Philly’s labor talks: What do they mean? A management view
A key figure for management in the just-concluded and ratified new two-year contracts at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com is Stan Wischnowski, who is vice president for news operations at The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. Bargaining in an age of increasing fragmentation and austerity is not easy, especially at big-city dailies. The two new deals were concluded Wednesday with Newspaper Guild ratification of the second of two agreements. They include increased company contributions to health care plans, greater flexibility when it comes to traditionally seniority-driven layoffs and no increase in basic wages.
1. What's the importance of the labor agreements in Philadelphia?
These were very difficult negotiations for everyone involved and that cannot be overstated. But like every U.S. news organization, we're making hard decisions to best position our market-leading newspapers and website for truly sustainable excellence.
This labor agreement provides the Company with some of the flexibility it needs to continue our digital transformation, and it also gives our union employees needed support as it relates to their health costs and the adverse impact that furloughs had on their paychecks.
We now have two years to keep aggressively restructuring our newsrooms to meet the fast-changing demands of our readership, and doing it in a way that avoids unnecessary redundancy and expands our reach where new audiences are emerging, while also retaining our strong commitment to watchdog journalism.
2. This is an era of a dramatic downturn in traditional print media, with revenues plummeting and very few outlets having figured out how to monetize online content to make up in any appreciable way for the loss of print revenues. How did that alter the scope of the bargaining as compared to 10 or more years ago? For example, what happened to a basic wage increase as a priority in the negotiations?
Without question, the print revenue losses felt here in Philadelphia and elsewhere have altered the scope of bargaining in 2015 and beyond. We have a highly talented and experienced core of journalists who understand the realities of the business, but that didn't necessarily make these negotiations any easier. Until we figure out the digital revenue model, and no news organization truly has yet, negotiations like these will require even a higher degree of compromise and sacrifice to ensure long-term sustainability and economic viability. In the end, we came to an agreement that might not have been ideal but was the closest thing to a win-win for both sides.
3. How has the general environment altered a traditional adversarial reality between the Guild and management, if at all?
I've been in the business for 30 years and I don't think the adversarial relationship has dramatically changed. Effective bargaining often leads to moments of heated, impassioned debate, and that certainly was the case here over the past eight months. As the economic model of our industry continues to change so drastically, I think it's inevitable for both sides to hold firm to what they deem most essential. But I'm confident that with these negotiations now behind us, both sides understand the importance to the organization of rebuilding the trust and working together to make these newspapers and website the best they can be.
4. Workers at two online news operations, Gawker Media and Salon, are either seeking union representation or voted for union representation and looking to bargain a first contract. Do you think that there's anything significant up with labor-management relations in that realm? Or is the sample size (Gawker, Salon) just too small to extrapolate industry-wide?
I just don't think there's enough to glean from these two cases you have cited to provide you with a meaningful answer.