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.