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Unionized Chicago Reader Staff Unanimously Vote To Authorize Strike

By Stephen Gossett in News on May 12, 2017 9:14PM

The unionized staff at the Chicago Reader—the city's long-running, invaluable alt-weekly—have unanimously voted to authorize a strike. The vote from staff was 17-0, according to the Save the Reader campaign.

The prominent Save the Chicago Reader mission was launched more than a year ago amid cutbacks and stagnant wages. In one of the campaign's most prominent moves, political columnist Ben Joravsky last September detailed the staff's meager salaries and need for additional resources. Then in a well-circulated post just this Tuesday, staff members publicized their salary information, juxtaposed with their high level of experience. The disparity is startling.

Ryan Smith, the paper's social media editor, said that same day in a post that his take-home pay was inconsistent with the paper's sterling reputation (deservedly so, from an editorial standpoint), the city's living expenses and other factors. "You'd think my salary would reflect my 15 years of experience in the industry, the esteem and prestige of the publication, my skill, and the cost of living in a city as expensive as Chicago," he wrote.

Staff has been negotiating with management on a contract for well over a year, with the central demand indeed being over wages, according to Philip Montoro, the paper's longtime music section editor. He told media columnist Robert Feder in a statement:

“Management seems to think it can get rid of its union problem by dragging this out until the entire staff quits to find work that will pay the bills. Many of us are working second jobs or subletting our apartments to get by because the paper’s hugely wealthy owners seem to think they can retain talented full-time staff with decades of experience by paying them salaries that were substandard 10 years ago.

“We’ve got an offer on the table and the company has not reciprocated. It’s past time for management to treat us with respect.”

Since 2012, the Reader has been owned by Wrapports, which also publishes the Sun-Times. Jim Kirk, Publisher and Editor In Chief at Sun-Times Media, told Chicagoist that—even amid the threat to walk off—talks between both sides will continue with the assistance of a third party. Kirk said in a statement:

"We have worked with the Chicago News Guild for several months on a contract and have made significant progress in a number of areas. And while we remain apart on some issues, we continue to hope we can keep negotiating to a positive resolution. It is unfortunate that the Guild has taken this step. Reader management and the Guild continue to be in talks with the help of a federal mediator and we remain committed to negotiating in good faith."

Aside from salary demands—which remains the largest sticking point, according to Montoro—staff is also looking for a commitment to the union. "We're also concerned with jurisdiction—loosely speaking, we don't want management to have the unrestricted right to lay off union members (or fail to replace members who leave) and shift their work to freelancers," Montoro told Chicagoist via email.

Staff has not and won't set a strike date, he added. "It'd be irresponsible to forestall a possible resolution by establishing some sort of strike schedule in advance," he said. A strike is considered "an absolute last resort," he stressed.