By: Joe Strupp
If employees at the York (Pa.) Daily Record want to criticize owner William Dean Singleton, that is apparently OK with him.
Singleton, vice chair and CEO of MediaNews Group, which owns the paper, told E&P he is opposed to a contract provision being put forth by the paper’s negotiators that would bar workers from disparaging the company.
“If I were the union, I woudln’t agree to that, I wouldn’t sign it,” Singleton told E&P. “It is not something I would put in a proposal. I’m a First Amendment guy.”
The non-disparagement clause is one of several proposals that Daily Record negotiators put in a contract proposal offer last month. The one-line provision, which sits among a long list of prohibited activities, bars “disparagement of the company whether this occurs on or off company property.”
Leaders of the York Newspaper Guild Local 38218 have openly criticized the provision, which they contend is a violation of free speech.
The Guild local oversees two units at the Daily Record and a third unit at the cross-town York Dispatch. Both Record units are under a three-year contract that ends Sept. 30, while the Dispatch unit’s agreement does not expire until next year.
Negotiations for the two Record units, which represent nearly 90 employees, began July 18, according to Local President Michele Canty. She said two sessions have been held, with two more scheduled for late August.
E&P first reported the controversial clause last week, but could not get a comment from Singleton at the time. Late Wednesday, after answering questions about his purchase of The Detroit News, he addressed the York non-disparagement clause. “I personally don’t think much of it,” he told E&P. “I didn’t know about it until I read your story. I didn’t know why that was on the table. It is not something I would have put on the table.”
Canty said she was surprised that a provision Singleton opposed would be in a contract offer, but said she agreed with him that it was not fair. “He’s right, we’re not going to sign it,” she said. “We agree with Dean, we won’t sign it.”
Singleton said he was unaware of the clause because he does not get involved in local negotiations and had not made an effort to have it removed. “There is nothing wrong with proposing it,” he added. “Both sides make a long list of things and try to agree. But I would expect [the guild] not to agree to it.”
Canty noted that when negotiators meet with the union, they often present proposals in a way that made the guild believe they were done with Singleton’s support. “When his representatives come in, they say ‘Dean Singleton believes this’ and ‘Dean Singleton believes that’,” she said. “From what we understand they are representing Dean’s ear.”
Record publisher Fred Uffelman, who also serves as president of the York Newspaper Company that runs the Record-Dispatch joint operating agreement, declined to comment on the contract talks, the no-disparagement provision, or Singleton’s comments.
Negotiators from the Tennessee law firm of King & Ballow, who are handling the York contract talks for MediaNews Group, did not return calls for comment.
According to the union, management’s three-year contract offer also includes other provisions the guild opposes, such as: no raises, elimination of night differential pay, a work week increase from 37.5 hours to 40 hours, and overtime paid only after a 40-hour week, not a nine-hour day as currently allowed.
Guild officials are seeking a three-year deal with raises of 10% the first year and 9.5% for each of the following years. The union also wants to extend bereavement leave, and add sick time and more holidays, including Super Bowl Sunday.
The contract talks are the first such negotiations since the Daily Record and Dispatch effectively swapped owners just over a year ago. Prior to May 2004, MediaNews Group owned the afternoon Dispatch and the local Buckner family ran the Daily Record.
While MediaNews Group bought the Daily Record, for about $38 million, it basically give the Dispatch to Phil Buckner, receiving no cash for the paper and guaranteeing 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, involved the transfer of 19 employees from the Dispatch to the Daily Record. Since then, both papers have lost even more staffers, said Canty, who contends that morale has been down in both newsrooms ever since.