The News Writers Form a Union
John ScribnerPublishing Information
Last fall, when the American Newspaper Publishers' Association became aware that the owners were going to be placed under a code whether they liked it or not, it sent a committee to Washington post-haste to draw up a suitable instrument. Unfortunately for them the members of the committee were assisted by Elisha Hanson, a Washington lawyer who had been a member of a firm which had attained distinction through its efforts to frustrate a Senate investigation of the power trust, which at one time owned or controlled a good many newspapers, and exercises considerable influence today. This law firm also had had an astonishingly successful record in obtaining tax refunds for clients of great wealth during the Mellon regime. The publishers' code, as written by these over-smart gentlemen classified experienced newspaper writers as "professionals," a distinction which publishers could hardly be said to have accorded in the past, and one which the news writers preferred to repudiate in view of the salary and other handicaps under which the proposed honor would have placed them.
That was the first error of the publishers; and it stimulated guild organization in protest and defense throughout the country. Newspaper writers were fortunate in having the leadership of Heywood Broun, columnist of the New York World-Telegram and president of the national organization. Broun did not hesitate to "stick out his neck" and invite the lightning. He went around telling to some of the ablest and most fearless men in his profession the story of what was happening in Washington.
For years virtually everyone in the newspaper business had thought that organization of news writers was next to impossible. Yet Broun was successful in the metropolitan district, and the Newspaper Guild of New York began to take shape. When it accepted a constitution, copies of the document were sent all over the country. As a result the American Newspaper Guild was organized in Washington on last December 15, when representatives of most of the local guilds then in existence met to write a national constitution and outline a plan of action.
About this time the news writers were again aided by the too great cleverness of the publishers in recommending to General Hugh S. Johnson the appointment of Ralph Pulitzer, one of the former owners of the New York World, as special deputy NRA administrator in charge of the newspaper code. Mr. Pulitzer had not held office long before the officers of the national guild sent the following telegram to local guilds:
Perhaps the publishers are most cursed, however, by the strike-breaking chairman of the A. N. P. A. special standing committee which devotes itself largely to checking the activities of labor unions. This watchdog of the press, Harvey J. Kelly, was made chairman also of the Newspaper Industrial Board, in which was vested authority to settle impartially all disputes between newspaper publishers and their employees. Mr. Kelly is on record as opposed in principle to the NRA because it affords labor too great an opportunity to organize. In 1932 he recommended that all newspaper publishers cut their pay rolls from 20 to 25 per cent in order to balance newspaper budgets. This attitude is scarcely adapted to successful dealing with the news writers.
Reluctant to make any demands, almost over-anxious to remain good friends with their employers-for friendliness is their very stock in trade-the editorial men have almost universally refrained from making drastic requests. Yet for some obscure reason, the publishers have been stand-offish in dealing with the guild. After almost two months of shilly-shallying, during which letters from the New York guild were ignored, Martin V. Kelly, executive secretary of the Publishers' Association of New York City, wrote the guild that individual newspapers "affirmed their willingness to meet with their own employees or their representatives for the discussion of any problem of mutual interest," but that the association would have nothing to do with the guild.
In some instances the reaction of individual employers has been openly hostile. In New Bedford, Massachusetts formation of a guild chapter was temporarily discontinued when two organizers, members of the staff of the Standard Times, were peremptorily dismissed on the ground of "economy," though their places were filled almost immediately A third man was forced to resign under pressure. The national organization is now endeavoring to raise a defense fund to bring suit for the reinstatement of the men under the pro section of the NIRA.
Strange things, too, have happened upon some of the papers owned by William Randolph Hearst. A group of New York American writers resigned from the guild, declaring in vivid terms their abhorrence of any organization which was so ungracious to their benevolent employer as to question his philanthropy to newspapermen. Some of them have since rejoined the guild. Their letter was obviously and crudely inspired. On the San Francisco Examiner, another Hearst publication, Louis Burgess, an editorial writer, an employee of Hearst newspapers for seven years, was fired on April 4 seven days after he had discussed guild matters as chairman of the Examiner chapter with his publisher. Burgess we.` handed a check for the remainder of the week and for two additional weeks by Charles Stanton, managing editor. Burgess reported that Stanton told him the action was taker pursuant to a telephone call just received from Charles Lindner, general manager of the Examiner, at that moment visiting the Hearst ranch at San Simeon.
The most flagrant flouting of Section 7-a of the National Recovery Act, however, comes from another Hearst news paper, the Rochester, New York, Journal-American. After three weeks of conferences with the spokesmen of the office chapter, officials of that paper posted on the bulletin board an insulting notice which read in part:
Before Mr. Hearst sailed for Europe recently he told reporters he approved of the guild principles and intended to make a study of the newspaper writers' organizations in European countries. The threat contained in the notice o] the Rochester Journal-American, nevertheless, is that of the company union.
To Paul Block, owner of the Newark Star-Eagle, belongs the honor of being the first publisher to deal amicably with a guild chapter in an important engagement. As a result of negotiations over the firing of seven members of the Star-Eagle staff, Mr. Block has agreed that a bonus ranging from one week's pay for less than a year's work to six months' pay for ten years' work or more will be paid to dismissed employees. One of the dismissed men, who is seventy-six years old and has been with the paper for fifteen years, was reinstated.
The first general contract negotiated with a publisher, however, was that closed by the Philadelphia guild with J. David Stern, publisher of the Philadelphia Record as well as of the New York Post. Under that contract a closed shop is established on the Record, with a check-off system for the collection of guild dues. The scale of minimum wages, covering only the first three years of employment, assured immediate increases to many of the staff.
At present it is the liberal publishers, such as Roy Howard, president of the Scripps-Howard newspapers, to whom the newspapermen are looking for the squarest deal. Friendly though cautious, it is men like Mr. Howard who stand to profit most by meeting the guild halfway. Without waiting for guild action the Scripps-Howard management recently increased wages 5 per cent. Salaries had been cut twice, 10 per cent each time, during the depression.
One of the most effective activities of the guilds has been the determination of the economic status of editorial workers through questionnaires In New York City responses came from 597 men and women, the majority of whom are college graduates and most of whom have had many years' experience in the newspaper business. Of those responding, 33.5 per cent were earning $35 a week or less, 31.3 per cent were receiving between $35.01 and $50 a week and 35.2 per cent were receiving $50.01 or more a week. These wages compare with those in the mechanical departments as follows: compositors, $48.25 on day shift, $51.25 on night shift, and $54.25 on the "lobster" shift; stereotypers, $55.50; pressmen, $46. None of the mechanical employees find themselves in the "$35 a week or less" class.
Average salaries for the various classes of editorial work are given in the following table, which is compiled from the results of questionnaires in New York City, Rockford, Illinois, and Richmond, Virginia:
The newspaper guilds are already performing one great service for the public. Newspaper readers who have not been quite certain whether the papers they read were published in the interests of the masses or of the privileged are now being given revealing evidence. The actions of the publishers in dealing with the local newspaper guilds are indicating in an indisputable manner the social policies their newspapers reflect. Few will be fooled by a newspaper that professes liberal editorial policies but deals with the guild in a reactionary manner.