That was the headline on a recent New York Times opinion column written by David Brooks. While nothing was mentioned in the column about unions, hedge funds or newspapers, the column speaks loudly to the Peoria community, our daily newspaper and the union representing workers in the newsroom.
None of us can rationally expect the New York hedge fund that owns the Journal Star to be loyal to Peoria.
Here is a definition of hedge funds: Limited partnerships of investors that use high risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, with the expectation of making large capital gains. The loyalty is to money. The mission is money.
On the other hand, journalism, and journalists in particular, have loyalty to readers, pursuit of truth and the community. In response to people who complain we need more “good news stories” and fewer critical pieces, we respond that critical pieces help us define the problem. The problem could be guns in public schools, high lead levels in water, toxic coal ash in the air, combined sewer run-off, institutional racism and discrimination entrenched in the community.
In response to those who trash the media as “fake news” and contend we need more “balance” (which invariably means tilting more toward their perspective) we respond that loyalty is to pursuit of truth, not some artificial, fluid concept of balance. When 99 percent of scientists confirm global climate change, journalists should not seek out that renegade 1 percent for comment to provide “balance.”
The New York Times column, “Your Loyalties Are Your Life,” explores the philosophy of Harvard University professor Josiah Royce, 1855 to 1916.
Royce wrote that binding yourself to a mission and a higher cause is foundational to a loyal, meaningful, productive life. That does not mean blind loyalty to an organization, a person or a union. Criticize. Critical thinking is foundational to loyalty. If a union lapses in its overarching mission, be vocally critical, work to change it but stay bonded to the mission.
When Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, he was criticized for “disloyalty” to the president he took an oath to serve. Ellsberg responded, no, his oath was not to the president, it was to the mission expressed in the Constitution.
The essential mission of unions is easy to bond with: insure members earn fair wages with good benefits, there is respect for good work and a guarantee of safe working conditions. Sometimes unions veer off course. Pull them back. Your loyalty is to the mission, not to current officers, operations or activities.
Royce writes that loyalty to loyalty is belief in a morally significant commitment that transcends self. He defines “predatory loyalty” as one that destroys the loyalties of others within the community and elevates self as the only legitimate loyalty. That would be the Taliban, the KKK, Nazism, jingoism, sexism, racism. It could be “America First.”
With Josiah Royce in mind, analyze the trajectory of by-lined Journal Star employee Chris Kaergard. He was a dues-paying union member for years and enjoyed the benefits of union negotiations. He lived by the contract everyone in the union lives by. GateHouse, the hedge fund that owns the Journal Star, is obliged to follow the union contract. It is obligated to layoff those with least seniority. And to capitalize on earnings, GateHouse has relentlessly cut and sliced staffing in the newsroom. Until the seniority list came to Kaergard.
He was laid off and almost immediately hired back in a non-union management capacity doing exactly the same work. That’s a slap in the face to all dues-paying union members loyal to the mission. That undermines the mission of the union. The union has filed a grievance.
What would Josiah Royce say about Kaergard? What would Royce say about the leadership of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council (that includes several former Journal Star dues-paying union members) that is hosting Kaergard as moderator of a forum on journalism. My guess is Royce would place that in the category of “predatory loyalty.”
Why is this even important in a world beset with turmoil, with historically high numbers of refugees fleeing violence and starvation, communities plagued by gun violence, nations perpetually at war and rampant caustic partisanship? Because loyalty to loyalty binds us all to a mission that is idealistic, humanitarian, abstract and overarching.