Dear Guild Friends:
If you’ve ever had the benefit of therapy (and I highly recommend it), you know it is as much a painful self-assessment as it is an exercise in empowerment.
I would argue so, too, is “Black City, White Paper.”
We at The Inquirer got things wrong over the years and hurt many people in the process, both inside our company and outside of it.
The studies and committees that have flowed since our long-overdue reckoning was sparked by the “Buildings Matter, Too” headline are proof we have the guts to look within. Whether we are empowered to change is still unknown. Only time will tell. For while our publisher has apologized to the Black community inside and outside The Inquirer, the Guild continues to experience resistance in its efforts to achieve pay equity for several members of color.
It was through nobody’s fault but mine that “Black City, White Paper” originally stated that Guild leaders did not respond to requests for comment. Upon reading that line, I did a search for Wesley Lowery’s name in my email to discover he had, in fact, reached out to me in
October, November and January. I have no explanation for not seeing any of those emails, just regret.
I promptly sent him an apology, saying I would never dodge a journalist. I also learned that he had talked to at least three other Guild officers for his story, so I asked him for the sake of accuracy to remove that line. I told him it was only accurate to say it was the president he couldn’t reach. He changed the line to reflect that.
What he did not include (even though it would be days before his piece ran in print) is what I said I would have told him. I wanted to bring this to your attention today because this matter was raised by Lowery in his story and again in today’s Inquirer by former vice president of operations and ultimately associate Inquirer publisher Mark Frisby.
As part of his claim that the company by the time he was hired in 2006 had set out to change the culture and ensure it was inclusive, Frisby said: “… we often ran into a roadblock when it came to retaining journalists of color in the newsroom because the union’s
seniority rules meant that any layoffs would result in the last hired being the first let go.”
What Frisby did not go on to say, and what Lowery did not add to “Black City, White Paper” despite my telling him, is that the Guild membership years ago changed language in the contract so that seniority is no longer the sole factor in layoffs. That means in a layoff situation now, Guild members most recently hired must not be the first to be let go.
I was beyond disappointed to see a former executive resort to the same old playbook — blame the union — rather than owning what brought us to the point of losing any recently hired journalists of color back then: LAYOFFS.
The Guild doesn’t order or condone layoffs. They are the decisions of company executives. Period.
That very dark day that 117 Guild members, many stunned and in tears, were told in private offices their employment at The Inquirer was over, executives marked the occasion in the company’s 12th-floor offices at 400 N. Broad St. with booze and cigars.
Those same executives took home bonuses
and arrived at work in fancy new cars the years Guild members were losing their jobs or, if they were retained, were enduring unpaid furloughs and pay cuts.
This Guild has made many sacrifices to help this company to survive an extraordinarily rough series of years that saw bankruptcy and dizzying ownership changes. We agreed to contract changes that included unheard of concessions on seniority to help ensure a more diverse workforce.
My only hope now is that when we return to the bargaining table later this year, we will not encounter what we did last time when we proposed extensive diversity, equity and inclusion measures: a one-sentence company proposal that essentially said it would try to do better on DEI.
There is self-assessment and public apologies and then there is true change. We all need to ensure the third leg of that stool comes.