JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In an extraordinary move, newsroom staff at The Florida Times-Union voted Thursday to form a union for the first time in the Jacksonville newspaper’s 154-year history.
Eighteen of the newsroom's 35 or so non-management employees voted for unionization, compared to nine who voted against it -- some employees did not vote because they were on vacation. The election marks the culmination of a public campaign launched in June.
"I appreciate the commitment our newsroom has to serving this community, which is my hometown, with important journalism. I know they believe this move will help them do that even better. I respect their decision to unionize," Editor Mary Kelli Palka told the newsroom after the vote.
Added Palka: "Journalists are traditionally more than colleagues. They are friends and family. At the Times-Union, that's as strong today as ever. I'm proud to serve as editor for the journalists in this newsroom. We will continue to move forward together as a strong team."
Once the election is certified, the nascent union will begin negotiating a contract with Times-Union owner GateHouse Media, something that could take years. The newsroom will join The NewsGuild-CWA, the same union that represents journalists at The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other news organizations.
Thursday’s vote is extraordinary not only because it makes the Times-Union the third newspaper in Florida to unionize, but also because the move makes the Times-Union the third GateHouse-owned newspaper in the state to do so. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune and The Lakeland Ledger are already voting on new contracts.
Last month, the organizing committee announced that most of the newsroom had notified the National Labor Relations Board of plans to unionize. The committee said the move was an effort to seek fair pay and benefits, workers’ rights protections and a say in the newspaper’s future.
The organizing committee is made up of reporters Andrew Pantazi, Tessa Duvall, Steve Patterson, Beth Reese Cravey and David Crumpler, along with Assistant Sports Editor Justin Barney. Organizers said budget cuts and stagnant wages are among the reasons staffers decided to band together.
"This vote was about continuing strong local journalism by considering the needs and goals of the people who create it," said Patterson, a veteran reporter. "Today’s vote happened after a lot of discussion and debate in the newsroom. Not everyone agreed on the choice. We all agreed we want to keep the Times-Union healthy and indispensable to its community."
Over the past five years, the size of the newsroom has dwindled from over 100 employees to fewer than 40. Those cuts include GateHouse’s decision in January to lay off 10 staffers, three months after acquiring the newspaper from Morris Communications.
"We will continue to talk to all of our hard-working colleagues to ensure we speak with one voice as we fight for a fair and strong contract," said Pantazi. "Kirk Davis, CEO of GateHouse Media, has job protections built into his contract. It’s not too much to demand that we journalists have the same."
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