Monday, June 18, 2007

'For years, I had no interest in the union'

I have been a Wall Street Journal reporter for 28 years, in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and now New York. I have written about every imaginable topic from sumo wrestling to diplomacy. I currently cover financial markets. For years I had no interest in the union. My wages went up steadily and my benefits were excellent. Then, in the past decade, management pulled out its knife and began trying to grow through cutbacks, a recipe for disaster. At first, people figured cutbacks were inevitable and tried not to worry about it. But with time, we came to realize that the cuts were hurting the paper, not helping, and that they were a crutch management used to avoid exercising actual leadership. When they cut our retirement benefits, a lot of us who had had little involvement with the union got involved, forcing management to roll back most of the planned cuts. When the union later agreed to a deal to cut health benefits, we voted to reject the proposal contract and negotiated a new one. A new group of people took over leadership of the union. Now we are locked in yet another fight over proposed cutbacks, this time involving both health benefits and real, take-home wages. We have realized that the only way to protect ourselves is to act together. We are much stronger today than we were five years ago, and management is slowly discovering that it will have a fight on its hands every time it tries to cut. The cutbacks are threatening the newspaper's quality, and the only way to protect the paper -- and our families -- is to stand up for ourselves.

E.S. (Jim) Browning,
WSJ reporter

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