Michael Miner’s November 18 Hot Type article about the linkup between the Chicago Newspaper Guild units from the Sun-Times and Pioneer Press omits many facts and appears to accept some revisionist history hook, line, and sinker.
Despite having talked to Mr. Miner for hours last week at his urging, Pioneer union members are left with only a few “heated” quotes while the Sun-Times unit chair maintains several times that Pioneer editorial members only “perceived” that the Sun-Times would walk for them. Mr. Miner also calls the linkup a “vague” concept.
There was nothing vague about it. Omitted from the story are the following facts:
1) Both Pioneer editorial and Sun-Times union members approved the linkup in formal votes after detailed explanations of what the linkup entailed.
2) It was clearly understood from the very beginning by leaders from both units that there would be no settlements until all contracts were adequately settled.
3) Sun-Times Unit Chair Charles Nicodemus posted a question-and-answer memo early in the process making the concept of the linkup clear to his members and our members before they formally voted to approve the linkup.
4) Questions from all members about whether Pioneer would walk for the Sun-Times and whether the Sun-Times would walk for Pioneer were raised throughout the process. Leaders from both units continuously told members that either scenario could occur as a part of the conditions of the linkup. And, in fact, Pioneer employees had their coats in hand and boxes packed November 7–ready to walk out the door whether it was for Sun-Times issues or Pioneer issues.
5) On strike day, Pioneer union leaders directly raised objections to the negotiator and the Sun-Times bargaining team that written details of the Pioneer settlements had not yet been obtained. The Sun-Times bargaining team approved its tentative contract but only after assuring the Pioneer leaders that its members were still fully behind the linkup and were able to honor that linkup because a ratification vote had not yet taken place. It was made clear on that day that should Pioneer management not live up to its agreement, the Sun-Times members were still in a position to walk out the door with their Pioneer brothers and sisters.
6) Mr. Miner quotes Mr. Nicodemus’s memo but he leaves out another important aspect of the memo, which stated that no ratification vote would take place if the Pioneer contracts were not settled. The only reason the Pioneer contracts were settled is because Mr. Nicodemus told Pioneer members before the vote that the Sun-Times contract would be ratified no matter what.
7) The linkup was not sold to the Sun-Times by Pioneer Press union members. It was developed by Guild Executive Director Jerry Minkkinen, who was representing both Pioneer and the Sun-Times in contract talks. It was agreed from the beginning that both Pioneer and the Sun-Times would benefit equally from coordinated bargaining.
8) The linkup did result in restarting talks at Pioneer and in some noneconomic contract gains. But it cost Pioneer more. In August, the company threatened to remove retroactive pay from its last offer should Pioneer not approve a contract in a week. It refused (in a 41-1 vote) and went ahead with the linkup. It now has the same rotten wage proposal the company offered in February (the worst ever accepted by Pioneer employees) without any retroactive pay after nearly 18 months without a contract.
It gives us no pleasure to write this letter. Conflict between Pioneer and the Sun-Times units is just what the company set out to accomplish in the most venal and ruthless ways possible. It successfully ripped apart this carefully developed relationship.
But we feel we must be truthful about the facts. And it is factual that the linkup was real and clearly defined by Pioneer Press and Sun-Times leaderships–not some “vague” concept that will “end up being clearer at the end than the beginning.”
The linkup was important and necessary protection against a company that declared war on its employees both downtown and in the suburbs. The best way to defend against such corporate brutality was and is for workers to stick together and make sure there are only two sides to the battle. Michael Miner’s article doesn’t convey the Sun-Times’s real commitment to the linkup and Pioneer Press. Sun-Times leadership doesn’t appear to acknowledge that Pioneer brothers and sisters were left hanging when they counted on clearly defined promises made to them from beginning to end.
We’re disappointed that the Sun-Times leadership is accusing our members of unrealistic expectations–of being “so enthralled” by the Sun-Times effort on their behalf that “they came to believe that if they wanted the Sun-Times unit to go out it would.”
No one really benefits from this inaccurate rendering of the facts. Except the company.
Bargaining Team Coordinator
Michael Miner replies:
Perhaps I accepted some revisionist history. But my description of the linkup as a vague concept was not based solely on Charles Nicodemus’s description of it as something that will “end up being clearer at the end than the beginning.” In fact, when Nicodemus said that, he was agreeing with an observation I made to him. Over the course of numerous conversations with different guild members, I’d had so much trouble getting a grip on the “linkup” that I finally decided it was largely intangible. To the extent it bound the two units irrevocably to each other’s causes it seemed to be illegal; short of that it consisted of good faith, high hopes, and an air of danger that hopefully would daunt the company. One guild member even denied to me at one point that a linkup actually existed. Clearly, that was a minority view. Just as clearly, the linkup wasn’t forged of steel, and at some point self-interest could sever it.