Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Media Ignoring Labor Union Successes

by Randy Shaw

Labor unions have had some tremendous successes in recent weeks, but you would never know this from the mainstream media.

The Teamsters won bargaining rights for 7600 workers at Continental Airlines, which only rated a small non-bylined story in the Business Section of the New York Times and was ignored by other national media.

UNITE HERE Local 11 is waging an inventive contract campaign against Disney that included several workers on a week long fast, a tent camp out, and candlelight vigil outside Disneyland -- all providing good photo ops -- yet media outside Southern California ignored these efforts. Even worse, the February 15 New York Times ran a story on Disney’s promotion at the Epcot Center in Florida of a “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” charitable project. The contrasting Disney coverage is but one example of how the media has shifted its approach to labor activism so that such stories are treated as strictly local news.

Yet news about corporations, as well as local shootings, fires or climate events, get national coverage.One reason that I write so frequently about labor activism is that the mainstream media has largely abandoned this entire area of news.

The past month alone has seen NUHW’s landmark victory at Kaiser, the Teamsters victory at Continental, solidarity between IBEW and UNITE HERE in rallies in Las Vegas, and between NUHW and UNITE HERE in Southern California protests, yet all only garnered local coverage.

The reasons are many. Few newspapers still have a regular labor reporter, with those like Phil Dine at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Steve Franklin at the Chicago Tribune now gone without being replaced. The Washington Post no longer has a reporter covering labor exclusively, nor the Boston Globe, nor the Detroit papers.

The rare stories that editors allow to go forward are increasingly assigned to business reporters, who lack the knowledge of labor issues and must tread carefully to avoid alienating the corporations they regularly cover.

Norma Rae Would Be Ignored Today

The absence of labor reporters is a symptom of a larger media trend that now sees union activism and elections as deserved only of local coverage, while corporate news wins national attention. So the New York Times reports on Disney’s public relations event in Orlando, Florida is reported by, while UNITE HERE’s far more newsworthy event at Disneyland gets only local press.

Similarly, the Teamsters victory at Continental was based in Houston, and the Houston Chronicle’s business section ran a very positive account of the workers 13-year struggle -- with five prior defeats -- to win unionization. But the rest of the national media largely ignored the story, with the Times running a small non-bylined story in the Business section.

It was not so long ago that union struggles warranted national coverage.

For example, the Teamsters’ 13- year struggle at Continental sounds a bit like the longtime campaign by southern textile workers to organize a union at J.P. Stevens. This struggle became immortalized in the film Norma Rae, which was based on Crystal Lee Sutton’s real life role in winning support for the union.

Now I don’t know if anyone at Continental held up a large sign with the word “Union” as Sutton did, and the work conditions at Continental are likely not as onerous as those found in textile mills. But I suspect there were a number of gripping human stories surrounding the Teamsters 13 year struggle that deserved national attention, yet were ignored.

Sutton’s death last September justifiably received widespread attention. I’m sure the longtime union activist would recognize the irony that her death received far more media attention than is granted to any worker in an ongoing labor struggle; if Sutton held up the sign “Union” today, few would ever hear of it.

East Coast Bias

In addition to restricting union successes to local coverage, East Coast bias may be at play. I saw this firsthand on Cesar Chavez Day last March 31 when neither the New York Times nor Washington Post even mentioned Chavez, despite his birthday being a holiday in California and several other states (and the recent Inauguration of a president whose “Yes We Can” campaign theme was borrowed from the UFW’s “Si Se Puedé.”).

As with the J.P. Stevens campaign, Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement received significant national media coverage in an era when the media still framed labor struggles as national stories. Today, the New York media appears to see the UFW’s rise as a California story, ignoring all three books about Cesar Chavez and the UFW released since the fall of 2008, including my Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (in contrast, New York media gave major coverage in 2009 to two books on the legacy of conservative East Coaster William F. Buckley).

East Coast bias is part of the reason for the lack of national coverage of UNITE HERE’s Disney campaign, NUHW’s David and Goliath victories over SEIU, or the alliance between UNITE HERE Local 226 and IBEW 1245 that on February 9 brought over 400 workers to a street protest against Nevada Energy in Las Vegas.

But this East Coast bias does not apply to national coverage given to other West Coast events, such as the recent transit station beating in Seattle or crime and climate stories, which, like stories about corporations, are seen as national.

Deciding What’s News

It makes a difference when Disney Corp. gets New York Times coverage for its charitable endeavors, while its effort to raise health care costs for UNITE HERE workers at its famed Disneyland Hotel is ignored.

It also makes a difference when a national story line emerges of declining union membership and labor on the defensive, while the national media ignores NUHW’s victory at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, part of the largely non-union St. Joseph’s Health Systems.

The media blackout of labor success’s contributes to a popular mindset that unions are outdated, and that their failures are self-inflicted, rather than a direct result of hostile employers and anti-union labor laws.

The popular media image of labor “bosses” has no place for stories of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka getting arrested in support of striking hotel workers; we are far from the days when the arrival of a national figure like Trumka can get the media to “nationalize” a labor struggle, even when it is part of a nine-city national hotel campaign.

When you read about dwindling newspaper readership, consider how the struggles of working people are no longer considered newsworthy.

It’s not just the Internet that has driven down circulation; rather, it’s hard-pressed workers not finding stories that have meaning to them, and then saving money by canceling subscriptions.

Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Read About it Here!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Globe Union Feels ‘Betrayed’ As Times Bosses Paid Millions

By Christine McConville - Boston Herald Reporter

Boston Globe union members are telling their bosses at the New York Times [NYT] Co. that they want their money back.

The furious scribes learned last week that the architects of last year’s brutal $20 million in cost cuts were richly rewarded for their efforts.
And now, as the Boston Newspaper Guild prepares to negotiate a new contract, its members say they want the money they gave up last year.

“We are insulted, but we also feel betrayed that you would reap such profits at a time when so many of your employees have lost so much,” the Boston Newspaper Guild says in a letter addressed to New York Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Chief Executive Janet Robinson.

The scathing missive is circulating 11 months after Times executives came to Boston and delivered a staggering ultimatum: The paper’s unions had to trim $20 million from their payrolls or the Times Co. would close the Globe.

After a few stormy months, the unions conceded, and a grateful Sulzberger came from Manhattan to thank them.

Two weeks ago, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing showed that in 2009, Robinson’s compensation rose 32 percent, to $6.2 million, while Sulzberger’s pay more than doubled to $5.9 million.

“We want the New York Times leadership to know that we’re angry and disgusted by their greed and hypocrisy,” the union’s letter states. “The recent SEC filings make it look like almost all of our sacrifices went to pay the two of you.”

Lawyers Have Billed Tribune Co. $138M Since It Filed For Bankruptcy

By Michael Oneal, Tribune reporter

Kevin Carey isn't likely to win any awards for reining in runaway bankruptcy fees. But at least he took a stab at it.Carey was the U.S. bankruptcy judge in Delaware who last year warned lawyers in the Tribune Co. case that they had better think twice about charging more than $1,000 an hour.Chicago's Sidley Austin, the lead debtor's attorney, filed a top rate of $925.

New York's Chadbourne & Parke, which represents unsecured creditors, charged $955.
Both firms have managed to do pretty well anyway.

In the 15 months since Chicago-based Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy, law firms and other professionals have billed the media conglomerate $138 million, or about one-quarter of the company's cash flow last year, an analysis of court documents shows.

Sidley's take alone is pushing $25 million, and the case is far from over.As big as those numbers are, experts agree, the spending is hardly unusual.Major cases in recent years — Enron ($793 million), United Airlines ($296 million), Delphi (just under $400 million) — have been colossally expensive. And the monstrous Lehman Brothers case, now under way in New York, will dwarf all of those. After just 17 months it has generated fees of $457 million, and that jumps to more than $700 million if you include management fees earned by restructuring specialist Alvarez & Marsal.

Bankruptcy fees have been rising at a rate of 8 percent to 10 percent annually over the past decade, far outpacing inflation, estimates Lynn LoPucki, a bankruptcy scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles law school. And the upward pressure is likely to build in the coming years as more companies try unsuccessfully to refinance a mountain of bubble-priced debt in a weak, reluctant market."It's very troubling," said Robert White, a retired bankruptcy specialist with O'Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles. "In the last 15 or 20 years it's gotten a lot worse."Despite some grumbling, debtors, creditors and judges seem resigned to the trend.

With the exception of Carey's early flash of concern, neither he nor the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee charged with overseeing fees in the Tribune Co. case have blinked at the millions of dollars flowing out of the estate each month.

Stuart Maue, the St. Louis firm hired to examine fee applications, has challenged a tiny sliver of the billings so far, and its own $812,642 in fees are almost triple the $265,869 in savings it has found.

The only serious challenge to the Tribune Co. fees has come from junior bondholders. They are contesting an out-of-court agreement under which Tribune Co. paid $25 million to cover professional fees incurred in just the first 10 months of the case by the banks that provided the financing for the company's failed 2007 leveraged buyout. The move has generated lots of claims and counterclaims — and even more fees — but Carey has yet to rule.For the law firms, attention tends to focus on those eye-popping top rates pulled down by a handful of partners like lead attorneys James Conlan of Sidley (who recently got a raise to $950) and Howard Seife of Chadbourne (now at $965).

But the real cost stems from the army of professionals deployed. More than 160 people at Sidley have spent the equivalent of 4.6 years on the Tribune Co. case at an average rate of about $500 an hour.

Sidley's Conlan acknowledges that the costs are high but says they are market rate. The complexity of the case, he said, demands wide and diversified legal resources, and "it would be difficult to argue that Chapter 11 isn't the best way to preserve value."Nevertheless, some costs are hard to fathom. Sidley has spent $110,000 making copies. The top four professional firms in the case have billed a total of $1.2 million to cover the cost of preparing those bills.

Don Liebentritt, chief legal officer at Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, said he has little choice but to pay up."Would we like it to be less expensive?" Liebentritt asked. "Sure. But you need to retain the best people possible to do what you need to do. … What I have to pay is determined by the market."

Many bankruptcy experts connect the rising costs to the fact that cases have become infinitely more complex in the years since the federal Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 gave corporate managers the ability to design their own restructurings and negotiate solutions with creditors.

Early on, the process was relatively orderly. Debtors obtained a high degree of control over their fate. Unsecured creditors got a single voice in negotiations through a creditors committee paid for by the estate. The senior creditors were usually one or two big banks that presented a unified front. Lawyers tended to follow a regular set of strategies to forge a workable compromise.

The cost of fighting in court can be seen plainly in Sidley's Tribune Co. billings. For the first eight months of the case, Sidley spent $1.3 million on litigation-related issues. But after the case began to focus on charges by junior bondholders that the 2007 LBO was improper, litigation fees jumped to $4.2 million over the next five months.

One byproduct of all these changes is that bankruptcy court became a magnet for the sort of highly paid gladiators who flocked to mergers during the 1980s. Big firms built major practices, creating scarcity value by offering capabilities smaller firms couldn't match.

In Chicago, that has paid dividends as firms like Sidley, Kirkland & Ellis and Skadden carved out major national franchises rivaling New York for big cases."Bankruptcy has become an elite practice," Baird said. "There's a superstar phenomenon like in all professions."

One reason the fee issue is so difficult to solve, said Seton Hall law professor Stephen Lubben, is that the outcomes of Chapter 11 arguably justify the costs. Companies with billions in assets and thousands of employees emerge with unencumbered balance sheets and a new lease on life. Despite the chaos, creditors of all kinds can also get their day in court, or choose to sell into a liquid market.

The problem, critics argue, is that incentives to control costs may be getting lost. Theoretically, all sides are hurt if fees whittle away the value of the bankruptcy estate. So all should be prudent in launching new litigation and vigilant over a sprawling posse of attorneys and investment bankers working by the hour.

But in practice, it is more complicated. Motivations can become so fragmented in a complex case that relying on each party's self interest to protect the estate doesn't always work. Management may be more interested in survival than trimming lawyer fees. If a hedge fund buys a bond for 10 cents on the dollar, the goal may be to simply double its money by fighting for a recovery of 20 cents. The long-term fate of the company may not figure into the calculation at all."If somebody thinks they can get more of a recovery in a courtroom than in a conference room, that means complex litigation at a high cost," Butler said.

Adding to the problem is the industry's reluctance to police itself.

To hold down costs in the Lehman case, for instance, the court formed a fee committee composed of representatives from the debtor, the creditors, the U.S. Trustee and Kenneth Feinberg, President Barack Obama's pay czar.

Feinberg has issued more challenges than the average fee examiner. But he has been met with howls from high-profile firms like Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Jones Day, which have successfully pushed back. Filings show that the biggest battle has been waged over how to account for the hours spent preparing fee applications.

The time spent debating the issue, of course, will be billed to the estate.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bondholders Demand Tribune Return Bank Payments

By Tom Hals - Reuters
Bondholders Seek Return of Fees Paid to Defend Against Claims of Bondholders
WILMINGTON, Del., March 26 (Reuters) Tribune Co-bondholders asked a judge on Friday to force the return of $117 million the publisher made available to banks for their legal fees stemming from the company's 2007 leveraged buyout.

Bondholders said that the company agreed with JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) to make the payments through a subsidiary that is not part of the bankruptcy to elude what they said was required court approval for the payments.

The dispute stems from the company's 2007 acquisition that put real estate developer Sam Zell in control of the publisher of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

The Zell deal also piled $8 billion in loans on the company, subordinating the claims of bondholders.

Tribune filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

The company expects to file a plan of reorganization by the end of March, and the biggest issue is likely to be the treatment of buyout-related claims by bondholders.

The bondholders have said their main hope for a recovery in the bankruptcy hinges on litigation against banks and Tribune management for their role in the buyout which bondholders blame for the company's bankruptcy.

The publisher told the official committee of unsecured creditors and the government official that oversees the bankrupt about the fee arrangement, a Tribune lawyer told the judge.

"That's precisely why we went to the committee and to the trustee," said James Ducayet, of Sidley Austin, which represents Tribune. If they objected to the payments, "they would have let us know noisily."

Bondholders called it ironic that money from the company, which could be used to pay bondholders, was being used to defend banks against bondholders' claims.

Management knew "that there was going to be a contest over this leveraged buyout and they understood their officers and directors would be implicated in that contest and they understood they wanted a partner in this restructuring process," said Daniel Golden, an attorney for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which is representing Centerbridge Credit Advisors, a bondholder. "And they bought this partner with these payments."

An attorney for JPMorgan called that the "the most outrageous allegation of the day."

Tribune's subsidiary, TCV, has paid about $24 million to the banks that arranged the leveraged buyout.

Tribune agreed in December to halt payments from the subsidiary, although cash continues to accumulate there.

The judge, Kevin Carey, urged the parties to reach an agreement on their own and took the matter under advisement.

The case is In re Tribune Co, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 08-13141. (Editing by Derek Caney)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Corporation For Public Broadcasting Will Save Journalism

By Alex Alvarez -
Corporation for Public Broadcasting has announced a new program today, aimed at funding original, local reporting projects. The plan includes opening seven regional "Local Journalism Centers," which will hire teams of reporters, community outreach managers, and editors to produce locally-relevant news items for public television, radio and digital platforms. The centers will be funded by the CPB and local stations, with the CPB investing an estimated $7.5 million over two years and an additional $3 million coming from local stations.

Additionally, CPB will provide funding for the Public Media Platform, a project combing the efforts of NPR, PBS, APM, PRI and PRX to develop a "prototype for a flexible common platform to support public media innovation and collaboration." According to a press release by the CPB, the Public Media Platform's ultimate goal is to "collect, distribute, present and monetize digital media content efficiently, allowing producers and stations to devote their resources to reporting, content production and community engagement."

As Patricia Harrison, CEO and President of CPB, explains, both projects are meant to fill a gap left by a decline in quality reporting and a dwindling number of news sources:
As Patricia Harrison, CEO and President of CPB, explains, both projects are meant to fill a gap left by a decline in quality reporting and a dwindling number of news sources:
In a time when newspapers and other media organizations are cutting back or disappearing altogether, public media is strengthening its commitment to journalism. We're putting our innovative spirit and strong local and national infrastructure to work for the American people in new ways - filling gaps in news coverage and using new platforms to ensure everyone has access to the most trusted source for in-depth reporting, analysis and investigative journalism.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tribune Moves Second Bonus Plan


WILMINGTON, Del. — The Tribune Co. will be allowed to withdraw a motion seeking court approval of two management bonus plans worth more than $20 million and instead include them in its reorganization plan, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The U.S. trustee and a union for employees of The Baltimore Sun have fought against the bonus plans, which were the subject of extensive court filings and oral arguments before Judge Kevin Carey.

In January, Carey approved a separate bonus plan allowing bonuses of up to $45 million for hundreds of Tribune Co. managers, including its top 10 executives.

But the judge had yet to rule on two other bonus plans, one authorizing up to $10.6 million to 21 managers, including the top 10 executives, and the other allowing bonuses of up to $9.3 million for 23 people, including six of the top 10 executives.

Rather than waiting for a possibly adverse ruling on the remaining two plans, Tribune filed a motion earlier this month indicating that it instead wanted to incorporate them into a reorganization plan.

The request was opposed by the trustee and the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents about 230 employees of The Sun.

"Now, they seek to back out of the contested matter that is before the court," argued Joseph McMahon Jr., an attorney for the U.S. trustee. "We think it's appropriate for the debtors to lie in the bed they've made."

But Carey noted that, had he ruled against the bonuses, he would have ruled "without prejudice," meaning Tribune would have been allowed to submit a different bonus proposal.
"I don't sense the unfairness with letting the debtor come back with the same or a modified proposal," Carey said, adding that any bonuses incorporated in a reorganization plan would still be subject to objections.

"That's not prejudging anything," he added.

In other developments, Carey granted banks that financed Tribune's 2007 leveraged buyout more time to respond to a lawsuit by Tribune bondholders who claim the banks knew that the resulting debt load would leave the company insolvent. The banks, which faced an initial response deadline of April 5, were given until April 30 to answer the lawsuit.

Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and other dailies, along with 23 TV stations, filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008 because of dwindling advertising revenue and a crushing debt load of $13 billion. Much of that debt was amassed when real estate mogul Sam Zell took the company private in 2007.

Wilmington Trust Co., agent for holders of $1.2 billion in Tribune bonds sold before the buyout, alleges that the deal was fraudulent because it loaded up the company with too much new debt that was used to cash out Tribune stockholders. The bondholders want the judge to reject the banks' secured claims, or at least have them paid only after the bondholders' unsecured claims are satisfied. Typically, secured claims get higher priority.

Defendants in the lawsuit include JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America and its Merrill Lynch subsidiary.

JPMorgan, joined by Merrill Lynch, has filed a motion seeking sanctions against Wilmington Trust for disclosing confidential information in its complaint. Tribune, meanwhile, argues that the bondholders have violated the automatic halt, or "stay," to litigation that a bankruptcy filing brings. Tribune is asking that the bondholders be held in contempt of court, and that all proceedings related to the complaint be halted.

The defendants in the lawsuit noted that if the judge rules in favor of their motions, which will be heard April 13, they may not need to answer the lawsuit.

"We believe the stay violation must necessarily be determined before anything further is allowed to go on with the complaint," said Madlyn Primoff, an attorney for Merrill Lynch.

Wilmington Trust attorney William Dolan III argued against giving the defendants more time to fashion a response.

"We'd like an answer to the complaint," said Dolan, who described the disclosure of confidential information in the lawsuit as "an honest mistake" that was quickly addressed.

But Dennis Glazer, an attorney for JPMorgan, noted that the same law firm representing the bondholders was involved in a similar disclosure of confidential information in another bankruptcy case.

"The explanation of honest mistake rings a bit hollow when somebody is a serial killer," he said.

Court Lifts Ban On Media Cross Ownership

The FCC voted to adopt one modest portion of the 6/2/03 media ownership rulemaking back in December of 2007 -- partial relaxation of the ban on the crossownership of broadcast and print properties in a single market, applicable to the top 20.

It’s pretty much been frozen under appeal since then, until now. The Third Circuit has decided to lift the freeze and proceed with the case.

The FCC under Chairman Julius Genachowski had asked that the rules continue to be frozen, since the FCC was in the process of reviewing them anyway as part of the Quadrennial Review.

The Court decided to move forward despite this request. The FCC’s preference to keep the rule frozen was not unanimous on the 8th Floor.

The Court’s current move was hailed by FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who petitioned it for just such a move in a letter last April.

McDowell said, “I am pleased that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has decided to move forward promptly with its review of the Commission's 2007 media ownership decision -- and to lift the stay that until today has frozen in place burdensome ownership rules that are many years out of date.”

He continued, “As I said in the letter I filed at the Third Circuit last spring, when the court was contemplating a change in the Commission's position concerning the timing of court review, I favor swift action on the pending appellate challenges.”

He concluded, “The lifting of the stay on the Commission's very modest relaxation of the newspaper/broadcast crossownership rule is particularly appropriate given the economic upheaval affecting the ongoing viability of many daily newspapers and broadcast stations. I also believe that the Commission can only benefit from instruction of a Third Circuit ruling on the 2007 ownership rules as we begin the next round of the statutorily required quadrennial review of the regulations.”

The decision Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit lifts the Federal Communications Commission's "cross-ownership" ban.

That restriction had remained in effect under a stay issued by the court in 2003 as it has tried to sort out legal challenges to attempts by two previous FCC chairmen, Republicans Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, to relax the rules.

The decision comes as the current FCC, now under Democratic control, gears up for its next congressionally mandated review of its media ownership rules. Those rules, which the agency must review every four years, include the cross-ownership ban and limits on the number of television and radio stations that one company can own in a market.

In the meantime, some media companies already own newspapers and television stations in the same market because they were grandfathered in when the rules were first put into place in 1974.

The current court case began when Powell tried to lift the cross-ownership ban in large media markets and raise the caps on TV and radio station ownership. That effort drew legal challenges from public interest groups that said he had gone too far and from media companies that said he had not gone far enough.

The Third Circuit sent the matter back to FCC, telling it to rewrite the rules. And that led Powell's successor, Martin, to try to ease the cross-ownership ban in big media markets — drawing more legal challenges from both sides.

The court, however, held off on deciding those cases because the agency had said it wanted to reconsider Martin's actions. Yet the FCC has made no progress on that front and has instead punted the issue to the upcoming review of the media ownership rules. Tuesday's court decision allows Martin's relaxed rules on media ownership to take effect.

According to Andrew Jay Schwartzman, head of the nonprofit law firm Media Access Project, the decision signals that the court has lost patience with the FCC.

Media Access Project has led the public interest coalition in its fight against any relaxation of the rules, warning that too much media consolidation would lead to less diversity in media coverage. Schwartzman said that while he is disappointed by the court's action, he understands why it is frustrated with the FCC's slow pace.

Free Press, another public interest group involved in the challenges, called on the FCC "to take decisive action to protect media diversity and to encourage competition in local news."

Robert McDowell, one of two Republicans on the five-member FCC, welcomed the court's move to lift "burdensome ownership rules that are many years out of date." He added that the decision is "particularly appropriate given the economic upheaval affecting the ongoing viability of many daily newspapers and broadcast stations."

Still, John Sturm, head of the Newspaper Association of America, said he does not expect a wave of media companies to start buying up newspapers and TV stations in the same market. Even the eased rules adopted under Martin come with some restrictions.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Unfair Labor Practice Charges and Demonstrations Launched by Workers at WGME-TV

IBEW Local Union 1837 has filed two unfair labor practice charges against WGME-TV and Sinclair Broadcast Group in recent weeks.

Now, union members there are have begun a series of public demonstrations against the Portland television station for what we see as the company’s illegal actions and their attempts at union busting.

On Wednesday, March 17, from 7:30 – 8:45 a.m. and from 12:45 – 2:00 p.m., workers at WGME-TV and their allies demonstrated in front of Northport Business Park on Washington Avenue in Portland, where the studios and offices of WGME-TV are located.

Most workers at WGME-TV, channel 13 in Portland had their pay cut as much as 10% as Sinclair Broadcast Group began implementing part of their last contract offer without the agreement of the workers and their Union.

As the union’s Negotiating Team brought new proposals to the bargaining table in hope of reaching a contract agreement with the Company, WGME 13 and Sinclair pulled the plug on the talks by declaring the sides were deadlocked – even as they thanked the workers’ union for all the movement they were making.

Throughout negotiations, Sinclair has insisted on “complete flexibility” in assigning bargaining unit work to non-bargaining unit employees, supervisors and managers, as well as future “discretion” in granting raises and changes in employee benefits. It is clear that Sinclair’s intention is to destroy the coherence and viability of the bargaining unit.

Although IBEW had reluctantly proposed a wage freeze for at least a year, the Company has insisted on pay cuts for most of the union workers at WGME 13.

At the bargaining table, Sinclair and WGME 13 admitted that these cuts were not because of any financial crisis, but simply because they felt that their workers were overpaid.

To some, it appeared that the Company was taking advantage of the current economic downturn to force unnecessary concessions on their workers.

“Once again, corporate greed has reared its ugly head,” said Matt Beck, who worked as a Producer-Director at WGME 13 for close to twenty years before joining the IBEW staff. “You’ve got a huge, profitable broadcasting corporation from out-of-state, trying to boost their earnings by taking money out of the pockets of their workforce. I don’t think that WGME’s viewers – or their advertisers – will stand for that kind of behavior.”

Other changes implemented by the Company include restricting when employees can take vacations and taking away other benefits that had been previously negotiated.

IBEW Local 1837 has determined that the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. and WGME-TV failed to live up to their obligations to bargain in good faith under the National Labor Relations Act.

When they implemented parts of their “last and final offer” (including wage cuts) before reaching an impasse in contract negotiations with IBEW, and later also took steps to make the collection of union dues more difficult, they violated the rights of IBEW members at WGME-TV.

Charges were filed on Friday, February 19 and Thursday, March 4 at the Office of the National Labor Relations Board Regional Director in Boston. The actions of the Company are unfair to our members at WGME-TV, and we believe they are illegal and constitute attempts to bust the union.

“We’re disappointed by Sinclair’s decision to do this to their workers at WGME 13,” said IBEW 1837 Business Manager Cynthia Phinney. “These folks give their all in what are often stressful jobs. By bringing news and public affairs to the local community, they provide an important public service. They deserve to be treated better than this.”

IBEW 1837 is proud to represent most of the people who work behind the scenes at WGME 13. These broadcast professionals include the Operating Technicians, News Editors, Assignment Editors, Photographers, Engineers, Producers and Directors who create and produce a variety of news and public service programs, commercials and station promotional announcements. Our members have been recognized for their outstanding achievements in television by a diverse group of local, state, and national organizations of journalists and broadcasters.

WGME 13 is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., of Baltimore, a publicly traded company. The predominantly non-union Sinclair owns, operates or provides services to 58 television stations in 35 broadcasting markets. Sinclair purchased WGME-TV from the locally-owned Guy Gannett Communications in 1998. In a recent SEC filing, the company notes that approximately 100 out of 2,400 employees are represented by a union.

How You can help Us!

If you would like to support us, please contact the management of WGME 13 and station owners Sinclair Broadcast Group. Tell them that it's time to give IBEW workers at WGME a fair contract offer now!

Phone: Call WGME at 800-766-9330 or Sinclair Broadcast Group at 410-568-1500.

Sinclair Broadcast Group email:

Tell them that IBEW employees at WGME 13 deserve a fair contract now!

Grievance Handling For Stewards and Representatives - Free Webinar

Grievance Handling for Stewards and Representatives Webinars
From the convenience of your desk, attend four informative, practical and lively webinars on handling grievances in the public and private sectors from Cornell ILR, the leading university labor studies program.

Cost: Attend the first session at no charge! We’re convinced that you’ll like this new method of learning well enough that you will want to sign up for sessions 2, 3, and 4 at the low cost of $50 per session.

The Basics – what is a grievance; types of grievances: contractual, disciplinary, group or class action; rights and responsibilities of union grievance handlers: equity rule, duty of fair representation, right to information, investigatory interviews (Weingarten); arbitration: what it is, who are arbitrators, why it matters to how you handle grievances at lower steps.
Wednesday March 31, 2010 1:00 – 2:15 pm (EST) NO CHARGE!

Investigation – what to do when members come to you; getting the facts: interviewing the grievant, witnesses, management, information requests, getting and using relevant documents; reading and interpreting contracts: how arbitrators decide cases, evaluating the facts and deciding on next steps; investigation checklist; writing grievances.

Wednesday April 7, 2010 1:00 – 2:15 pm (EST) Fee - $50

Meeting with Management – preparing for informal and official grievance meetings with management; effectively representing at meetings: assertively getting heard, sample language for presenting grievances, using strengthens, minimizing weaknesses, probe for settlements, meeting check list.
Wednesday April 14, 2010 1:00 – 2:15 pm (EST) Fee - $50

Handling difficult supervisors and situations –dealing with stalling, stonewalling, intimidation, side tracking, promising but not delivering and other management behaviors; when the grievance procedure isn’t working – mobilize members: what is mobilizing to build power, choosing issues, getting member participation, strategies and tactics.
Wednesday April 28, 2010 1:00 – 2:15 pm (EST) Fee - $50

For more information or to register:

Other programs of interest:
Spring 2010 Labor Studies On-line Credit Courses
April 5 – June 14, 2010 Tuition per 3.0 credit course is $555.00

Collective Bargaining (LS200)
This course examines the principles of contract bargaining including bargaining environments and structures as well as standards used in negotiations. Students will learn to prepare bargaining demands, cost economic items, draft non-economic language, negotiate economic and non-economic issues, and resolve a bargaining impasse. Discussion will consider the impact of bargaining outcomes on workers, unions, employers, and the public.

Workplace Communications (LS249)
Nothing happens in the workplace without communication, yet poor communication is at the root of many problems for unions and employers alike. The result is poor decisions, internal conflict, lost productivity, wasted time dealing with internal problems, and even downsizing.
Labor Leadership Skills Online Certificate
Cornell Labor Leadership Skills training is designed for current and future leaders in labor and non-profit organizations. These workshops focus on skills useful to new or developing leaders. These skills-based online workshops help deepen the knowledge needed to build and re-build strong and effective organizations.

Online workshops are of three weeks duration based on 3.3 hours per week for a total of 10 contact hours (1.0 CEU).
These online workshops require access to the internet and email. Participants are expected to log in on at least 6 different days over the three week period.
These workshops include group projects and role plays to encourage participation and interaction with help from guest instructors from labor, academic, and labor relations professionals.
Participants successfully completing six different workshops receive a Labor Leadership Skills certificate from Cornell ILR.
Conflict Resolution
April 5 – 25, 2010

This tools-building workshop is designed as an introduction to dispute resolution theory with special emphasis on interest-based problem-solving. The workshop will utilize role plays, exercises, case studies and other tools to allow participants to practice what we teach. Special emphasis will be given to developing strategies to resolve conflicts at work (even with difficult people) without losing control.

Key Topics
• Interest-Based Problem-Solving
• Facing Conflict Without Aggression
• Dealing with Difficult People
• Role Plays with Labor Leaders

Negotiation Skills
May 3 – 23, 2010

This is a practical, how-to-work to give union negotiators and bargaining committee members skills they need to prepare for contract negotiations. Exercises used throughout the workshop improve negotiation skills and tactics. This workshop will focus how to negotiate an agreement how to manage and minimize concessionary agreements.

Costing Out Contracts
June 7 – 27, 2010

Motivation and Productivity
August 9 – 29, 2010

Advanced Negotiation Skills
September 7 – 27, 2010

Running Effective Meeting
October 4 – 24, 2010

Strategic Action Planning
November 1 – 21, 2010

Grievance Writing
December 1 – 21, 2010

Instructor Arthur Wheaton has extensive expertise in international labor union and management relations. He has a Masters degree in Labor Relations and Human Resources. He is an Industry Education Specialist for Cornell University ILR School in Buffalo, NY and former union steward and executive board member for AFSCME, Local 1585.

Registration Visit our website for registration and payment information.

Need More Information?

If you would like to obtain additional information and your union is interested in scheduling a credit course or non-credit workshop on-site please email or call
Art Wheaton at (716) 852-1444 x 116 for more information
Cornell University ILR School
Arthur Wheaton, Director
237 Main Street, Ste. 1200
Buffalo, NY 14203-2719

Sunday, March 21, 2010

House Approves Landmark Bill to Extend Health Care to Millions, For Consumers, Clarity on Health Care Changes


Published: March 21, 2010 The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Congress gave final approval on Sunday to legislation that would provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and remake the nation’s health care system along the lines proposed by President Obama.

By a vote of 219 to 212, the House passed the bill after a day of tumultuous debate that echoed the epic struggle of the last year. The action sent the bill to President Obama, whose crusade for such legislation has been a hallmark of his presidency. Democrats hailed the vote as historic, comparable to the establishment of Medicare and Social Security and a long overdue step forward in social justice. “This is the civil rights act of the 21st century,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House.

After a year of partisan combat and weeks of legislative brinksmanship, House Democrats and the White House clinched their victory only hours before the voting started on Sunday.

They agreed to a deal with opponents of abortion rights within their party to reiterate in an executive order that federal money provided by the bill could not be used for abortions, giving the Democrats the final votes.

Democrats said that in expanding access to health coverage for uninsured Americans, they were creating a new program every bit as important as Social Security and Medicare, while also putting downward pressure on rising health care costs and reining in federal budget deficits.

Republicans said the plan would saddle the nation with unaffordable levels of debt, leave states with expensive new obligations, weaken Medicare and give the government a huge new role in the health care system. The debate on the legislation has highlighted the deep partisan and ideological divides in the nation and set up a bitter midterm Congressional election campaign, with Republicans promising an effort to repeal it or block its provisions in the states.

Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio, said the bill heralded “a new day in America.” Representative Doris Matsui, Democrat of California, said it would “improve the quality of life for millions of American families.”

But Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, denounced the bill as “a fiscal Frankenstein.”

Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, called it “a decisive step in the weakening of the United States.”

Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, said it was “one of the most offensive pieces of social engineering legislation in the history of the United States.”

The passions swirling round the bill were evident Sunday on the sun-splashed lawn south of the Capitol. Hundreds of protesters chanted, “Kill the bill” and waved yellow flags declaring, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

They carried signs saying, “Doctors, Not Dictators.”

The health care bill would require most Americans to have health insurance, would add 16 million people to the Medicaid rolls and would subsidize private coverage for low- and middle-income people, at a cost to the government of $938 billion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office said.

The bill would require many employers to offer coverage to employees or pay a penalty.

Each state would set up a marketplace, or exchange, where consumers without such coverage could shop for insurance meeting federal standards.

The budget office estimates that the bill would provide coverage to 32 million uninsured people, but still leave 23 million uninsured in 2019. One-third of those remaining uninsured would be illegal immigrants.

The new costs, according to the budget office, would be more than offset by savings in Medicare and by new taxes and fees, including a tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans and a tax on the investment income of the most affluent Americans.

Cost estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, showing that the bill would reduce federal budget deficits by $143 billion in the next 10 years, persuaded some fiscally conservative Democrats that they should vote for the bill.

Democrats said Americans would embrace the bill when they saw its benefits, including some provisions that take effect later this year.

Six months after the legislation is enacted, many plans would be prohibited from placing lifetime limits on medical coverage, and they could not cancel the policies of people who fall ill.

Children with pre-existing conditions could not be denied coverage.

Health insurers, for example, could not deny coverage to children with medical problems or suddenly drop coverage for people who become ill.

Insurers must allow children to stay on their parents’ policies up to their 26th birthday.

Small businesses could obtain tax credits to help them buy insurance.

And within three months of the law’s taking effect, people who have been locked out of the insurance market because of a pre-existing condition would be eligible for subsidized coverage through a new high-risk insurance program.

That special coverage would continue until the legislation’s engine kicks into a higher gear in 2014, when coverage would be extended to a wider part of the population through Medicaid and new state-run insurance exchanges. Those exchanges, or marketplaces, are meant to provide much more competitive, consumer-friendly online shopping centers of private insurance for people who are not able to obtain coverage through an employer.

In 2014, people with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied insurance, all lifetime and annual limits on coverage would be eliminated and new policies would be required to meet higher benefit standards.

Even sooner, in 2013, affluent families with annual income above $250,000 would be required to pay an additional 3.8 percent tax on their investment income, while contributing more to the Medicare program from their payroll taxes.

And eventually, the most expensive insurance policies would be subject to a new tax.

Here is a look at some of the main ways the health care overhaul might affect household budgets.

The Uninsured

Although most Americans who do not obtain health insurance would face a federal penalty starting in 2014, many experts question how strict the enforcement of that penalty would actually be.

The first year, consumers who did not have insurance would owe $95, or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater.

But the penalty would subsequently rise, reaching $695, or 2 percent of income.

Families who fall below the income-tax filing thresholds would not owe anything. Nor would people who cannot find a policy that costs less than 8 percent of their income, said Sara R. Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, an independent nonprofit research group.


Medicaid, the federal health insurance plan for the poor, would cover lower-income individuals under the age of 65. Under the new rules, households with income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $29,327 for a family of four, would be eligible.


Most other uninsured people would be required to buy insurance through one of the new state-run insurance exchanges.

People with incomes of more than 133 percent of the poverty level but less than 400 percent (that’s $29,327 to $88,200 for a family of four) would be eligible for premium subsidies through the exchanges.

Premiums would also be capped at a percentage of income, ranging from 3 percent of income to as much as 9.5 percent.

The basic plan would cover 60 percent of the cost of the benefits. The proposal would limit out-of-pocket costs at $5,950 year for an individual and $11,900 for a family.

The exchanges would offer three other benefit plans, covering 70 percent to 90 percent of costs.

A plan for catastrophic coverage would be available to people up to the age of 30 and those who are exempt from the requirement to obtain insurance.

People with pre-existing conditions who have been turned down for health insurance could sign up for a high-risk insurance pool that would be available within 90 days and remain available until 2014.

Within six months, insurers would be prohibited from denying coverage to children based on pre-existing medical conditions, from placing lifetime dollar limits on coverage and from rescinding coverage when a person becomes sick or disabled.

The ban on exclusion based on pre-existing conditions would be extended to every one when the exchanges are operational in 2014.

Premiums for older people cannot be more than three times the premium for young adults.

Insurers competing in the new exchanges would be required to justify rate increases and those who raise prices excessively could be barred from the exchanges.

Insurers would be required to spend more of their premium revenues — between 80 to 85 cents of every dollar — on medical claims. According to a recent Senate Commerce Committee analysis, the largest for-profit insurance companies spend about 74 cents out of every dollar on medical care in the individual market.


The exchanges would also help people who lose their jobs, quit or decide to start their own businesses. “If you lose your employer-related insurance, you will be able to move seamlessly into the exchange,” said Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Moreover, people of any age who cannot find a plan that costs less than 8 percent of their income would be allowed to buy a catastrophic policy otherwise intended for people under age 30.


People who receive coverage through large employers would be unlikely to see any drastic changes, nor should premiums or coverage be affected. But almost everyone would benefit from new regulations, like the ban on pre-existing conditions that would apply to all policies come 2014.

There might even be cases where people would be eligible to buy insurance through an exchange instead of through their employer, Professor Jost said: those who must pay more than 9.5 percent of their income for premiums, or those whose plans do not cover more than 60 percent of the cost their benefits.


One of the biggest changes involves the Medicare prescription drug program. Its unpopular “doughnut hole” — a big, expensive gap in coverage that affects millions — would be eliminated by 2020. Starting immediately, consumers who hit the gap would receive a $250 rebate.

In 2011, they would receive a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs.


Starting in 2018, employers that offer workers pricier plans — or those with total premiums of $10,200 or more for singles and $27,500 for families — would be subject to a 40 percent tax on the excess premium, said C. Clinton Stretch, managing principal of tax policy at Deloitte.

Retirees and workers in high-risk professions like firefighting would have higher thresholds ($11,850 for singles, or $30,950 for families), pegged to inflation. Although the taxes would be levied on the insurer, experts expect the assessment to be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher premiums or reduced benefits.

The Democratic effort to secure the 216 votes needed for passage of the legislation came together only after last-minute negotiations involving the White House, the House leadership and a group of Democratic opponents of abortion rights, led by Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan. On Sunday afternoon, members of the group announced that they would support the legislation after Mr. Obama promised to issue an executive order to “ensure that federal funds are not used for abortion services.” Mr. Stupak described the order as a significant guarantee that would “protect the sanctity of life in health care reform.”

But supporters of abortion rights — and some opponents — said the order merely reaffirmed what was in the bill.

The procedural vote on Sunday, approving the terms of debate, had put the House on track to approve the health care bill that was passed by the Senate on Dec. 24, on a party-line vote. That bill will soon become the law of the land, the White House said.

House Democrats were also poised to pass a separate measure that would make significant changes and corrections to the Senate bill. That measure would go to the Senate, where the majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, has promised to take it up in short order. Mr. Reid said he had the votes to pass it, though he faces resistance from Republicans.

The House galleries were full, and the floor was unusually crowded, for the historic debate on health care. Passage of the bill would be a triumph for Mr. Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Working together, they revived the legislation when it appeared dead after Democrats lost their 60th vote in the Senate and with it their ability to shut off Republican filibusters.

Republicans said they would use the outcome to bludgeon Democrats in this year’s Congressional elections. The White House is planning an intensive effort to convince people of the bill’s benefits. But if Democrats suffer substantial losses in November, Mr. Obama could be stymied on other issues, including his efforts to pass major energy and immigration bills.

The campaign for health care overhaul began as a way to help the uninsured. But it gained momentum when middle-class families with health insurance flooded Congress with their grievances. They complained of soaring premiums. They said their insurance had been canceled when they got sick “It’s not just the uninsured,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “We also have to worry about people with insurance who find, for crazy reasons, that they are somehow going to be denied coverage.”

Lawmakers like Representative Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, sustained the drive for universal insurance coverage. Adding urgency to the debate were the strident complaints of employers, especially small businesses, who said they were being crushed by the cost of employee health benefits.

In the end, groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business tried to stop the bill, saying it would increase the cost of doing business. But other groups, including the American Medical Association and AARP backed it, as did the pharmaceutical industry.

The Lawmakers agreed that Sunday’s debate was historic, but they were poles apart in assessing the legislation.

Ms. Pelosi said the bill would free people to pursue their dreams without having to worry about being bankrupted by medical bills or losing health insurance when they switch jobs. “It’s liberating legislation,” Ms. Pelosi said. “It’s to free Americans to live their passion, reach their aspirations without being job-locked because they have to have health care, especially if they have someone in their family with a pre-existing condition.”

Representative Rodney Alexander, Republican of Louisiana, said, “You cannot expect to expand coverage to millions of individuals and to curb costs at the same time.”

Republicans said the picture painted by the budget office was too rosy, because the new taxes and fees would start immediately, while the major costs would not show up for four years. Moreover, Republicans said Democrats would pay a price for defying public opinion on the bill.

“Are you so arrogant that you know what’s best for the American people?” Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia, asked the Democrats. “Are you so ignorant to be oblivious to the wishes of the American people?” Lawmakers spoke with deep conviction in explaining their votes.

“Health care is not only a civil right, it’s a moral issue,” said Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, who invoked the memory of his father, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, a lifelong champion of health care for all.

With this legislation, 32 million currently uninsured Americans will gain health insurance coverage, this is a good start on universal healthcare, but we are far from finished here, with 22 million people still left uninsured.

Everyone in the United States of America, the wealthiest nation in the world, deserves basic healthcare coverage.

Women should not be denied access to abortion coverage, the right to choose should not be only for the wealthy.

The rich and the large corporate entities need to pick up a much larger share of the cost of America’s social safety net.

In our life time we have seen an extraordinary expansion of democracy, corporate power, and corporate control of the media as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

This country can never be the land of the free for any of us unless we make it the land of the free for all of us.

There is no freedom for those who endure abject poverty, only despair, and there is no salvation for those who ignore the plight of the hungry and homeless, when they have the means to eliminate it. - Bob Daraio

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bulletin: CEO Dubow earned $4.7 million last year; includes $1.5M bonus after he ordered mass layoffs

Gannett Blog

Gannett paid Chairman and CEO Craig Dubow $4.7 million last year, a sharp increase over the $3.1 million he took home in 2008, the company just disclosed in a regulatory filing.
Dubow's 2009 pay included a bonus of $1.5 million, the filing shows, and came after he engineered record layoffs and other cost cutting across the company.

Gracia Martore, promoted last month to president and chief operating officer, got $4 million as chief financial officer, more than doubling her $1.4 million in 2008. Her 2009 bonus: $950,000, this morning's filing shows.

The figures, disclosed in the annual shareholder's proxy report, came after Gannett shed more than 6,000 jobs during the year through cuts that included a broad layoff in July.

The company also imposed two rounds of furloughs and a one-year wage freeze for employees in the U.S. newspaper division and elsewhere.

Combined, those moves helped drive Gannett's stock to yesterday's close of $16.78 from a 2009 low of $1.85.

Martore's big pay increase was foreshadowed last month by a 50% boost in stock options granted to her by the board of directors over what she got a year ago. That followed the board's decision earlier in the month to promote her to president and COO -- a reward for her role as the prime architect of the cost-cutting drive that pulled the company from the brink of bankruptcy.

The company also disclosed annual pay for three other top executives in the document's summary compensation table:

Bob Dickey, president of the U.S. newspaper division: $1.9 million, including a $410,000 bonus

David Hunke, publisher of USA Today: $1.9 million; bonus: $355,000

Chris Saridakis, the chief digital officer: $1.3 million; bonus: $330,000

With her promotion last month, Martore got a $250,000 raise in her annual base pay, to $950,000, effective this year, Gannett disclosed at the time.


It is easy to reduce operating costs by cutting staff, cutting wages and benefits on the remaining employees, and degrading the quality of your product. Such behavior is neither innovative nor sound long-term financial thinking. It is certainly not worthy of giant executive bonuses.

It would be far more impressive if Gannett's management team had been able to turn the company around and revive the stock price through creativity, innovation, and increased shareholder value by increasing the demand, and resulting sales, for their product. Now that would have been bonus worthy. - Bob D

Friday, March 19, 2010

IATSE Local 600 Supports The House Affordable Health Care Reconciliation Bill

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The next 48 hours are crucial to us in passing health care.

After a lot of deliberation by the IATSE and other national unions, the AFL-CIO has decided today to put our strong, active support behind the President's health care bill. After 60 years of fighting for health care reform, we are convinced that now is the time to say "Yes." This health care bill is good for working families-now and even more in the future.

It is not a perfect bill. But we are realistic enough to know it's time for the deliberations to stop and for progress to begin. And we are idealistic enough to believe this is an opportunity to change history we can't afford to miss.

If this legislation is not enacted, the bottom will fall out of existing health coverage in short order. A study released this week found that, if action is not taken now:

Spending by individuals and families for their share of insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs will increase 79% by 2020.

Employer premium spending will jump by 98%.

The uninsured population will increase by 10 million people by 2015 and nearly 20 million by 2020.

More than half of the growth in the uninsured will come form moderate and middle income families.

But this doesn't have to happen if members of Congress stand up for their constituents and stand up to the insurance industry by voting to pass health reform legislation in the coming days.
The bill now before Congress has a wide range of health insurance reforms that would:

Save families between $2000 a year (CBO) and $3000 (Business Roundtable) in premium payments by 2019.

Cap out of pocket costs and eliminate insurance company limits, both annual and lifetime
Effectively end medical bankruptcies - now running 700,000 a year in the US, two-thirds of which involve "fully insured" people - by eliminating insurance limits and capping out-of-pocket costs.

Covers an additional 32 million people, or 95% of the population

Ban coverage denials or higher rates due to pre-existing conditions

Outlaw practice of insurers dropping coverage when someone files a claim or is diagnosed with a condition requiring expensive treatment

End gender discrimination in setting insurance rates

Establish a procedure to review insurance premium increases and take action against unreasonable rate hikes.

Please generate as many calls as possible on Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20 urging your Representative, in no uncertain terms, to vote for the House Affordable Health Care Reconciliation Bill.

Following is a link that will help you find the phone number and email address of your Representative.

The House Energy & Commerce Committee has an excellent district-by-district breakdown of the impact of the reconciliation bill, with lots of facts and figures. Check it out before you speak with your member of Congress, at:

The "reconciliation bill" now before Congress is a solid, credible beginning towards complete health reform - not a baby step or a half-measure, but a comprehensive reform bill that will set our country on a path to health care that really works for working families.
Thanks to President Obama's leadership, and that of Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid, the reconciliation bill fixes major flaws in the Senate version of health reform legislation:
It eliminates 80% of the excise tax, also known as the Cadillac tax, that would have penalized working families and,

It substitutes in its place a progressive tax on the wealthy that requires Medicare contributions be paid on unearned income for the first time.

It cuts brand name drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries by 50% in 2011 and closes the Medicare prescription drug "donut hole" completely by 2020.

It increases subsidies to purchase health insurance for those with low and moderate incomes.
Please do your best to contact the Representative from your district as soon as possible to tell them to support the Health Care Reconciliation Bill. This may not be the perfect bill but American families need it passed now.

This is crunch time and we need your support.


Steven Poster
President, IATSE Local 600

FCC On Comcast/NBCU: Speak now, With Time For Rebuttal

RBR-TVBR Reports:

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told the Senate Commerce Committee recently that the Commission was just about ready to put the proposed merger of Comcast and NBCU before the public for comment, and true to his word, it is now before the public. And the FCC seems to be expecting a contentious debate. It normally provides for a comment date and a response-to-comments date – this one has a response to the response-to-comment deadline already tacked on.

The opening due date for comments is 5/3/10;

deadline #2 is 6/2/10; and

deadline #3 is 6/17/10.

“On March 5, 2010, the Applicants filed an economists’ report entitled ‘Application of the Commission Staff Model of Vertical Foreclosure to the Proposed Comcast-NBCU Transaction,’ which they have requested be considered as part of the Application,” explains the Commission.

“The proposed transaction would combine the broadcast, cable programming, motion picture studio, theme park, and online content businesses of NBCU with the cable programming and certain online content businesses of Comcast. We seek comment from all interested persons to assist the Commission in its independent review of this proposed transaction.”

The matter is listed under MB Docket No. 10-56.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

CT Attorney General Ignores Tribune's Newspaper/TV Merger

Excerped from an article By CHRIS POWELL , The Middletown Press

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator, is being mocked for remarking during a debate the other day that the many lawsuits brought by his office against businesses “actually create jobs because businesses welcome competition and a level playing field. What they really want is fair enforcement.”
People laughed because at so many press conferences in his 20 years as attorney general Blumenthal has made a career of posing as the avenging angel against supposed offenses that might better have been settled in small claims court or were quickly forgotten or were not really offenses at all.
Blumenthal is right about facilitating job creation by enforcing rules of fairness in the economy, like antitrust law.

Unfortunately at crucial moments the avenging angel sometimes prefers preening his feathers to engaging in legal combat.

A year ago the attorney general wrote to the CEO of Tribune Co., Sam Zell, expressing concern that the media conglomerate might merge its Connecticut newspaper, the Hartford Courant, the state’s largest, with its two Hartford-area television stations, diminishing their independence.

(The attorney general didn’t mention it, but for 10 years now Tribune has operated the TV stations on temporary waivers of federal rules against such cross-ownership.)

While the Courant had just cut its news staff by half and the TV studios were being moved into the Courant’s building, Zell replied implausibly that the Courant and the TV stations would keep making news decisions independently.

Having been assured that no combination was happening even as the TV stations’ moving vans rumbled past his office, the attorney general dropped the issue.

But at a journalism seminar in Hartford the other day the Courant’s editor was quoted as saying about the newspaper and the TV stations: “They are us. We are them.”

The attorney general is making no further inquiry. Level playing fields in the economy are nice but he has a Senate campaign to run.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Funding for Newsgathering Dries Up

WASHINGTON: Extreme newsgathering reductions in 2009 overshadowed any innovations in journalism, the Pew Research Center said today.

Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released the results of its State of the News Media 2010, the results of which are grim:

- Newspapers spend $1.6 billion a year less on reporting and editing than they did 10 years ago.

- Network news staffs are estimated to be half of what they were in the 1980s.

- Local TV newsrooms personnel have dropped 6 in the last two years, by around 1,600 jobs.

- Local TV revenue fell 22 percent in 2009.- Radio was down 22 percent.

- Magazine revenues fell 17 percent.

- Network TV fell 8 percent.

- Online ad revenue fell 5 percent.

Pew said that among the commercial news sectors, only cable did not suffer declining revenue and layoffs in 2009. “Last year was significantly harder on the news industry even than 2008, and the report predicts still more cutbacks in 2010, even with an improving economy,” the Pew’s Tom Rosenstiel said. “And while there is more discussion of alternative ways of financing the news, there is not yet much concrete progress.”

One such source--non-profits--have invested just $141 million in media since 2006. How news operations will be funded in the future remains to be seen. Nearly half of the 37 publicly traded media companies with current data lost money in 2009. Pew’s outlook for local news was sobering: “

Almost all the indicators for local TV are pointing down,” the PEJ report said. “Audiences continue to fall for newscasts across all timeslots. Revenue, too, was in a free fall. Looking ahead, most market analysts project revenues to grow only slightly, but that is hardly taken as good news given that it is a year that will include both the off-year elections and winter Olympic Games.”

Pew said the audience for local news is deteriorating faster than that for network news. Viewership was off 6.4 percent last year, four times the rate of 2008. “Most analysts predict a better 2010, buoyed by economic recovery, a Supreme Court decision overturning limits on campaign spending and a midterm election year.

But those numbers will be pressured still by continuing audience declines and a wider range of advertising options,” the report said.

An estimated 450 jobs were lost at TV station news operations last year, in addition to the 1,200 cut in 2008, Pew estimated. At the same time, the amount of news increased from 4.1 hours to 4.6 hours.

TV stations also changed hands rapidly in 2009, some due to bankruptcy.

Pew researchers found 76 station transactions valued at $715 million, compared to 46 valued at $537 million in 2008. The decline was attributed to the squeaky credit market alongside diminished station values.

Contrary to any previous assumptions about the Internet, it’s unlikely to generate resources sufficient to support news operations. TV station digital revenues represented just 3 percent of the total, versus 10 percent projected by analysts.

Drilling further into Web use, 79 percent of online news consumers said they’d never or rarely clicked on an ad. Just 35 percent could identify a “favorite” news Web site, which doesn’t bode well for the type of pay-walled garden News Corp. is implementing for The Wall Street Journal.

Just 19 percent of news surfers said they’d continue using a site if it started charging fees. The most-traversed online news sites were also extensions of traditional media brands, Pew said.

Of 4,600 news sites tracked by Nielsen, the top 7 percent got 80 percent of the traffic. Of the top 200, legacy media represented 67 percent. Another 13 percent were aggregators, e.g., Google News; and 14 percent were online-only sites producing original content.

Pew’s 25-page “2010 State of the News Media Executive Summary” is available at

(Image of makeshift ENG truck by SMB Shutterbug)