The Star Tribune is losing another of those colorful — and talented — characters who are so hard to replace.
Business writer and union activist Chris Serres is leaving the paper to take a job as a research analyst and union campaign organizer with Unite HERE in Las Vegas. He’s attracted by the passion of the effort by the Culinary Union to organize workers in some of the city’s largest casinos.
This is not exactly a standard sort of move for a talented business journalist. Typically, if a business writer leaves the paper, it’s for a job in the corporate world.
But Serres, 40, never has been typical. Before arriving at the Strib in 2004, he worked at a magazine in Canada and then took a position for two years as a business reporter for a journal in Poland.
Only after a couple of years there did his route to the Strib become a little more traditional. He went to work for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., which for a while was the top farm club of the Strib.
Serres had not been a union member until arriving at the Strib, a Guild paper. But he arrived in 2004 at a point when the paper’s management was attempting to dump its longtime readers representative, Lou Gelfand. The Guild was holding a rally in Gelfand’s support across the street from the newspaper, Serres attended the rally out of curiosity and was deeply moved.
From that day on, the aggressive biz reporter also became an aggressive union activist.
As an old union activist myself, I saw Serres’ activism as a two-fer.
Unlike most of us who were active, Serres not only had hair — but his wasn’t gray. For obvious reasons, a union can only be as strong as its youngest leaders.
Additionally, he was a business reporter, meaning he could command the respect of some in the newsroom who were highly suspicious of the old 1960s newsroom crowd. Hey, they seemed to think, how radical could a biz reporter be?
It turned out that at times, Serres’ beliefs in the union cause — and the need for solidarity among all Strib unions — put him as out of step with the Guild’s moderate mainstream as it did with company management.
Still, his voice was important as the Strib went through its period of painful downsizing and Guild members saw cutbacks in their union contract.
For all of his union activism, Serres never backed off his aggressive biz reporting, specializing in coverage of banks and finance firms at a time of huge upheaval in those industries.
In an e-mail, Serres explained his reasons for leaving.
“My reasons for leaving newspapers after 20 years are personal and political,” Serres wrote. “They stem from a growing belief that without a vigorous union movement there is, almost automatically, an increase in human misery and impoverishment. In the midst of blatant injustices against workers and recent unjustified attacks unions, I found it increasingly difficult to stand on the sideline as a spectator.”