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The bargaining table

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Joe Williams, Mar 9, 2008.

  1. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    If your union faces contract talks this year, what would you prefer the bargaining committee to do:

    -- Get you all raises that are long overdue, even though you know that such a move might lead to more buyouts or layoffs. That means some people will make more money this year while other people will stop making money entirely. Also, those raises won't really be raises once you adjust for the extra hours worked to make up for the vanished colleagues.

    -- Accept a frozen or nearly frozen wage, getting concessions that the downsizing will stop for some agreed-upon period of time. People might feel lousy about continuing to work at a job that offers few or no raises, but they might feel better knowing that their sacrifices kept a few family breadwinners employed.

    -- Negotiate wage give-backs to keep colleagues employed and keep journalistic ambitions high. If money can be diverted from salaries, maybe you could still afford a few pricey trips in pursuit of big stories. Or a Washington bureau. Or coffee filters that don't have to be dried out and used at least twice.

    Watching what owners have done so far, citing circulation drops, the loss of ad revenue and the recession overall, can anyone expect them to be anything but ruthless in union contract talks? What sort of stomach would your average journalist have at the moment for a strike?
  2. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    Problem is, I'm not sure any agreement along the lines of Option #2 would be worth the paper it's printed on. Any publicly-traded company will downsize if that's what they (or the stockholders) feel they need to do, and certainly won't sign away the rights to do so in exchange for a wage freeze.
    I'm also not really certain I'd trust them with Option #3. Yeah, they might say the give-backs will help fund travel and the Washington bureau, and they might even mean it for the first year. But when trouble hits, travel and DC get cut and those give-backs are going to the bottom line.
    So I guess that leaves Option #1, which certainly isn't ideal.
    And, no, I can't imagine much appetite for a strike in my newsroom. But I don't figure management wants one, either, things being as uncertain as they are these days. So I guess I'd be content to wait it out for a reasonable deal, if it comes to that.
  3. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    But if a newspaper is losing money, won't it lose less money -- or lose money at a slower rate -- by not publishing rather than publishing? Think that's how it went for hockey or baseball or one of them sports during one or more work stoppages. Teams were better off financially by not playing than by playing, at least short term.
  4. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    I'd go with option 2.

    You really can't trust the company's word if you were to do either option 2 or 3, but at least option 2 would buy some employees more time to find another job. Option 1 means some people make more money, some others get the boot right away.

    Option 3 shouldn't be done. Papers had 20-plus percent profit margins all these years and NOW they are struggling because it's only 18 percent? Journalists work hard enough for the low pay they get. They shouldn't have to give any of it back to the greedsters.
  5. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    It's impossible to respond to any of the above without detailed financial information from the newspaper publisher.
  6. STLIrish

    STLIrish Active Member

    What newspapers/newspaper companies are actually losing money? They just make a little less than they used to. Big difference.

    And the risk they run by halting publication is that advertisers leave and never come back. Which is much more likely than, say, lifelong baseball fans never coming back to baseball, given the vast array of ways companies can spend their advertising dollars.
  7. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    In my experience, journalists as a collective are pretty gutless when it comes to contract negotiations. Too many view their jobs as some priestly service to fellow man instead of, well, a job, and publishers take advantage of that every time they get a chance. I assure you, publishers realize they're running a business within an industry.

    The other problem with journalists as union members is that most journalists (in general) have no clue how to stick together and build consensus. All too often they begin breaking off into factions before the negotiations even begin.

    Of course there have been some pleasant exceptions to this but, overall, I've been pretty disappointed by the way people in this industry react come contract time.
  8. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    I'd go for the raises if possible. Everyone knows that layoffs/buyouts are part of the business and they're not going away. So why not get everything you can, while you can? Looking out for the health of the industry makes for nice chitchat, but agreeing to freezes and (barf) give-backs is being too generous with management that, more often than not, doesn't give a flying flip about YOU. So get the raises and immediately start stuffing that money away for the day when your number comes up.
  9. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    Agreed. Another group, too many again, truly believe that they are lucky to be doing this stuff for a living at whatever wage is thrown their way and they have no confidence in their ability to do something else. For some, of course, that certainly is true. But too few give themselves enough credit for having more value in other enterprises -- where every chair isn't filled with someone who can write and otherwise communicate well -- than they do in a room filled with such folks.

    Also, you are spot-on regarding the inability to stick together. Deskers' main issues aren't the same as beat writers' top gripes, which aren't the same as the photogs' primary beefs, and so on. Management surgically divides and conquers.

    Wonder what the Guild is going to look like 10 years from now.
  10. BTExpress

    BTExpress Well-Known Member

    NY Post loses about $40 million a year.

    Others lose money, too, and still others are making a small profit.

    This "they were making 20 percent and now they are making 18 percent" thinking has got to stop, because it's nonsense. Some papers are still doing well. Many are not. NONE have any positive economic trends (and face it, economic decisions are made with a view toward the future).

    Does that mean newspapers are correct to think that they can cut, cut and cut in an effort to stop the bleeding? No, but the opposite is unsustainable, too. They are doing what you would do if you suddenly saw your paycheck dwindle. You would eat out less, drive a smaller car, fire the guy who maintains your lawn, subscribe to fewer satellite channels. Every one of those decisions hurts somebody, but you would make them if your revenues were dropping.

    Have any of you really looked at the quarterly numbers that keep coming out?

    "Revenues down 12 percent . . . circulation down 8 percent . . . McClatchy stock loses 85% of value" . . .

    Every quarter we hear news like that. And you add it up, quarter after quarter, year after year, and it amounts to a much more serious situation than "profit margin dropping from 20 percent to 18 percent."

    That is not a popular way of thinking on this board . . . but somebody had to say it.
  11. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    Yes Rupert Murdoch is suffering so much that he almost couldn't cut a check out of petty cash to buy the Wall St. Journal.
  12. BTExpress

    BTExpress Well-Known Member

    The paper is losing money. A person asked a question, and I answered it.

    That the person who owns it has more money than he knows what to do with thanks to other ventures is of no relevance. Yes, it would be nice if companies were not beholden to the whims of Wall Street. But soaring stock prices helped fuel the aggressive hiring and travel and growing space that many newspapers (mine included) enjoyed in the 1990s. It's only natural that crashing stock prices would have the opposite effect. Guess the entire industry should have gone private in 1999.

    In fact, rag that it is, at least the 2008 NY Post is not a shell of its 1999 version, like many other newspapers (mine included).
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