By:
June 1, 2021

Digital producers working across 37 Gannett websites announced Tuesday they are unionizing with the NewsGuild of New York.

Staff at Gannett’s Atlantic Digital Optimization Team — which represents 21 producers who collectively manage news sites in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland — have come together to form the Atlantic DOT Guild. Though 80% of eligible members have signed cards in support of the new union, Gannett has stated it will not voluntarily recognize the union.

Gannett is the largest newspaper chain in the United States with more than 250 titles, or a fifth of all daily papers in the country.

As digital producers, the staff work to prepare content for Gannett’s websites in the Atlantic region. They create social media graphics, write headlines, assemble newsletters, send push alerts and optimize articles for search engines, among other duties.

The producers within Atlantic DOT used to work for individual newsrooms, but in December 2020, Gannett restructured to create a regional team. The company told producers to reapply to the new team.

Since the restructuring, workers at the Atlantic DOT say they have seen an increase in their workload without an accompanying increase in pay or job security. For example, digital producer Jack McLoone said that when he was at the Asbury Park Press, he worked with three or four papers at a time. Now, he regularly works with eight.

“We’re definitely doing a lot more work than we ever were before,” McLoone said.

In its mission statement, the union is asking for “fairness, equity, transparency and job protections.” They argue that unionizing will allow them to better do their jobs and serve their readers.

“I just want to have more of a say in our working conditions and the operations within the newsroom,” said Gannett lead producer Jai-Leen James. “I think management has made some questionable decisions in the past. And I think with more voices and more diverse voices in the room, we could have a better say in the journalism that we produce.”

Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton wrote in an emailed statement that the company will not voluntarily recognize the union. As a result, the staff at the Atlantic DOT will have to vote on whether they will unionize through a National Labor Relations Board election.

“Gannett strongly supports the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) election process and has always participated in that process fairly and in good faith. Central to that process is a democratic election in which every employee’s voice is heard,” Anton wrote. “We respect the right of employees to make a fully informed choice for themselves whether to unionize or not to unionize. That is at the heart of our decision not to recognize the union unless it prevails in a secret ballot election conducted by the NLRB.”

The producers within Atlantic DOT first decided to unionize shortly after workers at The Record Guild — a union representing three Gannett New Jersey newsrooms — went public with their union drive in February. During talks between Gannett and The Record Guild, the company said digital producers were ineligible to join The Record Guild, McLoone and James said.

Anton wrote in an emailed statement that the NLRB, the Guild and Gannett decided the digital producers were ineligible as part of a stipulated election agreement before The Record Guild’s NLRB election.

Those digital producers reached out to others in New Jersey and the Atlantic DOT. Organizing, James said, was a “pretty quick process.”

If successful, workers at the Atlantic DOT will join at least 40 other unionized Gannett newsrooms. The company has seen a wave of union drives in the past few years — part of a larger movement in labor organizing within the journalism industry.

Gannett also made news earlier this spring when the NewsGuild released a pay equity study of 14 unionized Gannett newsrooms and found gender and racial pay disparities.

Unionizing will not only give digital producers a greater say in their working conditions, McLoone said, but it will also grant them more visibility. He said he feels that Gannett takes its producers for granted despite the importance of their work.

“Really nothing gets done without us,” McLoone said. “The people that they (Gannett) try to mess with the most, a lot of the time, ends up being this production staff — I guess maybe because we’re not as visible. But we’re getting more visible now.”

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Angela Fu is a freelance reporter based in Birmingham, Ala. and a contributor to Poynter.org. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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