Union members at the Oakland Tribune and its sister papers were worried Thursday that the owners of their newspaper chain will attempt to disband the union that includes reporters, photographers, and copy editors. The concerns came in the wake of an announcement Wednesday afternoon that the Trib and the non-union Contra Costa Times would fully merge on August 13, under the new banner, Bay Area News Group-East Bay, or BANG-EB, for short.
MediaNews Group, the owners of the Trib, purchased the CC Times and the San Jose Mercury News last summer from the McClatchy newspaper chain. But while the Trib and the CC Times have shared news stories and some resources over the past twelve months, their newsrooms have remained separate - until now. Under BANG-EB, the Trib, and its sister papers (formerly known as ANG), the Hayward Daily Review, the Fremont Argus, the Alameda Times-Star, and the Tri-Valley Herald, effectively will become one large newspaper with CC Times, and its sister papers, the West County Times and the Valley Times. Also included in BANG-EB are the former Hills newspapers, including the Alameda Journal, the Montclarion, and the Berkeley Voice.
BANG-EB will continue to publish each newspaper, but all operations, including the newsrooms, will merge. The two main newsdesks will be at the Trib's new headquarters on Oakport Street across from the Oakland Coliseum and the CC Times' headquarters in Walnut Creek. MediaNews already has consolidated it business-side operations, including advertising and circulation, at its new facility in San Ramon.
Leaders of the Northern California Media Workers Guild, the union that represents ANG reporters, photographers, and copy editors, met Thursday afternoon with MediaNews officials to discuss the merger's ramifications for the union. Paul Rosynsky, chair of the ANG bargaining unit, said company officials said they were examining whether there were more ANG newsroom employees than CC Times and Hills newspapers newsroom employees. The issue is pivotal because if there are more CC Times and Hills employees, Media News likely will attempt to decertify the union because it represents less than half of the combined operation.
Rosysnky refused to discuss the union's plans should that happen, but it's a safe bet that the union would file unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board. "We don't understand why the company would want to take away protections that people have chosen and fought for," Rosynsky said. "This could be a kick-ass organization. We look forward to working with our friends at the CC Times. We could be a great newspaper, one of the best in the state."
Kevin Keane, who will head up all newsroom operations for BANG-EB, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. But another ANG employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said MediaNews has been downsizing the Trib and its ANG sister papers through attrition in the past twelve months. The downsizing may have tipped scales against the union, so that there are now more CC Times and Hills employees than ANG, the employee said.
MediaNews, which has a long history of anti-union activities, also plans to transfer twenty ANG employees to Walnut Creek or other CC Times operations, Rosynsky said. However, it was unclear Thursday if this would affect the employee headcount to determine the union's viability. MediaNews officials also revealed Thursday that they plan to close the Tri-Valley Herald offices in Pleasanton and transfer employees to the Valley Times offices a few miles away. The merger also may result in some layoffs, but it's unclear how many.
Here is the complete text of the Wednesday afternoon e-mail from John Armstrong, publisher of BANG-EB to all ANG and CC Times employees:
FROM: John Armstrong
RE: Newsroom Consolidation
I write to let you know we are taking the final step in our consolidation of the operations of Contra Costa/Hills Newspapers and ANG Newspapers by bringing together all newsrooms under the umbrella of the Bay Area News Group-East Bay (BANG-EB).
This change follows the consolidation of the Contra Costa/Hills and ANG advertising, circulation and production operations and the migration of finance, information technology (IT), human resources, targeted publications and interactive regional operations to the headquarters of the California Newspapers Partnership in San Ramon.
Effective August 13, all employees of our East Bay newspapers and affiliated products and services work under the umbrella of BANG-EB. This means consolidated payroll processing, common human resources oversight, common byline style for reporters and a new email domain (bayareanewsgroup.com), among other things.
Kevin Keane, executive editor of the Contra Costa Times and vice president/news of BANG-EB, will be the executive editor of BANG-EB. Pete Wevurski, who had been editor of ANG Newspapers, will be managing editor of BANG-EB.
We are making this change, which integrates three entities into a single operation, to allow us to maximize our East Bay news gathering capabilities, eliminate wasteful redundancies, streamline management and redirect staff and resources to our interactive services and other priorities, such as watchdog journalism.
Under Kevin and Pete, the sports, features, business, photography, graphics, editorial pages, online and copy editing/page design operations each will be consolidated under a single assistant managing editor (AME). Completion of the copy editing/page design and graphics consolidations, which move all of that work to Walnut Creek, is tied to installation of a new electronic front-end system, now scheduled for early 2008.
The AMEs of the regional departments:
Regional/Local News - Carolyn McMillan, Martin Reynolds and Kat Rowlands
Sports - Tom Barnidge
Features - Lisa Wrenn
Business - Drew Voros
Editorial Pages - Dan Hatfield, whose title will remain editorial page
Interactive - Ari Soglin
Copy Editing/Page Design - Bob Nishizaki. Production editors Kerry Young and Al Fields report to Bob. Bob also has oversight of photography, directed by Nick Lammers, and graphics, directed by Chuck Todd and Chris Walker.
Mike Oliver, former special projects editor at ANG Newspapers, will assume similar responsibilities for BANG-EB, and Kari Hulac, former ANG features editor, will oversee expanded arts and entertainment content in our interactive services. Former ANG sports editor Jon Becker joins the regional sports team.
Local news reporting will continue to be supervised directly by editors at each of the BANG-EB newspapers.
Other changes in duties and responsibilities will be announced over the next few weeks.
In the new organization, our interactive content will receive special attention. We will form two breaking news desks - one in Oakport, the other in Walnut Creek - to funnel news to our online sites 24/7. These desks will have dedicated staffs.
As noted above, Ari Soglin will oversee the East Bay online department, in which Kathleen Kirkwood and Ray Saint Germain will assume leadership roles. Working closely with the Web producers, the East Bay online team will include reporters and photographers interested in developing multimedia projects. Some staffers already have made the jump to multimedia full time, and we expect other opportunities along that line in the months ahead.
Concurrent with consolidation of news operations, we also are consolidating labor/human resources functions under Laurie Fox, assisted by Karen Austin. These functions previously were separate for Contra Costa/Hills under Laurie and for ANG under Karen.
There will be no reductions or adverse changes to the pay of employees due to this consolidation. In any consolidation of this size, involving hundreds of employees, some inequities in pay are inevitable, and they will be addressed.
As we eliminate duplication of effort in our newsrooms, we will reduce the size of the editorial staff. It is our hope attrition will cover this reduction, but there is no guarantee that layoffs can be avoided.
Kevin Keane, Pete Wevurski and I will hold informational meetings tomorrow and Friday at the following locations:
10:30 a.m. - Oakport Office, Oakland
1 p.m. - Hayward Office
3:30 p.m. - Walnut Creek Office, newsroom
2 p.m. - Spring Street Office, Pleasanton
4 p.m. - Willow Street Office, Pleasanton
In addition, Kevin and Pete will endeavor to visit all newsrooms in BANG-EB over the next few weeks.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments.
Full Disclosure: I am a former union officer at ANG and Rosynsky is my friend.