MediaNews Group, the owner of the Oakland Tribune and its East Bay sister newspapers, refused to hire union workers in violation of federal law and then transferred jobs to non-union employees, thereby making it easier for the company to break the union. That’s one of three charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the Northern California Media Workers Guild, the union representing reporters, photographers, and copy editors at the Trib, the Daily Review, the Argus, the Alameda Times-Star, the Tri-Valley Herald, and the San Mateo County Times.
At the Trib alone, MediaNews did not replace at least eight reporters who resigned in the past year. Instead, the company left the positions vacant and then assigned most of the work to non-union reporters at its other East Bay newspapers — the Contra Costa Times and the former Hills papers, which include the Montclarion, the Berkeley Voice, and the Alameda Journal. Then, when the company merged the Trib and its sister papers with the CC Times and the former Hills papers earlier this month, it said it would no longer recognize the union because it now represented less than half of all the newsroom employees of the combined operations. “You starve it until you drown it in the bathtub,” said one guild member, referring to the company’s tactics toward the union.
Guild officials believe MediaNews purposely downsized the Trib and its sister papers so that there would be fewer union than non-union workers when the company officially combined all operations on August 13. “It became crystal clear – once we learned of the their true intentions,” said Paul Rosynsky, chair of the union bargaining unit at the Trib. Karen Austin, manager of human resources for the Trib and its sister papers, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the guild’s charges.
Among the Trib employees who left in the past twelve months and whose jobs were transferred to the non-union Times were:
Rebecca Vesely, regional health reporter
Ian Hoffman, regional science reporter
Michele Marcucci, regional social welfare reporter
Grace Rauh, regional education reporter
In addition, MediaNews did not replace Michelle Maitre, regional higher education reporter, when she was promoted to an editing position. Also, the Trib no longer has reporters covering Alameda and East Oakland. Alameda is now covered by the non-union Alameda Journal.
Guild officials also filed charges with NLRB, alleging that MediaNews illegally violated the union’s contract when it transferred union jobs to non-union papers and now refuses to bargain in good faith in violation of federal law. Guild officials also claim that the merger is a sham, whose sole purpose was to break the union. As proof, they note that most union workers’ jobs did not change after the merger. “I still sit at the same desk; my stories sill appear in the same paper – the Trib,” Rosynsky said.
Full Disclosure: I am a former guild official at the Trib.