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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4 Responses to Taking the East German Approach

  1. John McMichael says:

    Laura, right you are. The Wrapports (or as one comment said, Crapports) mafia hides itself behind locked doors. They have money for “entertaining” and short-skirted young ladies, but no money for serious journalism.

    They’ve sucked all papers in the conglomeration dry, not only those from Pioneer Press. They’ve exploited all employees. They play “poor mouth” but that’s a crock.

    I will personally go on strike, and I’ll stand at the entrance of the Sun-Times and I promise to put a stop to any scabs who attempt to cross the picket line. This is war, Sun-Times and Crapports. This is war.

  2. Laura says:

    I find this an astonishing statement: “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.”

    And yet it was the profitability of Pioneer that helped keep that rag that was once the Sun-Times going. A great newspaper has been slowly turned into garbage (have you seen some of those front pages) by the last few regimes who’ve had no idea how to handle either the ST or Pioneer to their potential (rather, they taken Pioneer and downgraded it). So they’ve sucked Pioneer dry and now are paying for it as loyal Pioneer readers leave in droves because they’ve gotten rid of the very things Pioneer readers buy the paper for.

    They keep asking for more from Pioneer employees: More cuts in benefits, more hours worked, more cuts in tools, and we’ve given it. Now we ask for a few things back, a few things to help us do our jobs and we’re spat on.

    “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.’ ”

    They’re the ones who gave us the damned champage bottles with the Wrapports label slapped on it. They want it both ways: ST needs to answer to Wrapports, but in negotiations, Wrapports has no influence? We’re supposed to buy that? To pretend that Wrapports doesn’t have some influence in this game is simply insulting people’s intelligence.

    I guess I’d be prepared to go on strike if need be. Hell, as we’ve seen, who knows how long you have a job anyway. People make the arrangements to go downtown and they’re still fired two weeks later.

    None of this was necessary. All they had to do was deal with us squarely. And it’s so damned counterproductive. We all want to benefit from this, and we all can. If they work with us.

  3. Paul says:

    What is happening here has been repeated throughout history. It’s the Romanoff Dynasty all over again. The rich get rich by preying on the poor – cutting their wages and benefits and making them work harder to attain mean survival. The rich profit and the poor fall further behind, but they hang in there until they can no longer survive.

    When the poor have little or nothing to lose, they rebel. The Cossacks – tired of watching The Romanoffs living in splendor, while their families went without, took over. It didn’t end well for Czar Nicholas and his family.

    Beware, Wrapports. You are dealing with dedicated staff who have gone without for a very long time. We have been betrayed and have had to live in fear for 5 years. We are tired. We are suffering. We have been cut to the bone. And we may not leave quietly ashamed and defeated the next time you decide that “some employees won’t make the transition.” We may bite back. We’ve had enough, and the next time you try to steal from us may be the straw the breaks the camel’s back. Your arrogance is beyond belief, and you’re really pushing it. We’re almost at the point where we have nothing to lose. Do you really want to test us?

  4. Portence says:

    It seems we are fighting a losing battle. There are too many unemployed journalists vying for positions to scare “Crapports,” and the suits don’t care about anything but a big show and profit. Our papers are shrinking, including the Sun-Times, but they want to keep cutting staff. How counter-intuitive is that? Is Ferro merely a flipper – sprucing up the place to sell for a profit. If so, he’s going in the right direction.

    However, if he is a true entrepreneur – after more than glitter, glamour and gossip, then he’s driving the company into the ground. At this rate, it will go under within 18 months.

    Imposing insurmountable hardships on the lowest paid staff members is a clear sign they want people to quit. They care nothing for our financial burdens, hardships or the hellish commute. If we don’t like it, we can leave. To have some buffoon smirk while we share our thoughts, is a slap in the face of people who have made sacrifices and were then betrayed. To have someone in a position of authority put down a project near and dear to you (and popular to readers) is rude and demoralizing. It’s a ruthless tactic, and one that will only make staffers more determined to fight back – tooth and nail.

    I am personally willing to go on strike. I am personally willing to go the distance, but I doubt it will come to that due to the “divide and conquer” tactic of splitting up papers and dividing offices.
    Still, Crapports will ultimately fail. The millionaires will go on their merry way after destroying the lives of their staff – something that has been going on since Conrad Black’s ‘rape and pillage.’ But, we won’t march heedlessly to our deaths. We will fight. So be prepared. Nothing is as fierce as the peasant who has little left to lose.

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