Lake Superior Newspaper Guild No.8
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Knight Ridder's attitude toward workers hardens
Guild leaders spend weekend comparing notes, working on responses

Sept. 7, 2002

DULUTH, Minnesota - The Newspaper Guild Knight Ridder Council held its semi-annual meeting here this weekend. After a day of local reports and idea-sharing on a range off issues, it became apparent the company is moving toward a lawyer-driven, punitive, control-oriented approach to dealing with its workers.
Knight Ridder is adopting tactics and practices that - as other companies and academic research have found - diminish morale and productivity. Here are a few examples:

  • A new employee handbook issued at the San Jose Mercury last month declares, among other things, that dating fellow employees is inappropriate. When employees enter into a sexual relationships, they must "immediately notify the human resources department," states the policy manual, which workers were required to sign for when they were issued. This suggests that employees must carry cell phones in social situations so they can call the company's on-call sexual relations monitor the moment exchanged glances lead to warm feelings.
  • Executives are increasingly painting large groups of employees with a broad brush, damaging their good reputations. Salaried advertising sales personally are described as lazy and ineffective. Newsroom personnel are said to be spoiled and selfish.
  • The company is turning sales and performance goals into make-it-or-else targets and investigating mistakes in a threatening manner. These tactics are similar to the Enron Corp. controversial "rank and yank" program that doomed a number of employees to low grades and high risk of discharge each year. Such tactics create a climate of keep-your-mouth-shut fear that allows problems and destructive practices to spin out of control.
  • To create the notion that its goals are all achievable, the company is posting lists of those who made them. But it refuses to acknowledge that some advertising sales goals are missed because customers go out of business or suffer business losses in a weak economy.
  • The company is increasingly blaming employees for customer dissatisfaction that results from its cost-control initiatives.
  • With aggressive so-called "management rights language" in its contract proposals in St. Paul, where labor contract negotiations are now under way, the company seeks to put all the risks of seeking new business on its workers. It, for example, wants to eliminate the minimum commission rate and have the right to hire an unlimited number of commission-only sales representatives. The company is unwilling to discuss ways to assure that there is enough potential business out there to offer even a marginal chance of supporting the sales force it wants to deploy. It is also unwilling to provide for fair review of decisions that arise from favoritism, punitive attitudes or personality issues on the part of its managers. These decisions often influence who makes goals and who doesn't and is put at risk of being fired.

    The Guild is, of course, working hard locally and nationally on these issues, seeking solutions that build a stronger company by protecting workers, advertisers and readers from short-term management thinking.
    The TNG-CWA Knight Ridder Council is made up of leaders from locals whose members work for Knight Ridder Inc. Lynda Hanner, co-chair of the St. Paul Pioneer Press unit of the Twin Cities Guild local, is chair of the council. Henry J. Holcomb, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, is its treasurer.

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Lake Superior Newspaper Guild No. 8