The NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia

Digital First Media workers unite to fight for fair contracts

January 13, 2016billrossGuild News

Full story from Digital First Media Workers.

Today we are launching a national, coordinated campaign to win fair contracts with wage increases for the nearly 1,000 Guild-represented employees of Digital First Media. The campaign will build on the strength of our 13 bargaining units at DFM publications and online news sites across the United States, united by a central theme: News Matters.

NewsMattersFlyer.v6-page-001And we — the news gatherers, news producers and news deliverers, as well as the advertising and office staff so critical to our success — matter, too.

With most of our contracts expired or soon-to expire, we will continue to work collectively until all our members have received long-overdue pay increases. Raises at DFM papers have not been granted for at least seven — and as long as 10 years.

The premise of the News Matters campaign is simple: “Strength in numbers,” summarized David Levengood, a 41-year circulation department employee of The Mercury in Pottstown, Penn. Levengood began delivering the small community paper at age 11, and has worked there ever since. “They’ve got a lot more power as a national company,” he said, “so we have to exercise the same power to get anywhere now.”

Our campaign is historic. We are among the roughly 30 percent of print and digital newsroom workers in the United States who are represented by a union, according to The Newspaper Guild’s estimates. Yet to our knowledge, at no time in recent history has a nationwide force of print media workers come together on this scale, across so many newsrooms, to collectively demand wage increases.

We are taking this action because we see no other alternative. Isolated as individual bargaining units, we have faced total shut-out from DFM on raises, even as valued employees leave the papers, week after week, in search of more equitable workplaces. And we believe — with all our members’ support as we escalate the campaign in the coming weeks — that together, we will be far more effective making real gains for employees.

DFM managers answer to Alden Global Capital, a New York-based hedge fund, making our challenge all the more formidable.

“It used to be that when we would negotiate, the owners who were right in town, occasionally they were right at the table,” said longtime Denver Post customer service employee Laurie Faliano, president of the Denver Newspaper Guild. “Now, we negotiate with company representatives that answer to people in New York — and they flat out tell us they can’t make decisions anymore. They go back for approval of proposals from the people at Alden or they have their marching orders, and we don’t ever get to negotiate or talk to the people that are actually running the show.”

A company of national scope needs to sit down at the bargaining table across from a national newspaper union, and this campaign is a message to our members that we have that heft — and we are going to take advantage of it. “There’s a power in all of us being together,” Faliano said.

Here’s the power we represent: We are staff of a dozen daily newspapers across the country — from Silicon Valley to St. Paul and suburban Philadelphia. We are reporters, photographers, editors, sales reps, designers, and clerks. We are the people who keep the second-largest newspaper group in the United States in business.

More importantly, we produce and distribute news that keeps people safe, and informed: When mass shooters invade movie theaters. When floods and droughts reach epic proportions. When the simple cost of dying in a hospital guts seniors’ life savings.

Together, we’ve won Pulitzers, inspired legislation and kept watch on local governments and police departments. We’ve reviewed local theater and dance productions, tracked stadium building plans and introduced readers to unknown stories about athletes, performers and artists. We’ve taken them inside riverbank homeless encampments and to mountain top ski resorts, documenting life unfolding around our communities with high-quality professional photography, day after day.

We’ve quickly adapted and learned new skills in the age of digital media, in both sales and newsgathering. Daily Freeman reporters in Kingston, New York were the first in the state to live-tweet proceedings in a courtroom trial. And The Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News have created award-winning full-length video documentaries never before produced by newspaper staff.

But we, the employees of these DFM papers, are making unreasonable sacrifices to a profitable company that has consistently failed to treat its employees fairly at the bargaining table. Some DFM employees — such as staff at four papers in the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia — have gone as long as 10 years without a raise. Workers at all other papers are reaching that 10-year mark soon, struggling to pay mortgages and put kids through school with rising health care costs and frugal retirement accounts.

At the Bay Area News Group in the East Bay, employees have had to fight hard for hourly wages of $18.75 — less than half what most journalists in the region earn. And that pay minimum hasn’t budged over the past eight years — since it was established in the East Bay unit’s initial contract.

Across the San Francisco Bay at the Mercury News, employee compensation has declined 19 percent since 2008, due to a convergence of wage and benefit reductions. That amounts to more than a $12,000 per year loss for many employees. Meanwhile, although the Mercury News’ bargaining unit has shrunk 71 percent — from 378 employees to just 108 today — there have been no resulting benefits for the few, and fiercely loyal, employees who remain.

With all the cuts and downsizing, “the cost savings have been dramatic,” said Carl Hall, the administrative officer for the Pacific Media Workers Guild, the parent local for the East Bay and San Jose units. “Yet we have been disappointed at every turn by the company’s refusal to invest any of the savings in their main asset, their employees. They’ve been treating the workforce like something they can just ignore — and it has eroded the quality and created widespread burnout and disenchantment, rather than inspiring people to meet the challenge of this terrible media market we’re faced with.”

“It’s very sad to see what’s happened to our newsroom, and it’s very sad that the hedge fund that owns us has no interest in journalism or in newspapers. It’s clear that they see them as another asset that they can drain profits from.”

–Patricia Doxsey, president of the Kingston Newsguild

At the Macomb Daily and The Daily Tribune, covering the suburbs outside of Detroit, Guild membership is down 45 percent since April 2013. Following a 12.5 percent pay cut seven years ago, employees salaries have not been this low since 2001.

“Morale continues to plummet with each passing season,” said Norb Franz, a longtime GA reporter. His bargaining unit reports that job losses have been “extensive, demoralizing, and deflating,” contributing “to the declining breadth and depth of the two newspapers.”

Franz said the result is a news engine increasingly strained to rev up and cover catastrophic events the public needs to know about, such as the devastating floods the region suffered in 2014: “With fewer reporters on the streets, where are people going to get their information from, and who’s going to provide the checks and balances on governments that newspapers — the fourth estate — provides?”

Reporter Patricia Doxsey, president of the Kingston Newsguild, represents the unionized members of the Daily Freeman and covers a county beat. Staff at her midsize daily paper — serving readers in the region from the Hudson River Valley to the Catskills — have not had a raise in eight years.

“It’s very sad to see what’s happened to our newsroom, and it’s very sad that the hedge fund that owns us has no interest in journalism or in newspapers,” Doxsey said. “It’s clear that they see them as another asset that they can drain profits from.”

Failure to deliver even cost-of-living raises affects sales reps as well, who are already reeling from dramatically changed commission structures that cut deeply into prior earnings. “They still have the same bills and mortgages to pay — but they make it so much harder to ply our trade in this industry and for this newspaper that we all love,” Doxsey said. “Everybody in the newsroom, the circulation department, the outside sales reps, all really have the sense that they’re working for a company that doesn’t care about us as employees or as human beings.”

At the Denver Post, longtime reporter Kieran Nicholson has shared in the glory of his paper’s Pulitzer prize for the Aurora theater shootings, and its in-depth coverage of the legalization of marijuana and the environment. But like other employees, he’s acutely aware of the threats to professional journalism, as well.

“There’s been a lot of turnover, a lot of people with experience who saw that glass ceiling and decided to move on. It’s a matter of livelihood,” Nicholson said. “Most of the people who moved on loved their jobs, they loved the work they were doing, but some people have to support families, and compensation is a key component to any job.”

Today, and in the coming weeks, we are asking you, our 1,000 members and your friends and supporters, to please stay tuned as we roll out the News Matters campaign.

You will be hearing soon about meetings at your paper that we hope you will attend. We need to hear from you, our members, as we plan next steps and as negotiations move forward.

You can contact your unit officers, listed below, or the News Matters national campaign. For ongoing updates, please visit us online and join us on social media at:

Twitter: @dfmworkers

Unit leaders:

Have something to add? Feel free to leave a comment below. If you’d like to remain anonymous use the name “DFM Worker.”