Eagle Tribune Workers Try to Organize Union




By: Tom Duggan, November, 2005

Only a few short months after Chip Rogers sold The Eagle~Tribune newspaper, employees of the daily paper have become so angry and distrustful of new management and their lack of job security that they have filed with the Federal Labor Relations Board to organize a union.

 Since the purchase of The Eagle~Tribune on September 30, 2005 by the Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., there have been several major changes at the paper. According to several reporters who contacted The Valley Patriot but refused to be identified, these changes are “causing uncertainty and confusion” among the reporters, editorial staff and other employees.

 So much so, that they have come together to fight for union representation by The Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston, TNG-CWA 31032.

 Several key changes in personnel have stirred things up at The Eagle~Tribune, including major managerial changes. Recently, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., has replaced former publisher Irving “Chip” Rogers, III, and William Ketter, editor and vice president of news, has a “new role.”

 The Boston Globe reported that Bill Ketter will no longer oversee the day-to-day editorial content at the Tribune and that his new role will be as “educator and trainer.” According to Mike Reed, president and chief executive officer of Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., “Rogers will function in a loosely defined public relations consulting role.”

 Ketter has been replaced by Karen Andreas, and Rogers has been replaced by Richard Franks, who has also been promoted to president and publisher.

 Several staffers who did not want to be identified by name confirmed that several issues have surfaced after the newspaper was purchased, such as Ken Johnson and Bryan McGonigle being suspended for three days (without pay) in July 2005 after an e-mail exchange about the use of racial identities in crime stories.

 “Uncertainties like these made us all realize that nobody here was safe,” one staffer said. “And it prompted us to start the process of forming a union.”

 One reporter contacted by The Valley Patriot refused to speak either on or off the record, but advised us to contact the Newspaper Guild for any details on the matter. He did however; confirm that a union was being formed.

 Documents obtained by The Valley Patriot confirm that The Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston, TNG-CWA 31032, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking “Certification of Representative.”

 According to the petition filed, a “substantial number of employees wish to be represented for the purpose of collective bargaining by the Guild.”

 If successful, The Eagle~Tribune reporters will become members of the “Communications Workers of America.” The petition to unionize was filed on October 31, 2005 after the Eagle~Tribune refused to recognize the Newspaper Guild as a collective bargaining representative.

 The case before the Labor Relations Board is being expedited as a “Representative Case,” a process that puts the matter on a fast track for resolution. The hearing began Thursday, November 10th, and will continue on November 14th.

 (Visit www.valleypatriot.com for updates after that date.)

 The hearing is public and takes place at the National Labor Relations Board, 10 Causeway Street in Boston (Tipp O’Neill Building).

 At the previous hearing, new publisher Richard Franks testified, and the Executive Editor of News, Karen Andreas, is expected to testify on the 14th.

 According to Thomas Thibeault, organizer for the Newspaper Guild, The Eagle~Tribune is contesting the petition to unionize by their employees, stating that it is improper to just unionize the “Editorial Unit” of the newspaper.

 The process began when Tribune employees came to the Guild inquiring to secure their rights and benefits for the future.

 In a letter addressed to Ann Marie Borgesi at The Eagle~Tribune, Rosemary Pye, Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board, said elections will be conducted not more than 42 days after the filing of the petition.

 Thibault is optimistic that the petition will be approved, but there is always an appeal process to the National Board in Washington, D.C.

 The Editorial Unit involved in the petition for unionization consists of only employees at The Eagle~Tribune Publishing Co. in North Andover, Haverhill and New Hampshire.

 The Newspaper Guild needs the support of about 70 percent of that particular unit to file a petition for union representation. According to Thibeault, the number required under the existing “unit” is about 80-85 employees.

 But The Eagle~Tribune contends that the number of employees needed to file for a union should not be based on the 80-85 employees who work directly for The Eagle~Tribune (70 percent of the Eagle~Tribune workforce).

 Instead, they contend, the number of employees needed to form the union should be based on 70 percent of the total workforce of all Eagle~Tribune owned newspapers, such as The Andover Townsman, The Salem News, The Gloucester Daily Times and The Daily News in Newburyport.

 Thibeault said he believes that there are about nine other papers, which amounts to 380 employees needed to form a union.

 One reporter who asked to remain anonymous said that the Tribune brass was “foolish” to make that argument. “When this is over, they will end up with unions at every paper owned by The Eagle~Tribune instead of just the core employees here in North Andover. All I care about is job security, and being run by an out-of-state corporation doesn’t make any of us feel very secure.”

 ]Newspaper Guild spokesman Thibault told The Valley Patriot that The Eagle~Tribune is trying to slow down the process, but agrees that its strategy could backfire and that, if needed, the Guild will obtain the support of the 380 employees and unionize all Eagle~Tribune owned newspapers.

 “This could certainly backfire on them,” Thibault said, “then all Tribune employees could become unionized.” Thibault said he would be happy to unionize all of the employees and says “the more the merrier.”

 The Rogers family had owned the newspaper since 1898. In 2002, the Eagle~Tribune acquired other daily papers, including The Salem News, The Gloucester Daily Times and The Daily News in Newburyport.