Guild Charges York, Pa., Newspaper Swap Never Happened

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By: Joe Strupp

The Newspaper Guild has filed an unfair labor practices charge against MediaNews Group and Buckner News Alliance, claiming the two newspaper companies in fact never completed the swap of their dailies in York, Pa.

The guild, which filed the complaint Friday in Washington, D.C., on behalf of its York, Pa., chapter, contends that the transfer never occurred — and that MediaNews Group actually owns both newspapers.

“The integrity of both newspapers in York is now questioned,” said Carrie Biggs-Adams, a guild executive secretary and one of the negotiators for the union’s current bargaining unit in York. “It brings into question the integrity of the people with whom we are bargaining.”

Two years ago, MediaNews Group and Buckner News Alliance raised eyebrows within the industry when they reportedly swapped ownership of their papers. MediaNews had owned the afternoon York Dispatch and the Buckner News Alliance ran the morning Daily Record.

Due to a provision in the JOA between the two dailies, MediaNews in 2004 had the option to buy the Daily Record for a previously agreed-upon price. If the company did not make the purchase, Buckner could have forced the sale at any time between 2005 and 2007.

MediaNews announced in May 2004 that it had bought the Daily Record for about $38 million, and basically gave the Dispatch to Buckner News Alliance. MediaNews reported at the time that it received no cash for the paper, and guaranteed Buckner a $2 million annual profit. The two papers also restructured the JOA to end in 2024, much earlier than the previous 2090 date.

Another element of the swap, which angered some employees at the time, involved the transfer of 19 employees from the Dispatch to the Daily Record. MediaNews, which had owned the lone Sunday paper, the York Sunday News, retained ownership and control of the publication.

Guild representatives said they learned that MediaNews allegedly controlled both daily papers during the start of recent contract talks in both shops. The guild contract at the Daily Record expired on Sept. 30 2005, while the Dispatch agreement will end on Oct. 6, 2006.

“We would have bargained differently two years ago over wages, hours and working conditions if we’d known who the real owners were,” Biggs-Adams said. “There were letters given to us two years ago [informing the guild of the swap] that are now false.”

MediaNews Group vice chairman and CEO William Dean Singleton and Phil Buckner, the head of Buckner News Alliance, could not immediately be reached for comment. Calls to Daily Record Publisher Fred Uffelman were not immediately returned.

Dispatch Publisher David Martens said he was not aware of the specifics of the swap deal, saying, “My assignment is to work with the editor and put out the best paper we can.” When asked if MediaNews owned his paper, he said, “I don’t believe so.”

In recent months, guild leaders said they received letters from MediaNews Group indicating that the York Newspaper Co.’s human resources vice president, Jane Loucks, would handle bargaining for the Dispatch, and that MediaNews Group owned 100% of the Dispatch. “This information contradicts what had previously been conveyed to the union by both MediaNews and Buckner News Alliance,” the guild said in a statement.

Guild officials added that W-2 forms recently sent to employees at both papers carried the same employer tax identification number, another possible sign that they shared common ownership.

“Additionally, the York Newspaper Guild is in the process of presenting evidence to the NLRB on several charges against newspaper management,” the guild statement continued. “Including failure to bargain in good faith, surface bargaining, harassment of the Local president, and refusal to give unpaid leaves of absence to members of the bargaining committee to attend contract bargaining.”

Liz Evans, guild unit chair for the Dispatch, noted that the union also plans to seek a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the effect of the ownership status on contract negotiations.

“The DOJ needs to intercede,” she declared.

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