With its second bankruptcy in three years, the Journal Register Co. is abusing the system to abandon its obligations to workers and investors, Newspaper Guild President Bernie Lunzer charged Thursday.
“They are essentially selling the company to itself, with only minor modifications in ownership,” Lunzer said. “Shamelessly, this reorganization is hurting many people, including our Guild members.”
Lunzer said the “new” company, 21st CMH Acquisition, is threatening the jobs of workers at seven papers with Guild contracts unless the union rapidly agrees to changes that would eviscerate members’ rights at work and put pay rates and health benefits at risk.
“We have been through this process more times than I can count with papers either in bankruptcy or on the verge of it that are under extreme financial pressure to cut jobs, pay and benefits,” Lunzer said. “While we know we won’t walk away with the status quo, we make it clear that our members, their workers, will be treated with dignity and respect.
“The Journal Register Co. is showing no such respect, not for its workers and not for the bankruptcy process itself, which certainly was never intended to be a get-out-of-jail-free card for businesses facing some financial trouble every couple of years,” he said.
The Guild has been in bargaining recently with five of its seven Journal Register papers, which collectively employ nearly 250 Guild members.
Four of the papers are represented by the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild: The Delaware County Daily Times, Pottstown Mercury, Norristown Times Herald and The Trentonian. Separate bargaining has been underway at the Kingston Daily Freeman in New York. Bargaining hasn’t begun at the two other Guild JRC papers, the Detroit-area Macomb Daily and Royal Oak Tribune.
The contract changes that 21st CMH Acquisition is demanding include an overly broad no-strike clause, rollbacks in job security language, unilateral rights to make cuts in ad department pay rates and the right to change work schedules and days off without notice. In Delaware County, Penn., which has the largest number of Guild-represented JRC employees, 64, the company wants the right to replace or terminate the negotiated health plan, with no guarantees that a replacement plan would be equivalent.
“They’re making these demands despite the fact that several of the papers in question are still profitable, and despite having put employees through the pain of bankruptcy cuts less than three years ago,” Lunzer said. “The papers have already been stripped down; workers are doing more for less, and this is their reward.”
It doesn’t have to be that way, he said. “We are experienced problem-solvers in this day and age of struggling newspapers. We are willing and able to help, but we are not going to be scapegoats or victims.
“We’d like to think that JRC and the ‘new’ buyer care about the continuity of their properties, and the value their products – our members’ products -- bring to their communities in the form of quality, local journalism,” he said. “That’s a value we should all be bringing to the table.”