Guild Fights Back: Attacking Wrapports In Multiple Legal Forums
by Ralph Zahorik
After a month of fact gathering, the Chicago Newspaper Guild filed two unfair labor practice charges against Wrapports because of its recent removal from the Sun-Times bargaining unit of two of three Sun-Times staffers from the Guild’s negotiating committee.
The Guild Unit Chair and Chairperson of the Health Committee who also served as a copy editor/page designer was laid off in late March. In fact, this individual was the only Guild member who was laid off at this time. The very next day Wrapports involuntarily transferred members of the Sun-Times business staff to the Grid publication, a Wrapports publication inserted regularly into editions of the Sun-Times. Wrapports owns Sun-Times Media Holdings. Among the three business writers who Wrapports removed from the bargaining unit was the Guild’s Treasurer and VIce-Chair of the Sun-TImes bargaining unit, Dave Roeder, who also served on the negotiating committee. Roeder now continues as a long-time business writer and columnist who was involuntarily transferred to “Chicago Grid,”
The company has said Grid is a separate entity from the Sun-Times. Grid writers’ desks are on the 10th floor of the Sun-Times building in downtown Chicago. The Sun-Times newsroom is on the 9th floor. All three Sun-Times business writers have been moved one floor up to the Grid space.
“Wrapports deliberately removed two-thirds of the Sun-Times representatives on the bargaining committee from the Sun-Time bargaining unit of the Guild, said Craig Rosenbaum, executive director of the Chicago Newspaper Guild. “They’re trying to dismantle the unit … You can’t unilaterally remove people from the unit to another publication.”
Bob Mazzoni, a Sun-Times copy editor and Guild unit chairman, is the sole remaining Sun-Times unit representative on the Guild bargaining committee, although Roeder is expected to stay involved in negotiations. “I feel I have an obligation to see this through,” he said.
The two Sun-Times newsroom staffers are considered key bargaining committee members by the Guild. Rosenbaum said their sudden removal from the newsroom is a violation of federal law.
The unfair labor practice charges were filed with the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board upon completion of the investigation of its outside counsel Barr & Camens in Washington DC. The charges allege that Wrapports violated the collective bargaining agreement by “unilaterally” removing the employees to another entity and requests that the NLRB restore all three business writers to the Guild’s bargaining unit and reinstate the laid off copy editor/designer with back pay. The Guild has also requested that the NLRB seek an injunction in federal court because of the severity Wrapports’ actions have caused the Guild.
If the NLRB issues a complaint as a result of the charges, the case would go to trial before an administrative law judge.
In addition to gutting the Sun-Times contingent of Guild activists on the bargaining committee, Wrapports shut down offices of suburban daily newspapers throughout the Chicago, Joliet, Waukegan and Northwest Indiana areas. Reporters were told to start working out of their homes. Editors, news managers, page designers/copy editors and editorial assistants were told they would have to work in the Sun-Times building in downtown Chicago.
Reporters described some of the difficulties they were encountering: finding Internet access points in remote locations, being shushed in libraries, working out their cars, finding places to meet sources.
“It’s part of your job,” responded Chris De Luca, Sun-Times deputy managing editor at a meeting with the Guild to discuss the new situation. “You have to be passionate about your job.”
The office shutdowns have caused problems and complications for reporters and photographers and editorial assistants, some of whom live in Indiana or up to 40 or 50 miles away from the Chicago Loop. Joliet editorial assistants, speaking at one of the bargaining sessions said it would be difficult if not impossible to continue their public service columns. Upon the Guild raising objections at the bargaining table, Wrapports told the Guild that Editorial Assistants would be able to work out of their homes if their managers approved of it. However, Wrapports upper management never told this to the managers of the Editorial Assistants. This was a significant internal communication problem among Wrapports’ management.
The Company did a one-eighty and told the Guild that the the Editorial Assistants could not work from home and would be required to to commute without any extra money. “This is a classic case of regressive bargaining and is unlawful under the NLRA,” said Rosenbaum. “Our attorneys intend to file another charge with the NLRB within the next couple of weeks.” he added.
The Guild also filed grievances on behalf of the Editorial Assistants who could not afford to continue work because of the commute and its cost.
“This is what we call a constructive discharge. In other words the changes in working conditions made it impracticable if not impossible for many of the Editorial Assistants to continue working,” said Rosenbaum.
He added, “All of the impacted Editorial Assistants were women and consequently the Company’s actions had a disparate impact on women. So we also think it violates the non-discrimination clause of our contract.”