By TIM ROWDEN
The United Media Guild (UMG) honored some of its top activists and one of its most accomplished journalists Feb. 8 at its annual local meeting and awards dinner.
GUILDER OF THE YEAR
Shawn Anglin, an editor and reporter at The Southern Illinoisan, was honored as Guilder of the Year. Anglin is the unit chair of this newly organized group. Journalists at The Southern voted 12-0 to join the Guild and they are currently bargaining their first contract.
The Southern Illinoisan unit won the UMG’s Solidarity Award for that unanimous vote and for its ongoing internal and external mobilization. Sportswriter Todd Hefferman, the unit vice chair, and reporter Marilyn Halstead, the unit secretary, accepted the award, reflecting on the unannounced layoffs at the paper that prompted staffers to organize.
STEWARD OF THE YEAR
“Fight for 15” activist Stanley Jackson received the Steward of the Year. He provided invaluable leadership for of UMG’s national unit of organizers who mobilize fast-food workers in the fight for better wages.
ACTIVIST OF THE YEAR
Retired Labor Tribune reporter Kevin Madden received the Guild’s Activist of the Year Award for his tireless efforts to defeat so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) in Missouri from gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot to the campaign to defeat RTW in the August 2018 election.
Madden, the long-time unit chair at the Labor Tribune, also gathered signatures in support of other progressive ballot initiatives, including the Clean Missouri constitutional amendment to increase transparency in Missouri politics and eliminate gerrymandering of legislative districts and the Prop B measure to increase Missouri’s minimum wage.
TERRY HUGHES AWARD FOR JOURNALISM
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger won the coveted Terry Hughes Award for his columns on debtors’ prisons in rural Missouri, a series that started with the case of Victoria Branson, a woman from St. Francois County who had been sent to prison because she couldn’t afford the lingering court costs from an old child support case.
Branson had failed to pay her child support 14 years ago when her then teenage son left her home to live with his father for a few months. She owed $162 a month.
Dad was troubled and killed himself and Branson’s son moved back home.
Branson’s son was already a grown man in 2017 when a St. Francois County judge revoked her probation on the old child support case because Branson had never paid the past due support and the court costs, which accrued to more than $5,000 in more than a decade.
Branson was released from prison after Messenger’s column about her was published, prompting a flurry of tips from other rural counties in Missouri where people had similar experiences.
Messenger worked closely with the state public defender’s office, which was filing appeals in the cases, arguing that using the courts as a collection service for expensive jail bills amounted to a modern day debtors’ prison.
On Feb. 6, just two days before the awards dinner, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the legality of former inmates facing more jail time when they can’t pay back the cost of their room and board while behind bars.
Two of the legal briefs filed in the case reference Messenger’s columns as evidence for the court to declare the scheme illegal.
ABOUT THE GUILD
The United Media Guild (originally the St. Louis Newspaper Guild) is a local union within the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America and represents journalists, advertising salesperson and other newspapers employees at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Peoria Journal-Star, Pekin Daily Times, Rockford Register Star, The Southern Illinoisan, State Journal-Register, St. Louis Review, St. Louis/Southern Illinois Labor Tribune and the Truthout website, directors, production assistants and other employees of KDSK-TV; integration communications specialists at Unicom-ARC; and social justice activists at Missouri Jobs With Justice and the Workers Interfaith Network, as well as Fight for 15 activists employed nationally by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).