has done what so many employers in an industry in free fall want
to do - get rid of the union. It’s as if unionized workers had
been making management decisions over the generations and, by
crushing them, the papers will miraculously make a come-back and
start to make money again.
he doesn’t know that his method of “urging” a quick settlement
is an old one, he hasn’t read any history. He has acted in a manner
befitting a mine owner of the turn of the 19th Century, rather
than an “enlightened” newspaper owner of the 21st Century.
the contract is not a rational act. For decades, Capital Newspapers
(the local manifestation of the giant print and broadcast empire
of the Hearst Corporation) has negotiated with Local 34 long past
the expiration date of the contract. They always worked under
the conditions of the contract until a new agreement was reached.
It’s past practice - long past practice.
management at the Albany
paper has said that conditions will continue - to a degree - the
union sees it as a profound change. For one thing, the company
will no longer deduct dues from the paycheck and forward it to
the local, so the union will have to set up an alternative to
not unprecedented at the Times Union, because in the late
1960s, when there was a strike at the Los
Angeles Herald Examiner, the management at the Albany
paper refused to deduct the “assessment” levied on all Guild members
at the time, to support the striking workers in L.A.
in Albany continued to deduct the regular dues, but the lack of
an easy way to collect the assessment from 340 members who worked
365 days a year on all three shifts - a plant and business that
never slept - caused most of the union members to fall in arrears
on their obligations and, therefore, were not “in good standing,”
not eligible to vote on union issues.
company’s union-busting lawyer (although they weren’t called that
in those days) knew that such a thing would happen. With most
of the union members, in effect, ineligible to vote, the union
would be weakened and it was. It took a few years to straighten
out the problem, but the company’s aims were accomplished - a
weaker union. It took years longer to bring it back to life.
course, this new-found life in the 1970s was in the context of
an American union movement that was itself weakened by a full
frontal assault on unions in the 1980s, by corporations and even
by the government.
of the demands of George Hearst in Albany
in recent months wasthat the union accept elimination of seniority,
which of course strikes at the heart of any union contract. This
is especially true for lay-offs. Long and loyal service - not
to mention experience and skills acquired over time - are usually
lost, because the company wants to get rid of those very same
people who possess all those qualities, who are at the top of
the pay scale. It saves money, and that’s what it’s all about.
union is looking into legal action, but a canceled contract also
means that the union’s remaining members can picket, launch a
boycott, or strike, although they can’t take a grievance to arbitration.
as Tim O’Brien said, “The reality is this is a union
town, and every union member knows what this action means. The
Times Union can expect the phones to start ringing off the
hook with calls canceling the newspaper. We told the Company the
day it first threatened this that it was the dumbest thing the
Company can do. They ignored us at their peril. They cannot say
they weren’t warned.”
a tough call for both sides. It pains reporters, editors, and
all of the other workers in the union to call for a boycott. It’s
their paper, too. The company is hoping that the local won’t be
able to pull off a boycott, but, as the local president said,
there are lots of union members in the circulation area - tens
of thousands of them and most are old enough to still read a newspaper
every day - and a boycott could be effective.
gamble by George Hearst is that the paper will stumble along and
just survive in these very tough economic times, even though papers
across the country are dropping one after another. What makes
him think he can show his contempt for the people who do the work
and still have a paper at the end of it all? It is a very big
few years ago, when the paper observed its 150th year, its editor,
Rex Smith, after he had carefully read the entire issue of the
then-Albany Morning Times in the archives of the State
Library, in 2006 wrote, “…But as I read the founding editor’s
relentlessly sincere and hopeful words in Vol. 1, No. 1, of the
newspaper that I now edit, I got a lump in my throat. I closed
my eyes and tried to imagine all the people who had worked hard
to create the paper every day over these 150 years, somehow shepherding
that little paper along and apparently making the right decisions,
year after year, so that even as other newspapers were born and
then died, and as other media emerged, the Times Union
became what is today the region’s oldest and by far largest news
proud can management be of their hostile act of canceling a contract
unilaterally and what it means to the women and men who actually
keep the Times Union a newspaper and not just an advertising
sheet. It’s a betrayal of the paper’s long history and all of
the people who made it a newspaper.
acts such as George Hearst’s are happening on a daily basis around
the U.S., from widget shops to newspapers. These are
warnings to all workers: “Keep your heads down and do the work
assigned. Don’t make waves and don’t question the boss. If you
do everything you’re told, you may be privileged to be the last
one out the door.”
so many employers at this time of economic stress for the nation,
the Times Union management is trying to use the turmoil
to its advantage, to the detriment or demise of Local 34.
O’Brien said, “You might as well change the name of the paper
to the Times anti-Union.”
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer.
His union work started when he became a local president of The
Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years
for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as
they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from
factory food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.