May 22, 2012
Management of the Bay Area News Group-East Bay, a local affiliate of MediaNews and Digital First Media, met with East Bay media workers Tuesday for preliminary talks over a new collective bargaining agreement between BANG and Pacific Media Workers Guild.
The East Bay media workers, who work in a consolidated staff environment with San Jose Mercury News workers, are paid 25 percent less, on average, than their South Bay counterparts. The East Bay workers have a problem with that, according to a bulletin issued Tuesday, and are asking management for a new contract that aligns their pay and benefits closer to Mercury News workers.
Management has long sought staff consolidations to reduce operating costs.
Staff of the East Bay papers, including the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune, are regularly assigned stories and projects in the South Bay where staff of the Mercury News traditionally had exclusive jurisdiction. Now, with border lines all but gone, work is shared across all various nameplates, sometimes with an East Bay byline appearing on the front page of the Mercury News.
And while management is able to cut costs via staff consolidation, East Bay members of the Media Workers Guild continue to be paid far less than their South Bay counterparts. The disparities in pay and benefits are the legacy of the Merc’s history as a separate, metro daily, while the East Bay papers, for much of their history, never showed much aspiration beyond their hometowns.
That’s changing. BANG now reports consolidated circulation and claims to have the biggest staff — not staffs, plural, but a single cluster of newsroom professionals — covering the region, and yet expects the East Bay employees to keep chugging along as second-class workers even though they labor for the same bosses and do essentially identical work, often in the same places of work.
In an open letter to employees Tuesday, East Bay workers declared the start of their campaign for parity:
“We share bylines. We share editors. Our work appears in the same papers. It appears on the same websites. But we do not share parity,” the letter reads. “The average East Bay editorial employee is paid 25% less than the minimum paid to a Mercury News reporter with six years of experience. We do not feel 25% less talented. We know we are not 25% less productive. We do not deserve 25% less pay. We do not deserve 25% less respect.”
Union negotiators made “parity” the opening theme of Tuesday’s contract talks. Management responded with sympathetic words wrapped in depressing talk about a shortage of revenues. But as Guild members made clear in their letter, it may not be easy to knock them off their goal, suggesting fairness and parity are matters of principle.
The battle promises to heat up in June as negotiations continue. Contract talks are also under way in San Jose and soon the San Francisco Chronicle unit of the Guild will also begin talks with the Hearst Corp.