The Lawrence Journal-World Guild issued a statement expressing concern about the state of current contract negotiations with the management at Ogden, the newspaper chain that owns the Lawrence Journal-World.
In the statement, Melissa Stiehler, a representative for the union, said Ogden was acting as a roadblock to the union’s priorities. Stiehler said the Lawrence Journal-World’s local management seemed interested in negotiating with the union to improve workplace conditions and address concerns of the staff.
“While local management -- specifically editor Chad Lawhorn -- seems to be sincerely interested in fostering a positive workplace culture and addressing the concerns of his staff, it appears as though the corporate interests of Ogden and their billionaire owner, Bob Nutting, are halting progress towards a contract that guarantees fair and livable wages and shared values of dignity and fairness,” Stiehler said. “Both sides have met regularly since February, but little progress has been made.”
Stiehler said journalists at the paper are understaffed since five positions that were vacated in 2020 are currently unfilled, underpaid and lack benefits.
“They sometimes cannot afford healthcare for themselves and their families,” Stiehler said. “They do not have any guarantee of advanced notice or severance pay if they are laid off. They currently have little official protection from retaliation if there is a disagreement with their editors.”
Stiehler spoke about two specific areas where the union and management disagree: conditions for layoffs and diversity of hiring. Ogden is arguing the maximum guaranteed notice for layoffs should be no more than two days, Stiehler said.
The union proposed a policy to increase the diversity of the Journal-World’s applicant pool. In response, Michael Zinser, the attorney representing Ogden in the negotiations, said this required the Journal-World to discriminate in favor of minority candidates, according to Stiehler.
“Chad Lawhorn has often demonstrated a focus on a diverse staff and understands the importance of including many perspectives in the newsroom,” Stiehler said. “Out-of-town ownership of the paper appears to believe that’s a waste of time.”
The union is asking for community members to sign a public letter in solidarity with the union and journalists at the Journal-World.
“I am confident that these tactics from Ogden management do not represent our community, nor the workers or local management at the Lawrence Journal-World,” Stiehler said. “As Lawrencians, we need to stand strong with our values and remind Ogden of them by supporting the newspaper and its workers.”
Late last year, journalists at the Lawrence Journal-World unionized to fight for fair wages and input in decisions affecting coverage of the local news source.
The Kansan reached out to Michael Zinser, the attorney representing Ogden in negotiations with the union, but did not hear back in time for publication.