Chronicle Staff Fights Their Health Care Squabble on Twitter

Categories: Media
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After launching its hard paywall on Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle looked to its social media-savvy reporters -- and their prodigious Twitter feeds -- to help sustain traffic on its new "premium" website.

Instead, the reporters launched a massive Twitter strike over the calloused health care proposals of Hearst Corp., the Chron's New York-based parent firm.

Chron employees today changed their Twitter avatars to feature red squares and tweeted links to a Facebook page launched by Friends of the San Francisco Chronicle Guild. It included links to a petition against Hearst's November proposal to shift the burden of health care costs over to employees, raising rates to double or triple the current cuts on their paychecks -- and up to $3,000 annually for family plans.

In addition, the guild states that reporters and editors are being asked to increase their work loads online and in the print publication for the new paywall system, where readers will now be charged $14.99 monthly for "premium" content.

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Chron workers are embattled, arguing that they've made enough concessions for Hearst Corp. since the newspaper's 2005 death-scare.

Reporter and bargaining committee member Matthai Kuruvila said the workers effectively saved the paper by sacrificing pay, vacation, sick leave, and pension benefits, limiting their rights to arbitration, and even conceding the seniority rule for layoffs. Reporters gave management more flexibility to hire freelancers, he said. They allowed the company to turn its advertising department into an "open shop," meaning new workers weren't required to join the union as a condition of their employment.

"Hearst is an extremely wealthy private company," Kuruvila says, "and they're talking about profit-sharing with management at the same time that they're trying to cut our health care."

The Chron has contributed $148 a week to every active employee's health care plan since 2005, but Pacific Media Works Guild representative Carl Hall says that's not nearly enough to offset the rising costs of health care. He and fellow Guild rep Kat Anderson speculate that Hearst actually wants to force employees to adopt its corporate health care plan.

"The isn't about health care," Anderson says. "It's about control."

Chron editor and vice president Ward Bushee punted our questions over to consumer marketing director Michael Keith, who declined to comment.

So far, the protest appears to have drawn an audience, with Chron staff collectively netting 110,000 followers, which bodes well for paywalled content tomorrow.



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