The continuing struggle between media giant Gannett’s Channel 5 and IBEW Local 4 has taken several new turns as Gannett seeks to destroy the union’s jurisdiction, not only in St. Louis but nationally at its other 46 stations nationwide.
STALL TO DISCOURAGE
Without a contract since March 2014, Gannett hopes to frustrate the union’s 48 Channel 5 members enough that they will be willing, out of frustration, to give up their jurisdiction – a move that would ultimately destroy the workers’ jobs.
To encourage this frustration, the station recently sent registered letters to all the union’s members saying they made a “last best offer” but that the union won’t allow the members to vote on it.
“Not true,” says Local 4 Business Manager Mike Pendergast. “They made an offer last July that our negotiating committee rejected out of hand as it proposed destroying our jurisdiction, which would allow them to use anyone at the station to do our work, or worse, send the work outside which would destroy our members’ jobs. No ‘final offer’ was made then.”
FRUSTRATE AND DESTROY
“The letter’s goal is simple and straightforward, they want to take advantage of our members’ frustration of not having a new agreement in the hopes they will accept anything in order to get it behind us,” Pendergast said.
To entice members into cutting their own throats, Gannett is offering buyouts and a bonus.
“Yet another misdirection to hide their true intent: destroy our union,” Pendergast said. “Without jurisdiction to strengthen our negotiating ability, everything will be up for grabs: pay, benefits, health care. They would slowly force our members into submission in the hopes they would quit allowing them to give our work to anyone.”
• Meet and regress – After stalling efforts by the union for negotiating meetings since last July, the company finally agreed to meet on April 23.
“We think their strategy is to make the same offer that was rejected last July, call that their ‘last and best offer’ and demand a membership vote,” Pendergast said. “Their refusing to meet for almost a year is part of their intentional ‘delay to frustrate’ strategy.
• Success everywhere else – Interestingly enough, Local 4 has been able to reach agreement with all the other television stations in St. Louis, Channels 2/11, 4, 9 and 30. The most recent was at Channel 2/11, which the union is highlighting in its ongoing billboard campaign to alert the public to Channel 5’s efforts to destroy their union.
NATIONAL CAMPAIGN TEST
“Our Channel 5 members are asking an important question: ‘Why is Channel 5 being treated differently that all the other stations?”
The answer: Gannett wants to use Channel 5 as the example for their destructive direction nationwide, Pendergast noted.
• National destruction direction – according to reports from the northwest, Gannett is attempting to eliminate jurisdiction in contracts with the IBEW in Portland and Seattle as well. There, they are not only trying to destroy the IBEW’s jurisdiction, but that of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).
Along with St. Louis, which is considered to be a bellwether local in the IBEW’s Broadcast Division, these three attempts, if successful, would be used at Gannett’s 43 other stations across America.
“Exclusive jurisdiction is a core principle in American labor relations,” notes nwLaborPress.org, reporting on Gannett’s attempts in Portland and Seattle.
“It takes the form of a clause in nearly every union contract that says the union represents all workers in a given occupation or workplace, and, therefore, the terms of the union contract apply to all those workers. Without exclusive jurisdiction, the employer could hire people to do the same work as union members, but who aren’t union members, and aren’t covered by the contract or its terms.”
Several interesting issues that are impacting this fight:
First, unions represent only 10 percent of Gannett’s U.S. employees.
Second, Gannett is highly profitable. The company’s broadcast revenue set a new record in the fourth quarter of 2014. Gannett paid CEO Gracia Martore $7.9 million in total compensation in 2013, and announced on Feb. 24 that it would pay $45 million in quarterly dividends.
Obviously the unionization of 10 percent of its workforce is not having a detrimental impact on Gannett’s bottom line.
Third, Gannett is preparing to spin off its newspaper and broadcast/digital divisions into separate publicly traded companies, a move that has drawn interest from corporate raider Carl Icahn, who owns 6.6 percent of Gannett stock. Icahn is the man who destroyed TWA here and cost thousands of workers their jobs when he raided the company’s treasury and bankrupted the airline.