Now for the other side of the story … Readers of this blog posted several comments and questions below a May 2 item about the effort to unionize the Contra Costa Times and ANG Newspapers. On Friday, we posted responses to those questions from Times business writer George Avalos, who opposes the union. In response, Guild leaders Sara Steffens and Karl Fischer sent us a couple of questions and answers of their own.

    Will this be a “Union shop”? If so, can we not join?

    …No one will be dictating terms to the guild members. This would be another group decision. We will bring that proposal to the bargaining table if most members indicate they would like a “union shop.”

    If you work in a nonunion workplace that organizes, it’s your legal right not to join.

    It’s also common for management to negotiate for a certain number of guild-eligible positions to be exempt from any requirement to join.

    Will there be a freeze on raises during BANG-EB contract negotiations?

    The person asking this question stated “During the ANG negotiations, very few employees received pay raises.”

    Some people did get raises while the ANG contracts were being negotiated and others didn’t – it depended in large part on a worker’s relationship with his or her immediate supervisor, and that supervisor’s relationship with upper management.

    A contract eliminates that kind of subjectivity by mandating annual performance reviews and raises for everyone, without hamstringing your ability to negotiate on the side for even more yet. It’s a floor, not a ceiling.

    Still, it is illegal for the company to do anything but maintain the status quo during negotiations. Our company has a history of giving annual evaluations, coupled with raises. If during negotiations the company chose to withhold regularly scheduled reviews, that would be more than simply unfair – it would be a violation of the law, and one that could be pursued in court.

    How will this guild succeed where the ANG one failed?

    If the ANG guild failed, someone forgot to tell the people who work there — workers in every former ANG newsroom overwhelmingly support the organizing effort at BANG-East Bay.

    They know what the guild gave them. Those much-derided contracts contained guarantees that we don’t have, and we have taken for granted much of what they fought hard to attain, such as fair disciplinary treatment and decent medical and retirement benefits. Those are carry-overs from the Knight Ridder days, and our new parent company does not seem nearly so generous.

    Long-term ANG staffers know what MediaNews ownership was like before the first contract, and that their contracts improved their lot over time.

    And our combined newsrooms stand to form a much larger guild than the one at the former Alameda News Group. We are now a centerpiece of a major MediaNews cluster. We also have the backing of, and hope to negotiate in parallel with, our peers at the Mercury News, who understand all too well how eroding standards will ultimately drive down working conditions and pay for all Bay Area journalists.

    Equally important is the way we intend to approach bargaining — with a respectful tone, with a wealth of research on MediaNews standards at similar papers across the country, with expertise from recent guild/MediaNews contract negotiations, and with a realistic vision of what’s possible in the current media market. We have learned some great lessons from our peers in St. Paul in how to be part of the solution (instead of mere opposition) for managers struggling to adapt to the digital era.

SF Press Club News


  1. It seems that forming a union is like putting a target on your back for Deano. Union workers are the first he wants to eliminate and if he’ll be much happier closing union papers than nonunion ones. And forget the idea about ever getting a raise again. Look at ANG’s history if you doubt that.

  2. interesting that they say they’re answering george’s questions but really haven’t … how about the last three questions?

    1. Will the union bosses demand that our newspapers fire rank-and-file workers if they don’t want to pay dues to the Guild?

    2. Will the union bosses cancel pay raises for ordinary, hard-working journalists year after year?

    3. Will the union bosses, after a decade of negotiations, simply capitulate — like the union bosses did the first time at ANG — and just say “Sorry. We know this contract sucks. But this was the best we could get.”

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