CLEVELAND - In what may seem like a case of David and Goliath, 60 broadcast technicians and engineers at WKYC-TV Channel 3 are standing up to the Gannett Corporation's nationwide union-busting rampage.
Facing a savage attack on their union, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) Local 42, the workers got badly needed support from their brothers and sisters at other stations Wednesday, Feb. 23, in an 11-hour silent picket line in front of Channel 3 studios.
Holding signs reading "We Are NABET," dozens of supporters as well as workers at the station stood in freezing weather to publicize the fact that the management, in the middle of a five-year contract, unilaterally slashed wages 18 percent for most employees, cut vacations, sick days and work rules and stopped collecting union dues from paychecks.
The union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board over these actions as well as the company's refusal to conduct serious negotiations. WKYC refuses to consider union proposals and claims its actions are permitted because of a wage reopener clause in the contract, which expires June 1.
In the past several quarters Gannett has posted record profits and is simply exploiting the recession to gouge its workers and bust the union, Jim Kolendo, Local 42 vice president charged. Since 2005, the company has slashed nearly 20,000 employees from its chain of 101 newspapers, including USA Today, 23 television stations and six digital media outlets.
They have "already broken most of the unions at their newspapers and have gone after their non-union employees with the same sadistic efficiency," according to a NABET fact sheet.
The company's actions in Cleveland have provoked outrage in the area labor movement, pickets at station advertisers and letters of protest to the NLRB from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Reps. Dennis Kucinich, Betty Sutton, both Democrats, and Steve LaTourette, a Republican.
"We're concerned about the ripple effect," said Tim Roskey, technical director at Fox Channel 8. "We're under constant attack at our station. If KYC gets away with this, it's our turn next."
Unions at other Gannett properties around the country, including The Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have formed a national caucus to oppose the company's far-flung attack.
"There's a lot of turmoil and a lot of angry people," Kolendo said.
One of these, Frank DiLeo, longtime sports editor of the Gannett-owned Daily Record in Morris County, N.J., was laid off earlier this month after 35 years with the publication. "I worked hard to build my career, only to be left with a few weeks of severance," DiLeo, winner of many awards, wrote in a bitter parting column.
"Things like truth, honor, work ethic and integrity mean nothing on an Excel spreadsheet," DiLeo continued. "It's all about profit margins."
Gannett, he said, treats "customers like an annoyance and employees like dogs who should be happy with whatever scraps are left over."
As noted by Media Daily News, such a scathing column could not have made it into print without substantial support from others in the newsroom and possibly on the business side as well.
Image: Rick Nagin/PW