Union Pickets AP Meeting in Seattle

By: Mark Fitzgerald and Lucia Moses

Timing their protests to coincide with the last major newspaper industry appearance by Associated Press President and CEO Louis D. Boccardi, union AP employees leafleted outside the news cooperative’s annual meeting during the Newspaper Association of America convention Monday.

News Media Guild members at AP bureaus across the nation also conducted similar leafleting in several other cities and withheld their bylines for the day. The union, affiliated with The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, said it was protesting AP management’s “failure to negotiate” a new contract. The current pact expired last November.

“In the past seven months, there have been only 30 days of talks,” said Ginny Byrne-Queen, a Guild organizer who is on leave from her job as a reporter in the New York City bureau. Byrne-Queen and several other current and retired AP employees handed out leaflets to publishers and passersby outside the AP meeting at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel and Towers.

“People are frustrated. I’ve had people tell me they want to do more than just a one-day byline boycott,” Byrne-Queen said. Nationwide Monday, union AP employees were also taking such job actions as refusing to use their personal cars or cell phones while on assignment, she said.

Negotiations have gone on far longer than average, and for the first time in memory, the management negotiating team is headed by an outside labor lawyer, said News Media Guild President Tony Winton.

The union actions rated barely a mention inside the NAA and AP annual meetings. Burl Osborne, the publisher emeritus of The Dallas Morning News who was re-elected AP chairman, made a brief reference to the leafleting, but the meeting was largely a tribute to Boccardi, who is retiring in June after 35 years at AP, 18 of them as president. He will be replaced by former USA Today President and Publisher Tom Curley.

“We are certainly looking forward to working with Mr. Curley,” Guild President Winton said.

The top minimum for unionized AP journalists is $987.50 a week, Byrne-Queen said. Additional amounts are paid according to an employee’s region. Workers in New York City and Washington, D.C., for instance, earn an additional $110 weekly while in Seattle the regional differential is $50.

“A cook at The New York Times cafeteria earns more than many top AP reporters and photographers,” read one of the leaflets distributed in Seattle. A Guild statement said a senior cook at the Times, who would also be represented by the Guild, would earn $1,058.95 — higher than the “top-scale of $1,029.65 for reporters in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Newark N.J., Philadelphia, and other cities.”

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