Apr 9, 2024 - News

Statesman employees return to work after strike

A photo of workers in a row on a bridge with the skyline in the background.

Photo: Nicole Cobler/Axios

The Austin American-Statesman's usual bylines were noticeably absent from coverage during the eclipse, the CMT Music Awards and Cap10K.

Driving the news: The local newspaper's journalists returned to work Tuesday after a four-day strike as contract negotiations with owner Gannett stall.

  • A second Gannett newsroom, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, also timed a strike with the eclipse.

Why it matters: It's the latest maneuver by the Austin NewsGuild, which represents Statesman journalists, to push for a higher wage floor in their contract with Gannett.

  • Statesman journalists had been gearing up for coverage of the historic solar event — a moment that would usually bring around-the-clock coverage, photos and a collectible front page.
  • Plus, the Cap10K — sponsored by the Statesman since 1978 — is the state's largest 10K race.

Flashback: The paper's journalists first voted to unionize in 2021, calling for better pay, safety policies, improved health care benefits and more.

What they're saying: Gannett "has consistently slow-walked negotiations and offered a series of bad-faith proposals," the Austin NewsGuild said in a press release last week.

  • The NewsGuild said Gannett has proposed a wage floor of $50,000 a year with no raises for the first five years of service.
  • The union pointed to Dallas Morning News management, who agreed to a $55,000 wage floor in their contract, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's $52,000 wage floor for union members.
  • In response to the strike, Gannett posted temporary jobs on its site.

Between the lines: Gannett has seen its fair share of union protests in the past few years amid efforts to consolidate in the wake of its 2019 merger with GateHouse, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.

  • Last year, hundreds of Gannett journalists across two dozen local newspapers, including in Austin, went on strike during the company's annual shareholder meeting to protest job cuts.
  • Gannett has cut roughly half of its workforce since the GateHouse merger. The company had approximately 10,000 employees as of the end of last year — down from more than 21,000 in 2019, immediately following the merger.
  • More than 1,000 Gannett employees are represented by The NewsGuild-CWA across more than 50 bargaining units.

The other side: Gannett CEO Michael Reed didn't mince words when asked in an onstage interview last month how he's dealing with an uptick of union activity and pressure.

  • "I think the Guild, unfortunately, plays dirty and lies to our employees," Reed told Axios at the annual Mather Symposium on media in Atlanta.

In response to his comments, NewsGuild-CWA president Jon Schleuss said in a statement to Axios: "Gannett's last SEC filing showed Mike Reed making 66 times that of a median employee, while paying journalists poverty wages, cutting an average of 2,800 jobs a year and hiring lawyers to stonewall workers at the bargaining table."

Of note: The Austin NewsGuild's strike fund reached over $34,000 as of Friday.

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