Reports from the recent Tri-District Council Meeting in Chicago were a bit of a mixed bag, indicating that our industry, while perhaps no longer in free fall, has not yet stabilized. Nearly all locals reported financial challenges as members and dues dollars continue to decrease. Some saw signs of hope but also pointed to ongoing opportunism from their employers, as many faced corporate demands for cuts in pay and benefits.
Mergers seem to becoming more common, with several locals either talking about it or looking for someone to talk with. The Chicago-Gary merger is almost complete, Memphis is looking to partner up and our own talks with Peoria were completed after the council meeting adjourned. A lot of details are involved and, once the agreement is formally drawn up by the attorneys and approved by the international, information will be distributed – figure shortly after the first of the year – with an authorization vote occurring at our Guild Annual Meeting in late January.
Kenosha is nearing the end of their first year of a two-year no-layoff contract that included a 5% wage decrease with 3% eventually coming back. Pittsburgh reported that, having already lost 130 newsroom jobs in the last nine years, their employer would soon eliminate 68 Teamster jobs by transitioning from 1300 boxes on the streets to the ridiculously low figure of 125. Memphis claimed a bit of victory by reporting that they finally got a contract after bargaining with Scripps for seven years. They also received raises and kept their evergreen clause but had to agree to unlimited outsourcing.
In Minnesota, members of the Star Tribune have filed more grievances this year than in the past five years combined, as that paper’s emergence from bankruptcy last year resulted in new management at the top. Still, other units were able to negotiate new agreements. The Catholic Spirit bargained a two-year wage freeze, their AFL-CIO unit got 5.5% raises spread over three years and the Duluth Labor World got 12% over four years. Almost mirroring this local, Minnesota has lost 300 members in the last four years.
Washington-Baltimore just passed their 2010-11 budget which calls for a small deficit – even after taking into account that they’re receiving seven months free rent in exchange for singing a 10-year lease. This also marks the first year “in a long, long time” that they haven’t had any organizer on staff. They are actively involved in the Tribune bankruptcy case, which will mark its second anniversary on December 8. The company has filed an exit plan but no one knows if the affected parties will agree and, so far, two lawsuits have been brought by the unsecured creditors against most of the key principals involved in the original 2007 deal to take the company private. Altogether, over 100 individuals or companies were named as defendants in the two lawsuits.
I got a kick from learning all that had transpired in Washington-Baltimore getting a new contract for AFL-CIO field staff (full disclosure: I worked for the AFL-CIO Politcal Dept and was represented by that local). I’ve always been amused – and a little annoyed – at unions (or coalitions of unions) that fail to practice what they preach (which, unfortunately, happens more often that one would think). In the case of the AFL-CIO field staff – who are spread out all across the U.S. – negotiations were rough going and the Guild unit rejected the AFL-CIO’s last, best and final offer with 92 percent voting no. Guess what happened then…management (the AFL-CIO) declared impasse and imposed conditions (and we pay affiliation fees to these people)! Then, in what had to be a real slap, the AFL-CIO imposed conditions that were even more draconian than what they’d put in the LBFO (remember how, at our Post-Dispatch ratification vote, we discussed whether or not such a thing could occur?). The unit had voted to authorize a strike but didn’t want to embarrass the house of labor right before midterm elections so, in the end, it took TNG President Bernie Lunzer injecting himself into the talks. After a week, an acceptable contract was agreed upon and ratified – but the Guild still didn’t win back everything it had lost in the LBFO.
Toledo also reported that – in what has to be a record – they are currently in the 24th year of bargaining their first contract!
Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you have a safe holiday season.