertisers.

The UMG is seeking journalism integrity language in our first contracts at the Register Star and the State Journal-Register. But negotiations have been difficult.

The company has become increasingly hostile toward the Guild in the past few years, drawing unfair labor charges from the NLRB in Rockford and again in Springfield.
State Journal-Register management is upset that our members at the State Journal-Register are gathering public support in their quest for a fair first contract.

And if all this is not bad enough, New Media/GateHouse is willing to flip properties to an agenda-driven owner — and then help that owner pursue the agenda at the cost of journalistic credibility.

It recently sold the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to the family of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson for a handsome profit — 69 percent by its own reporting. The sale was initially shrouded in secrecy.

But New Media/GateHouse continued managing the property and attempted to orchestrate an investigation of Las Vegas judges, including one presiding over litigation against Adelson.

Eventually a newspaper tied to the new Review-Journal ownership — but outside the New Media/GateHouse empire — printed a dubious story.

This fiasco drew national attention and forced the company to undertake an image clean-up operation.

But even after that move, journalists were essentially told to go easy on the newspaper’s new owner.

Industry analyst Ken Doctor noted that top company executives created a credibility crisis:

Kirk Davis, COO of New Media and CEO of Gatehouse Media LLC, has been publicly quiet, though associates say he now understands the depth of the controversy. Mike Reed, New Media Investment Group’s CEO and the company’s chief acquisitor, has so far shown himself to be tone-deaf to the multiple controversies. Largely declining comment, he told the Review-Journal little. It reported its conversation this way: “He also sidestepped when asked if his company or the casino mogul had already influenced editorial decisions made by Review-Journal Publisher Jason Taylor. ‘I don’t have a comment on that,’ Reed told a reporter. ‘My recommendation is focus your energy on making the brand stronger.’”

A newspaper brand, though, is nothing without the trust of its readers or its community, and that trust has been put into question.

This is what can happen at the dangerous intersection of vulture capitalism and journalism. Media expert Jay Rosen did an excellent job chronicling the whole sordid affair with this comprehensive blog post.

Rosen had this observation:

Gatehouse Media is the one who ordered R-J journalists to investigate three Nevada judges, one of whom turned out to be the presiding judge in a lawsuit against Sheldon Adelson’s company. When asked about it by reporters, Michael Reed, CEO of New Media Investment Corp., the parent company of GateHouse Media, declined all comment on whether Adelson was involved. That was a real confidence builder!

Reed said the effort was part of a “multistate, multinewsroom” investigative effort initiated by GateHouse. Really? What was this project all about? Reed said he did not know who started it or who approved it. Weird. Big investigative efforts are launched but nobody at this company knows why, or who gave the order.

We will continue reminding New Media/GateHouse shareholders that quality journalism is essential to the company’s future.

New Media/GateHouse is not committed to the long-term quality of its properties. GateHouse Media collapsed once under $1 billion in debt, rendering its stock worthless.  Then it emerged from bankruptcy as an even bigger and more ambitious company — New Media Investment Group — spun off from another Fortress Investment Group entity, Newcastle Investment Corp.

Once again it was run by Michael Reed and Kirk Davis. It is managed externally by the folks at Fortress, who collect management fees for building a bigger business, not necessarily a better one.

The Clark Street Value had some concerns about the external management arrangement when New Media Investment Group was born.

The blog noted: “The management fee is based on assets which essentially incentivizes them to increase the asset base irrespective of the price they pay for the assets, and . . . the incentive fee may cause the manager to take unnecessary risks as their payoff is skewed to the upside and they don’t participate equally in the downside.”

Sure enough, last year John Levin, chairman and chief executive of Levin Capital Strategies L.P., sent an open letter to Fortress co-chairman Wesley Edens expressing concern about the eternal management of New Media and two other companies spun off Newcastle.

As the Cole Group noted in its media newsletter:

Levin is calling for Edens and Fortress to separate management of these companies, which will force the chief executives like Reed to focus on all the shareholders, not just Edens. Additionally, Levin wants more independent directors.

That sounds like a great idea in the wake of the Review-Journal fiasco that exposed Reed’s lack of concern over this astonishing scandal.

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UMG to hold Local Meeting Jan. 28

Jan 5, 2016 by

The United Media Guild will hold its quarterly Local Meeting and Annual Awards Presentation Jan. 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m at Lombardo’s Trattoria, 201 South 20th St. in downtown St. Louis (in the Drury Inn next to Union Station).

All members in good standing are invited to attend. Appetizers and beverages will be served. Please RSVP to the Guild office by Jan. 19 by calling 314-241-7046.

The UMG will update members on Local activities and finances. We will present our service awards for Solidarity,  Steward of the Year, Activist of the Year and Guilder of the Year.

We may also to honor quality journalism by giving the Terry Hughes Award to a St. Louis-area reporter. We are accepting entries for that award. A panel of past Hughes winners will review them and select the winner.

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UMG mourns loss of sports columnist

Dec 28, 2015 by

Once again the United Media Guild is mourning the loss of a prominent sports columnist at its Post-Dispatch unit.

Joe Strauss lost his battle to cancer Sunday at the age of 54. He was a member of the UMG since 2002, when he hired on as the newspaper’s primary newspaper reporter. He became a general sports columnist in 2012.

He embraced his role as the staff skeptic, needling subjects, co-workers and readers alike. But Strauss looked out for colleagues in need. Most notably he stepped up to offer constant support to fellow columnist Bryan Burwell during his cancer battle in 2014.

In another instance he intervened with the newspaper’s managejoement team on behalf of a co-worker he was hardly friendly with. In another instance, he declined to pursue a grievance against a Post-Dispatch manager who wronged him egregiously.

Upset as he was about an incident, Strauss didn’t see the point of going after the manager’s job.

Regular readers of the Post-Dispatch might be surprised by Joe’s softer side. For instance, he went out of his way to help a young reporter helping out on the baseball beat.

When the  UMG agreed to a concessionary contract with the Post-Dispatch with Lee Enterprises facing bankruptcy and the industry in turmoil, I braced for Joe’s grumpy response to the outcome. But he thanked our leaders for waging a tough fight and noted that we did the best we could under tough circumstances.

We will miss Joe Strauss, as will Post-Dispatch readers and the whole St. Louis sports community.

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Nominations sought for Terry Hughes Award

Dec 8, 2015 by

Terry Hughes was 36 when she died of breast cancer on July 22, 1991.  A columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, her writing was clear, witty and descriptive, with a flair for portraying society’s underdogs.  Some of her columns chronicled the bouts with cancer that she and others faced.  One column was credited with helping persuade the Missouri Legislature to approve a bill forcing insurers to pay for mammograms.

One of the many readers who wrote to the newspaper after her death described her work this way: “Her columns were full of real life stories that touched us all and even changed our way of thinking or even our lives.”

The United Media Guild has established a writing award in the name of Ms. Hughes.  The award is intended to honor a journalist whose writing shows the talent that she displayed.

Any journalist in the metropolitan St. Louis area who has written for a daily or weekly newspaper, a magazine or an on-line publication is eligible.

Single articles of extraordinary merit will be considered.  Preference will be given to entries of between three and ten articles that display the writer’s range of talent.

Articles must have been published in 2015.  There are no formal applications.  Anyone may submit a nomination by sending copies of articles to:

The Terry Hughes Award Committee

United Media Guild

1015 Locust St.

Suite 735

St. Louis, Mo.  63101

The deadline for applications is Friday, January 8, 2016.  The panel of judges is comprised of previous award winners. The award will be presented by the United Media Guild at its quarterly Local Meeting in late January.

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Springfield unit battles on for pay raises

Nov 19, 2015 by

Our Springfield unit is pressing on for a first contract at the State Journal-Register. After years of negotiating, the GateHouse Media is still offering what amounts to a pay cut for those of our members using company health care.

Before our last bargaining session, SJ-R newsroom employees took to the street in front of their building to express their solidarity and commitment.

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