Guild continues to fight for pay equity

by Caroline Grannan, PMWG Chronicle unit chair

The Pacific Media Workers Guild has been advocating forcefully for the San Francisco Chronicle to remedy pay inequity that disadvantages employees of color and women.

In June 2016, PMWG members in the Chronicle newsroom launched a study of salary data to assess pay equity at the Chronicle. The study, conducted by experienced journalists on a volunteer basis, was initially limited to the newsroom and covered Guild members, not exempt supervisors.

Background: All Guild members at the Chronicle are paid based on the mutually bargained scale in the contract – but those amounts are minimums. Members are free to negotiate extra pay, known as overscale in the union world, and many do. The mutually agreed-upon contract requires the company to provide the Guild with pay data for each member, including overscale.

Based on the best data available as of June 14, 2016 — the date the study began – the  findings were discouraging.

  • Throughout the newsroom, far more men were getting overscale pay than do women. (85% vs 65%)
  • Men got three times the available overscale that women got. (75% went to men; 25% to women)
  • The median overscale for men was more than twice that of women.
  • The median overscale of white employees was nearly twice that of nonwhites.
  • Among all reporters under age 50, median overscale for men was more than triple that of women.
  • Among Metro reporters over age 50, the median overscale for men was triple that of women.
  • Significant inequities also disadvantaged women, people of color and/or older employees in these jobs: reporters, copy editors, photographers, and artists/designers/graphics.

This effort is not intended to reflect negatively on employees who have successfully negotiated overscale pay, but to remedy injustice and correct a system that has perpetuated historic inequities.

Here is the full 2016 newsroom report, without names, edited in a few places to eliminate any cases where an individual’s pay would be revealed. The study has since been expanded to include members in the Chronicle’s departments outside editorial, where it found similar inequities.

The Guild announced the findings to the Chronicle in September 2016 and requested a meeting. Chronicle management initially declined the Guild’s request to meet, and agreed only after the Guild filed a grievance. The Guild discussed the pay inequity findings in meetings with Chronicle management representatives and during negotiations for the current (2017-21) contract. Chronicle and Hearst management disputed the existence of unjust pay inequity and claimed that employees’ individual records justified pay disparities. The Guild sought the right to view employee records, in confidence, to investigate whether individual records justified pay disparities, as well as any studies the company had done on comparable pay.

The company initially refused. The Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in April 2017 seeking the right to view the records. The NLRB issued a complaint against the Chronicle, and the company conceded in August 2017, allowing the Guild to view employee records and stating to the NLRB that the Chronicle had never done a study of comparable pay. After that, Carl Hall and Kat Anderson, Guild staffers at that time, went over employee files, keeping all information in strict confidence, and determined that there was no basis in employees’ individual records for pay disparities.

In July 2018, Chronicle managers held a series of meetings with employees for the purpose of disputing that pay inequity existed.  In those meetings, Chronicle managers stated that they had studied comparable pay data in 2014, had found a few inequities and had remedied them. That statement conflicted with the statement by the Chronicle to the NLRB in August 2017 that it had never done a study of comparable pay data, in its response to the unfair labor practice complaint. The Guild attempted to refile the previously settled unfair labor practice because of the false statement in the earlier settlement, but the NLRB declined.

The Guild is currently working on an updated study of pay disparities based on 2019 data.

Beginning in late 2018, a number of female and nonwhite Chronicle newsroom employees filed claims over pay inequity with the state Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, with assistance from the Guild and its attorneys. The claims are based on the California Fair Pay Act, which as of 2016 strengthened prohibitions against pay discrimination against women, and as of 2017 extended that protection to employees of color. The DLSE has conducted extensive interviews with all the complainants and continues to investigate the charges. PMWG will update the membership when there’s news.

Along with seeking remedies for employees who have been subject to pay discrimination, the Guild’s long-range goal is to pressure the employer to eliminate its discriminatory pay practices. We have some hope that despite its false claim that no inequities exist, the Chronicle, feeling the pressure, is working to eliminate the very real inequities.

The Guild salutes the hard work and courage of the members who conducted the pay equity study, who advocated for equity and who filed claims with the state to remedy pay inequity disadvantaging employees of color and women.

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Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.