Schleuss has acted in an unethical fashion antithetical to a journalist’s ethos and shown complete lack of leadership
Recent events show now, more than ever, why the NewsGuild is in need of experienced, competent leadership that puts the needs of Guild members above partisan politics and personal gain.
It’s why I strongly support Bernie Lunzer’s reelection as Guild president, and why I urge you to vote for him to protect this union.
Throughout his first failed campaign and now his second run for NewsGuild president against Bernie Lunzer, Jon Schleuss and some of his supporters have used falsehoods, misleading statements, and impossible promises in order to manipulate Guild members into voting for him.
But now he has gone too far. He’s violated confidentiality agreements, improperly inserted himself into other locals’ contract bargaining, kneecapped the union’s ability to negotiate collective bargaining agreements, and he’s acted in an unethical fashion antithetical to a journalist’s ethos.
This came about in a statement by some of Jon’s supporters, which was then disseminated by him.
I believe Jon’s supporters who did this made a mistake, born out of the same frustration we, as Guild members, all share against the greedy and incompetent publishers and corporate owners who have been slashing and burning at our workplaces. I know I’ve let frustration cause mistakes before, I’ve learned from them, and I think they will, too.
But Jon doesn’t, in my opinion, get the same pass as they do. As someone who says he wants to lead this union, he should know better.
In a reckless move Friday, Jon and several of his supporters violated a binding confidentiality agreement with GateHouse while misrepresenting the facts of collective bargaining agreements they did not negotiate.
This kind of conduct would put all locals at risk if Jon is elected.
He’s turned what was a win for many Guild members – economic improvements for the first time in years at some newsrooms, first contracts at several papers, and restoration of contracts at other papers – into a divisive action, and he’s done so without the facts.
Here are the facts.
In 2017, representatives from the United Media Guild, based in St. Louis, attended a GateHouse shareholder meeting with a proposal that would allow all board members to be voted out at once.
UMG has historically purchased shares of corporate owners in order to attend and participate at shareholder meetings. This is creative action by local leadership at UMG.
In a major achievement, this, this shareholder proposal won, shaking GateHouse leaders to the core. This is how Guild leaders build leverage in negotiations, as now GateHouse leaders wanted UMG to back off on their tactics.
Bernie Lunzer, in a move that showed his experience, knowledge, and leadership, then approached UMG officials and asked if they would join together with other units at GateHouse papers to do joint bargaining with the corporation.
“I would have never thought to broaden it,” said Shannon Duffy, UMG business representative. “I was focused on United Media Guild. It was smart of the president to take the long view.”
So, later that year, representatives from multiple Guild locals jointly bargained contracts with GateHouse that included wage increases and health care premium freezes for Guild members.
Some of those papers had not seen raises in a decade. And those premium freezes saved thousands in costs members would otherwise have to pay.
Those locals represent staff in Lakeland and Sarasota in Florida; Fall River, Quincy, Worcester, and Brockton in Massachusetts, Pekin, Peoria, Freeport, Rockford, and Springfield in Illinois,; Canton and Massillon in Ohio, Erie in Pennsylvania, Utica in New York, and Providence in Rhode Island.
If that isn’t exactly what you’d hope to see an international president do, I don’t know what you want as a union member. Bernie Lunzer took a local’s creative, effective actions, and helped broaden that into a national agreement that improved the lives of members at more than a dozen papers.
Jon, meanwhile, has never negotiated a contract in his life. He’s never even served on a negotiating committee.
Those of us who have been active in the labor movement within the newspaper industry know how difficult it is to secure raises from the corporate owners dead set on destroying us.
While it was Bernie Lunzer’s idea to broaden the UMG effort to a national one, he did not, as alleged by Jon and his supporters, negotiate an agreement with the GateHouse CEO. This was a local-driven negotiations effort with a committee of representatives.
I know from personal experience that Bernie focuses on empowering locals and fostering cooperation between them.
This joint bargaining effort, supported by the international News Guild but led by a local negotiations committee, was a win.
Once a tentative agreement was reached, members at all locals voted. Not only was that agreement ratified by members at all those locals, the vote was nearly unanimous.
All GateHouse units involved agreed with the global agreement, said Betsy Regan, administrator of the Providence News Guild. The health care premiums, ignored by Jon and his supporters, were “HUGE,” as she put it.
“Clearly, Jon doesn’t agree with how the Guild works, or have an understanding of what the agreement contained,” she said. “And not once did he contact me for any clarification or comment, even though I have been representing units owned by GateHouse since 2005. We don’t dictate from on high; we build consensus among our locals and bargaining units.”
Anyone who has bargained a contract knows you don’t ever get everything you want, and sometimes you have to swallow elements you don’t like in the best interest of your members to get the best deal possible.
Part of that negotiated GateHouse deal included a confidentiality agreement. Without the facts of what was in the agreement, Jon has disseminated misinformation to accuse Bernie Lunzer of weak leadership. In doing so, according to multiple lawyers, Jon and his team have violated the agreement, the ethical equivalent of violating an off-the-record agreement.
We don’t disclose confidential sources, and we don’t breach confidentiality agreements.
Now, two years later, Jon, who was not a dues-paying Guild member then, let alone involved in bargaining or voting on those contracts, wants to attack that local-driven effort that gained benefit for those members.
At 35, I’m one of the youngest local presidents of the NewsGuild, and I’ve been an advocate for elevating new, young leaders in this union. But I also know that inexperience, without guidance, can lead to major mistakes. I also know how paramount it is to put aside personal desires for the best interest of members.
I wouldn’t dare insert myself into another local’s bargaining. That’s not just disrespectful to those union members, it’s dangerous, taking away the legitimacy of negotiators at those locals.
I would not recklessly comment about an agreement when I know there’s a confidentiality agreement surrounding it, because I know violating such a legally binding document would put my members, or the union as a whole, at risk. The Guild now may face an unwillingness from publishers to share confidential information or conduct off-the-record discussions, which often times are vital to reach good contracts for Guild members.
And I wouldn’t misdirect my burning anger at the greedy owners who don’t give a damn about us to tear down this union. The Guild is about more than this campaign. It’s about more than myself or any one member. It’s about all of us, together.
The Guild has spoken out against the proposed GateHouse merger with Gannett. None of these corporations care about journalism. They all, frankly, suck. In a democratic union such as ours, it’s perfectly fair for political candidates and their supporters to proclaim they feel we, as a union, should oppose mergers and those corporations in a different way.
But what is unfair and reckless is putting Guild contracts and negotiations at risk for partisan gain.
We need to be better than that.
Nolan Rosenkrans, President, Toledo NewsGuild/CWA #34043