In a decisive 66-24 vote, the newsrooms of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald have elected to form a union. Votes were counted this afternoon by federal officials at the Claude Pepper Federal Building in downtown Miami, where members of both the One Herald Guild and Herald management were present.
"The effort to unionize has already made the El Nuevo Herald and Miami Herald stronger by bringing reporters, copy editors, and producers together in support of journalism and each other," David Smiley, a senior political reporter for the Miami Herald, said in a statement. "With today's results, we can continue that work in cooperation with management."
The vote count still needs to be certified, but Herald management has said it won't challenge the result, according to One Herald Guild member Joey Flechas.
The electoral victory marks the end of a relatively short union drive, which began in early October. Herald employees cited concerns over layoffs under its corporate owner, McClatchy, as a reason for unionizing. Herald management did not voluntarily recognize the union, thereby triggering a union election, which was held in the Herald's Doral headquarters October 30.
We can’t wait to work toward getting a stronger voice in the newsroom on issues related to hiring, wages, leave, as well as editorial and financial decisions that have a daily impact on our lives. #OneHeraldGuild— One Herald Guild (@OneHeraldGuild) November 20, 2019
Although the majority of Herald union members submitted their votes during the October election, a handful of absentee ballots still needed to be counted from journalists stationed outside the area. Officials with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) impounded those votes from the October 30 election until they could be counted with absentee ballots today. In the end, the election wasn't even close: One Herald Guild received more than 73 percent of the vote, well above the 50 percent plus one required, and will move on to negotiating a contract with Herald management.
"As part of the next steps, the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald leadership will establish a bargaining team for the purposes of negotiating an initial contract with the Guild representatives and their team. We remain committed to open dialogue and transparency and will provide updates on that bargaining effort as it progresses," Herald publisher and executive editor Mindy Marqués González said in a statement.
The Herald is now the fifth McClatchy-owned paper to unionize and the third major Florida newspaper to do so in the past five years. One Herald Guild members will join the NewsGuild, a branch of the Washington, D.C.-based Communication Workers of America, which represents more than 20,000 journalists.
Members of the One Herald Guild — named for the company's old address at 1 Herald Plaza — say they plan to negotiate for better salaries and working conditions as well as the ability to fight corporate-ordered layoffs.
The Herald newsroom has undergone drastic cuts since McClatchy bought the paper outright in 2006. The news conglomerate was forced to take on $4.5 billion in debt to purchase the paper's former parent company, Knight Ridder. Despite a seemingly never-ending series of cost-cutting maneuvers and staff layoffs, McClatchy's financial fortunes remain bleak. Share prices for McClatchy, which is the second-largest newspaper publisher in the nation, collapsed last week, leading to reports that the company is verging on bankruptcy. There have also been reports that McClatchy could merge with Tribune Publishing, which owns local media properties in cities such as Orlando, Chicago, New York, and Baltimore, in the interest of further cutting costs.
"That news broke after all our votes were cast," Flechas says of McClatchy's recent financial troubles. "The latest news only bolsters the idea that we don't know what will happen next... Whether it's with McClatchy or the [owner] situation changes, One Herald Guild is dedicated to doing good journalism in our community."
Resounding as the vote was, One Herald Guild's path to unionization was not without its challenges. Until two days before the October 30 vote, Herald management held that three members of the bargaining unit, including reporter Julie Brown and photojournalist Emily Michot, would not be allowed to participate in the election via absentee ballot. After receiving blowback online, management eventually backpedaled on the decision.
Then, last Friday, news surfaced that management was contesting the union eligibility of five Herald employees, including columnists Leonard Pitts and Carl Hiaasen, effectively excluding them from the bargaining unit before any votes were counted.
According to recent tweets from One Herald Guild, management has not backed down from that position. One Herald Guild member and Herald Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas told New Times earlier this week they intended to go to the NLRB over the exclusion of those five employees.
The company continued to fight against five journalists’ rights to be part of One Herald Guild today. We won’t rest until they are included.— One Herald Guild (@OneHeraldGuild) November 20, 2019
Following Wednesday's vote count, Flechas says making a case to federal officials remains on the table, although the newly formed union will first have to discuss its next steps internally before moving forward.
"We hope they do the right thing and recognize that our colleagues deserve to be in this union," Flechas says. "The guild has every expectation that management will approach talks in good faith."
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