Jersey Journal Staffers Protesting Parent Company’s Plan to Cut Benefits, Freeze Pay

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The Jersey Journal‘s unionized editorial staff members will protest today for a second straight day in front of the paper’s Journal Square offices today as they fight parent company Advance Publication’s plan to cut their benefits and freeze their pay.

Workers at the paper have been without a contract since June 2009. As we reported last spring, the Newspaper Guild was trying to wrap its contract negotiations into the negotiations happening at that time to keep the paper afloat. But management refused to tackle both at once, and while the Journal stayed open, it lost five guild members; two editorial managers; and a handful of accounting, circulation, and sales staffers.

The union says that with the cost-savings generated by all of 2009’s personnel cuts, the privately-held media conglomerate Advance, whose properties include everything from the Star-Ledger and NJ.com to Vogue magazine and the New Yorker, should be able to pony up for small raises.

“Times are tough in the newspaper business. No one disputes that,” guild spokesman John Phillips says in a statement. “But management has axed jobs, saving upwards of $400,000 the last two years. Whose pockets get that money? Not the employees. Surely management can afford modest raises for the reporters, photographers and editors who work long hours at very modest wages to produce the news.”

The union says Advance is trying to end its contributions to worker pensions and move the staffers to a less-generous health benefits package, which employees will have to pay more for, but it is offering them no concessions in return, despite the increased workload many staffers have experienced after last year’s buyouts. (Some longtime staffers have lived through earlier buyouts as well — the editorial staff has seen a massive shrinkage over the past few decades, from about 60 in 1972 to barely a dozen today.)

Instead, Advance continues its push to bring on more interns to handle larger portions of the day-to-day work at the paper. Ron Leir, who has since left the paper, told us last year that management was also looking for ways to remove the nine-month cap currently placed on an intern’s tenure; they are still trying to accomplish this change, which would allow the lower-paid and non-union workers to stay on indefinitely.

The guild says a 1.5-percent raise for its members would only cost Advance about $5,000 total. In a press release, it contrasts that with Advance owner Sam Newhouse’s multi-million dollar yacht, which the guild says costs more than $20,000 to fill up with gasoline.

“Hey, Newhouse! Stow your yacht for a day and don’t cut our pay!” one staffer’s protest sign read yesterday.

Phillips says that even a small gesture from management to ease the financial burden on the paper’s staffers would be welcomed. He points out that Advance is charging workers to park in the company lot — at a rate of about $50 a month — while expecting them to maintain their cars for company business.

“Cutting just that fee would make a significant positive financial impact on our members,” he says.

The Journal staffers will be outside the paper’s offices at 30 Journal Square beginning today at noon.

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.