FAQ

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A VOTE HAS BEEN SET

Despite submitting at least 73 signed union cards, BH Media Group and Lee Enterprises are not voluntarily recognizing the Omaha World-Herald Guild as the newsroom’s representative.

This means it’s up to us.

This means it’s up to ALL of us.

It’s important that everyone votes on October 8.

Voting is anonymous and will take place between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. as well as 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Monday, October 8 in the Hitchcock Room on the first floor of the building.

If you do not work Mondays, it is important that you make it in during the scheduled voting times as there are no exceptions or extensions.

We will be carpooling newsroom employees there, as well. Contact owhguild@gmail.com, if you need a ride.

Read through the FAQ below to find out what’s at stake.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why unionize?

Our mission is to preserve and protect the integrity and independence of The World-Herald and its journalists. We want to safeguard the state’s best news outlet — and ensure that it remains vibrant and vigilant for our readers for years to come. 

Why can’t we do that without a union?

BH Media is paying Lee Enterprises $5 million a year to “increase efficiency.” Lee says its goal is to make $10 million a year. One of the major ways Lee does that: Layoffs. Lee’s formula is “cuts in people and paper,” according to CJR. We heard our leaders say that our newsroom is “dense” compared to other Lee newspapers. 

I like our bosses/managers. 

We like them, too. But we have absolutely no guarantee that they will be our managers, or that we will be their employees by the end of the month/year. Like it or not, they’re not in control anymore; Lee is. 

Will this harm our working relationship with our bosses/managers?

We don’t think so. We aren’t doing this to impose our will over the journalism we practice. We’re doing this to preserve as many jobs as possible, and ensure the paper’s success through these difficult times. And if any of them are offended, remind them: We didn’t have discussions to organize when they were in charge. Those discussions started occurring after BH Media announced Lee’s takeover of our management.  (Incidentally, our managers have the option of forming their own union.) 

What will it cost? 

Dues for members of one recently unionized newsroom were 1.38 percent of annual salary. We’ve been told it could run anywhere from 1.38 to 1.7 percent. Keep in mind: We will negotiate a contract with raises designed to more than offset any union dues. And the union doesn’t collect dues until it successfully negotiates our first contract.  

Which union?

NewsGuild-CWA, the largest newspaper union in the country. Several newsrooms have unionized in the past few years — from bigger publications such as the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and the New Yorker to smaller publications such as the Florida Times-Union, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Casper (Wyoming) Herald- Tribune. Many of the organizing newsrooms are Lee newspapers. Many have unionized with NewsGuild-CWA.

What will we get out of it — globally?

SAY: We want local input into what happens in our newsroom and to our newspaper. We also want a voice so that we can tell our readers/subscribers FACTS about what is happening to our paper. 

PAY: It’s no secret that many of us haven’t had raises in years. In fact, most of us have been forced to go through the maddening process of performance reviews — after being told that no raises will be given out. 

What will we get out of it — practically?

We will secure advanced notice of layoffs — and will have the ability to negotiate expense reductions or volunteer buyouts in lieu of layoffs. We also will have more say in what we make, what benefits we get, and hopefully, equity in both layoffs and pay.

What will the union do for me in terms of pay/benefits? 

—A union will fight for you to be paid more, more equitably and receive incentives that you may have never considered.

—We will do a salary analysis (confidentiality assured) that maps out where journalists are based on their level of experience — and work to even out disparity in our pay structure. That will not mean pay cuts — a union wouldn’t be doing its job if it somehow reduced your pay. We will honor confidentiality — and will honor the direction that the majority of our union members want us to head in. 

—We will fight to increase incentive pay where applicable — be it in book creation, speaking engagements, photography, radio/television appearances, book signings, etc. 

We have staffers who come up with innovative ideas, books, projects, web sites, all the time. We deserve to be rewarded for our attempts to bolster the product we provide readers. An example: a photographer who has worked for Lee’s newspaper in St. Louis estimates that he has spent a little more than $1,000 a year in union dues over the past 10 years. He has calculated benefits of more than $80,000 in that 10 years — from raises and fees he didn’t realize he should be earning, i.e. from reprints of his photos.

—Even if you’re not in line for that kind of pay, we will work to bolster your current benefits. Lee Enterprises has been known for cost-cutting measures that include trying to take away fleet cars and force staffers to use their personal cars on assignment. Health care? 401k match? All of it is on the table. We need a voice at the table. 

—And should that unenviable day come where we’re shown the door, the union will fight for better severance packages. BH Media’s one-week-for-every-year severance package is paltry. BH also imposes an insulting cap on severance pay at 18 years of service — meaning you get no credit for the years you’ve labored for this newspaper beyond 18 years.  Without a union, you’ll be told to take it or leave it. As a union, we will fight for better severance packages. 

Will people find out how much/little I make?

No. A union executive committee will protect the confidentiality of your wages. They will not be posted on dataomaha.com or anywhere else. 

Will I be inviting repercussions if I vote for the union?

No one will know your vote — it’s confidential.

How will union activity be received?

As long as you are participating in union activity on your own time — before or after work, during breaks — your union and free-speech rights are protected. It is illegal for the company to punish you for union activity. If the company violates the law, the guild will aggressively seek sanctions through the National Labor Relations Board.   

How will union activity look on my resume?

First off, union membership shows you care about the future of your organization and are willing to fight for it. But if you have a concern and wanted to remain quiet, how would another organization know whether you were a member of the union or not?  

I’m afraid a union will have stewards who monitor my work hours and won’t let me work as much as I want to?

Stewards are not going to be micromanaging us.  Our jobs are still going to be the same — it’s just that for the first time in our professional lives, we’re going to have a voice.

It’s just not for me. 

Please consider the larger group. Fact is, we’re unionizing so that we can have solidarity as we continue to put out a paper that we all can be proud of. Without a union, we have no idea who we’ll be working for or with, or for how long. We’ll have no say in pay or layoffs and little say in the quality of the newspaper we produce. Please consider the larger group, and our collective cause, when it comes time to vote.

What is Lee’s track record?

From CJR, earlier this year: Lee “slashed total employment by about 42 percent between 2012 and 2017.” From Poynter, earlier this year: “Lee Enterprises had an advertising revenue loss of 9 percent in the last quarter of 2017, but was able to increase profits with cuts in people and paper and a favorable income tax adjustment.”

At the same time, Lee has a record of lavish executive pay, even as layoffs riddle the company. By the end of 2017, Mary Junck had made just shy of $2 million for that year. President Kevin Mowbray made $2.2 million that same year. CFO Ron Mayo made $1 million; and two other VPs made $500,000 each.

Their compensation was similar from 2012 to 2017, meaning pay in the range of more than $20 million over arguably the toughest era in the newspaper industry. 

A St. Louis union member says that Lee operates on revenue quotas. If the St. Louis paper doesn’t meet quotas each quarter, layoffs immediately follow. “Like clockwork,” he said. A staffer in Madison, Wisc., echoed that. Staffers also say that Lee is notorious for beat upheaval. The union will fight to keep in place the people who have generated expertise on their beats.   

What will happen if we don’t unionize? 

We can cross our fingers and hope that management — whoever they are — treat us right. Without a union, we will have little recourse if they don’t. We also will have no ability to speak up for the people on the chopping block; nor will we be able to apply any public scrutiny to the pay and expenditures of the management group that leads us.

What’s the reason to not unionize?

We can’t think of any. So we seriously want to know what concerns/questions you have that aren’t addressed above. 

What’s at stake?

In a word: Journalism.

Local control, too.

Throughout its storied history, the World-Herald has been locally owned, locally edited, locally run. We have serious concerns about the wisdom of an out-of-state company running us, along with every major news outlet and digital operation in this state. Without a union, the newspaper that we have worked so hard to build will be left to the unchecked management whims of an out-of-state company beholden to stockholders. Lack of local control — if paired with lack of accountability — could lead to a listless product.

Consider … In this decade alone, without The World-Herald, Nebraskans would have never known:

—Our Lt. Governor was having affairs, via state-issued cell phone. 

—Our Nebraska Supreme Court justice resigned after a history of #metoo behavior.

—An incoming Omaha schools superintendent was embroiled in an affair, using her school-issued cell phone.  

—Our prisons weren’t collecting DNA from felons, as required by law. 

—Our prisons were releasing inmates early. 

—Goodwill executives were burning through donors’ money, on the pretense of being do-gooders.

***It is no coincidence that four of the above major stories were scoops of the Lincoln paper — a product of the healthy competition between us.

 And Nebraskans would not have enjoyed: 

—A sports section that routinely is ranked in the top 10, top 5, top 3 in the nation, with the best columnists and staffers who have been named sportswriter of the year 14 of the past 18 years. 

—The best restaurant and movie reviews we’ve ever had in our paper, along with a new web site devoted to dining in Omaha. 

—Comprehensive coverage of Nebraska and Omaha schools, city councils and planning boards.

—Comprehensive coverage of the Legislature and state government. 

—The best coverage of Omaha business and industry, growth, development and real estate. 

—Unparalleled insight into Nebraska politics and elections. 

—Award winning columnists who enlighten, engage and enrage our readers. 

—The best headlines, and line editing, from our acclaimed copy desk. 

—A website devoted to all things moms, with witty columns and advice.  

—A website devoted to public accountability. 

—A website devoted to healthy living.  

—A booming book/special sections department.

—The state’s first newspaper-based radio experience.

—Incredible video, even mini-documentaries, courtesy of an expanded photo/video department. 

—The only local reporter chronicling our power brokers in Washington, D.C.

—Unparalleled coverage of the exploits of high-schoolers, both students and athletes. 

—Award-winning editorials and the nationally acclaimed editorial cartoons of Jeff Koterba.  


About The NewsGuild-CWA

NewsGuild_logoThe NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America represents 25,000 members across the media industry and has been actively organizing major media chains this year. The NewsGuild’s member include journalists and other media workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico at publications and digital sites that include The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Denver Post and Consumer Reports. Formerly known as The Newspaper Guild, the union was founded by journalists in 1933. The Guild merged with the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America in 1995.