Thursday, April 29, 2010

Memphis Newspaper Guild faces possible lose-lose situation

Members of the Memphis Newspaper Guild are facing a hard choice with their proposed contract with the the city's leading newspaper, the Commercial Appeal. The contract offers them their first pay raises in seven years but also gives the paper the green light to outsource jobs and lay off workers. The pay raises would amount to 4&, 3&, and 2& percent over the next three years.

Their other choice is to reject the contract altogether, which would essentially be a declaration of war against the paper and its owner, Scripps Howard, a David-and-Goliath struggle if there ever was one. Refusal to sign could embolden the paper to simply proceed with widespread outsourcing and layoffs.

Like most mainstream newspapers, the Commercial Appeal is only a shell of its former self. Sure, it mounts the occasional investigation of former Mayor Willie Herenton's controversial financial dealings--chain-owned newspapers still like to win prizes--but this city of 700,000 with its musical legacy, Byzantine politics, and high crime and poverty rates doesn't get the day-to-day coverage it deserves. What city does anymore?

In the long struggle over a contract, management hired one of the South's leading union-busting attorneys, Nashville-based Michael Zinser, to fight their fight. Zinser is a member of that special club of attorneys who make their living doing the will of management at the expense of workers.

The Guild has talked about a high-pressure ad campaign aimed at the newspaper's management, but is such a campaign too late? A vote on the contract is expected next weekend.

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