Union seeks reinstatement at Bay Area's MediaNews

by Joe Strupp, Editor and Publisher

Two months after MediaNews Group withdrew recognition of the Newspaper Guild at six of its San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, including The Oakland Tribune, union leaders have launched a campaign aimed at reinstituting the union at those sites, and five additional non-union papers.

"The ultimate goal is to have a unionized Bay Area News Group," said Jeff Perlstein, a guild official. Union leaders are aiming for a union representation vote within six months, or sooner. "We all believe six months is pretty realistic," he said. "This is the first initial step, fortifying the effort to make sure everyone is on board."

MediaNews ended its union recognition of the former Alameda Newspaper Group in August when it combined its six papers with the five-paper Contra Costa Newspaper Group -- a non-union entity that the company bought as part of its takeover of several McClatchy papers in 2006.

The combined group was renamed Bay Area Newspaper Group/East Bay, or BANG. The new entity included about 120 unionized newsroom staffers from the ANG papers and 170 non-union staffers from the Contra Costa group.

MediaNews executives have claimed that since the new group includes only 120 unionized members out of 300 total staffers the guild's representation no longer exists. Guild leaders have filed several charges with the National Labor Relations Board opposing the withdrawal.

John Armstrong, president and publisher of BANG/East Bay, said the campaign to reinstate is not a surprise, but believes a union is not needed.

"I feel that the combined company can best reach its full potential journalistically by encouraging direct relationships between staff members and supervising editors without outside interference," he said. "The pay levels, benefits and working conditions at Contra Costa newspapers were superior to the conditions at ANG newspapers who were subject to collective bargaining. If it goes to a vote, we'll have to make our case."

Guild leaders say the campaign is aimed at getting a majority of the new, combined 300-person newsroom staff to approve union representation.

"As soon as the employees want it to happen, it is up to the employees," Guild Local Representative Carl Hall said about a vote. "We have a lot of support in the old ANG group."

Hall, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, said the ANG unit remains in existence as a non-recognized group. He said at least 50 members are still paying voluntary dues each month.

As part of the campaign, guild leaders have launched a new Web site, www.onebigbang.org, which organizers contend is aimed at educating all local journalists and readers about the union struggle.

"Everybody in the newspaper workforce needs to take a look at this situation," Hall said. "Chronicle reporters, journalism students. Our interest is in defending quality journalism."

Linda Foley, national guild president, said funding has been provided for three full-time organizers to work on the Bay Area campaign for at least six months, part of a $300,000 budget that also includes mobilization efforts at several MediaNews papers in Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Paul, Denver, and York, Pa.

"It is critically important, it is a top priority," Foley said of the Bay Area campaign effort.

article originally published at http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey