Fiscal challenges led to diminished San Mateo Times

John Horgan San Mateo County TimesEditor’s note: Digital First Media announced on Sept. 12 that it will consider a sale of part or all of its assets.

Location, location, location.

It’s been the same mantra for local journalism as it has for real estate. And being in the right place at the right time can be a fortuitous formula for success in both cases.

The San Mateo Times, operating in suburban San Mateo County as a six-day-a-week paid evening publication just south of San Francisco on the northern end of what became Silicon Valley, adhered to that principle for decades. And it proved quite profitable — for a very long time.

The newspaper’s origins can be traced all the way back to 1889, 125 years ago. I have worked for The Times, both full- and part-time, for 50 of those years. I still write a weekly column for what has become the San Mateo County Times.

The changes, both for the newspaper and for the county overall, have been significant and far-reaching during that half-century.

For 78 years, the broadsheet was owned and operated by Horace Amphlett and his heirs, in particular J. Hart Clinton (he had married one of the two Amphlett daughters) and his family.

It was the ambitious and tough-minded Clinton, an attorney by profession, who guided The Times through its years of greatest growth and community influence.

After World War II, the county experienced a rapid population surge and an attendant economic boom. The Times, which moved into sleek, new headquarters to handle its increasing business in 1964, was the happy beneficiary of these circumstances.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, as new area shopping centers came on line (and older ones were updated), local display advertising was off the charts. Classified ads were booming too. Paid circulation was heading toward 50,000.

And, for the most part, those readers were affluent homeowners with lots of disposable income. Then, as now, the county had some of the highest property values and household incomes in the U.S.

Over time, Clinton had crushed much of the local competition; he purchased most of the independent weekly newspapers which dotted the northern half of the county and folded them into his own operations. There was plenty of available cash to accomplish that goal.

A high water mark seemed to present itself in 1989 when the newspaper celebrated its 100th anniversary. There were festive parties, congratulatory proclamations and marketing ploys galore. A new printing press had been purchased (in part, with borrowed money).

A massive, 10-section special edition produced by The Times staff (there were 270 on the payroll at that time) embraced 124 pages, of which 70 percent were pricey display ads. Revenue was flowing in. The standing joke was that the newspaper was a cash register.

In fact, just a few years before the centennial observation, there were several reports that at least one newspaper chain had offered the Clinton family $60 million for its mini-publishing empire. It had been turned down.

But trouble lay directly ahead. An economic downturn picked up steam in the early 1990s. Debt payments had to be made. Advertising was suffering. Cash flow was starting to turn negative.

The firm was paying its unionized employees roughly what their counterparts at the much larger Bay Area metros were getting. The impact of the Internet was beginning to be a worrisome factor. And, separately, there were also onerous estate taxes that had to be paid by the Clinton family.

Even when the Peninsula Times-Tribune (a Chicago Tribune-owned combination of the former Palo Alto Times and Redwood City Tribune) closed its doors in 1993, an anticipated, sustained boost in revenues never happened 15 miles north in San Mateo.

Circulation at The Times quickly jumped to almost 60,000 but tailed off within less than a year. Advertising dollars dwindled too. The Times was losing gobs of money on a monthly basis. Even the county’s demographics were changing.

And the Clinton family didn’t own other media assets (radio, TV, etc.) which could have helped to buffer losses generated by the newspaper. By 1995, it was obvious: It was time to sell or shut the doors. Layoffs, pay cuts for both union and management workers, along with a range of other cutbacks, did little to stem the unforgiving tide. The newspaper was put up for sale by Clinton’s son, John. J. Hart had passed away several years earlier (hence the estate tax issue).

Dean Singleton’s MediaNews, one of the very few viable suitors to step forward, bought The Times (which had 190 employees at the time) in early 1996 and, with an eye on trimming costs and consolidating functions and services to create savings, merged it into what was then the Alameda Newspaper Group, based in the East Bay.

The asset-only sale price (for the land and building) reportedly was $10 million. However, that figure included the assumption of debt and other outstanding liabilities. The net proceeds from that transaction have been reported to be as little as $1 million by several sources.

Today, the San Mateo County Times is an edition of the San Jose Mercury News, part of the Bay Area News Group which is currently controlled by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund. The Times masthead remains.

The Times office property, on 3.5 valuable acres of land, was sold to a developer in 2008 for just under $7 million, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal; the site has been re-born as a modest residential complex adjacent to Highway 101 in San Mateo.

A small number of Times staffers have been retained by the Mercury News throughout concerted downsizing but the halcyon days of a generation ago are long gone as the turmoil in the newspaper business persists.

Still, San Mateo County print journalism remains surprisingly vital. The area is served directly by three paid dailies, two paid weeklies, four free dailies and a handful of free weeklies. Most of these news outlets also maintain an online presence.

Could the San Mateo Times have been preserved as it was during its most profitable and vibrant days? No. It was a vastly different era. And, in the end, there were simply too many fiscal challenges, some of them unique to The Times and the Clinton family, to overcome in a rapidly changing media environment.

The end result may have been inevitable.

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John Horgan can be contacted by email at johnhorganmedia@gmail.com.

 

First in series: Wanted: Local buyers for hedge fund-owned papers

Second in series: Guild news staffs launch effort  to resuscitate journalism

Third in series: Press Democrat purchase by locals is a lesson for Digital First Media

Fourth in series: Fiscal challenges led to diminished San Mateo Times

 

News Flash:  Mercury News for sale

Press Democrat purchase by locals is a lesson for Digital First Media

Third in a series

Editor’s note: Digital First Media announced on Sept. 12 that it will consider a sale of part or all of its assets.  

Few things focus the mind like being told you have 72 hours to decide your future.

A group of local investors had reached an agreement in principle to purchase the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and affiliated papers in November 2012 from Florida-based Halifax Media. All that was left to consummate the transaction was for the unionized newsroom staff to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement, in which case the bank would finance the deal.

Derek Moore, unit chair of Santa Rosa Press Democrat.  Photo by Kat Anderson, Freelance unit, 2012

Derek Moore, unit chair of Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Photo by Kat Anderson 2012.

Or so we were told. Representatives with the newly-formed Sonoma Media Investments had originally told the union we’d have a month to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement once the purchase was in place. Now they were telling us we had three days, and blaming Halifax for the shortened window.

Every indication we’d gotten from SMI up to then was that their intentions were honest. The group’s members included some of the most well-known figures in the community, including Jeannie Schulz, wife of the late Charles M. Schulz, whose Peanuts comic strip empire was built on newspapers, and Norma Person, whose late husband Evert Person sold the PD to the New York Times in 1985.

These did not seem like people who would have ulterior motives for putting in their own money to buy the paper. Behind-the-scenes, the union had reached out to people of such caliber and community standing to wrangle us from Halifax, which had purchased the paper from the Times in December 2011 and in short order had revealed its true desire, which was to bleed or flip us.

Still, with things getting down to the wire, we couldn’t help but wonder if we were being played. Were the prospective owners bluffing? Was the deadline a ploy to gain concessions?

We were going to find out, on a week when the newsroom staff already was stretched to capacity covering early November elections. File a story. Layout the page. And oh, how do you feel about freezing your pension and taking a 5 percent cut in pay, ostensibly to save the paper?

Buckle up.

Those three days culminated the most tumultuous year in The Press Democrat’s history. Employees were stunned in December 2011 when the Times Co. announced that it had sold its regional newspapers to Halifax, a nascent media company backed by Stephens Capital Partners, an investment firm in Little Rock, Ark., controlled by billionaire Warren Stephens.

The Times company was not perfect. But under its wing, the PD earned some of journalism’s highest honors, including the Pulitzer and a Polk Award, and was widely regarded as a first-rate paper, good enough, in fact, that Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., dispatched his son here for a summer internship.

Halifax was an unknown. At a Jan. 16, 2012 town hall-style meeting at a Unitarian church a block from the PD’s downtown offices, Halifax CEO Michael Redding assured nervous employees that the company was committed to community newspapers and had no plans to sell the paper.

However, it became evident during subsequent contract negotiations with Halifax representatives that the company had different intentions. The union’s efforts to broker an agreement were met with intransigence, and by late spring of 2012, we clearly were headed for impasse and a protracted labor battle.

As an alternative, we figured we could find someone else to buy the paper. It’s hard to say when that idea first surfaced. Probably it involved a few cocktails. But what started out as a joke turned into serious discussion as desperation over our situation grew.

When I mentioned to an editor that what the PD really needed was a new owner, he laughed, and said, “That’s not going to happen. Nobody will buy us.”

Regardless, union leaders reached out informally to people in the community who had the financial means on their own, or in concert with others, to buy the paper. One of those calls went to Doug Bosco, a Santa Rosa lawyer and former U.S. Congressman, who informed the union that in fact he did know somebody who was interested. His name was Darius Anderson.

Anderson, in addition to being a former aide to Bosco, is a Sacramento lobbyist, a Sonoma homeowner and a developer who has a lot of political connections and deep ties to Sonoma County. He’s also a huge fan of newspapers, and when he was little, he had a paper route.

Anderson apparently was already working on assembling a team of local investors to put in a bid for the PD. When word filtered to union negotiators, we quietly suspended contract negotiations while waiting for things to play out.

The group lost out in their initial bid for the PD to Black Press of Vancouver, B.C. The company’s tentative deal with Halifax included buying the paper without any of its real estate holdings, before cutting the paper’s operating budget by 43 percent. Black Press is an owner of the San Francisco Examiner and Bay Guardian.

We were headed for a blood-bath. But for reasons that have never been made public, the deal with Black fell through and Sonoma Media was back in the game. This time, their offer was accepted.

Months went by as the terms were negotiated in secret. And then came word that a tentative agreement was in place. The only remaining requirement was the union contract.

As was the case with the Times Co. and with Halifax, Sonoma Media wanted relief from having to pay into the pension fund for union employees, to in effect, freeze pensions at their current levels. SMI representatives said the bank would not finance the sale purchase if it included the risk of unfunded pension liabilities, despite the fact that our fund was on solid financial footing.

SMI also sought a 5 percent wage cut and to take a fifth week of vacation away from the most senior newsroom employees. But they didn’t seek to wipe out our sick banks, convert our vacation to paid time off or to give up our 37.5-hour work-weeks, as Halifax did.

Union negotiators succeeded in gaining a number of important concessions, including a long-sought rewording of jurisdictional language to state that “work of a journalistic nature” was covered by the agreement. That in essence applied to online staffers. We also got a provision guaranteeing no layoffs for the life of the contract, which was three years, and a “me-too” clause that stated that if any PD employees received raises we’d get them, too.

After three round-the-clock days of negotiating, the union team brought the package to members on the morning of Nov. 9, the day of the looming deadline with the bank. By unanimous vote, members supported the new contract. The word was relayed to the SMI group, who had previously scheduled a town-hall meeting at the Unitarian church.

Ten minutes after the contract ratification, all 300-plus employees at the PD assembled inside the church, where for a second time in less than a year they were introduced to a new ownership team. Only this time, a funereal pall had been replaced with something like rapture.

New owners of the Press Democrat, Sonoma Media Group, announce their purchase.

New owners of the Press Democrat, Sonoma Media Group, announce their purchase.

A visibly choked Anderson promised to invest in the paper and to maintain its standing in the community, and to not monkey around with editorial content for his own purposes.

Anderson was followed by Steve Falk, a former publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle and Sonoma Media’s chief executive officer. In a stunning move, Falk invited the newsroom’s union staff to stand so that we could be publicly recognized for ratifying a new contract that he said was essential for the banks to finance the deal.

SMI hadn’t been bluffing.

It’s been nearly two years since that halcyon moment at the church, long enough to test Anderson’s actions against his words. For the most part, he appears to be living up to his promises. The paper has hired employees, invested in new digital and magazine strategies and replaced an aging computer system with a state-of-the-art, cloud-based system. The company brought back Kaiser-Permanente as a health-care option. We still do a fairly kick-ass job covering regional news and bring home the hardware from statewide journalism award competitions.

But Anderson hasn’t been a totally benevolent god. Speaking only for the newsroom, several on-call copy desk staff recently lost all of their hours. The company has informed the union that it intends to do away with pool cars for photographers, even though the alternative – having photographers use their personal vehicles and paying mileage – would be prohibitively more expensive. Although people have been hired to fill some vacancies, we remain woefully understaffed. And we’re all still 5 percent poorer, or more, if you add in factors such as inflation.

But under SMI, there is renewed optimism that the PD will survive into the future and that we’ll be able to continue doing what we love. We look forward to bargaining in good faith with the company next year for a new contract that rewards people for their hard work and for the sacrifices they made getting us to this point.

You want my advice? Be a loud advocate for change, and if that doesn’t get you anywhere, start looking for a new leader. Our experience in Santa Rosa may not be the norm in a world where media companies are traded like commodities in mostly back-room deals.

But brother, it doesn’t hurt to come out swinging. You never know who’ll back you in the fight.

 

First in series: Wanted: Local buyers for hedge fund-owned papers

Second in series: Guild news staffs launch effort  to resuscitate journalism

Third in series: Press Democrat purchase by locals is a lesson for Digital First Media

Fourth in series: Fiscal challenges led to diminished San Mateo Times

Guild news staffs launch effort to resuscitate journalism

Second in a series

Editor’s note: Digital First Media announced on Sept. 12 that it will consider a sale of part or all of its assets.  

We love journalism and we’re damn sick and tired of seeing corporations destroy it.

So we’re fighting back. And we’re getting immediate, widespread attention.

Members of Pacific Media Workers Guild are launching an effort to find or build community-based enterprises to free nearly a dozen newspapers in the Bay Area and Monterey from the grip of the Digital First Media hedge fund and its MediaNews Group subsidiary, which routinely sell off their papers’ assets, send employees packing and exert downward pressure on remaining workers’ pay and benefits in order to quench their executives’ interminable greed.

Papers included in this rescue effort are The Argus (Fremont); Contra Costa County Times (Walnut Creek); East County Times (Antioch); The Daily Review (Hayward); Monterey County Herald; The Oakland Tribune; The San Jose Mercury News; San Mateo County Times; San Ramon Valley Times; Tri-Valley Times; and West County Times.

New York-based DFM is squeezing its newspapers’ profits “while refusing to give hard-working employees long-overdue wage increases,” the PMWG said in a statement posted Sept. 8 to its web site (mediaworkers.org). “We are joining employees at newspapers including the Denver Post, Detroit News and St. Paul Pioneer-Press in encouraging the hedge fund to sell the newspapers to local stewards who would care more about producing quality journalism and less about selling off real estate.”

Thanks to social media, news of the campaign is spreading quickly in the targeted communities and among journalists.

And it’s apparently making some people in management nervous. In at least one locale, company brass called the strategy stupid, obviously ignoring or unaware that it’s newspaper employees across the country, not The Newspaper Guild or its locals, who planned and are carrying out the effort.

In the Bay Area, at least two news outlets picked up the story on day one of the effort. SF Weekly posted a report by Erin Sherbert and KQED-FM reporter Nina Thorsen interviewed PMWG Executive Officer Carl Hall.

In the journalism trades, veteran media-watcher Jim Romenesko included an item in his Morning Report on Monday and tweeted “Guild Seeks Buyers for Digital First Papers.” Editor & Publisher carried a link to The Newspaper Guild’s press announcement.

The experience of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat underscores that community-based ownership can be realized and that it can foster vigorous local journalism while employees get fair compensation and decent working conditions.

After the New York Times Co. sold the Press Democrat and two affiliated papers in January 2012 to Daytona, Fla.-based Halifax Media Group, six investors led by Darius Anderson, a Sonoma-based investor and Sacramento lobbyist, formed the partnership Sonoma Media Investments LLC, which purchased the papers that November.

The scenario is in sharp contrast to that elsewhere in the Bay Area and in Monterey, where DFM/MNG has been systematically shredding newsroom, sales and business staffs, and the depth and breadth of journalism have consequently suffered.

The Herald “is an important resource for Monterey County and it’s a lot easier to dismantle if you are sitting in a Manhattan office and not having to look residents in the face,” said Phil Molnar, who chairs the PMWG unit at that paper.

Molnar reported in early February that DFM’s principal owner, Randall D. Smith, and Herald publisher Gary Omerick proposed to extend by 18 months a three-plus-year-old pay freeze “and eliminate the cap on what employees pay for medical insurance.”

“The Herald has been around for 92 years and we’ve only been owned by a hedge fund for the last four or so years. I can think of no better example of why that is a bad thing than to note the drastic cuts in coverage and quality Herald readers are faced with daily,” Molnar said.

“Our best example of how local ownership is better comes from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.  They’ve reinvested in the very things our owners have cut, and regular people in Santa Rosa tell me they are subscribing again because the paper is better than ever. When does anyone hear that about their hometown paper anymore?

“A fellow guild member once sent me this article and told me to ‘read it and weep.’

Mercury News crime-beat reporter and long-time PMWG activist Robert Salonga said he likes to think that there are people in Silicon Valley with sufficiently deep pockets “who recognize the value of having robust local media.”

Salonga has been with MNG’s Bay Area News Group since 2007, helping to form the Local’s BANG unit. He joined the Mercury staff in 2012. “We haven’t had any across-the-board raises – cost of living, that sort of thing – since I joined the (BANG) company. They’ve also eliminated the 401k matching contribution. We’ve all endured pay cuts. The company instituted forced (unpaid) furloughs three or four years ago – a week or longer. (Health) insurance premiums have risen and we have a narrower array of health insurance options.”

Dealing with management toward a new contract, he added, “is pretty much like talking to a wall.”

DFM/MNG pleads poverty to justify its take-aways “and we know that’s not necessarily the case,” Salonga said. “The company is still profitable, making money through chucking off assets.” Whatever revenue results from the hard work of the employees, “we’re seeing very little of it,” he said. The company’s quest for profitability “is mostly about cutting expenses. There’s no investment in improving the product,” and with so few reporters left, the quality of journalism doesn’t come close to that of a decade ago, he said. “It’s like buying new delivery trucks but there’s less and less in them.

“Newspapers,” Salonga continued, “are supposed to be a community asset, a public service. It’s high time to make a push for reinvestment into the field and into the craft – content delivery in print and online. Professional news-gathering has never and will never go out of date.”

 # # #

First in series: Wanted: Local buyers for hedge fund-owned papers

Second in series: Guild news staffs launch effort  to resuscitate journalism

Third in series: Press Democrat purchase by locals is a lesson for Digital First Media

Fourth in series: Fiscal challenges led to diminished San Mateo Times

Wanted: Local buyers for hedge fund-owned papers

First in a series

Editor’s note: Digital First Media announced on Sept. 12 that it will consider a sale of part or all of its assets.  

Employees at the Bay Area News Group are rebelling against their current ownership, calling for the sale of newspapers including the San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune to more community-minded owners.

Staff members and their union, The Newspaper Guild-CWA and local affiliates including the San Francisco-based Pacific Media Workers Guild, are spreading the message on Twitter and Facebook that we are looking for somebody to rescue our news organizations from the ravages of runaway cost-cutting.

Until attitudes or ownership changes, little headway is expected in negotiations for fair pay and benefit terms. Contract talks have been stalled for months in the East Bay, while a difficult round of bargaining is about to begin in San Jose.

Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund, owns the BANG-East Bay, Mercury News and 60-plus other news organizations in the Media News Group/Digital First empire. In a statement distributed throughout Guild ranks and social media, employees claimed Alden “has presided over a steady decline of the once-proud newspapers amid a challenging time for journalism.”

The hedge fund reportedly has been shopping the newspapers and their associated websites, but so far no buyers have stepped forward publicly. Employee representatives said the Guild and its members would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with a new owner to restore “quality jobs and quality journalism.”

“The future of journalism is too important to leave in the hands of distant investors who fail to grasp that investing in better news products is also good business,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The Newspaper Guild. “These papers are profitable, and they can remain so, but cutting costs is not a long-term business strategy.”

Besides the Bay Area employees, staff members at the Denver Post, St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Trentonian and the Delaware County Daily Times, and many other papers also joined in the campaign, which included local ads placed on social media sites.

“Dear deep-pocketed, local community benefactor,” one such ad begins, “A longtime newspaper, with more than 100 years of history and multiple Pulitzer Prizes, is looking for an owner who cares about Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Empire. The current owner, a hedge fund out of New York City, refuses to open its purse strings and reward employees with much needed raises.”

An ad posted by the San Francisco-based Guild local was styled as an old-fashioned classified ad under the headline, “WANTED: NEW OWNER.”

The ad text reads: “Employees of your community’s newspaper want a new attitude respecting quality jobs & quality journalism on the part of ownership. And if the attitude won’t change, maybe the ownership should.”

Employees claimed the MediaNews/Digital First news organizations “operate in the black but benefit little from the revenues they generate.” Rather than investing in better journalism or customer service, owner Alden Global Capital “has sold off presses, offices and properties, extracting the proceeds.”

Sale of the San Jose Mercury News property generated $30.5 million –– just one of 67 newspaper properties Alden has sold. The sale of the Monterey Herald site generated $5.7 million. Seventy more properties are on the market. Yet staff reductions in Monterey, San Jose, Walnut Creek, San Mateo, Oakland and elsewhere continue.

Newsroom staffing in the Herald has shrunk to half what it was just 10 years ago. Staffing in the Bay Area News Group has shrunk to one-quarter what it was 14 years ago. Meanwhile, employees have gone six years without a raise and endured cuts in salaries, benefits, vacation and even in basic equipment and materials needed to perform our jobs.

Owner intransigence is responsible for a continuing exodus of dedicated journalists, a loss of institutional knowledge and a vastly constricted ability to provide coverage of our communities and vital issues.

The employee statement continued:

“Journalists at these papers hope that local stewardship will reverse this decline and help realize the full potential of our newspapers.

We, who remain committed to our profession and our communities, are making this appeal in coordination with frustrated colleagues at other newspapers across the country owned by Alden.

We believe that an innovative, forward-thinking buyer will realize the need to invest in the coverage and services – both digital and print – that our communities require and deserve. We sincerely hope interested investors will step forward and partner with us in helping revive a healthy and robust press for our communities.

Please contact the Pacific Media Workers Guild at (415) 421-6833 if you have information to help us. You can also email us at pmwg@mediaworkers.org.”

JOIN US IN SOLIDARITY IN A TWITTER ACTION ON MONDAY.  DETAILS:

On Facebook & Twitter, please change your profile picture to the Ad above.

To help get the message out and increase our presence on social media, please post the following tweets at these times:

9am:
Wanted: New owners for our papers http://ctt.ec/VADew+ We’ve had enough of @digitalfirst, Alden Global Capital. #DFM #newsmatters
Click here to tweet now

11am: Save our newspaper: Buy it! http://ctt.ec/dxaBh+ #DFM #newsmatters
Click here to tweet now

1pm: Wanted: Deep-pocketed community benefactor to save local newspaper (link to ad). #DFM #newsmatters
Click here to tweet now

3pm: We’re firing our employer for poor performance. Know someone who’d like to own a newspaper? #newsmatters #DFM http://ctt.ec/03fA3+
Click here to tweet now

Please feel free to go further such as sharing the Guild’s facebook post, or posting the picture other places as well. And don’t forget to update your Facebook status.

The Newspaper Guild statement

San Jose Mercury News Message

Bay Area News Group Message

Monterey Herald Message

First in series: Wanted: Local buyers for hedge fund-owned papers

Second in series: Guild news staffs launch effort  to resuscitate journalism

Third in series: Press Democrat purchase by locals is a lesson for Digital First Media

Fourth in series: Fiscal challenges led to diminished San Mateo Times

 

Current press about this action:

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/business/media/owner-of-dozens-of-newspapers-seeks-buyers.html?_r=1

SF Weekly: http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2014/09/08/bay-area-journalists-circulate-ad-in-search-of-better-newspaper-owners

Jim Romenesko:  http://jimromenesko.com/2014/09/08/morning-report-for-september-8-2014/

Editor & Publisher: http://www.editorandpublisher.com/TopStories/Article/Guild-Campaign-Seeks-New-Owners-for-Digital-First-Papers

KPFA Pacifica WorkWeek interviews CWA Pacifica Media Workers Bay Area
News Group East Bay Chair George Kelly about the national CWA Newspaper
Guild  campaign to get  new bosses at newspapers run by hedge funds. He discusses the
conditions of newspaper workers and the threats to news and journalism
by hedge fund ownership. This interview was done on 9/9/14.
https://soundcloud.com/workweek-radio/ww9-9-14-cwa-newspaper-guild
Production of WorkWeek Radio
workweek@kpfa.org
http://soundcloud.com/ workweek-radio

Silicon Valley Business Journal: http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2014/09/12/mercury-news-parent-company-ponders-sale-who-might.html?surround=etf&ana=e_article&page=all

Denver press: http://www.newsguild.org/news/denvers-westword-gives-guilds-df-campaign-big-play

Denver press: http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2014/09/denver_post_new_owner_denver_newspaper_guild.php

 

Guild art show and panel on Méndez a hit

More than 40 people showed up at the Mexican Museum in Fort Mason last week to explore the art of Leopoldo Méndez and a set of prints recently restored by the Media Workers Guild.

More than 40 people turned out to see the Guild's Mendez prints during LaborFest 2014 activities.  The prints were specially shown at the Mexican Museum in Fort Mason, San Francisco. Photo by Kat Anderson 2014.

More than 40 people turned out to see the Guild’s Mendez prints during LaborFest activities. The prints were specially shown at the Mexican Museum in Fort Mason, San Francisco. Photo by Kat Anderson 2014.

Art experts said the Guild’s prints represented some of Méndez’s best work. They were purchased at a second-hand store by the late Guild officer and Chronicle copy editor Rex Adkins in the early 1980s.

The prints were restored by Karen Zukor, an Oakland expert in paper conservation. She participated in a panel held last week at the Mexican Museum, which also included museum director David de la Torre and Media Guild Executive Officer Carl Hall.

David de la Torre, director of the Mexican Museum in Fort Mason Center, discusses the prints of Leopoldo Mendez that are displayed on the easels behind him.  Karen Zukor, who restored the prints, and Guild executive officer Carl Hall, look on.  The three panelists spoke about Mendez's art at a LaborFest event on Tuesday evening. Photo by Kat Anderson 2014.

David de la Torre, director of the Mexican Museum in Fort Mason Center, discusses the prints of Leopoldo Mendez that are displayed on the easels behind him. Karen Zukor, who restored the prints, and Guild Executive Officer Carl Hall, also were panelists during this LaborFest event. Photo by Kat Anderson 2014.

“All of our members have a right to be proud that we took good care of this work, and recognize its value,” Hall said.

Hall and freelance Guild member Alexandra Early co-wrote a story about the Méndez prints and their restoration which ran in the Chronicle’s Datebook section along with photos by Carlos Gonzalez.

The museum also has two works by Méndez in an ongoing exhibition, “Dialogos Gráficos.” The unique exhibition, which comprises pieces from the museum’s renowned permanent collection, showcases the rich printmaking traditions of Mexico, dating back to the days of José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913) through today’s modern graphic artists and printmakers.

A visitor to the Mexican Museum views one of the Guild's Mendez print on special exhibit on July 8 during LaborFest activities.  The artist made the print from a linocut in 1950.  Photo by Kat Anderson 2014.

A visitor to the Mexican Museum views one of the Guild’s Mendez prints on special exhibit. The artist made the print from a linocut in 1950. Photo by Kat Anderson 2014.

 

 

City transparency measure goes to Oakland voters

Oakland city council members. Front row from left: Noel Gallo, Dan Kalb, Libby Schaaf, Rebecca Kaplan Back row from left: Patricia Kernighan, Larry Reid, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Desley Brooks Photo courtesy City of Oakland 2014

Oakland city council members. Front row from left: Noel Gallo, Dan Kalb, Libby Schaaf, Rebecca Kaplan
Back row from left: Patricia Kernighan, Larry Reid, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Desley Brooks
Photo courtesy City of Oakland 2014

Thanks partly to the Pacific Media Workers Guild’s efforts, a city charter amendment aimed at improving transparency in local government and politics will go before Oakland voters in November.

The amendment to give Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission broader authority, more staffing and greater independence and strengthen whistleblower protections has the support of the PMWG, other journalists’ groups, current and former commissioners and scores of good-government advocates.

Oakland’s eight-member City Council voted 7-0 on July 15 to put the amendment on the ballot after hearing from about two dozen activists, including a PMWG representative, who all supported the measure.

The amendment’s author is Councilman and former journalist Dan Kalb, who represents the city’s northern-most district.

The PMWG, acting on a recommendation from its Legislative and Political Committee, voted to back the amendment at a joint meeting of the Local’s Executive Committee, Representative Assembly and general membership on June 21.

The endorsement proposal met some opposition, not because of objection to the amendment’s content but because some members believe that taking a public position on any political issue violates journalistic ethics.

But most participants agreed with the argument that journalists should speak out on sunshine, press freedom and other issues whose outcomes affect their ability to do their job.

Others backing the Oakland charter amendment include the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, the Media Alliance, California Press Women, the League of Women Voters, and current and former Public Ethics Commission members.

 

Richard Knee is PMWG vice president, California, and chairs the Local’s Legislative and Political Committee. He is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco.

Guild recovers artwork’s distinguished heritage

This linocut by Leopoldo Mendez was produced in 1950 and restored in 2014 by Karen Zukor. It will be displayed at the Mexican Museum as part of Laborfest on July 8.

This linocut by Leopoldo Mendez was produced in 1950 and restored in 2014 by Karen Zukor. It will be displayed at the Mexican Museum as part of Laborfest on July 8.

For three decades, a set of black-and-white linocuts hung on the exposed brick walls of the Pacific Media Workers Guild office on Natoma Street, rarely eliciting more than passing interest. They were clearly well done, and every now and then somebody would speculate about their potential value, or ask about the artist, Leopoldo Méndez, whose signature in pencil could barely be made out on each piece.

The late Rex Adkins, a San Francisco Chronicle editor and longtime union officer, told anybody who asked that he had bought the prints at a nearby pawnshop for $1 each. He had spotted them in the window nearby on downtrodden Sixth Street, the story went, while walking back to the Guild office from lunch. He had them framed, spending more on the frames than the art.

Nobody knew anything in particular about the prints, or the artist, or the story behind the scenes depicted of peasants in struggle, including a series showing a captive rebel facing a firing squad.

For an embattled labor union with longtime ties to the United Farm Workers, the low-budget wall decorations seemed to make a good fit. Now, it turns out, the art has become an asset worth a lot more than mere decoration.

The wood frame and glass protecting one piece shattered a year ago during the jostlings of an office move. Long impressed by the power of the images and quality of the work, the union local’s executive officer, Carl Hall, took the damaged piece to a professional frame shop for repairs. But when the framers noted signs of mildew and general deterioration, and suggested they’d have to reframe all six because they couldn’t match a new frame with the five intact old ones, Hall decided to find out first whether the prints were worth the expense.

After examining the linocuts, Oakland art restorer Karen Zukor estimated that it would take four hours per piece to clean and properly prepare the prints for professional framing. She also found evidence that the pieces Atkins picked up for the price of a sandwich certainly were worth saving – maybe even worth several hundred dollars, if not thousands, if an appreciative buyer could be found.

David de la Torre, director of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco, said Mendez is one of his favorites among the pioneers of Mexican printmaking. He is included in the museum’s current show, “Dialogos Gráficos: Posada to the Present.”

Méndez was a lesser-known but highly respected and influential contemporary of Diego Rivera. He was a leading figure in Mexico’s popular art movement, an artistic and cultural renaissance that followed that country’s revolution a century ago.

Born in 1902, Méndez made posters, prints and murals that depicted the lives and hardships  of everyday Mexicans. A prolific artist and book designer, he helped create two well-known collectives, the People’s Graphic Art Workshop and the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists. But Méndez never achieved the personal fame of far-better-known associates like Rivera, Frida Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueiros or José Clemente Orozco. That was partly because of the artist’s dedication to collaborative and political artwork.

“Obviously, Adkins got a pretty good deal,” Hall said. “This art is worth a lot more than the price of a sandwich.”

Once aware of this unexpected cultural windfall, Hall considered turning it into income for the Guild. But as he learned more about artist, particularly after reading art historian Deborah Caplow’s biography, “Leopoldo Méndez: Revolutionary Art and the Mexican Print,” Hall decided that a union hall was a far more appropriate showcase for Méndez than any private collector’s living room.

“For Méndez,” Caplow writes, “the value of art was in its social utility rather than its value as a commodity. Méndez positioned himself in opposition to injustice, fascism and war by producing images of violence and oppression.”

The particular pieces owned by the Guild were made in 1950 as illustrations for the opening and closing credits of “Un día de vida” (“One Day of Life”), a Mexican film that tells the story of a dissident army officer, sentenced to death for protesting military complicity in the assassination of Emiliano Zapata, a revolutionary hero and land reformer.

The film is difficult to find today but retains a cult following in the former Yugoslavia, where it was extremely popular in the 1950s and 1960s. As Slovenian writer and director Miha Mazzini explained during an interview, the Yugoslav government began importing films from Mexico after dissident Communist leader Josip Tito split with the Stalinist Soviet Union 65 years ago and stopped showing Russian films.

Mexico was a preferred source of cinema, he said, because “it was far away, the chances of Mexican tanks appearing on Yugoslav borders were slight, and, best of all, in Mexican films they always talked about revolution in the highest terms.”

Mazzini said “Un día de vida” led to what he calls a “Yu-Mex” craze, which included Yugoslavians holding Mexican themed parties and Yugoslavian singers specializing in Mexican ranchera music. The film and its soundtrack were so popular that some older people in the former Yugoslavia consider “Un día de vida” the most famous film ever made, whereas in Mexico itself it is largely forgotten.

The only surviving versions of the film available online have Serbo-Croatian subtitles. Méndez’s contribution is clearly visible as the credits roll, showing the same artwork now hanging on the Media Workers Guild’s wall.

In the Bay Area, the tradition of Mexican political art personified by Méndez lives on in the work of such local artists as Juan Fuentes and Favianna Rodriguez, and collectives like Dignidad Rebelde, Design Action Collective, and the San Francisco Print Collective.

These artists and collectives produce prints, posters and murals supporting immigrant and women’s rights, tenant struggles, union organizing, the Occupy movement, and other causes. They share Méndez’s belief that creating works of social utility is more important than achieving personal celebrity.

“Exhibiting in a gallery doesn’t mean success,” Rodriguez said. “Success means making something people will put up and use.”

Leopoldo Méndez and his Taller de Gráfica Popular, the People’s Graphic Workshop, have been a great influence in San Francisco, according to local printmaker Juan Fuentes, former director of Mission Gráfica, a collective located in the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

“He has influenced so many artists in the Chicano movement,” Fuentes said. “His approach and his imagery was always so right on target in terms of what was going on politically in Mexico. I strive to have the kind of impact that Méndez had.”

The Méndez collective became a model in Mexico and globally. The TGP, as the Taller de Gráfica Popular was generally known, became “a great inspiration,” Fuentes said, noting that Méndez and his collaborators “were doing politically influenced art long before we came around, and they set an example for artists taking on social issues.”

Now that the Guild’s small collection of work by Méndez has been authenticated and newly restored (with help from Zukor), the union is planning a formal unveiling and celebration of the artist.

The event is open to the public. It will take place on Tuesday, July 8, at the Mexican Museum (note this new location) in Fort Mason, Building D, as part of San Francisco’s annual month-long Labor Fest. The program includes a reception and art showing at 6 pm.  At 7 pm panelists will speak about the artist and his genre, the background on its journey to this union, and its restoration.  The program will end promptly at 8 pm.

Among the invited guests will be Guild members, other union activists, art historians and Bay Area artist-activists who are keeping Méndez’s cultural legacy alive. Students in the Guild’s summer program for labor reporting, Bay News Rising, will participate. For more information, see mediaworkers.org or call (415) 421-6833.

 

Alexandra Early is a member of Guild freelancers.

Tribute to Jim Drindell, BATU member

Jim Drindell, union member and beloved friend, worked as a composer for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, as depicted in this photo ID. Photo courtesy Stephanie Hedgecoke 2014.

Jim Drindell, union member and beloved friend, worked as a composer for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, as depicted in this photo ID. Photo courtesy Stephanie Hedgecoke 2014.

Jim Drindell, longtime member of the Bay Area Typographical Union Local 21 and later our merged union, died on June 10. His dear friend Stephanie Hedgecoke, also a longtime member of BATU, wrote this tribute.

It was around the Christmas holiday of 2010 that Jim went home after rehab following the abdominal aneurysm. He was housebound the last few years, and on oxygen. He was in a lot of pain.

I first met Jim in Amarillo when we were teenagers. He quickly became my best friend, and he taught me so much. He was like a big brother. He urged me to try to get a transfer from the Amarillo Daily News mailroom to composition, as I had already learned proofreading and some paste-up layout working on my high school newspaper.

Once I accomplished getting the only transfer out of that mailroom ever, we were working second shift Thursdays through Mondays. Jim began to teach me about unions, he was from a pro-union family, and he introduced me to the remaining working members of the Amarillo Typographical Union. They had not had a contract since they’d been threatened with a shotgun-carrying new boss from the Oklahoma scab school in the 1950s after Taft-Hartley passed, but a few were still in the shop and they took every opportunity to speak to the youth working alongside them about the Typographical Union. Long story short, they organized us off the shop floor! We had a meeting with the other workers about unionizing the shop, but the others were fearful of being fired from the only composing room for 300 miles.

The Amarillo members went on to help us get our journeyman cards based on the amount of phototypesetting layout and proofreading experience we each had (back then it had to be equivalent to an apprenticeship time served), and then these good members began to talk to us about the great experience of traveling. (This organizing of new members off a shop floor, when apprenticeships were phasing out nationally due to automation, I think gave the Amarillo Typographical members great satisfaction.)

We took their advice, took our first Traveler’s Cards, moved west and slipped up at the Albuquerque Journal as substitutes in August 1975. Jim was likely the very first out gay man they had met at that shop and the guys had to quickly learn to respect him. That was where we met Ken Prairie in our first experience getting a new contract. I corresponded with him and gave him contacts at the newspaper in Austin, Texas.

Jim and I went to the ITU Training Center in Colorado Springs (that was my second spell there) for nine weeks in the summer of 1977. Greatest trade school ever! And we had some wild times in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs back then. We were flat broke when we left and just barely made it back to Albuquerque, having to replace a fan belt on the car in a small town in northern New Mexico after hours.

Jim convinced me we should follow a friend out to San Francisco; he moved there in 1978 and I arrived in May of 1979. I slipped up in Richmond at the Independent. There I met Valerie McDonald who along with her husband John exercised our ITU rights to get Local 21 to open to substitutes.  The three of us showed up the first morning (September 1979) at the Local HQ to deposit our cards. Jim deposited his card a couple weeks later and we both slipped up at the San Francisco Newspaper Agency. Back then it was the BEST SHOP EVER. There were some 800 situations and 69 substitutes. It was very exciting.

We sometimes rode with carloads of other substitutes to pull picket duty in Vallejo as the strike was still going on at that time.

I followed Jim over to Sorg of San Francisco about a year and a half later. All our remaining members and retirees who worked at Sorg will remember Jimmy. Those were good days and another great shop. Great chapel, too. We all went to the Local meeting when the Bowne Chapel was under attack and strongly spoke against giving in to the bosses’ demands. Later the Sorg Chapel joined the Bowne Chapel picketline.

Jimmy met his boyfriend/domestic partner Bob Stanton for the second time at the 1981 Solidarity Day demonstration to support the PATCO (air traffic controller) strikers. I saw their faces. It was historic for them.

Although Jimmy was sick and in pain for a long time, it still was a shock to hear he left us June 10th.

I owe him so much. If I had never made friends with Jimmy, I don’t believe I would have had the opportunity to join the union, to get out of Texas, to live and work in San Francisco and to have so many rich experiences in the union, the labor work and more. In short, my life totally changed for the best as a result of my best friend, Jim Drindell.

Fraternally,

Stephanie Hedgecoke

Printing Sector, New York Typographical 14156

 

 

Ken Prairie, longtime Typo rep, dead at 86

Ken Prairie was a journeyman printer and activist for the unions for almost five decades.  He died Sunday at the age of 86.  His memorial service is June 16.

Ken Prairie was a journeyman printer and staff representative for the Print Sector for almost five decades.  He died Sunday at the age of 86.  His memorial service is June 16.

Ken Prairie, a veteran California-based CWA staff representative who helped newspaper printers through strikes, mergers and technology upheavals, died at his home on Sunday. He was 86.

A funeral mass will be held Monday, June 16, in Ventura.

Family members said he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March. He continued to work until just a few weeks before his death.

His five decades in the union trenches of the newspaper business spanned an often heart-breaking period of technology transformation and industry change, which wiped out composing room jobs in city after city.

“He saw the whole story, from cold type to the situation today where it’s all on computer screens,” said Duane Beeson, the veteran Oakland labor lawyer and a frequent ally.

Mr. Prairie began learning the printer’s craft when he was in high school, and he served as an apprentice at The Ojai, his Southern California hometown weekly, until he and an editor started a competing weekly in 1951. After selling his interest to his partner, he worked in composing rooms for several newspapers including the Santa Paula Chronicle, the Ventura County News, the Santa Barbara News Press and the Ventura Star Free Press.

Ken Prairie, Harry Sitonen, and Charlie Tobias join in a rally in downtown Oakland for workers from the Hayward Urbanite plant when they were negotiating a contract. Photo courtesy Gloria LaRiva.

Ken Prairie, Harry Siitonen, and Charlie Tobias join in a rally in downtown Oakland for workers from the Hayward Urbanite plant when they were negotiating a contract.  Photo courtesy Gloria La Riva.

He was active in Ojai town politics as well as union affairs from his earliest days in the printing trade. He was the President of the Ventura Typographical Union from 1956 to 1960, when he took on an assignment for the International Typographical Union in Los Angeles.

A year later, he became a regular ITU representative. When the union merged to become the Print Sector of CWA, Ken became a CWA staffer, starting in 1987, and remained on the union staff, working in the field, mostly in California, Hawaii and Nevada, until his illness curtailed his ability to travel.

He was still making calls even from home as long as he was able.

“The Printing Sector and the labor movement lost a great man with Ken’s passing,” said Dan Wasser, president of the sector in CWA headquarters in Washington, D.C. “He had such love and compassion in everything he did, and we all learned a lot from him. He will truly be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

His dapper attire, well-trimmed mustache and quiet persistence were familiar to generations of newspaper industry labor leaders and management lawyers in the Bay Area and Hawaii.

Ken Prairie and the bargaining team at signing of first contract with Design Action Collective.  Photo courtesy Gloria La Riva.

Ken Prairie and the bargaining team at signing of first contract with Design Action Collective. Photo courtesy Gloria La Riva.

One of his larger ITU affiliates, the former Bay Area Typographical Union, eventually became part of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, whose current local number, 39521, reflects the merger of the Newspaper Guild Local 52 and BATU Local 21.

Charles Tobias, former president of Local 21 and the Media Workers Guild Typographical Sector, recalled Ken as a professional who always looked the part, even during the heat of such battles as the 1994 San Francisco newspaper strike, when his coat and tie may have been the only ones in the room.

“I never saw him without a suit on,” Tobias said. “His presence at the negotiating table caused the employer to treat our union with respect. I worked constantly with him in major negotiations, where his participation was greatly appreciated, especially during the 1994 newspaper strike.”

Dave Ellis, retired staff representative and former president of the Mailers Union, Teamsters Local 15, negotiated side-by-side with Mr. Prairie on behalf of workers at the Dallas dailies in Texas during the early 1980s.

“He made a tough job look easy — he was the consummate negotiator. Even in the difficult environment of a right-to-work state in the South, he could get a contract,” Ellis said.

He recalled one morning just before a meeting with Times-Herald management, when “Ken spilled coffee on his shirt, and insisted on going across the street to buy a new shirt.”

“He was not going to go into that meeting with management, wearing a stained shirt,” Ellis said.

Gloria La Riva, the current head of the Typographical Sector and First Vice-President of the Media Workers Guild, said Mr. Prairie “always had a good story to tell, and the most amazing memory.”

“He knew the names of everyone he ever worked with, decades back. That was extremely useful for the union, because he knew what the issues were in long-ago negotiations, and their evolution and what was useful today. He had enormous experience in negotiating,” La Riva said.

He knew the value of salving wounds and maintaining the fighting spirit during an extraordinarily tough period for all of organized labor, and particularly for union printers, adjusting to the computer era and shutdown of most metro composing rooms.

“My favorite times with him were after a tough time negotiating or some other setback for the union, we’d be sitting in my office and we would just look at each other and say, ‘Let’s go get some ice cream.’ Or coffee. He loved coffee,” La Riva said.

If he ever lost his cool, it didn’t show.

“I know there are many union leaders who worked many more years than I did with Ken, but I never in my years of knowing Ken and later working with him, ever saw him lose his temper,” La Riva said. “It came from that very calm manner that he had, but also that special wisdom he possessed.”

Kenneth Nicklas Prairie was born Oct. 3, 1927, in Ojai, the youngest of three brothers. Survivors include his wife, Dorothy A. (Hobart) Prairie; four children, Susan A. Rosario (Tony), Michael W. Prairie (Hiromi), Bonnie P. Ryan (Kevin) and Lucinda G. Garner; eight grandchildren; one great grandson; and one nephew.

A visitation will be held at Ted Mayr Funeral Home, 3150 Loma Vista Road, Ventura on Sunday, June 15, from 3 to 4 p.m., followed by a vigil service.

The funeral mass will be held at the San Buenaventura Mission, 211 E. Main St, Ventura, on Monday, June 16, starting at 10 a.m.

Condolences may be left at TedMayrFuneralHome.com. An obituary provided by the family can be found at dignitymemorial.com.

Protest at GAP HQ highlights garment giant’s lack of humanity

Martin Caldwell (sumofus.org), Sara Steffens (The Newspaper Guild) and Sara Church (International Labor Rights Forum) speak outside of The GAP's annual shareholder meeting in protest of GAP's refusal to join in an accord that protects workers and their health and safety.  Photo by Staff 2014.

Martin Caldwell (sumofus.org), Sara Steffens (The Newspaper Guild) and Sarah Church (International Labor Rights Forum) speak outside of GAP’s annual shareholder meeting in protest of the company’s refusal to join in an accord that protects Bangladeshi workers’ health and safety. Photo by Staff 2014.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Community activists gathered from across the Bay Area to protest the status of safety conditions and labor rights, outside the annual shareholders meeting on Tuesday at the GAP headquarters at 2 Folsom in San Francisco.

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) issued the following statement: “Since 2005, more than 1,800 Bangladeshi garment workers have been killed in fires and building collapses while sewing clothing for companies like Gap and Walmart. In order to prevent future tragedies in their supply chains, over 160 companies, including H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, and American Eagle, have now signed onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally-binding factory safety agreement with two global unions and ten Bangladeshi unions. It’s time for Gap to join with them, before the next deadly disaster. The demonstration will also call on Gap to pay $200,000 in compensation to the victims of the Aswad factory fire. On October 8, 2013, seven workers were killed and 50 were injured in a fire at Aswad Composite Mills, which made cloth for Gap Inc., but Gap has failed to pay even a single penny of the compensation it owes. We will also lift up the demands of garment workers who have been striking in Cambodia. We will call on Gap to tell its Cambodian suppliers to pay at least $160/month, to pay a price to the factories that supports the wage increase, and to urge the government of Cambodia to release the 21 activists who have been unjustly detained since January, drop the charges against all 23, and reinstate freedom of assembly….”

Local community members awarded GAP Board members the Public Eye Award, citing the company as “the most socially-irresponsible corporation.”

According to GAP officials, Laura Wilkinson, a public relations representative for the GAP said,”The GAP is concerned with these issues and working to address these concerns.”

Sara Steffens, Acting Secretary-Treasurer of The Newspaper Guild, CWA, stated, “We’re very disappointed in the GAP, which used to be a leader in social responsibility. The consumers deserve better and I hope people keep the pressure on the company regarding this matter.”

Green Party Congressional candidate Barry Hermanson stated,”I think the government should reform our trade system. We shouldn’t allow corporations to bring products into our country made with sweatshop labor. For the additional cost of 10 cents, 15 cents, or 25 cents, we can have products that are made by someone earning a living wage.”

Sarah Church, representative for the International Labor Rights Forum, and head of the “Sweat-Free Communities” Project, stated,”We want people and consumers to know that people are literally dying because of the lack of safety standards and basic fire prevention and protections. Consumers should be particularly concerned where their clothes come from especially when preventable tragedies take place. The GAP should attend to fire safety issues and compensation for the families and workers who have been adversely affected. At the Aswat site, where 7 garment workers died, the GAP Inc., has yet to compensate the families or support the workers who were either injured or lost their lives in the sweatshop fire. In the wake of the tragedy, the GAP has refused to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord. In response, the GAP has chosen to create a corporate sham agreement that provides no accountability or responsibility, and has had the audacity to bring on board other corporations such as Walmart, which have shown such a blatant disregard for labor and worker rights across the globe…I can’t comment as to what The White House, President Barack Obama, or the U.S. State Department should do in this matter, but we need to continue to put political pressure on the GAP and the Bangladeshi government. Ultimately the responsibility comes from companies. The GAP has the opportunity to make changes but they have continued to undermine efforts at reform.”

Libby Sayre, CWA representative, stated,”I am here because I believe consumers would be shocked that the GAP refuses to pay any compensation for the lives that were lost in sweatshop fires or pay for the lives they’ve shattered in Bangladesh and across the globe. Other corporations have pledged to make changes and signed on to the Bangladesh Safety Accord, but even the GAP won’t take these small steps. I hope mothers will remember this before they shop for clothes during the “back to school” season and I hope voters remember this and oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

Reprinted with permission from Sfnewsfeed.us/Jose Ricardo Bondoc.