There is a national election for TNG President that is occurring. Some Locals are conducting their election at a single location. Those proceedings have not yet occurred. Some Locals, however, due to multiple bargaining units or units that are spread out over a large area (that’s us) will have their election conducted by the Sector Election and Referendum Committee (SERC) in Washington, DC and done via U.S. Mail. Those ballots were mailed this week and are hitting UMG mailboxes now.
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This election for TNG President appeared, at first glance, to be shaping up like a generational one. The challenger’s supporters have tweeted about how long it has been since the incumbent, Bernie Lunzer, has worked in a newsroom – implying that it was time for him to leave the stage.
I find all this fascinating because, in elections, knowledge of the job that one is pursuing is usually considered an asset. The challenger, Jon Schleuss, has never served as a shop steward. He has never defended a coworker in a hearing. He has never filed a grievance. He has never served as a Local officer, like Recording Secretary or Treasurer, or even served on a Local’s executive committee as a unit delegate. Schleuss has virtually no experience in serving a Local in any of the countless ways possible. In fact, in order to be eligible to run, he signed up to become a dues paying member exactly one day before nominations two months ago at the Sector Conference.
In 2016 my state of Missouri elected someone governor who had never before held public office. Governor Eric Greitens was a total disaster and, thankfully, he didn’t last long. That same year, we Americans elected someone with no prior experience in government to lead our nation and we’ve all seen how that has been working out. So let’s agree that experience can be a good thing to have.
To be fair, the challenger is an LA Times reporter who has participated in something that most Guild members have not participated in – an organizing campaign – and all accounts are that he worked hard and well. And that campaign was a wildly successful one at that. But that seems to be his whole campaign – organizing. He keeps saying that, as TNG President, his goal will be to assist other Locals to do what they were able to do in Los Angeles. This sounds alright, until you realize that TNG has had over 60 other successful organizing drives that crossed the finish line in the last three years and those brought in over 3,000 new Guild members, btw.
I suppose I should point out here that the TNG President has to deal with a lot of issues other than organizing and they are tough, complex issues. Here’s a quick three:
• Working to secure the necessary funding levels for the continued viability of the pension plans on whose boards the TNG President serves.
• Navigating the byzantine bureaucracy that goes with being part of an international union. There are various funding sources (which, over the years, have been decreasing steadily) and competing demands for those funds from all the other CWA sectors and regions. When you consider that ours is a small sector in a large international organization, one begins to appreciate the experience that knows how to move the various levers of machinery as well as all the necessary relationship-building that may play a part when reviewing the paperwork.
• Making sure the collective bargaining goals are met. This is particularly challenging as many of our sisters and brothers at newspapers continue to work harder and harder in a declining industry. To assist those Locals, the TNG President assigns Guild Reps, develops and oversees training for those interested Locals and finds other ways to help those Locals and their bargaining units build power in order to win solid contracts
In all this chatter about the need for new leadership, one hears a lot about the LA Times organizing drive. It has been said – over and over – that, somehow, the LA Times campaign was a total nightmare and that TNG screwed up all up. I hear that the unit didn’t like one organizer who was sent out there. And that the organizer was ultimately replaced with another person (which, to me, would indicate that TNG did hear them). Also, even though everyone talks about the mistakes that were made, the workers voted for the union by a tally of 248 – 44. So, despite all the gnashing of teeth, bear in mind that it was a win, not a loss.
I know that the Guild Local in New York played a part in that victory, perhaps a very large part, and for that I salute them and their head organizer, Nastaran Mohit, a first class organizer, for all her solid work in helping turn the tide. But I also know that, once the election was over, the New York Local asked about having the LA Times bargaining unit assigned to them; never mind that the two cities sit thousands of miles apart. I don’t know how one could reasonably expect New York to properly service a Los Angeles unit but the Guild national office, led by the TNG President, makes that call and the decision came down that Los Angeles would have its own Local. That decision seems logical but it has produced some sour grapes and I know that because I was at the Sector Conference in January and heard the talk. One NY member, when asked by me to explain why their Local should have had the Los Angeles Times assigned to them put it this way, “Hey, we already have the New York Times, we should have the Los Angeles Times too.” It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.
So I can’t help but wonder what’s actually driving all this “Out with the old, in with the new” talk.
As I said, ballots are arriving in the mail here in STL and I’ve been checking out social media when I spied this exchange (below) on Twitter.
Nolan Rosenkrans is a journalist and president of the Toledo News Guild. His question concerns Schleuss’ appeal to donate quickly because he has $5,000 in matching funds pledged from an anonymous donor. Schleuss’ reply to questions about who is behind those matching funds is deeply troubling. I realize that he is new to union elections (btw, that exchange has already prompted some to say they will put forth an amendment to outlaw anonymous contributions in future TNG elections) but he is not new to journalism.
Reporters have long fought for transparency in all matters public and preached that sunlight is the best disinfectant. This is hardly a controversial sentiment. Our union was founded by a fearless journalist; TNG has always stood strong on its mission and its core values – and transparency is one of those core values (how can a journalist not get this?).
So we have reached the point where it appears we now have dark money in our national election for TNG President. Who knows who or what could be behind those matching funds? This definitely cuts it for me. I met Jon Schleuss and found him to be a decent and engaging fellow (I still do, as a matter of fact) but I don’t know how he can do this and not see it for what it is.
So for that reason and the fact that at this time we need an experienced hand at the helm – I am endorsing Bernie Lunzer’s re-election for TNG President. As far as I know, Bernie doesn’t have anything set up for matching funds and I can’t afford to send him $5,000. But I just sent him $250 and I hope it helps.
I support Bernie Lunzer for TNG President. I urge all my Guild sisters and brothers to do the same.