The byline strike, which began at 12 p.m. Eastern time Thursday, means that anonymous AP reports and photographs will be sent to more than 1,550 subscriber newspapers throughout the U.S. on Friday.
The AP editorial workers, represented by the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America Local 31222, the News Media Guild, have been working without a contract since Nov. 30, when their three-year deal expired.
Guild officials say they want a new contract that “reflects a real commitment by AP to retaining the talented workforce that makes the news service a success.”
According to the guild, the AP — a not-for-profit cooperative owned by its US daily newspaper members — offered union workers a “paltry and incomplete” pay raise in its contract proposal, and ignored other important issues, such as “health care, pensions, and vacations.” The AP employs around 3,700 workers located in 242 bureaus around the world.
Tony Winton, president of the News Media Guild and an AP radio/TV reporter in Miami, contends that the proposed 1.9 percent wage increase would essentially be consumed by the estimated 40 percent rise in health care costs, of which guild members pay a portion.
Another major unresolved contract issue, the guild says, is the AP’s plans to transfer some staff members without their consent, and to transfer editorial workers who take parental and other leaves of absence longer than nine months.
The guild argues that these transfers would undermine job security and accelerate the AP’s “brain drain,” or the departure of talented reporters and broadcasters from the AP.
”[The strike] is happening because we are protesting the company’s efforts in the field of not protecting high quality journalism,” Winton says.
According to Winton, the guild is also protesting the AP’s system of merit pay, which he says goes to only 33 percent of AP employees. According to the guild’s calculations, the merit pay system favored “men, whites, older employees, staffers in Washington D.C., and people in the newspaper division.” Winton said more than three-fourths of union members do not receive merit pay or receive less than $50 in merit pay each week.
Several media reporters, however, have questioned the effectiveness of the AP’s byline strike, noting that US newspapers frequently remove the bylines and photograph credits of AP journalists.
“Will anyone notice, since many newspapers routinely delete AP bylines and edit stories down?” USA Today’s Peter Johnson asked in his regular “Media Mix” column.
“We’re the anonymous unsung heroes of the news business,” Winton told USA Today. “But the statement we’re trying to make is to the people we directly work for. We hope that people in the nation’s newsrooms will notice.”
A spokesman from the AP would not respond to reports of the byline strike, telling Reuters that the organization ”does not comment while negotiations are in progress.”
The guild scheduled the byline boycott to affect papers appearing on Jan. 10 to protest the AP’s deadline for the union to accept or reject the AP’s proposed contract.