A bumper sticker beseeching readers to “Save the T-D” would seem an agreeable rallying cry of solidarity between management and staff at Richmond's venerable but distressed daily newspaper.
Instead, it's become the latest flashpoint in the ongoing management offensive against the Richmond Times-Dispatch's besieged newsroom.
The red sticker plays on an official-sounding marketing slogan, “Read the T-D,” but it's rankled the paper's publisher, Thomas A. Silvestri, inspiring an increasingly vitriolic e-mail and letter exchange last week with Michael Martz, president of the paper's newsroom union, the Richmond News Professionals Association.
“The Times-Dispatch does not need ‘saving,’” says Silvestri's first letter to Martz, sent Aug. 11.
Martz's response, sent to staff but not Silvestri, references recent public entreaties made by Executive Editor Glenn Proctor that readers “don't give up on us.”
By Aug. 14 the exchange had evolved and expanded, culminating in a letter sent by Silvestri directly to all newsroom staff calling into question Martz's integrity and suggesting that the union was acting against the best interests of the newsroom.
“It makes me wonder what else is [Martz] misrepresenting to his members and why would you trust a union president who can't even tell the truth,” Silvestri writes in the letter sent Aug. 14, suggesting that reporters should negotiate individually with him or the paper's executive editing team.
“Folks, if your union president misrepresents my words and confuses the facts of open positions, then I question why any of you would want to support a third party that continues to smear the company as it battles through the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Silvestri writes.
The letter-writing battle is just the latest stress fracture in the relationship between the paper's executives and the reporters' union. This spring, management laid off 30 newsroom employees, which the union claims in a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board were carried out illegally. A second complaint alleges illegal attempts to circumvent the union in dealing directly with those employees it laid off.
Silvestri's latest suggestion that members circumvent the union may also violate terms of the paper's union contract, says the union's lawyer, Jay Levit, who declines to further comment on the matter. Martz also declines to comment.
Silvestri declines to comment on the e-mail and letter exchange, saying only that conversations with staffers are “daily and ongoing,” and that the letter and e-mail exchange was not representative of the broader dialogue.