Peoria Journal Star newsroom employees are paid twice what they deserve, a representative of the paper’s owner, GateHouse Media (New Media), told the union in Springfield during negotiations there recently with journalists at the Springfield State Journal-Register.
Union employees at the Springfield paper have gone without a pay raise for eight years. The union was asking for a pay scale similar to the one at the Peoria Journal Star, also owned by GateHouse.
Shannon Duffy, bargaining representative with United Media Guild representing Springfield newsroom employees, said GateHouse is asking for an open shop, starting salary for full-time newsroom employees of $13 and hour and $11 an hour for part-time employees.
“What happens here in Springfield will absolutely influence Peoria. When it was said here in bargaining that the Peoria pay scale is twice as high as it should be, everyone was talking notes,” Duffy said.
In addition to the huge gap in salary demands, “an open shop is a true non-starter,” he said. “They will come to Peoria and ask for an open shop.”
Dean Olsen, reporter at the Springfield paper and president of the union, said an open shop is similar to right-to-work-zones.
Duffy said it’s “very Rauneresque” referring to Ill. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround agenda seeking to make Illinois a right-to-work state, a move that would destroy unions.
The company’s contract proposal calls for giving employees $600 each year for three years if the union votes to allow an open shop, meaning employees could decide not to join the union but the union would remain legally obligated to represent those non-union employees in contract negotiations, grievances and arbitration. The issue was discussed recently in Supreme Court arguments in Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association: should people receive benefits they don’t pay for but are paid by others.
Ali Zoibi, director of labor relations at GateHouse, declined to comment on negotiations with the Springfield Guild.
The Peoria Journal Star was at one time the largest paper owned by GateHouse but the corporation has since acquired the Rockford Register Star and the Providence Journal in Rhode Island as well as hundreds of smaller community publications.
“Springfield is the tip of the spear, and the company is very reluctant to give in and afraid all the other papers will ask for what we get,” Duffy said. “That’s unfair because it means we are not just bargaining about Springfield. This is not just about the merits of Springfield.”
Duffy said the union has dropped the demand for a pay scale equal to Peoria’s.
No pay raise for eight years forced Olsen to get a part-time job on weekends working at a McDonalds restaurant. His situation was featured by media observer Jim Romanesco in his national blog and in the Illinois Times. Between his newsroom job and his McDonald’s job, Olsen was working seven days a week for 1 1/2 years but has since quit the job in fast food.
According to Duffy, the company stated in negotiations that lack of a raise in eight years is a legitimate concern, but the company needs three more years before pay raises would be economically feasible. However, even then salary increases would be calculated based on proprietary profit margins and numbers would not be shared with the union.
Duffy said GateHouse representatives have said newspaper circulation does not support higher salaries, however, if the corporation does not pay decent salaries, veteran newsroom people will continue to leave.
“The newsroom will be filled with younger people with no institutional knowledge,” he said, citing an example in Rockford where a special section of the paper done by freelancers featured a local dentist who also took out a full-page ad. It was veteran newsroom reporters who recalled the dentist’s name, checked records and found his license had been revoked.
According to an SEC filing, GateHouse (New Media) chief operating officer Kirk Davis received total earnings of $917,930 in 2014; $607,800 in 2013; and $830,628 in 2012. The 2015 filing was not available, however, GateHouse recently announced it expects to purchase more newspapers.
If the stalemate in Springfield continues and no agreement is reached regarding salary increases, Duffy said the union will continue to shore up support with the community. He said the owner of a Springfield car dealership told him he’ll pull his ads from the paper. When his customers haven’t received pay increases in eight years, they are not able to buy new cars, he told Duffy.
The union is evaluating its next step with advertisers, subscribers, other unions in the community, faith leaders in the community and stakeholders of New Media.
“Advertisers in the community and others totally get this. People have to earn enough to buy cars, go out to dinner, pay their bills. We don’t want to hurt this company but people deserve a raise,” Duffy said.
The company called its last contract proposal dated Dec. 18, 2015, the “Company’s last best and final offer.
No vote is scheduled at this time on the company’s “last best and final offer.”
“Right now, we’re in kind of a holding pattern,” Duffy said.