Newspaper Guild members from the Sun-Times met Tuesday night and by virtually a 4 to 1 margin rejected a package of concessions they'd been told they'd have to make it they wanted the sale of the Sun-Times Media Group to go through.
Here's the motion that was voted on:
The membership of the Sun-Times Unit rejects the Company’s Memorandum of Agreement and Settlement that guts our contract and takes away most rights that protects our members. The membership orders the Executive Director to communicate this vote to the company.
The Guild Sun-Times Unit further states that the Union is willing to bargain with the company on provisions that would help the company survive but not willing to give up all the rights of our members.
The motion was approved by a vote of 83 to 22.
"Basically, this is not against Tyree, or anything," said executive director Tom Thibeault. speaking of financier James Tyree, who organized a group of investors who have offered to buy the assets of the bankrupt media group for about $25 million. "It just comes down to what they planted in front of us, which is something we couldn't take. It basically gave us nothing. If we voted for this, we voted to have no union.
"They made it very clear [the concessions they demanded concerning] jurisdiction, seniority, and work rules couldn’t be touched. And that’s the heart of the contract. Those had to go." Thibeault stressed that by "they" he was not speaking of Tyree directly. He meant the media group's present leadership, in particular interim CEO Jeremy Halbreich, who, Thibeault said, is expected to stay on under Tyree and run the company.
Thibeault went on, "The second part of our motion says we’re willing to sit down and work with the company — let's talk. Talk can't be one way. It's not a one-way direction. A good part of the meeting was 'why can't we have some meaningful negotiations?' And the answer was, 'I don’t know. They don’t want it.'"
They weren't negotiations, but over the past few months, the guild did have a series of informal meetings with Halbreich and other media group managers. Thibeault told me he thought some respect was shown for the union's point of view, and that Tyree, though never present, was being kept in the loop. Yet when the formal package of concessions arrived last Friday "we were floored. It didn't look anything like we thought it would." Now Thibeault says he wants to talk to the next owner directly. "Bring Tyree to the table!" he said. "You want to bargain — we'll be at the table. We'll be there 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I have never had him across the table the entire time. We met with the company [Monday] and we went down each and every item, and basically the company said we'd be willing to take something back to Tyree but he'll cut our heads off. What the hell kind of bargaining is this?"
Thibeault said the guild units had been led to believe by Halbreich that if a single guild unit voted against the company's terms, Tyree would walk away from the deal, leaving the media group to its fate. But on Monday the Gary unit rejected the concessions by a vote of 17 to 1. Tyree didn't walk. "My understanding was that he was still there today," Thibeault said.
Thibeault indicated that if Tyree would explain to the guild why he needs all these concessions to buy the media group, and let the guild help figure out how to satisfy him, he'd find the guild easier to deal with. But unions hate to feel owners are shoving something down the workers' throats. That's why they exist — to fight back.