More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

“Union representation continues to be prevalent at larger news organizations, but we are also seeing smaller organizations’ employees banding together.”

The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted inequities in many workplaces, while also providing workers with the flexibility of remote work. As workers look to address those inequities and protect the flexibility the pandemic has provided, I think more will turn to organized labor.

The past couple years have shown that journalists are more than willing to assert their power as a labor force for better working conditions. A Pew Research Center poll from earlier this year shows that one in six journalists are in a union and that 41% of others surveyed would join one if it was available.

Analysis from the Poynter Institute shows that across the country, union membership has declined over the past 40 years, but media industry efforts buck that trend.

For full transparency, my coworkers and I at the PBS NewsHour formed a union with SAG-AFTRA earlier this year that has since been recognized.

Union representation continues to be prevalent at larger news organizations, but we are also seeing smaller organizations’ employees banding together.

One indicator of the changing tide has popped up in two of the least unionized states — North and South Carolina — where in early December my former coworkers at WFAE in Charlotte became the first unionized public radio newsrooms in the Carolinas.

In South Carolina, two McClatchy owned papers have seen their newsroom staff organize: The Island Packet in Hilton Head and The State in Columbia.

Other states that fall in the bottom half of least unionized states — Texas, Idaho, Virginia, Florida and Indiana — also have newsrooms unionizing.

So, what are the driving forces that have and will likely continue to fuel journalists to organize? A common theme is pay equity, not just within their organizations but within the industry. A June 2022 Gallup poll showed that 65% of people cite better pay and benefits as their reason for joining a union.

The Department of Labor reports that union represented employees earn 17% more than non-unionized employees. Where non-union employees earn $975 a week, unionized employees are earning $1,169.

Employees are also looking for protection from job loss. Union contracts often provide standards for discipline and termination, and insure monetary payouts for severance.

Pew data found that layoffs at large news outlets in 2021 fell by three-fold when compared to 2020. But, recent layoffs at CNN and Gannett — which has laid off around 600 employees this year alone — have spotlighted the volatility of our industry and heightened worries of what these actions could be foreshadowing for the broader field.

Other reasons journalists have shared for why they are unionizing include improved diversity, equity and inclusion practices; employee representation at the decision making table; work/life balance; remote work policies; health care and other benefits.

Volatility in this industry shows no signs of shoring up, so it’s likely we will continue to see newsrooms and media workers organizing to create more favorable working conditions far into 2023 and beyond.

Matt Rasnic (he/him/they/them) is an associate producer and editor for social media at the PBS NewsHour.

The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted inequities in many workplaces, while also providing workers with the flexibility of remote work. As workers look to address those inequities and protect the flexibility the pandemic has provided, I think more will turn to organized labor.

The past couple years have shown that journalists are more than willing to assert their power as a labor force for better working conditions. A Pew Research Center poll from earlier this year shows that one in six journalists are in a union and that 41% of others surveyed would join one if it was available.

Analysis from the Poynter Institute shows that across the country, union membership has declined over the past 40 years, but media industry efforts buck that trend.

For full transparency, my coworkers and I at the PBS NewsHour formed a union with SAG-AFTRA earlier this year that has since been recognized.

Union representation continues to be prevalent at larger news organizations, but we are also seeing smaller organizations’ employees banding together.

One indicator of the changing tide has popped up in two of the least unionized states — North and South Carolina — where in early December my former coworkers at WFAE in Charlotte became the first unionized public radio newsrooms in the Carolinas.

In South Carolina, two McClatchy owned papers have seen their newsroom staff organize: The Island Packet in Hilton Head and The State in Columbia.

Other states that fall in the bottom half of least unionized states — Texas, Idaho, Virginia, Florida and Indiana — also have newsrooms unionizing.

So, what are the driving forces that have and will likely continue to fuel journalists to organize? A common theme is pay equity, not just within their organizations but within the industry. A June 2022 Gallup poll showed that 65% of people cite better pay and benefits as their reason for joining a union.

The Department of Labor reports that union represented employees earn 17% more than non-unionized employees. Where non-union employees earn $975 a week, unionized employees are earning $1,169.

Employees are also looking for protection from job loss. Union contracts often provide standards for discipline and termination, and insure monetary payouts for severance.

Pew data found that layoffs at large news outlets in 2021 fell by three-fold when compared to 2020. But, recent layoffs at CNN and Gannett — which has laid off around 600 employees this year alone — have spotlighted the volatility of our industry and heightened worries of what these actions could be foreshadowing for the broader field.

Other reasons journalists have shared for why they are unionizing include improved diversity, equity and inclusion practices; employee representation at the decision making table; work/life balance; remote work policies; health care and other benefits.

Volatility in this industry shows no signs of shoring up, so it’s likely we will continue to see newsrooms and media workers organizing to create more favorable working conditions far into 2023 and beyond.

Matt Rasnic (he/him/they/them) is an associate producer and editor for social media at the PBS NewsHour.

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