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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
- 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.