By CARL GREEN
Carbondale, IL – The staff at The Southern Illinoisan, the regional paper in Carbondale, voted 12-0 Thursday, May 17, to join the United Media Guild, which also represents the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Labor Tribune and others.
The Southern Illinoisan staff has been hit by mass layoffs and reporting cutbacks under its owners Lee Enterprises, which also owns the Post-Dispatch.
“The Southern Illinoisan has provided a voice for the region for over 100 years, but I’m deeply concerned with the direction of the newspaper under the Lee Enterprises business model,” said Todd Hefferman, a reporter since 2003.
“Negotiating a good contract will help us continue to be a watchdog for the region and produce the quality journalism Southern Illinois demands from us.”
The Southern Illinoisan staff was devastated by an unannounced mass layoff in January.
“We believe those losses went beyond the obvious human impact,” said Greg Keller, a copy editor at The Southern Illinoisan. “We believe cuts to local journalism run counter to our mission statement of being a force for positive change in the communities we serve.”
United Media Guild, which also represents journalists in Springfield, IL, Pekin, Peoria and Rockford, is a part of News Guild-Communications Workers of America.
“The United Media Guild is thrilled to represent the newsroom at The Southern,” Guild President Jeff Gordon said. “Our new members there are dedicated to maintaining this important institution for the region. They join our members in St. Louis, Springfield, Pekin, Peoria and Rockford in fighting for the craft of journalism in the face of corporate cutbacks.”
HELP FROM AFSCME
Gordon credited AFSCME Council 31 with supporting the Carbondale organizers. Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch congratulated the workers on joining the United Media Guild.
“The Southern Illinoisan plays a vital role in chronicling developments of importance to those who live and work in southern Illinois,” she said. “As with any enterprise, its greatest resource is the employees who make it happen. You deserve respect and fair treatment.
“Congratulations on taking the surest path to assuring such treatment by coming together to form a union.”
Two other Lee newspapers – the Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming and Montana’s Missoula Independent – have had successful newsroom organizing campaigns recently.
The Southern Illinoisan organizing committee issued a mission statement prior to the vote, which said, in part:
“Our mission is to help safeguard the future of The Southern Illinoisan by having a voice in preserving jobs and quality journalism.
“The Southern Illinoisan is an essential provider of news, sports and advertising throughout the region. We take pride in our newspaper and its nearly 125-year history, striving every day to serve our communities and our readers.
“However, the newspaper industry is changing. More and more owners – such as Lee Enterprises, which owns The Southern Illinoisan – are making decisions based solely on the bottom line. They are siphoning away profits instead of investing in local news, sending those profits to corporate offices to reward top executives for stripping down the newspapers that mean so much to their communities.
“We, the employees, need a more formal voice in the workplace to counteract that corporate mentality and to help ensure that The Southern Illinoisan remains strong going forward….
“Years of health-insurance premium increases without pay raises have resulted in the loss of talented staff members, depriving readers of their institutional knowledge and expertise about the region. For those who remain, repeated layoffs have further destabilized the newsroom, making it difficult for The Southern Illinoisan to fulfill its watchdog function and provide in-depth coverage. Staff reductions have had a direct effect on the amount of quality journalism we are able to produce, the extent of our coverage area, and even the distribution of our print edition.
“Joining the Guild is a crucial step toward being better advocates for ourselves, and, in turn, our readers. With a union and a good labor contract, we can institute more fairness and democracy in our workplace to help ensure stability.
“Our goal is the long-term success of The Southern Illinoisan. We look forward to working with our local management in achieving that goal.”
Staff at the notoriously anti-union Chicago Tribune have won union recognition.
Eight-five percent of eligible workers signed cards to form a bargaining unit, the Chicago Tribune Guild, and it was recognized – reluctantly in the face of federal regulatory action – by Tronc, the corporation that owns the Tribune and several affiliated papers.
“Our attorneys and partners at the News Guild-Communications Workers of America tell us that in decades of organizing, they have never seen a newsroom earn voluntary recognition from a company of this size and with such a long history of anti-union bias,” the new union said in a press release.
Members include reporters, editors, designers, photographers, columnists and more, totaling about 280.
The Guild will be split into three units:
• One for workers at the Tribune and its RedEye magazine,
• One for affiliated newspapers the Daily Southtown, Elgin Courier-News, Naperville Sun, Aurora Beacon-News and Spanish-language Hoy,
• And the third for Design and Production Studio, which serves the newspapers.
“We agreed that in the face of pernicious corporate influence on our industry, we need a better way to advocate for our work, protect the future of our and the next generation’s journalism careers and strengthen our coverage of Chicago and its surrounding communities,” the union said.
FOR BETTER JOURNALISM
Chicago organizer Charles Johnson, a Tribune editor, said it’s a matter of good journalism.
“It’s long past time that the journalists at the Tribune and its community publications have a say in how our newspaper operates,” he said in a National Public Radio story.
“We have been badly mistreated by a series of corporate owners, Tronc only being the most recent, and we’ve decided to take some control over the future of our journalism in the city of Chicago.”
The union said issues include non-competitive pay, fairness to women and journalists of color, and the company’s commitment to quality journalism.
Differences remain over who will be included in the bargaining unit.
“We maintain our position that union protections should extend to the majority of our source editors and editorial board members. Tronc currently disagrees,” the union said.
Tronc also owns the Los Angeles Times. Staff members there voted heavily to organize in January in a federally overseen election, defeating a management campaign against it. Tronc later agreed to sell the Times.