Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guild prez on Zell, the industry and union strategies

Tribune declined an invitation to appear on today's Democracy Now! for a round-table discussion on the state of the industry. The program was hosted by Juan Gonzales, columnist at the New York Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now! with guests Newspaper Guild-CWA president Bernard Lunzer (pictured at left), Chris Hedges, author and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Linda Jue, past president of the SPJ-Northern California Chapter.

Tribune's Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations Gary Weitman wrote in a statement:

"We have gotten a great deal of attention for the actions we've taken at our newspapers to address the issues we and our peers face ... At the end of the day, we had the largest news-gathering staffs in our markets and the second and third largest in the country — in Chicago and Los Angeles. That is true even after implementing the staff reductions..."
Asked to respond, Lunzer said:
"We've watched very closely at what's been happening at the [Guild-represented] Baltimore Sun and the loss of all the international bureaus and that kind of coverage, but its important to note that what they're doing is having a great effect on local coverage as well.

The other day Sam Zell said he's not going to sell any more papers in 2008, but we think in some cases, it might be better if Zell were to consider selling more of the empire and breaking it off. We hope that local ownership would actually create more responsibility and more response back to the local market and back to the local community — they really are going to be the ones that are going to be the biggest losers in this. Less is less. And we need to say that out loud. Subscribers are not fools. They can see that these products have been diminished ... We hear that Tribune is going to save journalism through these cuts. That's not what we're seeing."
Gonzales asked Lunzer what strategies the Newspaper Guild is developing to try to confront "this new reality you're facing for your members":
"One we have been pursuing for some time is ESOP [employee stock ownership plan] strategies and we're hoping to have an announcement very soon where we might have finally been able to bring one of these to fruition...

We believe there is going to be a future for print, but we're not naive. We also understand there has to be innovation. We've been willing to bargain concessions where necessary, but we think the biggest mistake is that the owners and publishers have not been talking to the front-line workers about ... innovation. So what we're trying to do where we have to do concessions, we want to trade that for real involvement – real committees that are able to work on a business model, on the future of the product.

We still believe that there's a place for quality journalism and that people will want it... There's a lot of room for innovation, not just in news, but in advertising.
Lunzer also said The Newspaper Guild-CWA is fighting against the push for more media consolidation, and is working to help move through the House of Representatives a bill that would reverse the FCC's December 2007 cross-ownership rule change. "We think if there's more cross-ownership between broadcast and print there will be less innovation. I would tell you that most of the people we talk to in broadcast understand that broadcast is only five or six years behind print in terms of the effect that the Internet is having on the traditional delivery system."

Listen to the full discussion at Democracy Now!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Raising (Zell) Hell in LA

The folks in LA are mad as hell and InkStainedRetch has words and pictures to prove it. Members of the newsroom staff have an anonymous agitator in Retch, who regularly pleads and prods staffers to fight back against the ill-fated business decisions that is destroying The Times. TellZell

"Here's what the Retch is proposing. We fight back with Paper Cuts. We protest, in ways big and small, in different places and different forums. We join unions. We post bumper stickers. We bake cakes. We file lawsuits. Everything we can, in as many ways as we can. Together."
Together is the only way the editorial staffers can take the steps to take back their Times. We believe that together, as a Guild union, they can not only negotiate fair employment terms and conditions, but actively participate in the future direction of their beloved newspaper.

Recently, journalists working for the MediaNews Group chain in Northern California voted to form a Guild. In a memo to her colleagues explaining her decision to join the Guild organizing campaign, Contra Costa Times reporter Sara Steffans wrote in part:
I believe our union will become a platform to promote the values we share as journalists, the ones that don’t always come to the forefront for profit-seeking owners. We need to be the voice for quality, for putting journalism first. We need to be the ones to point out that in the long run, good journalism is good business, be it online or in print.


We can sit around and mourn the demise of our industry. Or we can stand up and fight for our little corner of the world, for ourselves and our co-workers and the communities that depend on what we do.

Somebody has to stand up for what’s right.

Let’s stand together.
Full text of Sara's memo is here.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tribune cuts, we bleed

As part of their community outreach campaign, Guild members at the Baltimore Sun created a video ("Tribune Cuts, We Bleed") last week to protest Tribune's continued dismantlement of Baltimore's paper of record by slashing 100 jobs there. The rally and production and distribution of the resulting video is concerted activity protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

In his e-mail to staff announcing the worst newsroom cuts in years, Sun publisher Timothy A. Ryan wrote, "In August, 2008, The Sun redesign will debut giving readers more of what they want ..."

More of what they want? Sun staffers don't think readers will get what they want or more of it, so they're using their collective voice to tell the community what's really happening to their hometown newspaper. Video voices:

"The Guild has been here fighting this company day in and day out to try to prevent these kind of losses. But we have owners who don't care, owners who don't care about you and don't care about this community."

"As the world becomes more global, this paper is becoming more local. As America is beset with increasingly serious and complex problems, our distant corporate owners are turning us into a tabloid full of press releases ... we're desperate for paid subscribers but we're trying to bring them in by offering less. It's not going to work. It's wrong and I want no part of it."

" We've always been the news leader in Maryland ... we're right up there in the state house and we provide people with the news that they need about their elected officials, about what's going on in their communities and we just won't be able to do that job ... Seventy-five cents for a paper that's going to run bigger pictures to hide the fact that people who should be sitting in those seats won't be here to help grow the paper."

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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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Meet me in LA again soon

A fair number of LAT staffers met with us at The Redwood last night to learn more about how they would form a Guild at The Times and what to do next. Not surprisingly, many of the questions reflected great concern about the direction the paper is headed and what it is they can do about it now – and in the coming weeks and months once these layoffs are behind them.

Thanks to all who stopped by and for those of you who wanted to but couldn't, you'll have other opportunities to attend Guild meetings – large and small – in the days to come. We'll be in touch.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meet me in LA

At your request, we've scheduled an informational meeting in LA for interested Times employees tomorrow, Tuesday, July 22 at 6:30 p.m. at The Redwood Bar & Grill, 316 W. 2nd Street, just a short walk from The Times. We have reserved Redwood's private room and we'll be available to talk with you and answer your questions through 9 p.m. See you then!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

The Sun sets for 16

Because it didn't get the numbers it needed from its ranks, the Baltimore Sun pink slipped 11 editorial staffers: 3 reporters who volunteered to be laid off, 4 editorial assistants, 4 interns and 5 advertising sales persons.

The 44 newsroom staffers who applied and were accepted for the buyout will leave by August 1. Those laid off have the option of going out now or August 1.

The total loss for the newsroom is 55 union and non-union personnel.

“When Sam Zell [Tribune Co. chairman and CEO] took over, he said that you can’t cut your way to prosperity,” said Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild President Bill Salganik. “He was right then, and he is wrong now — six months later.” — Baltimore Examiner

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

How long – can this keep going on?

Inspired by the protest rally scheduled for today in Baltimore (along with encouragement from us and promoted by InkStainedRetch), Tribune employees in many departments around the country wore black in honor of the employee-owners laid off throughout the company.

In Baltimore today, more than 200 people gathered outside The Sun to express their grief and outrage at the loss of 100 talented colleagues. "Many Sun employees said they did not expect the protest to change management's mind about the cuts, but it still made them feel a bit better to unleash some of their anger and frustration. These employees believe that the paper is about to lose some of its most talented and experienced people, who are leaving "voluntarily" only because they fear what they will be asked to do if they stay." The Newspaper Guild's newly-elected top officers — TNG-CWA International Chairperson Connie Knox is a copy editor at The Sun — rallied with Sun employees telling the group "they stood behind both those leaving and those staying."

...[TNG President] Bernie Lunzer reminded everyone that these cuts are taking place all over the newspaper industry, and that those who stay must fight on as best they can to keep the newspaper's quality intact.
If we really want to honor the colleagues being forced out and support those remaining who want to "fight on" to keep all our newspapers intact, we must stand up and be counted. All the anger, fear and outrage folks are feeling today will be for nothing if it can't be channelled into constructive, positive action. Opportunities to change the status quo are before you. Just as journalists in Northern California did several weeks ago, you too can take back control of your future.

Worried? Scared? Unsure? Understandable. But ask yourself: If not now — when?

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wear black Thursday

The Guild has put out a call to action for a rally in front of The Sun at noon Thursday – Black Thursday.

To Sun employees the rally is an opportunity to honor their talented, experienced colleagues, protest the circumstances of their departure and "let the community and our bosses know how much these cuts hurt us, our livelihoods and the community that depends on us."

Tribune employees everywhere should wear black Thursday, July 17, as a sign of respect for all those who will lose their jobs and solemn solidarity for each other.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Buyout numbers fall short, layoffs expected in Baltimore *

Thirty-four Guild members have applied for the buyout and another ten non-Guild employees are rumored to have applied, but the number is short of The Sun's goal of shedding sixty newsroom positions by the end of August. Notification to those approved for the buyout will begin Friday – as will the layoffs.

The buyout terms are similar to the package offered at other papers, however the Guild convinced The Sun to use seniority as the basis for application approval.

Guild leaders are surprised that the number of applications are as high as they are, given that it is the third round of buyouts since last June. Guild chair and Sun reporter Tamika White told the Daily Record:

"My opinion is that this is one more example of the frustration people feel here at The Sun,” she said. “The idea that the company could garner 34 [Guild] buyout applications just several months after staff reductions in this terrible, terrible economic environment, it shows that people … are reluctantly realizing that they’ve got to find something else to do and something with a little more stability."
* The Measure of a Company

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CT editor quits; is LAT publisher out too? **

Anne Marie Lipinski, editor of the Chicago Tribune since 2001, has resigned. E&P has her memo to staff announcing her upcoming departure.

I began my editorship seven months before 9/11 and in the seven years since have become accustomed and even comfortable with editing and managing through crisis and change. But professionally, this position is not the fit it once was. Personally, my family and I believe it is time.
Lipinski is the second Tribune editor to leave Tribune since Zell took over Tribune: LAT's Jim O'Shea left in January.

Rumor has it that The Times' publisher David Hiller has been called to the front office in Chicago and that his career with Tribune may be over. LAObserved reported Friday that many newsroom folks believe Baltimore Sun publisher Timothy Ryan will succeed him. An interesting choice, if true. Ryan has experience with labor contracts; the Sun is an organized newspaper.

** Updated: Hiller's out, effective immediately. His "resignation" memo at LAObserved. Full story at latimes.com

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's in your best interest?

Zell has a personal interest in making sure the debt payments are met: Last year, he paid a mere $315 million for Tribune, then valued at $8 billion — $225 million of which was a loan that has to be repaid (with interest) at $250,000 per quarter – to him. Tribune Two-Step suggests that Zell may be making the cuts "because he needs to trim down expenses to ensure he can make payments ... to himself." We think that's a bit of a stretch, given that Zell is a gazillionaire and a late $250,000 check isn't going to change his lifestyle one bit.

But Tribune Two-Step makes this valid point: his $90m payment for the company gave Zell all the power, and the other owners whose retirement funds (and careers) are tied up in the company have no power. Zilch. Nada. No voice, either. 

Aren't we, the peons onto whom Sam strapped billions of dollars in debt, the real owners of the company? Why, then, do we have no say in any of the decisions being made on our behalf? Why, then, do we allow Sam Zell to keep telling everyone he "bought" the company when the reality is he stole it? Why, then, are we sitting back while he takes it apart, piece by piece, and prepares to sell it for scrap? And, most important, what can we do to change the course Same [sic] has set?
Why not, then, get together and organize yourselves. Even if you don't think you want to form a union per se, you share a community of interest that all Tribune employees can rally behind: your craft and your jobs. Leave inaction and paralysis behind — fear will quickly follow — and put together an employee coalition, invite concerned citizens and community organizations (they're out there) who will add their voices to yours and then, make your stand. Our industry has been in a race to the bottom for a decade and this is no time to sit back and do nothing. 

What is in your best interest? You can take action. You can stand together. Start with a few people from each paper, share a few emails, set up a conference call, brainstorm ideas, get a committee formed and set a plan of action. It will be worth your investment of time and effort. We can help.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday shorts

— The list of 150 at the Los Angeles Times who will lose their jobs is almost complete. Staffers got word that the firings will begin next week. In today's memo to staff (here at LAObserved) editor David Lauter wrote that putting the list together is "painful, sad work, and we're trying to do it with as much care as we can". Not sure that's going to be very comforting to the hundreds of staffers who will spend the weekend worried sick about whether or not their number is up Monday.

I know this is a time of tremendous anxiety for people. Let's try to not make it worse for ourselves.
What does THAT mean? Sounds a bit threatening.

— Its not just the editorial side being re-vamped in Tribune's publishing division: according to a former advertising sales manager (here at TellZell), "Zell eliminated salaries and put everybody on 100% commission. The new system caused ad reps to discount the price of full page ads by up to 70% just to make sure they were bringing in commissions..." Not all ad rep salaries were eliminated. At the Baltimore Sun where non-management sales staff is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, unilateral changes to wages can't be made without negotiation.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chicago cuts: 80 in the newsroom

Jobs will be lost in other departments as well, but the total loss to the Chicago Tribune newsroom will be 80 positions. Because some of those positions have been left unfilled recently, between 55 and 58 current staffers will be fired. All will be out by the end of August.

Wonder how much Zell and his top guys are making? You'd think with the company (and the industry) in such dire straits, the executives would be stepping up to share the pain.

Recovering Journalist thinks those guys should step up too:

Most newspaper CEO compensation packages still add up to millions of dollars per year, in fact, with an average among the 13 public-company newspaper CEOs of just under $6 million a year in 2007, according to corporate proxy filings with the SEC. A little belt-tightening among the fat cats might help to save some jobs–and that's no joke.
No joke at all. Here's a thought: The CT's publisher recently retired and the executive vice president for publishing has "assumed oversight of the paper temporarily" until a new publisher is named. Why not leave that position vacant too? Surely the evp/publishing can multi-task? (The remaining staff will be expected to pick up the slack when the staff is cut.) Think of it as another cost-saving measure.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

LA: 150 editorial staff over 2 months, different severance terms

Two hundred and fifty company wide will loose their jobs and the cuts to the news-gathering staff will amount to a 17% reduction there.

Bad news. Though expected, it's bad and worse still because most cuts will be firings that could roll on all summer. Who know's when you'll get the tap on the shoulder. Brutal. You can be sure the company is going to go slow and tread carefully so as not to trigger WARN.

But here's what we're thinking about: the severance package. If we're reading things right, the LAT package is different than Hartford's or even last year's LAT package. (The Guild in Baltimore negotiated over the package at The Sun.) LAT editor Russ Stanton did not spell out the severance terms in his memo to staff Wednesday, but Publisher David Hiller said he expected that the severance terms would match those of earlier staff buyouts at The Times.

But Michael Hiltzik reports that severance will include payment equivalent to two weeks' salary for every year of service, up to a maximum of 52 weeks, to be paid into the employee's retirement account. (Emphasis ours.) Yikes.

Last year's severance terms were one week's pay for every 6 months of service [minumum 4 weeks, maximum 52 weeks] paid thru salary continuation ... (Emphasis ours.) So those folks had income for a time while they got their Next Life up and running. (Unemployment checks don't cover the bills.)

This time? No cash. It sounds to us like you'll have to PAY to get cash out of your retirement fund what with those early withdrawal fees and all.


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