Last updated on 10/7/19 at 3:00pm
In a letter delivered to management on Wednesday, the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and Miami.com newsrooms have jointly announced their intention to unionize. The move makes the largest joint newsroom in South Florida the latest in a string of newspapers across the nation that have began pushing for union representation in recent years.
“One of the goals of good journalism is to hold the powerful to account, and in order to do that we have to preserve our most precious resource, which is our staff,” said Mary Ellen Klas, the Herald’s bureau chief in Tallahassee.
Under the ownership of McClatchy Corporation, the joint newsroom has removed scores of people from its payroll over the last decade. Staff buy-outs have been regular since 2008. Rounds of consolidations have led to further shrinking numbers, as vacant positions have gone unfilled.
“We’re one-third the staff that we were a decade ago,” said Klas. “The pressures are on reporters to do more now than ever before, and the inclination from management — because we’ve been whittled down for so many years — is ‘we’ll just ask them to do one more thing, or of course we’ll hire a freelancer to do this thing that should be done by a staffer.’ It’s time to hit the reset button and reexamine how we use the resources that we have to serve the community in the most effective way.”
The proposed union will take the name of One Herald Guild, a nod to the joint newsroom effort as well as to the iconic street address of the Miami Herald’s former headquarters in downtown Miami — 1 Herald Plaza.
The organizing group is giving McClatchy a deadline of 5pm on October 8 to voluntarily recognize One Herald Guild.
If the union isn’t voluntarily recognized, the group would have to register with the National Labor Relations Board, to organize an official binding vote. After a union is formed, the first contracts would be negotiated collectively with McClatchy.
“We’re hopeful that the company will recognize us within the next few days,” said Antonio M. Delgado, a reporter for El Nuevo Herald. .
"We have received a request from members of the Miami Herald newsroom to be represented by a union. We are grateful for the passion of these talented and highly-respected colleagues," Mindy Marques, the executive editor and publisher of the Miami Herald Media Company, said in a statement. "We all share the same commitment to strong, independent local journalism that informs and serves our communities. We are reviewing the request and will respond directly to the newsroom."
In an internal email sent to staffers, Marques suggested the union would not be recognized, saying, “The best course of action is the one preferred by the National Labor Relations Board - a secret ballot election. We will, of course, abide by the results of a free, open and inclusive process." Marques also wrote that a mission statement published by the organizers contains "inaccurate and misleading" information, but did not specify what information is inaccurate. She said these issues will be discussed in the coming days.
McClatchy referred WLRN to Marques' statement.
Full disclosure: The Miami Herald is a news partner of WLRN.
Delgado said the organizers are well aware of “tough conditions” in the newspaper industry over the last years, which have led to deep cuts in the newsroom.
"But at this time in the industry, you have to have a seat at the table and have some representation,” said Delgado. “We want job stability. We are willing to work with leadership with management to come up with solutions."
“We understand that our industry is facing financial constraints. We get it,” said Klas. But for years, she said, management has made major decisions about operations without running anything by the newsroom. Often, those decisions “hit us from behind and hurt morale,” she said.
“We’ve decided it’s just our time to save this ship. We’ve tied ourselves together and created a life raft,” said Klas.
The staff will be represented by the The NewsGuild-CWA, which speaks for over 20,000 journalists across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
The NewsGuild-CWA already represents staff at three Florida newspapers, all of which have unionized in the last few years. The Lakeland Ledger and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune unionized in 2016 and the Florida Times-Union, out of Jacksonville, unionized last year.
Newspapers across the nation have been increasingly taking more steps to unionize. In recent years, flagship papers like the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune have become unionized, alongside smaller regional papers. A wave of digital outlets like the Huffington Post, Vox, Salon, Buzzfeed and Gizmodo have also unionized — or started the formal process — in recent years. Over just the last few weeks, staffers at the Arizona Republic and The Columbian, a paper in Washington State, have started the process.
“We saw that pretty much many of the issues they were struggling were the same as what we have here,” said Delgado. “We looked at what they were doing and it encouraged us to take some of the first steps.”
“Journalists very much want to tell the stories of the places they live and work in, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do that,” said Sally Davidow, a spokesperson for the NewsGuild-CWA. “The union enables them to fight for their work and for the people who read them — to help give them the news coverage they deserve."
The organizing group wants to push for better family leave for staffers who want to start families, better healthcare coverage, raises for some staffers, more standardized hiring practices and more clearly defined benchmarks for getting a raise within the company.
“Through this organizing process, we’ve come together in ways that in my 15 years at the Herald has never happened before,” said Klas. “We’ve learned more about the conditions that many of us work under. There’s a lot of inequity in our newsroom. There’s pay disparities between the newsroom of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald that we want to see addressed.”
If recognized, the One Herald Guild will become the sixth company in McClatchy’s newspaper chain to unionize, and the first in Florida. (McClatchy owns one other paper in the state, the Bradenton Herald.) Only about 5 percent of the company’s approximately 3,500 full and part-time employees are currently represented by a union, according to the company’s most recent corporate filings.
In the early 2000s, editorial staff at the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald made initial plans to unionize, but the effort faltered.
“That process didn’t have enough votes or support within the newsroom,” said Delgado.
“We get the feeling that this time will be successful,” he said.
This piece has been updated to include information from an internal email from Mindy Marques.