Florida Times-Union newsroom takes step to unionize


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Employees of the Florida Times-Union announced plans Tuesday to form a union, an effort motivated in part by stagnant wages and recent newsroom cutbacks.

Three-quarters of the newsroom signed notices filed with the National Labor Relations Board indicating a desire to become a union represented by The NewsGuild-CWA. They're seeking fair pay, workers' rights protections and a say in the newspaper's future.

The filing follows a round of layoffs that left the newsroom with fewer than 40 full-time staffers. It will initiate a vote that, if successful, would make the Times-Union the third GateHouse Media-owned newspaper in Florida to pursue union representation, joining the Lakeland Ledger and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

"Our union is under no illusion that revenues associated with the news business will magically improve, and that is precisely why we have decided to unite our voices. We fear that GateHouse’s short-term strategies will lead to more and more cuts in the future," organizers said in a statement.

"Our newsroom has lost coworkers in recent years," said veteran reporter Steve Patterson. "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."

Another reporter, Andrew Pantazi, said the need for a union occurred to him when 10 newsroom staffers were abruptly let go in January, two months after GateHouse finalized its purchase of the paper.

Having a union would mean the newsroom at least getting a heads up before any layoffs, Pantazi said.

"They would have to notify us ahead of time and negotiate with us in good faith," he said. "So, for example, maybe it doesn't reduce the number of people who would get cut, but it gives us a voice in the process."

He said getting paid fairly is among the group's priorities. Wages have stayed flat over the years, he said, and the only way to get a raise is with an outside job offer.

"I would like to stay here," he said, "but I can only do that if I know my work conditions will be reasonable. If 10 years from now, my salary is still less than $40,000, I don't know if I can raise a family on that."

Assuming the vote succeeds, Pantazi said, the next step in the process would be getting the union certified. Once that part is taken care of, the union could begin contract negotiations with GateHouse.

"The company has indicated that they would like to give us merit pay raises and freeze our health insurance costs, but that's not a promise," he said. "A contract gives us the ability to enforce that promise."

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