Five years with no pact forces first-ever strike at Chicago Tribune
In this April 12, 2006, file photo, flags wave near the Chicago Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago. More than 200 reporters, photographers and other staffers with the Chicago Tribune and six other newsrooms around the nation began a 24-hour strike Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 to protest years of “slow-walked” contract negotiations and to demand fair wages. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

CHICAGO—Five years of almost fruitless bargaining with management controlled by a hedge fund known for devouring newspapers forced the staff at the Chicago Tribune into a one-day strike on February 1.

The strike was the first-ever at the daily, whose staff unionized with the Chicago News Guild, The News Guild-Communications Workers Local 34071, less than a decade ago, overcoming more than 125 years of virulent anti-union and anti-worker hostility by a succession of notorious bosses.

From legendarily isolationist Col. Robert R. McCormick, owner and publisher until 1955, through real estate magnate Sam Zell, who ran the entire Tribune Co. empire—including other papers and WGN broadcasting—into bankruptcy just over a decade ago, Trib bosses were implacably worker hostile.

And the current owner, secretive and unaccountable hedge fund Alden Global Capital, is the same way. It also has a national reputation for  buying newspapers cheap, selling their real estate, firing staffers, devouring the papers, then closing them down, leaving wrecked careers, broken families and news deserts in its wake. Meanwhile, Alden pockets the profits.

That didn’t stop the fed up and disgusted Tribune staff from walking out.

Chicago Tribune journalists are going on strike for 24 hours tomorrow for the first time in history,” the Chicago News Guild tweeted. “@CTGuild has bargained for a fair contract since 2018. Alden responded by offering functional pay cuts & fewer benefits despite the Trib’s profits. We’re done playing games.”

The union planned a rally outside the Tribune’s current offices from 9 a.m. to noon on the morning of February 1. The paper isn’t in historic Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue any more. It’s been sold off for the real estate and is now fancy condos.

“Alden received $150 million to move the printing centers out of Chicago for a casino to be built. Alden is making money. They just don’t want to share it with journalists,” a second Chicago News Guild tweet read.

Launched a letter campaign

The News Guild also launched a letter campaign on the Action Network, headlined “Support Local News!” and featuring the Tribune/Chicago News Guild unit logo. “Tell Alden Global Capital why you value its journalists,” the posting exhorted.

“Tribune Publishing union journalists have been fighting for a fair contract for nearly five years. In that time frame, the journalists have covered essential news, bringing to light government corruption, explaining complicated policy reforms, relaying important updates about weather, schools and the Covid-19 pandemic and providing insightful commentary on movies, food, and culture.

“We’re bargaining with Alden Global Capital, a secretive hedge fund dubbed by the media as the ‘destroyer of newspapers’ for its systemic practice of diminishing newspapers in order to extract outsized profits.”

Besides the Tribune, Alden also owns its suburban papers ranging from Evanston to Chicago’s south suburbs, along with The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant, The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, and their production and design agencies.

“The value local media brings to communities has been well documented: Studies show that losing access to fair and reliable news sources is correlated with increased costs to taxpayers, more corruption, and increased political polarization,” the Action Network letter added.

“We want to continue to be a community resource for years to come—and are fighting for a fair contract that would allow journalists to afford to live in the communities they cover and provide protections against the hedge fund gutting its newspapers until there’s nothing left.”

“We need your help in preserving quality local news for the communities served by our publications,” asking for letters and e-letters to company officials in each city.

The one-day strike at the Tribune was the second such walkout at an Alden-owned paper in precisely a week. On January 26, the entire 54-person news staff at the New York Daily News took a hike, too, for the same reasons. They too, staged a rally and picketing.

Just as at the Tribune, Alden had hacked at the staff of the Big Apple’s big tabloid, and sold its building, too. Its staff now toils out of a “co-working” space which “substitutes for a newsroom”—but doesn’t replace it—for the Daily News.

“Alden wants to act as if we are not being chiseled,” said News Guild of New York union steward Michael Gartland, an award-winning reporter who’s covered three city mayors. “We’re not going to engage in that intellectual dishonesty. In reality, we’re being crushed for cash. As a result, staff is diminished, which means our ability to cover the city is diminished. We believe this is bad for New York.”

The News Guild of New York asked Daily News readers not only not to buy and read the print edition as they rode the city’s subways but also not to click on its website during that walkout. Doing so was “the equivalent of crossing a picket line.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.