By:
February 25, 2021

UPDATE (Friday, Feb. 26, 11:01 a.m.): The Washington State NewsGuild announced Thursday that McClatchy has voluntarily recognized their union. All four McClatchy Washington newsrooms — The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and the Tri-City Herald — are officially unionized and will be able to start negotiating for a new contract.

As reporters in Texas and Washington celebrated victories in their paths to get their unions officially recognized, journalists in Southern California announced the start of their own unionization efforts.

Journalists at the Gannett-owned Austin American-Statesman voted 36-12 to unionize their newsroom as the Austin NewsGuild, the National Labor Relations Board announced Wednesday afternoon.

Just minutes earlier, the Washington State NewsGuild broke its own news — the NLRB had ruled in its favor after a special hearing, allowing it to be one union across all four McClatchy Washington newsrooms. They are still waiting to hear whether they will have to move to an election.

Meanwhile, journalists at 11 Alden-owned newspapers in Southern California are just starting their journey to official recognition. The union went public Wednesday as the SCNG (Southern California News Group) Guild and announced that nearly three-fourths of eligible employees had signed authorization cards to petition the NLRB for an election.

The flurry of activity Wednesday represents the latest in the wave of unionization that has hit digital outlets and legacy publications alike in recent years. Here’s a breakdown of what happened.

The Austin NewsGuild

Though the Austin NewsGuild went public in December 2020, it had to wait until Wednesday to hear whether its efforts were successful. Gannett had declined to voluntarily recognize the union, forcing the issue to an NLRB election.

Now that the Austin NewsGuild is officially recognized, it can start bargaining with the Austin American-Statesman and Gannett for a new contract.

“We respect the decision by our colleagues,” Austin American-Statesman editor Manny García wrote in an emailed statement. “We will continue to focus on our public service mission to serve our growing community.”

Key priorities for a new contract include “fair and competitive compensation, stable benefits and career development opportunities,” according to the union’s website. They are also advocating for anti-racism practices for everything from hiring to coverage and more resources for their community’s Spanish-language speakers.

“(W)ith the collective bargaining abilities ensured by a union, we can better focus on what we all came into this industry to do: inform our community while producing compelling journalism capable of evoking change,” the union’s website reads.

The news comes exactly one week after the NLRB hosted a vote count for the Gannett paper The Desert Sun. Journalists there also won their election 13-1 to become the Desert Sun NewsGuild. They too had announced their intent to unionize in December, but Gannett informed them just two hours later that it would not voluntarily recognize their union.

Gannett’s newsrooms are unionizing as the chain continues to make cuts, laying off staff and closing printing plants. Last year, the company — which has more than 250 daily newsrooms and is the country’s largest newspaper chain — shed more than 500 jobs through a round of layoffs and buyouts. It also outsourced 485 business-side jobs to India earlier this year.

Meanwhile, in the past year alone, at least 10 newsrooms have unionized, forming the Record Guild, Southwest Florida News Guild, Delaware NewsGuild and Palm Beach News Guild. The last three became certified unions following their own elections, and the Record Guild is waiting to start its own election.

The Washington State NewsGuild

The Washington State NewsGuild, representing journalists at The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald, and the Tri-City Herald, is one step closer to becoming an official union.

After journalists announced their intent to unionize in December, McClatchy declined to voluntarily recognize the union and instead pushed the newsrooms to unionize separately. The NLRB held a three-day hearing last month to resolve the issue and ruled Wednesday that the union could proceed as one unit.

The union is waiting for McClatchy to decide whether it will voluntarily recognize them. If the company declines, workers at the four newsrooms will have to vote to unionize via an NLRB election in early March.

Stephanie Pedersen, the Northwest Regional Editor for McClatchy, wrote in an emailed statement that the company is reviewing the union’s request for recognition and will reply to them “quickly and directly.”

“We value the work of our colleagues and their dedication to our shared mission of essential local journalism in the public interest,” Pedersen wrote.

If recognized, the Washington papers will join nine other unionized newsrooms at McClatchy including flagship paper The Sacramento Bee. The company voluntarily recognized unions at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and at The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette last fall.

McClatchy, which holds about 30 newspapers, recently underwent a change in ownership after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year. It is now owned by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management.

That change in ownership first sparked conversations about unionizing, according to reporters at the Washington papers. They wanted to secure their jobs so that they can continue covering their communities.

Earlier this month, McClatchy announced they are instituting a minimum salary of at least $42,000 in all newsrooms starting March 1 to reflect the rising cost of living. However, reporters at the Washington newsrooms are excluded from this initiative due to the ongoing union drive. The new minimums would have resulted in pay increases for at least nine Washington journalists, according to the union.

McClatchy did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

The union reiterated its call to receive those salary increases in its Wednesday press release announcing the NLRB ruling.

“There is still much that needs to change and our journalists still deserve far better support from our parent company. This can and should come in the form of releasing the cost of living increases that are currently being denied to our journalists,” the union wrote.

The SCNG Guild

Journalists at the Southern California News Group, which includes 11 Alden newspapers across four counties, announced Wednesday they have come together to form the SCNG Guild.

The union includes workers from the (Torrance) Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Los Angeles Daily News, The Orange County Register, Pasadena Star-News, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, (Long Beach) Press-Telegram, Redlands Daily Facts, San Bernardino Sun, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News.

Collectively, the papers receive 17.6 million unique visitors online each month and have roughly 451,000 Sunday print subscribers, according to a SCNG Guild press release.

The union is calling for higher wages and better benefits to allow reporters to cover their communities after spending years working under “increasingly difficult conditions,” the press release states. Most of the newsrooms have seen rounds of layoffs and pay cuts.

Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns the papers through its MediaNews Group, could not be reached for comment.

“I’ve worked at the Orange County Register for more than two decades, through knuckle-busting news wars. Of course the business has radically changed, but what Alden has done to my newspaper breaks my heart,” said government watchdog reporter Teri Sforza in a press release. “We have only a few dozen reporters now — a fraction of what we had when Alden acquired us in 2016.”

Alden, which owns more than 60 daily newspapers, is notorious for slashing budgets and cutting newsroom staff. Last year, several Alden-owned papers including The Denver Post and the Boston Herald collectively laid off dozens of employees.

The Southern California News Group also got hit by layoffs last spring, according to News Matters, a News Guild project. The site reported last year that there were “unconfirmed reports” that around six newsroom employees were laid off, and all sports and features staff were furloughed for at least two weeks.

Though its critics argue that Alden bleeds its newspapers dry, the hedge fund continues to acquire them at a rapid rate.

Last week, Alden Global Capital agreed to acquire Tribune Publishing for $630 million. When news that Alden was interested in buying Tribune first broke, reporters at Tribune-owned papers including the Chicago Tribune and The Hartford Courant launched campaigns to find nonprofit owners.

Only The Baltimore Sun Media Group was successful, as Alden agreed to sell it to Sunlight for All Institute, a nonprofit led by businessman and philanthropist Stewart Bainum Jr. — a move celebrated by many in the industry.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Angela Fu is a freelance reporter based in Birmingham, Ala. and a contributor to Poynter.org. She can be reached at angelafu7@gmail.com or on Twitter @angelanfu.
More by Angela Fu

More News

Back to News