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Star's union plans aggressive labor fight with Gannett

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The union that represents 120 local editorial and building services employees at The Indianapolis Star has launched a very public labor battle against McLean, Va.-based Gannett Co. Inc., criticizing the corporation's management of the newspaper.

The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild this week began its offensive with a new website and radio ads. It plans within three weeks to launch ads on billboards and buses, and to hand out leaflets at Indianapolis Colts games and other public events around Indianapolis.

Officials for the guild, who this week entered contract negotiations with Gannett, said they’re ready to spend more than "five figures" on the campaign.

“We’re going to be more visible and more vocal I think than at any other time in the guild’s history,” said Robert King, the union’s president and a reporter at the Star. “It’s going to be hard not to hear our message.”

The crux of that message is that Gannett is siphoning profits from the local newspaper to fatten the paychecks of Virginia-based executives while cutting wages of Star staffers as well as the size of the staff itself. Those moves are diminishing the news coverage for local residents who read the paper.

In public filings, Gannett disclosed that it paid Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow $9.4 million last year—double his 2009 pay—as the company laid off hundreds of workers and imposed wage cuts on thousands more. His pay included a $1.75 million all-cash bonus.

Gannett Chief Operating Officer Gracia Martore got $8.2 million, more than double her $4 million in 2009, according to a recent proxy statement. Her pay included a cash bonus of $1.25 million.

The new guild-produced Web site, SaveTheStar.com, implores local residents to help “Save Local News.” King said the objective of the site and broader publicity campaign is to alert Indianapolis area residents and Star customers what is happening to “their community’s newspaper.”

The website claims:

— The Star’s newsroom staff has been slashed by 36 percent.

— Vacated jobs almost never get filled.

— Pay at the Star lags behind 94 other union newspapers around the country.

— Talented journalists keep moving on.

— There’s a plan in the works to outsource jobs in the Star’s newsroom—most notably copy desk and design jobs—to  Louisville.

— The Star’s ability to fulfill its traditional watchdog role is being endangered.

“We are about to start the process of collective bargaining and fully intend to respect and honor that process,” Star President and Publisher Karen Crotchfelt wrote in an e-mail to IBJ. “We also are looking forward to reaching a new contract with the union as soon as possible. However, because we are beginning negotiations soon it would not be appropriate or proper to discuss in detail our negotiations with the union.”

When asked about the specific allegations made by the union, Crotchfelt declined to comment. Star Editor Dennis Ryerson did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Gannett has conducted four large layoffs in three years. In the most recent round of cuts on June 21, Gannett eliminated 700 jobs, about 2 percent of the company’s total work force.

The Star on June 21 laid off 62 employees, including more than 15 percent of its newsroom staff, a number that left King wondering why Indianapolis is being singled out for the biggest cuts.

The Star's newsroom had 136 employees after the latest round of layoffs, down from 230 in 2007.

In a June memo, Bob Dickey, Gannett’s head of community newspapers, blamed the company’s nationwide cuts on soft national advertising and a continued sluggish economy.

Gannett, which owns 82 newspapers, earned $263.7 million on revenue of $2.59 billion in the first half of this year. That compared with a profit of $325.2 million on $2.66 billion in revenue in the same period a year earlier.

“Each of our local media organizations faces its own market conditions, challenges and opportunities,” Dickey wrote in June. Therefore, it has been up to each local publisher to determine his or her unique course of action.”

Crotchfelt, who joined the Star in December, told IBJ shortly after the June 21 cuts that she did not receive financial incentives for trimming payroll.

The guild's idea for the website was born shortly after the June 21 layoffs, King said.

“We feel if Gannett is not going to protect and preserve this newspaper, we’re going to do our best to do that,” said King, who joined the Star in 2004. “We’ve been told the Star is still profitable, yet money is being taken out of this paper, and not being kept in this community.”

Mark Crouch, associate professor in Indiana University’s department of labor studies, said the guild’s approach is one of the most unusual he’s seen in decades of studying organized labor.

“While a union’s appeal to the public isn’t entirely new, I have never seen a campaign quite like this at a newspaper before,” Crouch said. “The timing, too, is unusual. Usually a union would wait until they’ve been sitting at the bargaining table for quite a while before they’d make a high-profile public appeal like this.

“This is a real pre-emptive strike. I think it shows that the traditional tactics with this union and with this management haven’t worked, so they’re striking out with something new and innovative.”

The money for the campaign will come from the guild’s reserves, King said, adding that additional resources could come from the union’s national affiliate, The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America.

“Now is such an important time, such a grave time, if that means spending down some of our reserves, we’re prepared to do that,” King said. “We can do more than we’re doing now, and the longer this goes on, the more noise we’ll make.”

Given’s Gannett’s push for cuts and its hard line with unions, Crouch said it is questionable that the local guild will be able to recoup much of recent concessions they've made, including a 10-percent pay cut.

When pressed about what Star staffers hope to gain from the campaign, King said, “I’m not going to get into specifics because we’re entering into negotiations.”
 

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  • So now the Indy Star
    I find it interesting that the folks at the Indy Star had NO problem with the Gannett owned newspapers like the Palladium-Item in Richmond being pillaged, plundered, etc in order to keep the Star alive, but now that they have to deal with the craziness that is Gannett, take cuts in pay, etc. Gannett is evil. Why didn't you stand up and scream foul when the Pal-Item's press was taken out and moved to the Star, resulting in the loss of many jobs here? Gannett didn't want to buy new press, so stole ours and sent it to Star. Not so fun when it hits you is it?
  • Ms Smith
    But they still find enough cash to pay their resident racist.
  • Indy Star
    There used to be a time when every city had two or three daily newspapers. Those days are gone. When I was growning up we had the Star and News also the Times but that is before my time. I used to like reading the News in the afernoon coming home after school. I really liked Shull's Mail bag. It's to bad since the Star seems to be a sinking ship there are very little options and it would be nice id someone in the industy would take on the Star and start a new daily newspaper for this city. But it will evenually become a online newspaper or be shut down by Gannett.
  • Union of Delusion
    Again, Union Leadership is deceiving its members. It's members are "entitled" to nothing- beyond their contract terms. If management fails, they will get fired by the ownership. Otherwise, just shut-up and do your job the best you can, or your job will also be outsourced.

    Wake up, and get a life- or get a better education so that you too can move on to a better life. THE OWNERS OF THE NEWPAPER OWE YOU NOTHING!
  • Point of View
    While there are a couple of comments here that hit the mark, most of you are missing the very basics of what’s going on. Allow me a few moments to share the reality…

    The Star is a business, and like every other business out there the goal is to make a “profit”. So many people treat the word profit like it’s a bad thing. Conversely, it’s what makes this country great. Every citizen in this country has the right to start a business of their own and forge their own way through life here. You can open a lemonade stand or a factory to build cars or even start your own newspaper.

    If you think the Star is a shell of the company it once was and dislike the product, stop buying it. If you think the product they produce can be done better, start your own paper or invest in one you believe in.

    This union push… “criticizing the corporation’s management of the newspaper” is ridiculous. No, it’s completely absurd. So what if they double the salary of the executives. It’s their money and it’s their right to do what they want with it. If it’s a management mistake, they’ll pay for it with lesser profits, or losses, or perhaps cause the business to fail. But it’s their money to do with as they wish. If you’re an employee of the company and you don’t like the way it’s being managed… QUIT!

    Do you really think you have a right to band together and TELL the company what they can and cannot do? That’s insane. The fact that some unions today actually have the power to do this is a huge part of the problems facing our country today. Companies are choked to death by these unions in many cases (and by Federal regulations, but that’s a different argument). Does anyone remember the recent GM fiasco here in Indy. The UAW flexed some muscle and told GM they couldn’t sell it. Now the plant is closed and 300 people are out of work. Smart move, huh! Nice job!
    • let me help
      And it took you until September of this year to end your subscription? Who'd lobotomized?
    • Go Guild
      Go Guild. Go to he--, Gannett. Cities deserve strong news coverage whether on paper or online. All Gannett cares about is cash.
    • Buggy Whips
      Golly, just look at the picture associated with this article. It's a huge, static, brick and mortar relic of the past and a fitting symbol for this story about the prospects for a business that hand-delivers delivers day-old information printed on wood pulp.
    • Good luck, union
      Any article or news story on the continued dumbing down of the Indy Star is met with a litany of the same comments - how the paper is lousy, how nobody reads it, how you get your news elsewhere, how evil and uncaring Gannett is, how they should fold...etc.

      And do you think execs at Gannett or the out of town people who run the Star today read these comments or would even care if they did? I think not.

      While there's no debate that the Star is very much less a newspaper today than it was 10 or even 5 years ago, obviously the Gannett poobahs and revolving door publishers at the Star have a higher purpose (aka shareholder profit) that transcends concern for we rapidly declining subscribers.

      At least the union is taking a strong step to let Gannett and the Star publisher (his/her name here)they intend to fight the continued expulsion of core writers, editors and research staff that are essential to putting out a newspaper with an acceptable level of local news coverage.

      Here's hoping the union's action will help stop the bleeding and leave us with an Indy Star that reports some of the news, some of the time.
    • Star
      The Star hasn't really delivered anything newsworthy that I can get from FREE and LOCAL papers for years now. It's sad, but Nuvo and the Urban Times are more in touch with their communities. Have you ever tried reading the Star blogs? It seems like the only people that write on those are geriatrics and shut-ins.....
    • UNIONS AGAIN
      Throw the bums out no need for UNIONS they KILL all companies one way or another !!! either force the companies to OVERPAY THE WORKER AND SELL their merchandise for higher an higher forcing customers to BUY FOREIGN !!! or MAKE it impossible for the company to make a good profit so they maybe able to expand ! either way THEY ARE JUST NO GOOD FOR ANY PART OF THE WORLD ! and I would be the first on any line to break their heads == think back to the 50,s an 60,s and what HAPPENED TO MANY UNIONS === they were beaten ! and should be ! a DISGRACE TO ALL !!
    • Good Riddance
      The Star has been a liberal fish-wrapper since the Pulliam family sold out years ago. There is literally no down-side to its demise. The sooner it is gone, the better for all.
    • Status Quo
      This is the same company who owns the Cincinnati Enquirer, which is an amazing news source. When the Indianapolis Star becomes a real newspaper maybe then it would even be worth reading? In my humble opinion I do not even think the paper is worth what it is printed on. Engage the community and then perhaps I would find it worth reading.
    • The way of the world
      While it is unconsionable to take more pay and a larger bonus while laying off and slashing pay of the work force, it is the way of the corporate world. Roger Smith closed 11 GM plants and then took a record bonus from GM the next day, and that was back in the 1980's, and he was battling the then mighty UAW. Smith did not even see the incongruity, and Dubow etc., don't either. They get paid to make heartless decisions that the average guy with a conscience can't make. ("Roger and Me" was pretty entertaining...perhaps the Star's union can get Michael Moore in to do the documentary) That is why companies hire these people...better to pay a few people a lot and give the grunts a few crumbs. Gannett has already ruined the paper...the Star was never the bastion of aggressive investigative journalism (compared to other large city papers), but it is a shell of it's former self, afraid to offend anyone who might know someone or might advertize. Alas, the philosophy of news organizations these days are to corner the market on the number of news outlets they own, and slant the news whatever direction maximizes profits for their product,their investments and their stock holders. I am not sure how long it will be before daily papers have to be read via the internet exclusively. I know almost no one under the age of 30 who even subscribes to a print version of a paper. It is like the record (music) industry...it barely even exists in its original forms anymore. A lot of the employees that the Star is trying to save now won't be needed anyway in the near future. Sad state of affairs, but likely true.
    • Wrong
      Hate to break it to you, but if you read this report correctly, you'd realize that only the design and layout of the paper will be done in Kentucky ... the actual writing will still be done in Indiana.

      Not that it makes much of a difference, but still at least get your facts right.
    • Rock Bottom
      Well, well, well ... look what's at the bottom of the union's list: the Star's watchdog role. Big surprise there. Truthfully, I'm shocked it even made the list at all.
    • Star
      Happy Labor Day everyone.
    • That being said...
      The Union has my full support. Gannett needs a wake-up call with no morning paper.
    • Extra Extra
      Welcome to a world class city with a newspaper written by our Kentuckian neighbors 2 hours south of us. This should be interesting. And not very well done. Gannett is making us look like a city of suckers, chumps and fools. Oh, wait...
      • Gannett is awful
        What a joke of a company. Pray that Gannett does not buy WRTV and seek a waiver.
      • Rollover Indianapolis
        Fortunately, the Gannet executives won't have to pay higher marginal tax rates on the money they are rightfully siphoning off the backs of under-paid and laid-off employees. Go Republicans. Keep up the good work.
      • Dropping subscription end of September
        The Star is a labotomized shell of its former self. I picture McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) schuffling to his bed in the end of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Hmm ... Juicy Fruit!
        • Wha Happened?
          Too late.

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