Crises brought them together twice—first in 2011 when Chicago Newspaper Guild (CNG) fell behind in dues payments and again in summer of 2013 after all the photographers were fired.
Both times, Secretary-Treasurer of The Newspaper Guild-CWA Carol Rothman of Philadelphia came through for Chicago. In 2011, she worked with CNG to hammer out a plan to get back on track. In 2013, Rothman recalled a seldom-used fund to get the Guild-protected photographers weekly cash benefits and cover their insurance after Sun-Times Media left those 17 photojournalists unemployed.
Rothman is now ready to retire after 43 years as a Guild member. She served as secretary-treasurer for the national union since 2008.
“Carol has been very motivating and supporting to me and the Chicago Newspaper Guild. I hate that she is leaving—I tried to talk her out of it but she said it’s time for her to hang up her hat and I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart and wish her well in the future,” CNG President Dave Pollard said.
Rothman said the news industry was dealt a bad hand this past decade.
“I’m just proud that with all of the troubles that we’ve had in the industry that we’re still devising ways to make the Guild strong and help members and locals. We’re working to stay strong and involve more people,” Rothman said.
CNG Executive Director Craig Rosenbaum became one of the people she was involved with in May 2011. CNG lost dozens of members due to layoffs and attrition in the wake of Sun-Times Media’s bankruptcy in 2009. Rosenbaum said CNG was behind in its per caps (dues) payments to the national union.
“Per caps is the lifeblood of the union. If we fall behind in per caps, we can fall into trusteeship and taken over by the international, but Carol stepped in. She was extraordinarily sensitive,” Rosenbaum said.
Rothman was also able to arrange funding for leadership training for some CNG members while the local was working through its per caps problem, Rosenbaum said. He said that was a huge help.
Reading about former Gary “Post-Tribune” photographer Stephanie Dowell and her daughter’s health issues inspired Rothman to try to help the photographers following their mass layoff May 30, Rothman recalled.
“That was when a light bulb went on. Can’t we help? I can’t take credit for it but I questioned myself, that there’s something I read about that can help. I went to Bernie (Lunzer, president of The Newspaper Guild) and asked wouldn’t the photographers qualify for victims of collective bargaining benefits?” Rothman said.
As it happened, the 17 Guild-protected photojournalists did qualify. They are receiving weekly cash benefits as well as getting their monthly insurance premiums paid for—a much-appreciated blessing, many of the photographers have said.
Those benefits will stop after four photographers are brought back to work. This is part of the settlement agreement CNG reached with Sun-Times Media. CNG has no input in which of the photographers will be brought back but the company has until March 3 to bring them back.
“We have to be proud of the photographers and the mobilizing they did to bring their issue to the community. This settlement may not feel like a success to everyone who was involved, but certainly is a successful outcome as far as the national union is concerned. It went on so long that we have to count this as a success. To get back benefits that were taken away and even to have a small number of photographers brought back to work is a successful resolution to the conflict,” Rothman said.
Rothman’s last day will be Dec. 20. She had a career in the commercial side of newspapers in Philadelphia before working full-time for TNG. Rothman will be replaced by Sara Steffens.
Rothman said her retirement plans include taking it easy and spending time with family.
“Every member of this local should be so thankful for Carol because she’s one of those people you may not know if you see her, but behind the scenes she knows how to get it done and that’s what she did for us,” Rosenbaum said.