They may not have the national attention of the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton nomination fight, but to members of The Newspaper Guild, presidential candidates Linda Foley and Bernie Lunzer are waging a war of words, grassroots campaigning, and even music videos that rivals anything in the union's recent history.
With incumbent Foley facing her first challenge since 1995, and the Guild preparing for its first contested election since then, members are engaged in the unusual prospect of having more than one choice for president at a time when the industry is in the throes of cutbacks, buyouts and layoffs, and an unclear future.
"I believe firmly that elections are healthy for the organization," says Tim Schick, administrator of the Providence (R.I.) Newspaper Guild and a Lunzer campaign co-chair. "The election process has in many ways reconnected the rank and file with leadership."
It has also created something of a new dilemma for the Guild's 30,000 members, who have not even been asked to cast votes since 1995, when Foley and Lunzer, currently secretary-treasurer, ran as a team. In the three elections since 1995, Foley and Lunzer were the only nominees at the annual sector conference, for president and secretary-treasurer, so a member vote was not even taken.
As delegates head to the 2008 sector conference this weekend to pick nominees for the top three offices, including president, they are expected to exit the four-day event with two presidential nominees: Foley and Lunzer. Each is also running with a secretary-treasurer running mate, sparking a likely contest for that post.
"There hasn't been a referendum since 1995, there has been no contest," Lunzer, 50, told E&P about his decision to challenge Foley, his long-time running mate. "I think for a time we complemented each other and that is no longer the case."
Under guild rules, some 150 delegates from each of the union's 85 locals will convene at the sector conference this weekend in Providence. Any delegate may nominate a candidate and if more than two are nominated, a run-off among them is held at the conference, with the top two candidates facing election sometime in April or May.
The guild presidency pays about $140,000 annually, while secretary-treasurer has a salary of about $119,000, according to Lunzer.
Guild leaders estimate the voting will cost about $25,000, with each local using either mail ballots or, in some cases, polling locations. "It is damaging," says Steve Yount, co-chair of Foley's campaign and president of the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, a guild local that represents Dow Jones & Co. employees. "It comes down to the inconvenience of democracy."
Foley, a former secretary-treasurer and longtime Guild official, has said that the contested election is a negative for the union at a time when it needs to focus on the industry's problems. "Because I am being challenged, there is going to be more politics and the politics will take up more time," she says about the sector conference, set for Feb. 28 to March 2. "You are going to have political considerations that wouldn't otherwise be. …