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Trouble at the F-Ex 

Wednesday, Feb 21 2001
The Moments That Make Up a Dull Day

It must be nice to lead a quiet life. Dog Bites was just minding our own business, fretting about hoochie papas and their sad leather and cowrie shell chokers, and wondering where Michael Kors gets off charging $175 for a pair of jeans, when sources brought it to our attention that the Fangxaminer may be closer to a meltdown than anyone outside the paper imagines.

Last Wednesday, staff at the paper were agog when political consultant Jack Davis -- known for his influence with Mayor Willie Brown, whose influence in turn helped the Fangs reincarnate the former Examiner as the city's only nonunion daily -- arrived at the paper's offices for a high-level meeting. Nobody knows why he was there, but we're fairly certain it wasn't because Davis and Warren Hinckle are planning to team up to write a civic affairs column. "It will be interesting to see if they even admit Davis was at the meeting," one F-Ex staffer observes, cynically. "But there sure were a lot of people who saw him come into the building and go into the meeting."

Meanwhile, it's hardly coincidental that union cards are circulating at the F-Ex. The No. 1 issue with newsroom staff is, apparently, job security.

"I understand we're getting considerable interest," says Carl Hall, president of the local Newspaper Guild.

Gee, we wonder why that would be.

Well, for one thing, Editor David Burgin, whose top-volume speeches to underlings have been said to include such motivational words and phrases as "bastard," "fucking asshole," and "son of a bitch," likes to walk around the newsroom with a baseball bat. The bat has been modified with a handle to serve as a cane, but one staffer, who, like most people Dog Bites spoke with for this story, doesn't want to be named, because he'd prefer to keep his job, says, "I mean ... tie it all together with the fucker carry[ing] a baseball bat -- physically and verbally he's intimidating."

The firings of reporters Bud Hazelkorn and Jamie Casini were only the most recent dismissals in what one insider describes as the "Burgin Reign of Terror." At least three people still on staff at the paper have filed complaints within the paper concerning Burgin; two of the complaints come from women who allege they were discriminated against because they are female -- their lawyers have advised them not to comment on the details of their cases.

On Friday, we heard that Burgin was planning new personnel moves, but that Fang had told him to wait, out of fear of negative publicity -- in this column.

The mighty power of Dog Bites stuns even us! We called Burgin to ask for comment on the labor situation at the paper. He said he didn't want to talk to us. "So go ahead, write what you want," he said. "You just write what you want anyway. That's what you always do."

When Dog Bites demurred, saying we sincerely hope we write what is accurate, Burgin said, "No you don't. I just got chapter and verse on who and what you are."

Ooo-kay. So let's cut to the chase: Would he care to comment on the three complaints filed against him by employees?

"There aren't three complaints. There are 25 or 30," said Burgin. "Maybe more, maybe more like 50. Are you finished?"

"No," we said, hoping the conversation would become less strained, and Burgin would stop toying with us, so we could ask where you get a customized baseball bat walking stick, just in case we ever need to buy someone a gag gift.

"Well, I am," he snapped. "Nice talking to you. Goodbye."

In an organizing drive that's reportedly picked up significant momentum recently, representatives of the Newspaper Guild have persuaded many F-Ex employees to sign union cards. The Guild is the union that represents many daily newspaper employees in the country and, until November last year, represented employees of the Examiner. "It's been a union paper for 100 years, and we've made it clear from the start we want it to remain a union paper," says Guild President Hall.

In fact, the Guild has been negotiating with Ted Fang for months, starting well before the new newspaper began publishing. The union hopes Fang will agree to allow it to represent the paper's employees if a simple majority of them sign up for Guild membership, without having to go through the lengthy and contentious union election process. "We're still hoping the owners and the union will move forward in a cooperative and civilized fashion," says Hall.

Doug Cuthbertson, the Guild's executive officer, has another meeting scheduled with Fang next week. But some newsroom staffers aren't prepared to wait to find out whether the union will be able to persuade the Fangs to allow it to negotiate on their behalf -- and, of course, provide them with more job security than they currently enjoy.

"Résumés are flying out the door," reports one of Dog Bites' sources. "A lot of the decent reporters the former management brought in are getting out as fast as they can."

Still, now that it seems possible the Guild could be arriving in the Fang Warfield Building sooner rather than later, things could change quickly. "If we have a union presence and a union contract in place, one of the things that includes is a mechanism for due process," says Cuthbertson. "I'd like to think that we could get that in place as soon as possible."

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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