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Feb. 20, 2024, 2:50 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sophie Culpepper   |   February 20, 2024

When Houston Landing editor-in-chief Mizanur Rahman and star investigative reporter Alex Stuckey were fired six weeks ago as part of what CEO Peter Bhatia called a company “reset,” remaining staff of the six-month-old nonprofit newsroom were “blindsided” by the loss of two widely beloved colleagues who had hired and mentored most other newsroom members. The same day Stuckey and Rahman were fired, Landing journalists wrote a letter to the Landing’s six-member board of directors opposing the decision. In its response to the letter, the board fully backed Bhatia, saying it “has full confidence in Peter” to “shepherd” a shared vision of the Landing as a community-serving nonprofit newsroom.

On Monday, Houston Landing staff announced a concrete step toward giving themselves “stronger job protections and a seat at the table in organization-wide decisions” to protect against being blindsided again: They’re unionizing.

Landing employees notified management of their intent to unionize on Monday, and asked Bhatia and the board of directors to voluntarily recognize the union. The Landing’s six board members are Jeff Cohen of Arnold Ventures, who was a top editor of the Houston Chronicle from 2002 to 2018; Rich Kinder of the Kinder Foundation; Ann Stern of the Houston Endowment; Algenita Davis; Anne Chao; and Alex Lopez Negrete. (Arnold Ventures, the Kinder Foundation, and the Houston Endowment are key local funders of the Landing.) Bhatia did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Tim Carlin, a civic engagement reporter for the Landing and a co-organizer of the union, told me in an email that as of Tuesday afternoon, Bhatia “has not yet given us an official response to our recognition ask.” When presented with the request for voluntary recognition on Monday, Bhatia “was polite, yet noncommittal,” Carlin told me.

In the press release announcing unionization, staffers explicitly cited the “shock decision” to fire Stuckey and Rahman as exposing “the few protections Landing employees actually have.” (And in the six weeks since they were fired, “We have not received clear communication about what our company reset will look like, or what that phrase means in practice,” Carlin told me.) The union’s advocacy for fair working conditions will include “protections against disciplinary action without just cause and due process,” per its mission statement.

“We started having conversations about organizing shortly after Miz and Alex got fired,” Carlin told me. He called the firings “a shock to all of us, and a realization that we were really not protected from meeting a similar fate.”

“Initially, those conversations didn’t specifically involve unionization,” Carlin added, “but I think we all slowly realized that collective organization through the NewsGuild was our best way to ensure all employees at the Landing are protected, and every voice is heard by our organization’s leadership.”

The Houston Landing News Guild is part of the Media Guild of the West local chapter of the NewsGuild-CWA, the largest union of journalists and media workers in North America. The Landing guild “will represent 21 eligible staff members, including reporters, photographers, and designers, among others,” per the press release. The release noted that 75% of eligible Landing staffers signed union authorization cards. (The Landing’s staff contact page lists about 18 reporters, a photojournalist, and two web designers, among other staff.) Carlin told me that Landing staffers are “forming a wall-to-wall union to include the voices of all Landing employees,” and that NewsGuild representatives helped them determine that they have 28 union-eligible employees. Of those eligible employees, 21 have already signaled support for the newly formed guild.

The Landing joins a wave of nonprofit newsroom unionization, including the heavyweight Texas Tribune less than a month ago. (The Tribune’s management voluntarily recognized the union last week.)

“It was definitely encouraging to see another Texas nonprofit enter the organizing space as we were beginning our own journey,” Carlin told me.

Photo of Houston Landing News Guild members courtesy of the Houston Landing News Guild.

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