‘It’s us against The Man,’ says Indy Star union leader as contract talks begin

Indianapolis Monthly
After the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild approved a contract in 2009 that included a 10 percent pay cut for Star employees, reporter Robert King briefly quit the union in protest. He now leads the Indy Guild, tapped because “he would channel the venom and anger and outrage and take it to the next level,” says former Guild president Tom Spalding. King’s goal in the next contract fight — talks started a few weeks ago — is to win back the 10 percent the guild gave up two years ago and to protect jobs. Michael Rubino writes in his profile of the union leader:

King contends that, more than just the slumping industry, Gannett’s tight-fisted stewardship of the Star is putting the future of journalism in Indianapolis, and even local democracy itself, at risk. As one of the voices speaking out against company management, he compares himself to “that guy going up against the tank” in Tiananmen Square. He admits that it’s a farfetched analogy, “but that’s how I feel,” he says. “It’s us against The Man.”

King is trying to get readers on the Guild’s side with a campaign that includes a website and downtown Indianapolis billboard (at left). The union’s release (posted after the jump) about the campaign says: “[Last] week, Guild workers asked that the pay cuts be restored and cost-of-living increases be re-instituted. But they were told such requests were a joke. This, despite the fact Gannett CEO Craig Dubow received a 107 percent pay increase in April.” King says in the release that “Gannett is making it harder for us to do our jobs, and even seems to prefer that talented employees move on so it can add a few more bucks to the executive bonus pool.” What does the Star publisher say about this? “Because we are beginning negotiations … it would not be appropriate or proper to discuss the Union or its president,” Karen Crotchfelt tells Indianapolis Monthly.

Guild press release

New Downtown billboard seeks public’s help to “Save The Star”

INDIANAPOLIS — Journalists and building service workers from The Indianapolis Star are calling attention to cuts in The Star’s news coverage with a new billboard above Downtown that proclaims “Save Local News. Save the Star.”

The billboard, at 16th and Delaware, is just part of a new campaign that includes the SaveTheStar.com website, radio ads, leafletting efforts and social media that’s intended to pressure The Star into reinvesting profits into local news.

The campaign is being sponsored by The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, Local 34070, which represents 122 newsroom workers and custodial staff at The Star. It is the Guild’s response to four rounds of layoffs in the last three years, wage cuts, pay freezes and now a plan to outsource some local news jobs to a remote site in Kentucky.

Over the past three years, Gannett’s cuts have reduced the size of The Star’s news staff by 36 percent.

Despite working harder to produce the same newspaper, employees were forced to accept unpaid furloughs, a 10 percent pay cut and a pay freeze. Now Gannett wants to send jobs for some page designers to a regional hub in Louisville. Designers are a crucial part of the local news operation, especially when late-breaking news, such as the State Fair stage collapse, requires news pages to be ripped up and remade.

The wide array of cuts to The Star have been mandated by Gannett, the Star’s Virginia-based parent company, even though The Star is very profitable, with profit margins estimated at more than 15 percent. Last year, Gannett made $588 million and awarded multi-million dollar bonuses to its top executives.

This week, Guild workers asked that the pay cuts be restored and cost-of-living increases be re-instituted. But they were told such requests were a joke. This, despite the fact Gannett CEO Craig Dubow received a 107 percent pay increase in April.

“We care about the community and want to continue to bring people the local news they can’t get anywhere else. We’d also like to be treated fairly,” said Guild president Bobby King. “Yet Gannett is making it harder for us to do our jobs, and even seems to prefer that talented employees move on so it can add a few more bucks to the executive bonus pool.”

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  • Anonymous

    I was thinking about Gannett execs when I saw The Help.