The largest union at the Providence Journal protested GateHouse Media's management of the ProJo, by demonstrating outside the newspaper's Fountain Street office, from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday.
The picket line drew more than 100, including George Nee, president of the R.I AFL-CIO, Maureen Martin, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, and J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94 of AFSCME, the largest state employee union.
The current employees of the ProJo were also joined by many retired members of the Newspaper Guild, including Brian Jones, Tim Colt, Kerry Kohring and Bob Chiappinelli.
An email distributed by the Providence Newspaper Guild points to continued cuts in the ProJo's staff, the outsourcing of Rhode Island jobs to other GateHouse offices, and a big increase in compensation received by GateHouse's top executive.
"While GateHouse boasts it’s sitting on $360 million in cash to buy more newspapers, and reserves the right to replace us with part-timers and temps, the hardworking ProJo staff has not been given a raise in 8 years and hasn’t had a contract in 1 ½ years," the Guild states in its email. "GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis was given a 129 percent raise last year, from $917,000 in 2014 to $2.1 million in 2015. Projo workers haven't had one since 2007 – and the same or more for our Brockton and Worcester units!"
In response to a request for comment, ProJo Publisher Janet Hasson offered this statement from Thomas McDonough, the newspaper's vice president for human resources and labor:
"Since acquiring the Providence Journal newspaper and production operation from the A.H. Belo Corporation in September 2014, GateHouse Media has contract agreements with the Teamsters and Pressman and continues to negotiate in good faith with the Providence Newspaper Guild."
GateHouse parent New Media Investment Group -- part of Fortress Investment Group -- paid $46 million to acquire Rhode Island's statewide newspaper from A.H. Belo two years ago. With a string of holdings in Massachusetts and other state, GateHouse has continued to buy media properties in other parts of the country.
In Rhode Island, the ProJo's staff has continued to shrink due to layoffs and buy outs.
According to the Providence Newspaper Guild's email, "We are down to 37 reporters and columnists, including our sports writers – that’s 1 journalist for every 28,548 Rhode Islanders. How can we give necessary watchdog journalism with these numbers?"
Despite the cuts that began when the Journal was sold by its local owners to Belo in 1997, the Journal maintains the largest news staff in Rhode Island.
At the same time, the Guild's membership has also declined, raising questions about the union's ability to influence public opinion.
The Guild email continued: "Journal advertisements are being built out of state and out of the country. Sending work elsewhere is hurting Rhode Island’s economy. We need more jobs, not fewer. A 'design center' in Texas is creating a product with more mistakes. Stories cut off in midstream. The wrong comics. Ads intended for other GateHouse papers for businesses we don’t have in our coverage area. Rhode Island deserves accuracy."