A day in the life of a Guild leader

Tim O’Brien here.

It was an interesting day, to say the least.

It began with one of my editorial colleagues walking up to me, very upset.

“I just talked to one of my friends in advertising,” she said. “Apparently they had some meeting today with George, and there were some people complaining to him about the Guild who haven’t paid their dues or come to any of the union meetings.”

In short order, I heard from a few other advertising colleagues who were also at the meeting. They wanted to speak up in defense of the Guild, they said, but they found the forum very intimidating.

I invited some of those who expressed their concerns, as well as other leaders in advertising, to speak to me directly. Some were glad to do so. Others beefed about ‘moles’ disclosing what they said.

The central complaint was over the voting process. As in every past contract negotiation, we’ve scheduled the meeting at 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon because that’s when the fewest number of people work. We meet off the premises so members can feel comfortable talking. And we talk with each other before the secret ballots are cast so that people get a full airing of others’ concerns.

Some people have inquired about a second voting day. I’ve made some inquiries with the International union about that. There are rules, of course, about securing the ballot box that must be followed. I have not closed the door on it, but I need some legal answers before a final decision can be made.

One of my editorial colleagues heard me discussing that and walked over to say, as adamantly as some of the folks upstairs want a second voting date, that it should not be allowed. “These people need to come to the meeting and hear what others have to say,” this member said: No drive-by voting.

It’s not easy being me.

I also got an e-mail from one person demanding that I provide proof the failure to pay dues meant he could not vote. I was legally required to do this, he said, and he expected me to produce it immediately!

Um, dude, I replied (OK, I left out the dude part) I’m working right now so I can’t get it ‘immediately’ but yes I will get it to you.

At lunch time, I ate with some colleagues from a different end of advertising. One of them made a witty comment I have to share.

“The rule should be that if someone votes yes on this contract, then their jobs should be among the ones that could be outsourced,” he said. “If you vote no, then the company should not be able to outsource your job.”

I had to laugh. The inverse is true, of course. The more you think your job would be safe, the less likely you are to oppose this agreement. The more you think your job would be eliminated, the less likely you are to vote for this agreement.

I am told one of the things the publisher said upstairs was that he did not intend to lay off the district managers and outsource their jobs. “That’s great,” one of my colleagues said with a grin. “Now will he put that in writing?”

Of course, the publisher refused to put in writing a bar against outsourcing any jobs. And the drivers too were told that the Company had ‘no plans’ to eliminate all their jobs. And now they have.

At the end of the day, I heard from one of my advertising colleagues I very much respect even though we occasionally have different views. After discussing her views on the voting issue, she asked if the Guild might be able to offer an alternative health care plan. From what she was hearing from her direct colleagues, she said, that was the biggest issue.

She was very sincere, but I was stunned. Everyone I’ve heard from to date has identified outsourcing as the biggest issue in these negotiations. If the company’s proposal is defeated, that will undoubtedly be why.

But then I thought her remark was very interesting. Last year, as you know, the Company pushed very, very hard to get us to switch to this health care plan. They were willing to push it through even if the members had voted it down. And, in the end, it turned out not to be the good deal the Company said it was.

Wow, I thought. That sounds familiar. And if people vote for this agreement now, I thought, next year they will be expressing similar regrets about buying into something the Company pushed and realizing too late it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

16 thoughts on “A day in the life of a Guild leader

  1. Didn’t you say we should vote for the health care plan? We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves for that one…..

      • One of our colleagues had trouble getting this comment to post properly, so we’re doing it for them.
        Tim: Thank you for your efforts on behalf of everyone who is a member of the Guild.
        Company meetings with individual groups of Guild workers before a contract vote have never happened before in my memory. This smacks of Wal-Mart anti-union drives. The meetings are designed to split the membership and corrupt the vote.
        The TU publisher is a very busy man and would not devote time talking to the little people unless this contract is a great deal to him. The contract is a bad deal for all Guild members. Outsourcing district managers? You bet! Outsourcing advertising to commission-only sales? Excellent, and no benefits. Outsourcing news gathering? You bet! Pay a “citizen reporter” 25 bucks to cover a school board meeting or a city council session. A great buy! Centralize design and content editing in Houston or a shadow company, cut the pay $300 a week per job. Why not!
        Forget health care.
        The company health plan is only a sample of what is in store for this Guild membership if the contact passes. Vote no to keep the talks going even if the contract is imposed. The 45-day period under an imposed contract is 45 days of extra pay before we lose our jobs. If the contact is approved, layoffs can begin immediately.
        Tim, please keep the Sunday June 14 vote as the sole vote. Let all Guild members gather to debate the issues. Hearst pressure to split the voting dates should be rejected as yet another Wal-Mart like attempt by the company to interfere with the Guild. Nothing, no kid’s sporting event, no family activity, is more important than taking an hour or so on a Sunday to vote on your future. Live in the suburbs and don’t want to drive to Albany? Think about the Guild wage that helped buy that dream house and get in your car to vote.
        Thank you, paid-up Guild member

  2. Tim,
    I respect your time and effort on behalf of the union, but this post, to me, represents so much of what has been wrong with the union’s approach. The guild is very much out of touch with much of its membership, and that’s partly because the guild refuses to listen to folks who hold diverging opinions.

    Guild leadership would rather ridicule them (see joke above about anyone supporting the contract deserving to be laid off), or shout them down (as has happened in the newsroom), or find other ways to marginalize their opinions.

    Fact: This contract vote is going to be very close. Or it would be, if the guild wasn’t scheduling a vote for when only the most hard-core members will shop up, instead of having allowing absentee ballots.

    Fact: The company is going to lay people off outside of seniority, no matter which way the contract vote goes.

    Fact: The newspaper business is ailing, and campaigns urging people to cancel subscriptions and advertising will only result, in the long run, in fewer guild jobs.

    • I listen to people with divergent opinions all the time. They stop me in the hallway, stop by when I am in the cafeteria and call my cell phone. Sometimes they send me a message on Facebook. I get lots of e-mail at the union office too. I realize you can’t spend a day in my shoes, but you’re wrong. I can even tell you what corners of the building are strongly opposed to this proposal and which ones are leaning in favor. In many cases, I can tell you which individuals are likely to vote which way and why.

      No one in the Guild leadership has shouted anyone down in the newsroom or anywhere else. A member did make pointed remarks about outsourcing to a colleague. I quietly told the person not to do so and then told the person on the receiving end that was not to be taken as coming from the bargaining committee or the leadership. If you hear or see any other instances of this happening, please let me know.

      I also did not joke that anyone supporting the contract “deserved” to be laid off. Read it again. I quoted a colleague who made a telling comment that if only those who voted for it would be vulnerable to outsourcing, then no one would vote for it. That is not a wish that anyone deserves to be laid off. You are misquoting me. It is a wish that everyone, in voting, will consider their colleagues who are likely to lose their jobs and not just their own perceived situation.

      And of course, your comment about the Guild scheduling a vote for “when only the most hardcore members will show up” is also inaccurate. Your comment makes clear you’re fairly new here, because we have long held contract votes at 1 p.m. on Sundays. I can show you the past history if you like. That is when the least number of people are working. It’s not too much to ask people to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon talking about a contract and then voting on it. And in the past, people have come out to do so whether they wanted to vote yes or no. (Of course, no contract proposal was as controversial as this one.)

      Now I realize you posted this comment Friday morning. You had no way to know the Executive Board was about to decide minutes later to offer a second day of voting and absentee ballots for those on vacation. But I did say in the very post you commented on that that discussion was very much ongoing. People often don’t realize the logistics that go into these things, but I have to make sure proper procedures and laws are followed. And I have to balance finding time to have those conversations with getting my day job done. So we very much did listen to the membership. We deserve far more credit than you’re giving us.

      And finally a couple of facts.

      FACT: If the contract is approved, George Hearst says layoffs will occur right away. If the proposal is defeated, he told members of the Web team, if he declares an impasse he will spend 45 days negotiating with the union about the implementation of the layoffs. So people would remain employed for six more weeks if people vote no.

      FACT: If it went to impasse, we could continue to negotiate over the implementation of layoff and outsourcing language. We could discuss helping people who are on the verge of retirement age not have their pension cut in half. If it is approved, we will have no such ability.

      FACT: If you grant the Company the unlimited ability to outsource any and all jobs, they will use it. They will regularly look at the operation and think “What jobs here can we get rid of?” “Who can we get to do this cheaper even if it’s not as good?” And if you give them that power with no limitations, it will be gone forever even when the economy recovers.

      We know the business is ailing. We’d never propose all the concessions we proposed if it were otherwise. You might not like the advertising campaign, but we told the company the moment it canceled the contract that that was a terrible mistake and would force us to launch a boycott. We’ve not handed over a single card yet and won’t unless the Company declares impasse and tries to force this on us. Even if you disagree with it, and I respect your right to do so, you are voting on the Company’s proposal. Perhaps it’s easier to fixate on the union and its flaws. (Neither I nor any of the other leaders have claimed to be perfect.) In the end, you’re voting on the Company’s proposal not on the Guild’s ads.

      This week, we saw GlobalFoundries come to an agreement with unions about wages to be offered during the construction of that monumental project. We witnessed state labor unions — after pointed public commentary and, yes, advertising — come to an agreement with Gov. David Paterson to offer concessions in return for halting layoffs. We believe we are well-positioned to quickly offer revised terms to the Company that would end this dispute without doing the long-term damage the unlimited outsourcing proposal would cause.

      My advice to you is to keep your eye on the real issue at hand here. Whatever you think of the Guild, its leadership or its ads, you are voting on whether you think it’s right to give the Company the unlimited ability to lay off your colleagues and outsource their jobs. At both meetings we’ve now scheduled, you’ll hear directly from some of those folks begging you not to vote to allow that. I hope you’ll listen to them.

  3. Thank you, Tim.
    Let’s hope this last post stops all the incessant whining. This is an ugly, dirty situation we’re in the middle of; nobody said we weren’t going to have to get our hands dirty too. Everybody wants everything to be perfect for them. Guess what, you can’t everything you want. None of us can. But we’re all going to have a lot less of what we want, including our jobs, if we give into the company’s bullying and guilt trips. Do you honestly think thinks will settle down or get better if we accept this? Next year there will be more layoffs and outsourcing. And even more the year after that. You’ll be giving them a blank check.
    And I think Tim hit the nail on the head when he talked about the future of the paper. We can bow down to the company’s demands because we’re panicky in the midst of an unstable economy; we can be so institutionally beaten down that we think not losing our job is something to kneel down and worship the company for. But the bottom line is this: changing industry or not, ailing economy or not; the forward march of new technologies or not – those of us left will be working to put out a seriously compromised, grossly inferior product that the public will lose interest in. They already have, due to the changes that have already happened. How long until none of us are proud to tell people where we are “lucky” enough to still work?

  4. Annoyed, I agree with you. Quoting that comment as witty is supporting it. Now, I have no problem if the Guild agrees with that memeber’s remark, but don’t try and portray otherwise.

    As for the voting, we aren’t children. We are not a jury. There is no reason to “make” us listen to the Guild’s side, or the company’s side, right before the vote. We’ve heard what the Union has to say in emails and on this blog and we’ve heard what the company has to say in their emails and at the meetings this week. Why force a last minute pitch on voters? Let every adult come to the meeting, armed with the information they’ve heard over the last 6 to 8 months, and vote. The 11th hour plea is desperate and manipulative.

  5. My take on the meeting is that I’ve heard the Guild has to say and I’ve heard what George Hearst has to say… I’m fine with listening to Guild members at the meeting, but I would also be interested in getting the perspective from Guild members who are considering voting yes on the contract. Besides the $500 “signing bonus,” what benefit do they see to approving the contract? Or is a yes vote more a vote against the Guild’s pending circulation boycott, etc? And please don’t say “optics.”

  6. Can someone please explain why layoffs (in or out of seniority) are needed if the Times Union is still profitable? Shouldn’t devastating people’s lives be considered as a last resort?

    I’m concerned that we’re being asked to decide our futures without hearing firm figures (profits, projected losses, total number of layoffs, etc.) from the company.

    Why do we know more about the finances of other newspapers than our own?

  7. Tim,

    I’ll start this by saying ‘thanks’ because I do sincerely appreciate the effort and time you and the other bargaining team members have poured into this process, which has been tortured and taken a lot out of all of us — but I suspect you folks more than most.

    I say this even though you and I haven’t agreed on every point. I think you’ve been fair with me and generous with your time when I’ve had questions.

    For those of you who don’t know me that well, I’ve been at the Times Union for five years, which in the newsroom actually gives me a decent amount of seniority. I say that only to point out that I might very well be protected by seniority, and, as a result, have a reason to defend it. Or, I might not. That depends on what the company’s actual plans are, and I don’t think any of us really know them.

    But I’m not going to try to convince folks one way or the other. I don’t think this is an appropriate forum for me (or anyone else) to tell other people how they should vote, or why they’re wrong. In fact, I’m not sure that’s ever appropriate.

    While I realize that it may not be the Guild’s position or intent to intimidate anyone, the situation some of my colleagues (the limited number I’ve spoken to, that is) find themselves in is nonetheless intimidating.

    They’re faced with an awful choice: Follow the Guild’s advice (and pressue) and vote no, against what may be their own best interests, or vote yes in an attempt to protect themselves and their families at the risk of being portrayed as betraying valued colleagues and friends.

    In short, it sucks. And I think it sucks equally for everyone around the building — longtimers, shortimers, ad folks and photogs and content editors.

    So as we head into Sunday, I’d just urge folks — and this is not directed at you, Tim, but everyone, myself included — to keep that in mind. Keep in mind that it’s a big thing to ask people to vote against what they perceive to be their own immediate best interests. In the end, that is what is driving most of us. That is what those who weighed the buyout had to consider, and that’s what we’ll all consider going into this weekend.

    A ‘no’ vote may be in the Guild’s best interests, but it may not be in the best interests of every individual member. Those members have an equal right to say so without being cast as having betrayed the union. Similarly, it’d be totally inappropriate for someone to question why a colleague did or didn’t take a buyout. In the end, it is a personal choice.

    It’s dangerous to tell people what they should do unless you know the full context in which they’re making their decisions — and I think it’s fair to say most of us don’t know our colleagues that well.

    There’s absolutely an argument to be made for the collective good — of the union and its survival — over the individual. But I think the best way to make that argument is not snidely and pseudonymously on here. Make it in person on Sunday. Attach your name to it. Explain, if you’re comfortable, why you’re voting the way you’re voting.

    We are the best thing the Times Union has going for it, and there’s no question in my mind the paper has suffered over the last several months because of what’s been happening internally.

    No matter what happens Monday and beyond, a lot of us — though, not enough — are still going to have to work together. And the more decently we all treat each other now, the easier that will be later.

    Sorry this went on for so long. I hope to see you all Sunday.

    Jordan
    5445

  8. Just as voting yes for “the survival of the company,” a company treating us like commodities at best, isn’t going to mean much if you are the person laid off or outsourced. And being told by George that things are going to get worse if we vote no is a very thinly veiled threat. I appreciate your position too, but any ground we give up now will never be gained back. Two years from now we will go into this all over again from a much weaker position. Saying “this is the way the world is now so deal with it” is never a good enough stance. It didn’t work coming from one George and it’s not going to coming from another.

  9. I cannot see how voting yes on this horrible excuse for a “contract” is in anyone’s best interests. Even those who are low in seniority and think voting yes protects them somehow are actually gaining nothing.

    Let’s say a person low in seniority would survive a layoff under this proposal. What is to keep the company from declaring another economic crisis a year from now and calling for more layoffs…and then just picking and choosing from people who are, for some reason, out of favor with their (many) managers, or offended a boss by wearing the wrong color shirt to work a week before?

    This proposal offers no job security for anyone. It offers you the opportunity to sell your future for a miserable $500. I would not vote for this thing if the company offered a $20,000 signing bonus.

    There is nothing in this offer for anyone, period. We really took it on the chin with this Wal-Mart-like health plan and the company showed its appreciation by offering this thing to us. This is no deal at all, and I would hope that if the membership somehow ratifies it, the International steps in and refuses to sanction it.

    My dad was a union president for many years. In his words, no deal is better than a bad deal. This is a bad deal, so I say let’s vote no and go back to the table. So the next offer will be worse? Well, we have ways to deal with that, too.

  10. Not Quite Kosher:

    As I recall, the Guild asked Hearst to open the books to show hardship, which the corporation did elsewhere. Hearst refused to do so and has admitted the company is still showing a profit.

    We know more about other newspapers’ finances because other papers have to answer to stockholders and thus make their finances public. Hearst is privately held and has no such obligation.

  11. And let’s talk about those bonuses. A $500 one upon signing and another $500 in August, 2010, right? So that $1000 will translate to maybe $600 after taxes if we’re lucky. The contract we will agree to goes through August, 2011. By my rough calculations for that period of time, that $600 will net you somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.50 per week. Is that the going rate for selling short your future?

  12. “I firmly believe that this is the time to lay aside any differences we may have,” says George. Those differences being that you have all the power and we have none? This contract is a good deal for you but not at all for us? The “forever changed business model” is your excuse to kick us over and over and over again?

  13. $500 bonus? What a joke. The company has made it pretty clear it doesn’t want to continue to cover $2,250 of the $3,000 health care deductible, so by my math, that’s plus $500 then minus $2,250. Not to mention higher weekly contributions, etc. etc.

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