Tuesday, March 10, 2009

San Francisco Chronicle Union Breaks Itself

In Order to Save Paper, Did It Really Have to Give Away the Store?

There's a consensus the San Francisco Chronicle's finances are in the crapper and have been for some time.
Hearst claimed it was losing at least $1 million a week putting out the Bay Area's leading broadsheet and threatened to close or sell the Chronicle if the unions didn't help by coughing up significant concessions.
So, that's what the California Media Workers Guild has done, in a tentative pact announced last night. But in so doing, it basically consigned the careers of some of its longest-tenured members to the dustbin.
The union represents 483 workers, about 150 of them will be pink-slipped. Some of the concessions are to be expected -- reductions in vacation, sick time, maternity leave and increasing the work week from 37.5 hours to 40 hours.
But what I -- as a former shop steward in two unions -- find most troubling is that in spite of all of those givebacks, the Guild agreed to even more draconian cuts that render it all but irrelevant. Despite the company's dire straits, I don't know how you could possibly allow employees to be fired without regard to seniority, as the Guild has done.
Nor can I countenance letting the Chronicle subcontract any and all work, as the Guild has done. That means the Chronicle could effectively set up an agency outside the paper that uses freelance journalists in lieu of those already in the newsroom. That means even more cuts -- again, without regards to seniority.
More likely, the subcontracting will be felt more acutely in advertising and ad production, where employees are also covered by the Guild. Or were. The union won't have any jurisdiction when that work is shipped over to Bangalore or points unknown.
Yes, it's bad by the Bay and not likely to get better anytime soon.
But in union negotiations you give to get. If all the union is getting is some assurances -- but no guarantees -- that the paper will live on and some jobs will be preserved, that could prove to be a hollow victory. The Guild contract expires in June 2010.
Then what do you give back?

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