Let’s talk about this: Re-elect Peter Szekely NewsGuild President
Almost everywhere I go, Guild members tell me how much they like they way our union has changed in the year since I became president – more organizing, more activism and more presence in the workplace and in the public eye.
But I haven’t heard that so much at The Times, where I have a political opponent whose campaign asserts that our union is “drifting dangerously close to a crisis.” So, as election ballots are mailed to your homes today, I hope you’ll try to determine whether those claims are genuine or the words of a candidate looking to create issues to suit his goals.
First, here are a few of the things we’ve done in the past year. We organized three new workplaces (for a total of 21), and there are more to come. We’ve put more boots on the ground – Guild staffers, including a mobilizer, have been spending more time in workplaces, concentrating on those that need it most, to support members and encourage activists. We settled seven strong contracts. We increased our visibility in the press and on social media. In short, we’ve gotten bigger and stronger.
Most folks think we’re moving in the right direction. You can quibble about the magnitude, but it’s certainly not a crisis.
What about The Times? My opponent says Times members are being neglected and that you’re not getting “services commensurate” with your dues.
‘How could anyone hope to build strength with a divisive campaign that pits Times members against the rest of our union?’
I think he’s wrong. As president, I’ve never denied any funding request for Times members. The Guild is paying for videos that are part of a planned mobilizing campaign. We funded a Times mixer, travel for unit officers and countless lunches for activists. In the last round of contract talks we committed to spending up to $1 million for a fair contract, and if necessary we’ll do it again. I’ve also offered the services of our mobilizer and our organizer.
The Times is our biggest and most important unit, and you have perhaps the best Guild contract in the country. We got our parent union to examine Times race- and gender-based pay disparities and we’re pursuing grievances, including management’s disturbing use of nonunion copy editors at the Print Hub. At the bargaining table we’re fighting the company’s push to let managers do Guild-covered work and to cut the severance pay of laid-off employees. And, oh yes, when the carrier providing group rate life insurance for dozens of Times employees dropped out, we found a replacement.
Not only do I dispute my opponent’s claim of neglect, I disagree with the fee-for-service way he frames the issue. We’re a union, not a country club. We allocate our resources to the places where they’re most needed. The emphasis of my entire first year as president has been to find more ways of bringing all members together, socially, professionally and as union members. It’s how we build strength, and that strength ultimately helps us bargain better contracts. How could anyone hope to build strength with a divisive campaign that pits Times members against the rest of our union?
Are Times members being neglected? What do you think, legitimate complaint or made-up-for-campaign issue?
Another recurring theme from the opposition camp is that the Guild needs to spend its reserves of more than $10 million on things like legal bills for members going through divorces and weekend retreats for Guild activists.
I disagree. That money is for investing in our future. I’m proud to say that we have earned $1.75 million since 2008 by responsibly investing a part of our reserves. In the past year, we’ve started using that money to grow by adding key staff. It’s an investment. It’s going to make us bigger and stronger, helping us bargain better contracts and remain financially sound.
Being Guild president has been my greatest challenge and my greatest source of professional satisfaction, something I never expected to be doing during my 28 years as a Reuters reporter and Guild activist. I would like nothing more than to continue working to make our union bigger and stronger, and to work to put my goals in place, like building a more comprehensive training program and welcoming freelancers.
I’m not making any chicken-in-every-pot promises. I won’t make any promises I can’t deliver. But I will promise to work as hard as I can, and spare no expense, to enforce our contract. Our union will endure at The Times and at our other workplaces. And Times members come out ahead when they are a part of our Guild community, not an isolated province.
That’s what our campaign is about. I hope you’ll support me and the Growing Stronger Coalition. Please have a look at our website and feel free to ask us anything you like.
President, NewsGuild of New York