Newspaper Guild Votes to Begin Strike Preparations
The Newspaper Guild on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to begin preparations for a strike against Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
There were two votes — one by employees of the newspapers, and one by workers for Philly.com, who have a separate but similar contract with PMN. Neither vote was particularly close: 263-19 in favor of strike preparations by so-called “main unit” employees; 24-7 in favor by Philly.com workers. Sixty-nine percent of guild membership voted.
“It wasn’t unanimous,” said Howard Gensler, the guild’s president and a gossip columnist for the Daily News, “but it was a very strong, supportive vote we hope sends a message to the company we’re not fooling around.”
The vote does not mean workers at the papers will walk out immediately. Instead, the union will begin strike preparations, while bringing in additional negotiators from the parent Communications Workers of America union to apply new pressure in an attempt to break the impasse that has gone unresolved since the union’s contract with PMN originally expired in February.
“Philadelphia Media Network recognizes and respects the rights of the Guild members to authorize their leadership to begin making strike preparations,” PMN spokeswoman Amy Buckman said in a written statement to reporters. “Our negotiators remain hopeful that, with the assistance of the federal mediator, continued talks will result in an agreement before the contract extension expires on June 27, 2015, and that the Guild will soon join the twelve other PMN unions who have reached or are very close to reaching contract agreements.”
The two sides remain unable to resolve two main issues. First, the company wants softening of “seniority” rules that would allow PMN flexibility in deciding which employees it wants to keep in the event of future layoffs, rather than sticking to the usual “last hired, first fired” rule typical of union workplaces. Second, the two sides are far apart on an agreement over how much the company will contribute to employee health insurance costs; guild officials say employees could be stuck with thousands of dollars in news costs.
A third issue: Bringing the Philly.com employees into the same contract that governs their print colleagues.
If the Newspaper Guild — which represents journalists, photographers and a variety of newsroom support staffers — does go on strike, it seems likely that PMN and its workers will be competing for readership. The guild is planning to offer its own publication to readers during a walkout, and PMN has said it will continue production in print and online.
Wednesday’s vote took place in the Howe Room, on the 33rd floor of Loews at 12th and Market. For three hours, journalists came in, some chatted with guild leadership, cast a ballot, then left.
Among the voters: Ellen Gray, the Daily News TV critic, and Joe Juliano, the Inky sports reporter. Both were around for the last strike, a 46-day affair against then-owner Knight Ridder in 1985. Both voted Wednesday to authorize strike preparations, but both sounded wary of what the future might bring.
“The last time, I thought we were more hopeful,” Juliano said. “I felt we could go back (after the strike) to the way things were before. This time, I don’t think we can go back to the way things were.”
Gray agreed. “We came back and we all got raises,” she said of 1985.
But both said Guild leadership needed authorization to prepare for a strike — or else, they said, union members would have no leverage in negotiations with company management.
“I think you have to be willing to do this every so often,” Gray said.
Juliano agreed. Without a strike threat, he said, management “won’t think we have a leg to stand on.”
The contract between the Newspaper Guild and Philadelphia Media Network expires June 27th.
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