In the last couple of days, Mark Zuckerberg apologized (again), the Chicago Cubs lost their home opener, Paul Ryan joined the crush of Republicans quitting Congress — and journalists at the Chicago Tribune told their bosses they hope to unionize.
That last one — the union thing — no doubt caused Col. Robert R. McCormick, the legendary conservative Tribune publisher whose ghost still haunts the joint, to turn over in his grave like an old printing press.
As a union shop ourselves, and with an ownership group that includes unions, the Sun-Times supports the move. It’s ironic and fitting that the Tribune, which for decades used the Sun-Times’ union-negotiated salaries as a benchmark for Tribune pay, soon could be a union shop, too.
But let’s fully understand where the Tribune’s pro-union journalists are coming from. Yes, they care about salaries, health care costs and increasing newsroom diversity.
But something deeper is at work.
A pro-union sentiment is washing over the American media in general, as well as a growing wariness of management, and it flows from a concern more profound than just a better paycheck. At the Tribune and elsewhere, it derives from a deep desire to maintain and protect professional standards.
When the Los Angeles Times voted earlier this year to unionize, much of what drove that vote was a fear that staff and resources were being slashed so greatly that good journalism was under siege.
The editorial board of The Denver Post expressed the same fear this week in an editorial in which it lambasted the paper’s owner, a New York City hedge fund.
But this is a story, as well, that goes beyond newsrooms. It’s a story that goes to the heart of the desire of working people in most any field to maintain high professional standards. Not for nothing are both school janitors and university lecturers in Chicago threatening to strike.
The frustration for reporters and editors at the Tribune and elsewhere has been in seeing top executives pay themselves millions of dollars while their newsroom colleagues are laid off.
The frustration for the janitors of SEIU Local 1 (a member of the Sun-Times ownership group) has been a lack of support from their bosses in maintaining standards of cleanliness in the Chicago Public Schools.
Whether it’s clean schools or good journalism, professionalism means much to working people. Nobody wants to do a second-rate job.
When workers are at the table, high standards are never off the table.
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