JRC Bankruptcy Hits Workers, Contracts Where It Hurts

March 15, 2013

 

In voting March 11, Kingston Guild members narrowly approved the new contract.

 

The Journal Register Co.’s second bankruptcy in three years and bullying behavior by the “new” company toward its employees have left many Guild members and local leaders angry, but also resigned.

            “This deal was negotiated with a gun to our heads,” said Kingston, N.Y., Guild President Patricia Doxsey.

            Faced with the threat of losing their jobs, members at the Kingston Daily Freeman followed four Philadelphia Guild units in ratifying new contracts in early March with 21st CMH  Acquisition Co.

Two units of the Detroit Guild, the Macomb Daily and Royal Oak Tribune, began meeting with the company as the Guild Reporter went to press.

“Their proposal is a virtual rewriting of the entire Guild contract from top to bottom. They’ve taken a meat ax to it,” Detroit Guild President Lou Mleczko said, describing language to outsource work and eliminate Guild jurisdiction over other jobs.

The next bargaining session in Detroit is set for March 30. If the company refuses to bargain fairly, “It appears we are headed toward a major labor dispute,” Mleczko said.

 

 Slight of Hand

 

JRC last declared bankruptcy in December 2009 and it cost Guild units their pension plans. Last November, the company filed again.

As Guild President Bernie Lunzer puts it, “Bankruptcy shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

            CWA is providing financial assistance to protect members' rights

in both the bankruptcy court and the collective bargaining process.

JRC is “selling” its assets to 21st CMH, which is expected to take the helm officially at the end of March.  In fact, 21st CMH is part of JRC’s parent company, Alden Capital. That’s led the Guild and other stakeholders to question the authenticity of the bankruptcy and sale.

            “It’s slight of hand,” Lunzer said. “They are essentially selling the company to itself, with only minor modifications in ownership. In the process, they’re playing games with workers’ lives and their livelihood.”

            Mleczko describes it as an “alter-ego purchase of JRC by a corporate entity that is really just another arm of Alden.”

            The new company is refusing the request of the Guild, a CWA print sector unit and two Teamsters units to bargain jointly in Detroit. However, invited by the Guild, leaders of the other units were at the table when the Guild contract was discussed for two days in mid-March.

            Jointly, the unions are discussing their options. “The range of things that could happen soon include an advertising and circulation boycott of the newspapers, information picketing, and other related activities,” Mleczko said.

In the earlier, high-tension negotiations in Philadelphia and Kingston, Guild leaders managed to keep the company’s worst demands at bay.

Still, Kingston is losing 11 positions and at the four Philly-represented papers, the company has reserved the right to cut one job from each unit in the first year of the two-year pacts, leaving everyone nervous.

But the involvement of the Guild contracts committee in Philadelphia was critical to weakening the company’s management rights’ demands. The core of the contract with regard to workers’ rights and their freedom to speak out on workplace issues was maintained.

The papers are the Delaware County Daily Times, the Norristown Times Herald, the Pottstown Mercury and the Trentonian in New Jersey. Except for the Daily Times, where advertising sales representatives face possible commission cuts, the Philadelphia Guild contracts were approved unanimously.

            That doesn’t mean members were happy about it, Lunzer said. “They were told to take it or leave it, and leaving it would have meant losing their jobs and reapplying for positions with lower pay, higher health care premiums and the uphill battle to negotiate a contract from scratch.”

 

‘Nothing to Celebrate’

            Doxsey is more blunt, describing a “miserable deal” that her members barely approved.

            “There is nothing to celebrate,” she said in a public statement. “Although an improvement over what was originally proposed, it eliminates a number of positions, diminishes the Guild’s jurisdiction, deprives our members of some of their most basic protections, offers them very little job security for the future and decreases their standard of living. And it is the best deal that we could get given the circumstances.”

            She said she hopes “the narrow vote result sends a message to 21st CMH Acquisition Co. that the members of the Kingston Newspaper Guild are not easily cowed and that we will be prepared to fight, despite our reduced numbers, any future attempts to weaken our Guild or diminish our working conditions.”