Ben Neary

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BEN NEARY, Cheyenne, Wyo.

I contacted the Guild office on my own and asked how to join the union as soon as I started at AP four years ago. It never crossed my mind not to join.

It’s hard to say why I believe in the union without sounding as though I’m one of those old guys who wants to bend everybody’s ear about how they walked uphill both ways to school back in the day. But some of us really did.

I started at a weekly for $225 a week and worked for nearly 20 years for various newspapers in New Mexico _ a  poor, “right to work,” union-busting state _ before joining AP. I’ve seen a few editors and publishers who could  benefit from talking to the Guild’s lawyers and a tough AP negotiating team about how to treat their journalists.

Long before they had the Internet to complain about, publishers were freezing reporters’ pay, ostensibly because of  the rising cost of newsprint or whatever else they dreamed up as the excuse de jour. Somehow those pesky newsprint prices and their many other pressing problems never quite forced them to pawn their Rolexes or stop snapping up little newspapers like pretzel nuggets.

I remember one particular polyester-clad, tassled-loafer-sporting “managing editor” offering this heartfelt nugget of sympathy to a room full of reporters as he announced a wage freeze: “We get 1,000 unsolicited resumes a year. If you can find a better job, I suggest you take it.”

Without the union, you’re completely at the mercy of people like that. And it’s not enough merely to do your job while they cut your pay; the profoundly mediocre expect you to smile, tip your hat and ingratiate yourself while they’re doing it to you. They take it personally if you don’t, and I don’t.

Our AP contract affords us dignity and fair pay. It keeps things professional. It frees us to do our jobs and gives us backup if we need it. These are not things I take for granted. I’m happy to pay for them.