Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pope Pickets Inky

By Ralph Cipriano

Reporters and editors picketing The Philadelphia Inquirer today carried along a life-size cardboard cutout of the pope flashing a thumb's up sign.

"Help Us Pope Francis," the picket signs said. Other placards carried by members of the Newspaper Guild proclaimed, "Six Years No Raises," and "No More Givebacks."

"Our members can't afford to give back another penny," Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild shouted through a bullhorn. "We're not asking for charity, we're asking what's right for our members."

With the Guild contract set to expire at midnight Saturday, union members have authorized a vote that could result in the first newspaper strike in this town in 30 years. As a couple hundred union members marched in front of the newspaper offices on Market Street, the wealthy philanthropist who was the target of the demonstration was nowhere in sight.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest is the owner of Philadelphia Media Network [PMN], the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Lenfest, who sold Suburban Cable to AT&T in 1999 for $2.2 billion, has since given away more than a billion dollars of his fortune to charity.

But Lenfest has made it clear that his largesse does not extend to the 150 reporters and editors who work at his two newspapers and website.

"PMN is not a charity but rather it is a business, and as such it must be sustainable," Lenfest declared in an email sent to all employees this week.

In response, officers of the Newspaper Guild of Philadelphia sent out a bulletin that said, "For us, this company has been a charity. We have lost our pension. We haven't had a raise in six years. In fact, we have given back raises. We have paid more for health care because the company has not increased its contribution in 15 years."

"We want Mr. Lenfest to understand one thing: It's not a charity, it's an investment," Guild officers wrote in an email promoting today's demonstration, which drew the support of the AFL-CIO and Communication Workers of America.

Amy Buckman, a PMN spokesperson, said she believed that Lenfest was in the country but wasn't sure. She works for Lenfest, she explained; he doesn't tell her his whereabouts.

In his email to employees, Lenfest says PMN is in trouble.

"I have invested in the Company without any expectation of financial rewards but because of my belief that these institutions are worth preserving," Lenfest wrote. "However, like the rest of the news industry, PMN faces serious economic challenges, and we all have to work together to do what is needed to ensure the long-term viability of the newspapers and"

The circulation of the Sunday Inquirer is down 25,000 over last year, Guild officials say. Meanwhile, revenues are in the tank.

PMN and the Guild are at loggerheads over seniority and health benefits.

In the event of more layoffs, which are expected, the company wants the right to exempt 60 recent hires from seniority rules. With a list of only 150 reporters and editors left at the two newspapers and website, that's too much to give up, Guild officers say.

Regarding health benefits, the Guild says each of its 400 beneficiaries faces an average annual increase of $4,500 to make up for a $1.8 million shortfall in the company's health care program. That's too much to pay for workers who haven't had a raise in six years, Guild officers say.

Veteran journalists out on the picket line said that after all the givebacks of recent years, including two weeks of annual unpaid furloughs, they are making less than they earned more than a decade ago.

The surviving Guild members have been through court battles and one ownership change after another. Morale is said to be at a new low after management last month overruled the unanimous decision of the Inquirer editorial board to endorse Jim Kenney for mayor. Instead, the Inquirer endorsed Anthony Hardy Willliams, who had received past donations from Lenfest.

Buckman says that in the event of a strike, PMN plans to keep publishing a newspaper as well as keeping in operation.

To further ramp up tensions, Keith Black, PMN's vice-president of human resources, sent out a memorandum to all employees today that explains how to cross the picket line in the event of a strike so the employees can keep their jobs and continue getting paid.

As far as fearing for safety in the event of crossing a picket line, Black told employees, "We will make arrangements for security to protect everyone's safety. At your manager's discretion, you may be permitted to work from home or from another location."

In response, Guild officials sent out a bulletin that described Black's supposedly helpful memorandum as a "disingenuous blueprint on how to become a scab that has been used by union busting employers for decades."

Contracts talks have been going nowhere. After 35 fruitless negotiating sessions in 7 months, Guild members voted 287 to 26 to authorize union leaders to prepare for a strike on Saturday, when the current contract expires.

There's one last bargaining session scheduled for tomorrow with a federal mediator.

"The hope of the company is that it will be a fruitful session," Buckman said.

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice 


  1. It's going to be interesting, for sure.

  2. Hi Ralph, nice reporting. This is your old cellmate Bob. The Grim Reaper management approach to negotiations is redolent of Brian Tierney's initial tenure when he bankrupted the Inq. & DN
    last decade.Is he still calling the shots for Gerry? Has anyone seen Gerry?

  3. Bob you old rascal, how you've been? Supposedly Gerry is relying on the old brain trust that includes our old pal Brian, last seen in Rome hanging with the Pope. There has been no Gerry sighting that I'm aware of. Amy Buckman sure didn't shed much light on the mystery.

  4. Its funny, I seen that same thumbs up photo of the pope when talking about gay marriage, allowing women to become priests and the death penalty for priests convicted of sexual abuse on children.

      Holy Father the Inquirer calls on you now to help them in their hour of need, they call upon you to pray for their jobs, salaries, pensions and livelihoods.
      They ask for your assistance to keep a roof over their heads, to feed and clothe their families and all those who depend upon them.
      They beg from you assistance in these most trying of times, they ask to be shown compassion and understanding . .
      Hold Father these are the same people who have condemned the innocent, knowingly spoken untruths and have sold the their brothers ands sisters into bondage to sell newspapers.
      Holy Father show those who hold such sway over our lives to tell the truth, to ask questions, to report the news honestly, help them to realize what they have done and to accept responsibility for their wrong doings. Let them realize God is the higher authority , not the federal government.

  5. Mr.Lenfest your statement of investing without financial reward is only partially true, the reward you were looking for is control. Control over unions, politicians, public opinion. You have single handedly manipulated the tone of the region, creating an atmosphere of contempt against union leaders, union workers, and select politicians, treating all as criminals. Your paper practices censorship, federal prosecutors and Supreme Court justices call the shots at your newspaper. Fostering an atmosphere of fear must be the order of the day during your regime, for none of your reporters report the truth as it happens, its news handed them carefully sculpted to distort the facts. In an era of social media were one erroneous statement can destroy a human and reduce them to nothing more than a shell of their former selves. The media needs to stop printing lies about the innocently accused. Lives are being ruined, families destroyed, communities torn. Treat us fairly, treat us with respect, research you "story" before you ruin lives. Why is it so hard to grasp the fact that the information handed to you is not factual , because an attorney working for the government , with lofty ambition handed it to you as irrefutable truth. People deserve more, we deserve better from journalist that are taught to see both sides of an issue, those principles are not practiced at your publication. The media holds the average reader spellbound believing as gospel what is printed is the truth, use your moral compass to guide the region with honesty, integrity, truthfulness . Our country seems to be fighting many internal wars, having a hand forming public opinion is more important than its ever been, we will not be able to correct what harm that has already been caused by manipulating the citizenry into believing lies and half truths, when do you see the truth. When do you print the truth .


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