Reporters, photographers and non-management staffers at Arizona’s largest newspaper voted today to form a union.
The 64-30 vote came despite efforts by Arizona Republic’s management to dissuade employees from unionizing. The management argued in a series of memos that organizing in that way could have negative implications. The management said Gannett, as the paper’s corporate owner, has only so much it is willing to spend, and that the cost of any new benefit could result in the loss of another one.
“Clearly, that argument didn’t hold water,” Mary Jo Pitzl, one of the supporters of the union, told Capitol Media Services. “I think the margin would not be as big as it was. The belief among Guild supporters was that there’s a lot of room to play with here and you don’t necessarily have to give up something to get something.”
Greg Burton, the paper’s executive editor, provided only a prepared statement.
“We respect the rights of our employees and their decision,” he said, saying the paper will “move forward and continue serving Arizonans.”
Thursday’s vote does not actually gain the newsroom staffers anything beyond the right to collectively bargain with management.
“I think there’s a general belief that now the hard work starts,” Pitzl said.
The vote took place against the backdrop of the announcement that Gannett was going to be purchased by GateHouse Media to form a $1.4 billion corporation.
Officials from both companies have made public statements that they believe the combined operations, which will operate under the Gannett name, could save up to $300 million a year. That has led to fears that the Republic, which already has had multiple layoffs during the past decade, would lose more staffers in the corporate merger.
The campaign by Republic management also sought to sow some suspicions among staffers, warning them that if there is a union that the key supporters are “going to have the loudest voice.”
“Do you trust them with your future – because if you vote for the Guild that is what you’ll be doing,”one memo read.
There were some vocal foes of union efforts, including veteran reporter Craig Harris. He told Capitol Media Services during the campaign that while there have been a series of staffing cuts at the Republic, most of those let go were offered buy-outs and severance pay.
And Harris said that the fact remains that newspapers are no longer as profitable as they once were.
There is no guarantee that formation of a Guild local will result in a contract.
Staffers at the Republic and Phoenix Gazette, its now-defunct afternoon sister paper, voted in 1978 to form a union. But Jana Bommersbach, one of the organizers, said the reporters never were able to get a contract, and interest in the union faded after management provided pay raises.
Thursday’s vote likely makes the Republic the only paper with a newsroom union.
Despite management opposition, Gannett is no stranger to having union staffers. Other Gannett papers with Guild locals include the Detroit Free Press, the Indianapolis Star, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.