Home>Feature>Gannett New Jersey newspapers win unionization vote

Bergen record columnist Mike Kelly casts his vote on forming The Record Guild in April 2021. (Photo: The Record Guild/Twitter.)

Gannett New Jersey newspapers win unionization vote

Vote passes overwhelmingly, but 23% of eligible voters didn’t return ballots

By David Wildstein, May 07 2021 12:55 pm

Three Gannett-owned daily newspapers in North Jersey have voted to unionize.

The decision to form The Record Guild as part of the Communications Workers of America Local 31003, passed with 94% of the vote, 59-4, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

“After a long organizing fight, our newsroom overwhelmingly voted to form this union,” The Record Guild said on Twitter.  “We’re eager to get to the table with Gannett. Let’s go.”

While the vote passed overwhelmingly, 19 of 83 reporters and staffers eligible to vote did not return their ballots despite a three-week window.

That means 23% of eligible voters didn’t vote at all.

A vote by Daily News employees in New York to unionize had a 90% vote turnout.

One of the 65 returned ballots was voided.

More than 90% of eligible editorial staffers at The (Bergen) Record, the Daily Record and the New Jersey Herald signed a form to form a union affiliated with the NewsGuild of New York on February 10, but Gannett refused to accept their bid for voluntary recognition.

Of the 83 eligible Gannett employees, 72 listed their names as union backers on The Record Guild website.

The bid to unionize began on February 10.

“In fewer than five years Gannett has turned each into a shadow of their former selves,” said Terrence McDonald, a Bergen Record reporter, in announcing the bid to form a union.  “We organized to bring more power to the writers, photographers and web producers who are dedicated to providing our communities with the journalism they deserve.”

In March, two U.S. Senators and three members of the House of Representatives pushed Gannett to stop interfering with the right of reporters to unionize.

U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, and Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) accused Gannett of holding anti-union captive audience meetings with their employees.

A union spokesperson confirmed to the New Jersey Globe that Gannett management was holding those meetings in a bid to stop employees from forming a union.  The New Jersey Globe has learned that Dan Sforza, The Record’s editor, was among them.

Gannett newspapers put an apparent embargo on news involving attempts by their employees to unionize and did not inform their readers of the event until the final vote was announced today.

“We respect the rights of our employees and their decision,” the newspaper reported Sforza as saying.  “The Record and Gannett are committed to bargaining in good faith.”

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic last winter, Gannett announced a series of layoffs and furloughs.

Publicly and privately, reporters have been complaining about the lack of direction Gannett has taken in recent years.

“Under Gannett, The Record has shed hundreds of jobs and steered away from its signature local coverage,” complained statehouse reporter Dustin Racioppi on Twitter at the start of the process. “We want some say in what happens at an institution we love and proudly work for.”

According to the Record Guild mission statement, the three newspapers have seen a 50% reduction of reporters and editorial staffers.  They said layoffs effected a reporter who was 9 months pregnant, and a 30-year employee whose buyout offer came in a single email.

The also alleged that Gannett newsrooms have “lost an alarming number of reporters and editors of color.”

In 2019, GateHouse Media acquired Gannett for $12.06 a share.  The deal was structured to include a massive debt that would require hundreds of millions in cuts to pay back a $1.2 billion loan that was part of the deal to keep them afloat.

That followed a hostile takeover bid by a hedge fund, Digital First Media, earlier that year.

None of the Gannett newspapers, including the other seven dailies they own across the state, have reported a bid by their employees to unionize.

No request has been made for the other seven New Jersey dailies owned by Gannett.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic last winter, Gannett announced a series of layoffs and furloughs.

Publicly and privately, reporters have been complaining about the lack of direction Gannett has taken in recent years.

Another Gannett-owned paper, The Asbury Park Press, took a beating this year after a journalist added a misogynistic, anti-Semitic caption to a photograph of an Orthodox Jewish nurse preparing to administer a COVID-19 vaccination that called her “a fucking hot nurse, a total JAP.”

The since-fired employee, Gustavo Martinez Contreras, has apologized, but the incident could take a permanent toll on daily newspapers in New Jersey.

The Monmouth County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution denouncing the newspaper and voted to pull legal advertising, a major source of revenue.

As a result, there is a renewed interest in ending the decades-old taxpayer subsidy for print newspapers.

“The legal advertising law is outdated with web sites reach more people than newspapers,” Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said in March.  “A change in the law forcing government advertising is needed.”

In 2016, then-Gov. Chris Christie pushed for legislation to end the decades-old practice of requiring government to publish legal notices in print newspapers.

The New Jersey Press Association – and some editorial page editors – said the move would be the death knell of print media.   Christie and legislators dropped their proposal, and since then, newspapers like The (Bergen) Record and the Star-Ledger have seen their paid print circulation drop by over 70%.

Gannett reported a net loss of $142.3 million for the first quarter of 2021 on Friday morning, with advertising revenues down 18% from the previous year, indicating continued financial difficulties that could impact the ten newspapers they own in New Jersey.

The newspaper said on Friday that print advertising is down 25%, and print circulation fell 13% during the first three months of 2021.

But digital subscriptions are up about 37% and digital revenues are now 29.5% of the company’s total revenues.

More than 4,000 new members have joined the NewsGuild since 2018, according to the Record Guild.

This story was updated at 1:45 PM with comment from Austin, and at 6:56 PM with additional results from the National Labor Relations Board. 

 

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