As contract winds down without new deal, Philly newspaper union stages rally [photos]

Listen

Representatives from the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia and the owners of the city’s largest media company will meet Friday for a final closed-door negotiating session aimed at avoiding the union’s first strike in three decades. The current contract ends Saturday. 

The threats intensified on Thursday when more than a hundred reporters, editors, photographers and other union members who work for the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com staged a rally in front of company’s home base on Market Street in Center City. Their basic message: We won’t give up until we win more concessions.

“It’s horrible. Nobody wants a strike. I don’t want a strike, I don’t think any of the members want a strike. But we just feel like ‘What else do you want from us?'” said Maureen Fitzgerald, who edits the Inquirer’s food section. 

Fitzgerald noted that the food section’s five writers have been winnowed down to one.

“We’ve had pay cuts, we’ve had two-week furloughs, we’ve had staff cuts. All of us haven’t done anything but to be good and loyal employees,” she said. “And now they want to kick us. Hard.”

Earlier this month, the Guild’s 445 members voted to authorize strike preparations. Shortly after, union leaders visited Detroit to meet with national labor leaders to raise money for the strike effort.

The two main sticking points, according to guild executive director Bill Ross, concern contributions to employee health insurance — which Ross said the company has not increased in 15 years — and seniority. The guild has portrayed the company as trying to “weaken” seniority protections, while the Philadelphia Media Network’s described the changes as a way to make personnel decisions with greater “flexibility.” 

With the specter of additional layoffs seeming more and more unavoidable, guild members worry that the proposed seniority changes would allow some veteran staffers to be let go while newer employees would stay. 

In a letter to guild members, Keith Black, PMN’s vice president of human resources, told newsroom employees that they will be paid to work if they break ranks with the striking journalists.

He also said that the company will make “arrangements for security to protect everyone’s safety” for those who show up at work during a strike. Union fines for crossing the picket line are possible, according to Black.

That’s just an attempt to “frighten our members to accept the company’s inferior contract offer,” the guild’s Ross wrote in response.

Throughout the talks, PMN spokeswoman Amy Buckman has said the Inquirer and the Daily News will continue publishing in print and online during any strike.

“The goal is to be able to continue to offer the city of Philadelphia, our readers and our advertisers, the services of this wonderful newspaper, the Inquirer, the Daily News, the digital Philly.com with the experienced journalists we have, but in the competitive marketplace of 2015,” Buckman said following Thursday’s demonstration.

She wouldn’t elaborate on the company’s plans for publishing during a strike beyond saying a contingency plan is in place.

Other workers represented by local unions including truck drivers, building services, clerks and paper handlers, are ready to sign new contracts, according to sources close to the negotiations.

“We’ve recognize that this business in in decline,” said John Laigaie, head of the Teamsters local at the Inquirer and the Daily News. “But it’s still a damn good job. It still provides.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.