In historic move, Packet/Gazette Guild wins voluntary union recognition from McClatchy

Sept. 11, 2020 – Journalists at The Hilton Head Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette newspapers made history Thursday evening, when President and Editor Brian Tolley announced the company would voluntarily recognize their union — The Packet/Gazette Guild. This is the first voluntary recognition by a McClatchy publication in recent years.

The news came less than 48 hours after union organizers announced Wednesday morning that they were taking steps to become South Carolina’s first active newspaper union by seeking representation by The Washington-Baltimore News Guild, Local 32035 of the NewsGuild-CWA.

“We will move forward together with our newsroom colleagues at The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette to voluntarily recognize the union they have proposed. This pathway allows us to accelerate the process of starting negotiations,” Tolley tweeted on Thursday evening.

“We commend our reporters for their passion and commitment to the mission of local journalism and are grateful for their continued efforts to keep our community informed under very challenging circumstances,” he wrote.

More than 80 percent of eligible reporters, photographers and producers at the newspapers, both owned by the McClatchy Company, had signed cards authorizing union representation.

Once its bargaining unit has been formally recognized, the Packet/Gazette Guild will begin negotiating with McClatchy for its first contract.

“We’re grateful to our management for doing the right thing by recognizing our union and signaling their willingness to work together to better our working conditions and fight for a strong future for local news in the South Carolina Lowcountry,” projects reporter Lucas Smolcic Larsoners said in a press statement.

The news comes after a series of unionization wins at McClatchy publications, including at the Miami Herald, the Bradenton Herald and the Idaho Statesman.

“We hope this charts the course for journalists at local newspapers across South Carolina and our McClatchy colleagues across the country,” said Katherine Kokal, Hilton Head Island reporter at The Island Packet.

The McClatchy Company owns three other newspapers in South Carolina: The State in Columbia, The Sun News in Myrtle Beach and The Rock Hill Herald.

The newspapers, along with those across the nation, have struggled against declining revenue. Newsroom employment at newspapers in the U.S. dropped by 51 percent between 2008 and 2019, according to Pew Research. Staffing at the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette has mirrored that trend. Once over 40 reporters strong, just 11 full-time reporters and visual journalists now bring Beaufort County news seven days a week.

The journalists announced their unionization effort as McClatchy has finalized its sale to Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey-based hedge fund. The sale was valued at $312 million and came six months after McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following more than a decade of layoffs and losses. Through the transaction, the publicly-traded McClatchy has emerged as a private company.

The Packet/Gazette Guild journalists want a seat at the table when it comes to decisions about their workplace, and by unionizing, the journalists want to ensure wage equity and fair hiring processes that prioritize diversity, among other goals.

Follow the Packet/Gazette Guild on Twitter @PacketGuild