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The Woes of a Union in Trouble

I understand why unions exist. Fair wages, fair hours, fair benefits. But what happens when you are a part of a union that you don’t agree with? I am a new hire at MaineToday and the Portland Press Herald. The job I was hired for, the content producer for MaineBusiness.com, is a guild position – meaning that the position is covered under the Portland Newspaper Guild. I am a part of the guild whether I want to be or not. But to me the benefits – a fair starting wage for my experience and expertise – don’t outweigh the rules I must abide by for being a part of the guild.

I understand why unions exist. Fair wages, fair hours, fair benefits. But what happens when you are a part of a union that you don’t agree with?

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I am a new hire at MaineToday and the Portland Press Herald. The job I was hired for, the content producer for MaineBusiness.com, is a guild position – meaning that the position is covered under the Portland Newspaper Guild. I am a part of the guild whether I want to be or not.

But to me the benefits – a fair starting wage for my experience and expertise – don’t outweigh the rules I must abide by for being a part of the guild.

For one, I have been working without health insurance since the middle of May. My health insurance doesn’t kick in until July 1. Good thing I haven’t gotten into a major accident and I had enough of my prescription meds to tide me over. Two, I wont have a full two weeks of vacation until sometime so far into the future of 2009 that I have forgotten the date.

MaineToday shares it’s office space in the Portland Press Herald building with The Maine Switch – a free weekly paper that has already been downsized by 70 percent. I offered my services as an unpaid freelance writer to help them fill their business section. The editor thanked me for my team attitude but told me that because I was part of the guild that, because writing for Switch wasn’t in my contract, that I couldn’t publish content. Huh? I’m not even asking to be compensated for my extra time in creating content for the paper. Wouldn’t it save money for me to pitch in rather than to pay a freelancer? These are the things that are outdated and ridiculous to me.

The Blethen Maine Newspapers – The Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel are up for sale. The Blethen family doesn’t have the resources – financial and personal – to keep running the papers. There have been four rounds of layoffs in the past 12 months. They are looking to sell to someone who has the capital and the desire to invest in the technology the newspapers need. And there are interested parties.

There’s just one problem. The Guild. On Tuesday Blethen Maine Newspapers filed suit against The Portland Newspaper Guild in U.S. District Court. The dispute revolves around whether the new owner(s) of the paper would have to honor the contracts of the existing guild members. The guild thinks it should while potential buyers do not. And can you blame them?

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Of course the guild members want to secure their jobs – but I don’t believe this is the way to go about it. If the court finds in favor of the guild than the potential buyers will back out – none of them are interested in having to honor guild contracts – leaving the company in the hands of Blethen until who knows when. If Blethen continues to own the company there will be more layoffs for certain.

If the court finds in favor of Blethen then they will most likely sell the company to one of the interested buyers and the new owners may – or may not – change the personnel. Either way, the chances that guild members are going to lose their jobs neither increase or decrease.

My argument is this: I would rather have an interested party who is committed to the success of these newspapers take over. They will have the funds to keep the papers staffed and running smoothly. They will be able to invest in new technology that will keep us up to date with our competitors. If the Blethen family must keep control of the papers the future is grim. There will be more layoffs and animosity towards the guild.

I see the guild as being selfish. They seem to want to go down with the ship, which is helping no one in the process.

MaineBusiness.com

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