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Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007 03:56 am


Iowa newspaper chain resists employees’ attempts to organize

Untitled Document Cathy Schwegmann traveled to Bloomington in May and stood on the sidewalk outside the offices of Iowa-based Lee Enterprises’ The Pantagraph, chatting with employees and handing out surveys. In a few brief hours, employees say, she changed the internal dynamics of the 47,000-daily-circulation Pantagraph. A full-fledged unionization campaign is now taking place in Bloomington, where organizing-committee members are working to collect signed authorization cards, the first in a series of steps that the National Labor Relations Board requires of prospective bargaining units. Schwegmann, organizing coordinator for the St. Louis Newspaper Guild — which represents workers of Lee’s flagship, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, purchased in 2005 from Pulitzer Inc. — says that as many as 175 workers could sign up at the Bloomington newspaper alone. “So many workers at so many [Lee Enterprises] newspapers are being affected by decisions made in Davenport,” Schwegmann says. With Bloomington as the movement’s epicenter, an effort has been under way ever since to organize employees at Lee’s three largest Illinois publications, including The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale and the Herald & Review in Decatur (the company also runs the Times-Courier in Charleston and the Journal Gazette in Mattoon). Lee, which owns 55 daily newspapers and 300 weeklies in 23 states, mostly in the Midwest and west of the Rocky Mountains, doesn’t seem to like the unionization effort one little bit. “I don’t have a comment about anything like that,” says Dan Hayes, Lee’s vice president of corporate communications. A Lee-operated Web site, www.leeunionfree.com, is even more overtly hostile to organized labor, stating that unions work against the best interests of employees, customers, and company. One company statement reads: “As a result of acquisitions in recent years, we have gained many fine employees who are represented by a bargaining agent, and we’re glad to have them in Lee. “Where union representation exists, we intend to honor agreements and negotiate in good faith. Elsewhere across our company, we hope you will join us in continuing to resist the introduction of unions as an unnecessary impediment to maintaining a creative, rewarding and successful workplace.”
Bloomington workers have posted a site of their own, at www.pantagraphunion.org, where employees are able to fire salvos at the paper’s brass — especially former publisher Linda Lindus, who left in November — under the cloak of anonymity. “The company has shown that they will target people for discipline for speaking out,” says Schwegmann. For that reason, she declines to discuss a timeline for holding elections and initiating negotiations with managers: “People put a lot on the line when they form a union, so I try to be respectful to that.”  

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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