The Baltimore Sun Guild and Tribune Publishing agree on contract extension

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Photo by Brandon Weigel.

The Baltimore Sun Guild has accepted a three-year extension with Tribune Publishing, keeping in place step-increase raises for young journalists, merit raises and other protections from the newsroom’s previous contract.

And there’s still a chance for the across-the-board raise that Sun journalists have been publicly pushing for since the spring.

Under the terms of the agreement, a pay increase for The Sun‘s union members, capped at 3 percent, is tied to the ongoing negotiations with the Chesapeake News Guild, a union representing The Capital, The Carroll County Times and community journalists in Baltimore Sun Media Group.

In other words, if the Chesapeake News Guild successfully negotiates a pay bump for its members, The Sun will receive one too.

Environment and science reporter Scott Dance, unit chair of the newsroom’s union, said it was important not to sacrifice some of the hard-won provisions from previous negotiations, particularly the step raises that guarantee pay increases for an employee in the early stages of his or her career with The Sun.

“We felt this extension was the best way to protect the integrity of the institution and save all our language,” he said, “while standing by this feeling that we deserve a raise, and we shouldn’t have to give anything up for it.”

In a statement, Baltimore Sun Media Group spokesperson Renee Mutchnik said: “We are pleased that The Baltimore Sun Co. and the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild agreed to a three-year extension to the current contract. Our talented journalists, manufacturing, advertising, and other staff are dedicated to the role they play in providing the news and information that our community counts on.”

A similar provision tying the fate of the two units together was rejected by The Baltimore Sun Guild earlier on in negotiations, with members placing print-outs of the contract on top of fence posts outside Sun Park. Linking both groups together only pitted them against each other, the guild said at the time.

But the cap, while limiting how much Sun journalists can receive, hopefully shows management is serious about giving pay bumps to both unions and getting Chesapeake News Guild members on solid financial footing, Dance said.

“Without this 3 percent cap, it seemed almost impossible to give both groups what they were looking for.”

For The Sun, those community journalists essentially fill the role of the county bureaus the flagship paper used to have, Dance said, only with reporters and photographers receiving less pay because they were not seen as part of the Baltimore Sun Guild.

“We think that’s wrong, and we’ve tried to stand up to [management] on that.”

The Chesapeake News Guild is now part of a joint bargaining process that covers several Tribune properties across the country that have recently unionized, including The Hartford Courant, The Allentown Morning Call, The Virginian-Pilot and the flagship Chicago Tribune.

Cody Boteler, a reporter covering Baltimore County for Baltimore Sun Media Group, said the effort covers close to 500 journalists, with 40 of those coming from the Chesapeake News Guild’s ranks.

Boteler, mobilization chair and joint bargaining representative for the union, said negotiations have been productive so far, and future sessions are scheduled through the end of 2019.

“We’re a strong group, and we’re dedicated to creating fair contracts for all the journalists who have unionized within Tribune Publishing,” he said. “We’re excited to see The Sun unit move forward with their contract, and we’re very grateful for their continued support as we negotiate our first-ever contract.”

When the local outlets unionized last November, journalists from the member newspapers posted a video saying low wages–working out to less than $15 an hour–and a lack of overall investment made it hard to sustain a career in news. Tribune voluntarily recognized the group in December.

Throughout their labor fights, members of both unions have shown support on social media and in the press, expressing solidarity with each other and various newsrooms across the country that have organized.

Now that their fates are explicitly intertwined, that sentiment will only grow.

Pointing to the quality stories the paper has produced in the last year, Dance said management now has “a chance to show us that is worth something to them.”

“At the same time they have a chance to pay Chesapeake employees what they deserve for doing the work that has always been done by Sun reporters.”

Brandon Weigel

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