Thursday, May 21, 2009

Union Security and Our Contract

I just returned from the North American Newspaper Conference and was not surprised to here from the Union Delegates that represent employees at newspapers across the country deliver messages of dispair. There were reports of plant closures, wage and benefit concessions, furloughs and lay-offs to name a few.

I provided those that attended our meetings on Sunday May 15th with multiple articles highlighting examples I just described. I also attached the following letter to provide more information on the severance agreement and why the decision to withdraw our grievances and board charges was made. I decided to post the letter because I requested those members that attended share this information with everyone who still enjoys employment and some of the highest wages in the nation as a result of ratiying our contract. Read on.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There appears to be no end in sight to the newspaper industry’s downward spiral, and in it’s wake are the families of men and women who have spent the better part of their lives serving their respective newspapers. We have not been insulated from this crisis and it should be considered foolish to think that we could have completely prevented it from affecting our shops.

With or without a Union there were going to be major changes in our pressrooms and there obviously have been. The question is what would those changes have been had we not organized? Our contract has assured that those with the highest seniority have the greatest protection in the event of layoffs. Remember, the company proposed layoffs by job performance and also by job classification. Management also proposed to introduce an 8 hour day, 40 hour work week at the current weekly wage rate, increasing the work week by 5 hours with no additional pay. There were many occasions in negotiations in which management pondered wage cuts, which we adamantly refused to even consider.

The Senior Vice President of Operations has on many occasions said that pressroom employees are overpaid and I have no doubt that had the contract not been ratified, his first move would have been to cut wages all across production. Let us not forget the rumor of reel tenders that would finally become a reality and eventually, part-timers would out number journey presspersons. Trust me, he is not, never has, and never will serve your interests.

Our decision to organize our shops can be viewed as both bad timing, and in my opinion, good timing. Let me explain, bad timing because the negotiating climate was hostile due to the economy, declining circulation, declining ad revenue, the terrible deal to sell Tribune to Sam Zell under the guise of a sham ESOP, and lastly, Sam’s ultimate decision to file bankruptcy. I still believe it was good timing because the agreements we reached remain binding.

There are still many of our peers that don’t realize what could have happened had we not ratified this contract and more importantly, what can happen if a de-authorization, or worse, a de-certification election were to be held and succeed. Had we not ratified this contract, with the bankruptcy filing, all the agreements we do have would be void and the company would have had the right to implement any changes they choose, including but not limited to those I described above.

I have heard many times, and agree, that a union is only as strong as its members, Vice President Keith Denson said it best when he asked “When did we stop being our brother’s keeper?” It is time once again to become your brother’s keeper and shed the “me” mentality because history has proven time and time again, United we Stand, Divided we Fall.

Those convictions are what led to the decision to accept a severance agreement that required us to withdraw our grievances and board charges. It was one of the most difficult and stressful decisions to make and anyone that disagrees with this decision is selfish at best. If the critics had their way 63 of your former colleagues would have no severance.

Selfishness is what drives the individuals that are promoting a de-authorization election. Let me begin by saying, these individuals are without a doubt working in concert with management simply because there is no possible way any of these people had a clue that this process existed. The petitioner has already been rewarded with an operator position and continues to steal overtime from those that signed his petition!

As members of this Local it is your responsibility to reveal his misdeeds and motives to discourage the signing of his petition. If an individual has already signed, you must convince them to ask to have it removed. Believe me, the potential for losses in amounts greater than the monthly dues will immediately follow should we fail to prevent this election and not have the financial resources to legally respond.

Management is fully aware of the people that sign, and don’t sign this petition and it only serves to show that they can exploit the language in the contract and use their management rights to break our local and remove any obligation to bargain.

Management has waged war on our local and ALL pressroom employees, not just those that support the union, and we have suffered numerous casualties because there has been reluctance to get involved and take a stand against a company that only takes care of their own (13 million in bonuses) at the expense of the now harder working men and women.

The following articles detail the state of the newspaper industry currently and should not be ignored because these are conditions we managed to hold at bay to some degree and will become inevitable unless we refocus and unify our Local.

IN SOLIDARITY,
RONNIE
(end)

'Boston Globe' Reaches Agreement With Six Unions, Pressures Guild
More Budget Cuts, Job Losses to Hit Detroit Dailies
'St. Cloud Times' Outsourcing its Printing
First Furloughs, Now Paid Vacation Accruals, Halted At Some MediaNews Papers

O.C. Register to print San Gabriel Valley Newspapers

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