Friday, December 27, 2013

Tribune Closes Local TV Purchase, Now Owns 39 TV Stations

$2.7B Deal Adds 19 Stations to Fold

Tribune Co. said Friday that it has closed its transaction to acquire broadcaster Local TV, creating one of the largest broadcast groups in the country.

“This is a historic day for Tribune and Local TV,” Tribune CEO Peter Liguori said in a statement. “Combining these two great media companies will deliver tremendous benefits for our viewers, advertisers, and most important, the communities we serve. This is a transformational acquisition for Tribune, providing us with significant scale to drive our business objectives and create substantial shareholder value.”

The $2.7 billion acquisition was first announced in July. The Federal Communications Commission approved the deal on Dec. 20.

As a result of the transaction, Tribune now owns 39 television stations across the country. In addition, Tribune will provide certain services to support the operations of three former Local TV stations owned by Dreamcatcher Broadcasting LLC.

The combined broadcast portfolios include 14 Fox affiliates, 14 CW affiliates, 5 CBS affiliates, 3 ABC affiliates and 2 NBC affiliates. Tribune owns 14 stations in top-20 markets and the company is now the No. 1 Fox affiliate group and the No. 1 CW affiliate group in the country. The transaction added market-leading stations in prime cities such as Denver, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Milwaukee to the Tribune line-up.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New Day New York Rally and March to Foley Square, Thursday, Dec. 5 at 4:30pm

Thursday, Dec. 5 at 4:30pm at the SW corner of Chambers and Center Streets for a Rally and March to Foley Square

Join us for a massive citywide mobilization unifying fast food workers, union members, activists and faith leaders in a Foley Square gathering and march to demand a tax on millionaires, universal pre-K for all children, good wages for all workers, affordable housing, quality healthcare, an end to inequality and the tale of two cities and the start of One New York that works for #AllOfUS.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

N.Y. Newspaper Guild Members Ratify New Contract at Standard & Poor's

S&P Members Ratify Contract 11NOV13
N.Y. Guild Members Vote Yes!
Guild members vote to ratify the new contract at S&P
in the first of three ratification meetings, the ayes had it, including bargaining committee members Joe Agnese, front row left, and Peter Burke. - See more at:
N.Y. Guild members at Standard & Poor’s overwhelmingly ratified a three-year contract on Monday that includes a 9 percent pay package of wages and merit pay, cash payments estimated to be more than $8,500 for employees with at least five years of service and an extra three years of service credit in a defined benefit pension plan that will be frozen at the end of the year. The first annual pay hike of 3 percent is retroactive back to April 1.

NY Guild President, Bill O'Meara explains the details of the new 3 year contract
NY Guild President, Bill O'Meara explains the details of the new 3 year contract

More than half of the Guild members at S&P turned out to vote at the three meetings held at the S&P building in lower Manhattan. Contract talks began in March, with management demanding a pension freeze, which it had already done to non-Guild employees, and reduced employment security, which Guild negotiators fended off.
in the first of three ratification meetings, the ayes had it, including bargaining committee members Joe Agnese, front row left, and Peter Burke. - See more at:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Good Til The Last Drop: The Future of Advance Publications and The Plain Dealer in the Wake of "Digital-First" Media

From Hell and High Water by Rebecca Theim, © 2013, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

After seeing what had happened in New Orleans and the seeming advantage the element of surprise there had given Advance, newsroom employees of the Cleveland Plain Dealer launched their own pre-emptive move in anticipation of being the next Advance newspaper in line for the "digital-first" experience. (Like the Times-Picayune, Advance officials acknowledged that the Plain Dealer was still profitable, at least as of the end of 2012.) 

The "Save The Plain Dealer" campaign borrowed some of New Orleans's tactics, although it was able to launch a true advertising campaign thanks to the financial support of Newspaper Guild Local 1, one of only four unions left at Advance newspaper nationwide, and the guild's parent organization, the Communications Workers of America. (The other three unions at Advance newspapers are at the company's largest, the Newark [N.J.] Star-Ledger, where employees responsible for printing and production of the newspaper are represented by the Graphic Communications Conference Local 8-N, Teamsters Graphic Communications Conference Local 1L, and Teamsters New Jersey Mailers Local 1100.17)

The Plain Dealer's campaign included half-page ads in the newspaper, bus placards, and YouTube video spots featuring union members and Cleveland celebrities alike (actress Valerie Bertinelli from the TV show Hot in Cleveland was one), emphasizing the importance of a daily newspaper and lobbying for its preservation. "We're trying to get out ahead of this thing and give people a stake and a say in what happens," John Mangels, the leader of the guild committee that created the marketing campaign, told the Plain Dealer in early November 2012. "It really ought to be the community's fight as well as ours."

Advance's target in Cleveland, however, appeared to be less the daily print newspaper, and more the newsroom's union. 

In a deal reached in late 2012 between the Guild and Advance, the union accepted a workforce reduction of fifty-eight employees in exchange for a guarantee of no further large-scale layoffs through 2019. Without the agreement, Advance warned it would purge eighty to eighty-five Plain Dealer employees when the current contract expired in a few months, and also would likely begin docking employees' wages for a portion of health insurance premiums now covered by the company. 

The new contract instead protects most existing Guild members, restores the 8-percent wage cut they had taken to avoid layoffs in 2009, and provides for Advance to shore up their underfunded pension and health care funds.

Although potentially devastating for the roughly sixty employees who have or will ultimately lose their jobs, the union contract looked surprisingly generous on the part of Advance—until one looked at the fine print. Previously, work by non-union journalists was prohibited from appearing in the pages of the Plain Dealer, while Plain Dealer reporters' work appeared both in the newspaper and on, an arrangement that assured the union local would be supplied with new members as long as a print newspaper existed. 

That, however, changed under the new contract, with online reporters' work now also being allowed into the pages of the newspaper. "It's a major concession by the Newspaper Guild, and it'll weaken the union over time, since new hires will likely be on the online side," Cleveland Magazine senior editor Erick Trickey wrote on the publication's blog. The change will result in a "shrinking unionized newsroom and a new, non-union digital news staff."

The union acknowledged as such. "A big part of that is we've given them some language that could, over the years, really diminish our numbers," Guild chairman Harlan Spector told "That was probably the biggest and hardest thing we gave up, and it was a very contentious point," the Guild's administrative officer, Rollie Dreussi, recalled in a May 2013 interview with me.

"We understand what it could mean in the long run, but no one knows for sure how it will work out. Sometimes you have to do what you can to stay in the battle just to keep fighting the war." The symbolism of Advance's checkmate also probably resonated with its historically anti-union owners. The "1" in "Local 1," after all, represents the first. An early predecessor of the Plain Dealer was "the birthplace of the [country's Newspaper] Guild," on March 20, 1934.

After the fifty-odd layoffs that occurred the final day of July 2013, the newsroom stood at 110 employees, down from 350 a decade ago. In earlier negotiations for the union contract now in force, the newspaper guaranteed that only five more employees would lose their jobs in the subsequent six years. Union members have suggested that their campaign may have saved its daily newspaper status. It, like the Post-Standard and the Oregonian, is printed daily, but home-delivered only four days a week, as of August 5, 2013.

When the layoffs finally occurred, management apparently was keen on avoiding the unemployment "death march" scene that had unfolded in New Orleans and Alabama. It directed newsroom employees to stay home, but be by their phones between 8 and 10 a.m. for calls telling them whether they'd be "separated from employment," according to the internal memo circulated the day before. Those receiving the "bad call," as staffers referred to it, were then directed to pick up their severance materials the next day, not at the newspaper, but at its distribution facility ten miles away. (The story on the website of Bloomberg Businessweek detailing the indignities included a photo from the 1996 slasher movie Scream, in which actress Drew Barrymore is screaming into a phone moments before encountering a grisly death.) 

One-third of the newsroom ultimately was slashed, and the resulting flood of tweets told the story in a way neither the company nor the union could. "I just got the call from [assistant entertainment editor] John Kappes," columnist and former longtime Friday! magazine editor Chuck Yarborough tweeted. "I still have a job, but I want to throw up . . . if I can just stop crying long enough." Among those not so fortunate: business editor Randy Roguski, photo technician Cynthia Baecker and graphics artist James Owens. "Newspaper bosses keep opening veins on the sick patient, thinking if they can drain the body of blood, they can make it better," author and Edmonton, Canada Journal columnist Terry McConnell tweeted in response to the news. (The next day, layoffs began at newspapers across the country owned by the Gannett Company, Inc., the nation's largest newspaper chain.)

If contentions by the Plain Dealer union were true, the day's events did seem to further demonstrate that the Guild itself was a target as much as any employee. 

By the time the specific cuts were announced, about two dozen newsroom employees already had voluntarily left the newspaper, reported, which the union assumed meant that fewer than the previously agreed-to fifty-eight would face the chopping block. Guild President Spector and "Save the Plain Dealer" Leader Mangels both volunteered for layoffs, in an attempt to spare others, and at least a half-dozen other employees also voluntarily left the newspaper (in addition to the earlier departures that occurred in the months since the news of the coming cutbacks first broke).

However, the Guild cried foul, saying the company reneged on the original agreement to first extend offers to any employees it wanted to hire at and count those "transfers" against the original number of mutually agreed upon layoffs. The company instead distributed its telephonic pink slips and plans to extend employment offers at later, meaning that any departures of survivors who choose to leave the Plain Dealer in favor of will further reduce the ranks of unionized employees at the company. For its part, the company insisted that it had bargained with the Guild in good faith. "This has been our practice in the past and we will continue to do the same in the future," publisher and president Terrance Eggers said in a statement reported on

Another twenty employees lost their jobs at the Sun News, a chain of eleven Advance-owned weekly newspapers circulating in the Cleveland suburbs. "Will the last journalist out of the newspaper business please turn off the lights?" one tweet asked. By the middle of September 2013, "digital first" would claim about 1,600 jobs at Advance newspapers from Portland, Oregon, to Mobile, Alabama.

"Noise Out There"

The day the details of the changes and the resulting layoffs were spelled out for Advance employees in New Orleans and Alabama, Steven Newhouse, chairman of and presumed arbiter, if not mastermind, behind the company's digital-first strategy, gave a rare interview to a publication not owned by Advance.

Most of his reported conversation with Campbell Robertson, the New York Times's New Orleans-based Southern correspondent, was unremarkable, but one thing Newhouse said about the Times- Picayune raised the ire of just about every New Orleanian who read or heard it: "We have no intention of selling, no matter how much noise there is out there." 

Although stunning in its insensitivity, Steven Newhouse's pronouncement confirmed the type of relationship the secretive and tight-knit Newhouse family was seen to have with its nearly three dozen newspapers spanning both coasts: a seemingly contradictory combination of laissez faire management that generally deferred to the sensibilities and predilections of local publishers and their perceptions of the community, but a stance that also could enforce a corporate overlord mentality on major, and usually controversial, issues—or as a 1992 New York Times headline described it, "Newhouse Maintains Loose Reins with a Tight Grip." 

It also perhaps revealed a shift in how the third, and latest generation, of the Newhouse family viewed and expected to conduct business with the Times-Picayune, and by extension, its other newspapers.

Advance had owned the Times-Picayune just a few months short of fifty years at the time of Steven Newhouse's proclamation, and the utterance was a slap in the face to New Orleanians who cared deeply about their daily newspaper. 

"Hello? Steve Newhouse? It's WTF calling," was the headline on a column appearing on NolaVie, the nonprofit lifestyle and culture website that shares select content for posting on "That was the eulogy Steven Newhouse read at Tuesday's funeral for our beloved Times-Picayune," columnist Brett Will Taylor wrote. "Only he didn't deliver it in person. He read it over the phone. To the New York Times. Which leads me to ask all of us mourners, we family members of the dearly departed, the following question: What. The. F%*#?"

Others also weighed in, including an editorial in the region's alternative weekly Gambit, published two days after Taylor's column:

"Noise?" Is that what he thinks New Orleanians have been pouring out from their hearts? What Mr. Newhouse calls "noise," we recognize as the voices of our friends and neighbors. When a billionaire absentee owner refers to the heartfelt pleas of his customers as "noise," it tells us that all the pretty puffery about a more "robust" news product is pure bunk. Local business owners, many of whom for years have faithfully advertised in Mr. Newhouse's paper, know all too well that ignoring the voices of customers—particularly in New Orleans—is a recipe for failure. Oddly enough, we suspect that's the Newhouse plan: sooner rather than later, there will be no printed edition of the Times-Picayune. Steven Newhouse later in the summer backpedaled from the harshness of his remark and some of the tactics that had been employed by Advance newspapers as they implemented "digital-first."

"Some of the criticism was well founded," he wrote in the August 2012 commentary on, about the outrage and negative media coverage that greeted the company's "forced march to digital," as newspaper analyst Ken Doctor coined it. "We could have communicated our decisions more openly and sensitively to our employees, our readers and our communities." It nonetheless is almost impossible to imagine Steven Newhouse's father, Donald, the family member who has overseen Advance's three-dozen-odd daily and weekly newspapers for roughly six decades, making such a tone-deaf public comment about any of the company's properties.

Although he had infrequent direct contact with the rank-and-file, Times-Picayune employees had for years spotted the elder Newhouse at the newspaper's downtown headquarters during his regular business updates with Ashton Phelps, Sr. and Jr. Many Newhouse relatives and Advance executives had trained or worked at the newspaper over the years, including the younger Newhouse brother, the late Norman Newhouse, and the family's support of the newspaper following Katrina had strengthened employees' gratitude to the family.

Advance, however, had been operating for close to a decade in a very different era than it did in the heyday of the media empire amassed by Steven's grandfather and Donald's father, S.I. "Sam" Newhouse Sr. During the newspaper industry's financial zenith that began in the late 1970s and extended through the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, publishers almost printed money along with their newspapers, and few were better at it than Sam Newhouse. "It used to be that running a newspaper was slam-dunk easy. It was a beautiful business to be in," said Alan Mutter, a former newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist turned industry analyst and consultant who bills himself as "perhaps the only CEO in Silicon Valley who knows how to set type one letter at a time." "You were the only one in town, you could raise rates at will any time you needed to, and back in the day, people didn't have a choice. You needed to hire a secretary? You took out a [help wanted] ad in the [local] newspaper for $600 because there wasn't another option. or Craigslist didn't exist. Now, the newspaper business is anything but easy. It's incredibly complicated. It has gone from being stupid easy to being almost unbearably difficult."

Newhouse newspapers, before the full-bore arrival of the Internet as an information and entertainment medium, routinely enjoyed profit margins among the best in the industry—between 20 percent and 30 percent, leading newspaper analysts John Morton and Ken Doctor estimated. 

Morton projected that Advance's profit margin is now probably half of what it was at its apex, while Doctor said the company's newspapers probably would fetch 10 percent of what they would have a decade ago. Because Advance is a privately held company—and a secretive one at that—it is essentially impossible to obtain financial information that provides meaningful insight into its performance.

While the company and the Times-Picayune released limited financial data after public sentiment developed so forcefully against them, it has by-and-large been cherry-picked information that supports their narrative or a particular position they are trying to advance. 

For example, NOLA Media Group president and publisher Ricky Mathews told the Wall Street Journal in the fall of 2012 that's online revenue grew 20 percent year over year, but he wouldn't say from what base, making it impossible to assess the website's relative performance, or evaluate it against industry standards. 

Even when executives do release figures, they don't always match up. In a January 2013 commentary published on that assessed NOLA Media Group's performance since the change, Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss wrote that, "In 2012, 41 million viewers came to, 7 million more viewers than in 2011." "Viewers" is not a recognized industry metric, so in writing about the commentary for CJR, the magazine's "Audit" editor Ryan Chittum presumed Amoss was referring to unique visitors. Amoss' numbers averaged 3.4 million unique visitors a month in 2012, and 2.83 million in 2011. However, Mathews and Amoss presented numbers to an industry conference in New Orleans some six weeks later that were significantly larger than the figures Amoss cited in his commentary.

Although independently compiled figures often vary widely, numbers generated by nationally recognized web analytics company Quantcast indicate that both men overshot the runway, and that the website actually received hundreds of thousands of fewer unique visitors a month, on average, in 2012. (Full 2011 figures aren't available on the Quantcast site for a 2011 comparison.)

In a comprehensive story published by Columbia Journalism Review in March 2013 about the Times-Picayune since it became a less-than-daily publication, the magazine estimated that the newspaper and annually generate roughly $90 million in revenue and $9 million in operating profit, "which come overwhelmingly from the print side." In a report he wrote for the Nation that cited both publicly available and proprietary figures shared by employees, New Orleans author and freelance investigative journalist Jason Berry concluded that the newspaper probably made about $8 million in 2011. 

CJR estimated the Times-Picayune's circulation revenue at roughly $25 million to $30 million annually, which, if true, meant the print newspaper generated more than 90 percent of the company's revenue before the changes "and still likely brings in five of every six dollars in revenue," CJR concluded. "If NOLA Media Group were a standalone business with no newspaper to support it, its costs would exceed its revenue by many times." As mentioned earlier, global market research company Kantar Media projected that the Times-Picayune brought in $64.7 million in print advertising revenue in 2011, while earned less than one-tenth of that, or $5.7 million.

Given that the Times-Picayune has publicly acknowledged that it was still profitable before the changes were implemented, the situation is likely no better, and potentially far worse, at other Advance newspapers. 

For example, New York Magazine in 2009 reported that the company's largest newspaper, New Jersey's Newark Star-Ledger, may have lost as much as $40 million in 2008. The newspaper will lose a projected $51.6 million in 2011- 13, publisher Richard Vezza disclosed in June 2013, a figure the newspaper's three labor unions flatly reject. 

Mobile, Alabama's Press-Register—earlier nicknamed the "Cash Register" in journalism and Mobile business circles because of its reported historically high levels of profitability—saw its profits sink from $7.3 million in 2006, to about $4 million in 2007, and $313,000 in 2008, before its 2009 budget projected a loss of $200,000, according to information presented in the lawsuit former Press- Register publisher Howard Bronson brought against the newspaper and Advance in 2009. "No one in the [Newhouse] family believes the newspaper business is coming back," New York Magazine reported in 2009.

Regardless of the continued day-to-day involvement of octogenarians Si and Donald Newhouse, it's clear they have begun to pass the mantle to younger Newhouse family members. The third generation not only must manage the radical shift in the very underpinnings of the family business, but they also are likely intent on defying that traditional "third-generation jinx" that fells so many previously successful family-owned enterprises. Front and center is Steven Newhouse, labeled in 2012 by the New York Observer as "the third-gen Newhouse to watch," who, with the changes at the Times-Picayune and other Advance newspapers "has proven himself a savvy businessman who little relishes underwriting a failing business model."

An unlikely defender of Steven Newhouse is Dan Shea, one of the Times-Picayune's two former co-managing editors who was unceremoniously forced out by the 2012 layoffs, and has since been hired as chief operating officer and general manager of the Advocate by its new owner, New Orleans businessman John Georges. "When I see people condemning [the Newhouses] and saying that they're doing this just because they're greedy, I don't think that's the case," Shea said in March 2013, six weeks before landing the job with the Advocate. "Steve Newhouse doesn't want to be the generation that runs this off the rails. I don't ascribe evil motives to it. People don't understand business and the serious role Steven Newhouse has in preserving his family's fortune." But Steven, his two siblings, and their cousins have limited options, given the company's overwhelmingly "legacy media" assets in today's increasingly digital media world. "They're saddled with the legacy, and they're a prisoner of that legacy," Mutter observed. "They got caught when the music stopped. The value of their newspaper assets is shrinking, and they long ago missed the opportunity to get out while the getting was good." 

Although Donald and Steven Newhouse have been adamant that their company will not sell the Times-Picayune, Mutter's observation points to the reality that the Newhouses' intransigence may very well represent less of an unwillingness to sell, and more of an unwillingness to sell at the price their newspapers would fetch in today's market.

The third generation of Newhouses are "pissed because they didn't sell when they should have, they're pissed because they couldn't do anything about New Orleans after Katrina, and they're pissed now that they've got this rich guy [Georges]who's suddenly confronting them with a form of potentially asymmetrical warfare, a competitor who appears to have the assets and desire to do what it takes to be the dominant publisher in southern Louisiana," analyst Alan Mutter observed. "They're between a rock and hard place. They don't want to be the ones to turn off the lights at the newspapers. They don't want to be the ones who fail."

But improved profitability via cost reduction is the real short-term goal, Doctor, Edmonds, Morton, Mutter, and others conclude. "All of this suggests that [Advance is] trying to maximize near-term profitability against the day when [daily newspapers are] no longer a viable business," Mutter said. "What can you do this month, and next month, and for the foreseeable future? You can control your expenses to maximize short-term profitability. The plan is to keep figuring out ways to make money, and the day they figure out that they can't make money anymore, they'll close it.

On his "Reflections of a Newsosaur" blog, Mutter borrowed the term popularized in 2004's The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age by former newspaper editor and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor emeritus Philip Meyer—the "Milk It" strategy: Accept the inevitable decline and fall of the traditional newspaper model and then whack costs to extract the most profits from the decaying business for as long as possible. As unfortunate as it may be that Ann Arbor, New Orleans or Mobile are deprived of the power of a vigorous press, the strategy evidently selected by Advance makes sense if you believe that the best days of newspapering are behind us. By cutting staff to a bare minimum and printing only on the days it is profitable to do so, publishers can milk considerable sums from their franchises until the day these once-indomitable cash cows go dry.

Doctor predicts Advance will be more profitable in 2013 than it was in 2012, "but their print advertising is declining with everyone else's. The only way they maintain the newer, higher profit is to continue to cut expenses because they don't have increasing reader revenue. If they want 12 percent, or 15 percent profit, the only way to achieve that is to continue to cut. They will have to continue to cut content, and that's simply not a strategy."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ban Ki-Moon Accused of Union-Busting at UN

IBEW Local 1212 Business Manager Ralph Avigliano and Business Reps John Costa, Vincent Butler and Executive Board member Phil Doyle are seen here attending a rally outside of the United Nations for their Anti-Union policy. The demonstration by  local union leaders stands up for the loss of jobs in the IBEW Local 1212 and Local 3. Members who proudly served the United Nations for over 65 years.

United Nations workers spend their time on the front lines of the global struggle for human rights, but now they are battling for rights in their own workplace. The UN has come under fire for union-busting, and the labor standoff could undermine its ability to uphold the rights of others around the globe.

All summer, the United Nations' staff unions have been clashing with management over a new policy aimed at curtailing the staff’s collective bargaining rights. The Staff Coordinating Council, the union leading the opposition campaign, contends that the loss of this negotiating power, enacted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, would deal an unprecedented blow to the union’s power to negotiate contracts and working conditions.

The dismantling of union power, in turn, may signal a gradual shift away from democracy and toward neoliberalism throughout the institution often hailed as the world's watchdog.

The conflict began last spring, after the General Assembly issued a general order for the secretary general to revise rules for the Staff-Management Coordinating Committee, the current forum for collective bargaining talks. Ban then issued reforms that reduce the committee’s role in the negotiations to, essentially, an advisor—which the Council says is tantamount to “removing the right of staff unions to negotiate.”

According to the unions, when they declared the reforms unacceptable, management broke off talks. In July, the UN went ahead and enacted the rules. According to the Staff Coordinating Council , Ban had made far more drastic policy revisions than what the General Assembly had mandated. They say the order simply serves as a pretext for Ban to undermine the union’s influence, and that he has operated outside of the UN legal framework, which would require him to “seek mediation before consolidating this mandate."

Now, UN employees—from office staff to peacekeepers to humanitarian aid workers—are waiting anxiously to see how the reforms will affect their power to determine the conditions of their work in a massive global governing structure.

Prior to the new policy, UN staff's contract negotiations were similar to that of civil service unions in many member states, though the negotiations were not completely binding since the General Assembly could technically override the labor agreements. The loss of these collective bargaining rights has provoked international outcry from labor advocates, including the International Trades Union Congress.

Collective bargaining: A human right?

Union advocates say cutting collective bargaining will impact workers' ability to respond effectively to crises, especially in war and disaster zones, where the UN is often the most dependable source of relief:
In order to continue this work, staff must feel valued and treated with the same dignity the UN encourages other organizations to treat their staff. Without a fully motivated and engaged staff, the results on the ground will change dramatically. The workforce of the UN is dedicated to its mission…. Everyone has the same goal.
Many labor issues are effectively on hold due to the breakdown of the talks. The staff union had wanted to address concerns over the UN’s the growing reliance on private security contractors in its military missions. Unions were also demanding “better protection for whistle-blowers” and stronger oversight mechanisms, and “a workable screening system” to prevent agencies from employing people convicted of war crimes and other human rights violations.

Critics have stressed the irony that the UN’s own humanitarian campaigns often cite labor rights and collective bargaining as part of its founding human rights principles. (By contrast, the staff of the International Labour Organization, the global labor-rights monitoring body, is unionized with collective bargaining.) 

The anti-union shift at the UN seems to run counter to its outspoken stance on labor rights in the private sector, such as its recent criticism of Bangladesh’s weak worker protections following the Rana Plaza factory disaster. The UN Global Compact, an initiative that advises businesses on human rights issues, proclaims that “Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining."

The Staff Coordinating Council cites longstanding decrees on the right to union representation that enshrine collective bargaining as a universal right for all workers. Speaking by phone from Geneva, Staff Management Committee Vice President Ian Richards tells Working In These Times, "We think it's clear that whether you're bound by national laws or not, you should have the right to collective bargaining.”

Neoliberal humanitarianism?

This is, of course, not the first time the UN has come under fire for political hypocrisy—in recent years, agencies, both staff and leadership, have been scandalized by various cases of human rights violations, including misconduct by peacekeeping forces.

But the new labor policy is more than just the UN's failure to walk the talk on labor rights. The reforms seem to reflect a global neoliberal trend among some member states. The undermining of collective bargaining at the UN follows labor crises in public sector unions in Europe and echoes Wisconsin’s pivotal anti-union law.

Unions argue that it reflects a general pattern of eroding job quality and security at critical agencies, and ultimately, will damage the staff's effectiveness. In Richards's view, UN workers’ rights have been quietly deteriorating amid a trend toward privatization: While agency budgets are threatened by deep cuts, the UN's military missions increasingly rely on controversial private contractors like UK-based security firm G4S. Many staff have chafed at the administration’s restrictive “mobility policy,” which governs staff members’ freedom to change positions within the organization.

The situation is especially precarious for local field office workers. In conflict or disaster-stricken areas, Richards says: “For those who are locally employed... those [UN jobs] are about the only reliable kind of jobs you can get, especially if you have some kind of education.” But they are vulnerable to violence and the volatility of geopolitics. In Iraq, for example, if the UN withdraws foreign personnel and local workers are left behind, Richards warns, “Who looks after them? Are they going to be retaliated against?... There's no current way of negotiating with [the management] on that.”

Ironically, the labor dispute has emerged just as the UN revisits a historical moment of crisis facing its workers: Last month the UN marked the tenth anniversary of the bombing in Baghdad that killed 22 staff members. Ban's commemoration speech, quoted in the New York Times, specifically referenced the need to address security threats to field staff : "We have learned from our losses… We are changing the way we operate around the world."
But the UN staff's advocates see the loss of collective bargaining rights as a change in exactly the opposite direction—a measure that will make staff physically, as well as economically, less secure, in working conditions that are by definition fraught with instability.
Given its symbolism on the global stage, Richards says, “The UN is supposed to set an example to the world. Right now on labor rights, it isn't."

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times, a contributor to Working In These Times, and an editor at CultureStrike. She is also a co-producer of Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica's WBAI. Her work has appeared on Alternet,, Ms., and The Nation, Newsday, and her old zine, cain. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen [at] inthesetimes [dot] com.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Journeys' Mall Staff Quits In Most Epic Way Possible

The Huffington Post  |  By

 This will make you think twice before treating your workers poorly. 

Mall Staff Quits
It goes without saying that employees should be treated fairly. But sometimes employers need a more blunt lesson in the importance of worker appreciation. This photo, which was posted on Reddit Saturday, is a wake-up call to all the ungrateful bosses out there. 

"We take situations like this seriously and are currently investigating this issue. Beyond this, we have no comment," Journeys' director of corporate relations Claire McCall told The Huffington Post over the phone.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Turmoil Persists at WPIX; Managers Have ‘No Clue’

Despite the ray of hope of Scott Stanford set to become a full-time news anchor with Tamsen Fadal, WPIX is still the home of eggshells and awkwardness.

Since that mega announcement, Tuned In has learned that reporter Hilary Whittier was fired yesterday. But news director Mark Effron was forced to do a temporary about face. The station realized that she couldn’t be axed without alerting the unions, two in fact. Instead, she’ll report to the newsroom for the next 30 days, likely without being seen on the air.
“She’s a nice person, but too green for the streets of New York,” one source contends.

Whittier, as a multimedia journalist, is a rare commodity. She shoots her own pieces, except when doing a story live. We’re told that Whittier, with PIX since 2011, was to be fired because they don’t like her work or her personality.

There was another behind-the-scenes maneuver today. Morning news executive producer Howard Dorsey resigned. His departure had been rumored for several weeks as, sources say, this was not Dorsey’s decision. He started at Channel 11 in 2010. Senior executive producer Sharon von Zweiten is expected to fill the gap on an interim basis.

Effron has also decided to make WPIX the alternate news station for New York City. We’re told he discussed the issue last week, placing a moratorium on the use of stories outside of the five boroughs. An insider says the concentration of coverage will be Brooklyn and Queens, “as that’s where the meters are.”

Effron addressed staffers by saying that he doesn’t care about New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester and the Hudson Valley. “They’re not New Yorkers.”

“We just looked at each other. Unbelievable,” the insider says.

Case in point, yesterday’s power outage in Elmont, Long Island caused by man driving a bucket truck recklessly. Managing editor Amy Waldman flipped out that the station wasn’t on the scene. 

Confusion rained down on the Tribune O&O. One staffer was overheard asking Waldman, “I thought we don’t cover Long Island?”

Although Effron appears to be the orchestrator all changes at PIX, sources say, Tribune brass are carefully watching every move he makes.

“Mark can not make a decision unless he gets clearance from the 10th floor,”  the insider says. “Mark can’t do anything unless he asks permission. I’m surprised he doesn’t ask permission to go to the bathroom.”

In yet another reversal from the Bill Carey-era at PIX, Effron recently removed Lionel from the PIX Morning News, where he was host of sorts from 4 to 6 a.m. He’ll do commentary and other segments during the 5 and 10 p.m. broadcasts. He’ll also starting to do pieces out in the field.
We’re hearing that WPIX, while never a ratings winner, is suffering in the year-to-year figures since  Fadal assumed the evening role late last year and Effron was hired in April. 

Furthermore, the morning show has been dramatically sliding since Sukanya Krishnan went on maternity leave. This week, it was confirmed that Fox Chicago anchor Kori Chambers, a story that Tuned In told you first,  has been named co-anchor opposite Krishnan. Frances Rivera leaves the station tomorrow.

Separately, this might not be an example of poor decision making, but of negligence, WPIX recently got caught without having its vehicles being properly insured. There was an incident in Hoboken, which resulted in police impounding the truck before a live morning show segment last week. It was discovered the registration had been suspended because of an insurance problem.

Thereafter, WPIX checked the other vehicles, and Tuned In has learned, the majority were in error without the proper paperwork required. In the few hours until the matter was rectified, Channel 11 newsroom opted to act like the Keystone Kops.

“Amy tried to convince people to take a cab to go to a story,” an insider says. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right?”

Effron promoted Waldman from executive producer of special projects in June.

“These three people have no clue what is going on,” an insider admits.

“In 2 1/2 years, I had no idea what [Amy] ever did,”  the insider says. “If these three people remain in place, you would never have any DMA [designated market area]. There would be [no ratings] all day long. It’s just so bad.”

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Tuned In

Examining the World of New York's Local TV and Radio Scene

Friday, August 30, 2013

Tribune Broadcasting Revenue Falls 20%

By Merrill Knox

Net income plunges 61.2% and revenue slides 10.5% at Tribune

Trib logo
Tribune Co. reported $260 million in broadcast revenues for the second quarter of 2013, down -20% from $327 million in the year-ago quarter. The decline includes $41 million in one-time copyright royalties paid to WGN, Tribune’s CW affiliate in Chicago, in 2012.

PIX Plaza
Advertising revenue also declined $17 million in the quarter, primarily at WGN and WPIX, the CW affiliate in New York City. Tribune says WPIX continues to be impacted by the Cablevision blackout last year and WGN’s performance has been impacted by lower sports revenue. Retransmission and carriage fees were up 15% for the quarter.

“While our second quarter financial results reflect many of the same challenges faced by the other companies in our sector, we have made substantial progress strategically repositioning Tribune for long term growth,” Tribune president and CEO Peter Liguori said in a statement.

According to Los Angeles Times reporter the ongoing decline of newspaper ad revenue has cast a shadow over the entire company. Tribune has announced plans to spin off its eight daily newspapers into a separate company. Doing so would likely raise the value of the company's television, radio and Internet properties.

The company emerged from bankruptcy at the end of last year, and it has been widely reported that its board is interested in selling the publishing unit, which includes the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun. Several potential suitors have expressed interest in The Times, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Dodgers controlling owner Mark Walter, Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner and local philanthropist and businessman Eli Broad.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ossining Board Supports Voting Rights Act

The Ossining Village Board unanimously approved a resolution calling for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act.

OSSINING, N.Y. -- The Ossining Village Board is opposed to the recent U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning part of the Voting Rights Act. 

At the Aug. 20 village board meeting, the Ossining Village Board unanimously approved a resolution calling for Congress to restore the full Voting Rights Act. 

The Voting Rights Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in 1965, bans discrimination in voting practices at all levels of government. In June, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4b of the Act. 

Section 4b of the Act required federal pre-clearance for any and all changes to voting laws that could result in discrimination before enactment by states or parts thereof that had been cited by the U.S. Department of State. 

Mayor William Hanauer said the only way things get done is for people to push for change. 

"Ossining is a very diverse community," Hanauer said. "We do not tolerate laws or tolerate rules and regulations that are discriminatory." 

Hanauer said a progressive state like New York can be the forefront in change, though he does not see strict voter ID laws coming to the state. 

"People recognize that we are a progressive government," Hanauer said. "We are very much interested in social justice and civil rights. Most of the comments I've gotten are very positive." 

Hanauer said he hopes other municipalities throughout Westchester pass a similar resolution. 

Robert Daraio, a village trustee, said it is important for the trustees to speak about issues of national importance. 

"That's our obligation," Hanauer said. "We are the closest level of government to the people. Not like Congress, which has to take a field trip to find out the price of milk." 

Daraio pointed out numerous laws and restrictions passed throughout the country that would be allowed because of the Supreme Court's decision.

"This is a huge setback for our country," Daraio said. "As soon as the ink was dry, they were passing these laws. They are undoing civil rights. It needs to be stopped and everyone needs to say something. People need to stand up. Just because this issue might not affect you personally doesn't mean the next issue won't." 

Daraio said the village board will soon pass a resolution calling for the state to pass a law requiring equal pay for men and women.

"If we're not going to speak up, then who will?" Daraio said. 

Broadcast Union News Note: Both Mayor Hanauer and Trustee Daraio are members of IATSE. Bill Hanauer is a former business agent for IATSE Locals 764 and 700, Bob Daraio is a proud IATSE Local One stagehand and is currently a local representative of The Newspaper Guild of N.Y. CWA Local 31003.