Kathryn Routliffe remembers Jerry Minkkinen

By Kathryn Routliffe

Jerry Minkkinen holding a union stewards’ workshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my oldest and dearest union colleagues, Jerry Minkkinen, died Friday. I am still trying to come to grips with the news.

He was the first Newspaper Guild official I met when I was hired by Pioneer Press in 1983. He didn’t introduce me to unionism; I’d been a union officer at my previous newspaper job, and I already believed in the union movement. But he taught me so much about how to make day to day unions work for their members – for us – that it’s a debt I could never repay.

Jerry combined a street fighter’s instincts, with the seductive charm of a troubadour – he could hold a room in thrall, something I experienced many times – and the formula worked for us far more often than not, whether it was sitting at the table with successive waves of increasingly nasty management, fighting grievances on behalf of individuals or the union as a whole, or giving us tips on how to fight for ourselves. He did this not just for my section of the union but for every News Guild bargaining unit in the Chicago area. That’s a lot of work for one person.

More than that, though, he was a good man, who gave his all to the union. He sacrificed health and family through much of his career, in order to help us. I am glad to know that in the last few years, he had much joy of his family.

He laughed often, was kind, was both fierce and gentle, and I am honored that we were colleagues and friends. There is so much more than I could tell you about him, but it all jumbles up in a tremendous Jerry-sized pile of stories. None of them will make up for the Jerry-sized hole his passing has left.

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Longtime union negotiator for Sun-Times reporters and copy editors, dies at 73

By Mitch Dudek/Chicago Sun-Times

As head of the Chicago News Guild — the union that represents Chicago Sun-Times journalists — Jerry Minkkinen ran a bottom-up union that left big bargaining decisions in the hands of the reporters and editors they would affect.

Minkkinen was fierce at the negotiating table, and when he hammered out the best possible deal, he’d bring it back to union members for a vote.

In 2004, Minkkinen, through last-minute negotiations, was able to avoid a full-blown newsroom strike by winning 3 percent raises for three consecutive years, according to Craig Rosenbaum, who now heads up the Guild and considered Minkkinen a mentor.

“That was really the last good, solid contract we got,” Rosenbaum said. Subsequent contracts, he said, were negotiated under stormier skies as the news industry as a whole struggled to make money online.

Minkkinen, who was with the Guild from 1976 until his retirement in 2008, died Friday at his home in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates. He was 73. He died from complications due to esophageal cancer, which returned after Minkkinen successfully battled it into remission years earlier.

Ted Rilea sat across from Minkkinen at the bargaining table. Rilea, the former vice president of labor relations for the Sun-Times, represented the company’s owners.

“He knew when to fold ’em, as hopefully I did, too, so everyone could walk away with a win,” Rilea said. “He was a real gentleman and a pleasure to work with and against. He represented his people well.”

The pair became friends and shared a meal together a few weeks before Minkkinen died.

“He was smart. He was respectful. A lot of these labor leaders go crazy on you, and some of that is for show for their own members, but he never had to do that,” Rilea said. “When he lost it, it had been a long night, or day and night, and he was trying to get his point across. He yelled when he needed to yell, you paid attention to it, he didn’t waste it. He knew his business. He was an expert.”

Bob Mazzoni, a Sun-Times sports copy editor who is also a co-chair of the Sun-Times bargaining unit, said Minkkinen gave workers a sense they had a say in their destiny.

“I think he definitely made people feel like they could have a say in their working conditions, in their pay, a way to stand up for themselves at work,” he said.

Minkkinen’s honesty and resolve to stick to an agreed upon deal made an impression on Mazzoni. “One of the things he always said was the sign of a good negotiation was that everybody’s unhappy,” he said.

Minkkinen represented the Sun-Times and several other Chicago-area papers that were in the same union.

“His biggest contribution was the fact that he understood union democracy,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America, the national union of which the Chicago News Guild is a part.

He represented a new way of operating a newspaper union that differed from the top down, the “we’ll take care of you” sort of leadership that “could be very despotic,” Lunzer said. “That was never the case for the Chicago Guild.”

Minkkinen’s bargaining accomplishments also aided journalists at the Chicago Tribune, even though Minkkinen was never successful at expanding the Guild into the Tribune newsroom, Lunzer said.

“The way they kept the Guild out oftentimes was to mirror the standards of the Guild,” Lunzer said. “I know it had a big effect on the Tribune, especially when it came to showing just cause to terminate an employee.”

Minkkinen grew up in a small town in Minnesota that was home to Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish immigrants.

“He carried a lot of those socialist principles from the countries they originated from,” Lunzer said.

“He loved his job and helping people. He loved golf, football, fishing and his grandkids — all 12 of them,” his daughter, Sandra Minkkinen, said.

In addition to Sandra, Minkkinen is survived by five other children: Roberta Follett, David Minkkinen, Dale Minkkinen, Sheryl Minkkinen and Kim Valentine VanStone. His wife, DeAnne Valentine, died before him.

His first marriage, with Jane Minkkinen, ended in divorce. She has also passed away.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Read more at the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Support your local regional Chicago newspaper

Thank you for reading and supporting your local newspaper:

We journalists of the Pioneer Press, Lake County News-Sun and Northwest Indiana’s Post-Tribune newspapers need your help.

Our new owners at the Chicago Tribune (now calling themselves tronc) don’t see the value of strong community journalism, and they are offering the dedicated members of the Chicago News Guild zero percent raises while nearly doubling some of our contributions toward health insurance. They threaten our job security with layoffs and toxic working conditions, all of which make it increasingly difficult to give your community the news coverage it deserves.

All the while, they are buying out-of-town newspapers like the New York Daily News and fattening their executives’ wallets with salaries like the CEO’s $8 million.

Here’s how you can help!

Please sign our petition and tell Tribune management that you support community journalism and the journalists in your community.

Thank you,

The dedicated members of the Chicago News Guild

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Unionized staff at the Chicago Reader ratifies contract with new owners

Press Release

Editorial employees of the Chicago Reader today unanimously ratified a one-year contract, resolving a lengthy labor dispute that led to a strike threat at the alternative publication. The members of the Chicago News Guild reached the deal with a labor-friendly investor group that acquired the Reader in July.

Staff will receive a pay increase totaling 8.4 percent on average. Individual increases will vary and will begin to correct long-standing pay inequities at the Reader, where salaries bore little relation to a person’s job responsibilities or years of experience. The first-time contract also sets forth minimum annual salaries, ranging from $38,480 for new hires and topping out at $46,816 for those with 20 or more years of Reader service.

“We at the Reader union know how little money there is to go around in publishing, because we’ve been keeping the paper great with progressively diminishing resources for a decade,” said Philip Montoro, the Reader’s music editor and head of the Guild bargaining committee. “Under the circumstances, we’re grateful to the new ownership for investing in us at all, and we look forward to working together to create the growth that will make it possible for them to keep doing so.”

The employees ratified the contract by a vote of 17-0 during a meeting at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza.

“The investors have shown they value fairness in the workplace, certainly in comparison with the former owners,” said Craig Rosenbaum, executive director of the Guild. “We want to help them achieve a turnaround at the Reader that rewards our members for its progress.”

In July, the Reader and the Chicago Sun-Times were sold to a partnership led by former Chicago alderman Edwin Eisendrath and unions aligned with the Chicago Federation of Labor. Bargaining with the partnership occurred at a brisk pace, a change from the more than two years of talks with former owner Wrapports LLC.

Wrapports never made a raise offer and presided over a series of cutbacks in Reader operations, shrinking the size of its printed edition by more than 40 percent since 2012. In frustration, Guild members organized a “Save the Reader” campaign that drew substantial public support. In May, the employees–many of whom had gone without a raise for more than a decade–voted to authorize a strike.

But just days later, Wrapports announced its intention to sell the Reader and the Sun-Times to Tronc Inc., the parent company of the Chicago Tribune, if it received no other offers. Tronc’s chairman is Michael Ferro Jr., who formerly ran Wrapports. Guild staff felt a sale back to Ferro would have meant the publications’ demise.

With the U.S. Justice Department monitoring the sale process for antitrust violations, Wrapports agreed to sell to the Eisendrath group.

Other key provisions in the new Reader contract include a requirement that overtime beyond 40 hours be paid at a time-and-a-half rates, not in compensatory time off, plus a ban on using freelancers to replace full-time staffers. Staff also will be entitled to better terms for retirement and health care if such provisions are secured by Guild members in the Sun-Times editorial department. Their negotiations to replace a contract expiring at year end will begin soon.

The Reader has been distributed for free since 1971 and has helped define the mission of the nation’s alternative press with its investigative and long-form journalism and its concentration on the city’s arts, culture, and politics. Its honors include many Association of Alternative Newsmedia Awards, Peter Lisagor Awards and three James Beard Awards for food writing.

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Want Freelance Advice? Hear It From These Pros

By Tatiana Walk-Morris

An October 2016 survey from Upwork and the Freelancers Union found that freelancers make up about 35 percent of the U.S. workforce, signaling a significant shift toward the freelance economy.

As more workers become freelancers, they’ll need to know the basics of how to run a creative business. For independent journalists who are looking to transition into freelance work,Working Journalists, a unit of The Chicago News Guild representing independent media professionals, hosted a panel August 28 at Columbia College featuring four full-time freelancers.

Here are the talented, successful content writers and journalists who spoke on our panel:

  • Formerly a features writer at the Detroit Free Press, Erin Chan Ding is a Chicago-based freelancer whose reporting has appeared in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and The Huffington Post.
  • Kate Silver is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience. Her reporting has appeared in Washington Post, Crain’s Chicago Business, Men’s Health, and Midwest Living.
  • Megy Karydes, another Chicago-based freelancer, has written for national publications including The Atlantic’s City Lab, National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, Fortune, Forbes and USA Today.
  • Lisa Lubin is a travel and food writer and three-time Emmy-award winning TV producer. She also is a video consultant and travel industry expert. Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Scandinavian Traveler, and The Wall Street Journal. Lubin also taught TV News production at Columbia College.

From using apps to track expenses and paying quarterly taxes to networking and diversifying your income stream, our panelists gave many gems of advice to current and aspiring freelancers. Didn’t make it to the panel? Watch the video below:

Don’t miss another event. Join our email list for Working Journalists updates!

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Chicago Sun-Times bought by investor group, including unions

BY PATRICK J. FOOTE

Photo by Patrick J. Foote/People’s World

CHICAGO –  A group of investors led by former Alderman Edwin Eisendrath, including the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) and other unions, purchased this city’s second largest newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times. The purchase comes after Tronc, owner of the Chicago Tribune, made a bid on the Sun-Times (as well as the alt-weekly Chicago Reader) that opponents of the deal said would have resulted in a print news monopoly.

The group also purchased Answers Media, “a full-service digital communications company.”

Eisendrath will serve as CEO of the Chicago Sun-Times and Jorge Ramirez, CFL president, will serve as its chairman. The details of the purchase have not been revealed.

The Chicago News Guild, which represents the editorial staffs of both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader, circulated a petition that called for the U.S. Department of Justice to allow for more time for bidders other than Tronc to come forward. The Justice Department pushed back the window for potential bidders to come forward twice.

“The Guild and its members welcome this news and look forward to helping the new owners find innovative ways to sustain serious journalism,” reads a statement issued later that day. “The Guild has not been involved in the sales negotiations, but some of us have known Eisendrath for years and are impressed with his commitment to journalistic competition. He and his partners bring a sense of mission to what is both a civic and a business endeavor.” The Guild expressed hopes to continue negotiations for the Chicago Reader editorial staff soon.

The investor group held a press conference at what will be the new headquarters of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader, the offices of Answers Media at 30 N. Racine Ave, in Chicago’s West Loop.

“These, the investors, are the men and women who, just like the subscribers to the Chicago Sun-Times, value honest and ethical reporting. Who are we exactly? These men and women are janitors, carpenters, bakers, health care workers, heavy equipment operators, lawyers, food service workers, laborers, civic leaders and journalists among others. It’s a historic coalition of people from across the social spectrum,” said Ramirez.

Why invest in the Sun-Times? Ramirez continued, “Since its inception, the labor movement remains committed to raising people up and building strong communities. We believe this begins by protecting the common good… [the 500,00 members of the CFL] rely on and value honest and ethical reporting… we believe in protecting the institution of journalism itself and amplifying a diversity of voices and perspectives.”

Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU Local 1 which also invested in the buyout, said in a press release that his organization is pleased “that the Chicago Sun Times will remain an independent, free-standing institution where progressive voices of working people who are fighting for real economic justice, while standing at the forefront of the fight for immigrant, racial, and environmental justice, will continue to be heard.”

Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas, identified corporate capital as limiting the voices expressed in public discourse “to those that benefit big business.

“We are proud that we are able to keep Chicago as a two-paper town where the voices of working families will have an outlet through an independent paper like the Chicago Sun-Times,” he concluded.

This article was originally published on People’s World.

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No News Monopoly

Target: U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division

On May 15, the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader, Wrapports LLC, announced that they were preparing to sell the newspapers to Tronc, the owner, and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. The plans for this sale have triggered a U.S. Department of Justice antitrust inquiry, but if no other buyers present themselves by June 1, the sale will be allowed to proceed. This will lead to a virtual print media monopoly in Chicago, with tronc owning the Tribune, Sun-Times, Reader, Red Eye, Chicago Magazine, and a plethora of suburban newspapers. Whatever your stance on print vs. digital, our city needs a diversity of media voices, and that can’t come without a diversity of ownership.

Please sign this petition:


The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Reader belong to the people of Chicago. The Department of Justice should closely scrutinize any proposal to sell Wrapports LLC’s assets to Tronc, or any other bidder, and ensure that a deal is struck that will preserve journalistic independence for the Reader and the Sun-Times and position these vitally important community institutions for long-term survival.

Each publication serves unique audiences within the city’s diverse communities, and sustaining multiple, independent voices in Chicago journalism should be a greater priority than maximizing returns for investors in Tronc, Wrapports or any other potential owner. Despite the short timeline for a sale outlined by Wrapports LLC, the Anti-Trust Division should exercise due diligence on behalf of the people of Chicago, and ensure that Tronc or any other buyer are committed to investing the resources necessary to sustain Wrapports and allow the Reader and Sun-Times to thrive.

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People’s World Staff Achieves Union Recognition

We, the technical, production, reporting and editing staff of the People’s World, are glad to have achieved recognition of our union from the management of Long View Publishing and CPUSA.

We have worked hard to get to this point, and we are united in our resolve to win a contract that guarantees job security even for those who are not benefactors of favoritism; one that provides for fair wages for our work, instead of the salaries that we currently receive which are too low and leave us struggling to cover the rising cost of living in the cities where we live. We seek real equity, support for doing better journalism, and a commitment to raises for all the People’s World staff, instead of the uncertainty and lack of transparency that led us to form a union in the first place.

We are all still here because we believe in the mission of the People’s World: to report on the movements for jobs, peace, equality, democracy, civil rights and liberties, labor, immigrant, LGBT and women’s rights, protection of the environment, and more. All we ask is to be allowed to earn a living and be treated with respect as we work to fulfill that mission.

We are grateful for the support of others in our union, the News Guild/CWA, and hope that you will continue to ask us questions and watch this space for further news of our union struggle. In this contentious political climate, where the news media is the object of vilification and our country’s leaders marginalize journalists, we believe that strengthening the bonds between workers in our profession is imperative.

We are also grateful for the support from our brothers and sisters in the broader union movement. We know you are with us and will show up in solidarity with us during the negotiations ahead and we look forward to defending the rights of our fellow union members in whatever ways we can.

In Solidarity,

The People’s World Organizing Committee

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News Guild turns up the pressure on stingy owners of the Chicago Reader

cta-banner

Unionized editorial workers at the Chicago Reader are intensifying their campaign to convince management that higher wages and strategic investments will keep the publication viable. The campaign, using the slogan “Save the Reader,” is expanding to include advertising and a public rally.

The employees, members of the Chicago News Guild, are asking that supporters of the Reader gather at noon October 6 in front of 350 N. Orleans, the building that contains the paper’s offices. Also, the guild has begun an ad campaign on CTA trains and buses starting this week. The ads ask people to relay to management their support of the Reader, its tradition of investigative and long-form journalism, and its incisive coverage of music, arts, and culture.

grace-catania-at-steppenwolf-1Guild members have documented a pattern of disinvestment by the Reader’s owners, Wrapports LLC. Since buying the Reader in May 2012, Wrapports has reduced the paper’s staff by about a third and cut the publication’s pages nearly 40 percent.

The staff reductions primarily have affected operations such as advertising sales and distribution. Most editorial workers, meanwhile, have not had a raise in nearly a decade.

“The media business is tough, but downsizing and paying people substandard wages aren’t paths to success,” said Craig Rosenbaum, executive director of the guild. “We want a contract that will compensate people for excellence and increased workloads. We also want management to pay attention to this valuable asset.”

The October 6 rally is being planned with the support of the Chicago Federation of Labor and other unions. “This is a fight for fair treatment of our members, but it’s also about preserving a voice for progressive journalism at a time when a progressive voice must be heard,” Rosenbaum said.

The Reader has been published since 1971 and is one of the nation’s premier alternative newspapers. It is circulated for free, but much of its content now appears only online at chicagoreader.com.

In an online article explaining the Reader’s plight, award-winning political writer Ben Joravsky said the paper’s survival is at issue. “The Reader’s story during the Wrapports years has two recurring themes: editorial achievement and a baffling pullback of business operations. We need investment so the Reader doesn’t die of malnourishment,” Joravsky wrote.

The employees already have collected more than 5,000 signatures on a petition to support the Reader and have spread the message at public events throughout the summer. Despite negotiations lasting more than a year and a half, the workers have yet to see the Reader’s owners offer anything in improved wages or benefits.

The petition is accessible via the “Save the Chicago Reader” page on Facebook or at actionnetwork.org/petitions/save-the-chicago-reader. Supporters also are invited to contact Bruce Sagan, the Wrapports board member who is overseeing the Reader, by calling 312-321-3127 or emailing bsagan@suntimes.com.

Wrapports previously was led by Michael Ferro Jr., who in early 2016 donated his stake to a charitable foundation and purchased a controlling interest in the parent company of the Chicago Tribune.

The CTA ad brings the “Save the Reader” message to Red Line trains and to buses with north-side routes.

 

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Help us win the fight for the Reader: its bold writing must be saved

 

By Ben Joravsky

on behalf of the Chicago News Guild bargaining unit

 

As much as I may not like to admit it, I’m the old guy on the Reader staff. And so I’m writing on behalf of all the employees in our guild bargaining unit.

My first Reader story—a freelanced restaurant review—ran in 1977, before many of my current colleagues were even born.

I started covering politics for the paper in 1984. I’ve been a staff writer since 1990.

That’s long enough for me to have learned a thing or two about what makes this paper so great. Yes, the Reader runs provocative theater, music, film, and food criticism, but just as important, its editors give writers the freedom to tell it like it is, even if we irritate the hell out of the powers that be.

This tradition of hell-raising and muckraking stretches from John Conroy’s fearless reporting on police brutality in the 1980s to Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt’s recent exposé of harassment and abuse at Profiles Theatre. Every editor—from Bob Roth, Mike Lenehan, and Alison True in the early days to the current one, Jake Malooley—has kept this going.

In terms of editorial freedom, I got off to a strong start with Wrapports, the consortium of business executives that now owns the Reader as well as the Sun-Times.

A few days after Wrapports bought the paper in 2012, Reader employees were called to the Sun-Times offices to meet Michael Ferro, then the publisher.

My brief conversation with Ferro went a little like this:

Me: So, what are you going to do when the mayor calls to complain about something I wrote?

Ferro: I’ll tell him to get a new press agent.

Despite that much-appreciated editorial independence, the Reader is at a crossroads under the Wrapports regime—our very existence is threatened. The Reader’s story during the Wrapports years has two recurring themes: editorial achievement and a baffling pullback of business operations. We need investment so the Reader doesn’t die of malnourishment.

Wrapports bought the Reader from a hedge fund, which had in turn taken control of the paper after the previous owners went bankrupt.

As you can see, the newspaper business is a tough one.

Frustrated by cuts and pay freezes and an uncertain future, the editorial staff unanimously voted to form a collective bargaining unit in January 2015—we joined the News Guild.

We’ve been negotiating with management for a contract since not long afterward.

While Wrapports allows us to maintain our editorial independence, we have suffered on the financial end.

Most of the staff hasn’t gotten a raise in nearly a decade. Many of our editorial employees work more than 40 hours per week for less than $40,000. Most staffers are male, but the lowest-paid workers are predominantly female.

The biggest salary goes to some old goat who makes $55,000 to write about politics. Obviously, no one got in this racket to make it rich.

But we do need stability. We’re getting just the opposite. There’s been a steady stream of cuts since Wrapports took control. When they bought the paper in 2012, we had 47 full- and part-time employees. We now have 31.

Most of the cuts have been on the business end. We’ve lost ad reps and marketing strategists—the very staffers who bring in the money we need to function.

In 2012, each issue of the Reader ran from 72 to 80 pages. Now, it’s generally 44 to 48 pages.

You can’t build a paper by starving it. Neglect is not a sustainable business strategy.

If you like the Reader—if you appreciate its voice of independence in politics and the arts—help us out.

Please put pressure on Wrapports. Let them know they should invest the money to build the paper and pay its workers a fair wage.

To continue down this path means a great Chicago newspaper will slowly die.

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