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Florida Times-Union Newsroom Signals Intent To Unionize

Bruce Lipsky
Florida Times Union

A majority of journalists and other staffers at The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville’s newspaper of record and a WJCT news partner, has signaled an intent to unionize.

An organizing committee was formed shortly after the paper was taken over by Gatehouse Media and 10 people, including reporters, a photographer and photo editor, were laid off. An “overwhelming majority” of the newsroom Tuesday turned in signed union cards to the National Labor Relations Board in Tampa, according to Times-Union reporter Andrew Pantazi.

One of the organizing board members,Pantazi, said the newsroom is forming the union under the News Guild, which is part of the Communications Workers of America.

“We are letting Gatehouse know this is the first step in the process. What comes next is that we will need to figure out who needs to be in the unit, who will be part of the representation and then we will go forward… we are asking to be voluntarily recognized by the company. If they don’t do so, we will have an election in a little less than a month,” he said.

The election would be like any other, Pantazi said, a secret ballot offered to the newsroom and employees would then formally vote to unionize or to drop the idea. After either the voluntary recognition or the election, the Times-Union Guild will begin contract negotiations.

“Until we get a contract, we won’t be paying any dues, but we will be protected under federal law by what’s called the Status Quo Provision,” Pantazi added.

The federal provision ensures that when a previous contract expires, or while one is being negotiated, the employees receive the same level of pay and benefits.

If employees at the T-U successfully unionize, they would be the third Gatehouse paper in Florida to do so, according to Pantazi. But the reporter, who focuses mostly on the justice system and has been at the T-U for six years, wants to make clear the effort isn’t aimed at the paper’s local leadership.

After Gatehouse bought “a string” of Florida papers and began cutting staff, Pantazi said he and his organizing colleagues wanted to send a message and stop further layoffs.

“We were concerned about the way that Gatehouse was announcing itself to the paper. They were doing so with layoffs, with cuts and we had seen the same thing play out with other newspapers, including in Florida,” he said.

The TImes-Union newsroom is now less than 40 strong.

“We should also say this is not happening because Gatehouse isn’t profitable. They increased their dividends to shareholders this year and they continue to give out large bonuses to corporate executives and we know that they have the money if they chose to reinvest into the newsroom,” he said.

The T-U newsroom was recently 100 employees strong. Before the latest round of newsroom layoffs, Gatehouse also outsourced its printing operation to Gainesville and Daytona, displacing 50 employees.

WJCT is reaching out to Gatehouse for comment.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.