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-founder of the Jersey City Independent; he now works for a public-policy nonprofit in Trenton.

13 Responses
  • MJ
    Nov 10, 2010

    I know lots of people (myself included) who have had to deal with decreased benefits and frozen paychecks, lately. Be grateful you have a job a) in this economy and b) in a dying industry.

    MJ Nov 10, 2010
  • ink-stained wretch
    Nov 10, 2010

    Thank you for telling the story so well.

    ink-stained wretch Nov 10, 2010
  • ink-stained wretch
    Nov 10, 2010

    MJ ………….. I’m sorry your own distress has hardened your heart so that you join the blame-the-victim game.

    That’s just what the anti-union bosses everywhere want. The fact is, the economy is recovering, advertising is up, the widespread economic stress that allowed the Journal’s billionaire owners to force layoffs 18 months ago has lightened considerably, and yet they want to freeze their workers’ pay from here on just because they think they should be able to do it with no one drawing attention to the facts.

    Yes, we are grateful to be still employed as journalists, but no, the idea that it’s a “dying industry” is exageration. The industry is changing, but not dying. So please don’t try to shame us into shutting up.

    ink-stained wretch Nov 10, 2010
  • Roaches!101
    Nov 10, 2010

    Printers, drivers, and maintenance workers don’t decrease circulation – so-called “journalists” do.

    The public gets tired of biased stories, poorly researched stories, and just plain poorly written stories, and stops buying the paper. Ad revenue decreases, ad prices increase, advertisers drop off and the death spiral continues.

    It’s a shame that the hard working union folks get screwed because of the incompetence and arrogance of the reporters, and the greed of the owners to be sure. But this isn’t a new development – the JJ’s decline started when they overextended and bought out the Hudson Dispatch but continued with the same old lousy reporting – no investigation, no follow up, no nothing. Any new blood became discouraged and moved on to greener pastures. When Peter Weiss died, even the sentimental reason to read the JJ died with him.

    No one’s shaming you into shutting up, but you should be ashamed of your failure to deliver quality journalism. Jersey City will soon be a major city without a major newspaper. And that is a shame.

    Roaches!101 Nov 10, 2010
  • Jayson
    Nov 10, 2010

    I doubt if there will be no newspaper. The status quo can be maintained indefinitely as there has been no contract since June 2009 and there will likely be no contract in June 2011.

    Jayson Nov 10, 2010
  • ink-stained wretch
    Nov 11, 2010

    @ Roaches! 101: It’s easy to be negative and complain about the decline of everything, including one’s local newspaper. Yet the Journal is the only publication covering many of the subjects it shines a light on. True, it’s not the product it once was, but it still has an experienced staff that works hard and does win awards, including for investigative reporting, public service reporting, and on and on. I’m proud of the work I do there.

    Sounds like you’ve been reading the Journal for a long time, and that’s good. But you might be a little more appreciative of what it does. As far as I know, its only bias is against crookedness in those who hold positions of public trust and against ineffectual promise-them-anything wannabes who want power without earning it. Those are the people it knocks.

    When someone complains about “bias” in any publication, it usually means they — or a friend — didn’t like some truth that was brought to the public’s attention. Lacking specifics, I can only wonder who you’re feeling outraged for. And I would suggest that when you do see something you don’t agree with that you write a letter to the editor to make your point. While the Journal has editorialized many times in the past year and a half that Mayor Healy should resign, his statements and policy remarks are sought and printed. He has a long defense of his plan to merge the DPW into the JCIA on Page 2 of today’s (Thursday’s) edition. What other publication is bringing it to you? None.

    So where’s your voice and contribution? If you think something in the Journal’s pages is not right, do speak up. It’s your responsiblity as well as your right.

    ink-stained wretch Nov 11, 2010
  • used2bjc
    Nov 11, 2010

    If the Newhouse family had offered a $10 a week raise to the seven union members it would have meant
    some forward progress and an annual cost of less than $4 k per year. Instead they waste untold legal costs
    to put up a big fight. They do this because they are mean, nasty and bullies.

    The grandfather is up for the NJ Hall of Fame in 2011. Be sure to vote early and often.

    Does the union ever pose the question how columnist Earl Morgan retires, takes buyout and the comes back less than a year later? How does that work? Sure sounds like Hudson County at its best.

    used2bjc Nov 11, 2010
  • Roaches!101
    Nov 11, 2010

    Sorry ink, but it’s a case of “too little too late”. Yes, I did read the JJ for a long time, but after years of disappointment and expecting improvement, I gave up. Far too many times I found myself reading a story and saying “why didn’t they ask about this, why didn’t they do some research before their interview, why, why, why?” And finally, “why do I waste $0.25, $0.50, $0.60 a day (except sundays and holidays as if nothing happens on those days)?”

    And please don’t try to shift the blame to readers not writing letters to the editor. That’s something politicians do. We’re not the supposed award winners. My voice and contribution? At my neighborhood association, at council meetings, and at the ballot box. Where it counts.

    Roaches!101 Nov 11, 2010
  • Marc Romanow
    Nov 11, 2010

    Newhouse’s yacht does not belong in the discussion, as the company’s P+L and balance sheet are mutually exclusive from an owner’s private wealth. The union leaders should conduct a study in which they compare unit members’ salaries and benefits to those of several non-newspaper employers that don’t have bargaining units and several non-newspaper employers that do have unions. I think they will be surprised with the results. Unionized newspaper workers have long lived in a contractually protected ivory tower, not realizing what they would find that if they had to go out and look for a job. For the average employee, I can understand the root of the entitlement feeling because this is all they know, but remember humility is a virtue.

    Marc Romanow Nov 11, 2010
  • ink-stained wretch
    Nov 12, 2010

    Marc Romanow, you can spew against unions all you want. It sounds like it’s one of your self-satisfactions in life. I can only tell you my experience. When I arrived at the Journal three decades ago, the union wage was appealing, adequate, and kept me situated in the middle class. In the years since, the wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living. The erosion has been steady. There have been some benefits added over the years, but many givebacks. We went six years without a contract (salaries stagnant) for one stretch in the 90s. We finally got a 401k plan, but no company contribution. We finally got a dental plan; it only pays for cleanings. There are many things that non-unionized employees take for granted (or used to, before “hard times” set in) that we will never have, like “personal days” and an adequate pension plan.

    You sneer at “the entitlement feeling.” The only entitlement feeling going on at the Journal is the owners’ feeling entitled to say “No, we can’t afford it” when contracts are negotiated. I would suspect that you consider them just smart businessmen keeping labor costs low, by any means possible. I guess you’re entitled to look at the world that way. A lot of people do, and for a lot of people there’s only the bottom line. Reporters and editors aren’t generally like that; we go into the business for public service, because an informed public is better off than one kept in the dark. We use our talents to learn things and to communicate what we find out, in an expressive and compelling way, so that people benefit from our work. We don’t “live in a contracturally protected ivory tower.” That you would say such a thing shows your ignorance of the world and human values.

    People who work in journalism do find it hard to leave it behind. Working in affiliated fields, like public relations, where one is paid to push a storyline to the public that makes the client look good, just doesn’t have the bang that exposing injustice gives. I’ve driven a cab from time to time to earn a bit extra, and I’ve taken on the responsibilities of being a landlord as well. You probably look down on people in those professions too — you resent high cab prices, and your landlord is gouging you. So much for your own humility and humanity.

    I don’t begrudge the Newhouses their “private wealth” and their yacht. I just think they should pay their hardworking staffers more of the money they keep making with our effort and talent instead of pleading poverty and threatening to shut the newspaper, as they’ve done twice in the last 8 years, if X number of the non-union as well as union staff members won’t walk the plank. God forbid that they be contracturally obligated to let us breathe fresh air. (The last contract dropped any requirement for them to provide a healthy working environment.)

    Maybe you admire them and the other captains of industry who just keep getting richer and richer while the rest of us get starved, and perhaps you are even a captain of industry yourself, but your attack on unionized newspaper workers as people who don’t understand how good they have it only shows how good your are at talking through your hat.

    ink-stained wretch Nov 12, 2010
  • ink-stained wretch
    Nov 12, 2010

    Aside to used2bjc … There’s no great mystery about why Earl Morgan is back writing for the Journal. He was retirement age when the last round of buyouts was forced on the staff. He saved someone else’s job by taking his buyout, and being a civic-minded and honest gentleman who’s devoted his career to advancing the public’s right to know what’s going on, he’s back doing a column, for which I can assure you he’s not being paid a princely sum. One of our editors who retired about 20 years ago and died recently, wrote a weekly column on Bayonne history during his retirement years. He was a third-generation newspaperman. When it’s in your blood, you may choose not to entirely retire.

    The satisfaction of a newsman’s life is something one can’t put a price on, but one shouldn’t be subjected to chiseling and chipping away at one’s financial security just for pursuing one’s professional calling, and that’s what’s happening at the Journal right now. Contract negotiations resume with a meeting today. One can only hope that sense prevails.

    ink-stained wretch Nov 12, 2010
  • used2bjc
    Nov 12, 2010

    Dear Ink-stained wretch,

    Earl is a great guy but don’t kid yourself. Newhouse gets a columnist of color ( which probably represents 70% of the JJ readership as the strongest circ. numbers are in 07305) for a dime on the dollar.

    So if all seven of the Journal guild members were of retirement age and took a buy out and came back on
    a per piece arrangement because of their devotion to journalism you would look at that as a great thing?

    The guild would be gone, no health insurance costs. Good for Newhouse.

    used2bjc Nov 12, 2010
  • ink-stained wretch
    Nov 13, 2010

    No, used2bjc, that would not be a great thing, and it’s not going to happen.

    I’m just saying that Earl is still doing some of what he does best, in retirement. I’m glad he can, and wants to.

    ink-stained wretch Nov 13, 2010

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