Will Consolidation at MediaNews Group Kill Guild?

By: Joe Strupp A plan to consolidate editorial functions of two Northern California newspaper groups owned by MediaNews could mean the end of the Newspaper Guild unit at one of the entities, union leaders fear.

Starting Monday, MediaNews will combine the editorial functions of the company?s six-paper Alameda Newspaper Group, which includes The Oakland Tribune, with the neighboring five-paper Contra Costa Newspapers, led by the Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek.

?They will be creating one sports desk, one business desk, one photo desk and one production desk,? said Marshall Anstandig, senior vice president and general counsel for MediaNews? California Newspaper Partnership. He said the consolidation will bring together 130 ANG editorial employees with Contra Costa?s 170 news staffers.

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.

?There is going to be a significant movement of people,? Anstandig said about the combined editorial effort. ?Probably 60 or 70 people. But no layoffs because of this.?

But it?s not layoffs that union leaders are worried about, at least not yet. First they have to make sure that they will have a union at all. While the ANG papers are under guild representation, the Contra Costa papers are not. Guild leaders fear MediaNews will seek to remove the guild as a bargaining entity once the consolidation is complete.

?I think he wants to get rid of us,? Doug Cuthbertson, executive officer of the Northern California Media Workers, said about MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton. ?The group we represent would be a minority of the [combined] editorial staff and they believe they could withdraw representation.?

Anstandig, who is negotiating with the ANG guild unit for a new contract after the last one expired in July, said the company is reviewing options for possibly removing the guild as a bargaining unit following the editorial consolidation. He said since the ANG unit has only 130 staffers and the Contra Costa staff includes about 170, the guild unit could be removed because it does not represent a majority of the combined workers.

?The union has to represent a majority of a bargaining unit,? Anstandig said. ?The issue that gets presented in a consolidated group is that it impacts representation rights. We are looking at it, we have met with them several times and we have been very open about it. We haven?t made a decision of what will happen.?

But just the possibility of a guild unit elimination has raised concerns. 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.

Amanda Ballantyne, a national mobilizer for the Newspaper Guild, said the potential impact is serious. ?There is a big question over whether the company can legally choose not to recognize the union any more,? she said. ?They have said they have to look at the numbers to see if it is appropriate to continue to recognize the bargaining rights of the union at ANG. But the union contract language says our jurisdiction is based on geographical location. If they consolidate, we maintain our right to bargain.?

Ballantyne said the ANG unit last week filed an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board against MediaNews related to the consolidation. ?We have legal standing for it,? she said.

The guild unit also is launching a protest of sorts, beginning Monday, which asks all guild members at MediaNews papers nationwide to wear red in support of the ANG group. ?It is more of a solidarity action,? Ballantyne said. ?Everyone is mobilizing to wear red and those at ANG will be receiving phone calls from colleagues around the country of support.?

Luther Jackson, executive officer of the San Jose Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom staffers at the Mercury News, said all union employees in the company need to support the ANG unit because they could be targeted next. ?The company has a grand plan and the workers need a plan,? he said. ?To say what?s our vision of the future.?

The memo sent by the ANG unit to other MediaNews guild members is below:


Call to Action at MediaNews Group!

We at the Alameda Newspaper Group implore your support for us in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On Monday, August 13, the MediaNews-operated Alameda Newspaper Group (ANG) will cease to exist, morphing into the Bay Area News Group-East Bay (BANG-EB). This shift - a formal consolidation of the guild-represented ANG Newspapers with the non-unionized Contra Costa Times - heralds a serious challenge for our union.

Management at the newly dubbed BANG-EB has informed us of a strong possibility that they may no longer recognize our collective bargaining rights to representation by Local 39521 of the Northern California Media Workers Guild ? Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO.

Our union, which we have fought almost 20 years to maintain, is under attack. Our long-won right to collective bargaining, it seems, is being ignored. Our voice in our own future is being threatened.
We are outraged, and we are fighting - hard.
If the company denies our existence, we must deny them their right to do so.

We are wary of Dean Singleton's MediaNews. This company's track record toward its employees is dubious, and we believe this new tactic - combining a guild-represented company with a non-unionized company - sets a dangerous precedent for us all.

This is good old-fashioned union busting, and if MediaNews employees across the country do not step up, we are all staring down a shaky future without the opportunity to collectively bargain for our rights.

We implore you to join our battle - it is, after all, your battle too - and rise up to show your support: On Monday, August 13 - the day our union-represented company ceases to exist - MediaNews employees across the country will show support for the power to collectively determine our future by signing letters of support and wearing red in a show of solidarity.
We ask you to step up and be heard. Wear red on Monday, August 13 and send your support to your colleagues in the Bay Area!


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