Baltimore Sun staffers make a pitch for pay raises

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“Rai$e Our Pay Now” balloons in The Sun’s newsroom. Image via the Baltimore Sun Guild’s Twitter.

As The Sun‘s newsroom heads toward negotiations with management over a new contract, staffers went on social media today to highlight one of their top priorities: pay raises.

Reporters posted pictures holding the green balloons with an upward-pointing arrow and the words “Rai$e Our Pay Now.” In a couple photos, the balloons appeared to be tied to nearly every desk in the paper’s Port Covington newsroom.

A common message among the posts on Twitter: wages have remained stagnant for years.

Scott Dance, an environmental reporter at The Sun and chair of the paper’s bargaining unit in the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, said salaries are the group’s number one priority.

“We haven’t had an across the board raise since 2013, though our managers have gotten a couple since then. And we haven’t negotiated a new contract since 2007,” he said. “So it’s long past time that we raise these concerns and get a real raise.”

A spokesperson for Baltimore Sun Media Group did not immediately return a request for comment on today’s display.

The guild made a similar push for a salary bump in October 2016 after company-wide raises were extended by parent company Tribune Publishing, then known as tronc, but only to non-union workers.

At the time, two of the company’s flagship properties, the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, did not have unionized newsrooms. The Times organized in early 2018, and the daily was sold that summer to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. The Tribune followed suit in April 2018, and management opted to recognize the unit last May.

In a 2016 open letter to readers, the Baltimore Sun Guild said management asked for concessions that would penalize junior staffers in order to fund pay raises, and those escalations would not be extended to unionized employees in advertising or at the printing plant.

“We don’t think it’s fair in a year when the Baltimore Sun was a finalist in two Pulitzer Prize categories,” the group wrote at the time.

The union’s current contract with the Baltimore Sun Media Group expires June 30, Dance said. The two sides haven’t determined a date to begin negotiations.

Dance said staffers are also going to push to keep step increases–guaranteed salary bumps that occur early on in a journalist’s tenure at the paper–something management has asked to take away in the past.

“They’re really important to the institution, and we believe if The Sun takes them away, they’d be shooting themselves in the foot because they’d never be able to keep anyone good,” he said.

Journalists will also focus on maintaining job security within the current ranks, he added. Tribune extended buyout offers last November to employees with at least 10 years of service. Dance said only “a handful” of people at The Sun took one, including some who worked in design after their layout duties were shifted to Chicago.

Members of the Chesapeake News Guild, a bargaining unit representing smaller properties within the Baltimore Sun Media Group, such as The Capital, Carroll County Times and Towson Times, also posted pictures with the green balloons today in solidarity with their Sun colleagues.

Having organized in November, the Chesapeake News Guild papers are also in the midst of negotiations with the Baltimore Sun Media Group. Following a campaign that included journalists calling for a living wage, Tribune voluntarily recognized the union in December.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Chesapeake News Guild as the Capital News Guild. Baltimore Fishbowl regrets the error.

Brandon Weigel

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