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Trouble by the Bay

Labor strife looms in a western outpost of Dean Singleton's media empire.

Nonetheless, progress at the negotiating table came to a halt in early August. Holstege says Bob Jendusa, ANG's senior vice president of human resources, who'd been present at all the previous meetings, "changed positions he'd held earlier in the day, and we called him on it."

Jendusa doesn't address this accusation, citing his unwillingness to "negotiate these things in the press," but for whatever reason, several subsequent get-togethers were canceled. Shortly thereafter, a small article about the breakdown turned up in the San Jose Mercury News. The item mentioned that a federal mediator helped the warring parties come to agreement years earlier, which Jendusa interpreted as a signal that one could be of assistance this time around as well. For his part, Holstege thinks it's premature to call in a mediator -- but according to him, MediaNews representatives contacted one without consulting the union, "which violates a law that says both sides have to consent to mediation and then sit down with a list of potential negotiators and pick one mutually. They didn't do any of that."

In response, the Guild filed a pair of objections with the National Labor Relations Board on September 13. "We alleged that the company was refusing to bargain based on the chain of events," Holstege says. "And we filed a charge of harassment, generally, because we have increasing evidence in the work site of supervisors telling employees that they can't talk labor at work." Before the filing, workers intermittently picketed ANG papers -- on their own time, Holstege stresses. Afterward (on September 16, the day of a canceled negotiation), about fifty ANG unionists staged a public demonstration in Jack London Square, an Oakland tourist attraction.

"We chose that spot because we wanted visibility in the community," Holstege says. "Previously, our protests were to build internal support. But with the charges we filed and their latest antics -- their obvious union-busting techniques -- we felt it had become a community matter."

Holstege can't help but wonder if ANG is trying to goad his membership into striking -- speculation that mystifies Jendusa. "I don't know why Sean would say that," he allows. "All we want to do is negotiate a new contract that's in the best interest of the company and the workforce. And even though the progress has been slow, we were making progress." He adds, "We feel strongly that a federal mediator could help both parties, and that's something we're interested in."

As for Singleton, he says he hasn't been briefed on the ins and outs of the ANG dispute. But he certainly has an opinion about it. "Any time bargaining takes longer than you hoped it would, you have people who are unhappy," he says. "But the problem is, we've got a bunch of thirty- to sixty-thousand-circulation dailies out there, and they'd like to have the same contract as the San Francisco Chronicle, which has a 600,000 circulation. They're never going to get that, and it takes them years to understand it."

Holstege denies the allegation that he's looking for Chronicle-size bucks: He wants salaries to be on par with those at the rival Contra Costa Times, a regional newspaper whose various editions sell just short of 200,000 copies on Sundays, as opposed to ANG's cumulative Sunday circulation of around 240,000 -- a number routinely used to coax advertisers into making group buys. But Singleton doesn't have time to worry about such quibbling. He's too busy picking up new goodies, like The Original Apartment Magazine, a free biweekly publication that circulates in Southern California. MediaNews bought it last week for an undisclosed sum.

That's the way the large get larger.

Air check: "Good Sex, Bad Sex," the August 29 edition of this column, shared the dilemma faced by Pat Jagos, owner of Fascinations Superstores, an Arizona-based chain of sexually themed shops, who was suddenly rejected by Denver radio stations that had once gladly accepted his commercials. As it turns out, Jagos isn't the only businessman having such problems. Tom Kodner, whose retail outlet Secrets, located at 2280 South Quebec Street, sells a wide range of lovemaking accoutrements, is having equal difficulty getting metro-area signals to run his advertisements.

"It's the height of hypocrisy," Kodner says. "All these morning-show guys talk about is sex, and the stations' billboards scream sex -- but they won't take my ads, even though there's nothing overtly sexual about them. What it comes down to is, you can use sex to sell just about anything, but you can't use sex to sell sex."

Kodner estimates his annual advertising budget at $225,000, with $150,000 earmarked for radio, a medium that's worked well for him since he took over Secrets three years ago. At first he spent most of his dough with the Peak, focusing his buys on the heavy-breathing Howard Stern show. After the station was sold and returned to a variation on its original adult-rock format, Stern was disappeared, but Kodner stuck around until the Peak was peddled again, this time to a company that installed a Spanish-language format. "When it became Spanish, everything stopped," he says. A similar scenario took place at 99.5 FM. When the outlet was a classic-rock specialist known as the Hawk, Kodner was allowed to advertise, but not after new owners instituted a somewhat milder rock approach under a new moniker, the Mountain. "They called me the day of the change and said, 'Sayonara,'" Kodner remembers.

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