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News Journal newsroom union certified after fight

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The newsroom of the News Journal and Delaware Online have created a union after a narrow vote by the newsroom and a fight from Gannett. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEW CASTLE – The editorial staff of The News Journal has formed a union with the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, but the effort did not come without a fight from the newspaper’s corporate owner, Gannett.

The union, called the Delaware News Guild, announced its effort just days after its parent company, Gannett, laid off more than two dozen people at newspapers across the country Feb. 28. The majority of those job losses were not unionized and in Florida or Ohio, according to an industry accounting of the losses.

The union, representing 24 members of the newspaper’s editorial team, was not unanimously approved, but did receive a majority vote, according to Jared Whalen, a data reporter at the News Journal and a member of the union’s organizing committee. That vote was close enough that it took the denial of three fellowship reporters to turn the vote in the union’s favor.

Meanwhile, Gannett has contested the right of two employees – photographer/videographer Jenna Margaretta and digital producer Verna Porter – to join the union.

“They are not editors in the sense that they don’t have teams, they don’t have a staff that they’re overseeing due to a job description,” Whalen said. “Gannett is essentially fighting them on whether or not they should be included in the bargaining unit.”

Whalen said that the union would continue to argue for their colleagues’ inclusion, and if they cannot come to an agreement, the issue could end up in a unit clarification hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.

With the union now certified, Whalen said that the next step is to sit down and negotiate with Gannett on their first contract. He said that certain demands have not been decided by union members, but what’s important is that the “voices of the employees of the Delaware News Journal are heard and represented.”

“At the end of the day, there are lots of things from salary increases to protections for retirement benefits, but it comes down to security, because right now there is nothing stopping Gannett from making decisions,” he said, noting that Gannett recently suspended 401(k) matches company-wide before the News Journal’s union could be certified.

The union first unsuccessfully sought voluntary recognition from Gannett, which already deals more than a dozen newsroom unions at other papers, including the Detroit Free Press, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Indianapolis Star and Arizona Republic.

NewsGuild-CWA Local 38010, which the News Journal staff has now joined, also represents Pennsylvanian journalists at non-Gannett newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Times, Pottstown Mercury, and Norristown Times Herald. It also represents staff at The Trentonian in New Jersey.

While the newspaper traces its roots back to 1785, it has published under the News Journal masthead since 1989 when The Morning News and The Evening Journal newspapers were combined. Gannett has owned the paper since it purchased it in 1978, but the parent company has come under greater scrutiny in recent months as it completed a $1.4 billion mega-merger with Gatehouse Media. The combined company is known as Gannett and operates more than 260 regional newspapers employing some 24,000 people.

Like most newspapers around the U.S., the News Journal has been contending with falling circulation numbers in recent years. When Gannett bought the News Journal, it had a combined daily circulation of 140,000. As of August, its daily reach was about 26,000, down 36% from nearly 41,000 just two years earlier and 69% from a decade ago when daily circulation was about 84,000.

The newsroom has been hit by layoffs and buyouts in recent years, albeit in much smaller numbers than some of its Gannett peers. It has also seen many tenured members leave for other opportunities, with the majority of the 21 reporters having just a few years tenure in Delaware.

By Jacob Owens

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