Northampton City Council backs NewsGuild in contract dispute

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For the Gazette
Published: 5/7/2021 5:50:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Reporters and their co-workers at the Daily Hampshire Gazette got some support Thursday from the very people whose feet they’re paid to hold to the fire.

Northampton’s City Council, on first reading, voted unanimously — with one councilor, at-large councilor William Dwight, recusing himself — to stand in solidarity with the paper’s unionized employees, and to pass a resolution calling for Newspapers of New England to swiftly bargain a fair contract with them. NNE is the Gazette’s parent company.

“The key to effective government is an unbiased media. A newspaper is critical to that,” council President Gina-Louise Sciarra said. “Reporters need to know that their work is valued.”

The union, the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild, has been in contract negotiations with NNE for more than two years. Amid cutbacks to staff and outsourcing of the paper’s printing operations, the remaining employees, describing themselves as “overworked and exhausted,” want assurances that their jobs won’t be outsourced and that the union contract survives if NNE sells the newspaper.

Gazette and NNE President Aaron Julien on Friday issued the following statement: “While we appreciate that the City Council cares about the unique contribution the Gazette makes to the community, the Council’s decision to put its thumb on the scale in private contract negotiations based on one-sided assertions should be a wake-up call to everyone who lives and does business in Northampton. This resolution will not change our position or approach on any issue regarding negotiations. We look forward to reaching agreement with the Guild.”

During public comment at Thursday’s council meeting, many residents offered support of the Gazette workers and the resolution, which was sponsored by councilors Sciarra, Karen Foster, Marianne LaBarge and Rachel Maiore.

“I think we can all agree that part of a well-functioning society is an active press, with a staff and resources to get the job done,” said Jeff Jones of Ward 6, a labor organizer. “We can’t have that operation run by a bunch of bean counters. Then they bring in a notorious anti-union, anti-worker law firm. The writing is on the wall.”

Jones was referring to NNE handing over negotiations to the law firm Seyfarth Shaw.

Christine Reilly of Northampton said that the paper provides a valuable service and took issue with the “confusing and misleading full-page ad in the paper the other day and their bringing in a union-busting law firm.”

The Gazette published the ad in Thursday’s edition, in which Julien offered the newspaper’s position regarding negotiations to date to counter claims made by the guild.

In the ad, Julien states that the company is not attempting to strip union members of cost-of-living increases. He also took issue with several other Guild assertions, including that the company has not agreed to bargain with the union in more than a month and that the newspaper has cut staffing levels to unsustainable lows.

“Guild employees have not missed any cost-of-living increases” since the election to form a union, including during last year’s pandemic, Julien said in the ad. “During the same period, many employees represented by the NewsGuild at other newspapers went without any increases due to challenging industry and economic conditions.”

Cost-of-living raises, a given for decades at the paper, have been a bone of contention during talks, with both sides accusing the other of stalling.

“They say they’ll keep that intact, but if it’s not in the contract it goes away,” said reporter Bera Dunau, the union council chair. “People have asked if we look at NNE as an evil empire. We don’t believe that is the case, but they should stop acting like it. Bringing in the law firm that had Harvey Weinstein as a client?”

“We provide a bit of truth to the community,” said Gazette reporter Dusty Christensen, who listed the staffing cuts, editor by paginator by reporter, “and a features editor, two photographers and an editor-in-chief. We’re not asking for the moon — just stop the outsourcing, give us a little bit of job security, like our efforts are valued. NNE has taken a different approach.”

Council discussion

During council deliberations, Ward 1 Councilor Michael Quinlan talked about his first job: delivering the Gazette after school, including to activist Frances Crowe’s house. “I wonder what Frances Crowe would think … about an organization that lays off her neighbors,” he said. “Newspapers of New England should negotiate in good faith and bring our printing and reportage home.”

Ward 2’s Foster welcomes scrutiny from the paper of record. “It’s important to have that accountability,” Foster said. “It’s a rare instance when I haven’t had a Gazette reporter call me for a name-spelling or something nuanced.”

“They’re fighting for something that shouldn’t take two years,” Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge said. “They’re working under terrible conditions, with layoffs after layoffs. I am telling you I am with them 100%.”

“When the Gazette started having financial issues I realized I had been taking for granted how much I rely on its coverage,” Ward 7 Councilor Rachel Maiore said. “Local journalism is not just a nice thing; local news should be considered a public utility.”




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