UMG Members take to the streets against GateHouse

Oct 28, 2014 by Jeff

GateHouse Media and its parent company, New Media Investment Group, is operating with strong cash flow. the company is paying dividends to shareholders and buying new properties left and right.

But it is taking a taking a hard “no raises” negotiating line in contract negotiations at the State Journal-Register and Pekin Daily Times — even though veteran journalists at both newspapers have gone seven years without a raise.

So many of our members at both newspapers staged informational pickets at lunchtime Monday. Members of the labor community and other civic activists joined them on the street in solidarity.

Influential media blogger Jim Romenesko wrote about the plight of our Springfield chair, Dean Olsen, who is just one of the many GateHouse employees who have had to take a second job to make ends meet.

The Illinois Times provided advanced coverage of the Springfield protest and described the ongoing fight for a first contract.

Our protest in Springfield drew television coverage, helping spread the word about what GateHouse has done to journalism in the state capital.

Our protest in Pekin drew radio coverage, letting folks know that many journalists at that paper do not make a living wage. Reporters start at $10 per hour.

In Rockford, our members at the Rockford Register Star launched its outreach campaign “Transform Rockford Register Star” by reaching out to those in the “Transform Rockford” civic movement in that community.

They are building an e-mail database of Rockford leaders and civic activists to spread the word of what GateHouse Media has done to the Register Star since buying the newspaper.

The Register Star has been strong advocate of the “Transform Rockford” movement, yet its parent company has been a terrible corporate citizen in that community. GateHouse Media pared the newsroom to a fraction of its former size and shipped many jobs to Texas.

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Medical plan changes at Post-Dispatch result in higher out-of-pocket costs

Oct 23, 2014 by Jeff

Health care premiums will remain stable for United Media Guild members at the Post-Dispatch next year.

But due to changes in the Lee Enterprises plans for 2015, we could pay appreciably more in out-of-pocket medical costs. Those choosing the high-deductible (lowest-cost) plan will be hit the hardest.

We should all review these changes carefully before completing our insurance enrollment

Here are the comparisons from 2014 to 2015, where changes have been made:

LOW DEDUCTIBLE PLAN (Highest Contribution)

First payer

  • Individual deductible increases from $500 to $750.
  • Family deductible increases from $1,000 to $1,500.

Second payer

  • Company-funded individual deductible decreases from $750 to $500.
  • Company-funded family deductible decreases from $1,500 to $1,000.

Also:

  • The plan’s share of out-of-network costs decreases from 60 percent to 50 percent.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket individual prescription costs increases from $2,000 to $2,500.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket family prescription costs increases from $4,000 to $5,000.

MID-DEDUCTIBLE PLAN (Middle Contribution)

First payer

  • Individual deductible increases from $1,000 to $1,500.
  • Family deductible increases from $2,000 to $3,000.

Second payer

  • Company-funded individual deductive decreases from $750 to $500.
  • Company-funded family deductible decreases from $1,500 to $1,000.

Also:

  • The plan’s share of out-of-network costs decreases from 60 percent to 50 percent.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket individual costs for in-network care increases from $2,000 to $2,500.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket family costs for in-network care increases from $4,000 to $5,000.

HIGH-DEDUCTIBLE PLAN (Lowest Contribution)

  • Individual deductible increases from $2,500 to $2,600.
  • Family deductible increases from $3,500 to $4,000.

Also:

  • The plan’s share of out-of-network costs decreases from 60 percent to 50 percent.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket individual costs for in-network care increases from $1,000 to $2,000.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket family costs for in-network care increases from $3,000 to $4,000.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket individual costs for out-of-network care increases from $2,000 to $4,000.
  • Maximum out-of-pocket family costs for out-of-network care increases from $6,000 to $8,000.

Due to the current collective bargaining agreement, the company cannot increase our percentage share of health insurance premiums. We pay 25 percent and the company pays 75 percent for the length of the contract, which expires next year.

The contract also capped our annual premium at 13.5 percent per year. There will be a no increase for next year.

But the contract does not prevent the company for changing deductibles, cost share percentages and the maximum limits for our out-of-pocket costs. That is where we will get hit in the wallet.

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Post-Dispatch photographers earn national acclaim

Oct 9, 2014 by Jeff

Our members on the Post-Dispatch photo did astounding work on the front lines of the Ferguson uprising. The National Press Photographers Association honored their work with this outstanding magazine spread.

Time LightBox took this look at what our staff accomplished.

Here was one of the early interviews with UMG vice president David Carson about his work.

Here is the STLToday.com collection of the most compelling pictures from this conflict.

Please click on these links and appreciate what our folks did under duress. This work reminds us all how important photojournalism is to our business and our society.

Unbelievably, some newspapers have moved away from staff photographers to rely on free-lancers or reporters with smart phones. Our unit in Rockford is fighting that very issue at the Register Star.

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Concerns to ponder before buying New Media Investment Group stock

Oct 8, 2014 by Jeff

New Media Investment Group is issuing another $100 million or so in stock to raise more capital so it can buy (and then strip down) some more newspaper properties.

Here are the issues potential shareholders should consider:

  • New Media claims to be the “trusted news source” in its markets, which range mostly from small to mid-sized. But massive newsroom staffing cuts have left these operations with skeleton staffs. Consumers have noticed. Print circulation is declining. Without significant reinvestment in its core news products, New Media operations will continue losing market share.
  • New Media predicts stable subscription income from its properties. But the company has created “stability” by charging more for the ever-shrinking number of newspapers it prints. That strategy has accelerated the print circulation decline and endangered this revenue stream.
  • Digital paywalls can generate new revenue, but at the risk of reducing market penetration. This  could undermine the digital sales strategy.
  • New Media touts its digital sales growth. But much of the digital sales remains tied to print advertising, which is on the decline. Advertising salespeople are under increasing pressure to build digital sales and push Propel Marketing at the expense of print advertising — even though print still delivers much higher margins.
  • New Media is taking a harder line in labor negotiations this year with Newspaper Guild locals. This aggression comes after years of job slashing, wage freezing and benefits erosion. As a result, the Guild is waging public campaigns against New Media properties in key markets like Providence, Springfield and Rockford. Those campaigns will intensify during the weeks ahead, getting the attention of readers and advertisers. If this labor battles persist, they could hurt business.

New Media addressed some of these potential concerns in its company prospectus, as part of the “Risks Related to Our Business” section of disclosure.

Here are some excerpts as presented in New Media Investment Group prospectus. The United Media Guild has inserted its own comments in italics:

Risks Related to Our Business

We compete with a large number of companies in the local media industry; if we are unable to compete effectively, our advertising and circulation revenues may decline.

Our business is concentrated in newspapers and other print publications located primarily in small and midsize markets in the United States. Our revenues primarily consist of advertising and paid circulation. Competition for advertising revenues and paid circulation comes from direct mail, directories, radio, television, outdoor advertising, other newspaper publications, the internet and other media. For example, as the use of the internet and mobile devices has increased, we have lost some classified advertising and subscribers to online advertising businesses and our free internet sites that contain abbreviated versions of our publications. Competition for advertising revenues is based largely upon advertiser results, advertising rates, readership, demographics and circulation levels. Competition for circulation is based largely upon the content of the publication and its price and editorial quality. Our local and regional competitors vary from market to market and many of our competitors for advertising revenues are larger and have greater financial and distribution resources than us. We may incur increased costs competing for advertising expenditures and paid circulation. We may also experience a decline of circulation or print advertising revenue due to alternative media, such as the internet. If we are not able to compete effectively for advertising expenditures and paid circulation, our revenues may decline.

UMG’s take: By slashing the newsroom workforces at all of its operations, New Media has diminished the quality of its products and risked the loss of readership and advertising support. State Journal-Register reporters in Springfield learned this first hand while manning an informational booth at the Illinois State Fair. They spoke to hundreds of  dissatisfied readers of New Media newspapers all over the state.

We could be adversely affected by declining circulation.

Overall daily newspaper circulation, including national and urban newspapers, has declined in recent years. For the year ended December 30, 2012, our Predecessor’s circulation revenue decreased by $0.3 million, or 0.2%, as compared to the year ended January 1, 2012. There can be no assurance that our circulation revenue will not decline again in the future. Our Predecessor was able to maintain its annual circulation revenue from existing operations in recent years through, among other things, increases in per copy prices. However, there can be no assurance that we will be able to continue to increase prices to offset any declines in circulation. Further declines in circulation could impair our ability to maintain or increase our advertising prices, cause purchasers of advertising in our publications to reduce or discontinue those purchases and discourage potential new advertising customers, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows and ability to pay dividends.

The increasing popularity of digital media could also adversely affect circulation of our newspapers, which may decrease circulation revenue and cause more marked declines in print advertising. If we are not successful in offsetting such declines in revenues from our print products, our business, financial condition and prospects will be adversely affected.

UMG’s take: GateHouse Media kept driving up the price of its newspapers while giving readers less and less content. That pattern has continued for those papers and others under the New Media Investment Group umbrella. Since the company is asking the Guild to agree to “frequency of publication” freedom in its collective bargaining agreement, you can expect more of these properties to quit publishing on a daily basis.

A shortage of skilled or experienced employees in the media industry, or our inability to retain such employees, could pose a risk to achieving improved productivity and reducing costs, which could adversely affect our profitability.

Production and distribution of our various publications requires skilled and experienced employees. A shortage of such employees, or our inability to retain such employees, could have an adverse impact on our productivity and costs, our ability to expand, develop and distribute new products and our entry into new markets. The cost of retaining or hiring such employees could exceed our expectations which could adversely affect our results of operations.

UMG’s take: There is no shortage of experienced employees in the media industry. But there IS a shortage of experienced employees willing to work for less at New Media properties. The company hasn’t given regular raises in years and it refuses to offer them in bargaining for new collective bargaining agreements. So the company will continue churning reporters, salespeople, editors and even publishers at its properties. Remember, New Media does not run a widget factory. It is selling content produced by reporters, photographers and editors. It is selling market penetration and advertising opportunity. The constant employee churn lessens the appeal of these products to readers and advertisers.

A number of our employees are unionized, and our business and results of operations could be adversely affected if current or additional labor negotiations or contracts were to further restrict our ability to maximize the efficiency of our operations.

As of June 29, 2014, we employed approximately 5,552 employees, of whom approximately 702 (or approximately 12.6%) were represented by 28 unions. 87% of the unionized employees are in three states: Massachusetts, Illinois and Ohio and represent 24%, 34% and 29% of all our union employees, respectively. Most of our unionized employees work under collective bargaining agreements that expire in 2014.

Although our newspapers have not experienced a union strike in the recent past nor do we anticipate a union strike to occur, we cannot preclude the possibility that a strike may occur at one or more of our newspapers at some point in the future. We believe that, in the event of a newspaper strike, we would be able to continue to publish and deliver to subscribers, which is critical to retaining advertising and circulation revenues, although there can be no assurance of this.

Our potential inability to successfully execute cost control measures could result in greater than expected total operating costs.

We and our Predecessor have implemented general cost control measures, and we expect to continue such cost control efforts in the future. If we do not achieve expected savings as a result of such measures or if our operating costs increase as a result of our growth strategy, our total operating costs may be greater than expected. In addition, reductions in staff and employee benefits could affect our ability to attract and retain key employees.

UMG’s take: The company pays only lip service to employee retention. When a top New Media executive stands up in a newsroom and says “we must find ways other than raises to reward our stars,” it is obvious the company isn’t serious about retaining “key employees.” This stance encouraged two of the largest New Media properties to unionize in recent years. This stance is forcing the unionized workforces to take their case to the public — which is quite receptive to their message. Organized labor members, concern public officials and dissatisfied readers are signing support cards every day for our members. In Springfield, we are also exploring a radio campaign to promote this pro-journalism message.

We may not realize all of the anticipated benefits of the synergies between our recent or potential future acquisitions, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Our ability to realize the anticipated benefits of the synergies between our recent acquisitions, including our acquisition of The Providence Journal, or potential future acquisitions of assets or companies will depend, in part, on our ability to scale up to appropriately integrate the businesses of such acquired companies with our business. The process of acquiring assets or companies may disrupt our business and may not result in the full benefits expected.

Additionally, we may not be successful in identifying acquisition opportunities, assessing the value, strengths and weaknesses of these opportunities and consummating acquisitions on acceptable terms. Furthermore, suitable acquisition opportunities may not even be made available or known to us. In addition, valuations of potential acquisitions may rise materially, making it economically unfeasible to complete identified acquisitions. The risks associated with integrating the operations of recent and potential future acquisitions include, among others:

Not retaining key employees, vendors, service providers, readers and customers of the acquired businesses.

UMG’s take: New Media’s first big move in Providence was to lay off the popular columnist along with other key journalists. This has led to a public campaign to highlight the decimation of the Journal product. It’s not a question of if this product erosion will diminish revenue, but how quickly.

Bottom line: The folks running New Media built one big house of cards, GateHouse Media, that collapsed under a billion dollars of debt. Now they are at it again. They are buying properties at better prices this time around, but are taking on new debt to do so. They are stripping down these properties. This excessive cost-cutting will the help New Media to buy more properties and pay dividends for a while, but product erosion in an increasingly competitive media marketplace could have disastrous long-term results.

 

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Coming soon to a (CWA) union hall near you!

Sep 26, 2014 by Shannon

The United Media Guild, and CWA Local 6300 welcome you to attend a special screening of the Internationally Acclaimed documentary ‘Shadows of Liberty’.

On FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10, at 7:00 PM at CWA Local 6300 (2258 Grissom Dr, St. Louis MO 63146) the Shadows of Liberty Coast to Coast Screening & Media Reform Action Tour will make its Missouri debut in St Louis.
——————————————————————————-
Film Website: www.shadowsofliberty.org
Film trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SAUborWbPw
——————————————————————————-
The documentary film Shadows of Liberty reveals the extraordinary truth behind the news media: censorship, cover-ups and corporate control.

In highly revealing stories, renowned journalists, activists and academics including DANNY GLOVER, JULIAN ASSANGE, DAN RATHER, AMY GOODMAN, DAVID SIMON, NORMAN SOLOMON, BOB BEAR, ROBERTA BASKIN, JOHN MACARTHUR, DANIEL ELLSBERG and KRISTINA BORJESSON give insider accounts of a broken media system. Controversial news reports are suppressed, people are censored for speaking out, and lives are shattered as the arena for public expression is turned into a private profit zone.

Shadows Of Liberty is dedicated to the journalists and information freedom fighters, the heroes of our time, who dedicate their lives to our right to freedom of information – the central pillar of a free society. Shadows of Liberty provides a platform for voices that have been silenced and in doing so, attempts to inspire change and accountability. This film champions the idea of an independent media where truth and integrity are the norm, not the exception.

After the screening, there will be a panel discussion.

This is a free event but donations to support the Shadows of Liberty Coast to Coast Screening & Media Reform Action Tour are greatly appreciated.

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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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