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The longtime Miami Herald headquarters was demolished in 2015.EXPAND
The longtime Miami Herald headquarters was demolished in 2015.
Photo by Phillip Pessar / Flickr

Miami Herald Employees Announce Union Drive UPDATED

Update: In a newsroom-wide email, Miami Herald publisher and executive editor Mindy Marqués González accused her own employees of spreading unnamed falsehoods and said she will not voluntarily recognize the union. Her full statement to her employees is attached at the bottom of this post.

Months after reporters revealed McClatchy News CEO Craig Forman had received a $1 million bonus and $35,000-per-month housing stipend while laying off journalists and other workers at his news corporation, employees in the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald newsrooms today publicly announced they plan to unionize.

"Our journalism is strong when our journalists are strong," the newly named One Herald Guild announced today. "But 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."

If the guild organizers succeed, the Herald will become the fifth McClatchy paper to unionize. The organizers plan to join the NewsGuild, a branch of the Communication Workers of America. Florida's major newspapers have not historically been union shops, but the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Lakeland Ledger, and Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville have all voted to unionize within the last five years.

After this story was initially published, New Times obtained a newsroom-wide email from Herald executive editor and publisher Mindy Marqués González, in which she accused the organizers of spreading "misleading and inaccurate information" without listing what that information may be. Mere hours after the organizers announced their plans to unionize, Marqués said the Herald would not voluntarily recognize the union and instead said the organizers would be forced to hold a vote with the National Labor Relations Board.

"A decision to create a union is a consequential one that should be made after thoughtful and thorough consideration informed by facts," she wrote. "Every voice deserves to be heard and counted. 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. I want you to know that the mission statement published by the organizing committee contains information that is inaccurate and misleading, and we will discuss these issues in the days ahead."

In response, the union tweeted today that more than 70 percent of the newsroom's employees have signed cards in favor of unionization — enough to win an election with the NLRB.

Like most big-city daily newspapers, the Miami Herald has been decimated by layoffs and budget cuts since the bottom fell out of the news industry after the Great Recession. The paper endured a series of ownership changes — in 2006, the news conglomerate McClatchy took on a staggering amount of debt to buy the Herald's then-parent company, Knight Ridder, for $4.5 billion.

To put things mildly, the McClatchy era has not been good for the Herald's overall health: The newsroom has shrunk drastically as McClatchy has tried to cut costs and repay the debt it took on to buy the paper. The corporation in 2011 sold the Herald's longtime headquarters on the Miami waterfront to the Malaysian gambling corporation Genting for $231 million. Genting demolished the property in 2014.

McClatchy has consistently tried to cut costs by getting rid of employees. In February, New Times reported that Forman, the CEO, sent a company-wide email letting McClatchy employees know he planned to offer buyouts and/or "voluntary retirement" packages to 10 percent of the staff. Employees assumed layoffs would soon follow despite the fact Forman had just renegotiated his contract for a handy $1 million annual base salary. (Since Forman announced the buyouts, the company's finances have remained poor: Last month, McClatchy reported that the company was so deeply in the red that it might be kicked off of the New York Stock Exchange.)

Despite those financial struggles and resource cuts, the paper's journalists have continued to take home awards. The Herald won two Pulitzer Prizes in 2017 for its reporting on the Panama Papers document leak and for editorial cartoons. The paper was named a Pulitzer finalist last year for its series about how Miami's gold trade funds gang wars and violence in Latin America. Most notable, Herald reporter Julie K. Brown last year won her second George Polk Award for her groundbreaking series about the serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein — a set of stories that ultimately led to Epstein's arrest and the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta.

Now, Herald employees say they plan to organize for better salaries and working conditions — and, in essence, fight back when the company announces its next round of seemingly never-ending cutbacks. One Herald Guild — named for the company's old address at 1 Herald Plaza — is asking McClatchy to recognize the new union voluntarily by 5 p.m. October 8. If that doesn't happen, the organizers plan to hold a formal unionization vote.

"We now seek collaboration with our managers, not division, and invite our corporate parent, the McClatchy Company, to voluntarily recognize this union, represented by NewsGuild-CWA," the union said today. "We welcome our owners to begin a constructive, amicable and respectful negotiation for a contract. We care about the health of our newsroom and understand the financial constraints confronting local journalism today. Our goal is to develop a new collaboration that preserves our dedicated staff and forges a path toward growth to better serve our communities and be a strong, independent watchdog for democracy."

Here's the union's full mission statement:

Our mission to preserve the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald
A majority of the journalists in the joint newsroom of the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Miami.com have asked McClatchy to voluntarily recognize One Herald Guild. We are forming our union to have a say in the direction of our newsroom, to strengthen our journalism by making our journalists stronger. We aim to preserve our dedicated staff and set a course toward growth to better serve our readers and remain a strong watchdog in our community.

Our mission

We are the journalists of el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald, and we are joining together to form a union to make our newsroom stronger.

For decades, el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald have established a national reputation as an expert source of local, national and international news, and have set a standard for other Florida and South Florida news organizations.

To do this, our journalists have been committed to professional improvement and to push ourselves to cover more, compete aggressively, think creatively, and serve the information needs of our growing community.

Our journalism is strong when our journalists are strong. Nuestro periodismo se alimenta de la fortaleza de nuestra sala de redacción. But 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.

We are uniting because we believe a union will protect our rights and enable us to have a voice in the decisions that affect our ability to do the kind of journalism our community deserves, covering issues that matter to it the most. We are confident that our newsroom leaders want the same thing that we do: a strong, sustainable publication. This is our first step to preserving the Herald’s journalism for generations to come, to making sure our institution will continue to hold the powerful to account by preserving its most important resource: its staff.

Ahora es el momento para mejorar. Now it’s time to do better.

We reporters, photographers, copy editors, page designers, producers and growth editors will work to develop a sustainable workplace that retains talent, pays staff a decent and fair wage and rewards accomplishment with professional growth. Journalists should not have to choose between a career and a family. We will seek paid leave for staff who want to remain in our community and start families. We seek hiring practices that promote diversity in our newsroom to reflect South Florida’s multicultural tapestry. And we believe it’s time for us to have a seat at the table to guide our company to better serve the residents of South Florida.

One Herald Guild is joining thousands of journalists who have formed unions to demand a voice in setting the course for their future, including the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Florida Times-Union and the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

In the process of organizing, we have formed new bonds and created friendships. We have shared insights and aspirations and realize we are stronger now than ever before, and better able to effectively confront the difficult challenges facing our industry.

We now seek collaboration with our managers, not division, and invite our corporate parent, the McClatchy Company, to voluntarily recognize this union, represented by NewsGuild-CWA. We welcome our owners to begin a constructive, amicable and respectful negotiation for a contract. We care about the health of our newsroom and understand the financial constraints confronting local journalism today. Our goal is to develop a new collaboration that preserves our dedicated staff and forges a path toward growth to better serve our communities and be a strong, independent watchdog for democracy.

It’s time to work together. Let’s get started. Ahora es el momento de trabajar juntos.

And here is Marqués' full response:

All,

First and foremost, thank you for the passion and devotion that each of you bring to the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. We all share a commitment to strong, independent local journalism. We have produced fearless, award-winning work and continue to make investments in long-term investigative, accountability and data-driven reporting that have given voice to the powerless, inspired new legislation and strengthened our community.

A decision to create a union is a consequential one that should be made after thoughtful and thorough consideration informed by facts. Every voice deserves to be heard and counted. 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.

I want you to know that the mission statement published by the organizing committee contains information that is inaccurate and misleading, and we will discuss these issues in the days ahead.

For now, it is important to remember that at a time of unprecedented headwinds in the local news industry, we have taken smart and creative steps to ensure we maintain reporting talent on the ground and the highest standards in the industry. Technology and the disruption of the print legacy business model have challenged all media companies, and the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald are no exception.

Unlike so many other news organizations around the country facing financial challenges, we doubled down on our accountability reporting and the beats that most directly serve our mission. We’ve harnessed the power of our journalism to support our newsrooms, finding innovative ways to reach new audiences while prioritizing the needs and interests of our local community.

We have been and continue to respond and adapt to a new digital reality. We will never waver from our commitment to serve our many and varied communities, and this mission will continue to be our focus.

As someone who has spent my life here and my career in this newsroom, I share your concerns about the health of our industry. Upholding the strong journalistic traditions that have long been a hallmark of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald is a commitment I embrace. Our continued success is both a responsibility and an obligation.

I look forward to constructive conversations and collaboration with you on this important issue. In the meantime, let’s continue to focus on our mission — delivering essential journalism to our neighbors and our community.

Mindy

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