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Facing the Future: Newspaper Guild Looks to Cut Costs as Membership Declines and Annual Debt Grows; but Defense Fund Reaches Nearly $7 Million

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Facing the Future: Newspaper Guild Looks to Cut Costs as Membership Declines and Annual Debt Grows; but Defense Fund Reaches Nearly $7 Million

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Newspaper Guild looks to cut costs as membership declines and annual debt grows; but defense fund reaches nearly $7 million

Journalists being journalists, several Newspaper Guild delegates found some mordant humor in the fact that they were sharing the Congress Hotel in Chicago with another group's annual convention: the paleontologists.

Adding to the sense of time in flux was the constant presence in the hotel of tie-dyed "Deadheads" following their beloved Grateful Dead as the band stopped in Chicago.

Indeed, in his address to the 59th annual convention, Guild secretary-treasurer John C. Edington said he was moved by this "time warp" to recall the state of the union when it met in the same hotel in 1960.

Then, as now, the Guild faced a financial and membership crisis, Edington noted.

"We've weathered numerous crises within this union, but once again expenditures severely outrun income, membership growth has slowed, and we are being squeezed financially," he said.

The Guild convention, held June 29 to July 3, seemed gripped in a time warp of its own: On the one hand attending to its serious financial straits, while on the other planning for a better future.

Like a historic newspaper cutting back in this recession to avoid folding, the Guild has laid off staff (four professionals were canned in April); dropped out of active participation in the International Federation of Journalists (saving $60,000 annually); and stopped paying bills on time (accounts payable stood at $685,000 even though the fiscal year ended with a $35,200 surplus).

Debt is increasing by more than $100,000 annually, despite dues levels that union officers themselves describe as too high.

Membership, averaging 27,034 full-time dues payers in the past fiscal year, is at the lowest level since 1957. Only four years ago, the union could only 30,266 full-time members.

Before the Chicago meeting, the Guild had already decided to hold its conventions every two years after the 1993 assembly in Hawaii.

In another cost-cutting measure, the delegates in Chicago reluctantly voted to decrease the number of issues of the Guild Reporter from 18 to 12 annually. Three years ago, the Reporter's frequency was reduced from 22 to 18.

At a time when Guild members are on strike at the Toronto Star and have had significant layoffs because of the Pittsburgh newspaper strike, there was good news about the defense fund. Assets of the fund, which administers strike and lockout benefits, were up $115,000 to $6,803,673 at fiscal year-end.

Still, the blows of this most brutal newspaper recession have been especially cruel for the Guild, president Charles Dale said.

"Let's face it, throughout modern history, the Guild has been well-insulated in economic hard times. At no time in the memory of living Guild veterans I've talked to can they recall a recession in which newspapers cut back as they did in the last two years," Dale said.

Other woes

Not all of the Guild's problems show up in ledger entries.

Canadian members, for one thing, are continuing their push for more autonomy in the union.

Also, aggressive organizing efforts that have cost the Guild $1.8 million since 1988 have failed to bring significant numbers of new members.

While calling for a special $70,000 increase in the organizing fund this year, Guild executives acknowledged that the prospect of unionizing new workplaces is slight.

"Despite what some would have you believe - that hard times are good times for organizing - the results in the labor movement don't attest to that myth," Guild president Dale told the convention.

"People are scared," he continued. "They are frightened for a lot of reasons and we have found time and again in fresh new organizing drives that their fear of losing their jobs - even when they're lousy jobs - is greater than their desire to help organize a union. …

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