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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 06/29/2011

Village Voice strike hits familiar themes

The Village Voice is great at writing stories. Riveting. Compelling.

The Village Voice and its union bosses stink at writing press releases.

The backdrop: Workers of the Voice, represented by UAW 2110, are threatening to go on strike over poor working conditions. The three-year contract expires on June 30. An alternate site, TheRealVoice.org, is up and ready to swing into action during a possible work stoppage.

So, what sort of oppression is afoot at the Voice? That’s where the news release comes in: When a local is contemplating a strike, Job No. 1 is cranking up some positive coverage. In the case of the Voice — or any other media outlet — that can be a tricky matter. Those who’d cover a strike might not be too impressed by management’s alleged affronts. They’re reporters, after all — folks who’ve likely lived through whatever the Voice is protesting. Or perhaps worse.

Here’s the news release, dissected with an eye toward industry-miser-relativism.

Charge No. 1: “Over the past three years, the Voice staff has been cut by an estimated 60%...”

Context: So what? Are you bargaining for the people who’ve left or the people who are still around? If layoffs are an issue vis-a-vis the future, drill in on how those left on staff are all working 80-hour weeks. Otherwise, Ctrl-X.

Charge No. 2: “Average annual salaries have markedly diminished.”

Context: A huge boo-hoo that bundles whining with duplicity. Over the past decade, just about every newspaper in the land has cut staff — and the cuts have landed hard on editors and other highly paid staffers. That’s how the expense side comes down. The methods vary in that some companies do buyouts, some do attrition, some do layoffs. Result: Average annual salaries markedly diminish. If staffers have actually taken salary cuts, say so. Otherwise, Ctrl-X.

Charge No. 3: “Management has so far played hardball with the union. . .

Context:Softball is available in the media league.

Charge No. 4: “[E]xtensive concessions from the newspaper’s staff, including a substantial, ever-increasing contribution to an inferior health plan, as well as the elimination of management’s own contribution to employees’ retirement accounts.”

Context: OK, finally an issue. Now, Voicers, cough up some details on just how bad that health plan is. Same with the retirement plan — were you promised otherwise? Also, do some reporting and figure out if the company is nice and profitable. Can you fashion a fat-cat scenario?

We’ve reached out to a union rep and a staffer for details on how bad things are. Meanwhile, Gothamist passes along this thought from Voice Editor in Chief Tony Ortega: “Every three years, we negotiate a new contract with the union. And every three years, the union authorizes a strike vote. Nothing that’s happened so far is any different than in previous years, and I expect that on or before June 30 we will end up with a new contract that is approved by both sides.”

(Disclosure: I almost worked for the Voice.)

By  |  08:00 AM ET, 06/29/2011

 
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