Peoria mayors, pastors support newspaper workers in contract struggle

Monday, April 9, 2012

PEORIA – Mayor Jim Ardis today urged the corporate owner of the Journal Star to stop plans to outsource jobs and slash wages of newspaper employees with Peoria Unit 86 of the United Media Guild.

Ardis released his letter to Publisher Ken Mauser regarding contract negotiations between Local 86 and the New York-based owner of the paper, GateHouse Media. The letter – signed by 10 of 11 members of the Peoria City Council – asks GateHouse to reconsider its intent to outsource many jobs while cutting remaining salaries of employees who report, create and deliver the paper. Such changes also would hurt Journal Star readers, Ardis said.

“I fail to see how additional moves against employees and staffing would allow the newspaper to continue as a valuable public watchdog and community service,” Ardis said. “I have never run a newspaper. But less is surely not more, when it comes to reporting the news.”

Local 86 also released a letter from the senior pastors of two of Peoria’s largest and most influential churches, Cal Rychner of Northwoods Community Church and John King of Riverside Community Church. They wrote the letter to Publisher Ken Mauser after they requested a meeting with him, but he declined. In the letter, they ask GateHouse for a “just and fair” settlement.

“As pastors, we are always interested in seeking justice, ” They wrote. “…The Journal Star is a respected, solid, profitable enterprise. To that extent, we are concerned about your drastic push to outsource jobs, slash employees, cut wages and otherwise devastate the lives of loyal employees and their families.”

Local 86 urges all of central Illinois to contact Publisher Ken Mauser at 686-3000 or kmauser@pjstar.com in support of a fair contract and quality journalism. Also, please follow Local 86 at peoriawatchdog.com.

Local 86 ocntacts:
Phil Luciano, president: 309-213-1517
Chris Kaergard, vice president: 713-501-6825

Peoria mayor and council join Unit 86 in call for fair negotiations

PEORIA MAYOR JIM ARDIS AND OTHERS TO CALL FOR FAIR NEGOTIATIONS AT THE
JOURNAL STAR DURING 9 A.M. NEWS CONFERENCE MONDAY, APRIL 9, AT PEORIA
CITY HALL

It’s time to save the Journal Star.

As downstate Illinois’ largest newspaper, the Journal Star continues to
be highly profitable. However, New York-based owner GateHouse Media
continues to push for the slashings of jobs and salaries of the people
who write, create and deliver the paper.

Why? GateHouse recently lavished a $800,000 bonus on CEO Michael Reed,
who makes a salary of $500,000 a year. Further plump bonuses to other
executives pushed the total to far over $1 million.

While GateHouse continues to try to slash the Journal Star, readers
might ask questions. How does a smaller local staff make for a better
local paper? How do continued cuts at the newspaper make for a better
value for readers?

We ask the same questions. We are Peoria Unit 86 of the United Media
Guild, which represents those targeted employees. We want only
reasonable contract negotiations and a fair settlement. We just want to
do our jobs as Peoria’s public watchdog.

Please join us at 9 a.m. Monday, April 9, in front of Peoria City Hall,
419 Fulton Street. Mayor Jim Ardis will present a letter signed by the
City Council urging GateHouse to reach a fair settlement with the Guild.

We also will present a similar letter from the head pastors of two of
the largest churches in Peoria – who requested to meet with Journal Star
publisher Ken Mauser, but were denied – urging justice and moral
fairness in ongoing contract negotiations.

Questions?

Guild President Phil Luciano: (309) 213-1517
Guild Vice President Chris Kaergard: (773) 501-6825

Getting ready for St. Pat’s Day

What do you get when you combine a several gallons of paint, plywood and power tools, a salvaged toilet and a group of multi-talented individuals?

Peoria Unit 86′s very own parade float.

That’s right, the Guild is taking its cause to the streets of downtown Peoria.

The Guild float will be one of the nearly 130 organizations that step off for the 32nd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade at 11 a.m. Saturday in Downtown Peoria.

The Guild is encouraging all members, retirees, family and friends to join the festivities as they march and spread the word about the importance of a robust news-gathering operation – one that produces the news of our community from right here in Peoria.

Highlights and lowlights of latest contract talks

The bargaining team met with the company Wednesday for another round of talks.

Here is a summary:

1. Removal of all proposed language regarding outsourcing, except for outside circulation.Further, the proposal mentions “enhanced separation benefits,” to be negotiated.

2. Movement of obituaries outside the unit.

3. Language about publishing “common content” — such as national, international or feature pages – that could be created outside the unit and used universally by GateHouse pubs. Such pages, which management feels it has the right to run already, could mean less work locally.

4. The creation of four job classes:

a. sub-editors
b. reporters, photogs/graphic artists, copy editors, web producers
c. news assistant
d. librarian

Further, language elsewhere breaks out sports as a different class within the reporter designation, for the purpose of layoffs. That language also allows management to move the unit’s editorial personnel to different classifications, with seniority based on time in each classification. Thus, if a reporter with 20 years at the JS were to be moved to copy editor, that employee’s seniority would be wiped out and started anew.

Part of the proposal talks about four large groupings — as per above breakdown. The impact in that proposed section is of much less importance; it has to do with swing pay.

HOWEVER, other proposed language separates EACH one of those job titles — thus, five in category (b) — regarding layoffs and seniority. FURTHER, re layoffs and seniority, sports reporters would be an entirely separate job title, apart from other reporters.

This is a proposal, subject to bargaining. Management has indicated no hard line here; rather, management’s expectation is much further discussion on the matter.

5. Across-the-board wage reduction moved from 5 percent to 3 percent.

Aside from the reduced outsourcing language, the proposal was met with little positive reaction – and, at times, vocalized protestation.

Of course, all of these matters remain subject to bargaining, and we will respond with our own, new proposal at the next talks. The next session is tentatively slated for April 10.

GateHouse eliminates more Peoria jobs

Peoria Journal Star Publisher Ken Mauser on Friday eliminated more than 40 years of newspaper experience with the axing of two newsroom managers, Eric Behrens and Jeff Kepler.

Though these positions were non-union, Peoria Unit 86 of the United Media Guild notes the continued erosion of Journal Star personnel, particularly in the newsroom.

Behrens, the photo/graphics editor, had been with the paper more than 25 years. During that time, he won many awards behind the camera, especially for his medical-mission work in Haiti.

Kepler, the editorial systems manager, was the go-to wizard who breathed life into computers and other equipment. He also was a patient and encouraging teacher to newsroom personnel learning video and other types of new media formats.

A management posting in the newsroom on Friday blamed the job cuts on “economic stress.”

The Guild notes that the Peoria Journal Star continues to operate in the black. Further, the Guild notes that in 2009 and 2010, the three top executives with GateHouse Media — the corporate owner of the Journal Star — made six-figure bonuses upwards of $500,000.

The Guild does not know how much Ken Mauser makes.

Strange news in Peoria, worse news elsewhere

The company announced Tuesday that it does NOT plan to attempt to outsource or consolidate the Journal Star copy desk in Peoria for the term of management’s proposed contract to the Guild (18 months).

This is according to our Newspaper Guild representative, who received a message from the company’s attorney.

Why? We are not sure. Possibly GateHouse wants to implement the change in phases, and Peoria is not part of its first phase. Remember, any such change is subject to collective bargaining: What GateHouse wants and what it gets are two different things.

However, the threat of job elimination remains: We have no indication of any plan for GateHouse to modify its intent to outsource outside circulation. These are 36 Guild jobs.

Employees at The State Journal-Register in Springfield and The Register-Mail in Galesburg received notification Tuesday afternoon that they’ll consolidate their layout operations by June 2012. While the SJ-R only held several verbal meetings Tuesday afternoon, the R-M sent this memo out to staff:

Gatehouse is moving toward central design desks for all of its newspapers. The desks will be in Chicago and Boston.

Central desk, what it means
What that means to us is that by June, we will not be laying out The R-M or related special sections in Galesburg. The design work will be done by a central desk in Chicago. We’ll copy edit stories and cutlines and prepare the content for each page. The central desk will proof pages and send them to our prepress.

How about the staff?
I expect staff reductions. Corporate will let me know the extent of those reductions by mid February.

Common pages start soon
Our first step toward a central desk is to start using “common pages” designed by the central desk. Starting Monday, Jan. 23, we’ll use the following common pages:
* Nation/World (either full or half-page)
* National sports page (either full or half-page)
* National sports agate (four columns, full page or 6 columns half-page)
We also have an option for a business page (full or half).

Accessing common pages
The pages will be made available to us via the GateHouse News Service website in PDF format. They won’t have page toppers or folios.

Page size changes slightly
Using the common pages means we’ll adjust our image size of our pages a little. We’ll go from a width of 10.125 to 10 inches and we’ll go from a 21.25 length to 21.5 inches.

New styles sheets, updating libraries
It also means our fonts will change to match the common pages. Ken is working on new style sheets. We’ll also have to update our libraries.

Contract negotiations, part two

We met a second day with management on Thursday, spending much of the morning and early afternoon reviewing a new company proposal.  The Guild responded with its own revised proposal.

Union security and dues check-off were removed from the bargaining through agreement to current contract language, but it’s apparent that the core issue since the start of talks — outsourcing — remains.

In response, Guild leadership has established two committees to be staffed by three members who will be responsible for organizing our communications strategy. As these committees build sub-committees and get into action, you will be asked to perform specific tasks along the way.

This is your Guild, and these are your jobs, or your co-worker’s jobs, that are at stake. We all must work together if there is any chance to save them.

New bargaining dates are being scheduled; the next meetings most likely will occur in February.

The following constitutes a summary of the key unresolved issues in our negotiations:

Outsourcing. As was mentioned Wednesday, management proposes to outsource and eliminate 36 circulation Guild jobs, and it has set June 1 as the target date. No additional details were provided about the company’s intent to consolidate, and eliminate, Guild work in the newsroom.  As mentioned previously, however, job numbers there range from 9 to 13 cuts. Management said it will provide specific plans at our next meeting.Wages. Management has proposed a 5 percent wage cut. We are proposing 4 percent wage increases in each year of a three-year contract. The company also is seeking to increase for new hires the length of time, from five years to 10 years, to achieve the top pay rate.

Job Security. Management moved away from a proposal to eliminate seniority as the basis for layoff, but now is proposing a change that would allow layoffs by job title, rather than by department.  This would make it easier for management to eliminate a classification of employees, such as copy editors.

Health Insurance. The company has proposed increasing premiums nearly double, from 25 percent of the premium to 45 percent. The Guild is proposing premiums remain at current levels.  The company also proposes to require employees to pay 100 percent of the dental insurance premium.

Overtime. Management proposes to eliminate daily overtime provisions, replacing it with a weekly provision. In other words, if you worked more than 37.5 hours in a week, you would receive overtime. Currently, members receive overtime for work beyond the 7.5-hour work day each day. The Guild proposes the current contract language.

Night-time Differential. The company is seeking a reduction from 6 percent to 2 percent for such work shifts scheduled to begin noon and after. The Guild is proposing current language.

Holidays. The company is proposing to eliminate the birthday holiday for new employees. We are proposing the current contract language.Vacation. There is no proposal to change the amount of vacation; however, as has been discussed to the membership, there is a proposal from the company to take the current accrued vacation time and move to a grant-based system. The Guild has proposed moving accrued time into a bank that members can use, or seek to cash out their accrued time. Again, this would not decrease the number of vacation days you receive.

Leaves of Absences. Management is proposing the elimination of both family and parenting leave, which provides three days leave for a birth or adoption. The Guild is proposing current language.

Mileage Reimbursement. The company has proposed reducing the rate from 90 percent of the IRS mileage rate to 65 percent.

The Guild, as part of its proposal, seeks seeks changes to improve the 401k match, severance, personal day and equipment needs.  It’s also proposing a new wellness program.