Taking the East German Approach

At the March 19 negotiating session between the Guild and the Company, negotiators for Wrapports/Sun-Times Media LLC made it clear in several ways that they don’t like the idea of unity or unification. Then again, neither did East German politicians.

We started the session by informing the Company that we are filing an unfair labor practices charge against it in the wake of its layoff on Sunday of a Guild co-chair at the Sun-Times — an employee who was also on our committee. We told Company representatives that we didn’t think it was a coincidence that he was laid off only weeks after another Guild officer and negotiating committee member was essentially forced to move to what Wrapports is contending is a non-union position.

We also presented an interim proposal to help tide suburban reporters, photographers and editorial assistants over until a final contract is agreed upon.

Our requests:

laptops for all reporters. We outlined reasons that the new iPads were unacceptable if they were to completely replace laptops;

  • a designated place — storefront or elsewhere — in each major suburban coverage area, to store photo and other equipment that’s necessary but not regularly used, to make or send faxes, or even just to plug in and get a story done on deadline;
  • agreement that managers will give us the office supplies we need to operate when they meet with us and agreement that the Company would provide the necessary storage capacity for reporters’ and photographers’ documents and photographs.
  • agreement that the Company would allow EAs to have the option to work from home, and a $25 per diem on the days they had to come downtown, to cover travel costs for these lowest-paid and often farthest-flung employees.

Two of our Joliet Herald News EAs attended the session. They told the Company of all the work they regularly do with the public in the field, work they can no longer do now that they are downtown and, in answer to questions, said they could start doing that leg work and community outreach again if they could work from home. We also read out for the record an articulate and heartfelt statement from a Pioneer EA to the Company.

When Ted Rilea, the company’s chief negotiator, said the Company had already decided not to allow EAs that flexibility, we pointed out that the Company has altered its plans multiple times since Jim Kirk announced consolidation back in December. This would simply be another alteration, and one that makes a lot of sense.

We were pleased that members of the Company’s team were able to answer some of our questions on iPad use, document and photograph storage, equipment training and other technical issues, some of which were part of the interim proposal. Again, folks on that side of the table have been able to clear some things up and have agreed with some practical ideas; for instance, they agreed that it made sense to have managers provide office supplies during staff meetings.

Things started getting a little … East German, shall we say … at that point. Rilea again insisted that the Company wasn’t going to agree to a single contract. Guild Executive Director Craig Rosenbaum told him “That ship has sailed” — the consolidation of physical plants and increasing unification of staff under the direct or near-direct management of Sun-Times personnel makes it clear that the conceit of five different properties is just that.

Rilea told us that if he saw another proposal from us referring to the Company as Wrapports he would “ … throw it back in your face,” using a particularly colorful phrase, as he accused us of “playing games.” We told him we weren’t playing games (not when it’s our pay, our benefits, our lives we’re talking about) and that we were here to negotiate, not to quarrel over terminology.

In another example of being allergic to unification, a Company negotiator told us that downtown employees don’t care about their suburban brothers and sisters; “They want nothing to do with Pioneer,” he claimed.

We told him that Guild members may have a diversity of opinion on many things — but that they all understand we are one Guild, one union, one set of employees under one employer.

Still another member of the Company team appeared genuinely frustrated, as he told us that he did not make decisions for Wrapports, that he worked for Sun-Times Media LLC, that he makes tough decisions for Sun-Times Media LLC and that he cared about all of the more than 700 Company employees living in tough times and working in a beleaguered industry.

We understand his frustration, and we know that he isn’t the bad guy in this situation. Nor are his team colleagues.

That’s why we told them; if you are not the people who make decisions for Wrapports — which bought Sun-Times Media LLC, which puts its name across the masthead of Sun Times Media LLC publications, which pours money into Sun-Times Media LLC equipment purchases, which approves strategic moves and thus makes decisions that affect every single Sun-Times Media LLC employee — then please tell us who else we need to bring to the table.

As we said, a reluctance to admit the inevitability of unification that would have done Egon Krenz proud.

Of course, Egon Krenz is gone, and Germany is unified.

Perhaps Wrapports/Sun-Times Media LLC officials might learn from that.

The Company is planning to respond to our proposal on effects bargaining on Friday.

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