Service award winner embodies best of labor, Guild ideals
Rebecca Rosen Lum of the Pacific Media Workers Guild is the latest winner of the Guild’s prestigious Charles B. Dale Service Award. Although she wasn’t able to pick up the award in person at the CWA Convention, local leaders delivered it to her. “I couldn’t have been more stunned – or more thrilled – to win this award,” she said. What follows is this local’s nomination, explaining why she is so deserving.
Rebecca’s service to the Guild started with a fist-pump in the summer of 2007 when she heard that her workplace, the Contra Costa Times, was the subject of a Guild organizing drive. Don Lattin, a religion writer and former Guild member at the San Francisco Chronicle, had just published a book, which Rebecca was writing about for a review in the CoCo Times.
At the end of the interview, Don mentioned to Rebecca that he understood an organizing effort was under way. Rebecca’s enthusiastic response was duly conveyed to the organizing committee and led to her being recruited as one of the committee’s first working members.
She never wavered in her support for her fellow workers, even when she was “laid off” by the CoCo Times owners shortly after the workers won recognition and formed the Guild’s BANG-East Bay unit.
Rebecca had been a staff writer who covered religion, politics, and general assignment beats. She won many awards in her career and was nominated for a Pulitzer for her reporting on SROs.
Rebecca stayed engaged with the Guild and helped to establish the very first Guild Freelancers unit. She was awarded a grant from the Berger Marks Foundation to help set up the unit. She was a major force behind the “Arianna, Can you spare a dime?” campaign protesting the oppression of contributors whose work was used by Huffington Post in exchange for “exposure.”
HuffPo was acquired by AOL for millions of dollars, none of which was shared with the writers who helped to make it so popular. Rebecca and others set up a Facebook campaign with a petition drive in support of freelancers who contributed to HuffPo. Guild activists campaigned outside the HuffPo Bay Area offices as part of an overall project to draw attention to the use and abuse of freelancers. Appropriately embarrassed, HuffPo management responded with an agreement to engage with the freelancers.
Rebecca went on to help build the Guild Freelancers unit — now more than 100 strong — that serves members with benefits that include media credentials, low-cost vision and dental plans, training programs and other services for the growing number of media workers who no longer work in traditional newsrooms. She remained chair of the unit until her election as local president.
In 2012, Rebecca joined forces with Kat Anderson, now the local’s administrative officer, to found Bay News Rising – the Guild’s first mentorship/training program for college journalism students. That program (now in its fourth summer) has exposed more than 40 students to labor reporting, matching them with Guild members as mentors and editing their work to prepare it for publication. Most importantly, these students are taught that there is value for their work and they should not work for free. Rebecca has been integral to the success of Bay News Rising, and is a consummate mentor and editor for the students.
In 2013, Rebecca was elected president of the local as part of a “Unity” slate of leaders that were committed to the continued vitality and solidarity of Local 39521. As a leader, Rebecca has always been true to her reporter’s nature – she listens carefully, weighs all sides, asks the tough questions, and produces excellent efforts/work product. This local continues to be productive and vital in the fast-paced, high-tech Bay Area environment, and Rebecca – as well as other freelance leaders – has been an instigator of constant training, innovation and outreach. Rebecca recently chose to step down from her duties as local president. As she battles Parkinson’s disease, her spirit and her support for her fellow media workers have never diminished. She continues her work as a mainstay of Guild Freelancers.
Rebecca’s work and life embody the best of organized labor and the ideals of The News Guild/CWA. Certainly, she has sacrificed much to help buoy this union – from a beloved reporting job to her own health.