Boston Herald Bankrupt, Workers Screwed in Bankruptcy Agreement

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The Boston Herald is one of two papers of note in Boston, MA. It was founded in 1846 and, although it has often been criticized for being slanted towards the right end of the political spectrum and prone to sensationalism, it is widely read even in the solid-blue state—in fact, it is the second largest paper in the entire state. This article is not an endorsement of The Herald or its ideological slant, but rather a story about a truly disturbing set of circumstances exposed by recent events at the paper.

Last Friday, the Boston Herald declared bankruptcy and made public Gatehouse Media’s offer to buy the paper for $5 million ($4.5 million cash and $500,000 in back employee vacation payments). While Gatehouse will continue to publish the paper, this sale exposes two extremely disturbing trends in local media today.

First, the offer by Gatehouse Media to buy the Herald amounts to an astonishing attack on workers’ rights and unionized benefits. Gatehouse is attempting to abrogate all current union benefits for employees at the paper and get out from under longstanding benefits obligations.

The Boston Business Journal explains:

“As part of its bid, GateHouse did not wish to recognize any of the publication’s collective bargaining agreements with employees. About 140 of the Herald’s 240 employees are union members, the filing said. GateHouse wants to be ‘free and clear’ of all legacy pension, health and other obligations to Herald workers, the filing said.”

In short, if this sale goes through, Gatehouse Media will be allowed to keep operating the paper with many of the same staff, but free from the collective bargaining agreements that have governed salary and benefits at the paper. Additionally, the pensions of those working at the paper—even for many years—will be wiped out with the stroke of a pen, stealing thousands of dollars from each employee who would be due pension benefits.

Imagine being an employee at The Herald for twenty years, then being told that all of the health benefits you currently enjoy may no longer be honored in a few months and that your pension is likely going to be canceled, despite your decades of work contingent on it as a part of your salary. Staff members were not included in this process and were only told last Friday of the sale, when the editor revealed it to both his employees and the rest of the media.

This tactic of evading pension obligations is often called “pension dumping” and has become extremely common in recent years, not only in the private sector (e.g. Enron) but also in municipalities that are forced to undergo bankruptcy proceedings (e.g. Detroit). The current bankruptcy laws make this tactic a legal, albeit deeply immoral, way for predatory groups to “save” struggling companies by buying them in bankruptcy, stripping workers of the expensive protections and benefits that they were previously given, and operating the company with a new profit margin based solely on cutting worker pay.

The second worrying aspect of this story is that this is yet another example of media consolidation on the local level. In the past, local papers were owned by a variety of different individuals and groups; however, in recent decades, local newspapers are increasingly being consolidated in larger media companies such as Gatehouse Media.

Gatehouse Media already controls 9 local daily papers in Massachusetts (Taunton Daily Gazette, Cape Cod Times, etc.) and over small 100 weekly publications. In total, according to their website, they control papers across 540 media markets in 36 states.

Local media consolidation such as we are seeing under Gatehouse can be extremely dangerous, as it promotes a form of echo-chamber that isn’t conducive to good journalism. While each of these “individual” local news sources appears to be separate, they are actually owned and controlled by the same entity, which can force them to comply with its ideological narrative. The casual reader likely doesn’t know that their local paper and the statewide Herald are actually owned by the same entity, so they can easily be fooled into thinking that it is a good idea to check coverage of each papers’ content by contrasting it with the other.

A large percentage of local news generation bubbles up from local and state papers, so consolidation of these sources can easily lead to certain types of stories not getting covered if the controlling entity doesn’t want them publicized—for example, do you think that any of the local papers owned by Gatehouse Media in Massachusetts did a deep dive on how The Herald’s deal with Gatehouse is attacking pensions? Of course not, because this would run contrary to their owners’ interests.

This trend of local newspapers being consolidated under larger entities has been ongoing for years and impacts virtually every state’s local papers. It maintains the illusion that multiple independent local newspapers are bringing Americans their local news (because the paper’s name and byline doesn’t change), despite the reality that an increasingly consolidated group of owners is controlling local news.

Regardless of what one thinks about The Herald as a paper (I often criticize their reporting), the events surrounding this bankruptcy are disturbing. Even if you disagree with these writers, you should be outraged at how they are being treated in these proceedings, and, even if you think that Gatehouse Media will do a better job running The Herald than the current owners do, you should worry about media consolidation.

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GOP Tax Bill Arrests in the Capital

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Rhys Baker is reporting from the Capitol Complex where people have spent the day lobbying their elected officials and getting arrested to try and stop the GOP tax bill

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DACA Rally in Washington D.C. by Green Latinos

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Rhys Baker is reporting from the #Greens4CleanDream rally in NW Washington D.C. led by GreenLatinos, League of Conservation Voters, and a coalition of immigrant rights, environmental, and human rights groups in DC. This rally is concurrent to a direct action where several people whose status in this country was made insecure by the repeal of DACA.

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Community Meeting to Defeat the Elkhart County Immigration Prison

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Emily Jones covers a meeting to go over the Immigration Prison, and how best to go about halting it. Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder is there to answer questions, and be interviewed by Emily

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Rally for Net Neutrality (Morning of Vote)

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The Federal Communication Commission made their decision on Net Neutrality yesterday. Rhys Baker covered these protests from the FCC offices.
 
Featured speakers included Amber Seales of the HBO series insecure, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Francilla Ochillo of National Hispanic Media Coalition. The two Democratic FCC Commissioners, several more congresspeople, and representatives of organizations focused on racial justice such as Color of Change also spoke.
 
The morning protest was organized by Color of Change, Free Press Action Fund, National Hispanic Media Coalition, 18 Million Rising, and Center for Media Justice.

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Net Neutrality – Pay to Play – Following the Money Trail

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Theresa Joy goes over the Net Neutrality decision coming up, and the money trails that lead to politicians making choices on which direction to go.

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Protests at FCC Building to Protect Net Neutrality

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See full coverage at Facebook.com/TruthAgainstTheMachine

The Federal Communication Commission is preparing to make a decision on net neutrality protections tomorrow. Rhys Baker is reporting for Truth Against The Machine from the FCC offices where a protest led by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance will hold a vigil throughout the night and greet Chairman Ajit Pai in the morning.

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Republican-Backed Democrat Runs for Houston’s School Board

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Screenshot from @gretchen4hisd
Screenshot from @gretchen4hisd

Due to poor testing scores with State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) is on the brink of being taken over by Texas Education Agency (TEA). Should TEA takeover the district, House Bill 1842 – a bill pushed by Texas Republicans – will come into play and replace democratically elected officials with managers and/or shut down public schools and turn them into charters.

Gretchen Himsl is running for Houston’s District I School Board Trustee as a self-identified Democrat, however, she has voted Republican, has been endorsed by a conservative organization, The “C” Club, has Republican donors, and has hired Christopher Busby, president of the Houston Young Republicans, as the volunteer coordinator for her campaign.

Why is Himsl running as a self-identified Democrat?

Left: Screenshot of Gretchen Himsl's Candidate Facebook page Right: Screenshot of The "C" Club's endorsement
Left: Screenshot of Gretchen Himsl’s Candidate Facebook page Right: Screenshot of The “C” Club’s endorsement

Part of the reason is that 1) she can and 2) the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has partisan scores for candidates, and Himsl is at 94.7%.

Gretchen Himsl's statement
Gretchen Himsl’s statement

Himsl has worked for Democratic elected officials and has actively donated to Democrats, so the DNC considers how active a candidate has been within the party in the past to help determine the partisan score regardless of who the candidate surrounds themselves with during the campaign and regardless of how conservative and pro-testing and pro-charter the Republican donors are.

Essentially, if you haven’t been politically active within the Democratic party in some capacity or actively donated to Democrats, the DNC partisan score will rate you lower. So if you’re an everyday person wanting to run for a position and haven’t had experience or done much donating, especially within the party, your score will be low.

Screenshot of TEXAS VAN, Gretchen Himsl voted Republican during primaries, courtesy of source that is not HCDP
Screenshot of Texas VAN, Gretchen Himsl voted Republican during primaries, courtesy of source that is not HCDP

“When I became the Party Chair there was no process to endorse in non-partisan races. We have created a process. We look at the voter file created by the [DNC] that tells us their partisan score and their voter history,” Lillie Schechter, chairwoman of Harris County Democratic Party (HCDP), regarding the vetting process. “We also look at how they identify. The Party passionately supports and will fight to defend the Democratic Process, without preference for or favoritism toward any particular Democratic candidate.”

DNC partisan scores of candidates written by Odus Eubagharu, communication director of HCDP, because policy says they cannot screenshot the website and send it out. If you want to review it and have VAN access visit, votebuilder.com.
DNC partisan scores of candidates written by Odus Evbagharu, communication director of HCDP, because policy says they cannot screenshot the website and send it out. If you want to review it and have VAN access visit, votebuilder.com.

Candidates do not file as their party, they file to run for the race, and self-identify which party they represent. This is a non-partisan race, so candidates are able to file to run for a race and randomly choose what party they represent.

Because there are two self-identified Democrats (Himsl and Elizabeth Santos) running for Houston’s District I School Board Trustee, HCDP will not endorse either candidate.

Related: Houston Teacher Running to Fight State Takeover of Schools

HCDP did show support on their Facebook page for Pretta VanDible Stallworth in the runoff election for Houston Community College System (HCCS) Trustee District IX because her incumbent is a self-identified Republican.

One Democrat and one Republican in the race? HCDP will vocally stand behind the Democrat. Two self-identified Democrats? HCDP will not chime in.

Himsl has a solid past of working with Democrats and and donating to Democrats, but in an age where we have seen donors pulling elected official’s strings, her Republican donors, her messaging, and choice of campaign staff raise questions whether or not her actions as a school board trustee writing policy that effects teachers and students will be Democratic or Republican driven.

But hey, remember folks: Vote blue no matter who.

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Protesters Occupy Canon Building to Resist Dangerous Tax Bill

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Rhys Baker is reporting from the Canon Building where tax bill protesters have occupied the offices of around a dozen members of Congress.
The protest was organized by Housing Works and the Center for Popular Democracy as a response to the Republican tax cuts.

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Alt-Right Rally at the US Capitol Highlights

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Prominent members of the Alt-Right announced a rally on Twitter on Saturday, Dec. 2. Both Richard Spencer, the infamous, and Mike Enoch, another far-right blogger and propagandist, tweeted their intentions to hold the rally.
Rhys Baker is reporting from the White House at the meeting of the anti-immigrant rally and a counterprotest from the DC community intended to drown out the speakers.
The alt-right rally will apparently be about the case of Kate Steinle who was murdered by an immigrant in San Francisco. Mike Enoch tweeted that the purpose of the rally was, “to protest the #KateSteinle verdict and America’s anti-white activist judicial and immigration system. This is not just an alt-right demo. All people of all groups that want to stand for whites are welcome.”

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