(Updated with press clips April 12) April 11, 2018 – The journalists of the Chicago Tribune are forming a union – a unit of The NewsGuild-CWA.
Forty-six employees announced the effort in an open letter to their newsroom colleagues. “In the past few weeks, we’ve talked to most of you about our hopes for the Chicago Tribune and its community publications. Those conversations have convinced us: It’s time to form a union. We’re hoping you’ll join us,” the letter said.
The union organizing drive at the Chicago Tribune marks the Guild’s fifth campaign among journalists this year. It follows successful campaigns at the Los Angeles Times in January, the Casper Star-Tribune in February, Mic.com in March and the Missoula Independent last week.
“There’s an uprising among journalists – a fight for the heart and soul of the profession,” said NewsGuild President Bernie Lunzer. “It’s evident in the union organizing campaigns. It’s also evident in the defiant actions of the editors of the Denver Post and in the reaction to the outrageous demands of Sinclair Broadcasting.
“Journalism is in turmoil, but as the industry searches for a business model that allows working journalists to remain true to our mission, there is tremendous potential for positive change.
“The journalists of the Chicago Tribune are playing a great part in that struggle.”
The organizing committee at the Chicago Tribune “includes veterans and newcomers, among them many prize-winners, all dedicated to providing our readers with the first-rate coverage of local, state and regional news they expect,” the organizers said.
“But a series of corporate owners – Tronc being only the most recent – has jeopardized our ability to do great work.
“Regular raises, cost-of-living adjustments and job security are non-existent,” they wrote. “The cost of our healthcare has significantly increased. Our maternity and paternity policy is inadequate.
“Development opportunities – the kind that allow us to achieve professional goals and to enrich our news coverage – are rare. We have lost many talented colleagues to higher-paying jobs that offer better protections and more possibilities for advancement.
“And although we live in a racially and ethnically diverse city and state, diversity is not well-reflected in the newsroom. A more diverse staff will help guide coverage that fully reflects the lives of the many types of communities in and around Chicago. We can do better.
“Our primary goal in forming a union is to give us, the Tribune’s journalists, a voice in setting the course for the publications we hold dear. This includes the Aurora Beacon-News, Daily Southtown, Naperville Sun, Elgin Courier-News, RedEye and Hoy,” the organizers said.
“This would be the first union for editorial employees in the Tribune’s 170-year history,” the letter noted.
“We believe the union is an investment – in our work, in ourselves, in our readers, in our city and state,” the organizers wrote.
They signed off with a slogan: “For the Chicago Tribune. For Chicago.”
Check out these articles on the campaign:
“In Historic Move At Labor-Skeptic ‘Chicago Tribune’, Newsroom Pushes To Form Union,” NPR’s David Folkenflik wrote, “This is a historic move at a paper that had for decades taken a hardline stance against unions. The move will likely not go over well with its current corporate owner Tronc. Two months ago, the newspaper publishing company struck a deal to sell another venerable daily, the Los Angeles Times, weeks after the paper’s journalists succeeded in unionizing its newsroom. … ‘They have looted the company, and the Tronc executives have paid themselves outsized salaries,’ [Tribune home page editor Charlie J.] Johnson said. ‘The motivation [for unionizing] was the idea that the newsroom would finally have a voice and say in how things operated. We wanted a microphone to speak to management and the public about how this place should operate.’”
“From the Chicago Tribune to the LA Times, journalists organize and push back,” is the headline in Pete Vernon’s article for CJR. “Journalists at the Chicago Tribune, long an anti-labor stronghold, informed management on Wednesday that they are preparing to unionize. The announcement marks the latest data point in a unionization trend that has seen organizing at both digital-only outlets and legacy print organizations. … As demonstrated by recent battles at the Times and Denver Post, journalists are pushing back forcefully against profit-squeezing cuts that jeopardize their papers’ missions. The wave of unionization, even at outlets long hostile to organized labor, signals a new front in the fight for a future at some of the nation’s most prestigious titles.”
In Chicago Tribune Staffers Launch Union Drive as Threat From Media Overloads Grows, David Uberti writes for Splinter, “In the latest sign of tension between media executives and rank-and-file journalists in an embattled news industry, staffers at the Chicago Tribune announced on Wednesday that that they are attempting to form a union at one of the most historically conservative papers in America. … It’s an historic shift at the newspaper, which for decades has stood as a bastion of Midwestern conservatism. And it comes as journalists at media outlets around the country, from the mighty Los Angeles Times to the tinyMissoula Independent in Montana, have organized in an effort gain power in an unstable media economy. … Charlie J. Johnson, a Tribune homepage editor and union organizer, told Splinter on Wednesday …‘We have been dictated to by a series of owners—tronc being just the most recent and publicly venal—who don’t understand journalism and don’t have our civic mission in mind,’ Johnson said. ‘The newsroom has had to sit and take it without any meaningful way to push back.’”
The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board declared, Tribune staff’s union push all about doing great Chicago journalism. “A pro-union sentiment is washing over the American media in general, as well as a growing wariness of management, and it flows from a concern more profound than just a better paycheck. At the Tribune and elsewhere, it derives from a deep desire to maintain and protect professional standards. … But this is a story, as well, that goes beyond newsrooms. It’s a story that goes to the heart of the desire of working people in most any field to maintain high professional standards. Not for nothing are both school janitors and university lecturers in Chicago threatening to strike.The frustration for reporters and editors at the Tribune and elsewhere has been in seeing top executives pay themselves millions of dollars while their newsroom colleagues are laid off.”
“Chicago Tribune Staff Seeks to Form Union in Challenge to Tronc,” was the headline in Josh Eidelson’s April 11 article for Bloomberg. “The Chicago Tribune’s editorial staff announced an effort to unionize, delivering a fresh challenge to owner Tronc Inc. following the resignation of its chairman amid accusations of sexual misconduct.. … The Times and Tribune are among a wave of media outlets whose workers organized in recent years amid a harsh economic climate for once-thriving newspapers and turbulent conditions in digital media.”
WBBM Radio in Chicago reported, “A number of Tribune employees took to social media to express their views on the looming representation vote. Columnists Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn are solidly in the Guild’s corner. While both say the Tribune has treated them well over the years, they have doubts about the future. ‘I’m putting my name on it (the union effort) because I believe it’s the best way to make sure the Tribune survives to do the work our readers want and need,’ Schmich wrote. ‘Chicago deserves — relies on — a strong newspaper.’ Zorn said it’s ‘the best way to assure that corporate resources are directed to sustaining this (newspaper and online presence). It’s about the future of this institution, which is so integral to the future of journalism in Chicago.’”
“Tribune Journalists Organize,” was the headline in Poynter’s Morning Media Wire by David Beard. “Staffers at the Chicago paper became the latest journalists nationwide to announce their intent to unionize. The announcement, which featured low-key testimonials from columnists Eric Zorn and Mary Schmich, said the staff wanted greater involvement in the future of the news outlet. If employees vote for a union and it is certified, it will join papers such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times [with] representation from the Communications Workers of America and the Newspaper Guild.”
“Tribune employees are organizing with The NewsGuild-CWA,” Michael Calderone wrote in Politico’s Morning Media newsletter. “In a statement, NewsGuild national president Bernie Lunzer said the union ‘is inspired by the determination of union organizers at the Chicago Tribune and we are optimistic about the future. … An uprising is taking hold among journalists – a fight for the heart and soul of the profession,’ Lunzer added. ‘It is evident in the union organizing campaigns. It’s also evident in the defiant actions of the editors of the Denver Post and in the reaction to the outrageous demands of Sinclair Broadcasting on local newscasters.’”
“Stop the presses: Chicago Tribune journalists form union,” reported Chicago media blogger Robert Feder.“Editorial employees of the Chicago Tribune have announced plans to seek union representation — a first in the 171-year history of the traditionally anti-union newspaper.”
“Chicago Tribune journalists form union,” reported the Daily Herald on April 11. “In an open letter signed by 46 journalists (including four Pulitzer Prize winners), the organizers called on their colleagues Wednesday to support the effort with the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America.”
The Reliable Sources evening newsletter had this: “The Chicago Tribune has long held unionization at bay, but journalists at the paper told management on Wednesday that ‘they are preparing to organize and that they have collected signatures from dozens of colleagues,’ David Folkenflik reports… (NPR)”
“Countdown to Chicago Tribune sale?” That’s what Robert Feder asked (and answered) in his April 12 blog. “Will history repeat itself? The last time a tronc newspaper unionized, the company quickly sold it and got out of town. That was in February at the Los Angeles Times. On Wednesday Chicago Tribune newsroom employees officially announced their bid for union recognition. Tronc’s response? Nothing more than a perfunctory memo to staff from publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold: “Everyone in Chicago Tribune management has the utmost respect for the decisions you make and for your rights on this issue.” As was the case in L.A., a resounding union victory here could be the final impetus for tronc chairman-in-exile Michael Ferro and CEO Justin Dearborn to call it quits and cash out. I’m willing to bet that’s just what they’ll do.”
The Chicago Tribune was among the last to acknowledge that Chicago Tribune news staffers seek to unionize. “A group of employees is seeking to form a union in the Chicago Tribune’s newsroom, in what would be a historic move at the 171-year-old newspaper. Organizers notified editors and sent a recruitment memo to staffers Wednesday, urging them to join the effort to form the paper’s first newsroom union. The stated goals include regular raises, advancement opportunities, better parental leave policies and a more diverse newsroom. But more than specific demands, the organizers say they seek to give voice to a newsroom buffeted by downsizing and shifting corporate leadership, most recently under Chicago-based Tronc.”
Photo: The Chicago Tribune Guild celebrates its momentous day. “Lots of pride. And cheeseburgers,” they tweeted.