Dismissal of ad staffers leads to unfair labor charges p. 23

By: Dorothy Giobbe Milwaukee Newspaper Guild files NLRB complaint
against Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel sp.

MILWAUKEE NEWSPAPER GUILD Local 51 has filed a charge of unfair labor practices against Journal/Sentinel Inc., publisher of the Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel, after the company dismissed 13 members of its advertising sales staff.
The charge was filed on Nov. 22 at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). A memo sent by management to Journal/Sentinel employees characterized the dismissals as part of a "restructuring," but the guild claims the firings were retribution for labor organizing efforts within the ad sales department.
Jack Norman, president of Local 51, which represents the company's newsroom and library employees, said that the majority of those dismissed were "directly involved" with an effort to extend the union's representation to the advertising department.
Journal/Sentinel Inc. "decided to act immediately before it got too far," Norman said. He said the terminated employees "were considered to be the leaders" and were "outspoken, opinionated, and would voice questions during department meetings."
Bob Dye, spokesman for Journal/Sentinel, said that the company had "no knowledge" of union organizing efforts within the advertising department.
"We had no indication that there was any union activity of any kind in the department, and there's no connection to what the guild claims is union activity and the restructuring," Dye said.
Advertising revenues are "nowhere near" the amounts anticipated in the company's operating plan, Dye said. Due to a "significant" drop in retail advertising, Journal/Sentinel "can't devote the same resources to that area," he added. While the move had been planned for several months, it was delayed in the hopes that retail would pick up.
The union charges that the fired employees were among the sales team's top producers, and that many held seniority over others in the department.
Journal/Sentinel "has never acted this way before," Norman said. "Axing people and throwing them out is unprecedented."
Dye acknowledged that "there were some good people and some veterans," among the fired employees. "It's unfortunate," he said, "but for the overall best interests of the company, the decision was made to go ahead and restructure."
Dye added that the positions have been "permanently cut," although "there has been some fill-in on those accounts on a temporary basis."
The union asserts that the firings are intended to "simultaneously send a message to the other departments not to try this," Norman said. "The real motivation was not restructuring, but to crush the union drive . . . . They did this on the eve of the heaviest ad season of the year."
Dye said that while the firings were painful, they were necessary. "There's no good way to ease into this," he said. "There wasn't an announcement in advance that positions were going to be eliminated, but we've had meetings since then."
"We don't manage our company by a committee of owners. Management manages the company," he added.
Journal/Sentinel is 90% employee-owned, but Norman said, "Over the years, the fact that it is employee-owned has no connection to whether it's employee-run." In the union's opinion, he added, top management "doesn't involve employees except in the most token of ways."
Despite the firings, Dye said that the company is looking to the future. "Everyone is sad that some employees had to be let go. Change is difficult, but for the most part the department is adapting well and is moving forward into next year," he said.


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