As We Predicted: MediaNews Pulls Plug On ANG Guild

By: Joe Strupp MediaNews Group followed through Monday on its threat to withdraw recognition of the Newspaper Guild at its Alameda Newspaper Group outside San Francisco after consolidating its editorial functions with the neighboring Contra Costa Newspapers.

"?we have carefully considered the impact of the consolidation on the Guild bargaining unit at the former ANG newspapers," Contra Costa Publisher John Armstrong told employees in a memo today, which union leaders distributed. "That group now constitutes significantly less than 50 percent of the newly consolidated editorial group?Because of this and the fact that the ANG bargaining unit has been completely integrated into BANG-East Bay, we can no longer recognize the Guild as the representative of" the ANG employees.

The union recognition change follows the consolidation of
editorial functions of the six-paper ANG, which includes The Oakland Tribune, with the neighboring five-paper Contra Costa Newspapers, led by the Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek.

Guild Leader Carl Hall immediately fired off a protest letter to company officials on Monday, which stated in part, "This is a grave error. Your citing of numbers and percentages doesn?t mask what I consider to be a blatant attempt to destroy a 20-year tradition of progressive labor relations in the East Bay news industry. Given the challenges our business faces, it?s unfortunate the company is pursuing this losing strategy rather than the pattern of good faith bargaining we have tried so hard to build."

The consolidation of editorial operations from the two groups comes 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 San Jose Mercury News.

"It is a serious threat to our ability to represent people," said Doug Cuthbertson, executive officer of the Northern California Media Workers, which includes ANG's unit. "We are talking to our lawyers about what to do."

Cuthbertson said the pullout comes amid contract talks for a new ANG guild agreement to replace the previous deal that expired in July: "There was no indication during the course of the meetings we had that they were going to jerk the rug out from under us."

Company officials told E&P last week that the move was likely because the consolidated editorial unit now includes fewer than 50% guild members. Since the ANG unit, which has been under a guild contract since 1998, has only 130 staffers and the Contra Costa staff, which is union-free, includes about 170, the guild unit can be removed because it does not represent a majority of the combined workers, MediaNews claims.

?The union has to represent a majority of a bargaining unit,? MediaNews general counsel Marshall Anstandig said last week. ?The issue that gets presented in a consolidated group is that it impacts representation rights."

ANG has 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.


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