The newspaper business, as you might have heard, is swirling the commode these days. Declining demand for advertising and Mary Worth cartoons has meant lower revenues, all of which affects the folks who write the words you ignore each day.
So yes, drastic times call for drastic measures. In 2009, workers in the Plain Dealer newsroom agreed to a 12 percent pay cut in exchange for a no-layoff guarantee from the bosses.
With that two-year contract set to run out at the end of this year, the battle will be joined yet again. Management’s most recent proposal was to extend the current agreement another two years.
This time the union’s not biting.
“Our membership had it tough the last two years, as we saw this company take concessions to help it through hard times. And our members were happy to do that,” says Harlan Spector, Plain Dealer wordsmith and chairman of the union.
“But I think people this year have hit a point of frustration. There’s less and less [of us] doing more and more, and it’s okay — they’re working hard, they like working hard. But now our membership feels very strongly that they need some help. We gave back. We’ve given back. And now people want some relief.”
With the two sides nowhere near an agreement, scribes have begun to take action in that most volatile of ways: by going goth in the newsroom.
Last Friday, some writers sported all black in a show of unity. There’s also growing momentum for a — gasp — byline boycott. It’s a complex media-world strong-arm tactic that involves doing exactly the same work you usually do, then forgetting to put your name on it when you’re done.
If that doesn’t work, the union is prepared to have sports writer Bill Livingston reminisce about his favorite Texas football memories in the cafeteria until management caves.