Orlando Sentinel journalists join Florida surge, announce union organizing campaign

Feb. 28, 2020 – Inspired by recent union victories in newsrooms across the country, the journalists at the Orlando Sentinel announced Tuesday they too are forming a union, the Sentinel Guild, part of The NewsGuild-CWA.

Union organizers at the Sentinel are part of surge in union organizing among journalists, especially in Florida: The staff at the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald voted overwhelmingly in favor of union in November 2019 and in the space of a week employees at the Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News announced they are forming the Palm Beach News Guild, and employees of the Naples Daily News, News-Press, Banner and Marco Eagle said they are forming the Southwest Florida News Guild.

The Sentinel campaign takes place amid concern about a potential the takeover of the publication by Alden Global Capital. In November, the hedge fund, known in the industry as “the destroyer of newspapers,” disclosed it has become the largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing, which owns the Sentinel.

“The decision to unionize comes as the Orlando Sentinel has shrunk from more than 300 journalists to fewer than 90 in the past 15 years,” the union Organizing Committee wrote in a press statement.

Gabrielle Russon, who has been a Sentinel reporter since November 2014, said, “Journalism is my passion… It’s also a career where every single day, I worry about losing my job.”

“The newsroom is a sea of empty desks,” he said. “I support a union because we want a voice at the table to demand our owners invest in us and support local journalism,” he said.

Jason Garcia, a Sentinel reporter for 14 years, said, “We challenge powerful people and institutions and give voice to those who otherwise have none.” They have continued to do so, he said, even as corporate management has laid off many of colleagues and friends, cut newsgathering resources and careened from one poor strategic decision to another.

“This cannot continue,” Garcia said. “All of us here are committed to preserving our community’s access to quality local journalism. Our union will help us do that.”

Organizers filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board and requested voluntary recognition from Tribune Publishing, the paper’s parent company. If the company declines to recognize the Sentinel Guild, employees will vote on forming a union in an election supervised by the NLRB.

Members of the union organizing committee presented local management with the request for voluntary recognition after 78 percent of eligible staffers signed cards signaling their desire to be represented by the Sentinel Guild. The group will become a part of Local 3108, based in Florida.

The Sentinel Guild will cover approximately 50 reporters, editors, photographers, columnists and newsroom staff.

Amanda Rabines, who has been a reporter at GrowthSpotter, a division of the Sentinel, for a year, said, “A union will help preserve our voices in the community and the indispensable coverage of our fields. I believe it is in our best interest to act upon our legally protected rights to respectfully collaborate with corporate managers on the future of our workplace.”