The Union Comes For Dean

Posted by Hank Sims on Wed, Dec 19, 2007 at 4:21 PM

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SF Weekly reporter John Geluardi, who once toiled alongside yours truly at a newspaper too unspeakable to name, has an awesome story this week about a big push to unionize several major Bay Area newspapers that were recently acquired by Sith Lord Dean Singleton (right).

The national Newspaper Guild is funding a $500,000 organizing campaign, which Hall has wryly dubbed "One Big BANG: A One-Guild Universe." This at once evokes the 19th-century trade unionists' One Big Union concept and pokes fun at the East Bay branch of the Bay Area News Group (that's right, BANG for short), a cluster of 11 newspapers of which the Contra Costa Times is part.

Newspaper unions across the country are closely watching how the One Big BANG campaign plays out, because its success or failure could signal a critical turning point for organized labor in a newspaper industry wracked by dwindling readership, declining revenues, and decimated newsrooms.
Darth Singleton's dominion also includes several local properties, including the Times-Standard , the Humboldt Beacon , the Redwood Times and the Tri-City Weekly .

How about it, y'all?

Comments (11)

Showing 1-11 of 11

I'm an old fashioned gent who believes that if you publish something worth reading, people will read it.

When you pinch pennies with who you hire and what you do to retain them, your product is worse for wear, resulting in lost readership. Then you truly cannot afford to hire quality people.

Don't blame the many distractions people have these days. The nature of employment in this country has grown progressively worse over the decades and contributed to the teetering downfall of quality journalism and the machinery that supports it.

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Posted by Anonymous on 12/19/2007 at 9:06 AM

I hope the Humboldt contingent of the BANG catches this train.

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Posted by Heraldo on 12/19/2007 at 3:19 PM

As best I can figure this might end up along the lines of the Eastern Airlines debacle of around 1991. Eastern Airlines was already on the ropes- in trouble. The unions decided to strike, feeling they had Eastern over a barrel. Eastern filed for bankruptcy.

Be interesting to see if union involvement in the newspapers leads to the same sort of thing.

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Posted by Fred Mangels on 12/20/2007 at 1:10 AM

The problem the NorCal newspaper guild faces is not just Singleton, it's the guild's own complacency over the past several decades.

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Posted by Andrew Bird on 12/20/2007 at 3:09 AM

BTW Hank and Heraldo, I doubt if anyone in the Times-Standard newsroom is even aware of what the Newspaper Guild is doing down south, because I doubt if anyone at the Guild bothered to contact anyone on the Times-Standard staff to ask if they were interested in joining the fight. The Guild has ignored papers such as the Times-Standard for decades.

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Posted by Andrew Bird on 12/20/2007 at 6:28 AM

Didn't another local blogger draw devil horns on Dean Singleton once upon a time?

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Posted by Heraldo on 12/20/2007 at 1:28 PM

Did one? I'd like to see that.

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Posted by Hank Sims on 12/20/2007 at 1:53 PM

Too bad. Mr. Hurley smote his blog.

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Posted by Heraldo on 12/20/2007 at 2:22 PM

Ah. Well, I don't remember that. If it were true, I suppose I would feel a tiny bit chagrined.

Dean's had plenty of devil horns drawn on him before, I'm sure.

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Posted by Hank Sims on 12/20/2007 at 2:38 PM

Forgive me if I reminisce, but one line about the guild trying to organize the "Bay Area News Group, a cluster of 11 newspapers of which the Contra Costa Times is part..." brought to mind my own days of newspaper union organizing.

My first job ever was delivering the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek where I grew up. When I started working for them in junior high, the paper only came out three days a week. A couple of years later they expanded delivery to four days, and gave us a small raise. At the time I was taking algebra. I used some formula I'd just learned to determine that the raise wasn't actually a raise at all, in fact we were getting paid less per paper delivered. I was outraged. I shared my outrage with a fellow Times paperboy who was in the school band with me. We decided to do something.

Thus was born the Paperboys Union, P.U. for short. (Yeah, we were adolescent jokers.) We made up fliers and distributed them to all the carriers within driving distance, riding around on my friend's little Honda. The other kids were interested, but mostly non-committal.

Of course this was long before the days of Dean Singleton. Dean Lesher owned the paper then, and it was one of the few non-union shops around. I don't know that the writers had a union or a guild or whatever, but the typesetters for almost all newspapers were organized, and were known as a tough bunch. We went to their office and met the union bosses. They were sympathetic and offered encouragement and support, but I could tell they were also amused by our audacity.

Not long after our effort began, I got a personal call from Dean Lesher. He wanted me to know that he'd talked with my supervisor about my route and knew that it was in a hilly area, which meant I was eligible for a better rate per paper. The big boss man was trying to pay me off. I refused, told him that would not be fair, that all of my fellow workers deserved a raise, and we would continue our organizing. I was sure solidarity would win out in the end.
I was wrong. When my friend and I checked back a week or so later, we found that most of the other kids had been told by their parents that they could not join us. We'd overlooked a simple fact: Walnut Creek was much more of a white collar town than blue collar. A fair number of the other paperboys fathers were in management. Almost none of them came from union households. Our grand union plan petered out.

I don't think it had anything to do with my organizing, but a few months later I ended up with a new paper route in downtown Walnut Creek, far from my hilly neighborhood. It was a much better route, flatter and with more customers, many of them in apartment complexes that made for quick delivery.

The drop-off place for my bundles was at a bicycle shop just a couple of blocks from the Times printing plant. One morning I rolled up to the place on my bike, passing a few parked cars with two or three guys each sitting in them. I found that someone had cut the strings on my paper bundles and kicked the papers all over the bike shop parking lot. As I set about gathering them up, one of the guys got out of his car and approached me. He was a tough looking character and kind of growled at me, telling me he didn't like the Times. Being a perceptive kid, I figured it out. This guy and the rest of his comrades were union thugs.

At what must have been a pre-appointed time the guys all emerged from their cars and headed up the street to the printing plant. I read about what happened next the following day: They went en masse to the plant, muscled their way in and set about wrecking the place. They tipped over and scattered the boxes of type, then poured epoxy in the pressed rendering them inoperable. Lesher was not about to be beaten by them however. He had his paper printed on someone else's press until he fixed his. I don't think the Typesetters Union ever did succeed in organizing that plant.

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Posted by Bob on 12/20/2007 at 2:51 PM

If it were true, I suppose I would feel a tiny bit chagrined.

If? He definitely did. Ask him.

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Posted by Heraldo on 12/20/2007 at 4:09 PM
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