Guild Divisions Contributed To Ejection p.20

By: Randy Dotinga Guild's San Diego decertification followed seven years without contractual raises,
while union had narrow support and failed to rally workers to save unit from extinction

After San Diego Union-Tribune employees threw out their Newspaper Guild-CWA local in a stunning vote, union leaders were asking themselves what went wrong.
But management ? and hundreds of employees ? are saying something finally went right at California's third-largest newspaper. In the June 11 balloting, certified by the National Labor Relations Board, workers in the bargaining unit voted 406-378 to decertify the San Diego Guild chapter.
The loss of its only bargaining unit put the
61-year-old Guild local effectively out of business. Guild officials cannot recall larger newspaper decertification. The Union-Tribune was the Guild's 10th largest U.S. newspaper.
Newspaper officials are meeting with employees to discuss pay and benefits, said Bobbie Espinosa, director of human resources. Employees formerly represented by the union will receive the same benefits ? including matching 401(k) contributions ? as other employees, Espinosa said, declining to specify the contribution.
She said the company has told employees there will be no pay cuts or job transfers to outside companies. Meanwhile, editor Karin Winner is inviting staff members to join committees on workplace issues. Such groups used to be off-limits because of union rules.
"We're grateful that the employees placed their trust in us," Espinosa said. "What we were asking our employees to do was trust us, and to give change a chance. We're just going to work real hard to honor that trust." She acknowledged, however, that nearly half of the employees voting ? 48% ? supported the union.
"In order to satisfy the customer, we've got to have a finely tuned machine here," she said. "Satisfied customers come from satisfied employees. Over time, the commitment on the part of the management of this company will win the day."
Judging from the bitterness of union supporters, it may take awhile. To hear union leaders tell it, the defeat resulted from management's calculated, expensive, decade-long campaign to destroy the union. "They had lawyers, guns and money," said Lisa Petrillo, a general assignment reporter and president of the San Diego Guild.
There is no argument over the lawyers and money. For several years, the Union-Tribune has worked with the Nashville-based law firm of King & Ballow, notorious among Guild members as a union-busting management mercenary. The firm, specializing in media and labor law, claims to represent more than 300 daily newspapers and maintains its only branch office in San Diego. King & Ballow did not respond to a request for comment.
As for money, the newspaper may have spent millions of dollars, according to union leaders. Management wined and dined employees during the decertification campaign, which featured an elaborate "employee-appreciation" party last fall, the first in several years. Even union supporters joined in the festivities.
"They never give Christmas parties, and suddenly they're having these employee-appreciation nights at these waterfront hotels with open bars," Petrillo said.
Espinosa disputed the idea of multimillion-dollar expenses as part of the decertification campaign but refused to disclose the actual cost. She said the company resurrected the parties because money became available. "We wanted to say thank you to our employees," she said.

But the union's problems started long before the parties. Although it is 61 years old, the Guild's San Diego local ? which represented 850 members ? has had little clout in recent years.
For one thing, the union failed to win a contract since the last one expired in 1995, and failed to win a contractual raise since 1991, despite what the union says are wages that lag behind Guild workers in other cities where costs are far below San Diego, whose sky-high housing makes it one of the most expensive places in the nation to live.
For example, senior reporters and photographers earn lower base pay ? under the last contract top minimum for journalists with six years or more experience was $832 a week or $43,300 a year ? than 29 other Guild-represented U.S. newspapers, the union said.
Smaller newspapers in Eugene, Ore., and Santa Rosa, Calif., pay more, the union said, and even if senior Union-Tribune staffers had received annual raises since the contract expired, they would still trail other Guild papers.
The company said it budgeted merit raises of 3% for the Guild unit last year. More than three out of four workers in the unit got raises above the cost-of-living rise of 1.74%, human resources chief Espinosa said.
Other employees got no raise last year, and union chief Petrillo said she got a 1% boost, despite a national
writing award.
Without a contract, the company has granted no across-the-board raises ? only "merit" raises ? to individuals in the bargaining unit. Thus it won at the ballot box what it failed to win in contract talks: the elimination of across-the-board raises for all union-represented workers ? a staple of union contracts for decades. Now without a union, management has the right to determine who gets raises, when and how much.
As the battle over raises dragged on, the union was unable to rally significant support, and, in fact, only about one in five workers in the bargaining unit were Guild members.

Why was the union so vulnerable? There appear to be several reasons. For one thing, Southern California has no tradition of strong newspaper unions, unlike the rest of California, which is home to eight Guild newspapers. With San Diego out of the picture, Southern California has only two Guild papers ? the Los Angeles Daily News and Long Beach Press-Telegram ? and both are struggling.
Another problem may have been the union leadership's lack of broad base. The San Diego local represented nearly all newspaper departments, but leaders almost exclusively were from the newsroom ? a point management hammered home to workers.
However, Craig D. Rose, a business reporter and head of bargaining for the union, denied the newsroom-oriented leadership was an issue.
Meanwhile, a growing group of employees saw the union as an obstacle to progress, especially after contract negotiations hit a stalemate in 1994.

Nevertheless, union opposition was especially heavy outside of the newsroom.
It began in the advertising department ? where workers were more receptive to rewarding performance ? and spread, culminating in a petition to hold a decertification vote. "It was just building frustration," said Jeff Arnett, an ad account manager who led the decertification drive.
He said employees felt union leaders ignored them and "kind of operated in their own little world of perceptions. Time and time again, the people I talked to said they had never heard from the Guild. No one had ever called them or asked their opinion of anything. They never had a good idea of what the union did."
But union supporters say management's goal all along was to wear employees down by making unreasonable requests and stalling. Among other things, management demanded, and later withdrew, the right to fire employees who disparaged the company. Rose said the stalemate on raises underscores the weakness of U.S. labor law. According to him, the company flouted the principle of good-faith bargaining by flatly refusing to discuss cost-of-living raises. "Employers can do things they shouldn't be able to do," Rose said.

Heavy turnover may also have contributed to the union's troubles. According to Petrillo, some 600 union-represented employees left since the San Diego Union and San Diego Tribune merged in 1992. Rose acknowledged that the union didn't do enough to build ties to newer and younger employees.
That lack of support may explain why union leaders apparently never seriously considered the last resort ? a strike, even though a strike vote was discussed as far back as 1989.
"We tried to be a modern union and fight what we felt were injustices in the workplace," said Petrillo, the union president. "A strike is a powerful tool, and it has to be used properly, like a nuclear weapon."
Both sides say the union had trouble communicating with workers.
"The one thing the union didn't do was address the issue of how our future would be better with the Guild," said Arnett, the anti-union leader. "They would always focus on how our future would be worse without them. They never addressed what they have learned and how they could have improved."
Looking back, Petrillo admitted the union failed to communicate adequately with employees ? a daunting task considering the geography. The paper covers all of San Diego County ? an area almost as large as Connecticut ? and some bureaus are 30 miles from headquarters.
"We all rely on electronic mail and paper. People didn't want to go to meetings, so we relied on paper," Petrillo said. "You've got to talk to people. That's what the management did."
But Rose, the union negotiator, said it's too soon to count the Guild out. "We may have lost this election, and that's certainly a serious setback, but the union might surprise folks down the road."
?( Dotinga is an education writer with the North County Times, Escondido, Calif.) [Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher July 25,1998) [Caption]


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