When winning is really losing

In all of the churn produced by wave after wave of disruptions to the mainstream media industries, we don’t hear much about the unions who allegedly exist to “protect” the workers in the industries. This is probably a good thing, because a recent action by the Newspaper Guild makes me want to question the sanity of that group.

Angry that some Time Inc. bosses wanted to make Web work a part of everybody’s life last summer, the Guild “went to bat” for the employees and won a new contract provision stating that Time Inc. employees can’t be forced to work with the Web. All such efforts must be “voluntary.” From a union perspective, employers are always trying to take advantage of employees. There’s no room for any other point of view.

According to the WWD.com “Memo Pad,” the problem is that “The Guild” doesn’t represent the dot-com employees who work for Time Inc., so they took issue with what the Fortune Magazine and Time Magazine managing editors were trying to do.

As part of a settlement between Time Inc. and The Guild on the issue, the new contract says Time Inc. will ensure Web site work will be voluntary for Guild-covered employees, and “there will no negative impact on any employee for not volunteering to do Web site work.” It also says the company will “grant Guild coverage to any Web site employee who ‘routinely or regularly’ performs ‘any work or services for any entity covered by the contract,’ ” and will cover magazine employees who are transferred to the Web sites.

Rather than take the position that the future for its members is online and work to ease the transition, the union waved its archaic flag and beat its chest to insure ITS survival. The problem is that the best interests of its members aren’t being served. When layoffs occur, where do you think they’ll come from? Certainly not the Web side of the business.

There’s no such thing as a “you can’t lay me off” card in traditional media, circa 2007.

There has never been a time like this in the history of media and its unions, and when a union postures like this to try and gain a foothold in the new world, all it does is screw its members. Tough times, I know.

The first advice I give to any content creator these days is to study and become THE go-to guy/gal in the newsroom in terms of Web work. This doesn’t preclude that, of course, but it absolutely sends the wrong message to the brotherhood.


  1. You would think that union leaders have slept through the last 30 years.

    Your advice is dead on. Particularly good advice for any mid or late career journo is to get on the web and start trying stuff. If bosses have to decide between dumping two people, they’ll chose the one who shows he can adapt to digital.

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