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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 11:38 pm

Norma Rae comes to Springfield

Union gains foothold at SJ-R

Newsroom employees at the State Journal-Register are asking for union representation.

The United Media Guild last week submitted petitions signed by employees to the National Labor Relations Board, which has the power to authorize a workplace election to determine whether the State Journal-Register newsroom will become a union shop. Under federal law, at least 30 percent of employees in a potential bargaining unit must sign petitions. Dean Olsen, a veteran reporter who helped organize the petition campaign, said that more than half of the newsroom’s employees signed.

“This is all about producing quality journalism at the State Journal-Register,” said Olsen, who has worked at the SJ-R since 1999 and was president of the Peoria Journal Star’s newsroom union prior to coming to Springfield.

Petitions were submitted to the NLRB even as copy editors worked their final shifts at the State Journal-Register, which eliminated its copy desk beginning this week. Copy editors in Rockford now proofread stories and write headlines for the State Journal-Register and other newspapers owned by GateHouse, the SJ-R’s corporate parent. GateHouse is also setting up an office outside Springfield to write stories for its newspapers, including the SJ-R, which has weathered steep staffing cuts since being acquired by GateHouse in 2007.

Olsen said the organizing effort began about four months ago.

“There was no single precipitating event,” Olsen said. “I think it’s an accumulation of things that brought this to a head.”

United Media Guild also represents editorial employees at the Peoria Journal Star and Pekin Daily Times, both GateHouse properties that still have copy desks. During recent contract negotiations in Peoria, GateHouse proposed closing the Journal Star’s copy desk, according to the union. The desk will survive under a two-year contract ratified in June that includes a pay freeze and a provision to eliminate the Journal Star’s circulation department, with a potential loss of 30 jobs.

Shannon Duffy, United Media Guild administrative officer, said he believes that the elimination of the State Journal-Register’s copy desk might have pushed the union organizing effort in Springfield.

“They want to have a voice in these cuts – they want to stand up against outsourcing, they want to have a seat at the table,” Duffy said. “Right now, they have nothing.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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