The Union Strikes Back
Motion commotion: The Portland Newspaper Guild has responded to a lawsuit filed in June by the Blethen Maine Newspapers, owners of the Portland Press Herald, seeking to have a federal judge throw out a provision in the company’s contract with the union.
In motions filed with the court on July 8, but only made public yesterday, the Guild asks that Blethen’s suit be dismissed, arguing that the case belongs before the National Labor Relations Board, rather than in a courtroom.
Blethen wants a judge to rule that its contract with the union would not be binding on any future owner of the paper. The Guild is the largest union at the Press Herald, representing about 300 workers. Its contract runs through 2011 and contains language that says it “shall inure to the benefit of and be binding upon the successors and assigns of the publisher.” Courts in other states have given conflicting interpretations of similar clauses in union contracts.
The Guild argues in its filing that the contract already sets forth a multi-step method for resolving disputes over the meaning of language in the agreement, and that process should be followed. Blethen claims that would take too long, thwarting its efforts to sell the Press Herald and its other Maine papers by the end of the year. If a sale were delayed longer than that, the company says, more layoffs might be necessary. Blethen has already initiated two rounds of cutbacks at the paper this year, citing big declines in advertising revenue.
No trial date has been set, and it’s not known when a judge might rule on the Guild’s motions.
Credential commotion: On June 25, Laurie Dobson showed up at the meeting of the Kennebunk Kennebunkport Wells Water District’s board of trustees, where an overflow crowd was seeking admittance. The trustees were considering a controversial plan to sell water to Poland Spring bottling company. In order to jump the line and get into the meeting, Dobson, until recently an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, told the keepers of the door that she was a reporter for the Kennebunk Post.
According to a Post editorial, Dobson once worked for the weekly paper, but hadn’t for several years. No problem, Dobson said, because she was actually covering the meeting for WERU radio in Blue Hill.
WERU had its own reporter at the meeting. The station told the Post it had no connection with Dobson. When confronted by the Post’s managing editor with these lies, Dobson told her she was still employed by the Post in some capacity.
In Maine, instances of phony journalists seem to be few and far between. I can recall only a handful of cases over the last three decades, usually involving political operatives posing as reporters to obtain information on the opposition. In a couple of cases, the questionable newsies claimed to be freelancers, which clouded the picture, since just about anybody could hide behind the mask of an unaffiliated ink-stained wretch attempting to make a few bucks peddling a story.
Unlike many professions, journalists have no universally accepted license or other form of identification. Most of us think that’s a good thing. We don’t need to be registered. The constitutional guarantee of a free press is all that’s required for us to do our jobs. That and a measure of credibility.
It’s that last one that Dobson lacks.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.