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Archive for August, 2010

Labor Says Mott’s Apples Are Rotten To the Core

RWDSU Workers Rally at Mott's Manufacturing Plant in Williamson, N.Y.

Rally at Mott's Plant. Photo by Bess Watts for CSEA Local 828

Among the many TV ad jingles sadly cluttering my brain since childhood (although useful in trivia contests) is the one that went, “The finest apples from Apple Land/Make Mott’s Apple Sauce taste grand!”

A branchful of the juicy, singing fruit would belt it out at the end of commercials that urged us to use applesauce to accompany meats, slather onto bread, spoon on top of ice cream, spackle drywall, you name it.

The Mott’s commercials were especially meaningful where I grew up because we lived in Apple Land — western New York State, not far from the town of Williamson, where workers at a Mott’s factory have been out on strike since May 23rd.

The job action was started by 305 working men and women, members of Local 220 of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Whether they win or lose could play a role in determining the future of organized labor — and the vanishing American middle class.

Mott’s purchases between six and seven million bushels of New York apples every year — more than half of all the apples produced in the state — and has gone through a number of acquisitions and consolidations since Samuel R. Mott, a Quaker who made his own apple cider and vinegar, founded the company in 1842.

Today it’s owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS), based in Plano, Texas. Ever since the takeover, union members claim, the family spirit at the factory that once included an effective worker-management safety committee, Christmas parties, Easter hams and company picnics has been destroyed. Corporate greed, they say, has marched in with a vengeance.

I first met Bruce Beal, Local 220’s recording secretary and a member of its executive board at an AFL-CIO meeting in Albany, NY, last week. (Full disclosure: I’m president of the Writers Guild of America, East, a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO.) We caught up again on the phone, just as he and fellow strikers were seeing off a delegation of members headed out to an informational picket at a Dr. Pepper Snapple facility in Illinois.

Beal said he and the other union workers were shocked when DPS — despite a profit of $555 million on sales of $5.5 billion last year — demanded massive contract concessions; among them, slashing wages by $1.50 an hour, the elimination of pensions for new employees, a 20 percent reduction in their 401K’s and a change in their health plan Beal says would force members to pay out of pocket an additional $6000-8000 a year.

In an official statement playing on the region’s economic hardship, the company declared that, “DPS workers in Williamson enjoy significantly higher wages than the typical manufacturing employee in Western New York… As a public company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group has a fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best interests of all of its constituents, recognizing that a profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs and builds communities.”

Bruce Beal dismissed the DPS argument as “a line of bull… They don’t give a rip about their employees, just lining their pockets is all they’re concerned with.” He points to Larry Young, the company’s CEO, whose salary has risen 113 percent over the last three years to $6.5 million, and says that workers were told that they were nothing more than a “commodity, like soybeans… When we talked about how the company’s demands would cause our members to lose their homes or have their cars repossessed, they looked right at us and said, ‘You are living beyond your means.’”

Beal says the union has heard that other profitable businesses are discussing the strike and saying that if DPS wins, they, too, will demand massive concessions. But as Local 220’s president Mike LeBerth told The New York Times, “Corporate America is making tons of money — this company is a good example of that. So why do they want to drive down our wages and hurt our community? This whole economy is driven by consumer spending, so how are we supposed to keep the economy going when they take away money from the people who are doing the spending?”

Trucks will now be pulling up to the Mott’s factory gate with this year’s crop. Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, said its members will have to cross the picket line: “When apples are ripe, they have to be harvested, and growers will be delivering this year’s apple crop to the Mott’s plant as usual… It is not done as a sign of support or a gesture of disrespect to either side.”

According to Bruce Beal, “Our fight is with the company and not with the farmers. They have to make a living, too.” He urged anyone interested to go the strikers website, www.mottsworkers.org, for more information or to contribute to their Hardship Fund. Others have suggested a boycott of all of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group’s products, which also include 7 Up, Hawaiian Punch and Canada Dry.

Meanwhile, DPS refuses to come back to the bargaining table and on Monday, August 30, the workers will mark Day 100 of their strike. Maybe they can get the singing apples from those vintage TV commercials to change their tune and learn some good old-fashioned labor songs. Like the one that asks, “Which Side Are You On?”

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Michael Winship is president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

You take the good, you take the bad…

One of the things I enjoy most about the industry in which I work is the camaraderie. I have friends, and not just the Facebook kind, with whom I have stayed in touch over the years. Many of them were co-workers of mine, which makes me believe there is something inherently social about the television-news business.

Having not worked in any other field, I can only guess that the amount of imbibing done by news employees tops most others’. In my 20’s, so many nights after the 11 o’clock news were spent at local watering holes, where we would expound upon the day’s events. It is a practice that continued well into my 30’s and pretty much to this day. Conversations went something like this: “I can’t believe I saw that dead guy in the street” or “Can you believe the director punched up that camera at that exact moment?” Much laughter would follow one of these two comments, and it was usually the first.

When you break down the root of said socializing, it is not difficult to determine the source. Our job is depressing. If we’re not writing about kids killed in a fire or murdered teens, we’re writing about politics and fraud (often in the same story). It creates a need for an outlet to blow off steam.

I’ve taken to not watching the news when I can. Weekends are spent ignoring what’s going on in the world locally and nationally. That is, until Sunday when I need to be in the know for the workweek. Vacations often include watching some news, only to judge its production and talent value. I wish I didn’t even care about that, but it’s easy to critique the job you do when it’s done by someone else who is nameless and faceless.

I imagine the same scenario in newsrooms across the country. A shooting on the south side of Chicago, a fatal fire on Cleveland’s east side, a killer on the loose in suburban Reno. After the news every night in all of these towns, the migration happens. People hop in their cars after the show, pull out of the parking lot and meet four blocks away at their spot. In most of these places, the bartender knows the clientele. Drinks are had, some laughs are shared and eventually everyone goes home.

There are many nights, before I go to bed, that I find myself wondering why I do what I do. I like to say that no one will live or die based on what they see in the news. There will, however, be people who are deeply saddened by it. That does not usually include those of us who are writing it. We’ve desensitized ourselves to the point where we are unshaken despite knowing we should be.

In the meantime, I will continue to show up when I am scheduled to and continue to mindlessly write stories that someone else will see and say, “That’s awful.” And each night as I fall asleep, I will ask for the strength to do it again tomorrow.

My love-hate relationship with the Internet

Anonymity; and the Internet by Stian Eikeland. Member of the activist group Anonymous wearing a Guy Fawkes day mask using an old computer outside.

"Anonymity; and the Internet" by Stian Eikeland

I find technology fascinating but I am also terrified of it.  I didn’t even buy a cell phone until years after all my friends had them. The first two computers I ever owned were hand-me-downs, and I quickly killed both within six months. Basically, I had to ease myself into the idea of the “World Wide Web” and have come to discover, at this point in life, it controls almost everything I do. It may in fact eventually be the demise of my industry.

I would say that I first noticed the impact the Web was having on news when our newsroom stopped getting newspapers delivered. The edict was: Get it online—it’s free. I find this to be somewhat annoying in that we essentially may be contributing to the end of newspaper publishing. What I don’t believe is that the general public understands the effect of reading news online rather than picking up a newspaper or turning on the nightly news, be it local or national.

For the most part, we are the source for the news that everyone is reading online. If you go to any news-based website, you will find stories that are links to already-produced news from TV stations, radio stations and newspapers around the world. Meanwhile, the revenue streams for all three continue to dry up because people are no longer tuning in and are instead getting the info they want, customized to their needs, online. Most advertisers are following them. Do you see where this is going?

Let’s pretend that all the TV stations in America stop news operations and newspapers go away because there is no money coming in. Where, then, will most of the news you read online come from? You would be hard-pressed to find any source remaining that is not creating its own stories. Therefore, your news is no longer the journalism that we’ve all come to know, the kind that has been shaping this country for centuries and has been held to ethical standards that today’s Internet is not.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe the damage at this point is beyond repair. I don’t even believe that a disappearance of the concept of journalism will happen in my lifetime. Perhaps if the backers of news were to invest in doing it right online, we could all ride this wave together. I don’t see that happening until someone realizes the amount of money invested in new media needs to be the handled the way television was in its early days.

I will now e-mail this to someone who will post it to a website that I will be able to share with my friends via Facebook. Later I will look at it on my cell phone, which has become pretty much anything but a phone.

The Internet Is Not A Newspaper by Mark O'Brien

"The Internet Is Not A Newspaper" by Mark O'Brien

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Interestingly enough, I started in this crazy business on a technical path. I worked as a shooter and editor in my first job out of college and eventually as a TD, director, chyron op, stagehand, studio camera, boom operator, graphic designer and (please God, never again) a master control operator. Why do I bring you this short history lesson? I’ll get to that.

After holding my various jobs in news production, I eventually slipped, somehow, into the journalism side of things, producing for the CBS affiliate in Youngstown, Ohio. We were number one for murders in the mid to late 90’s, hooray! Gang warfare, Mafia warfare, you name it. It made the job very easy. The old, if it bleeds it leads concept. But I didn’t like it. I was hell bent on changing the world! I wanted more positive news, less negative. I impressed my friends and family. They would say “Oh wow, you are a news producer. How cool”. And it was, for a while at least. Then the fight got old and I, like any good producer, needed a change. So I moved on and eventually landed in New York City.

Flash forward or in this case scroll through the years. I held onto my technical know-how along the way, by doing the jobs that I could when not in a union shop. When I ended up with a union gig, I was disappointed that I couldn’t touch the machinery. It took getting yelled at a few times, by someone jaded and in the business for decades, for me to learn. Although I still have issues with the “you can touch this deck but not that one” mentality.

Here’s where I revert to the beginning. All these years later as we see the diminution (it annoys me that I just used this word) of the local news business, my earlier skills are coming back as a blessing. Across the country, TV stations are changing the way they do things. In the once union heavy market of NYC, where I used to get my knuckles smacked with a ruler for touching eject, I am now editing on a desktop. Companies looking for new ways to save money are beating down IATSE and NABET which in turn is forcing the writers and producers to do more with less. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have an eye for shooting, when it eventually comes to that and I am sure it will, and I have an eye for editing. I’m now in a shop where producers and writers make their own graphics and we’re not the only newsroom in the number 1 market that is doing so.

I suppose the end result after 18 years is that I am forced to embrace the changes. I hear the scripted phrase “lucky to have a job”, over and over again. I get it. I am lucky to have a job. I am not lucky to be in a position where I am now not only critiqued on the content and writing of a news show, but on the look of it as well. When I made my transition I expected to be judged on writing ability and producing know-how. Now I hear “that video didn’t match the script, what happened?” Or, “that graphic didn’t work with the story”. In essence, the job of a News Writer is becoming quite blurred and the actual writing of it is not the main focus anymore. I’ll expound on that in a later entry. That is unless I find a brand new career between now and the next time I sit down to write one of these.
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Patrick Mason works as a Producer for WNYW FOX 5. Most recently as a producer for Good Day New York. He previously worked as a producer and copy editor for WWOR My 9 and News 12 New Jersey.