By: Mark Fitzgerald
A week after the publisher and general manager of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, printed a front-page letter accusing the striking employees of stubbornly sticking to ruinously expensive contract demands, the Newspaper Guild fired back with an open letter in its own newspaper that characterized management as untrustworthy and dishonest in its labor dealings.
“How are we expected to believe them?” the union letter asks. “We’ve given them four years to turn things around, only to face more concessions and lies during this round of negotiating.”
The labor dispute “is not about recessions or shrinking advertising and circulations revenues,” the letter adds. “This is all about trust.”
Valley Voice, the Guild’s strike paper, ran the letter Friday in its second issue since 179 reporters, copy editors, circulation managers, and drivers walked off their jobs Nov. 16. Attorney Charles T. Price, a negotiator for the newspaper’s family ownership, did not immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment on the letter.
In a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Guild local Vice President Debora R. Shaulis Flora told E&P that the union had sent the company a new contract proposal through a federal mediator. It was the first contact between the two sides since a bargaining session last Tuesday, she said. “I can’t characterize the talks, because we haven’t heard their response,” Flora said.
In the letter, Publisher Betty Brown Jagnow and the Vindicator’s top management are portrayed as winning past concessions from the Guild, including a wage freeze and “watered-down” health benefits, by promising a new labor/management relationship. Four years ago, the letter said, management told the union it needed two years to turn around the paper’s financial situation. When that contract came up for renewal, the paper asked for, and got, more concessions, such as elimination of shift differentials and time-and-a-half payment for work on Sundays, and the start of employee contributions to health insurance premiums.
Twice, the letter says, Jagnow and other management executives “came down to the union hall to launch ‘a new beginning.’ That never happened.”
“We’re not asking for the moon, just an honest wage and some honesty from the company,” says the open letter, signed by the Guild Local 11 negotiating committee.
In their Nov. 21 letter, Jagnow and General Manager Mark Brown said the publishing company “has operated in the red since 1997, a fact known to all our employees.”
“For The Vindicator to continue to provide good jobs, expenses simply must be reduced to meet the reality of a substantially smaller revenue base,” they wrote. They noted that management employees as well as unionized workers have had their wages frozen, and said the Guild demands would increase wages 17% to 34% depending on job classification, which would “ruin efforts by the Vindicator to return to profitability.”
The union letter scoffs at that contention. “Here’s our question: Is this the sign of a company — which also owns several downtown parking lots, WFMJ-TV and its newly acquired WB affiliate, the bag advertising CCS as well as having financial interest in Cboss and Sign Pro — that’s in financial trouble?” CCS is an alternative delivery business that distributes advertising circulars. Cboss is an Internet service provider, and Sign Pro makes banners and other signs.
“I think it’s been very eye-opening for people here to learn what businesses they’re involved in,” Guild Vice President Flora said.
Last Wednesday, the Vindicator published a front-page article reporting that “a local nonunion competitor of the Vindicator is printing the Valley Voice,” and that it hired a nonunion business for consulting services.
An article in the current issue of Valley Voice, which is published in PDF format on the Web site www.valleyvoiceonline.com, quoted union officials as saying the relationship with the printer and consultants was simply business. The union’s first pick to print the 40-page tabloid backed out after discovering it was a strike paper, the article said.