Arizona Republic Journalists Overwhelmingly Vote to Unionize

Editorial staffers of the Arizona Republic will vote today, October 10, on whether to unionize.

The election follows a tense month at the Phoenix-based newspaper, where the organization’s parent company, Gannett, has mounted an aggressive anti-union campaign.

Republic employees began organizing in January, following a round of corporate layoffs that claimed the job of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Benson. The campaign intensified in August after Gannett’s  announcement that it plans to merge with GateHouse Media, another newspaper corporation.

The looming acquisition will lead to additional cuts, as GateHouse’s CEO has already laid out a goal to achieve $300 million in savings following the proposed merger.

Voting is scheduled to take place in the editorial board room of the Republic‘s downtown office from noon to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m, according to sources. If more employees vote “yes” than “no” in the secret ballot election, the paper’s roughly 100 editorial staffers will form a collective bargaining unit with the NewsGuild-CWA (Communications Workers of America).

As summer turned to fall, and the Republic‘s breaking-news desk cubicles became festooned with yellow crime tape and other Halloween decorations, the downtown newsroom has also become a staging ground for dueling messages pitting union supporters against management.

Employees walking into the office were greeted this week by blue posters from Republic bosses attempting to persuade them not to unionize. Management’s propaganda competed with white placards emblazoned with a pro-union logo designed by Benson, the laid-off cartoonist.

Earlier this month, employees received an unsigned memo on their desks purporting to offer “SOME COMMON SENSE TALK ABOUT COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.”

The memo stated that Gannett and the Republic would bargain in good faith if employees voted for union representation, but warned staffers that they could lose some benefits in negotiations.

Union supporters countered with their own printout featuring testimonials from reporters in unionized newsrooms who have not lost benefits as a result of collective bargaining. In addition to the poster war, union supporters have maintained an ambitious digital campaign to court support, which has included videos featuring staff members, tweets extolling the work of both pro- and anti-union colleagues, and an informational website.

Management last month invited Detroit Free Press editor-in-chief Peter Bhatia to visit the newsroom for two days to hold meetings with on-the-fence Republic employees to dissuade them from voting for unionization. Bhatia’s newspaper, which is also owned by Gannett, has been unionized for decades.

In contrast with mandatory newsroom-wide meetings that Republic management held in the beginning of September, Bhatia’s meetings targeted small groups of employees perceived to be on-the-fence about unionizing.

While the atmosphere in the newsroom remains tense, the Republic‘s anti-union messaging has toned down compared to management’s tactics in early September.

Republic executive editor Greg Burton made headlines then after sending a department-wide email likening organizers to murderers and child molesters. Burton accused union supporters of conducting “surveillance” on their colleagues.

Union supporters claimed the alleged surveillance referred to organizers keeping track of their co-workers’ support for their efforts, which is standard in union organizing.

Days later, a Gannett human resources employee confiscated the work phone of veteran reporter Rebekah Sanders, one of the Republic‘s most vocal union supporters as part of an investigation into the alleged surveillance, an accusation Sanders vehemently denied. Sanders got her phone back the next day.

Burton’s email and the confiscation of Sanders’ phone received national attention and galvanized public support for the union drive.