Election Section

MediaNews East Bay Newsrooms Go Union in Narrow Vote

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 19, 2008 - 09:53:00 AM

By a narrow margin, journalists at East Bay newspapers owned by the Bay Area News Group-East Bay (BANG-EB) voted to unionize Friday. 

The 104-92 vote gave the Northern California Media Workers Guild 53 percent of the ballots, less than the 60 percent of editorial staff who had signed union cards but enough to win. 

The vote reverses the upset handed to union members last August when the BANG-EB President and Publisher John Armstrong unilaterally consolidated the chain’s newsrooms into a single unit. 

By merging the staffs with the non-union Contra Costa Times, recently acquired from the Sacramento-based McClatchy Company, the new non-union staff majority gave Armstrong the power to abolish guild shops at the Oakland Tribune, Fremont Argus, Tri-Valley Herald and Hayward Daily Review. The National Labor Relations Board upheld the move, setting the stage for Friday’s election. 

Backed with $500,000 from the national union, the guild local launched the campaign, meeting with a strong counter-effort by management. 

BANG-EB is part of MediaNews Group, a privately held national chain headed by CEO Dean Singleton, who also chairs the Associated Press, the nation's largest news service and a cooperative. 

Singleton has established near-monopolies on daily news in both the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin, where the main competition is from two dominant, chain-owned dailies, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times. 

While the union vote may have been good news for Singleton’s editorial workers, darker news may be lurking on the horizon, according to a Tuesday report from Bloomberg news service. 

The report lists Singleton’s MediaNews Group as one of four newspaper publishing companies in danger of default on their debt. One of the other companies belongs to L.A. Times owner and Berkeley’s biggest private landlord, Sam Zell, whose Equity Residential bought the apartment buildings built by Patrick Kennedy’s Panoramic Interests. 

Another regional publisher is also facing a financial crisis. 

Gary Pruitt, CEO of Sacramento-based McClatchy Co., announced Tuesday that the chain’s flagship Sacramento Bee is eliminating 86 jobs, including 46 by layoff. Other papers in the chain are making similar cuts. 

For a more detailed account of events leading up to the vote, see www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-06-05/article/30194.