Dayton Guild to Represent Unified Cox Media Copy Desk

March 23, 2012

About 30 Dayton Guild members take part in a silent protest this month outside the 4 p.m. editors' meeting at the Dayton Daily News. The protest is part of the Guild's long fight to negotiate a new contract for its traditional unit. A separate contract, still to be negotiated, will cover the new unified copy desk.

As Cox Media Group made plans last year to consolidate its newspapers’ copy desks, a manager hinted to Dayton Newspaper Guild President Lou Grieco that Dayton stood a good chance of getting the work – so long as the Guild would waive its representation rights.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” was the response.

Quietly, strategically, Local 34157 stood its ground. Ultimately the company realized that its only Guild-represented newspaper – not that Cox ever mentioned the union – was a high-quality, cost-effective choice.

“We stayed patient, but firm,” Grieco said. “Cox finally decided that we’ve got a lower cost of living in Dayton, and we’ve got a group of accomplished, hardworking copy editors who already have experience with a merged copy desk.”

That experience comes from five years of editing the Dayton Daily News as well as three other daily and five weekly Cox-owned newspapers in Ohio.

The copy editors had been under enormous stress for months, wondering if their jobs would be sent Atlanta, Austin or West Palm Beach, where Cox owns other daily newspapers.

“They went through eight, nine months of hell,” Grieco said. Some of them wanted the union to march and rally outside the building to put pressure on the company. Grieco feared it would backfire.

“I had the feeling that we had a pretty good shot at getting the work – if we just stayed out the way,” he said. “I was trying to be strategic about it. If I thought having a rally would have a shot in hell of helping us, I’d have done it. But I imagined people in Austin seeing video or photos and saying, ‘Look at those troublemakers in Dayton. You won’t have that problem here.’”

Now, Dayton’s 33 copy editors are days away from voting on an agreement that will create a new unit of their local, while ensuring their seniority and the vacation, sick leave and pension benefits that come with it. The agreement includes a no-layoff clause for six months.

Between the merged desk and a “bridge” desk for editing and fact-checking local copy, Grieco said Cox expects to hire up to 25 more copy editors, all Guild-represented.

While Cox’s decision is good news for Dayton, unified copy desks are a growing concern for the Guild and journalists in general.

“Every unified copy desk means local copy editors in other cities are losing jobs, and their newspapers are losing editors with the experience and institutional memory that is absolutely critical to the kind of work a copy desk does,” TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said.

“Having said that, if we are not able to prevent an employer from merging desks, we want to do exactly as Dayton did and make sure the jobs are Guild-represented,” Lunzer said.

Dayton will be one of two nationally unified copy desks for Cox. The other will be in West Palm Beach, where Cox owns the Daily News and the Post. Cox also owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Austin American-Statesman.

The local will work to negotiate a first contract for the new unit, a process, Grieco notes wryly, “tends to take a while here.”

The Dayton Guild hasn’t had a new contract since the one negotiated in 1986 after its independent union merged with the Guild. The local has never given up its fight for a new contract, but meanwhile has an effective grievance procedure and work rules that Grieco said are “better than a lot of contracts that have been ratified.”

“If people want to laugh at us because we haven’t had a new contract for more than 25 years, they can laugh,” Grieco said. “We should be dead by now -- they’ve certainly tried to kill us. But we’re not dead. We’re revitalized. Ten years ago, we only had 30 percent of members paying dues. We’ve been at 75 percent now for more than six years.”

As nervous as workers were while waiting for Cox to make the copy desk decision, Grieco said only one member pushed the Guild to cave, to take the jobs without union rights.

“The vast majority of them were so strong and so firm,” Grieco said, praising their union solidarity and a work ethic that helped secure the jobs.

 “Despite the unbearable stress of the last year, they continued to perform their duties with grace, dignity and professionalism,” Grieco said. “It’s an honor to represent them.”