Friday, May 2, 2008

Attempt to Unionize Trib and CC Times Wins Support

By Robert Gammon
Fri, May 2, 2008 at 11:54 AM

A months-long effort to unionize the newsrooms of the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times, and several other East Bay newspapers got a huge boost today when union officials revealed that "a strong majority" of reporters, photographers, and copy editors at the papers had signed union cards and were demanding a union election. Officials from the Northern California Newspaper Guild, the union that also represents journalists at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee, said they planned to submit the signed union cards today to the National Labor Relations Board. A union election is expected in six to eight weeks, said Sara Steffens, a veteran Times reporter and union organizer. "I'm excited," she said. "It took a lot of work to get to this point."

A months-long effort to unionize the newsrooms of the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times, and several other East Bay newspapers got a huge boost today when union officials revealed that "a strong majority" of reporters, photographers, and copy editors at the papers had signed union cards and were demanding a union election. Officials from the Northern California Media Workers Guild, the union that also represents journalists at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee, said they planned to submit the signed union cards today to the National Labor Relations Board. A union election is expected in six to eight weeks, said Sara Steffens, a veteran Times reporter and union organizer. "I'm excited," she said. "It took a lot of work to get to this point."

The Tribune and several other East Bay dailies, including the Daily Review of Hayward, the Argus of Fremont, and the Tri-Valley Herald of Pleasanton, had been unionized for more than fifteen years. But then last year, MediaNews, the corporate owners of the papers, unilaterally stopped recognizing the union after it combined the papers with the non-union Times and the former Hills papers, including the Alameda Journal, the Berkeley Voice, and the Montclarion, which it acquired in 2006. MediaNews argued that after the merger the guild no longer represented a majority of newsroom employees. Guild officials alleged that MediaNews purposely downsized the union papers so that after the merger there would be fewer union employees than non-union ones.

The guild filed charges with the NLRB, and then launched an organizing campaign in an attempt to unionize all of the approximately 250 newsroom employees at the papers. Over the past few months, guild officials have convinced a majority of those workers to sign union cards, demanding an election, Steffens said. She declined to give the actual number of signed cards, but said it was a "strong majority, well above 50 percent." The unionizing effort also includes the MediaNews-owned San Mateo County Times, the West County Times of Richmond, the Valley Times of Pleasanton, the Alameda Times-Star, and the Piedmonter. The San Jose Mercury News is already unionized by the South Bay chapter of the guild.

Under federal law, if a more than half of the non-management newsroom employees vote to unionize in the election, then MediaNews will be forced to recognize the guild and negotiate a union contract. Kevin Keane, who is vice president of news for the Trib and the Times and has urged employees not to sign the union cards, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Full disclosure: I was guild official at the Trib from 1999 to 2004.

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