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Home » Hundreds of Gannett journalists strike in protest of working conditions

Hundreds of Gannett journalists strike in protest of working conditions

On Monday, journalists at The News-Press and the Naples Daily News in Florida traded their cameras and laptops for garbage bags.

They were used to serving their communities through their reporting. But that day, they decided to participate in a beach cleanup instead.

Across the country, hundreds of other unionized journalists at Gannett newsrooms also walked off the job. Fed up with CEO Mike Reed’s leadership and delays in contract negotiations, they staged a series of strikes as part of the largest labor protest in the company’s history.

Most of the strikes are one-day work stoppages and involve journalists at some of Gannett’s largest newsrooms: the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Austin American-Statesman and The Palm Beach Post. Workers at The Arizona Republic and The Desert Sun will stage multi-day strikes, and journalists at The Indianapolis Star are withholding their bylines in lieu of a work stoppage.

In all, unionized journalists in roughly two dozen newsrooms will participate, according to the NewsGuild. The union represents approximately 1,000 Gannett employees across more than 50 newsrooms. Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country, operates more than 200 dailies, including flagship USA Today.

The walkouts coincide with Gannett’s annual shareholder meeting. Ahead of the meeting Monday, the NewsGuild launched a campaign that urged shareholders to withhold their vote for Reed. Because Reed didn’t face any challengers, shareholders would have to unanimously withhold their votes for him not to be reelected as a director. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission and a subsequent webinar, the union argued that Reed has endangered the company by taking on massive debt, cutting staff and decreasing local content.

“If you look at the history of Gannett in the last couple of years, it’s a company that is on a downward trend, and there hasn’t been any sort of sign of letting up,” said Mike Davis, a reporter at the Asbury Park Press and the first vice chair of the APP-MCJ guild.  “Something’s gotta be done at the very top because we have problems in every unit. We’re all having problems with Gannett stonewalling bargaining. And the buck’s got to stop somewhere, and Mike Reed’s been in charge of this company.”

The NewsGuild’s campaign proved unsuccessful. Reed was reelected at the meeting Monday. NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss tweeted that the event, which lasted eight minutes, had been a “complete farce.”

At the meeting, Reed invited participants to submit questions related to the agenda, Schleuss said. He and another journalist sent in questions about Reed’s compensation and leadership, as well as labor relations at Gannett. Reed then said that there were no questions. Before the meeting’s end, Reed announced that anyone who had submitted a question irrelevant to the agenda would later hear from the company’s investor relations team.

“We didn’t walk into this meeting expecting Mike Reed to be kicked off the board,” Schleuss said. “But I think it’s clear that he has lost all of the trust of every single journalist, whether they’re unionized or not because of his bad leadership over the last several years.”

Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton wrote in an emailed statement that the company’s goal is to “preserve journalism” and serve communities as it finalizes contract negotiations. The strikes will not disrupt Gannett’s news coverage, she wrote.

“During a very challenging time for our industry and economy, Gannett strives to provide competitive wages, benefits, and meaningful opportunities for all our valued employees,” Anton wrote. “Our leadership is focused on investing in local newsrooms and monetizing our content as we continue to negotiate fairly and in good faith with the NewsGuild.”

Stagnant salaries and deteriorating working conditions have driven a number of newsrooms at Gannett to unionize in the past several years. Many of those new unions are still working to secure first contracts that will address the issues that caused them to organize in the first place, and they make up the majority of units participating in this week’s strikes.

Those unions say that Gannett is stalling at the bargaining table. At the Austin American-Statesman, unionized journalists have been talking about a possible strike for months, Austin NewsGuild vice chair Nicole Villalpando said. In conversations with unions at other Gannett newsrooms, they discovered that the company has approved contract language for some units while denying other units the same protections.

“They’re kind of pitting us against each other, so there’s now a coordinated effort. The strike is part of a coordinated effort,” Villalpando said. “Negotiating for over two years, which is what Austin has been doing — it’s painful. We meet every three to four weeks, and the stuff that we’re fighting over is ridiculous.”

Some of the proposals Gannett has rejected include anti-harassment language and clauses that would prevent people from facing discrimination based on their hairstyles. Villalpando said that the union has been told that they must first address these proposals before they can move to compensation-related issues. At the Asbury Park Press, the union spent more than a year negotiating with the company over a proposal about a bulletin board in the break room, Davis said.

“We thought going into this, we would just handle the noneconomic stuff because it’s ‘easy’ and then get into economics, and the entire thing has been just the company stonewalling us,” Davis said.

In a bid to make progress in their contract negotiations, some of the striking unions are submitting to Gannett a list of nine noneconomic proposals that have been approved at other locations that they also want added to their own contracts, Villalpando said.

In November, more than 200 journalists across 14 Gannett newsrooms held a one-day strike after the company announced a series of cuts, including mass layoffs, mandatory furloughs and the suspension of company contributions to employee 401(k) accounts. The November strike was also a protest of stalled contract negotiations, and the strikes this week represent an escalation of that labor action.

As part of the ongoing walkouts, the Gannett unions are asking readers to avoid clicking on the links of newsrooms that have striking workers. Several unions are also hosting in-person rallies and have set up strike funds.

Journalists at two Gannett newsrooms in Georgia also announced Monday that they were launching their own union campaigns. The Athens Banner-Herald and the Savannah Morning News will be the first two Georgia papers to unionize with the NewsGuild. Workers at those papers noted in a press release that Gannett had laid off six of their colleagues last year and had dissolved a team focused on statewide news last week. Faced with low wages and mounting cuts, they said their jobs had become “untenable.”

Though the Georgia journalists are asking for voluntary recognition of their unions, allowing them to bypass the time-consuming National Labor Relations Board election process, Gannett labor relations counsel Amy Garrard wrote in an emailed statement that the company “strongly supports” an NLRB election.

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