Nov 7, 2022 - News

Chicago Sun-Times union blasts new owner

Photo of a newspaper and a t-shirt.

Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Four months into contract negotiations, Sun-Times union members are lashing out on Twitter at their new owners, Chicago Public Media, for trying to "strip" workers' rights "we've had for decades.

"Why it matters: The January merger of the Sun-Times and WBEZ under CPM ownership was supposed to represent "a national model for the future of local journalism."

What they're saying: "Chicago Sun-Times Media, a separate nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation affiliated with Chicago Public Media, remains committed to negotiating a fair contract with the News Guild and reaching a positive outcome for both parties," CPM spokesperson Betsy Berger tells Axios.

Context: The Sun-Times and WBEZ publish each other's articles and share physical newsrooms.

  • But the CST newsroom is represented by the Chicago Newspaper Guild, while the radio station staff is represented by SAG-AFTRA, creating an unusual situation.

The issues: The newspaper union's tweets call CPM proposals "draconian" and decry their call to eliminate overtime pay.

  • The biggest sticking point: CPM's proposed elimination of the right to stage sympathy strikes, meaning management could use Sun-Times reporting to replace WBEZ reporting in the event of a radio station strike.

The intrigue: Although WBEZ's union contract doesn't allow sympathy strikes, a senior WBEZ reporter tells Axios they would refuse to "cross picket lines" if the Sun-Times strikes.

  • Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg echoed that sentiment.
Via Twitter

By the numbers: According to CPM's tax returns filed in 2019, the company paid the DC-based Jones Day law firm, which it still uses to negotiate union contracts, $205,647.

What's next: Sun-Times negotiations with CPM are set to continue this week.

  • A Sun-Times guild representative declined to speculate on a timeline or potential trigger for a strike.

(Full disclosure: Monica was a SAG-AFTRA union leader at WBEZ. Justin worked in management at Chicago Public Media when WBEZ's union was starting.)

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