By: Joe Strupp
Less than a year after MediaNews Group withdrew recognition of The Newspaper Guild unit representing five of its daily papers outside San Francisco, a larger unit encompassing those papers — and four more — has been certified by federal officials.
The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday formally certified the new 235-member Bay Area News Group-East Bay unit, which includes employees from The Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek.
The union’s Northern California local has issued a formal request to MediaNews Group management to commence contract bargaining as soon as possible, union leaders stated.
“Against heavy odds these brave people scored one of the most significant organizing victories at a U.S. paper in years,” national guild president Bernie Lunzer said in a statement. “This victory is giving us all renewed hope and dynamic new models to consider as we move forward.”
A slim majority of employees voted, 104 to 92, to form the new Guild unit at BANG-East Bay in a June 13 election. John Armstrong, BANG-EB president and publisher, said the two sides would begin negotiations “at a time agreed upon by both parties.”
The union described the victory as the result of “a spirited 10-month organizing campaign by the newsroom workers. It’s being hailed nationwide as a watershed event in the industry, as print journalism moves into the online era and owners seek new models to deal with decreasing revenue.”
“It’s no secret that these are tough times in the newspaper industry. We believe newspaper workers can be part of the solution,” said Sara Steffens, a co-chair of the Organizing Committee and a reporter at the Contra Costa Times. “We’re eager to take our seats at the table and get on with the business of helping our papers transform.”
MediaNews in August withdrew recognition of the former Alameda Newspaper Guild, which represented some 130 staffers at the four-paper ANG, including the Oakland Tribune.
The union recognition change followed MediaNews’ consolidation of ANG’s editorial functions with its neighboring five-paper Contra Costa Newspapers, led by the Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek.
The consolidation of editorial operations from the two groups came one year after MediaNews purchased the Contra Costa papers from McClatchy as part of its takeover of 31 daily and community papers in the area, which also included the Mercury News.
Company officials said at the time that the move was proper because the consolidated editorial unit now includes fewer than 50% guild members. Since the ANG unit, which had been under a guild contract since 1998, had only 130 staffers and the Contra Costa staff, which was union-free, included about 170, the guild unit could be removed because it did not represent a majority of the combined workers.