Guild Divisions Contributed to Ejection

By Dotinga, Randy | Editor & Publisher, July 25, 1998 | Go to article overview

Guild Divisions Contributed to Ejection


Dotinga, Randy, Editor & Publisher


Dotinga is an education writer with the North County Times, Escondido, Calif

Guild's San Diego decertification followed seven years without contractual raises, while union had narrow support and failed to rally workers to save unit from extinction

AFTER SAN DIEGO Union-Tribune employees threw out their Newspaper Guild-CWA local in a stunning vote, union leaders were asking themselves what went wrong.

But management -- and hundreds of employees -- are saying something finally went right at California's third-largest newspaper. In the June 11 balloting, certified by the National Labor Relations Board, workers in the bargaining unit voted 406-378 to decertify the San Diego Guild chapter.

The loss of its only bargaining unit put the 61-year-old Guild local effectively out of business. Guild officials cannot recall larger newspaper decertification. The Union-Tribune was the Guild's 10th largest U.S. newspaper.

Newspaper officials are meeting with employees to discuss pay and benefits, said Bobbie Espinosa, director of human resources. Employees formerly represented by the union will receive the same benefits -- including matching 401(k) contributions -- as other employees, Espinosa said, declining to specify the contribution.

She said the company has told employees there will be no pay cuts or job transfers to outside companies. Meanwhile, editor Karin Winner is inviting staff members to join committees on workplace issues. Such groups used to be off-limits because of union rules.

"We're grateful that the employees placed their trust in us," Espinosa said. "What we were asking our employees to do was trust us, and to give change a chance. We're just going to work real hard to honor that trust." She acknowledged, however, that nearly half of the employees voting -- 48% -- supported the union.

"In order to satisfy the customer, we've got to have a finely tuned machine here," she said. "Satisfied customers come from satisfied employees. Over time, the commitment on the part of the management of this company will win the day."

Judging from the bitterness of union supporters, it may take awhile. To hear union leaders tell it, the defeat resulted from management's calculated, expensive, decadelong campaign to destroy the union. They had lawyers, guns and money," said Lisa Petrillo, a general assignment reporter and president of the San Diego Guild.

There is no argument over the lawyers and money For several years, the Union-Tribune has worked with the Nashville-based law firm of King & Ballow, notorious among Guild members as a union-busting management mercenary. The firm, specializing in media and labor law, claims to represent more than 300 daily newspapers and maintains its only branch office in San Diego. King & Ballow did not respond to a request for comment,

As for money, the newspaper may have spent millions of dollars, according to union leaders. Management wined and dined employees during the decertification campaign, which featured an elaborate employee-appreciation" party last fall, the first in several years. liven union supporters joined in the festivities.

"They never give Christmas parties, and suddenly they're having these employee-appreciation nights at these waterfront hotels with open bars," Petrillo said.

Espinosa disputed the idea of multimillion-dollar expenses as part of the decertification campaign but refused to disclose the actual cost. She said the company resurrected the parties because money became available. "We wanted to say thank you to our employees," she said.

HISTORY OF WAGE CONFLICT

But the union's problems started long before the parties. Although it is 61 years old, the Guild's San Diego local - which represented 850 members - has had little clout in recent years.

For one thing, the union failed to win a contract since the last one expired in 1995, and failed to win a contractual raise since 1991, despite what the union says are wages that lag behind Guild workers in other cities where costs are far below San Diego, whose sky-high housing makes it one of the most expensive places in the nation to live. …

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