Union fights to save Cleveland paper

CLEVELAND - The Newspaper Guild Local 1 is conducting a spirited campaign to Save The Plain Dealer, the city's only daily newspaper faced with massive layoffs of reporters and threatened by the "digital first strategy" of its owners who have cut print editions of their papers in other cities.

John Mangels, chairman of the union's campaign, asked delegates to the monthly meeting of the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor Dec. 12 to support the effort by contacting Advance Publications, the paper's parent company, signing an online petition and  "liking" the campaign's Facebook page.

Since launching its new strategy in Ann Arbor, Michigan Feb. 2, the company has slashed 1,336 jobs of reporters, photographers and support staff at its papers in New Orleans, Syracuse, N.Y. Harrisburg, Pa., and other cities where home delivery and print publication has been reduced to three days or less, according to DashThirtyDash, the New Orleans group formed to help laid-off Times-Picayune employees.

Its actions are driven by loss of advertising revenue as more people get news online, he said, "but 40 percent of Cleveland households have no internet access," a service many cannot afford or do not wish to use.

In the past month over 7,000 have signed the campaign's online petition.  In addition, the Guild took out a half page ad in the paper Nov. 11, rented 30 billboards around the city and put signs on the sides of 20 public transit buses.  The union also printed t-shirts and cards with information on the campaign. 

The AFL-CIO sent an email blast to members urging they sign the petition and the paper's reporters have reached out to their beat contacts including religious leaders, public officials, foundations, social agencies, sports teams, businesses and others relying on the paper for daily news and publicity. 

"Saving journalism is a moral and ethical issue," said Mike O'Malley, who covers religion and ethnic news.  "How can Cleveland with three major sports teams do without a daily paper? We hope that, if they have to cut home delivery, at the very least daily print editions are available on newsstands and boxes."

Terrance Egger, president and publisher of The Plain Dealer, has been pushing for seven days a week, O'Malley said, but says in the end it is not his decision.

Guild members and hundreds of supporters held a party Dec. 6 at Market Garden, a restaurant and brewery, where owner Sam McNulty provided food and released the first pints of "7-Day Lager," which was said to be "best when enjoyed daily."

The bittersweet event occurred as the union, after three weeks of talks, agreed earlier that day to accept 58 layoffs, a 35 percent reduction in staff, to begin in May. The remaining 110 journalists would have job security through 2019, restoration of most of the pay cuts they took in 2009 and increased company contributions to the union's health and pension funds.  In addition, laid off workers would get improved severance and extended health care coverage.

The agreement, ratified Dec. 11, also gives the company greater flexibility to flow work between the paper and Advance's online nonunion publication, cleveland.com.

"We really had no choice," Mangels said. "It was either 58 layoffs or management would cut 80 jobs and take health care and pension fund money out of our wages.  They said it was non-negotiable."

Reporters, who reluctantly voted for the agreement, said they believed it was part of a long-term union-busting move.  Local 1, the first Guild branch organized by Heywood Broun in 1934, is the only unionized paper in Advance's chain of over 70 publications.

But, said Guild Executive Secretary Rollie Dreussi, "This agreement ensures the Guild perseveres into the future, at least the foreseeable future."

In a statement on its Facebook page, the union said, "The loss of significant numbers of PD journalists - whether one-third or one-half of the staff - is an unnecessary action that will irreparably harm the quality of news coverage Clevelanders count on from their newspaper and its online partner. Until those journalists are forced out the door next year, we believe there is still time to convince Advance and its CEO, Steve Newhouse, that the cutbacks are not in the best interests of The Plain Dealer or the community it serves. We also will continue to fight to preserve the daily publication of The Plain Dealer, and are encouraged by Mr. Newhouse's recent statements that he has not yet decided whether to reduce the newspaper to three days per week, as Advance has done in other markets."

The campaign urges supporters to contact Newhouse at 718-981-1234 or stevejj@aol.com asking him "to keep good journalism in Cleveland."

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