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News Journal newsroom seeks to unionize

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The newsroom of the News Journal and Delaware Online are attempting to unionize. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEW CASTLE – The editorial staff of The News Journal and Delaware Online is attempting to form a union under the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, according to a Monday press release. The newspaper’s ownership is reportedly resisting the effort.

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.

“We are uniting to preserve the quality of our coverage and fight for the future of our newsroom,” the Delaware organizers wrote in a release posted on Twitter. “Newsrooms across the country are organizing at increasing rates, and seeing results. We are joining them because we believe in journalism.”

The union did not mince words in stating that the new ownership of Delaware’s largest daily newspaper was at the heart of the unionization drive.

“Our newsroom, like many others, has endured routine rounds of layoffs and cuts. This, combined with growing health care costs, stagnant salaries and constant staff turnover makes it difficult to maintain the high caliber of journalism that we strive for – and that Delawareans deserve,” the union wrote in its announcement. “The merger of Gannett and Gatehouse Media – both of which have histories of mismanaging resources to the detriment of journalism – has created an entirely new company. This is not the same Gannett, which only heightens the uncertainty we already face in our industry.”

The journalists emphasized that their jobs include long hours, spread out at events across the entire state.

“We want a say in the corporate decisions made about our staff and how we do our jobs. We deserve to have a seat at the table,” it added in its announcement.

Delaware Business Times has reached out to Gannett for a comment regarding the unionization effort.

The union sought voluntary recognition from Gannett, which already deals with more than a dozen newsroom unions at other papers, including the Detroit Free Press, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Indianapolis Star and Arizona Republic. Around noon Monday, News Journal education reporter Natalia Alamdari told DBT that Gannett had rejected their request for voluntary recognition.

NewsGuild-CWA Local 38010, the union chapter which the News Journal staff is trying to join, already 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.

Without voluntarily recognition, the Delaware News Guild’s organizers have to collect authorization cards from 30% of newsroom members and petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold a unionization vote to force recognition. A simple majority vote in a union election would create the bargaining unit despite Gannett’s opposition.

According to Alamdari, two-thirds of the 27 newsroom members to be represented – including reporters, photographers and content producers – have officially signed union cards and Local 38010 has submitted its petition to the NLRB to schedule a vote. Although staff at small weekly newspapers around the state once owned by Gatehouse – the Dover Post, Middletown Transcript, Milford Beacon, and more – are now under the same corporate ownership, Alamdari said they are not a part of the bargaining unit.

Alamdari told DBT that the merger of Gannett and Gatehouse has raised concerns with staff, prompting them to begin exploring unionization months ago. 

“I think most of our concerns are big picture. If we are able to negotiate salary increases, that’s great, but we are really looking for the legal protections of a union,” she said, noting staff backed their current editors and the newsroom operation.

Alamdari said that News Journal staff had spoken to journalists at other unionized papers, including the Arizona Republic which voted to unionize in October, about what to expect. Gannett opposed the Republic’s unionization effort and unsuccessfully tried to convince reporters to not join. Alamdari said that she expects much of the same in Delaware prior to the vote.

The news of the Delaware News Guild on Twitter drew several messages of support from journalists around the country, primarily at unionized Gannett newsrooms, as well as other union chapters.

News Guild-CWA President Jon Schleuss wrote in response, “Thank you for fighting to save local journalism. We are excited to have you!”

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 $1.1 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 circulation was about 84,000 daily.

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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