To members of The NewsGuild:
I am writing to you from Chicago, where I have been a longtime member and a past organizer at the Guild. Please join me in voting for Bernie Lunzer for TNG president. This is a vital matter to me because without Bernie’s doggedness and creativity, I know that Chicago journalism would have suffered and the union’s local, the Chicago News Guild, would have been slugged to the canvas.
My activism at the Guild stems from my stint as a business writer and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1996 to 2013. In 2016, the Chicago Guild asked me to help with some critical tasks. The biggest: trying to save the imperiled Sun-Times and organize the historically anti-union Chicago Tribune.
We achieved both and it would not have happened without Bernie, who took extraordinary steps to support what some called hopeless quests. He had the vision to secure funds from our parent union, the CWA, so the local could hire me to help with the Sun-Times. It seemed like destiny. I brought to the table a background in politics and business and, with Bernie’s help, we formed a group to bid for ownership of the Sun-Times. It included Chicago’s leading labor unions and private investors with a progressive mindset.
There were many twists and turns, but this group became solid by mid-2017, when the owner of the Tribune said he wanted to buy the Sun-Times, which he formerly controlled and where some of his investor pals remained. The obvious intention was to kill the competition. It became clear to us that the Sun-Times was being managed for oblivion. Chicago would have lost a media outlet that has exposed injustice and fought for civic reform. About 150 people would have lost their jobs. Bernie and the Chicago News Guild stood in the way of this scheme. We had the antitrust lawyers in the Justice Dept. on our side and, incredibly, we won.
Today, the Sun-Times is the only metro publication with substantial union ownership. Many challenges remain but its business prospects have improved under an enlightened management that has invested again in its workforce. A year ago, the investors significantly increased the company contribution to the Guild’s health care plan. Last spring, the paper asked me to return to improve its business coverage, and I’ve been enjoying a culture much better than it was a few years ago..
Bernie also led us in our organizing strategy at the Tribune, with its newsroom of more than 200 people. He secured funding from CWA for three organizers, including myself, and was always available to come to Chicago to make the rounds with Tribune employees. It culminated in more than 80 percent of them signing union cards and the company agreeing to recognize the union without forcing an election in 2018. They are now well into their negotiations for a first contract.
I also remember Bernie’s fast action in an incredibly difficult time. It was 2013 and the Sun-Times, under its former owner, summarily fired all the photographers. Bernie secured the money to pay the photographers $400 per week and their monthly health insurance for 10 months of legal wrangling that resulted in some getting their jobs back. I know—I was treasurer of the Chicago News Guild at the time and I signed the photographers’ checks. It was a lesson in union activism that has stayed with me.
The NewsGuild needs Bernie for his experience and sheer will. It needs his ability to grasp locals’ concerns and think of new solutions for times that demand them. I am proud to stand with Bernie. He stood with us in Chicago and it made all the difference.
Chicago News Guild