Union accuses SF Chronicle of unequal pay

A union investigation into staff pay disparities at the San Francisco Chronicle has led to a charge taken out with the National Labor Relations Board against the paper and their parent company, the Hearst Corporation.

The Pacific Media Workers Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board last month, stemming from what the union said was the Hearst Corporation’s refusal to provide information regarding pay equity at the newspaper.

Multiple SFBay requests for comment regarding the charges to Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Audrey Cooper were not returned. Union representatives at the Chronicle also declined multiple requests for comment in connection with this story.

A statement provided to SFBay by e-mail from Chronicle Marketing Director Sarah Morse said:

“The San Francisco Chronicle recently learned of a charge filed by the Newspaper Guild with the National Labor Relations Board, falsely claiming that the Chronicle failed to respond to its request for information concerning employees’ pay. …  The Guild also has been disseminating inaccurate and misleading information concerning pay practices at the Chronicle.  The Guild’s claims are irresponsible. The Chronicle values its employees and pays them fairly and equitably.”

In June 2016, the Guild’s Pay Equity Committee published an analysis of pay equity at the Chronicle that they say found men — particularly white men — were paid a higher wages than women and non-white Guild staff in the newsroom.

Kathleen Stewart Anderson, administrative officer at the Pacific Media Workers Guild, told SFBay:

We shared our analysis with the HR department at the Chronicle who didn’t agree with our findings. …  We met with Hearst lawyers, who I told that there was a real cause for concern and would like to collaborate with the paper to rectify.”

The analysis focused on overscale pay –– pay above contractual minimums –– in the newsroom.  It found that of all Guild newsroom staff, men received three times the amount of overscale pay compared to women, and white staff received two times the amount compared to non-white staff.

The Guild analysis also compared the median overscale for male and female staffers, with $100 per week for men to $40 per week for women.  White staffers median received overscale at $96 compared to non-white staff at $58 per week.

In an email to the Chronicle’s Vice President of Human Relations, Renee Peterson, dated Sept. 21, 2016, posted to the Guild’s web site, Anderson outlined possible solutions to the Guild’s findings, including a raise of base pay and remedial back pay, while also requesting a meeting with the paper’s upper management.

In an email response from Peterson to the Guild, dated Oct. 4, 2016, Peterson said:

“The issue of pay equity is a very important one to The Chronicle, and we will continue to comply with all applicable laws, including California’s Fair Pay Act. We do not believe a meeting is necessary at this time.”

Carl Hall, executive officer at the Pacific Media Workers Guild said in response to Peterson last October that they would be filing a grievance against the Chronicle for failure to meet and discuss the issues raised.

The California Equal Pay Act, also known as SB 358 and similar SB 1063, state that employers are required to pay all employees who perform “substantially similar work” equally.  However, employers can pay an employee a higher wage if they can prove that the wage is based on seniority, merit, or a factor other than sex, race or ethnicity.

Anderson told SFBay:

“If they don’t want play ball with us …  we will take our case to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, or file a lawsuit.”

According to the NLRB website, they receive up to 30,000 charges per year alleging a wide range of unfair labor practices.  If the NLRB finds that the Guild’s charges hold water, it can order the Hearst Corporation and The Chronicle to remedy the problem.

The Guild represents newspaper and communications workers across Northern California, the Central Valley and Hawaii, including the San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee, and the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa.  Currently the Guild represents 190 members employed at the Chronicle.

Anderson said:

“We have always had an attitude that we wanted to collaborate with the company on this. …  Everyone wants to see the paper succeed and that paper is profitable because our members sacrificed a lot in past years, and why can’t you pay us fairly now.”