The editorial staff at the Athens Banner-Herald and Savannah Morning News, both owned by Gannett, have announced their intention to unionize in an effort to gain protections from the wave of layoffs the media giant has been making across its newsrooms nationally. 

Organizers at the Athens and Savannah newspapers have formed the Georgia Gannett NewsGuild in a campaign to become the first Georgia members of the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America, the nation’s largest union of journalists and media workers with over 26,000 members. 

“It’s well-publicized that Gannett laid off about 400 people last year and furloughed the rest of us right before Christmas and through the holidays,” said Andrew Shearer, the Athens Banner-Herald’s arts and culture reporter and a 25-year local news veteran. “It was hard on our families, but who also suffered were the readers, the public, and our subscribers.”

Shearer said he and his colleagues believe joining NewsGuild will give Gannett’s Athens and Savannah reporters greater job security. “You can’t be a great reporter or a great public servant if you wake up wondering if you’re going to have a job tomorrow,” he said. 

Journalists at the Banner-Herald and the Morning News announced their collective action on June 5 and now are waiting for the National Labor Relations Board to set an official election date for a union vote.  If they win the vote, the next step is negotiating a contract with Gannett, which is a subsidiary of New Media Investment Group – itself owned by another private equity firm, Fortress Investment Group, which is owned by Softbank. 

a primer on unions

Workers at the Augusta Chronicle, Gannett’s other Georgia newspaper,  have decided not to unionize at this time. 

“We respect the right of employees at the Athens Banner-Herald and the Savannah Morning News to make a fully informed choice to unionize or not,” said Amy Gerrard, Gannett’s labor relations counsel. “Gannett strongly supports the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) election process and has always participated in that process fairly and in good faith. Central to that process is a democratic election in which every employee’s voice is heard.”

Last year, Gannett laid off six Georgia journalists from the Athens BannerHerald, the Savannah Morning News and the Augusta Chronicle. That may not sound like much, but these are small newsrooms. 

The total number of editorial staff eligible for the union elections at the Herald and Morning News comes to about 20, which includes full- and part-time employees. The two newsrooms will need a simple majority of “yes” votes to unionize, according to the Georgia Gannett NewsGuild announcement.  

“We cover every beat from crime to football to food, but Gannett’s gutting of newsrooms has weakened our ability to adequately cover our communities. So, we are unionizing,” the announcement said.

According to Shearer, there hasn’t been any pushback at all from Gannett management since they announced their intention to unionize on June 5. 

“There have been no repercussions. Nothing has changed about my job whatsoever,” said Shearer. “I’ve just got less anxiety at the beginning of my workday – and at the end of [the week] no one tells me to bring in my keys or whatever.” 

The Georgia editorial staffers aren’t alone in their push for job stability. About 1,500 Gannett journalists are union members, according to the Georgia Gannett NewsGuild’s announcement.

NewsGuild, founded in 1933, says on its website that about 7,300 of its 26,000 members have joined since 2018 at more than 120 newly unionized publications in response to layoffs and stagnant wages across the journalism industry. 

The editorial staff at investigative non-profit ProPublica just announced Wednesday that they’ve voted to unionize with NewsGuild, joining colleagues from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press.

The New York Times’ roughly 1,500 NewsGuild members won a new contract just last month after two years of contentious negotiations that include salary increases of up to 12.5% percent to make up for no raises over the last two years and 2023 and raises the minimum editorial pay to $65,000, up from about $37,500. 

For context, Gannett’s median U.S. employee made $51,035 in 2022, according to BizJournal.

However, joining NewsGuild in 2018 has not protected the Los Angeles Times newsroom from cuts. The L.A. Times announced earlier this month that it’s laying off 74 newsroom jobs–including 57 Los Angeles Times Guild members–which represent about 13% of total editorial positions. The cuts mostly affect news and copy editors, while sparing reporters. 

The Los Angeles Times Guild, which has been negotiating a new contract with the newspaper since September, said it was “blindsided” by the layoff news and announced on June 8 that it was filing an unfair labor practices complaint with the NLRB.

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