(Update) Lenfest Vows to Publish If Journos Strike
(Updated at 7:08 p.m. with Newspaper Guild response.)
The man who owns the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com vowed Thursday to keep publishing if journalists and other workers at those organizations go on strike.
“In the event of a strike, we remain committed to continuing to operate both digitally and in print and will continue to take the steps necessary to address the significant economic challenges that face us and our industry,” Gerry Lenfest, the publisher and owner of Philadelphia Media Network, said in a memorandum distributed to PMN’s employees.
There was little new in the comment — it mirrored, almost precisely, comments by lower-ranking PMN executives in recent days. But it was one of the rare times that Lenfest’s voice had been heard on the matter, and came after Newspaper Guild members publicly questioned whether Lenfest was aware of how negotiations were proceeding.
“The real question is, is Gerry aware of what’s going on,” Bill Ross, the Newspaper Guild’s executive director, told BigTrial.net, adding he was amazed that “such a great philanthropist as Gerry would allow things to get to this point.”
Lenfest is aware, it would seem. “While we do not believe that a strike is in the best interests of the Company or the Guild,” he said in the memo, “I can’t let it prevent us from honoring the commitments that we have made to our other employees, our hundreds of thousands of loyal subscribers and readers, and our advertisers.”
In response, the Newspaper Guild on Thursday afternoon unveiled its own plans to publish news during a strike — at a site called RealPhillyNews.com — and said PMN management was responsible for the impasse.
“Throughout these seven months of talks, the Guild has tried to be reasonable and pro-active and move the Company forward,” Guild leaders said in their own memo. “The Guild is not trying to break the Company. The Company is trying to break the union.”
Members of the Guild — which represents journalists, photographers and a variety of newsroom support staffers — voted Wednesday to begin strike preparations. Their contract with PMN originally expired in February. The latest extension of that contract expires June 27.
Full memos below:
From: “Lenfest, Gerry”
Date: June 4, 2015 at 5:07:53 PM EDT
To: All PMN Employees
Subject: NOTE TO ALL EMPLOYEES
I’m encouraged that 12 of 13 unions (some have ratified contracts while others are very close) and their management counterparts have taken steps to heed the call to make the necessary decisions to best ensure our future as a company. These decisions have required a number of sacrifices and compromises, and I applaud the union and management negotiators for their cooperation.
However, the one union that remains in negotiations – the Guild — has indicated that it may go on strike if its contract demands are not met. While we do not believe that a strike is in the best interests of the Company or the Guild, I can’t let it prevent us from honoring the commitments that we have made to our other employees, our hundreds of thousands of loyal subscribers and readers, and our advertisers.
In the event of a strike, we remain committed to continuing to operate both digitally and in print and will continue to take the steps necessary to address the significant economic challenges that face us and our industry.
And from the Newspaper Guild:
From: Guild Bulletin
Date: June 4, 2015 at 6:51:00 PM EDT
Subject: GUILD BULLETIN: WASHINGTON POST GETS RAISES! WHAT ABOUT US?
Since the Guild’s strike authorization vote last night, there have been two very important national developments: The editorial staff of Gawker Media voted to unionize. The Gawker Media staff voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. They are the first online-only media group of employees to join a union. Additionally, the Washington Post, often cited by VP of News Operations Stan Wischnowski as a news organization with a contract to consider, reached a tentative agreement on a new two-year deal with the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. Highlights of the contract include a 2.5% raise in year one and a 2% raise in year two. (For employees who’ve been with our company nine years or less, a “raise” is when the company pays you a higher hourly wage than it did previously.) Full-time employees will also get a $500 signing bonus. The company also moved 46 previously exempt employees into the Guild and kept their far more generous severance plan. Congratulations to the Post workers and the Guild.
At today’s bargaining session dedicated to Philly.com, the Guild stuck with its desire to have the Philly.com contract mirror the main unit contract and made a counter to the Company’s proposal. As Company bargainers Wischnowski and VP of Human Resources Keith Black have neither the power nor permission to do anything, the session was then ended with the Company set to return with its own counter the week of June 15 (probably June 18). Next week, Howard Gensler, Bill Ross and Regina Medina will be attending the annual CWA Convention in beautiful, downtown Detroit discussing our pre-strike preparations with CWA and International Guild leaders.
Speaking of strike prep, the Guild has purchased the domain name http://realphillynews.com, where we will provide news, sports and features from the reporters, editors and producers of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com to our loyal readers and advertisers while the Company attempts to put out a product filled with wire stories and scab news and photos. If the Company believes that the new “Live, Life, Love” and Sunday Business sections can be put out without the reporters, columnists, photographers and artists who inspired those sections, we believe they’re kidding themselves.
If a strike happens, there will also be opportunities for members in advertising, circulation and finance to work on the site or sign up for various other strike committees such as mobilization, strike captains and morale/refreshments. Please respond to this bulletin if you are interested.
Now that owner and publisher Gerry Lenfest has chosen to reach out to members directly, the Guild bargaining committee wishes to ask him to provide information on the economic packages received by the other unions when their contracts are ratified. Let us see their “sacrifices and compromises.” Let us see how the Teamsters diverted $7.80/hour for health care while the Company pays $1.70/singles and $5.13/families per hour for Guild members. Let us see how the other unions were asked to weaken seniority, or does that only apply to the Guild? Throughout these seven months of talks, the Guild has tried to be reasonable and pro-active and move the Company forward. The Guild is not trying to break the Company. The Company is trying to break the union.
Saying that the Guild may go on strike if its contract demands are not met is a statement whose inaccuracy is not worthy of a man of Mr. Lenfest’s stature. It’s the Company’s demands that are the hold-up – demands which include a massive increase to your health care costs and/or a terrible weakening of the present health care plan, the weakening of seniority and the refusal to recognize Philly.com staff with work rules and salaries commensurate with the main unit and their skills.
We’re not the ones being difficult.