MediaNews Group Withdrawal Of Guild Recognition: Not Illegal

By: Joe Strupp

MediaNews Group apparently acted properly when it withdrew recognition of a Newspaper Guild unit at its Alameda Newspaper Group outside San Francisco last year after consolidating it with another string of newspapers.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the National Labor Relations Board has determined the act did not violate federal law, citing a memo from a NLRB official.

“The employer did not violate the (National Labor Relations) Act because the historical bargaining unit ceased to be an appropriate unit after the employer consolidated unit employees into a larger group of other employees,” Barry Kearney, an associate general counsel in the NLRB’s advice division, wrote in a March 19 memo to the NLRB’s regional director, according to the Mercury News.

“In particular, we agree with the (NLRB Bay Area regional office) that the changes made by the employer were entrepreneurial in nature,” Kearney added. “The employer did not violate the (labor) act by withdrawing recognition from the union.”

Kearney could not be reached for comment Wednesday. William Baudler, a NLRB attorney in the Region 32 office in Oakland, confirmed the memo and the decision to dismiss the case.

“We investigated it and referred it to the division of advice and they issued a memorandum that we should dismiss the charge,” he told E&P. “That has not happened yet, but we are in the process of putting into action that directive.”

The Newspaper Guild had filed a complaint with the NLRB last year after MediaNews in August withdrew recognition of the Alameda Newspaper Guild, which represented some 130 staffers at the six-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.”

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.

The Mercury News quoted Carl Hall, a local guild representative, saying: “I don’t know what the practical effect of this ruling will be.” Hall said language in the NLRB memo may help define the appropriate scope for a bargaining unit.

The NLRB ruling will be helpful for the company, John Armstrong, president and publisher of Bay Area News Group-East Bay, told the Mercury News. “This decision allows us to continue to move forward to produce the best newspapers within our capacity,” he said.

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