A Striking Statement from Baltimore Sun Writers

Reporters at the Baltimore Sun are trying to spur their remaining readers to action to try to help them get a pay raise.

In a statement released by the Guild, Sun reporters are asking readers are “appealing to you to help us get the word out by sharing our concerns with your followers on social media and expressing your support for us.”

The entire statement shows that the guild is comically out of touch with everyday Americans and out of touch with the realities of the current labor market.

This spring, the parent company of The Sun cited our powerful, Pulitzer-recognized journalism of the last year in announcing a raise for journalists throughout the company of 2.5 percent of their annual salaries. The only catch? The gesture was not extended to unionized employees — including the vast majority of the journalists in the Sun newsroom.

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In union shops, everything is collectively bargained. Including salaries. In order for tronc (and yes, that’s still a stupid name) to provide across the board pay increases it would have required a renegotiation of the contract; a contract that the Guild settled for months before the pay increase came down the pike.

The company said we’d need to negotiate the raises that were given unconditionally at other newspapers in our chain (most of which are not unionized) and even to our managers at the Sun.

Yes, that’s how collective bargaining works. It’s also what the difference between choosing the “security” of working at a union paper verses the more free-market elements of working at a non-union paper.

After we asked for our own share, the company made us an offer that would require deep concessions — ones that would do away with salary standards we have spent years fighting for and that would penalize the most junior and lowest-paid members of our staff. Even if we made those concessions, the raises wouldn’t go to everyone in the union. Even if we made those concessions, the company would refuse to extend the raises to our union colleagues outside the newsroom, in the Sun’s advertising department and at its printing facility.

The reporters seem to understand negotiating the same way that Donald Trump understands negotiating. Negotiating isn’t sitting down at a table and getting everything you want. It’s two groups working together toward a common understanding and an agreed-upon set of concessions. But both sides, in a true and working negotiation, have to make concessions. The Guild chose not to make concessions, so they don’t get a pay raise. It’s as simple as that. And again I point out that if they were a non-union shop, they would already have gotten the pay raises in the first place.

A contract extension we signed with the company in February, only months before the raises were announced, guarantees three more years without raises. By 2019, most of us will have received a raise just once in nine years while our take-home pay is being diminished by escalating medical costs.

We know that the issue isn’t that the company can’t afford to give us raises, since everyone else just got them. No, tronc is denying Sun reporters raises because its leaders want to weaken the union and cheapen our contract.

Seems that the Guild leadership got played by tronc management. The Guild agreed to a bad contact and is complaining that they got hosed. It’s understandable, but it just goes to show you the perils of collective bargaining. Once a union and its leadership agrees to something in a contract, such as no pay raises for three years, there’s no way for the employees to go back and get a better deal, either collectively or individually. All of the Sun reporters are suffering because their union leadership didn’t do right by them. It’s unfortunate, but they’re the ones that agreed to the contract.

We know our company and our industry are facing difficult times, but if executive golden parachutes are on the table, what amounts to a cost-of-living adjustment for a small number should be, too. The sum that would be required to give all Sun Guild members a 2.5 percent raise is relatively meager — less than $200,000, compared with the larger sums that were required for raises across the rest of the tronc chain.

I think this is the most damning statement in the entire piece. Not the part about the money, though that’s part of it too. We know our company and our industry are facing difficult times. There’s an irony in that statement considering that the Baltimore Sun Guild chose to publish this statement on Medium, one of the tools that is helping to kill what’s left of the legacy newspaper industry. Online media is absolutely killing dead tree journalism. It’s one of the reasons for the consolidation in local media that we have talked about here a number of times over the years. Papers, such as the Baltimore Sun are losing readers quickly and they are not being replaced. Younger generations are getting their news from other sources, and newspapers are being challenged by all sorts of electronic media for a variety of reasons. It seems uncouth for the Sun reporters to acknowledge that “We know our company and our industry are facing difficult times” and then take to the electronic airwaves and demand a pay increase.

Left unspoken here is one of the other reasons that both tronc and the Baltimore Sun are in trouble. The issue of media bias is one that has existed for a long time. Media bias may not always exist in a liberal-vs-conservative, Republican-vs-Democrat context however. The fact that Baltimore Sun reporters worked in a closed unionized shop puts them out of touch with the majority of Marylanders. Union membership across the country is at its nadir. There are a variety of reasons for that, not the least of which is the economic success of right-to-work states across the country. But a newspaper employees cannot understand the risks and rewards that comes from being a non-union employee. Even when it comes to employees within their own company tronc, they cannot understand why non-union employees are receiving benefits that union employees are not. From one perspective, it’s understandable. But at the same time Baltimore Sun unionized employees have benefits and protections that are not afforded to other reporters or to most of the citizens that they’re providing news to. They don’t understand what it’s like to be a non-union employee, nor do they seem to understand the legacy of places of employment in the Baltimore area that were unionized shops that collapsed partially due to onerous union contracts. Union factories in Baltimore closed for a reason, and the Sun reporters seem to have not learned the legacy of that.

And that says nothing of the inherent bias, intentional or otherwise, of unionized employees covering union political issues at the state and local levels of government.

So to recap, unionized Baltimore Sun employees who are under contract are agitating for a renegotiation of their contract during a time period where their parent company is negotiating the sale of their paper to a potential new buyer. I’m not sure who thought the timing of this action, but it certainly does not seem to be a strategy that would endear them to the current or potential future owners of the Sun. Nor does the statement and the way it’s phrased seem to be marketed in a way that will appeal to the average Baltimorean, many of whom would love to see a 2.5% raise of their own or would love to have the problems of a steady, white collar job such as these Sun reporters. The statement, its timing, and its tone don’t seem to make a lot of sense…..

…..that is unless you think that the Sun reporters are laying down a marker for a potential strike when their contract expires in 2019. That could be the long term strategy but it would be a strategy that would destroy the Baltimore Sun and would put all of their employees out of work regardless of their union status. The Sun’s circulation and readership is already declining thanks to cancellations and by reader dissatisfaction with liberal content (one of the reasons that we were brought in to write for the Sun before the heat from Democrats got to be a little too much). A job action that would cause delays or disruptions with Baltimore Sun delivery of both print and online content would create new subscriber discontent and would cause problems with the Sun’s existing advertising base. A job action, if that’s what the Guild is really planning for 2019, really could be the end of everything, leaving news consumers in the lurch.

The Guild’s desire for the same 2.5% pay increase as everybody else is a natural human emotion. However it was their choice to agree to the contact that they did through collective bargaining. They might be better off considering how their customer base lives, and consider whether or not union representation is really working out for them.

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