Boss wins 'decert' at Coos Bay newspaper

By DON McINTOSH, Staff Reporter

COOS BAY - Employees at The World newspaper here voted Dec. 15 to decertify as members of Communication Workers of America (CWA). The 18 to 12 vote came one year and two months after workers voted to join the union (on a 14 to 12 vote).

Under U.S. labor law, workers may file to decertify a union a year after they vote to certify it. Many companies drag their feet in negotiations, sweet-talk employees, and use turnover to their benefit, so that when the year is up, the union can be voted out.

That's precisely what The World did, according to Linda Rasmussen, staff representative for CWA Local 7955.

The Pulitzer newspaper chain, owner of The World, hired the Nashville union-busting law firm King & Ballow to conduct contract negotiations.

Rasmussen said the company refused to offer more than a 2 percent raise, even though most of the staff (reporters, ad salespeople, and office staff) make just over minimum wage, with the highest paid at $10 an hour.

Andy Porter, a reporter who served on the bargaining committee, said the decertification came after some strategic mistakes on the part of union supporters. As turnover replaced the staff, pro-union workers didn't do anything to orient the newcomers. Porter thinks the bargaining committee didn't raise the alarm in time that they were being stonewalled, and that they didn't see the decertification campaign coming.

During the year that was spent in contract negotiations, over half of the original workforce found other work, including two of the bargaining committee members.

On Nov. 4 a decertification petition was filed. That's when the "love-in" began, said Jeannie Carpenter, an organizer for CWA Local 7901, who was called in to help win support for the union. Publisher Greg Stevens took employees out for lunch individually, apologized for anything that had been done wrong in the past, and promised to improve, the union said.

Stevens also sent several letters to employees urging them to vote against the union. He used a union support rally during the Oregon AFL-CIO convention last September in Coos Bay at which police were called and CWA concessions at the bargaining table in an appeal to vote the union out. To make the case that the union had done a poor job of negotiating, he listed unappealing clauses the union bargaining team had signed off on, although no complete contract had ever been approved. Union negotiators said they would not have sent that contract language to a vote unless there had been some comparable management concessions on wages or other issues.

After refusing for over a year to make any such concessions, Stevens disparaged the union in his final letter, dated Dec. 13, for its inability to negotiate a contract. "You can evaluate for yourself what the CWA has actually delivered in its 15 months representing you," he wrote.

Porter said he is pessimistic that employees will vote to bring the union back.

CWA continues to represent composing room employees at The World. Their contract expired Dec. 31.

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