After receiving substantial blowback this morning, Miami Herald leadership backpedaled on a decision to exclude two of its journalists from an upcoming vote on whether to unionize employees in the Herald and El Nuevo Herald newsrooms.
The backlash began after Herald reporter Julie Brown revealed on Twitter that she and photojournalist Emily Michot would be out of town on assignment during the election Wednesday and would not be allowed to vote via absentee ballot. Brown, who won a Polk Award last year for her investigative reporting on pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, had previously planned to interview one of Epstein's victims with Michot for a Herald documentary.
Because they had asked the interviewee to take off work for the day, Brown said she and Michot could not reschedule "in good conscience" and urged her colleagues to vote in favor of unionizing.
An immediate outcry online immediately ensued: Various Twitter commentators questioned the legality of excluding Brown and Michot and urged them to seek legal help. Others challenged management's decision on principle: "This goes directly against our call for an open, accessible, remote-friendly election. We urge @mcclatchy leaders to reconsider," the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists tweeted.
6. We have been told that because the dates we arranged for these interviews were our choice, so we cannot vote by absentee ballot. Because we asked one of the victims (a single mother) to take off of work for this interview we could not in good conscience reschedule...— julie k. brown (@jkbjournalist) October 28, 2019
Wednesday's vote will take place during two sessions, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, in the Herald's Doral headquarters. According to One Herald Guild member Bianca Padró Ocasio, the rules on voting were decided weeks ago during negotiations with the guild. They do not allow for absentee or provisional ballots and extend the opportunity to vote via mail-in ballot only to Herald staff stationed in areas outside of Miami.
In the case of Brown, Michot, and one other reporter who will be out of town on assignment Wednesday, it was completely up to management as to whether they should be given the opportunity to participate. Padró Ocasio says McClatchy lawyers had told the guild those employees would not be allowed to vote.
A few hours after Brown posted her Twitter thread, Herald publisher and executive editor Mindy Marqués took to social media to respond. Marqués said that, though the rules for voting had simply been applied as agreed upon, management had no objection to allowing Brown and Michot to cast mail-in ballots.
"We are very glad to hear that McClatchy has decided to do the right thing and make accommodations for our colleagues who are on assignment during Wednesday’s vote and were unfairly excluded," Padró Ocasio wrote. "After members of the [One Herald Guild] insisted they be included, three of our colleagues will now be able to vote via a mail-in ballot. We will always stand up for all of our colleagues and look forward to a fair election and a negotiation in good faith."
So glad for our colleagues. This demonstrates the power of us sticking together and speaking out. https://t.co/XvnJ420poL— Nicholas Nehamas (@NickNehamas) October 28, 2019
Padró Ocasio says the guild is confident it has the votes it needs (more than 50 percent of the union group) to win the election and move on to negotiating a contract for better salaries and working conditions. Two Herald employees will be on vacation Wednesday. According to Padró Ocasio, they will not be able to vote.
So glad McClatchy has decided to do the right thing. It’s so important that everyone is able to vote, even those on assignment. https://t.co/bOhGL7Cn3v— Samantha J. Gross (@samanthajgross) October 28, 2019
If Wednesday's vote goes in favor of One Herald Guild, the Herald would become the fifth McClatchy paper to unionize. The organizers plan to join the NewsGuild, a branch of the Communication Workers of America. In the announcement of their union effort earlier this month, One Herald Guild members criticized the direction the paper had taken under its new corporate owners.
"For more than a decade, under the direction of our corporate owners, el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald have dramatically downsized, cutting costs by shrinking staff through buyouts, layoffs and consolidation. As corporate financial pressures have forced us to do more with less, we have remained committed to working with professionalism and integrity, mindful of the cutbacks that have come from a business model that is dying. For us, this is not just a job but a vocation. We believe a robust and independent press is integral to a healthy democracy."
Marqués declined to recognize the union voluntarily, which forced organizers to schedule Wednesday's vote with the National Labor Relations Board.
Our election is one week away, and we are ready to vote YES Oct. 30.— One Herald Guild ???? (@OneHeraldGuild) October 23, 2019
We've covered Miami for 116 years and in that time, our industry has changed. A lot.
That's why we want to protect our newsroom for years to come.
Learn more at https://t.co/7rN4O8QCcB
Somos #OneHeraldGuild. pic.twitter.com/hrwXNr69Ns
Update: Marqués provided the following statement to New Times.
"Applying the lists and rules agreed to by the Guild and the Miami Herald, and approved by the NLRB, would not have allowed them (Julie/Emily) to vote but after hearing the employees’ concerns Herald management had no objection to them voting, and communicated that to the NLRB. We understand from the NLRB they will now be allowed to vote by mail ballot."