President of Philadelphia NewsGuild: Vote Jon!

A funny, no, call it exhilarating thing has happened in the journalism world over the past couple years.

Across an industry that has been contracting amid a sickening display of unimaginative ownership that slashes jobs in newsrooms, advertising departments, and circulation and finance hubs — to the benefit of their pockets but the detriment of not only employees but communities counting on the newspapers and websites to inform them and expose corruption and societal ills — there has been phenomenal, inspiring, exciting growth.

Diane and Jon outside The Philadelphia Inquirer

Diane and Jon outside The Philadelphia Inquirer

Where? In the number of journalists signing up to join the NewsGuild-CWA. By some estimates, the total is close to 2,000 people in cities throughout the U.S. — including Los Angeles, Chicago, Hartford, Chesapeake, Jacksonville, Tidewater and Allentown — who have shown the courage to sign a card alerting their employers they want union representation.

It has been an empowering, heartening tsunami of spirit and solidarity in a union movement that hasn’t had much to celebrate.

It is against that inspiring backdrop that the NewsGuild-CWA confronts a leadership choice: President Bernie Lunzer or challenger Jon Schleuss. Sound familiar? That’s because the two faced off earlier this year in a contest that Lunzer, an 11-year incumbent, won by a slim margin. It is an election that was ordered to be done over because, among other problems with the execution of the first one, about 1,000 ballots never made it to eligible voters because of inaccurate addresses.

So, NewsGuild-CWA members eligible to vote will once again be asked to cast ballots in this important contest that will decide who should lead an organization that, like the industry its members come from, is challenged but, as the recent organizing surge has demonstrated, has so much promise.

Friends, this new membership momentum we are so fortunate to be experiencing was largely sparked by Jon Schleuss and his colleagues at the Los Angeles Times, a news company that successfully kept out unions for more than 130 years. Now, as its newly organized members near completion of a first contract, Schleuss wants to infuse the NewsGuild-CWA organization as a whole with the kind of vibrancy and grit I was able to witness firsthand on a recent visit to the L.A. Times newsroom, during which I met with the unrelenting and super-talented and dedicated bargaining committee.

His critics — naturally the incumbent he is challenging and some of Bernie Lunzer’s supporters — are aghast that a person of 32 years who has never held a union leadership position and works at a news company that just last week got a tentative agreement on a first contract would have the temerity to think he has what it takes to run the NewsGuild-CWA. That includes representing the sector on the national CWA board.

For the first election, I took no public position on the candidates, urging the members I represent as president of the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia to get to know each of these fine men and vote for whomever they favored.

But since that first election, Schleuss has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to winning this thing. Not in an egotistical way, but in what appears to be a sincere hunger to take on this giant task of helping all Guild members achieve better working conditions for themselves. He reaches out to locals small and large to learn what issues are paramount and offers ways to tackle them and the kind of encouragement that makes you believe you truly are worth fighting for.

At 59 and recently divorced, I have spent recent years confronting the need for change and ultimately embracing it rather than fearing it. Most recently, that has included leaving a profession as a writer after 37 years to learn new skills as an online producer. I wasn’t told, “You’ve never done that, so why would we entrust you with such a job.” Instead, my move to that new job was encouraged as a good sign of my willingness to take on new challenges and bring fresh insight.

I would argue the NewsGuild-CWA should consider a change at the top in much the same way. I admire and thank Bernie Lunzer for the years he has devoted to this cause. I respect that he wants another four years to round out his legacy.

But much as I’m now looking out at my own membership and trying to identify those who will bring the kind of fresh perspective and energy Guild members in Philadelphia deserve long after I’m no longer a president and no longer a working journalist, I would argue that Guild members throughout the country need to do the same and enact change at the top of the NewsGuild-CWA.

The union’s new membership enthusiasm and momentum that is currently on such a contagious run needs the kind of engaging, we’re-all-in-this-together leader that Jon Schleuss has demonstrated in Los Angeles he is. I would argue we in this movement and this industry don’t have four years to wait for him.

In solidarity,

Diane Mastrull

President, NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia

Vice President, NewsGuild-CWA

Ballots will be mailed to many members by Oct. 25. Some locations are voting in person Nov. 12-17. The vote count will be Dec. 10. Please consider supporting our campaign.

Diane Mastrull