By: Joe Strupp
One of those urging employees at a string of MediaNews Group papers outside San Francisco to cast ballots in today’s union vote may be an unlikely get-out-the-vote source: Publisher John Armstrong.
Armstrong, who oversees the nine-paper Bay Area News Group – East Bay, has publicly expressed his opposition to having his chain’s newsrooms under Newspaper Guild representation. Just last month, he told E&P: “I would hope the employees would do what is best for them and best for the company — to remain union-free.”
But that has not stopped Armstrong from pushing his employees to take part in today’s vote that will decide if the newspapers come under guild representation.
In a reminder to staffers on Thursday, Armstrong urged them to “Please Vote Tomorrow,” then went on to state: “Your future and that of our newsrooms could be decided for many years by the outcome of tomorrow’s vote. That’s why it’s so important that you take the few minutes to vote, regardless of your opinion on the issue.”
But his note makes clear that votes are secret and employees who signed one of the many “union cards” requesting that a vote be held are not obligated to vote in favor of a union.
“No one will ever know how you voted,” he wrote to them, adding later, “Vote for what you think is best for yourself, your colleagues and the company. The signing of a union card carries no obligation to vote for the union.”
He then reminds workers, “A ‘yes’ vote means you want to designate the union as your exclusive bargaining representative for wages, hours and working conditions. A ‘no’ vote means you want to continue working in a union-free environment.”
Armstrong said he simply wants all possible voters to be involved. “Whatever decision is made, we want it to reflect the broadest spectrum of employees,” he told E&P Friday. “I don’t want anyone to come away from this saying, ‘I wish I had only voted’.”
The voting is taking place at each paper during two-hour intervals today, although any of the 230 eligible staffers can vote at any of the sites, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. PDT.
Union supporters are also pushing for voters to take part, even posting an item on their Web site offering rides to polling places: “We will give a ride to any voter who needs one. And we do emergencies ? if you missed the polling time at your office but still want to vote, we can drive you to another office with an open poll. Just call ? and we?ll hook you up.”
The union vote comes more than 10 months after MediaNews Group withdrew recognition of the Newspaper Guild unit at its Alameda Newspaper Group. Employees there and at five sister newspapers petitioned the National Labor Relations Board May 2 for a new union vote, which was scheduled last month.
Sara Steffens, a reporter with the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., said at the time more than half of the 250 newsroom employees at the BANG-EB papers signed guild authorization cards stating they wish to have guild representation. NLRB rules required that 30% of eligible union employees sign such cards before a vote can be held.
“We are feeling really confident, there has been a lot of interest in the last couple of weeks,” she said. “It is just getting the voter turnout at this point.”
Steffens said workers are voting on whether to be represented by the Northern California Media Workers Guild, a local of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. A separate guild local already represents MediaNews employees at the nearby San Jose Mercury News.
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.
?The union has to represent a majority of a bargaining unit,? MediaNews general counsel Marshall Anstandig said at the time. ?The issue that gets presented in a consolidated group is that it impacts representation rights.”
Steffens said she believes the vote will be successful, adding “then the real work starts, to find a way to use the bargaining process to advance what we believe in.”
ANG had been represented by the guild since signing its first contract in 1998, but had been seeking a contract since workers voted in the guild in 1987.