Labor Union Forms At SF ‘Examiner’

By: Joe Strupp

After operating for more than a year without labor unions, The Examiner in San Francisco will have to begin bargaining with its prepress employees after the workers on Feb. 8 voted, 15-5, to join the local chapter of the Graphic Communications International Union (GCIU).

Barring any successful challenge by the newspaper, GCIU Local 4N will represent 25 prepress employees at The Examiner. By their vote, the workers chose the union that already represents similar employees at the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and other Northern California publications. Two workers abstained from the voting, while three others were not allowed to cast ballots due to challenges from Examiner management.

Examiner Publisher Florence Fang did not return calls seeking comment about the union vote or whether the newspaper plans to challenge it.

The unionization effort built up a head of steam Dec. 31 when employees filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a representation election. NLRB officials reviewed the request, then administered the election, said Tony Sangervasi, secretary-treasurer of Local 4N.

“The employees came to us and said they wanted representation,” Sangervasi said. “We’re hoping the employer does not want to fight us on this.”

Federal law gives the newspaper seven days from the date of the vote to file a challenge, according to Alan Reichard, assistant to the regional director of NLRB Region 20, which has its home office in San Francisco. If no challenge is made, or it is denied, the board will then certify the union as the employees’ representative.

“Then they will have a duty to bargain and hopefully reach a bargaining agreement,” Reichard. He added that no challenge from the newspaper has been received so far.

The Examiner had been union-free since it was taken over by the Fang family in 2000 through an unusual arrangement with the paper’s former owner, the New York-based Hearst Corp. Hearst turned over control of the daily, along with a $66-million subsidy, after purchasing the San Francisco Chronicle and dissolving the joint operating agreement between the two papers.

The Fangs also operate The Independent, a San Francisco-based thrice-weekly newspaper; a string of weekly papers south of San Francisco; and the nationally circulated AsianWeek magazine. All of those publications are union-free.

The vote to unionize comes at a time when The Examiner is going through a string of difficulties, including falling circulation, the loss of several top managers, and the recent departure of Editor in Chief C. David Burgin. In addition, Florence Fang remains at odds with her son, Ted Fang, whom she removed as Examiner publisher last fall.

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