In new contract negotiations with Tribune, Baltimore Sun union seeks elusive pay bump

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The Sun’s Port Covington printing plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Baltimore Sun union reps are back at the negotiating table today with management.

The chief goal is securing what staffers say is a long-overdue salary bump for roughly 100 employees who belong to the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, said investigative reporter and bargaining committee member Kevin Rector.

“Many union members have not seen any cost of living increase, any raises, so many members have essentially, given inflation, seen a 9 percent decrease in pay since 2013,” Rector said this morning before talks began.

That year marks the last time unionized employees received an across-the-board raise, he said. Parent company Tribune Publishing (then known as tronc) doled out pay bumps to non-unionized employees in 2016 but excluded guild members after negotiations fell apart.

A Baltimore Sun Media Group spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment this morning.

Management agreed to meet with union reps today at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Hotel, rather than the newsroom down in Port Covington. Their current contract was extended through July 30 after guild members rejected a proposed extension last month. The agreement now stays in effect only if both sides are actively negotiating.

Rector made the case for unionized reporters, advertising staff and others by noting they’ve seen take-home pay decline for years amid inflation, while Tribune executives “take home millions and millions of dollars” annually through compensation packages.

He also highlighted Tribune’s May announcement of a $56 million cash dividend to be paid out to shareholders, which came after the media conglomerate sold off The Los Angeles Times from its portfolio last year. Company chairman David Dreier said the cash dividend “underscores the company’s financial strength and commitment to returning capital to shareholders.”

Rector said management now owes something more to The Sun‘s reporters.

“If The Sun does not put forward a good faith effort to make sure that those people can remain in the middle class and able to afford to live in this city that we call home, it’s problematic.”

And if that offer doesn’t come? Rector made no mention of a strike, but said the paper could suffer watching seeing some of its best reporters leave.

“If there is pent-up frustration over a lack of pay increases and even cost-of-living increases, then there is the very real potential that top tier talent in the newsroom will look elsewhere and leave The Sun and leave the beats that they have developed fantastic sourcing on and a deep institutional knowledge of,” he said. “There’s a very real potential for that.”

Rector said negotiations on a new compensation deal could take months, judging by timelines for peer newsrooms. The current contract dates back to 2007, and has been periodically extended since.

The Chesapeake New Guild, a bargaining unit for fewer than 50 staffers at the Baltimore Sun Media Group’s community papers, such as The Capital, Carroll County Times and others, is also currently negotiating a salary structure for its members.

The guild organized in November. Tribune voluntarily recognized it the following month, which cleared the path for contract negotiations.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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