8/14/07

Newspaper monopolist withdraws union recognition

Media News Group - the chain that has captured a near-monopoly of the East Bay newspaper world - busted its newsroom union Monday. The announcement came at the end of a lengthy e-mail from John Armstrong, president and publisher of the newly consolidated Bay Area News Group-East Bay (BANG-EB).

By merging the 130 union jobs in some newsrooms with the 170 non-union positions in other papers, the company now claims less than 50 percent representation - enough, said Armstrong, to end recognition. The newly consolidated East Bay media enterprise joins key newsroom operations of all the East Bay papers owned by newspaper baron Dean Singleton and his Media News Group.

The chain has encircled the Bay Area after its buyout of the Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News and affiliated papers once owned by Knight-Ridder, a chain that vanished in a buyout by Sacramento-based McClatchy Newspapers and a sell-off of unwanted papers.

Media News now owns every daily newspaper in the Bay Area with the exception of the two San Francisco papers, the Chronicle and the Examiner.

Other Media News papers include the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent-Journal, the Vallejo Times-Herald, Fremont Argus, Tri-Valley Herald, San Mateo County Times, the Hayward Daily Review and the Monterey Herald , along with the Daily News and Hills newspaper groups, which include small locally distributed papers like the East Bay Daily News, the Berkeley Voice and the Albany Journal. Identical articles frequently appear in many or all of the outlets Media News now owns.

Other regional papers in the MNG fold are the Vacaville Reporter and the Woodland Democrat.

"We've filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board," said Dean Cuthbertson, president of the newspaper union, Local 39521 of the Newspaper Guild-CWA.

"There was a labor board representative taking testimony today," he said.

"We were expecting it," said one shop steward. "I was disappointed that we didn't do more today." A proposal to hold a march on the offices of the Contra Costa Times and Hayward review was rejected by another union leader. "Instead, we're all supposed to be wearing something red today," said the steward.

The Bay Area, once a bastion of the newspaper union, has been hard hit by the wave of consolidations and downsizing that have swept the industry.

In a letter to BANG corporate counsel Marshall Anstandig, representative Carl Hall of the Northern California Newspaper Guild/Typographical Union called the move "a grave error. Your citing of numbers and percentages doesn't mask what I consider to be a blatant attempt to destroy a 20-year tradition of progressive labor relations in the East Bay news industry."

Gloria LaRiva, who heads the union's typographical sector, said the move follows others at the San Jose Mercury News, which is owned by the same chain.

"Dean Singleton is a disaster who turns out cookie-cutter newspapers" and kills jobs, she said.

Typographers lost 22 positions in San Jose when MNG outsourced production work to India and to non-union sectors of the paper, LaRiva said.

The union lost 34 jobs at a unionized plant in Hayward when it was shut down and printing shifted to a new plant in the same city "where the mailers now earn $2 an hour less," she said.

Along with drastic newsroom cuts previously announced at the Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle, Singleton's move represents a major blow to organized journalism in the Bay Area, said one union member.

Armstrong buried the bad news at the end of a 18-paragraph e-mail sent to BANG-EB that announced the formal start of the consolidated newsroom, revealed that operating profits should increase by three percent in the current fiscal year following a 10 percent decline the year before, and the announcement of a $7 million investment in new technology to help make the merger more efficient.

He took up the union in the closing three paragraphs, dropping the bombshell in the penultimate paragraph: "Accordingly, we withdrew recognition from the Guild effective today."

LaRiva said more bad news lies ahead for union workers. Teamsters who print the Chronicle will lose their jobs in two years when printing is outsourced to a Bay Area plant operated by a Canadian firm.

While the new move combines editing functions into centrally administered desks, the papers have been consolidating reporting functions since shortly after Singleton acquired two Knight-Ridder papers.

While once reporters from different papers would attend the same event and write individual stories, many papers no carry the same story and the same byline—reducing the diversity of coverage of community news.

(berkeleydaily.org)

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