April 30, 1999, was the last day that members of the Newspaper Guild union at the Register-Guard worked under a contract. In the three years since, the union has given in to the newspaper's management on almost every point, but still the newspaper refuses to sign a contract.
According to Jeff Wright, a reporter for the Register-Guard and member of the union, the newspaper is insisting on new management rights language in the contract that would "essentially eviscerate union rights" and reduce workers' rights to a level that falls below state and federal minimum requirements. Wright characterized the Register-Guard's behavior as that of a corporate-owned newspaper, though it is locally-owned by a Eugene-area family.
Wright confirmed that management has been pressuring employees not to distribute union material or wear union identifiers on their clothing, an action which is in clear violation of the law. Wright considered these restrictions on First Amendment protected expression as ironic coming from a newspaper.
Last year, the newspaper hired Michael Zinzer, of Tennessee, to be their negotiator with the union. Zinzer is notorious for his union-busting techniques, and choosing him casts into grave doubt the Register-Guard's commitment to working with the Guild, or even its desire for the continued existence of the Guild there. The majority of workers -- reporters, circulators, advertisement sellers, and newsroom employees -- are unionized under the Newspaper Guild. The printers belong to a typographic union, and the distributors are Teamsters.
Wright had no theory to offer on why the newspaper's management have been so unwilling to agree to a contract yet. "That's the big question," he said.
Almost 200 people showed up for the rally, including members of a Carpenters' local, the SEIU, Jobs With Justice, and other unions. A KEZI reporter filing a story on camera from the scene said that "100 to 150" people were there. Apparently his education was spent learning how to tie a tie and blow his hair, not count. Typical.
The crowd gathered for speeches and a few brief chants.
People of all ages were in attendance to tell Register-Guard owner Tony Baker to sign a contract already.
Eugene's Urgent Carnival led the crowd in a singalong of the old union standard, "What side are you on?" with lyrics changed to suit the Register-Guard conflict.
Always nice to see suits with signs!