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DETROIT April 1, 2016– Staff at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News have been engaging in informational pickets outside their offices this week, as they’ve been working without a contract since mid-March and negotiations with management at both papers has been unproductive.
According to Deadline Detroit, an online news site about Detroit, most of the newspapers’ proposals have been anti-union and unfair. John Gallagher, Free Press reporter and president of the Detroit Newspaper Guild (NGA Local 22), said that there have been”proposals to eliminate seniority and contractual raises. The papers wants to offer merit raises only.”
Michigan Public Radio reported that the employees took a pay cut in the last contract, but now that the papers are again profitable, the union is fighting to get those concessions back.
John Gallagher says workers at both papers took steep pay cuts during the Great Recession, and the newsrooms have lost staff since then.
“And so now that the companies are back and making a lot of money, we think it’s time for them to honor their workers, and restore some of those cuts,” said Gallagher.
He notes that Gannett has paid “tens of millions of dollars on acquisitions around the country, and they’re paying their executives millions of dollars in pay and bonuses” recently, though the profitability of the Detroit newspaper operations remains unclear.
But Gallagher says more is at stake during these negotiations, where “everything is on the table.”
“We also want to protect basic union rights, about seniority and firing only for just cause, and all those kinds of basic union protections,” he said.
Contracts for workers in both newsrooms expired March 21, and Gannett declined to extend them as bargaining continued.
This is the second time that’s happened since the massive Detroit newspapers strike of the mid-1990s. Union representatives say there are no strike plans of any kind at this point.
Gallagher said four meetings so far have been unproductive. The two sides [expected] to return to the bargaining table [yesterday].
While the employees have been doing informational pickets with other unions in downtown Detroit during their lunch periods, there are currently no plans for a strike.
While readership may be down with the print edition of most newspapers, millions of readers check in with the Detroit Free Press’ and News’ websites each day, so profits at their parent company, Gannett, are up.
Without well-paid newspaper staff– from reporters and columnists to proofreaders and photographers– government corruption will go unreported. The Free Press was one of the first newspapers to expose the Flint water crisis, and they were also the media outlet that broke the story on former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s criminal activities last decade. Both the Free Press and News have been instrumental in exposing the ongoing problems in Detroit’s public schools.
“If you want good journalism in town, then you need good journalists,” Gallagher told Detroit’s Fox 2. “And you can’t continue to cut and cut and cut.”