Former Canadian Media Guild president endorses Jon, calls for term limits
Elections are muddy, emotionally-charged and often frustrating events –but they are the basis of the union movement and our democracy as a whole. That’s why we should all embrace the current campaign for News Guild president – even more so now that it is being re-run to ensure all Guild members have access to the process.
This race is between a leader who has been in power since 2008 with a track record to match and one who recently led a successful organizing drive at the Los Angeles Times, currently that is seen as one of the marquee events of the union movement in recent years. Bernie Lunzer has enormous experience, while Jon Schleuss is energetic, smart, inquisitive and forward-thinking.
It’s a great choice and should be a backdrop for a good debate about the Guild’s staffing and spending choices over the years, current member priorities and how the union should take on the massive changes in our industry. But that has not been the case. From what I can tell, this campaign has been unnecessarily divisive. The re-run aspect adds an unusual wrinkle, to be sure. But I blame it mostly on the lack of term limits in the News Guild’s constitution.
Term limits promote leadership change at a set time, which is healthy for any organization. It allows for orderly and positive transition --especially in times of generational change. The idea is vital in preventing the crippling power of incumbency from suppressing rational debate and forward movement.
The power of incumbency — especially one that is 11 years in the making — is overwhelming. Established leaders feel and sometimes they act entitled to the job after so many years doing it. Solid activists — who members should be hearing from right now — feel prevented from taking a position out of fear of appearing to be a traitor to a long-time colleague and often, a good friend. Many feel their positions and future effectiveness are potentially at risk if they support the challenger. Real debate is stifled. Case in point: look at the proportion of retired leaders who have taken the step to go public to offer their support to Schleuss. Add the other benefits of being in office and you have a nearly unsurmountable uphill battle for any challenger. How is this good for democracy, not to mention renewal?
My former local – the Canadian Media Guild — passed the idea of term limits at its 2018 convention. It means any president can serve no more than three 3-year terms. The motion came from the CMG’s president Kam Rao (who was in her first term) and was seconded by me, a former CMG president (now retired). I argued that many Boards of Directors recognize that 8,9 or 10 years is enough time for anyone to make their mark as a leader. No one is owed their time in office just because they have already done the job. Experience matters for sure, but so do other traits. Delegates weighed the pros and cons of promoting regeneration against the individual rights of any long-time incumbent. The motion passed by more than 2/3 majority it needed among the approximately 175 delegates.
I began my Guild career more than 30 years ago, at the same time as Lunzer and executive VP Marion Needham. Back then, we were part of a coalition that fought for generational change against a leadership that had grown out-of-touch with the reality of the late 1980s. We were called upstarts, inexperienced and a whole lot worse. Sound familiar? I am sad to watch the same movie again involving some of the very same people in reverse roles, so many decades later.
The choice for me is clear - I'm supporting Jon Schleuss.
Former President, Canadian Media Guild