If you read the Baltimore Sun this week, you may notice its local journalists’ names are missing. Instead, articles and photos are attributed to “Baltimore Sun staff.”
The Sun’s journalists are on a byline strike amid ongoing contract negotiations with Tribune Publishing, the Chicago-based media conglomerate that owns the Sun as well as the Capital Gazette, the Carroll County Times and other newspapers throughout the country.
Among the guild’s primary goals is to secure an across-the-board pay raise for its members. Though Sun employees who are not members of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild got a raise in 2016, unionized employees have not since a pay scale bump since 2013.
The paper’s executives, on the other hand, have received raises, and Tribune paid its shareholders a $56-million cash dividend this year.
The guild’s contract was ratified in 2007 and has been extended several times. The last extension expired in July, but its provisions are still in effect because of status quo, which requires Tribune to maintain its terms.
The guild says it is unhappy with several of Tribune’s proposals for the new contract, including the elimination of built-in salary step increases that “enable young hires to reach a living wage,” the elimination of a requirement that management give four weeks’ notice before layoffs, and the removal of advertising employees from the union.
These proposals would turn the Sun into a shell of a newspaper, said Luke Broadwater, who covers the State House.
In March, Broadwater broke the Healthy Holly scandal that led to former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation.
A great deal of the Sun's biggest stories over the past year were broken by experienced reporters, said Broadwater, who started at the Sun in 2011.
“That's why it's so important that the Sun maintain a system where young reporters can enter, grow, thrive and stay — and then break the big stories,” he said. “We are constantly looking for things that the public needs to know or constantly pressing public officials to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. If you lose that, you're going to lose something essential in the lifeblood of Baltimore.”
In a statement, a Tribune spokesman said the strike won’t have any impact on the paper’s operations.
“We are hopeful we can negotiate a new labor contract, one that meets the needs of readers, staff and the company,” said spokesman Tilden Katz in an email. “Our journalists will continue to cover the Baltimore region and we will post and update stories on our digital platforms. As always, we will print and deliver our newspapers to home subscribers and retail outlets.”
The Chesapeake News Guild, which represents journalists from the other Tribune-owned papers in the area, has expressed support for the Sun journalists’ cause.
Mobilization chair Cody Boteler said the guild requested their members’ bylines be withheld, but Tribune would not allow it. Unlike Sun journalists, that guild’s members do not have an existing labor contract with Tribune that allows them the contractual right to withhold their bylines. The company is currently bargaining with the Chesapeake News Guild.
“I don't think anybody gets into local journalism for the fame and glory,” said Boteler, who makes about $30,000 a year. “They do it because they believe in the mission. Sun reporters and Chesapeake News Guild members will serve our readers better if we are better staffed, better protected and better paid.”
The Sun reporters’ byline protest will run until Sept. 9. Their bargaining unit is next scheduled to meet with Tribune on Sept. 10.