The award-winning newsroom staff of The Florida Times-Union took a major step Tuesday toward forming a union that ensures journalists have a formal voice in the workplace to preserve jobs and advocate for journalists’ ability to serve the community amid financial pressures in the newspaper industry that threaten irreparable harm.
Journalists who work as reporters, photographers, copy editors and desk editors in the Times-Union‘s newsroom in Jacksonville signed cards stating their desire to be represented by The NewsGuild-CWA. The cards, filed Tuesday at the Tampa regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, will trigger an NLRB-monitored election by Times-Union staff members in the next 20 to 40 days.
“Our newsroom has lost coworkers in recent years,” said Steve Patterson, a Times-Union reporter and 31-year veteran of the staff. “Our staff wants some stability. A union can’t solve all our problems, but it can be an advocate for us when we really need it.”
If a majority of those voting casts ballots in favor of unionizing, the newsroom staff of 35 to 40 professionals will begin working with the Times-Union‘s corporate owner, GateHouse Media, to negotiate a first labor contract.
The Times-Union, with a circulation of 44,750 daily, 68,600 on Sunday and daily page views of about 380,000 on Jacksonville.com, would become the third GateHouse newspaper in Florida to unionize after successful NewsGuild organizing drives in 2016 at the Lakeland Ledger and Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Stagnant and low wages for many employees have been a big concern for Times-Union employees under GateHouse and Morris Communications, which sold the Times-Union to GateHouse in 2017. Employees still haven’t recovered from pay cuts of up to 10 percent under Morris in 2009.
Beth Reese Cravey, who has worked for the Times-Union since 1987, is among those suffering.
“I have yet to hit $40,000 a year in salary,” she said. “Other reporters have come and gone at starting salaries higher than mine. I cover nonprofits, among other things, and I often qualify for the income-based programs I write about. That’s because I have never had a voice with enough strength behind it to be heard. I believe forming a union will give us that voice. But it’s not just about money. It’s about respect and being valued.”
A mission statement drafted by members of the staff’s union organizing committee says workers have “strived in the face of newsroom cuts to produce the best journalism possible (see attached statement).” But the recent purchase of the paper by Gatehouse, the mission statement says, “has brought more uncertainty perhaps than any other time in the newspaper’s 154-year history.”
A union contract, the statement says, will ensure that newsroom staff members have a say in the paper’s future and “force the paper’s owner … to deal directly with its employees.”
Andrew Pantazi, a Jacksonville native, said he joined the Times-Union staff in 2013 “because it’s the newspaper that holds accountable the powerful, because it’s the newspaper that tells stories no one else can. I want a union because I want to preserve this workplace that has given so much to my community.”
Pantazi has seen the newsroom staff shrink from more than 100 to fewer than 40 in the past five years, including the layoff of 10 newsroom workers since GateHouse took over. GateHouse Media, based in Pittsford, New York, is one of the largest publishers of newspapers in the country. It is part of New Media Investment Group, a publicly traded company based in New York City.
“A strong union can protect workers and ensure a fair and just process is in place as newspapers search for new revenue and a new future,” he said.