Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You asked

Maybe you're not ready to attend mass meetings or even one-on-one for a cup of coffee today, tomorrow or next week. But by the looks of the number of hits and page views to this blog, there's no doubt that many of you are looking for information; searching for answers to questions about the union. So we've put together a compilation of our most frequently asked questions about The Guild and the process to form a Guild in your workplace. Undoubtedly, there will be more questions. We're prepared to answer every one of them. And if we don't have an answer, we'll get it for you as soon as possible.

Q. Why a union and why at this time?
A. Because we can expect that more upheaval is coming. Because few individuals have leverage to negotiate better circumstances for themselves with Tribune. Because all Tribune employees want to see their newspapers remain quality papers and because its becoming clearer every day that the current chief owner does not care about either its civic duty or the Fourth Estate.

And — with a formal organization like The Newspaper Guild-CWA, employee concerns and ideas about the operation of the newsroom must be heard by management.

Q. Why the Guild?
A. Our changing industry has been undergoing tremendous cultural upheaval, which has translated to uncertainty and massive layoffs. When media companies make cost-cutting decisions — ostensibly designed to meet debt obligations (and/or improve profit margins) — reducing its workforce is among the first. The Guild is experienced in limiting the impact of cost-cutting layoffs at publications where it represents employees. At Guild locations, most planned layoffs were averted by offers to employees of incentives like enhanced severance packages, extra pension credits or extended health care coverage. The Guild in Baltimore had a seat at the table on the recent buyout offer there. It didn't prevent the layoffs, but it had a voice in how the layoffs were "selected".

Additionally, a media corporation with unorganized employees has 100% control of the workplace, often without the knowledge or experience to produce the best possible newspaper — one that educates and informs its readership community. When employees are unified, the paper will be more appealing to buyers with experience working with unions and are far more likely to see its employees as the assets they are, rather than liabilities to be stripped or discarded. MN employees launch worker-friendly idea

Q. What can the Guild do to prevent layoffs?
A. While it cannot guarantee jobs in the face of realignment, reorganization or restructure, the Guild forces the company to negotiate the terms and conditions for those impacted by layoff through buyout opportunities, enhanced severance packages and, in some cases, development of rehire lists. The Guild helps set guidelines and protections for the inevitable increased workload for the staff remaining. Without the Guild’s experience and expertise, most individuals lack the leverage to protect themselves from the impact of pending job loss.

Organized employees are more successful in trying to make sure the journalistic quality of their paper is maintained. At a time when owners have no vision for the future of journalism and are sacrificing tomorrow’s paper for today’s bottom dollar, newspaper staffers are fighting back.

Q. What is The Newspaper Guild–Communications Workers of America (TNG-CWA)?
A. Founded by newspaper reporter and columnist Heywood Broun and a small group of journalists seeking better wages and improved working conditions for the profession, TNG–CWA has continuously represented journalists and other media workers at such publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post to advance their economic interests, improve working conditions, and advance as far as it is able honesty in news, editorials, advertising and business practices. The Guild actively works to raise the standards of journalism and ethics in the industry. It is the industry’s leading advocate for First Amendment rights at work, rights protected under the National Labor Relations Act , Congress’ commitment to protect employee rights to assemble, speak and act as one. Additionally, The Guild particpates in, promotes and supports all the journalism minority caucuses and is a member of the International Federation of Journalists. The Guild's model contract is available on our Web site.

Q: What is the Guild’s role in our salary structure?
A. The Guild negotiates the floor for wages: the absolute minimum amounts required in Guild collective bargaining agreements based on the various experience levels. Actual salaries may be higher, based on contract provisions that allow for salary payments above the minimum levels. In other words, individuals may negotiate above the contractual top scale, usually termed “merit pay”. The Guild does not impose wage ceilings: it does not suppress salaries. Minimum salaries are negotiated to ensure wages are distributed fairly and equitably and will guarantee your individual right to seek and maintain an above-scale salary.

Q: What about dues? What will it cost?
A. Nothing, initially. TNG-CWA does not require dues to be paid until the first contract is voted and approved by the newly-organized members. The typical $3 initiation fee will not be charged to Tribune employees who become members prior to a first contract. Dues are 1.3846% of salary. For example, dues for a salary of $1500 per week would be $1080 annually (tax deductable) Dues are capped at about the first $104,000 per year in salary, according to the Guild Constitution. Most of the dues collected remain with the local for its operations.

Q: Who will run the organization?
A. You and your newly-organized coworkers. The Guild and CWA professional staff are available to train and support the members and play whatever role is desired to best represent the newsroom. In addition, the Guild and the CWA staff have extensive experience in dealing with ESOPS and sales and/or transfers in ownership in the news industry.

Q: What about costs associated with forming a union?
A. Certainly there is a cost factor involved. However, Guild and CWA members coast to coast are making an investment in you because our members understand the value to all if your newsroom is part of our union. Guild and CWA members offer experience and resources to help you decide if the Guild is the right union for you.

Q: How do we do it and how long will it take?
A. It depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the level of commitment from a majority of the eligible employees. It should not be a decision that is made without investigation. With all the uncertainty that is Tribune, added to people’s work schedules and home schedules, its difficult to make a timeline. But the goal should be for every person to examine the current circumstances and decide if this is the right time for a union. If a majority supports representation by the Guild, the sooner you have an organization in place the better. Then, the members could assess and decide its role in the difficult world of Tribune – before more significant changes are made without input from you.

Q: What happens next?
A. That is up to you. Exercise your First Amendment rights at work and organize now. The Guild is prepared to do whatever it takes to help you make an informed decision and get a Guild in place now.

Is Tribune taking action that is in your best interest or the best interests of your paper and the communities it serves? Why shouldn't you act in your own best interest and that of the paper you love? Take back some of that 100% control current Tribune leadership holds. After all, you own the company too.

Email us with your questions, comments or concerns and put us on your schedule.

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