Chris Lloyd's day in the streets

Dateline: Thu 27 Aug 2009

Chris Lloyd covered movies and wrote film criticism and features stories at the Indianapolis Star until Dec. 2008. He was also a former A&E editor there, and the quality of his work is noted by his recent first-place win in an A&E commentary contest sponsored by the American Associaton of Features and Sunday Editors.

In December 2008, he was one of 18 people who who lost their jobs at the Star. Four of those were volunteers/senior employees who stepped aside, in part to save the careers of younger workers. The other 14 were simply discharged.

Chris Lloyd was one of seven who was dismissed despite having seniority, which is a violation of the Guild newspaper union's contract with the Star.

Lloyd hoped to get his job back; he preferred to work at the newspaper. If that was not possible, he expected to get a decent severance package, which he wanted for his six colleagues as well.

To that end, he quietly but steadfastly made a case for the union to stick with the December Seven and reject the current contract, which called for small settlements for each of those seven employees fired in violation of the contract.

How small? Some Star employees apparently thought the seven were getting $50,000 packages; Chris' was $2,500, (before taxes). All packages ranged from as little as $2,000 to no more than $2,500. Nothing.

Part of the problem is that many rank-and-file Guild members did not know the size of the packages. The company, naturally, wanted the information kept quiet, so it was disclosed only at informational Guild meetings when someone asked.

As we all know, Guild members approved the contract by a 56-45 vote.

While none of us will forget that vote, what is better to remember is the dilligent effort Lloyd put into making the case on behalf of himself and his co-workers.

Here is his account of his efforts on Monday, the day the vote was taken. It is from his blog, www.captaincritic.blogspot.com (link is at the end). It was also picked up by Gannettoid. Chris' account ran Tuesday.

It is long. Please read it.

 

 

Diary of a rabble-rouser

I am not, by nature, an outgoing person. I think I chose journalism in part because it involves learning about others without revealing too much of yourself.

The standards of objectivity preclude one from taking part in overt political demonstrations, even up to putting bumper stickers on your car or elections signs on your property. This mindset inevitably leads to a feeling of setting oneself apart from others: You're an observer, not a participant.

So today I found myself in the curious position of participating in my first public protest -- well, sort of. I stood for a little over six hours in the August sun in front of a union hall, trying to convince my former Indy Star co-workers to vote against an onerous contract that included, among many other nasty items, dropping the arbitration for myself and six others employees laid off in December in blatant violation of seniority rules. I, along with one other person, handed out flyers and talked to people as they were going in to vote.

In the grand history of demonstrations and union agitation, my actions rated about a 0.07 on the Richter scale. But I thought I'd share my thoughts about the day. (Hey, this way I'm still kinda/sorta a reporter.)
  • Believe it or not, my biggest concern prior to the protest was the sun. I am quite fair-skinned, and can sunburn in literally 10 minutes. My second concern was my back -- it tends to lock up after a lot of standing in one place. I made sure to bring a fold-up chair and heavy-duty sunscreen to address these seemingly minor issues.
  • I had to stay outside because the music hall was an official balloting site, so no campaigning can take place inside. I also checked it out with the union president to make sure they had no objections; they didn't. One of the officers even kindly offered me pizza.
  • I didn't want to have to bother with running back to my car to feed the parking meter every couple of hours -- one of my goals was not to leave my post unmanned for even a minute. So I parked in a free spot way north and walked about 15 minutes to the music hall.
  • Checking my reflection in the hall's glass doors, I worried that I would look scary to people. I was wearing shorts and a bright red polo shirt, but also had on a union cap and prescription sunglasses to protect my head. It has a subtle but certain psychological effect when people can't see your eyes. I tried to remember to remove the shades whenever potential voters neared.
  • The biggest trick of the day was figuring out who of those walking near were voters and who were just passers-by. I recognized about half my co-workers, but had to make some educated guesses on others. I ended up unintentionally accosting a couple of non-combatants when I asked if they were voting today, and they were just trying to catch the bus.
  • The flow of voters started at a trickle, just one in the first 20 minutes, but picked up as the lunch hour wore on. About half the people were willing to stay and talk a little bit about the case.
  • I finally got to meet the Star's sports columnist, Bob Kravitz. The sports guys often work crazy hours and are out of the office much of the time, Bob more so than others, and I'd joked that in my 3.5 years working there I never ran into the paper's highest-profile employee. We chatted for a few minutes, and he made some funny but intemperate comments about the contract situation I won't repeat here.
  • Perhaps I was being paranoid, but every time a police cruiser drove by, I worried about being rousted and arrested as a loiterer. Hey, considering the strong-arm tactics that have been brought to bear in this process, an anonymous 911 call is not that far a stretch. I even prepared for this contingency by printing out a message from the guild president granting me his blessing to protest, as long as I stayed outside. Nothing happened.
  • Of all the loopy scenarios I imagined happening, I didn't foresee the one that did: A counter-protester. Yes, really. One of the former Guild officers showed up around 2:30 p.m. or so and started handing out her own flyers urging people to approve the contract, arguing that a terrible contract is better than no contract. I suppose I could have argued with her that no contract that goes unenforced is worth anything, but I thought it best to be pleasant. We exchanged small talk and I offered her some sunscreen, which she slathered on copiously. Interestingly, she herself was laid off last month, but her case is not being grieved by the union because even though she had been there a decade, she was the least-senior person in her department. She departed after 90 minutes or so. I did not object in any way to her presence -- after all, she was exercising the same rights as me -- but I did find it very puzzling.
  • James Yee, one of the other seven awaiting arbitration, showed up promptly at 3 p.m., as promised, to spell me for a while. I hopped over to Bazbeaux for a bathroom break, some AC and refreshments. James ended up staying the entire rest of the day, which pleased me mightily. I enjoyed the company, and I think it made a lot stronger statement to have more than one of us there.
  • I asked as many people as possible if they knew the amount of the monetary settlement the seven of us would be getting. I would say about 80 percent of them did not. As I told the guild officers, I wish they had never introduced the idea of these settlements into the mix, because it resulted in a lot of misinformation. Some guild members were under the impression that we were partners in the negotiations and welcomed the settlement. It was simply appalling. When told the exact amount, people's jaws nearly bounced off the hot pavement.
  • A few people waved off my offer of a flyer, smiling and saying "Oh, I'm already voting no!" In general, I was very pleased by how receptive people were to our petitioning.
  • In fact, during the entire day only a single person gruffly refused a flyer or to talk. Ironically, it was one of the guild officers (past and/or present).
  • The conditions weren't too bad for the first couple of hours, when the sun was east of the music hall and provided some bit of shadow. It evaporated by 1:30 p.m. or so, and we were left in Sol's full glare. My sunscreen did its job where I applied it, but I ended up getting mildly burned through my shirt. My back did OK, too, although it was getting pretty stiff after 5 p.m. My throat was sore and I sounded hoarse. I spotted a fellow features denizen walking on the other side of the street and hailed him, but it kind of came out as a croak.
  • I do know that I swayed at least a handful of people's votes, because they told me so. As a lifetime observer, it was thrilling to know you're having a direct impact on the democratic process. I tried to tell everyone that no matter how they were voting, I thanked them for participating.
  • I arrived home to find dinner nearly ready. This is a rare thing in our household, since even before my layoff I did almost all of the cooking. It was rather nice.
  • The guild president called around 6:30 with the results: The contract was approved 56-45. I had rather expected this, but still held fantasies of a rejection, perhaps even a resounding one. So my last, best and final chance of again working for the Indy Star has evaporated.
So did my mini-protest accomplish anything? I had warned my wife that it was entirely possible that all of my agitation could end badly. I could have pissed off the company, alienated some colleagues and still lost.

Is that what has transpired? Was it worth it? Once it was clear that the company was demanding the union throw the seven of us under a bus, should I have stepped off the curb and indulgently placed my head under the bumper? Compromised my principles and my rights to make it easier on my former co-workers?

I honestly don't know the answer to these questions. All I know is that I stood outside all day and did not merely observe and report, but got involved and made my voice heard.

I lost. But if there really is nobility in defeat -- if that's not just a story we tell to make ourselves feel better -- then perhaps I found a little of it.

Comments

hendy [unverified] said:

With all due respect to Mr Lloyd's position, I don't think there's a union at the Indianapolis Star. This is a group in fear; management calculatedly used that fear against the union and they caved.

There is nobility in defeat; there are also those that think they still have jobs when Gannett isn't doing very well in terms of new media-- and while their sales department runs the front and back office.

So it goes.

2009-08-27 12:05:29

Fyrecracker [unverified] said:

Bravo to Christopher and James for standing up for themselves!

I'm sorry that they were thrown under the bus by the sad and the scared.

2009-08-27 12:16:24

Disgusted [unverified] said:

I became a member of the newspaper guild when I hired in at the Star in the 1970s as a copy boy and was a member when I returned as a reporter more than 20 years later. If nothing else, I appreciated the Marsh gift certificates the guild gave out at Christmas; it was more than I ever got from Gannett.

I think it's pretty low for any guild member to vote for a contract that essentially throws a fellow guild member "under the bus." Vote for a 10, 20 or 30% percent pay reduction for yourselves whenever management jerks your chain: that's up to you. But when you start voting for contracts that undercut your fellow workers, especially those have been clearly wronged according to the letter of your existing contract, that's pretty despicable. What ever happened to solidarity?

Were I still at the paper (and thank God I'm not) I think I'd probably use this as occasion to leave the guild. Folks who make it up clearly don't share my values.

2009-08-27 14:10:32

ruthholl [Member] said:

I was a Guild member too, early on; I left when I went into management (no choice). In management, I sat in on many meetings where Guild leaders defended the rights of employees whose performance was at issue. Guild leaders always conducted themselves with integrity and honesty; they were stalwart.
Later on, when I left management and returned to the newsroom, I was grateful that Guild member Tom Spalding came up to my desk one day and asked me to join again. I was always proud of that union card; it was a throwback to my dad's days in the business, when unions carried weight and Eugene Debs was as much of a hero in our house as FDR.
But I have to say, this vote sucks pond scum. I'd love to hear a post mortem on what went wrong; why the troops did not rally, etc. I understand the fear argument, but surely, if there had been more light than heat, maybe members would have understood what they were up against and what they have lost: integrity.
Disgusted may not be alone in questioning the direction of the union at this point.
Everybody should read the Inkling today. Tom Spalding and Guild officers have sent a letter to the publisher. Really, read it. I'll post on it later...

2009-08-27 14:36:49

Ms. Cynical [Member] said:

Sitting in the SPJ convention today I was reminded how far we are from the good old days.

I recognized not one face in the crowd.

Sad commentary on Indy journalism!

2009-08-27 20:41:48

ruthholl [Member] said:

Did you read about the Gannett guy who is going to help lead an SPJ session on how to bullet-proof your career?

That, too, is a sad commentary...

2009-08-27 23:02:55

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Chris, you did yourself proud, my man. The ghost of old Tom Joad was there with you.

2009-08-27 23:28:02

John Howard [unverified] said:

Delay contract signing for months, embark on weeks of furloughs and layoffs, drop employees with no sevarance THEN get the ones left to vote on a contract.

Clever Gannett. Clever, clever Gannett.

2009-08-28 07:33:28

nicmart [Member] said:

The problem most reporters have, and the reason they are drawn to a union, is that they are basically unskilled workers. The typical reporter or editor is merely a cipher, with no more distinctive talent than a UPS driver or flight attendant. The awareness of this, and that they are painlessly replaced, sends the staffers scurrying to the union for imaginary protection. The reporter who has unique talent has no need for a union than does Tiger Woods.

2009-08-28 07:39:01

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

John Howard has exposed a very sinister, albeit true, strategy.

And Nicmart is just, well...stoned.
Arrogant and condescending, too.

Lumping all reporters into the "unskilled" category is a stretch. I could be wrong, but at one point, almost all Guild members were college graduates. That alone doesn't necessarily prove you're competent, but it does prove you're capable of highly-skilled labor.

(Who thinks like that, Nicmart? What a snotty thing to post on a blog heavily-frequented by journalists, past and present.)

2009-08-28 08:22:46

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

Care to tell us your highly skilled career field, Nicmart? Brain surgeon, I'm thinking.

2009-08-28 08:43:10

George Stuteville [unverified] said:

Because of the way the Teamsters cheated my Dad out of a pension when he was dying of cancer, I basically was in revolt against all unions, though I admit I was a beneficiary of the Guild's negotiations for many years and I thank them for that.

It wasn't till we went through the convulsions of the merger with the news and the misguided Pulliams' sell-off to Gannett, that I finally joined the Guild.

I am not sure how I would have gone on this latest contract vote.

I do respect the notion that everyone cast their ballot from reasonable concepts of self-interest.

What I would like to say (and this, admittedly, comes from the safe distance of mileage and years) what pangs me most about my later years at The Star is my personal timidity and acquiescence to the climate of fear in the newsroom.

As bold as reporters are in public and in print, so many of us are such cowards in the newsroom.

Why is that?

My hope is despite the outcome of this vote, people will realize the necessity of their own solidarity to one another.

That is a way to overcome the fear that permeates the "news center." If the Guild can foster such a sense of unity, they can take over the newsroom and the relationship to Gannett regardless of the contract.

In that way, the Guild wins.





2009-08-28 08:55:53

nicmart [Member] said:

Did I mention that journalists are also thin-skinned? They happily wreck the lives of others, but cannot tolerate challenges to their veracity or talents. Dish it out but cant take it.

Many of the best journalists in the country's history didn't go to college (e. g., Mencken and Twain) while batallions of forgotten mediocrities have. So-called journalism schools churn out suitable parts for the corporate machines. If conformity is a skill then the typical reporter is flush with it.

Not much has changed since Jefferson wrote, "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." We need look no farther than the trashy coverage of the Duke non-rape case, by papers from Raleigh-Durham to New York, to recognize the pitiful state of newspaper journalism.

As Mencken delightfully put it, "A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier." How many of todays highly skilled newsroom laborers have even heard of Mencken?

The job of newspaper management is to make sure that no content threatens profits. The job of the ciphers is to make sure management is content. Where unions are strong, their members are almost entirely those who can be replaced by day workers, and such is the case with journalism. Give me a group of energetic middle-schoolers to do the reporting, and I'll deliver quality of journalism that far exceeds the works of those who are extruded by schools of journalism and suck from the teat of Gannett.

It is telling that the death blow to newspapers has come from the free flow of information and ideas via the Internet. Americans quickly and happily escaped from the torpor and vacuity of official journalism.

2009-08-28 09:29:13

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

George, that is a profound question you raise about newsroom timidity. Why indeed have Star workers been so timid in the newsroom? It bothered me to no end hen I moved to Indpls from the East 20 years ago and I could never figure it out. I can't count the number of discplinary actions I received for mouthing off of at management at the paper. It's just what we did out East, perhaps due to the more diverse ethnic background that included a spirited Italian population. As for the Midwest's milquetoast cower, the best analysis I've read was by The Urbanophile. Here's an excerpt:

"Then you have the Irish and Scotch-Irish heritage of much of the south, and its clear influence on the social state. James Webb in his book "Born Fighting" notes the importance of this culture and its fierce individualism and warrior spirit to America. ...Namely, places with a significant attachment to their particular locale, high ambition, and an in your face braggadocio and swagger about it all.

The contrast with the Midwest could not be more clear. The Midwest, largely settled by Germans and Scandinavians, is historically less individualistic, with more permeable social class, less attachment to place, and with a premium on modesty, decorum, etc. As Tocqueville noted, with a democratic social state the average state of man is higher than in an aristocracy. The worst abuses and excesses do not exist. But nor are lofty heights reached. The lows are higher but the highs are lower

2009-08-28 09:32:08

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"The Midwest, largely settled by Germans and Scandinavians, is historically less individualistic, with more permeable social class, less attachment to place, and with a premium on modesty, decorum, etc."
---------
Fascinating point, Vlad. I think you're on to something.

With my Irish-Scottish roots, I have always felt more than a bit out of place here.

Reminds me of the song from the '80s: "Hush, hush, keep it down now, voices carry."

I've been speaking my mind for close to 60 years now and wondering why so many other folks haven't been.

Example: At these stupid town meetings on health care, where are the voices yelling: "You are acting like stupid ignoramuses! People are dying! People are going bankrupt! And you're coming in here with that line of corporation-fed crappola about 'socialism!?' "

2009-08-28 12:58:41

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Nic, I don't know where you found the Jefferson quote about newspapers, but a couple of things to consider, your arrogant over-written twerp:

1. In Jefferson's day, there were maybe 40-50 newspapers in America. Most of them non-daily. A letter took eight days to go 200 miles. Ponder that.

2. College degrees don't prove smarts. I'm guessing you're living proof of that, but that's just a guess.

2 1/2. I searched all the archives I could find to locate that particular quote, and couldn't. So, if you're going to pop off on a blog founded and frequented by scribes, re: the Jefferson quote: Prove it was said. Quote the soruce, and we'll all move on. Until then, however you flower-it-up with nice words, it still sounds like swill.

That about does it. have a nice day.

2009-08-28 13:04:20

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

Tor ... toor poor. Dahhh......Faucity, er varsity, vaucity .... hey, we journalists are like Patrick on Sponge Bob, Nicmart -- too unskilled for those big words. Please have mercy on us and boil it down to our 7th-grade readin' and wrightin' and intellectual levels.
I apologize for confusing you with a brain surgeon. I suspect now that you're a urologist, no? Your friend, Vlad.

2009-08-28 14:05:21

boomer [unverified] said:

How about ignoring nicmart, since his only goal is to stir the pot? Journalists are often an odd bunch, but that's not a negative. I studied broadcast news, and sometimes took jabs from print writers for not being a "real" journalist. But we all had the same goal. A good journalist has intuition, thinks one step ahead, finds the "real" story, and asks the necessary questions. Bad journalists think they're the only ones who can do their job, think they need to know everything - and don't like being told what to do. Journalism is a social science, different than medicine or law. In the end, it's about people. A career; a livelihood. I'm sad by the recent events at Gannett, and wish everyone well.

2009-08-28 14:46:44

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

I kind of appreciate Nicmart's contributions. What he is saying reminds me of the old Bobby Knight comment (paraphrased here - can't remember it exactly): "Most people learn to write in school and then go on to actually do something; journalists never manage that."

Nicmart's comments reflect the prejudices of a substantial segment of the population: mostly left-brained, analytical, number-crunching folks. It's the linear philosophy: "Well, EVERYONE and anyone can (write, teach, paint, sing, perform music, etc.) so what monetary value do people who have these skills really have to society?

Isn't this at the root of the problems with Gannett's treatment of its "creative" employees? Hey, they are not producing anything tangible - besides print on a page - or selling anything or contructing anything. So, why not treat 'em like pond scum?

During a multi-decade newspaper/magazine career, I have found this to be a common sentiment. At least Nicmart is articulating it openly instead of in a cigar-smoke-filled, caucasian-male-dominated corporate meeting room.

So, slug away, Nicmart. I can take your punches. They don't hurt a bit.

2009-08-28 15:17:38

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

I'm thinking that Nic has been on the receiving end of some investigative journalism, or at least of a critical review of his singing.

2009-08-28 16:15:49

ruthholl [Member] said:

I think this conversation is great, and it could go on for some time.
Just when I was feeling blue and "it's all over" thoughts, a good fight rears its hilarious and many-spiked heads.
Please, continue.

2009-08-28 18:57:06

VladtheImpaler [unverified] said:

Still waiting for a certain someone to apologize to UPS drivers and flight attendants.

2009-08-28 22:11:52

ruthholl [Member] said:

Ahem. (a clearing-throat ahem. Not an amen).
Nicmart? Vlad has a point. UPS drivers and flight attendants are also waiting.

2009-08-29 11:08:13

nicmart [Member] said:

A few witless ad homs do not a debate maketh.

I can't improve on what Mencken ad to say about his fellow tribesmen. Perhaps some of those disemployed will now have the time to read him. Time is better spent reading than having tantrums. I do not hold my breath as I've never known the reading of reporters to reach much beyond the bestseller lists and some obligatory softcore leftist tracts.

Journalists are not an "odd bunch," they are all too uniform and ordinary, as if manufactured by the same factory. In a sense they are since journalism schools inculcate the same characteristics: blandness, conformity, deference to (if not outright worship of) politicians. It's good that McDonald's buys uniform beef from suppliers; but it is not good that the journalism corporations can obtain a comparably uniform product from the collegiate journalism factories. Reporting was a lot more interesting when it was considered more of a trade than a profession, and not fully populated by insipidly respectable people. Not a daily paper in the land would dare to employ a rabble-rouser like Mencken today.

Ignore me you easily can, but no newspaper scribe can ignore the evidence that Americans are rejecting the product that newspaper journalists are marketing, and for the best of reasons.

How long before the tribe rises up in demand of government bailouts? This is already being floated and would be no surprise. Politicians prefer to give money to people they know will play ball.

Is everyone enjoying the diversity of coverage of Kennedy's death in the MSM? Snore. Is there a single daily paper in the country which challenges the assumptions of drug prohibition, or doubts that recycling is all that it's cracked up to be, or hasn't adopted the term "stimulus" to refer to the current corporate bailouts? Same old same old. (The Orange County Register is the only one I can think of.)

Gannett's late employees do so much griping about their former employer, but they willingly served as the company's oxpeckers as long as the beast would have them.

2009-08-29 15:20:17

Seneca [unverified] said:

". . . they are all too uniform and ordinary, as if manufactured by the same factory . . ."

So are managers. All of them take the same courses (or very close facsimiles thereof) regardless of the business schools they attend.

So what can you expect?

No reporter has said a word about the brainwashing against unions that has been going on for, oh, at least four decades now.

About the plans big business put into action 10-15 years ago to do to the work force what has been done and continuing to be done. Aided and abetted by the Congress of the United States.

When was the last time a favorable word was uttered about unions in any medium?

When, from a very early age, unions are mentioned only in a negative context, never positive, what other result can be expected but an anti-union bias?

And it's working. Very, very well.

2009-08-30 10:30:31

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